Category Archives: Giran Technology

A smart sensor to automate Apple households

This wireless motion sensor is part of Elgato’s lineup of HomeKit-compatible accessories and can be used to trigger “scenes” and rules based on your movement (or the lack thereof) around your house.


Like most HomeKit accessories, the Eve Motion is a snap to set up. It runs on two batteries and uses Bluetooth low energy (BLE) to communicate with your other iOS devices and Apple TV. No hubs or Wi-Fi setup required.

While you can use Apple’s Home app to configure the Motion, it makes more sense to download the dedicated Elgato Eve one, which gives you more options. After inserting the two included AA batteries into the sensor and launching the Eve app, you choose to add a new device and the Eve Motion should pop up immediately. After that, it’s simply a matter of scanning the unique HomeKit code on the sensor with your iPhone or iPad, selecting the room where you’ll be using it, and then updating the sensor’s firmware. All told, the process takes about six minutes.

You can also tweak the motion sensitivity and duration values during this initial app setup. The latter is used to determine how quickly the motion sensor will re-detect motion after it’s been triggered.

As with Apple’s Home app, you can use the Eve app to create “scenes” that execute multiple actions simultaneously with a single command (An “I’m Home” scene could trigger all the HomeKit-enabled lights in your home to turn on when the Eve sensor detects motion, for instance). You can also create timers and rules to set scenes automatically at specific times or with specific motion triggers.

To test the Eve Motion, we used it in various parts of our home—including the living room, basement, bedroom, and office—creating location-specific scenes, timers, and rules based on our movements.

Artificial intelligence now powers all of Facebook’s translation

Spend enough time on Facebook, and you’ll likely encounter a post written in a tongue that’s foreign to you. That’s because the social network has two billion users and supports over 45 languages. On Thursday, Facebook announced that all of its user translation services—those little magic tricks that happen when you click “see translation” beneath a post or comment—are now powered by neural networks, which are a form of artificial intelligence.

Back in May, the company’s artificial intelligence division, called Facebook AI Research, announced that they had developed a kind of neural network called a CNN (that stands for convolutional neural network, not the news organization where Wolf Blitzer works) that was a fast, accurate translator. Part of the virtue of that CNN is that instead of looking at words one at a time, it can consider groups of them.

Now, Facebook says that they have incorporated that CNN tech into their translation system, as well as another type of neural network, called an RNN (the R is for recurrent). Those RNNs, Facebook said in a blog item about the news, are better at understanding the context of the whole sentence than the previous system, and can reorder sentences as needed so that they make sense.

The upshot? Facebook says that the new AI-powered translation is 11 percent more accurate than the old-school approach, which is what they call a “phrase-based machine translation” technique that wasn’t powered by neural networks. That system translated words or small groups of words individually, and didn’t do a good job of considering the context or word order of the sentence.

As an example of the difference between the two translation systems, Facebook demonstrated how the old approach would have translated a sentence from Turkish into English, and then showed how the new AI-powered system would do it. The first Turkish-to-English sentence reads this way: “Their, Izmir’s why you said no we don’t expect them to understand.” Now check out the newer translation: “We don’t expect them to understand why Izmir said no.” Notice how the AI fixed the mistakes in word and phrase order?

While neural networks had been working together with the more traditional translation system before today, now all the translation gets its smarts from AI. This new system is capable of translating in 2,000 “directions.” For example, a translation from English to French is one direction, French to English is a second, and French to Italian is a third direction, and so forth. Astoundingly, the neural networks handle 4.5 billion translation per day, making them quite the linguists.

This smart window uses electricity to quickly change from clear to dark

In a world where even mundane devices like water bottles and toothbrushes have become smart and connected, it’s easy to scoff at yet another attempt at smartifying practical gadgets. But new technology for smart windows, described today in the journal Joule, might actually be an intelligent idea. That’s thanks to their energy-saving potential: Dynamic windows that darken when the sun is shining on them could help reduce cooling costs in the summer, just like putting down the blinds does. And with the help of an internet connection and an intelligent schedule, these could be automatic, so you wouldn’t have to remember when to turn them on and off.

Windows that tint on demand already exist—one prominent class of them is known as electrochromic windows. In fact, if you’ve flown on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, you’ve seen electrochromic windows on the fuselage, which dim with a button’s press, either by the passenger or the flight crew. But a group of researchers at Stanford are aiming for a better, more dynamic one: Their prototype goes from transparent to opaque in less than three minutes. And it does it using an innovative approach.

