Category Archives: Technology

WE’RE ALL GOING TO LOOK LIKE IDIOTS, BUT DAMN IT’LL BE FUN!

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Watch the guts of a DSLR camera in action at 10,000 frames per second

Watch the guts of a DSLR camera in action at 10,000 frames per second

The Slow Mo Guys got a 10,000-fps high resolution camera and pointed it into the guts of a DSLR camera shooting photos at 1/8000th of a second. It’s amazing to see how much vibration there is when the mirror and diaphragm move.


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Bendable aluminum battery recharges in a minute, won’t burst into flames

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Everyone is waiting for that revolutionary new battery tech that will replace lithium-ion, drastically increase battery life, and not burst into flames when something goes wrong. A team of scientists have just created such a battery, and they believe it is set to replace both alkaline and lithium-ion batteries.

The team is led by Stanford chemistry professor Honglie Dai. What they have developed is an aluminum and graphite battery and it ticks almost all of the boxes of a desirable battery design. It’s very cheap to make, it won’t burst into flames even if you drill a hole in it, recharge cycles without degradation are in the thousands, and in the form of a typical smartphone battery it will recharge in about a minute. One final revolutionary feature of this battery is the fact it can be bent and shaped without impacting performance.

Aluminum batteries have been attempted before, but this is the first viable one in terms of being a lithium-ion battery replacement. Dai’s battery consists of an aluminum anode, graphite cathode, ionic liquid electrolyte, and a flexible polymer acting as a casing. The reason the battery won’t burst into flames is the fact the electrolyte is just a salt that is liquid at room temperature.

Voltage and energy density is currently about half that of existing lithium-ion batteries, but the team is confident that can be greatly improved by doing further work on the graphite cathode. Where as lithium-ion batteries can be reliably charged around 1,000 times, the prototype aluminum battery already reaches 7,500 cycles. The fact it can be bent and shaped will allow manufacturers to have more flexibility with the design of gadgets such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, and smartwatches in the future.

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It seems all the ingredients are there for a battery that will quickly replace lithium-ion, and the only problem they need to overcome is that of energy density. If they can solve that, which the team is confident it can, we could finally have that revolutionary battery we’ve all been waiting for.

The Many, Many Prices of the Apple Watch

Big or small? Gold, stainless steel, or anodized aluminum? Metal, leather, plastic. So many choices at so many prices. It’s going to be ok. Let’s break it down.

The Apple Watch Sport Edition

The Many, Many Prices of the Apple Watch

  • Anodized aluminum and not gold
  • 60 percent stronger than standard alloy
  • Colors: silver or space gray
  • The cheapest model possible
  • The “Sane” person version

Price: $350 (38mm), $400 (42mm)

Additional costs:

  • Only compatible with the Sport strap ($50) figured in the final cost.

The Apple Watch

The Many, Many Prices of the Apple Watch

  • Stainless steel and also not gold
  • Sapphire glass
  • Colors: polished silver and glossy space black
  • All about the hard metal, 80 percent harder than normal stainless steel
  • For the non-sporty and also the non-Millionaire

Price: $550-$1050 (38mm) and $600-$1100 (42mm)

Additional costs:

  • Sport band: $50
  • Leather loop: $150
  • Classic buckle: $150
  • Milanese loop: $150
  • Modern buckle: $250
  • Link Bracelet: $450
  • It doesn’t matter what size band, all prices are the same.
  • It would seem whatever initial band you choose is figured into the price

The Apple Watch Edition

The Many, Many Prices of the Apple Watch

  • Yes, this is the 18-karat gold one
  • For the Mr./Mrs. Moneybags in your life
  • Uses special Apple-created gold material
  • Will be a limited edition and only in select countries

Price: $10,000-$17,000 (in select stores, also holy shit)

Additional costs:

Read more about the bling-bling Apple Watch right here.

Don’t know if 38mm or 42mm is a better fit for your wrist? Apple’s got a sizing got for you. You can pre-order your own watch starting April 10 and will be available in stores starting April 24 in the US, UK, Australia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, and France.

So…which one are you getting (if any)?

Apple Watch Meta Review: Not Perfect, But Full of Potential

Apple Watch Meta Review: Not Perfect, But Full of Potential

The Apple Watch won’t be on your wrist until this Friday at the earliest, but the first reviews of Apple’s new wrist computer are just coming in.

