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Kano returns with camera, speaker and light board coding kits

Three brightly colored boxes sit in the middle of the table. Alex Klein, co-founder and CEO of Kano, takes the yellow one and pops open the lid, revealing an array of small plastic parts inside. They sit neatly in the foam, begging to be plucked out and examined. A transparent case. Lenses and a flash ring. Some have a Post-it note on top, the word “best” scribbled in biro. Klein chuckles, admitting that some of the parts “may be completely busted.” I don’t mind. At this point, Kano is still a few weeks out from its next Kickstarter campaign. It’ll be a while before the kits are put into mass production.

A camera, a speaker and a light board. Kano is pitching all three as a new, friendly way for children to learn about electronics and computing. Each pack comes with a booklet featuring step-by-step instructions, rather like a Lego set. You pull out the parts and clip them together, learning what each of them does and how they contribute to the final product. Once you’ve completed the build, you can hook up a laptop, tablet or smartphone and program its behavior. Kano’s new web-based software includes a bunch of creative projects, all of which teach you to code along the way.

The kits are more than toys. They’re tools, designed to educate and entertain in equal measure. If you buy the camera kit, for instance, you’ll learn how to program a timer. Then, how to trigger the flash. Or a colored flash. A remote trigger. A camera that can shoot automatically when someone walks by. An animated GIF. The list goes on. Once you’ve learned the underlying bits of code, you can begin remixing the blocks and creating your own projects. Maybe you want to capture a robin that frequents your garden bird box. Or shoot a time lapse at the beach. Kano’s kits encourage this kind of experimentation.

Not a fan of traditional photography? No problem. Kano’s light board has a whole different set of capabilities. You’ll start off slow, learning how to switch on all of the lights with code. You’ll then graduate to twinkling effects, which can be manipulated every time you clap or move toward the grid. Trickier challenges will teach you how to make a smiley face, a weather monitor and a live, updating scoreboard for your favorite team. Thanks to the tilt sensor, you can even program a simple driving game.

Humble beginnings

The kits are a logical progression for the company. Kano burst onto the scene in 2013 with a crowdfunding campaign for a Raspberry Pi–based computer. The underlying board was already quite popular, and with good reason: It was small, cheap and surprisingly capable. Many felt it was the perfect hardware for teaching children about coding. There’s truth to that argument, but a problem persists: For parents and teachers with zero technical knowledge, it can be a daunting purchase. Kano’s idea was to package it up as a colorful, easy-to-follow construction kit. The board would come preloaded with software, aimed specifically at kids, that could teach them the basics of programming. A polished, but open, system.

The Kickstarter was a resounding success, collecting more than $1.5 million in 30 days. The project hit a chord with developers in particular, who wanted to spark an interest in their children or relatives. To date, Kano has sold over 100,000 computer kits in 86 countries.

In 2015, the team started work on what is now the speaker kit. Klein says the plan was to launch this product for Christmas, but he soon realized that “the technical challenge was absolutely massive.” It needed a new, custom single-board computer, and a software platform that lived on the web. “We couldn’t rely on a Linux operating system for this, because we wanted you to be able to control and code it from any device, including a MacBook and an iPhone,” he explains.

At the same time, Kano had received some interesting research about its users. Children who had a dedicated screen for their Kano — meaning they weren’t using the TV in their living room, or sharing a monitor with another PC — were far more engaged with the coding software. Sensing an opportunity, the company decided to “hold on the sound kit” and focus its efforts on a screen pack instead. The 10-inch display was mostly functional, with space around the back to store the Kano computer and its accompanying keyboard. It did, however, also come with some new “content and challenges,” as well as a magnifying glass that encouraged children to peek at the screen’s individual pixels.

A shift in thinking

Klein thinks of the monitor as the “completion” of Kano 1. The three new sets, he says, can be thought of as Kano 2. It’s no longer about computer kits, but “systems” that facilitate more interesting projects.

