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In Brief: Pebble Time Smartwatch on Kickstarter

Pebble, the most successful smartwatch so far, yesterday launched its second-generation product: Pebble Time. It's a much bigger advancement over the original Pebble than the Steel--Time uses a color e-paper display, is 20% thinner, has an integrated microphone, and utilizes a new timeline system for notifications. The new timeline software will make its way to previous Pebble models, too. Battery life is expected to be a full week, and the watch will retail for $200 ($180 on Kickstarter now, tax-free). The new watch debuted on Kickstarter, where funding after one day is already closing in on the $10.3 million campaign of the original Pebble. Timing for this pre-order is smart for Pebble, as the campaign will end just as Apple readies the launch of its Apple Watch. Even though Pebble won't be shipping Time until May, it'll have secured backers' dollars before April. Pebble Time works for both iOS and Android, though it won't have feature parity between the two platforms.

Norman 2
Tested In-Depth: Dell Venue 8 7000 Android Tablet

Dell's new tablet isn't just one of the best-designed tablets we've used, it's our new favorite Android tablet. We discuss how the thin bezel and high-resolution OLED display affects content consumption, the differences between ARM and x86 on Android, and expected battery life for today's tablets.

Biomimetics: Studying the Striking Power of the Mantis Shrimp

There’s an entire field of science that believes nature and evolution have already solved some of humanity’s most complicated problems. Called biomimetics, the field focuses on studying these natural solutions and attempting to copy them, rebuild them, and use them in ways that can benefit mankind. Over the next few weeks, we’re profiling US laboratories that specialize in biomimicry and highlighting how the animal kingdom is helping humans innovate.

Not many folks would look at a shrimp and call it the “crown jewel” of their research, but that’s exactly how David Kisailus refers to the Mantis shrimp, a crustacean that’s famous for its ability to, well, punch stuff to death. The unique properties of the animal’s boxing glove-like claw make it the perfect subject for unraveling the complex problem of impact resistance.

Kisailus, who runs UC Riverside's Biomimetics and Nanostructured Materials Lab, explains: “The organism is smacking with more than 500 newtons of force and it’s only 4 inches long. It’s accelerating underwater faster than a 22 caliber bullet. It’s one of the fastest striking organisms on the planet. It impacts thousands of times. How can it do that and resist failure? That’s why we started studying it.”

The mantis shrimp isn’t actually a shrimp, it’s actually a crustacean that earned its name from its shrimp-like body. The non-shrimp evolved 400 million years ago as a spear fisherman. It would hunt by shooting barbed spears at its soft-bodied prey. But its prey eventually evolved to avoid the dangers of the pointy killing method by growing shells and exoskeletons. So the Mantis shrimp had to evolve too, splitting off into a group that could use its elbow to smash open the prey that its cousins couldn’t spear. Though some still spear, the clubbing verson’s boxing glove (which still has a vestigial barb at the end) is made up of a series of highly complex and organized internal parts.

Photo credit: Flickr user wwarby via Creative Commons.

“It’s not your standard biological composite, which has just one component,” says Kisailus of why he is studying the material makeup of the shrimp’s punching claw. “Within the club are three separate regions and each has its own function.”

Jamie's Racing Spiders, Episode 3: The Test

It's an exercise in troubleshooting as Jamie and the Kernerworks crew try various last-minute tweaks to the not-quite-operational spiders in order to make them race-ready the next day. For additional behind-the-scenes footage, Jamie's original build notes and project photos, click here.

In Brief: Valve to Show VR Hardware at GDC 2015

Well this is shaping up to be an interesting month in virtual reality, but maybe not in the way we were expecting. At next week's Game Developers Conference, we had anticipated showings from Oculus and possibly Sony, given last year's Project Morpheus debut and speculation of a Oculus VR controller. But Oculus acolytes will be disappointed to hear that we may not see any new input at all this month, as Oculus founder Palmer Luckey implied in a Reddit post. It's more likely that the massive booths Oculus has planned for the GDC show floor will be to demo the Crescent Bay prototype. But Valve Software, which has been working on its own secretive VR hardware, today announced that it would be showing that system off next week, alongside new Steam Machine living room devices and a refined (final?) Steam Controller. We haven't seen the Steam Controller since last year's GDC, and my hope is that it's been redesigned with VR in mind. (h/t PC Gamer)