The verdict? It’s not a perfect product. It has some first generation flaws, and other quirks. There’s a bit of a learning curve. And you probably shouldn’t buy one. But. But! It’s the best smartwatch out there and just oozes potential.

And by all accounts, yes, the Apple Watch battery can make it through the average day, if only just barely.

CNET:

I’ve been using the Apple Watch for a week. I’ve worn it on my wrist every day, doing everything possible that I could think of. I’ve tracked walks and measured my heart rate, paid for lunch, listened to albums while exploring parks without my phone, chatted with family, kept up on email, looked for Ubercars, kept up on news, navigated on long car trips for Passover, controlled my Apple TV with it and followed baseball games while I was supposed to be watching my 2-year-old.

The watch is beautiful and promising — the most ambitious wearable that exists. But in an attempt to do everything in the first generation, the Apple Watch still leaves plenty to be desired. Short battery life compared with other watches and higher prices are the biggest flags for now. But Apple is just setting sail, and it has a long journey ahead.

Geoffrey Fowler at the Wall Street Journal:

This description may either strike you as helpful or oppressive. It has made me more present. I’m less likely to absent-mindedly reach for my phone, or feel compelled to leave it on the table during supper.

With the Apple Watch, smartwatches finally make sense. The measure of their success shouldn’t be how well they suck you in, but how efficiently they help you get things done. Living on your arm is part of that efficiency—as a convenient display, but also a way to measure your heart rate or pay at a cash register. This is a big idea about how we use technology, the kind of idea we expect from Apple.

Joanna Stern at the Wall Street Journal:

After over a week of living with Apple’s latest gadget on my wrist, I realized the company isn’t just selling some wrist-worn computer, it’s selling good looks and coolness, with some bonus computer features. Too many features that are too hard to find, if you ask me.

… There are so many things the watch can do, so many menus and features you must spend time figuring out, that for better or worse, you end up shaping your own experience.

… Unless you opt for the cheapest $350 sport version, you should really wait for the future.

The New York Times:

The Apple Watch is far from perfect, and, starting at $350 and going all the way up to $17,000, it isn’t cheap. Though it looks quite smart, with a selection of stylish leather and metallic bands that make for a sharp departure from most wearable devices, the Apple Watch works like a first-generation device, with all the limitations and flaws you’d expect of brand-new technology.

… Still, even if it’s not yet for everyone, Apple is on to something with the device. The Watch is just useful enough to prove that the tech industry’s fixation on computers that people can wear may soon bear fruit. In that way, using the Apple Watch over the last week reminded me of using the first iPhone. Apple’s first smartphone was revolutionary not just because it did what few other phones could do, but also because it showed off the possibilities of a connected mobile computer.

The Verge:

The Apple Watch is one of the most ambitious products I’ve ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus.

There’s no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today. It is one of the most ambitious products I’ve ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus: it can do tiny bits of everything, instead of a few things extraordinarily well. For all of its technological marvel, the Apple Watch is still a smartwatch, and it’s not clear that anyone’s yet figured out what smartwatches are actually for.

Bloomberg Business:

The Apple Watch can certainly make you a worse dinner guest. But it can also make you a slightly better one. The difference is whether or not you’re willing to think about what really matters vs. what seems to matter.

The watch is not life-changing. It is, however, excellent. Apple will sell millions of these devices, and many people will love and obsess over them. It is a wonderful component of a big ecosystem that the company has carefully built over many years. It is more seamless and simple than any of its counterparts in the marketplace. It is, without question, the best smartwatch in the world.

Re/Code:

Some people have already decided they’re getting Apple Watch on the day it comes out. Because they love Apple. Because they like new things and being the first to buy them. Because there has been so much hype around this product.

But Apple Watch is not a cure-all, and it’s likely not a timepiece you will pass down to your grandkids. It is a well-designed piece of technology that will go through a series of software updates, until one day, years from now, when the lithium ion battery can no longer hold much of a charge and it won’t seem as valuable to you.

