Category Archives: Giran Technology

New gadgets bask in the post-eclipse glow

How are your eyes feeling? Lots of people hit up Google about eye problems after last week’s eclipse, but hopefully, they’re feeling better now. If so, you can use your healed-up eyes to check out the stuff that happened in the tech world last week. Listening to the new Taylor Swift single on repeat while you read it is totally optional.

Tight fit

 Fitbit released a new smartwatch and fitness tracker called the Ionic. It promises an impressive four days of battery on a full charge, as well as a new platform for third party apps, and will cost $299 when it launches in October. That makes it more expensive than the original Apple Watch, so it has some work to do if it wants to impress the wearables crowd.

Cookie robot

The new version of Android is officially named Oreo and will start rolling out to devices in its final version soon. If you have a phone that runs a stock version of the OS, like the Google Pixel, you’ll likely be in the first wave to receive the update. If you have a different phone, it will roll out whenever the magic wizard casts the appropriate spell to make it compatible with your device, or however it is they figure that out.

Classy cans

Audio-Technica’s new flagship headphones, the ATH-ADX5000, cost $2,000 and come in their own luxurious suitcase for travel and storage. They’re open-back headphones, which audiophiles enjoy for their ability to crank out high-fidelity sound.

Stick joy

If you’re sick of losing at Overwatch on Xbox Live, you can pick up Razer’s new Wolverine Ultimate controller, which has a cadre of customizable triggers and buttons to tweak your controls. It also has customizable lighting colors and swappable thumb sticks. All that tweakability will cost you $159, which is slightly more expensive than Microsoft’s own Xbox One Elite controller.

Look at all these sweet ‘Star Wars’ toys

Labor Day 2017 is upon us, which means summer is over and so is the latest season of Game of Thrones. However, that also means we’re getting into new gadget season, and the kickoff party is in Germany at the IFA trade show. There’s a lot of new stuff to see on this list, including a whole heap of new Star Wars toys that are ready to eat up your kids’ college funds.

Apple picking

First things first, we learned that the next Apple event will be happening on September 12th. We’re expecting to meet the new iPhone, as well as a revamped Apple TV, but details—as always—are sparse beyond that. There are currently plenty of places on the internet to read and argue about rumors, but I can tell you with certainty that it’s a bad way to spend your Labor Day. Or any day, really. Don’t do that.

Jed-eyes

Perhaps the coolest new Star Wars toy comes from Lenovo. This mixed reality headset lets you have an all-too-real light saber battle in the comfort of your own home. It looks like a ton of fun, but be aware of your surroundings because you don’t want to accidentally smash your grandma in the face while flailing wildly around your living room.

We come in pieces

Also on the Star Wars toy front, Lego introduced a new $799 Millennium Falcon kit with roughly 7,500 pieces. Only time will tell which one of those pieces you’ll drop under the couch and never find again.

How we’ll nap our way to Mars

Imagine a road trip that lasts six months—no pit stops, black night the whole way. That’s how long it would take you, and how monotonous it would be, to fly to Mars. To avoid the boredom (and its cousins depression and anxiety), you could spend part of your trip in artificial hibernation, or torpor, as it’s medically known. NASA is funding research into this method for future planet hoppers, and not just to reduce the games of I Spy. Because metabolism slows during slumber, you would require less food and water, reducing a mission’s cargo weight, fuel needs, and price tag. Also, you wouldn’t want to kill your crew mates. Here’s how you might go nighty-night and save your sanity on your 34-million-mile flight.

Step 1: Pod People

You enter the torpor pod. Using an IV placed in a central vein in your chest, a crew mate injects a sedative similar to propofol to prevent shivering, then tapes sensors to your skin. These will monitor heart rhythm, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and other stats.

Step 2: Straight Chillin’

Once the sedative knocks you out, the pod begins cooling the air around your body. This lowers your core temperature a few degrees per hour, from a healthy 98.6°F to below the point of hypothermia. Crew members may also cool you with gel pads or icy nasal spray.

Step 3: Low Maintenance

The crew pushes anticoagulants through the central line to prevent blood clots from forming—if they break free, they can block blood vessels. IV antibiotics help stave off infection. And robotic systems periodically stimulate your muscles to prevent atrophy.