Electrochromic technology in general isn’t perfect, says Ioannis Kymissis, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Columbia University. “They’re not amazing, but they’re not terrible,” he says. “For privacy applications, they’re not as high performing as people would like.” In other words, they might not get dark enough to be totally opaque, and the transition time can be slow. (One brand, SageGlass, says their windows take between 7 to 12 minutes to transition.)

But this new approach is clever, says Kymissis, who wasn’t involved in the new research. Their method involves using ions from two metals, like copper and silver, in an electrolyte gel on the window. The glass also needs to have indium tin oxide in it, a transparent conductor that’s ubiquitous in television and smartphone screens. By applying a negative electrical voltage, the window becomes dark because the ions form elemental, solid metal, which is opaque. A positive voltage causes the metal to dissolve back into ion form, allowing the light to come through.

It’s all fun and games until robots take over

Good morning fellow campers! It’s another beautiful Monday here at Camp PopSci as we once again transition from warm sunshine to the familiar glow of our computer screens. Last week wasn’t big on hardware announcements—that’s expected in these warm summer months—but there’s still plenty of interesting stuff to check out before heading off to the arts and crafts tent to make an ashtray or macaroni necklace. See you all in the mess hall for lunch!

This week’s Musk-Read

Last week’s camp champion was camper OpenAI, an artificial intelligence bot backed by Elon Musk. The robotic gamer was able to beat some of the best players in the world at the super-popular and wildly complex video game, Dota 2. The conditions for the robotic victory still have to be pretty specific—it can only play as and against a specific character—but the learning capabilities seem very impressive. Elon showed some team spirit via Twitter about the victory.


Summer romances come to an end—hopefully with a touching musical number—and now Netflix and Disney are officially looking to break up. Disney’s plan will tentatively remove all its content from Netflix and start its own streaming properties by 2019. There are reportedly still talks to keep Marvel content on Netflix, but the future is unclear at the moment.

For the records

The Internet Archive now plays host to more than 50,000 digitized recordings from 78 rpm records and even cylinders from the Archive of Contemporary Music. The music isn’t tidied up or remastered, so the recordings have audio evidence of the physical imperfections on the original media. It may not be to your taste, but at least it’ll give you a break from hearing “Despacito” on loop.

The sound of silence

Every single time I plug my phone into my car’s USB port, it plays “Abracadabra Holmes” by Daggermouth at a volume that’s somehow always too loud. It’s not a song I particularly love, but it’s impossible to stop it from autoplaying, or at least it was until now. A former Buzzfeed employee released a song called “A a a a a Very Good Song,” which is actually roughly 10 minutes of silence. Buy it, and it will become the first song in your iTunes library when listed alphabetically, so it will auto play, granting you enough time to pick a song you actually want or turn off the sound completely.

NASA is about to find out if a supercomputer

On Monday, at 12:31 p.m. Eastern time, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off on a resupply flight for the International Space Station, and among its cargo, in addition to ice cream, was something else very cool: a supercomputer.

The machine, made by Hewlett Packard Enterprise and called the Spaceborne Computer, is capable of a teraflop worth of computing power, which puts it roughly in line with a late-1990s supercomputer. Made up of two pizza box-shaped machines in a single enclosure, the HPE supercomputer is a part of a year-long experiment to see how an off-the-shelf computer system can fare in space if protected in the right way by software.

Long space missions like a trip to Mars come with considerable communications delays, so equipping astronauts with a powerful supercomputer would allow them to solve complex problems without having to wait for the issue and the solution to be transmitted to and from Earth. But radiation on a trip like that can damage computers, so NASA and HPE are conducting this research to see if software can provide the necessary protection to keep things functioning correctly.

Just like NASA’s famous identical twin experiment—in which Scott Kelly spent a year in space and his brother, Mark Kelly, stayed down on Earth—the supercomputer in space has a brother on this planet, a doppleganger machine located in Wisconsin acting as a control in this experiment.

HPE’s approach with the Spaceborne Computer, a two-node, water-cooled machine, is different from the way a mission-critical computer in space is physically protected (or “hardened,” in space gear speak) from radiation. For example, the chief computer for the Juno spacecraft inhabits a “protective titanium vault with walls about one centimeter thick,” according to BAE systems, which made that processor. Instead of physical protection for the HPE computer, the company is hoping to learn if software can do something similar.