Such a shift in thinking was driven by Kano’s community. The team was looking at “Kano World,” a hub where users can share their code, for interesting user-created projects. Over time, they noticed that the best ones fell into one of three categories: photography, music and data. One family in Oklahoma, for instance, had hooked up their Kano to a monitor and a camera. With little guidance, they had written a custom script to capture flowers slowly blooming in their garden. Elsewhere, a musician in New York was using his Kano to power a visualizer. It would strobe and pulse in time with the music, thrilling crowds at his local concerts.

“Data” is a little trickier to describe. Klein points to the stripped-back version of Minecraft that comes bundled with each Kano. It’s a modified version with distinct challenges that require code-like commands to progress. “People would use that and hook it up to an API so that their Minecraft counter would run forward depending on the time of day,” Klein explains. “Simple stuff, but cool.” Kano, the company realized, had removed an important barrier associated with setting up the Raspberry Pi. People were now encouraged to go further, setting up projects that combined new hardware and code. “What we’re doing with these new kits is blowing that out,” Klein adds.

The new approach might surprise some people. Do you really need these kits to learn how to code? Can’t children just learn with their laptop and a stable internet connection? After all, so many jobs are about building apps and businesses on the web. It’s a narrow-minded approach, but one that does hold merit: You can learn an awful lot using sites such as Codecademy. Klein thinks a little differently, however. The learn-to-code movement, he says, isn’t about turning everyone into the next Mark Zuckerberg or Sundar Pichai.

“It’s more to do with the ability of your everyday person to understand and manipulate data,” he says, “than it does necessarily moving a cat across a screen, or even making a personal web page — because they’re so easy to do. A lot of it is about how an individual, a human being, can make connections between data, the physical world and a problem that they have, an itch they want to scratch, something they want to express. It’s not necessarily about making Clash of Clans millionaires anymore.”

“The more you can relate it to our most instinctive mode of thinking, which is physical, the more that it makes sense to people.”

Kano hopes that the kits will appeal to a broader range of people — not just children but adults too. Anyone who’s curious about the objects they use every day. “Learning this new way of thinking is hard,” Klein says. “I still find it hard. I didn’t start when I was nine, and I kinda wish I had. It really is a new way of thinking, and the more you can relate it to our most instinctive mode of thinking, which is physical, the more that it makes sense to people.”

A different path

The company’s direction could have been quite different. At one point, Kano considered doubling down on its computer kit. The original Kickstarter had been a huge success, after all, and the community had shown interest in the screen add-on too. Why not go further? A battery pack, an antenna, a series of speakers — Kano could explain each of them in turn and build out people’s understanding of the modern PC. But Klein ultimately decided against it, sensing that these new products “wouldn’t really be as in the spirit of the company.” I tend to agree. The new camera, speaker and pixel kits feel more ambitious and educational. The potential to experiment and learn new skills is far higher.

Inside Kano HQ, Klein starts to show me the build process for the light board. As he flicks out the manual and selects the appropriate parts, I’m struck by how clean and polished everything looks. The kits are colorful and approachable, while maintaining a do-it-yourself, handmade feel. Kano’s goal is to simplify the complexity associated with electronics, but if the parts are too well packaged — cloaked in too much soft, rounded plastic — it doesn’t feel like you’re making something, well, real.

Klein says it’s a balance. The team thinks carefully about how the parts should come together. Levers give way to tiny sliding mechanisms. The lenses are attached with magnets, rather than cumbersome screws. Instead of a normal printed circuit board (PCB), raw and “grinning” with “gnarled teeth,” it’s refined, with enough cues to suggest what’s inside. I pick up the tilt sensor, a thumb-size piece of plastic with a circular top. A shallow trench houses a ball bearing that freely spins around. “That aesthetic you’re describing reflects the main point, in a sense, of the company,” Klein muses. “Which is, in a word, to resolve the Jobs-Woz crisis. To prove that it’s possible to have a modular, DIY creative system that the user controls, but that’s also really simple and human and tells a good story.”

Nailing “simple and “human” isn’t always easy, however. “It’s hugely challenging, because you really don’t know until you put it in the hands of a curious and oftentimes skeptical 10-year-old, 12-year-old or 26-year-old,” Klein says. “All of your assumptions about what is going to be simple are overturned in about five minutes. And that’s just for the build process; the software is the same. Each kit is a much more complicated build than the original Kano computer, and so we have to go through it hundreds and hundreds of times.”