In torpor, the average body needs only about 1,000 calories of daily nutrient slurry. You “eat” via a feeding tube down your throat or a PEG tube implanted on the inside of your stomach. Urine- and fecal-collection systems keep you, and the pod, clean.

China’s looking to one-up Elon Musk’s hyperloop

Hyperloops, the developing mode of transit that promises to zip people frictionlessly in pods and tubes, have long been associated with the innovations and dreams of billionaire Elon Musk. More recently, however, it’s captivated the imaginations of others, including, now, a Chinese aerospace giant. The China Aerospace Science and Industrial Corporation (CASIC), a well-heeled newcomer to the mass transit industry, is betting big on its supersonic T Flight ‘flying train.’

The company announced on August 30 its plans for an intercontinental hyperloop train with a top speed of over 2,300 miles per hour, or Mach 3.  For comparison, Elon Musk’s initial proposal called for a 745 miles per hour hyperloop to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco. And the current fastest bullet trains, in Germany and China, have top speeds in the range of 180-215 miles per hour.

What makes CASIC think this is possible? For one, its got 150,000 employees. Last year it made $30 billion, with a profit of $1.5 billion. It’s got the resources.

CASIC

Let’s talk about the structure of T Flight. Keep in mind this is all theoretical. The transport capsule would be a light-and-easy 20 tons and measure nearly 7 feet wide, more than 7 feet tall, and about 117 feet long. Each capsule would seat 16 people in twin rows of 8, plus luggage in a compartment at the back

The load would be propelled and lifted less than an inch off the surface by superconducting magnetic levitation (maglev) modules, which means there’s no friction between the car and the line. The network would consist of two tubes per line—each tube is strictly one-way only—with built in maglev systems, and would be powered in large part by the solar panels on top of the tubes. Given the high speeds and high-traffic density of T Flight capsules at any time, operations would be highly automated, and possibly AI-aided.

 RAPID LAUNCH

Each T Flight station would have a turntable to rapidly launch capsules. Unlike traditional trains, which have multiple attached cars journeying together, hyperloop systems generally intend to send multiple unattached capsules departing every few minutes. The high speeds mean even capsules launched within a few minutes of each other will have miles of distance between. For a three-destination network with an annual capacity of 8 million passengers, each leg of the network would need to launch and recover a 16-passenger capsule every 3.15 minutes.

CASIC

How close is this to becoming a reality? CASIC has already made some preparations. It’s researched and registered 200 patents for the T Flight, aiming to finish research in 2020. Liu Shiquan, CASIC’s Deputy CEO, said that CASIC is aiming to partner with 20 domestic and international companies to realize the first stage of the “flying train” plan. That plan: a regional network of capsules that zip some 8 million people a year around Wuhan, China. Speeds would range between 370 and 620 miles per hour.

Metal-detecting essentials for your next treasure hunt

The lure of treasure hunting is not that of striking proverbial gold (although some still do search for it), but that you never know what historical holdovers the ground will produce. At the right local spot—an old battlefield or remote beach—these tools will allow you to burrow back in time.

1. Search the area

First, you need a metal detector. The Teknetics Patriot can spot booty up to a foot underground, and its display will estimate the object’s depth and material. Audible beeps let you know when metal distorts the electromagnetic field generated by the ­11-inch head. $399

2. Dig a tidy hole

A hand trowel is great for small digs, but if you need to bust through roots or tough dirt, the serrated edges of the 3-foot-long Ground Hawg Shovel will help you cut. Four jabs with the 7.5-inch blade will create a cube-shaped plug of earth that’s easy to replace. $70

3. Be more aggressive

Rocky terrain requires more hardcore tools like the Garrett Retriever II Pick. At 19 inches long, the steel pickaxe features a flat blade for moving earth and a point for cutting. A rare-earth magnet in the center of the head will grab metal objects underwater. $59

4. Get accuracy

Once you start digging, use the 9.3-inch Minelab Pro-Find 35 detector to search the hole. The probe creates a 360-degree electromagnetic field with adjustable power that can sense when it’s within inches of loot. Haptic and audio alerts intensify as you get closer to your treasure. $149

It’s new iPhone eve

School is starting, apples (the ones made of fruit) are ripening, and it’s almost time for a new iPhone to come springing out of Cupertino at tomorrow’s Apple event. It must be fall. There has already been a lot of talk online about what we’re going to see from Tim Cook and his crew tomorrow, but check back here tomorrow if you want to follow along with us as we watch the announcement. Until then, here’s a look at what was happening last week in the world of tech.