Eng Lim Goh, the HPE project’s principal investigator, says that the “dramatic vision” for the future of this line of research is one in which before an astronaut travels to space, he or she would be able to take a top-of-the-line, off-the-shelf machine with them, and software could make it space-worthy. Then the astronaut could put whatever programs she wanted on the machine, a process that Goh, a computer scientist, compares to having an iPhone in space onto which you’ve preloaded your apps.

In general, Goh says that smart machines on Earth that exercise “self-care” may turn themselves off in the face of dangerous conditions. Another idea is that a machine can intentionally run slowly so that it can handle errors as it goes, as opposed to running at maximum capacity and not having the bandwidth to also cope with problems.

“We will find out what works, what doesn’t,” Goh says. “We have a whole list.”

HPE said in a statement describing the project that the “system software will manage real time throttling of the computer systems based on current conditions and can mitigate environmentally induced errors.” (If you’re wondering what Hewlett Packard Enterprise is, it’s one-half of the old HP, which divided in 2015; the other half is now HP, Inc., which makes personal computers and printers.)

“This system is not planned to replace the [physically] hardened systems,” Goh says. The intention is that something like this could function as a “decision support” tool on a long mission to a place like Mars, and not a primary mission computer.

These are China’s plans for floating nuclear reactors

China is well on its way to becoming a world leader in nuclear power; its 37 reactors are already producing 32.4 gigawatts of electricity, and more than 20 more reactors are currently under construction.

And now China wants to take the lead in building nuclear power plants in open waters. These floating plants could power oil rigs and islands off the coast, or travel to disaster-struck coasts to provide relief.

Bobbing nuclear power plants are often mounted on a broad-beamed hull, and typically have 25 percent the capacity of their larger, land-based brethren. Those floating reactors can be positioned to coastal and offshore areas that quickly need power (such as areas devastated by tsunamis), or rented out to customers who urgently need a ready supply of electricity.China National Nuclear Power (CNNP) is partnering with Chinese shipyards and electric machinery companies to develop a $150 million project. The combination of nuclear reactor suppliers and a shipyard suggests that floating nuclear reactors are going to be the main focus of the joint venture.

The project may later expand to include other nuclear-powered civilian ships, like icebreakers, but right now sights seem to be set on floating reactors. China’s been planning ship-bound nuclear facilities for a while: China General Nuclear Power Group, CNNC’s main domestic competitor, announced in January 2016 that it would build a floating ACPR50S reactor to enter service in 2020, with a thermal output of 200 megawatts and electrical output of 60 megawatts.

Floating reactors can support offshore drilling and production rigs by providing them with large amounts of power, thus reducing the need to store extra fuel on board for power generation. That means a much safer rig.

China Nuclear Group

Vice Director Wang Yiren of the National Defense State Administration for Science, Technology, and Industry said that China would prioritize the development of floating nuclear reactors in order to provide offshore oil and gas rigs with power, as well as to operate desalination plants and equipment on remote islands, such as disputed features in the South China Sea.

The floating nuclear reactors could also power Chinese underwater mining operations, in which China has already invested heavily, and deepwater logistical bases for naval usage.

China’s brand new, souped-up tanks

Last week, China’s dominant fighting vehicle manufacturer, China North Industries Corporation (Norinco), displayed a bevy of export armored vehicles as part of its Armor Day celebrations. These festivities, now in their second year, laud the power of Chinese military and offer an occasion to show off to senior foreign military officers, who were likely there as potential buyers.

The day began with a parade of armored fighting vehicles, led by the VT-4 main battle tank, which has already found a repeat buyer in the Royal Thai Army. Spotted: usual suspects like the VT-4 main battle tank, VT-5 light tank, and VN-12 IFV, as well as several new Chinese systems and fighting vehicles.

The star attraction was the GL-5 hard-kill active protection system (APS), which destroyed a guided missile attacking a tank in a live fire exercise. The GL-5 system consists of four radars and fixed projectile launchers, which are attached to a tank turret for 360 degree coverage (each launcher covers a quadrant).

The radars pick up incoming enemy rockets, missiles, and shells, causing the computer to select a munition and fire it. Each munition is capable of destroying incoming munitions at a range of 33-39 feet. The use of fixed-launcher, radar-guided munitions in an APS mirrors the hard-kill portion of the Afghanit APS on the Russian T-14 Armata tank. As the GL-5 is an export-only version, the Chinese military is likely to field a more advanced version to protect its tanks, which could be comparable to the U.S. Quick Kill and Israeli Iron Fist and Trophy systems in terms of coverage, range, and fire volume.