Finishing the kits

The three kits will have a staggered release next year. Kano is preparing the camera kit first, and hopes to have a developer version out before the end of the year. Regular backers will receive the pixel kit in January, followed by the camera in May and the speaker in July. That’s not to say Kano won’t have an exciting Christmas, however. The company has signed its first retail partnerships in the US, including ones with Toys “R” Us and Barnes and Noble. That means the original computer and screen kit will finally be available on store shelves, where parents and relatives will no doubt be prowling for holiday gifts.

“As simple and fun as Lego, but as powerful and future-peeking as an Apple product.”

The camera, speaker and light board should land in retail sometime next year, once Kano has fulfilled its Kickstarter pledges. It is, to put it mildly, an important 12 months for the company. One that could take it from a plucky upstart to a global computing powerhouse.

“This year is about convincing the people who maybe never knew, or were skeptical that coding is something they should do, and that their kids should do,” Klein explains. “It’s about making them aware of how fun, empowering and mainstream something like this can be. How it can bring you closer to your kids and prepare you for a new career. It’s about going from a niche, which will continue to be profitable for us, to the original purpose of the company, which is to create a new computing brand focused on creation. Making it as simple and fun as Lego, but as powerful and future-peeking as an Apple product.”


‘Spectacles by Snapchat’ leak shows camera-equipped sunglasses

As if a report that Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel had been spotted wearing a pair of camera-packing sunglasses wasn’t enough, now Business Insider says it has an ad or demo video showing the product. Apparently posted to YouTube until it was taken down by a Snapchat claim, it shows “Spectacles by Snapchat” briefly, then video from the perspective of the wearer. There’s no indication of any augmented reality capabilities, but if you were creeped out by Google Glass you may get a similar feeling here. What we can see however, is that the round camera and logo shape may be an indicator of circular or spherical video, that displays correctly whether you’re watching on a display that is in landscape or portrait.

Two years ago, emails leaked from the Sony hacking revealed Snapchat’s purchase of a company, Vergence Labs, that was developing a product building video recording into glasses. Called Epiphany Eyewear, the prototypes looked similar to what has been spotted on Spiegel and in this video. There’s still no way to know how close these “Spectacles” are to production, but hopefully Snapchat will have its filter problems cleared up by then.

Source: Business Insider


Olympus’ OM-D E-M1 Mark II is all about speed

Olympus is working on a new version of its flagship Micro Four Thirds camera, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, which sports a high-speed TruePic VIII Image Processor that’s 3.5 times faster than previous editions. The new camera also includes a 20.4 megapixel Live MOS sensor and an electronic shutter, allowing it to take full-resolution images at 60 frames per second in AF and AE lock, and up to 18 frames per second with continuous tracking.

Olympus promises the new flagship’s continuous AF tracking performance will be dramatically improved with a new algorithm aimed at following subjects on the move. The OM-D E-M1 Mark II has a new Pro Capture Mode designed to catch split-second moments and a 50 megapixel High Res Shot Mode that apparently rivals the detail captured by full-frame DSLRs.

The OM-D E-M1 Mark II also takes 4K video (4096 x 2060) and to help offset camera shake, it uses a 5-Axis Image Stabilization system and electronic stabilization specialized for movies. The camera is weathersealed, dustproof, splashproof and freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Its battery is improved by 37 percent over Olympus’ previous flagship model and the OM-D E-M1 Mark II has dual memory card slots.

Source: Olympus


Xiaomi’s mirrorless camera gives you Leica looks for $330

Xiaomi’s camera ambitions go beyond action cams. It’s introducing the Xiaoyi M1, a Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera that promises solid performance (not to mention some familiar looks) for the money. This isn’t the most advanced camera between its 20-megapixel sensor, a maximum ISO 25,600 sensitivity, and the absence of either a built-in flash or an electronic viewfinder. However, it also starts at the equivalent of $330/£253 bundled with a 12-40mm f/3.5-5.6 lens ($450/£345 with a 42.5mm f/1.8 lens), and bears more than a passing resemblance to modern Leica cameras — it’s a relatively accessible and stylish entryway into the world of interchangeable-lens photography.

