Prepare for the world’s first nanocar race this month

The nanocars come in a variety of shapes and functionalities, and they’re not technically “cars,” since they don’t have motors (and most don’t even have wheels), as noted by Nature. The teams will make their nanocars move by shooting electrons at them from the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM). They won’t be allowed to actually push the tiny vehicles, but many designs will take advantage of this specific racetrack environment.

For example, the entry from the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, Japan, has butterfly-like wings that are meant to flap when the STM gives it a jolt. Some nanocars will react to the electrons in ways that should raise their energy states, propelling them even further down the track.

Of course, the entire race will be broadcast, almost-live, on YouTube and the event’s official website. The researchers have developed a creative method of filming the race: After each prod of the STM, the teams will take three minutes to scan the track with the microscope; these scans will be collected every hour and posted online as short animations.

The race isn’t all fun and games, of course. The scientists plan to use it as an opportunity to collaborate and further study the way isolated nanomachines behave on solid surfaces — research that could impact the future of medical treatment and other integrated technologies.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/04/20/prepare-for-the-worlds-first-nanocar-race-this-month/

‘Arden’s Wake’ paves the way for never-ending VR stories

Little did I know when I watched a preview of Arden’s Wake recently at Penrose’s San Francisco HQ that the world of virtual reality was about to shift. This week, Facebook revealed Spaces, an app that melds hanging out with real friends with the synthetic worlds of VR. While Zuckerberg’s frivolous virtual selfies might be getting the headlines, Penrose has quietly been using VR collaboration almost every day for the past 18 months. CEO Eugene Chung explained to me that Arden’s Wake likely wouldn’t have been possible, not at this level of visual fidelity and sophistication, without it.

Collaborating inside the actual virtual world they were creating itself was so crucial that Penrose developed its own in-house tool for the job: Maestro. Imagine a VR Slack with moonlike faces for avatars, and chunky articulated hands. Maestro allows everyone involved on a project, creatives and engineers alike, to step out of their separate professional worlds, into the same virtual one. “We’re cooking food in the kitchen because we’re hungry,” Chung tells me, explaining that in absence of any existing tools for the job, Penrose was basically forced to create its own. “I don’t think we could have done any of the Penrose sequences without Maestro,” he says.

Arden’s Wake takes place in the middle of the ocean sometime after the family of its hero, Meena, is torn apart during an accident at sea. The episode I was shown is described as the prologue for a tale that will continue to grow in installments. It sets the scene, the context and the back story, with just enough teasing elements to have you hungry to know what happens next. Meena’s father, Tide, is an inventor, but is he a good inventor? We catch a glimpse at a potential love interest and a mysterious beast in the darkest depths of the deep blue. Each character’s role is unclear right now, but the delivery is captivating.

Artistically, Penrose’s last project, Allumette, sits somewhere between Henry Selick’s James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Quirky and magical. Arden’s Wake is much closer to something you’d expect from Disney or Pixar in its aesthetic style. (Penrose’s staff does contain some Pixar DNA.) The artistic style is vaguely similar to what we’ve seen before in Henry (by Oculus Story Studio, where Chung once also worked). The distinctive visual style makes Arden’s Wake feel more like a “proper movie.” The characteristics of the world it portrays feel familiar, so your attention isn’t drawn away from the characters but it’s visually compelling enough that you sneak a look around any moment you can.

I am given the chance to dive into Maestro to see how the team collaborates in the virtual world they have created. This is my first time in a “social” VR environment, and it’s hard not to smile the first time a real-not-real VR person waves at me. Through my headphones, I hear my boss’s familiar yet disembodied voice (he’s in the same building in real life, but also in the virtual meeting), and it’s all jolly fun. But then the work starts, and the tone changes.

Chung talks us through what’s happening, and the basics of how Maestro works. He also explains why the avatars are so simplistic. It’s the same reason Facebook would give a week later: Real faces, skin and expressions are just too much “uncanny valley” right now. I later find out my boss’s avatar had an older setting that gave him more realistic appendages, and for the first time, I felt genuine retroactive hand envy.