The new VN-17 infantry-fighting vehicle (IFV) uses a heavily modified version of the 33-ton VT-5 light tank’s chassis. It has an unmanned (read: remotely controlled) turret with two large, multi-lens electro-optical and infrared sensors (one each for the gunner and commander). Those sensors come in handy when the system needs to use its 35mm cannon, 7.62mm machine gun, or medium-range HJ-12 anti-tank missiles. The VN-17 is also well protected, with reactive armor on the lower front hull, and significant side-skirt armor alongside its tracks. All this, plus its capacity to carry seven infantry, makes it likely in the 30-35 ton weight class.

It shares some similarity with the People’s Liberation Army’s mysterious new infantry-fighting vehicle, which will reportedly have an unmanned turret, augmented displays for crew helmets, and a hybrid-electrical engine for fuel efficiency and stealth. In terms of armament, protection, and sensors, both the VN-17 and the unnamed PLA IFV compare quite favorably to the U.S. Army’s M2A3 Bradley IFV. But unlike the 35-year-old Bradley, China’s brand new battle taxis have plenty of margin to grow into future upgrades like more advanced armor, better weapons, APS, sensors, and deploying unmanned partners.

Here’s what you need to know about the Samsung Note8 smartphone

It carries on the Note name despite the catastrophic Note7

The first thing to know about the Note8 device is that it exists, and it’s called the Note8. Following the Note7 recall debacle—you know, that whole combusting batterynightmare—it wouldn’t be shocking if the company had decided that it was the end of the line for the Note series. But the Note line endures.

In a statement, DJ Koh, the president of Samsung Mobile, said that they “appreciate the relentless passion of the Note community.” (Would it be safe to call it a burning passion? Sorry.) In short, the company says it continued the Note series because of customer passion for it.

Samsung has already explained why those Note7 batteries exploded and revealed an 8-point battery safety check to make sure that going forward, its lithium-ion batterieswon’t combust.

The battery on this latest device is 3,300 mAh, making it slightly smaller than the Note7, which was 3,500. In addition to the normal battery safety checks that the company does, they say that Underwriters Laboratories, better known as UL, is being even more thorough when testing the battery on the Note8.

The hardware hasn’t changed much

The Note8 will sport an AMOLED Infinity Display screen that’s 6.3 inches on the diagonal, just a tenth of an inch longer than the S8 Plus’s screen, and bigger than the screen on the discontinued Note7. Like other Note devices, it has a stylus that you can use to do things like sign documents and draw. The S Pen, as it’s called, now has a tip that’s just .7 millimeters in diameter, like a ballpoint pen, and the system is more pressure-sensitive.

Like the S8 and S8 Plus, it’s has a Bixby button to summon Samsung’s version of Siri, and it also has the fingerprint sensor on back, near the camera. It also supports face and iris recognition for unlocking the device, and you can charge it wirelessly.

Mayweather and McGregor’s 8-ounce boxing gloves have started a science fight

Trash talk has been a fundamental part of the run-up to the August 26 match between undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather and Mixed Martial Arts champion Conor McGregor. A few weeks ago, Mayweather turned his attention to the weight of their fight gloves on social media. He proposed the pair battle while wearing gloves that weigh 8 ounces each, instead of the usual 10-ouncers required for their weight class, which is 154 pounds. McGregor’s response was positive (and obscenity laden), and the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is sanctioning the bout, has granted the opponents a one-time exception to use lighter gloves. What this means, however, is a topic of much debate in the boxing community. Those 2 ounces have caused a big stir, especially in a time when the scientific data about brain injuries in sports grows more troubling.

“They’re supposed to use 10-ounce gloves,” says Larry Lovelace, president of a group called the Association of Ringside Physicians, which advocates for the safety of fighters in combat sports. “There’s not a lot of scientific research to say that’s where the cutoff should be. But, the question that I have is, why is Nevada going to go against their own regulations and rules?”

The ARP has issued a statement questioning the Nevada commission’s decision and calling for more scientific research on whether or the Commission’s glove guidelines actually benefit the fighters’ overall health during and after the match.

There is no national governing body that regulates boxing, and the rules about gloves vary from state to state. The Nevada commission’s rule NAC 467.427, section 5, subsection a states that a fighter “at 135 pounds or less must wear gloves which weigh 8 ounces during the contest or exhibition.”

Section b continues: “At more than 135 pounds must wear gloves which weigh 10 ounces during the contest or exhibition, except that an unarmed combatant weighing in at more than 135 pounds but not more than 147 pounds may wear gloves which weigh 8 ounces during the contest or exhibition if both unarmed combatants agree to wear gloves of that weight.”