Headphone jack of all trades

The next iPhone won’t have a headphone jack unless something crazy happens. An ex-Google engineer, however, managed to add a headphone jack to his iPhone 7. It took months of work and cost thousands of dollars, but there’s nothing quite like the reward of seeing a project through to the end.

Extra range rovers

Some Tesla owners looking to flee Florida before the destructive force of Hurricane Irma came through found that they had some extra battery juice to power their evacuation. Tesla’s cars have built-in 75 KHW batteries, but they’re limited to 60 KHW or 70 KHW unless you pay to upgrade.

I’m your density 2

Last week saw the release of one of the year’s most anticipated video games, Destiny 2. If you played the first, you probably notice a distinct difference in how the overall game works, with less emphasis on grinding for good gear. Not everyone is thrilled with the changes, though.

Server farmer

John Deere purchased Blue River Technology, a company that specializes in identifying (and murdering) weeds using AI, for $305 million. Tractors are already remarkably self-sustainable, but this is part of a bigger trend in which farm processes are becoming more automated by the day. Take that, ragweed.

On the case

If you worry about losing those pricy Apple AirPods, this Kickstarter might interest you. The PodCase has built-in sockets to snugly hold the AirPods when they’re not crammed in your ears. It comes from the creator of Pebble and will start shipping in February 2018 if you pony up the $89 preorder price.

Uno-chrome

Mattel is now making a version of its classic card game Uno that’s suitable for people with color blindness. The cards were designed in collaboration with ColorADD, the global organization for colorblind accessibility and education, and use symbols in addition to colors in order to indicate card type.

Campus media

If you’re an undergrad student looking to stay entertained between study sessions, you can now get Spotify and Hulu subscriptions for a grand total of $5 per month. Better yet, make your roommate pay for it and then totally mooch off of their entertainment bounty.

Rollin’ and scrollin’

If you’re not old enough to have watched the Friends finale live, then it’s possible you’ve never used a trackball mouse. The concept is simple: Instead of moving the mouse around, you roll around a ball while the mouse stays stationary. Logitech’s new MX Ergo uses this tech to entice a new generation of ball rollers and make some old school input device enthusiasts very happy.

How to find legitimate deals on tech

We all want to get our hands on the latest in shiny new gadgetry. Unfortunately, the newest tech tends to come with the most premium prices. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. By keeping an eye out for seasonal price changes, annual product cycles, special offers, and refurbished devices, you can make sure you’re buying your hardware at the best price point possible. If you want the best value from your future tech purchases, check out some of the tricks in this guide.

Become a web detective

Good news for eager bargain hunters: Plenty of online retailers are willing to slash prices in order to attract your business. To find these discounts, head to price comparison sites such as Google Shopping and PriceGrabber, which will list where something is selling for the cheapest price. Before you start your purchase though, check to see how extras like shipping charges and warranty costs will add to your total cost.

Don’t forget the biggest online retail behemoth out there. This guide to saving time and money on Amazon has lots of useful advice, such as tracking price changes with CamelCamelCamel. Plenty of the tips apply to other sites as well. For example, sign up for the email newsletters and follow the social media accounts of your favorite stores in order to receive a heads up on special tech deals you wouldn’t otherwise notice.

 On top of individual price comparison sites, you can install price comparison extensions for your web browser. The Shoptimate add-on fits right in your browser; when you visit one of a broad range of shopping sites, it will pop up to share additional price options in real time. InvisibleHand works similarly, and it also covers flight and hotel comparisons in addition to e-tail. Finally, Honey will lead you toward discount coupons and codes to take even more money off your total.

Beyond sites and extensions, you can compare some prices on your own. Scroll down to the bottom of a product listing on Amazon, for example, and you’ll see side-by-side spec and price comparisons of similar products. Every listing shows when the item first went on sale, so you can make sure you’re not comparing TVs or laptops from different years.