'Arden's Wake' paves the way for never-ending VR stories

Inside Maestro, we’re once again in Meena’s world, this time joined by a huddled crowd of artists and developer avatars. Animator Bruna Berford is holding virtual court, scrubbing back and forth a part of the scene in which Meena walks across the mezzanine in her wooden house. Berford thinks one, maybe two steps don’t quite look natural enough and draws a virtual path within the scene to show how she thinks it would feel more natural. Virtual heads nod, and the occasional chunky hand waves a gesture. Meanwhile, I have a very real sensation I’m standing in someone’s virtual way. Even digital worlds still have human problems.

If Maestro has been around for so long, why is Penrose just showing it now? There are probably a few reasons. First, it’s a constant work in progress and has likely only just reached a stage where it’s stable enough for media eyes. Also, naturally, there’s the question of intellectual property and keeping new tools out of the way of curious, unwanted eyes. Chung’s clearly ready to stick his flag in the ground, though. “I think in the next two years social collaboration and social connection will drive the next wave in virtual reality.” Chung, technically a former Facebook employee (via his time at Oculus), may also know that with F8 approaching, it was probably a good time to ride the wave of interest in social VR.

That doesn’t mean Chung doesn’t want to share Maestro with the community. “We’re crafting one of the most powerful social applications in the world out of necessity,” he told me. “But at this early stage of virtual reality, it’s almost better to share [with the community].” But he’s not naive; he knows he may have a product on his hands. “I think there are some really powerful consumer applications. […] This is effectively like Slack for the virtual world.”

Penrose’s San Francisco office looks much like you’d expect an animation studio to look: Open spaces, with a kitchen full of snacks to keep empty bellies from rumbling, and large glass-fronted meeting spaces with wooden floors, where hand-drawn slides adorn the walls. The postcard-size drawings form a storyboard of virtual-reality possibilities, potential narratives for Arden’s Wake, but it’s clear that Maestro is the glue that holds it all together.

'Arden's Wake' paves the way for never-ending VR stories

I asked Chung what’s next, both for Arden’s Wake and Maestro. The focus right now is with the Tribeca Film Festival, where the short film will have its world premiere (in the Immersive category and Virtual Arcade section). Chung already said that the film is part of a series, and anticipates the next chapter — which is already underway — will be ready by the fall. Part of the problem with episodic ventures like this is that VR is evolving almost in real time. Maintaining the core feel of the film is potentially at odds with capitalizing on the latest technology and innovation.

“With VR we have the possibility of people coming back to these worlds if they love what’s happening there,” said Chung. “Additionally, you can add interactivity. But the most intriguing thing is: How do you build full interactivity with a full story and get that to work together? And that’s going to involve a lot of AI.” Something he and his team are still experimenting with.

If you’re not at Tribeca, you’ll be able to find Arden’s Wake on Steam, PSVR, Oculus Rift and, eventually, Daydream and Gear VR. Right now, the challenges with mobile are the technical limitations. I was shown a mobile translation of The Rose and I, and graphically it’s very similar to the original — but it’s the positional tracking that’s the problem (somewhat mitigated by creative use of the Daydream controller).

Perhaps the most immediate challenge for Penrose is recognizing where it finds itself. Virtual reality is a microcosm consisting of art, software and hardware. Chung’s studio straddles two of those three pillars. It’s a company that could as easily win an Oscar as it could birth the future of virtual-reality collaboration. No mean feat for a young Bay Area film studio. Chung, for his part, is a little more pragmatic: “It’s that synthesis of the two that allows us to do what we do.”