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

By Dr. Todd Jochem

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

(Think Delphi’s cross-country voyage in an autonomous Audi SQ5 is impressive? Try doing it with 90s tech, without GPS navigation, and in a salvaged Pontiac minivan. That’s what Carnegie Mellon research scientist Dean Pomerleau and then-Ph.D. student Todd Jochem did in 1995. Here’s the story of their journey as it appeared on Robotics Trends. — PG)

For the past several years, self-driving cars have been prominently featured in mainstream media outlets. Great technology and future plans from organizations such as Stanford University, Google, various car manufacturers, and more recently Uber and Delphi, have been showcased.

It is with great intellectual interest, pride, perspective, and a fair bit of humor that I have read about these recent “firsts” for autonomous vehicles.

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

Why? Because July 23, 2015, will be the 20th anniversary of “No Hands Across America,” the first long-duration field test of a self-driving car. I was fortunate to be part of the ragtag team from Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute that built the car and was a passenger on the cross-country trip from Washington, D.C., to San Diego, Calif.

After two decades of technology development and societal acclimatization in the area of robotics and self-driving cars, it’s amazing how much has changed—and, really, how much has stayed the same.

I thought it might be interesting to share some comments on that time, our trip across the country, and what has and hasn’t changed between then and now.

Today’s self-driving cars are so stylish

I’m jealous of the stylishness and integration of the most recent self-driving cars—luxury brands and cool little special-purpose cars. We used a minivan that had plastic side panels and cloth seats. But it was better than nothing.

We owe a huge thanks to Ashok Ramaswamy—a visionary engineering manager at Delco (predecessor to Delphi)—who cut through monumental red tape and salvaged a Pontiac Transport minivan from the junk heap and “donated” it to us to use as we saw fit.

We built the vehicle and software over about a four-month time frame for under $20,000. We had one computer, the equivalent of a 486DX2 (look that one up), a 640×480 color camera, a GPS receiver, and a fiber-optic gyro.

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

It’s funny to think that we didn’t use the GPS for position, but rather to determine speed.

In those days, GPS Selective Availability was still on, meaning you couldn’t get high-accuracy positioning cheaply. And if you could, there were no maps to use it with! But, GPS speed was better than nothing, and it meant we didn’t have to wire anything to the car hardware, so we used it.

Software challenges

In late 1994, Dean Pomerleau had pushed his ALVINN neural network lane tracking software about as far as it could go, but there were limitations with training speed and performance that he felt prevented it from getting to the next level—superior performance across all road types in all weather and lighting conditions.

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

As the vehicle moves along, a video camera mounted just below the rearview mirror reads the roadway, imaging information including lane markings, oil spots, curbs, and even ruts made in snow by car wheels. The camera sends the image to a portable computer between the car’s front seats that processes the data and instructs an electric motor on the steering wheel to turn right or left.

The driving system runs on the PANS (Portable Advanced Navigation Support) hardware platform. The platform provides a computing base and input/output functions for the system, as well as position estimation, steering wheel control, and safety monitoring. It’s powered from the vehicle’s cigarette lighter and is completely portable.

But inspiration hit Pomerleau on how to go forward while he and Chuck Thorpe were driving down the Rocky Mountains in a snowstorm after a DARPA “meeting.” The insight, which is still proprietary, was enough to make him junk ALVINN immediately and start over.

From around January 1995 to April or May 1995, he built a new system called RALPH (Rapidly Adapting Lateral Position Handler) that quickly equaled ALVINN’s performance—at least on local roads.

But to truly test the system, more roads were needed. And that was when the plan to drive across the U.S. was hatched. Quickly dubbed “No Hands Across America”—mainly because it was a nice play on the “Hands Across America” movement to combat hunger and poverty—the plan was to drive I-70 from Washington, D.C., to I-15 in Utah, then south to San Diego.

From May until when we left on July 23, 1995, time was spent refining the technology, planning the stops along the route, getting approval (I think) from CMU’s board of trustees, and getting sponsorships and fundraising to pay the tab.

Since there was no real sponsor for the trip (no one in their right mind would pay for something this crazy), we had to supplement the little money we got from CMU’s discretionary accounts with free equipment.

As noted above, Delco provided the car, while the computer, GPS, and gyro were all donated to us in exchange for a sticker on the side of the minivan. For gas and spending money, we sold trip T-shirts. I’m not kidding. They were $10 apiece and helped pay for food and hotels. Seriously.