Once you’ve finished shopping, you’re almost ready to purchase. Before parting with your credit card or PayPal information, research the history and specs listings of the gadget that’s tempting you. After all your comparing, a low price might have tricked you into selecting an older product, or one that’s not exactly what you’re looking for.

Know your seasons and cycles

The time you shop can make a difference to the price you pay. So if you can hold off on a purchase, you might be able to get it for cheaper. For example, the sales bonanza that kicks off with Black Friday doesn’t really stop until Christmas. The biggest reductions during this period will be on older, mid-range tech rather than the very top-end stuff, so by all means splurge, but make sure you know what you’re getting.

When should you buy to get discounts on the best and newest gadgets? These deals don’t usually hit the scene until immediately before or after an updated version arrives. If you wait for the new model to appear, the current (and soon to be “old” model) is likely to be much cheaper. For the iPhone, for instance, shop in September, while Samsung’s Galaxy phones get less expensive around late February or early March, coinciding with the Mobile World Congress tech expo.

Researchers just figured out how to get robots

Power Rangers had Megazord. Voltron had, well, Voltron. Individual robots that combine to form one larger, cooler—dare we say, more badass—automaton have been a mainstay of science fiction for decades. But a new study in Nature Communications suggests that morphing robots may finally outgrow the limits of fiction and find their way into our reality. The researchers were able to get autonomous modular robots—robots that have the ability to control themselves, like the Roomba vacuum cleaner—to join forces and make one cohesive megabot. The future is now.

Researchers who study swarming insects like termites and ants know that these animals can accomplish things in coordinated groups that they could never manage on their own: carrying large objects, taking out predators, and creating intricate structures. Termites in particular are known for their prodigious ability to build complex homes, or termite mounds, without a blueprint. Swarm robots could potentially do the same.

“Take moving on a very rocky terrain, for example,” says lead author Marco Dorigo, a research director at IRIDIA, the artificial intelligence lab of the University Libre de Bruxelles. “One alone would get stuck, but attached to each other they become more stable and they can move on the rough terrain.”

A single powerful robot needs a redesign every time users come up with a new task for it; a bot built for building things can’t be expected to pivot to search-and-rescue missions. But swarm robots can be more flexible. They’re also less fragile, en masse, than one large bot, and they’re easier to make in large quantities. At the same time, robot swarms provide something a single robot can’t—redundancy.

“Since the swarm is made of many robots, if some of them break down, the others can continue to work,” says Dorigo. It’s the equivalent of investing in a whole block of decent kitchen knives instead of spending the same amount on one absurdly good vegetable peeler.

The problem, however, has been figuring out how to get the autonomous robots to act more like team players. The typical approach has been to program the robots for self-organization, which is how ants and termites operate, so that the bots can make decisions based on local information about their personal surroundings. But that’s a tricky thing to program. Another alternative is to use a kind of central control, where one computer somewhere knows everything about each robot and then makes decisions for each of them.

“The problem with this is that there are communication bottlenecks, in that there’s a single point of failure,” says Dorigo. “If the central computer doesn’t communicate correctly, or if it breaks down, the whole system doesn’t work anymore.”

It’s kind of like building a Death Star with a thermal exhaust port which, if hit with a torpedo, creates a chain reaction that ignites the main reactor and destroys your whole ship. Oops.

Dorigo and his colleagues took something of a middle path. When wobbling around solo, the robots remain autonomous. But when they touch each other to form a bigger unit, they cede control to a single comrade in the swarm (the robot that continues to glow red in the video below). The mess of individuals becomes one single powerhouse—automatically.

Apple’s new Face ID system uses a sensing strategy

On Tuesday, in addition to three shiny new iPhone models, Apple announced Face ID, a slick new way for people to biometrically unlock their phones by showing it their, well, face. The system relies not only on neural networks—a form of machine learning—but also on a slew of sensors that occupy the real estate near the selfie camera on the front of the handset.

The kind of facial recognition that Apple is doing is different from what, say, Facebook does when it identifies a photo of you and suggests a tag—that’s taking place in the two-dimensional landscape of a photograph, while the latest iPhone is considering the three dimensions of someone’s face and using it as a biometric indicator to unlock (or not) their phone.