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/04/20/ardens-wake-maestro-social-vr/

Instagram on Android works without an internet connection

While Instagram only activated the feature for its Android app since Android devices are more common in the developing market, offline mode is present to an extent on its iOS application. It also caches previously loaded posts and comments, but users can’t interact with them without an internet connection. The photo-centric social network said it plans to make more feature available offline, which could make it a bigger hit in places where getting postpaid plans with mobile data isn’t the norm. Further, Instagram told TechCrunch that it’s exploring the idea of making offline mode available on iOS in the future.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/04/19/instagram-android-offline/

Esports joins the 2022 Asian Games as a medal event

Esports will form part of the 2022 Asian Games, set to be held in China. The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) said it wanted to reflect “the rapid development and popularity of this new form of sports participation.” It marks an evolution from next year’s 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, where eSports will debut as a demonstration sport. Come 2022, however, it will be a medal event, given equal footing with long-established athletic events and sports. The move is in part due to a partnership deal between e-commerce beast Alibaba (well, its eSports arm) and the OCA.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/04/18/esports-joins-the-2022-asian-games-as-a-medal-event/

iRobot starts a patent war over robot vacuums

At first blush, the infringement claims appear to be part of a classic competitive strategy: if you’re an early participant in an industry that’s rapidly heating up, sue the competition to slow them down. iRobot effectively invented the robot vacuum category with its Roomba line back in 2002, but recent years have seen an explosion of alternatives, including Bissell’s SmartClean, Bobsweep’s Bobi and Hoover’s Quest series. While iRobot still has the best-known models, there’s a very real chance that it gets overshadowed by latecomers — especially anyone that can offer more for your money.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/04/18/irobot-sues-over-vacuum-patents/

GOP rep. on ISP privacy rules: ‘Nobody’s got to use the internet’

“If you start regulating the internet like a utility, if you did that right at the beginning, we would have no internet,” US Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) told the crowd. “I don’t think it’s my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising for your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it, and then you take it upon yourself to make the choice that the government should give you.”

Last month, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution to overturn a rule that forced internet service providers to get your explicit permission before selling your personal data. The resolution has also passed the Senate, and President Donald Trump said he plans to sign it. Sensenbrenner’s statement was in response to a constituent who argued that ISPs should have stricter requirements than websites like Facebook.

“Facebook is not comparable to an ISP,” the woman said. “I do not have to go on Facebook. I do have one provider. I live two miles from here. I have one choice. I don’t have to go on Google. My ISP provider is different than those providers.”

“[People] ought to have more choices rather than fewer choices with the government controlling our everyday lives,” Sensenbrenner said before moving on to the next question. The exchange was caught on video and posted to Twitter by American Bridge 21st Century, a PAC that claims it’s committed to “holding Republicans accountable for their words and actions.” You, of course, need the internet to do this.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/04/14/gop-jim-sensenbrenner-isp-internet-privacy/

Google has taught an AI to doodle

The researchers relied on data from Quick, Draw!, an app that asks users to draw a simple item and then guesses at what it could be. They used 75 classes of item (say owls, mosquitos, gardens or axes), each of which contained 70,000 individual examples, to teach their recurrent neural network (RNN) to draw them itself in vector format.

“We train our model on a dataset of hand-drawn sketches, each represented as a sequence of motor actions controlling a pen: which direction to move, when to lift the pen up, and when to stop drawing,” David Ha, one of the researchers, wrote in a recent blog post. The team also added noise to the data so that the model can’t directly copy the image, “but instead must learn to capture the essence of the sketch as a noisy latent vector.”

That is, the AI isn’t simply throwing together bits and pieces of images from its memorized dataset, it actually learned how to draw these objects. To prove this, the researchers presented a model that had been taught to draw pigs with a number of purposefully incorrect inputs. “When presented with an eight-legged pig, the model generates a similar pig with only four legs,” Ha wrote. “If we feed a truck into the pig-drawing model, we get a pig that looks a bit like the truck.”

Google has taught an AI to doodle

What’s more, the AI can merge a pair of disassociated images to create a series of uniquely intersecting hybrids. It’s the same basic idea as the pig-truck above but able to produce a large number of similar but unique designs. This feature could be of great use to advertisers, graphic designers and textile manufacturers once fully developed. Ha also figures that it could be used as a learning aid for people teaching themselves to draw.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/04/13/google-has-taught-an-ai-to-doodle/

A vibrating smart bra keeps tabs on how zen you feel

Vitali creator Cindy Yu turned to yoga to help deal with her depression and, while it certainly improved her mental state, it was still too easy for her to lose that center over the course of her everyday routine. Work, school and other issues can wear us down, and we may not notice the toll they take until it’s too late. So Yu developed Vitali to do the noticing and remind her when she needs to step back for a bit, as well as how anxious she is overall. After all, it’s okay to be stressed once in a while; it just can’t be your constant state of being.