Not sure if the NASCAR model of fundraising (car decals and T-shirts) has been used since then for robotics.

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

You can read the trip journal for more details, but suffice it to say that we learned more on that seven day trip than the entire research community may have learned in seven years. We also had a ton of fun. From renewing marriage vows in Las Vegas in a self-driving car, to seeing a six-legged cow at Prairie Dog Town, to driving across Hoover Dam autonomously, to meeting Jay Leno, it was a trip for the ages.

And perhaps the highlight was when Otis Port, a writer for Business Week who was doing a story on the trip (read the story here), was pulled over by a Kansas State Trooper—as we sped by with our hands off the wheel.

While I’ll admit to a strong bias, I think Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh was the center of technical excellence in self-driving cars. Beginning in the 1980s and 90s with the NavLabproject, CMU has led the development or trained the people who have been at the forefront of this technology.

Initially, it was Kanade, Whitaker, Thorpe, and Pomerleau. Under those pioneers in the field, the next generation of technology and thought leaders like Sebastian Thrun (Stanford), J.O. Urmson, and Astro Teller (Google) were trained.

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

And it’s clear that CMU remains at the center of the self-driving car universe even now, withUber’s decision to locate self-driving car research in Pittsburgh and to essentially in-house CMU’s brainpower, and finally, Delphi’s drive across the country powered by—you guessed it—a CMU spin-out company called Ottomatika that is based in Pittsburgh.

I was lucky to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. It’s not often in life that the right circumstances are in place to do something that no one had ever done before. When we did the trip, the field was about discovery and expanding technical frontiers.

I think it still is now, but unfortunately, it’s now also about patent fights, liability concerns, and state laws. (If you’re ever in doubt about your patent, just assume it was done at CMU between 1985-1997 – you’ll save a lot of money!)

Those were the good old days, I guess!

This article first appeared on Robotics Trends, and its text and photos have been republished here with permission.

Click here for more information about “No Hands Across America,” including the trip journal, pictures, and description of the vehicle.


Dr. Jochem is a robotics, unmanned systems, and technology professional interested in entrepreneurship and technology creation in robotics and related business sectors. He is currently a consultant to small technology businesses. Before his business career, Jochem was a systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute and a 1997 recipient of CMU’s Allan Newell Award for Research Excellence.

The Waterproof iPhone Plan

The Waterproof iPhone Plan, and Everything Else You Missed Yesterday

We’ve heard it all before—waterproof iPhones. It’s a patent rumor that goes back years. But a new patent, posted yesterday, is Apple’s second water-phobic patent in as many months. Whereas the patent last month tackled nano-coating and silicon seals, this one focuses on making sure that no pesky H2O molecules sneak past your hardware buttons. But patents are just that—patents. But if Apple could make a smartphone completely waterproof without sacrificing design (which Jony Ive would never allow), well… that would certainly be something. [Patently Apple]

Amazon Forces Workers to Sign Sinister Non-Compete Agreements 

Amazon Forces Workers to Sign Sinister Non-Compete Agreements 

If you take a temporary factory job at Amazon, you have to sign away your ability to work almost anywhere else, for 18 months after your gig is finished.

The Verge recently got one of the non-compete agreements Amazon makes its low-paid warehouse laborers sign, and they’re absurdly vague and wide-reaching:

Amazon is requiring these workers — even seasonal ones — to sign strict and far-reaching noncompete agreements. The Amazon contract, obtained by The Verge, requires employees to promise that they will not work at any company where they “directly or indirectly” support any good or service that competes with those they helped support at Amazon, for a year and a half after their brief stints at Amazon end.

Uh, Amazon sells pretty much everything. It sells Confederate flags! It sells gigantic tubs of lube! And it sells lots of normal things like books, furniture, clothes, beauty products, sports equipment. If you’re banned from working at a company that “directly or indirectly” sells something that competes with Amazon, you’re basically banned from working at most retailers. And for what?

In many industries, non-competes are standard on contracts. It’s a way to make sure that people don’t leak trade secrets when they switch employers. It’d be one thing if Amazon (and I’m sure Amazon does) made its highly skilled, full-time employees sign non-competes. But these are for people who are sometimes just signing on to make some extra cash over Christmas by moving stuff around the warehouse.