Alas, you’ll need to pony up the $999 for an iPhone X, as this feature only works on the company’s new flagship smartphone. Among the sensors that comprise what the company calls the TrueDepth camera system that enable Face ID are an infrared camera and a dot projector. The latter of those projects a pattern of more than 30,000 infrared dots on the user’s face when they want to unlock their phone, according to Phil Schiller, a senior vice president at Apple who described the technology yesterday.

One step in the facial-identification process is that the TrueDepth camera system takes an infrared image; another piece of hardware projects those thousands of infrared dots on the face, Schiller explained. “We use the IR image and the dot pattern, and we push them through neural networks to create a mathematical model of your face,” he said. “And then we check that mathematical model against the one that we’ve stored that you set up earlier to see if it’s a match and unlock your phone.”

Structured light

The technique of projecting something onto a three-dimensional object to help computer vision systems detect depth dates back decades, says Anil Jain, a professor of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University and an expert on biometrics. It’s called the structured light method.

Generally, Jain says, computer vision systems can estimate depth using two separate cameras to get a stereoscopic view. But the structured light technique substitutes one of those two cameras for a projector that shines light onto the object; Apple is using a dot pattern, but Jain says that other configurations of light, like stripes or a checkerboard pattern, have also been used.

“By doing a proper calibration between the camera and the projector, we can estimate the depth” of the curved object the system is seeing, Jain says. Dots projected onto a flat surface would look different to the system than dots projected onto a curved one, and faces, of course, are full of curves.

During the keynote, Schiller also explained that they’d taken steps to ensure the system couldn’t be tricked by ruses like a photograph or a Mission Impossible-type mask, and had even “worked with professional mask makers and makeup artists in Hollywood.” Jain speculates that what makes this possible is the fact that the system makes use of infrared light, which he says can be used to tell the difference between materials like skin or a synthetic mask.

Finally, the system taps into the power of neural networks to crunch the data it gathers during the face identification process. A neural network is a common tool in artificial intelligence; in broad strokes, it’s a program that computer scientists teach by feeding it data. For example, a researcher could train a neural network to recognize an animal like a cat by showing it lots of labeled cat pictures—then later, the system should be able to look at new photos and estimate whether those images have cats or not in them. But neural networks are not just constrained to images—Facebook, for example, uses multiple types of neural networks to translate text from one language to another.

Other phones on the market already have a face-identification system, notably Samsung’s S8 phones and their new Note8 device; that uses the handset’s front-facing camera, but the company cautions that the face ID feature is not as secure as using the fingerprint reader, for example. You can’t use it for Samsung pay, for instance, but Apple says that their FaceID system can indeed verify Apple Pay transactions.

Apple’s biometric Face ID system “pushes the tech a notch higher, because not everybody can make a biometric neural engine,” says Jain, or train a face-recognition system using, as Apple said, using more than one billion images. “So I think this will be a difficult act to follow by other vendors.”

The best camera gear for making hyperlapse video

A single image can capture a discreet moment, but stringing dozens or hundreds together into a time-lapse can tell an hourslong story in one spectacular sequence. Start with something simple, like tracing a flower’s bloom over the course of a morning, and, with a little practice, you’ll be able to catch more complex and captivating motion, such as the stars wheeling across the night sky. Here’s what you need to fast-forward time like a pro.

1. Camera

The 24.2-megapixel sensor on Nikon’s D5600 DSLR is large enough to capture spectacular night skies that won’t be overwhelmed by ugly pixel noise, and the included zoom lens is ideal for covering landscapes. $900

2. Control

The Pulse Camera Remote sits atop your camera and communicates via Bluetooth with a phone app. Use it to dial in detailed commands, like the interval between each shot and the time frame you want to shoot. $99

3. Rotating Mount

Add an extra layer of motion to your time-lapse videos with the Syrp Genie Mini, a motorized turntable that rotates the camera as it’s shooting. It’ll make even a static scene, like a cityscape, look more dramatic. $249

 4. Tripod

Few things ruin a well-shot sequence quicker than a wobbly camera. The aluminum MeFoto RoadTrip Classic weighs just 3.6 pounds and supports more than 17 pounds of gear, making it burly enough for your whole rig. $200