A vibrating smart bra keeps tabs on how zen you feel

A sports bra was chosen for comfort and flexibility — it can be worn under both normal clothes and gym clothes. There are three sensors in the fabric of each Vitali bra that are waterproof, not just for sweat but also so you can just throw the whole thing in the wash. But most of the monitoring work will be done by the device you insert at the top near your clavicle, dubbed the “gem” for its shape and diamond pattern.

The gem is decidedly not washable, and so it’s easily popped in and out of the bra. This also makes it rather affordable to buy multiple bras, swapping them out when they get dirty or when you just want a different color. The ones I saw were white, black or pink — I’m partial to lighter colors that won’t show under my clothes, but other women might prefer something more striking. The gems themselves will be available in black or white.

A vibrating smart bra keeps tabs on how zen you feel

The bra will track your heart rate variability and breathing to keep tabs on your wellness, while the built-in gyroscope and accelerometer help monitor the position of your spine and pecs to make sure you’re maintaining proper posture. If you’re slouching or hunched over, the gem will give you a gentle buzz to remind you to sit up.

Of course, any connected device has to send that data somewhere, and the Vitali app for iOS or Android will pull it all in and help you make sense of it, even assigning a “wellness score.” Like other fitness apps, you can also set goals for yourself, though not in common metrics like active minutes or miles traveled — more about how calm you are and how much you slouch. And if you’re not the type to close your eyes and imagine a white ball of healing light to meditate, the app is also a good point to focus on in itself, giving you immediate feedback on your heart rate and breathing via white lines on warm orange and pink backgrounds.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/04/11/vitali-smart-bra-meditation-yoga/

Google might bring curved screens to its next Pixel phone

The search giant would invest a trillion won ($875 million) and possibly more to secure a production line dedicated to its own smartphones. It may also reserve some flexible OLED screens for other devices like a rumored pair of “Pixel” smartwatches. LG display is reportedly mulling the offer, which would be a strategic investment and not just an order deposit. If it signs on, curved screens for the Pixel would likely be built in LG’s $1.3 billion flexible OLED line in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province.

With its Nexus phones, Google let partners Huawei, LG and HTC control all aspects of the devices and hardware. However, with the Pixel and Pixel XL, Google actually took charge of the design and thus, to some level, the hardware. That was both a good and bad thing — the phone was generally acknowledged as the best-ever Google device, but was only released in the US, UK, Australia, Germany and Canada. Even in those nations, it was pretty damn hard to find.

If the news is accurate (and with supply rumors, that’s a big “if”) then Google would be playing favorites with one Android supplier, LG, over another, Samsung. On the other hand, Samsung might be quite okay with that, considering it’s about to launch its own curved OLED Galaxy S8 smartphone and possibly supply the flexible OLED display for Apple’s next iPhone 8. With OLED tech seemingly the only thing that manufacturers want, it makes sense for Google to cut a deal with LG, which isn’t faring so well with its own devices.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/04/10/google-might-bring-curved-screens-to-its-next-pixel-phone/

Giant murderbots will fight for their countries in August

MegaBots’ creation, the Mk. III, is 16-feet tall and weighs 12 tons. The company has steadily worked on it for the past two years, documenting its progress on its YouTube channel. But, it’s only been seen in pieces so far. The fully assembled robot will be unveiled in an upcoming video.

There’s no word yet on exactly when the big event will take place. MegaBots said that the original duel suffered a significant scheduling delay after the venue fell through, which is why the new location is a secret. Fans will learn more about the robots and their fight in the next few months, and they’ll have the chance to see the completed Mk. III in the San Francisco Bay Area in May. Then, they can watch the big fight on MegaBots’ and Suidobashi’s YouTube and Facebook channels.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/04/05/megabots-giant-robot-duel/