Norman
The Practical Special Effects of Robocop

I'm not sure about the origins of this featurette (it may have been for an old DVD release in the late 90s or early 2000s) but it's an awesome behind-the-scenes look at the practical effects produced for the original Robocop. Interviews with matte painter Rocco Gioffre, designer Craig Hayes (who built ED-209), production designer William Sandell, and of course animator Phil Tippett paint a comprehensive picture of the production process. There's some interesting insight into how these artists didn't just employ techniques like matte paintings and stop-motion animation, they invented some in-camera innovations just for the film. (h/t Reddit)

In Brief: The First Demo of Magic Leap's Augmented Reality Technology

Microsoft's HoloLens may be the first headset to bring augmented reality to the masses, but Magic Leap's technology may be more interesting. The secretive startup's product--which we've only been able to speculate on with inferences and patent filings--gave its first demo to press for an MIT Technology Review profile. The impressions indicates that Magic Leap's AR display will be more akin to Avegant's DLP-based retinal display than a projected image reflected on glass, as is expected in HoloLens (and Google Glass). The whole report is worth a read.

Norman
Using 3D Printing to Prototype Hollywood Costumes

For a segment on movie production and video games, UK's Sky News visited Shepperton Studios to speak with different propmakers about the use of 3D printing for Hollywood costume. 3D printing as a tool for prototyping helmets, armor, and weapons is something that both professional and amateur propmakers have been tinkering with in recent years, and it's neat to see familiar props from films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Prometheus at these workshops. Aside from the Objets in use at fabrication shops like IPFL, many of the tools users are available to consumers. For example, the AgiSoft's photogrammetry software we used for our papercraft head models last year is the same used at FBFX for modeling actors for digital prop fittings.

Google Play App Roundup: Palabre, Swap Heroes 2, and Draw Slasher

Android devices do a lot of neat stuff out of the box, but you can always load them up with new apps to make them do more stuff. And maybe some games for good measure. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new on Android. Just hit the links to head to the Play Store.

This week RSS is prettier, heroes are swapped, and pirate zombies are slashed.

Palabre

A number of feed readers have appeared to fill the void left by Google Reader, but Feedly seems to be one of the top options. The Feedly app is okay, but it's not yet updated for Android Lollipop's design features. Luckily, Feedly supports third-party apps like the newly released Palabre. This feed reader lets you add sources as standard RSS within the app, or access and manage a Feedly account. Plus, it looks great.

This app comes from LevelUp Studio, developer of the mega popular Beautiful Widgets. When you open it, you can immediately start adding feeds or log into your Feedly account. The app's layout is straight out of the material design playbook. We're still early enough in the Lollipop era that this is a fine approach. Maybe in a few years the cookie cutter approach to material design will feel a little dated, but for now it's a very pretty app compared to the competition.

Your articles are shown in a grid of cards by default, but you can switch it to a list view. I actually feel like this could be a little nicer as some of your articles might have tiny thumbnail images that don't look good blown up to a full-width card. Whichever way you go, tapping on one of the articles loads up at least part of the article. Most sites only put part of posts into the RSS, so you'll have to click through to get the full version. Palabre has a fine built-in webview browser, though.

You can navigate through your various sources and groups using the navigation drawer on the left of the screen. I like that you can mark all the articles in your current view read with the button in the action bar. Make sure you check the drop down menu at the top to set your view as all, unread, or saved. This is the only slightly clunky part of the design.

Palabre has a clean teal and white interface with yellow accents. There are material animations everywhere, as well as a proper status bar and hero color. You'll only see that stuff on Lollipop, though. There's also a dark UI mode in the settings that flips from a white to black background. Additional features hiding in the settings include refresh interval, navigation, and notifications.

Palabre is free to use without limitations, but there will be occasional ads in your feeds. They aren't too annoying, but it's worth the $2 upgrade price.