And it’s not as if the M1 doesn’t have a couple of tricks up its sleeve. You can effectively shoot 50-megapixel photos, and record 4K video at 30 frames per second. There’s also a 3-inch, 720 x 480 touchscreen to give you “phone-like” control, while Bluetooth and WiFi will help you share your photographic output with your smartphone.

The camera will sell through China’s on September 23rd. There’s no mention of an international release, although it won’t be surprising if online retailers are willing to import it. Just don’t expect to get quite as big a bargain by the time it reaches your door.

Via: Engadget Chinese (translated)

Source: Xiaoyi


Qualcomm could make dual cameras standard on phones

Qualcomm’s new offering called “Clear Sight” could put dual cameras in more Android phones. It’s a single module that’s already equipped with two rear cameras and low light imaging algorithms, after all, and phonemakers can simply slap it onto their devices instead of developing their own. It’s more similar to Huawei P9’s Leica-endorsed dual cams than to the iPhone 7’s in that Clear Sight is comprised of a black-and-white and a color image sensor. See, black-and-white sensors can take better images in low-lighting than color sensors can. So, the tech combines the B&W photo taken by one of the cameras with the colors captured by the other to get the best of both worlds.

Since it’s only compatible with phones powered by a premium Snapdragon 820 or 821 processor, expect any Clear Sight device to be on the higher end of the pricing scheme. But who knows — it could make dual cameras so common until they become a staple even in more affordable Android devices.

Via: The Verge

Source: Qualcomm


It takes two: A visual history of dual-camera mobile phones

With the recent launches of the iPhone 7 Plus and the LG V20, the dual-lens smartphone camera is once again a hot topic. Of course, many other companies will want to remind you that they were there first, except some have long since given up on the technology. So what happened? And why isn’t this yet a standard feature on all flagship smartphones? For those intrigued, it’s worth taking a trip seven years back in time.


Alcatel launches a smartphone-free VR headset

Alcatel is not a big player in the global smartphone market, but that fact that it just launched a standalone headset shows how ubiquitous VR is about to become. The Vision doesn’t require a separate smartphone like Samsung’s Gear VR, but has all the guts of a mobile phone built right in. That includes an eight-core CPU, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, Bluetooth, LTE and a suite of sensors including an accelerometer, gyro and proximity sensor.

In place of a smartphone screen, however, there’s a pair of 3.8-inch AMOLEDs, each with 1,080 x 1,020, or around 2,160 x 2,040 resolution total. To make the headset balance better, Alcatel elected to put the 3,000 mAH battery on the back pad. The company told Mashable that it should have three to four hours of battery autonomy.

Alcatel also unveiled an inexpensive 360-degree camera, the Alcatel 360, that’s equipped with dual 210-degree fisheye lenses and comes in rectangular and ball shapes. It reportedly works just by plugging it into one of the company’s Idol 4, Idol 4S or Pop 4S phones, but there’s no word on whether it’ll work with other smartphone brands.

The challenge for Alcatel is that it’s not plugged in with Oculus, Google’s Daydream, or any other big VR players. Rather, it’s reportedly working on its own Unity-based SDK and app payment system. It’s also partnering with several companies including Janut VR and Fraunhofer, which will provide preloaded games and other content. All of that, plus the reported $500 to $600 price tag, will make it a stretch for consumers, considering the off-brand nature of the company.

Via: Mashable

Source: Alcatel


O2 wants to help you spread the cost of building a smart home

Although there are plenty of smart home solutions, deciding which platform to back can be hard. Do you invest in a product from a major brand like Google’s Nest or choose a startup that cares more about its products and services than parting you from more of your money? It’s a problem that UK companies like British Gas’ Hive have tried to solve with its mix of smart appliances, but mobile carrier O2 thinks it might have the solution. The operator today launched O2 Home, a new smart home subscription service that lets customers spread the cost of devices but also the support they may require.