What secret Amazon sauce is the company afraid workers have gleaned from moving boxes around in a vast labyrinthine storage facility? There is none. These manual labor jobs are low-paying and designed for just about any able-bodied person to step into because they do not require advanced skills or subject knowledge. This isn’t an example of a company looking to safeguard its secrets. It’s an example of a company exerting control over a labor force because it can.

Amazon is known for “releasing” its seasonal workers without warning or explanation, so that adds a whole extra layer of trash sauce on this garbage policy.

If this blue-collar exploitation sounds familiar, you may be remembering how Jimmy John’s made its sandwich-making employees sign non-competes in a similarly overreaching fashion. But at least Jimmy John’s had the decency to limit the non-compete to other sandwich shops within three miles. Amazon’s geographic boundaries for the non-compete are considerably bigger. Like, the whole world bigger:

Employee further recognizes that the geographic areas for many of Amazon’s products and services — and, by extension, the geographic areas applicable to certain restrictions in this Section 4 — are extremely broad and in many cases worldwide.

The only glint of a silver lining is that so far, there’s not much evidence that Amazon is enforcing these agreements. As The Verge pointed out, Amazon has gone after its white-collar workers for skirting their non-competes, though, so it wouldn’t be shocking if it took an aggressive stance with its warehouse workers too. I’ve asked Amazon what it’s policy is on enforcing and will update if I hear back. (In some states, like California, non-competes aren’t enforceable.)

If you’re a current or former Amazon worker who has signed one of these agreements or you’ve heard of them being enforced, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Or email me. [The Verge]

Photo: Getty

This New 4D Batman Theme Park Ride Looks Like a Giant Nope-Coaster

 

Growing up outside of St. Louis, there was a Six Flags only a forty-minute drive away. You could look right off the highway and see the sprawling parking lot, the giant Ferris wheel, and the twisted metal of all the roller coasters. The most imposing snake-like construction was Batman: The Ride.

For me and my friends, it was almost a rite of passage to ride this thing. Once you had traversed the enviable “you must be this tall” sign, you jumped on Batman: The Ride until you puked your guts out. In 2015, Six Flags hopes to add another Batman ride to its legion of roller coasters. This time in San Antonio, Texas. But this isn’t your traditional, legs dangling thrill ride. Instead, this guy will also rotate your seat 360-degrees as you travel along its tracks.

Nope. Just…Nope.

The Los Angeles Times describes this metal monstrosity as the first of its kind and a crossbreed from the Green Lantern 4D coaster and the X-Flight wing coaster, both at other Six Flags theme parks. I will say I do appreciate Six Flags setting the scene with this teaser trailer, complete with ominous skies…because Batman!

Are you braver than I? Would you actually give this new Batman ride a shot? [The Los Angeles Times]

A Vivid Reminder From Banksy That Technology Can Enslave Us All

 

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Every morning you wake up, your hand scrabbling for the smartphone on the bedside table. Is there email, a tweet, a like on Instagram? You’re a slave to the phone, desperate for its digital hit.

Everyone does it, so how wrong can it be? Honestly, just like our very own Jesus Diaz pointed out last year, pretty wrong. Technology is wonderful sure: it can make our lives more efficient, allow unprecedented levels of communication, and expand our horizons.

But its draw can be too much. It can suck us in, take over our lives, turn us into simpering, whimpering, Facebook-loving wrecks. You don’t need to check your email as soon as you wake up; you don’t need to see if someone favorited your tweet as you go to bed. Of course you don’t. But you do, you can’t help it.

 

Banksy’s not shy of bringing together technological and social commentary, and his latest effort—really just a simple sketch that he posted to Twitter—is a stark reminder that our technology is increasingly an extension of us. A reminder that, sometimes, we rely on it too much.

But it needn’t be that way. To borrow Jesus’s words for a moment:

Perhaps we should just try be a bit more sensible about it—as with any other addictive substance. I like a good whisky, but I don’t have to drink three bottles of it every day. I can do the same with phones and tablets and computers: Play more Lego. Play more piano. Go outside. Don’t use the phone at all while I’m with others. Read. Walk. Go to the movies. Create something with my own hands. Get real.

So here’s to getting real. Thanks for the reminder, Banksy. [Banksy]

A blog about Technology, Video Games, Cars, Trends, that I almost forgot to tweet about

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