It’s all about the hands

Boxing experts will tell you that the original intent behind sheathing boxers’ hands was to protect them from breaking. Greek gladiators used to wrap leather straps around their fists. The Marquess of Queensberry Rules, published in England in 1867 and one of the earliest recorded rulebooks on boxing, demanded gloves be “fair-sized” but didn’t specify a weight or physical dimensions.

This budget-friendly bot is a total neat freak


Like most robot vacuum cleaners, setting up the RoboVac 11 is easy. You flip it over, snap on a couple side brushes, connect the charging base to an outlet, set the vacuum on the station, and then wait a few hours for it to fully charge.

The RoboVac 11 doesn’t have Wi-Fi or a dedicated app like many of its more expensive competitors. It does, however, come with a remote control that lets you do many of the same things: create cleaning schedules, start and stop the vacuum, and send it back to its charging cradle (the bot does that automatically as well when its battery is low).

Using the remote, you can choose between one of six cleaning modes: Auto, Edge, Spot, Max, Single Room, and Manual. Auto tailors the bot’s cleaning pattern to the individual room it’s in. Edge cleaning is what it sounds like—the RoboVac slows down when it reaches a wall and then follows it cleaning the perimeter of the room. Spot cleaning sends the vacuum off in a spiral cleaning pattern that’s meant for areas of concentrated dirt, and Max has increased suction for carpets. Single Room mode is meant for, uh, single (confined) rooms, and Manual mode gives you control over the direction of the RoboVac from the remote.

After everything was charged and ready to go, we set the vacuum loose in our bedroom, kitchen, office, and living room. For comparison purposes, we also recreated our usual obstacle course of filth in our 28 x 15-foot living room. Filled with a combination of hardwood floors and low-pile carpeting, as well as a mixture of furniture—a couch, multiple bookshelves, a coffee table, and credenza—it’s a complicated room to clean with plenty of areas in which a robovac can get stuck. We added our special mixture of flour, rice, dirt, and plenty of short, pointy dog hairs to see how well the vacuum handled them.


Anyone interested in buying a robovac these days has their work cut out for them. What was once a category dominated by one company has become a crowded (but dirt free) playing field filled with all manner of floor-cleaning bots. At the high-end, you get advanced sensors and navigational systems, dedicated apps for controlling your vacuum remotely, and various bells and whistles like ability to set up invisible walls. At the other end you get, well, a robot vacuum that bounces around and sucks up dirt from the floors.

The Eufy RoboVac 11 falls into the latter category, but here’s the thing: It does its main job—sucking up dirt, hair, and dust—as well as or better than many of its high-end competitors. Not only did it manage to suck up nearly every kind of mess we created for it, it was actually better at cleaning along side walls and furniture legs, possible thanks to its dual side brushes (most robot vacs only have one). At just over three inches tall, the RoboVac could also fit under low bed frames and other areas that vacuums we’ve tested simply couldn’t get to. It is also surprisingly quiet, which is great.

While the vacuum always did a thorough job of cleaning our test rooms, it does not appear to follow any defined path or pattern when doing so. Instead, the vacuum just sort of ping-pongs around the room, often overlapping areas it’s cleaned multiple times. If the RoboVac’s battery didn’t last as long (upwards of 90 minutes), this would potentially be a more annoying issue, but as it stands the semi-random pattern didn’t bother us or affect the ultimate results.

The RoboVac did have a few issues. On more than one occasion it got stuck on power cords behind our living room credenza and underneath the bookshelf and required rescuing. It also didn’t do a great job on a high-pile carpet we doused with dog hair and dirt, although it’s not recommended for this carpet type. For those with a lot of potential obstacles (dog bowls, etc) in a given cleaning area, it’s worth noting that the RoboVac 11 doesn’t come with any kind of virtual wall barriers or magnetic tape to keep the vacuum from plowing into them.

Still, these were are all small inconveniences, and easily forgiven when considering the RoboVac’s price. And that’s really the bottom line here: No robovac will clean as well as a human operated push vacuum. However, they are a great way to keep floors tidier for longer and prolonging the need for those deep cleanings. What you’re ultimately left with is a pretty simple question: Would you rather spend as much as a grand for that incremental robo cleaner or $220? For us, the choice is easy.


If you don’t mind the absence of smartphone support and other bells and whistles, the RoboVac 11 is an easy recommendation for anyone who wants to keep their wood floors and low-pile carpets cleaner for longer.