O2 Home consists of three customisable 24-month packages. There’s Comfort, a £30 per month package that offers a Tado smart thermostat, two smart plugs and one presence sensor. For the same price, you can ditch the smart heating option and choose Home View, a security-focused package that comes bundled with Samsung camera, a wide view camera, one open and close sensor and one presence sensor. The last of the three is Home Connect, a £20 bundle that offers two presence sensors, two open and close sensors and two smart plugs. All of the packages come with O2’s own app-controlled Smart Hub as standard.

O2 Home doesn’t stop there, though. Each of the products can be bolted on to existing packages to fill any gaps in your connected home. You can choose from products like flood sensors, Powerline adaptors, indoor sirens and even Yale’s keyfree smart lock. The operator has decided not to incorporate those additional devices into its plans, which ramps the price up considerably. However, if you do invest in a camera solution, the monthly price covers 250MB of cloud-based video storage (enough for ten 15-second clips and 250 snapshots), 24-month device warranty and ten profiles for you and your family.

Initially, O2 Home will be available in selected parts of London before rolling out across the UK. To incentivise customers, the company is offering O2 Home free for the first year, as long as you order between September 1st and September 14th. They aren’t ready just yet but you’ll also be able to check out its installations in one of four O2 Home demo spaces, located in Westfield White City, Tottenham Court Road, Kingston and Watford.

Source: O2 Home


The DxO One gets Wi-Fi control and a suite of accessories

If you take a lot of photos with your smartphone, you’ve probably noticed they’re not always up to snuff with the kind of images you’d see from a DSLR camera.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many options out there to improve your iPhone’s camera either unless you go for post-processing apps. Luckily, there’s the DxO One, meant to do just that, including a Lightning connector and an image sensor that’s meant to improve the way you shoot photos with your phone.

But any good camera needs accessories, and the DxO’s getting a new suite of accessories including a special shell for waterproofing, weatherproofing and keeping the One itself safe from the elements while you take it on the go. There’s also a stand, Wi-Fi remote control, and an optical adapter for you to attach new filters over the One’s lens.

In a pretty exciting turn of events, you can use the Wi-Fi remote to aconnect to locate networks or your iPhone directly even when not in range of networks, which makes it a pretty nifty little device, and it’s coming to all DxO One camera owners with the 2.0 software update in September.

The September update also includes a slew of other options like Mobile Smart Lighting, improved power consumption, and a new autofocus mode in addition to a white balance setting meant for shooting photos underwater.

You can pick up the outdoor case for $49 and the filter adapter for $25, with the stand going for $20. It’s a decent camera. You’ll probably want to try and keep it protected.

Via: TechCrunch


Canon’s EOS 5D Mark IV has a 30.4-megapixel sensor and 4K video

The moment Canon fans have anxiously waited for is here. Today, the company finally took the wraps off of its EOS 5D Mark IV, a DSLR geared toward photographers and videographers alike. For starters, the highly anticipated flagship camera features a brand new 30.4-megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor and Digic 6+ processor. It also brings 4K video capability at 23.98, 24, 25 and 30 fps, as well as a 61-point autofocus system, built-in digital lens optimizer, NFC, WiFi and an ISO range of 100-32,000. All told, that’s a big step up from the previous model, the EOS 5D Mark III — one of the most beloved DSLRs out there.

Similar to the 7D Mark II and the newly minted 80D, the 5D Mark IV boasts Canon’s trademark Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which should make it easier to track subjects when you’re shooting video. It’s worth noting the Mark IV captures 4K at DCI resolution (4,096 x 2,160), rather than the UHD (3,840 x 2,160) on cameras like Nikon’s D5. Another highlight is the addition of touchscreen; unlike the 1D-X Mark II, this one offers a full interface and isn’t limited to video-only use.

Meanwhile, the continuous shooting mode is set at 7 fps, up from 6 on the 5D Mark III. The camera will take both CompactFlash and SD cards, and there’s GPS too — something Canon says had been heavily requested by EOS users. To round things up, Canon upgraded the weather resistance on the 5D Mark IV, making it more immune to many elements, including water and dust.

The EOS 5D Mark IV hits stores in early September for $3,499 for the body only. If you’re after a kit that comes with a lens, there are two options. Grab the camera and the EF24-70mm f/4L lens for $4,399 early next month or the EOS 5D Mark IV and EF24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens $4,599 in late October.

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