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    How Virtual Humans Learn Emotion and Social Intelligence

    At USC ICT's Virtual Humans lab, we learn how researchers build tools and algorithms that teach AI the complexities of social and emotional cues. We run through a few AI demos that demonstrate nuanced social interaction, which will be important for future systems like autonomous cars.

    Testing: Black Talon Indoor FPV Quad

    As I write this, the 2016 National Drone Racing Championships have just ended. This style of First Person View (FPV) competition continues to gain traction all over the world. In fact, the recent national event enjoyed coverage by ESPN. While not everyone has the space or resources necessary to set up a full-blown FPV race course, recent developments with miniature multi-rotors allow FPV racers to duke it out just about anywhere…even indoors.

    I've talked about small FPV quads before, but none of those ships were ideally suited for small-scale racing…at least not in box-stock form. Most tiny racers must be modified in some fashion. For example, the uber-popular Tiny Whoop is basically a Blade Inductrix with micro FPV gear added. It won't be long, however, before mandatory mods become a thing of the past. I was recently offered the chance to check out a new mini FPV quad that has all of the necessary elements for indoor racing in a turnkey package.

    Hands-On with Shaper Origin Handheld CNC Router!

    This is super cool: a handheld CNC router that uses computer vision to let you see exactly what you're cutting through the bit, and compensates for any shaky hand movement with automatic stabilization. We visit Shaper to learn about the Origin and test out its features!

    Digitizing Photorealistic Humans Inside USC's Light Stage

    We learn how actors are digitized and turned into photorealistic models inside USC ICT's Light Stage capture system. Paul Debevec and his team at the Graphics Lab are focused on inventing technologies that create the most realistic-looking virtual people, objects, and environments. We were blown away by the capabilities of the light stage!

    Google Play App Roundup: Duo, Deus Ex GO, and It's A Space Thing

    Grab your phone and prepare to shoot some new apps and games over to it from the Google cloud. It's time for the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new and cool in the Play Store. Just click the links to head to each app's page to check it out for yourself.


    Google announced two new chat apps at I/O last spring, and now the first of the two is available. Google Duo is a video chat application that's designed from the ground up to be easy. It's not as feature-rich as Hangouts, but it works much, much better for simple 1-on-1 video chats.

    Google has made it clear that Duo will be the consumer-focused video chat solution going forward as it makes Hangouts a more business-focused product. So, Duo is tied you your phone number, in an attempt to make it easier to get people using it. When you first open the app you need to verify your number by SMS.

    Starting a call is as easy as tapping the big call button at the bottom of the screen—it's basically the only button in the app. After you've been using Duo, your frequent contacts will show up there too. Your contact list will appear with Duo users up at the top. Those who have not installed Duo yet are shown below that with the option to send them an invitation to the app. If you select a Duo user, the call will start immediately.

    The default functionality on Android includes Knock Knock, a way to see who's calling you before you pick up. When you place a call, your video will be live before the other person answers. That means they can see you before deciding whether or not to answer, like looking through a peephole in a door. This only happens if you are in the other person's contact list, though. Knock Knock is neat, but also a little weird to dismiss a call when your friend's face is staring expectantly at you from the screen.

    The latency in Duo video chats seems very good, and the video is alright. It's not mindblowing quality, at least in my experience. There is a toggle in the settings to turn off the data saving feature, which makes it look nicer. According to Google, Duo is using a protocol called Quic that allows for better video compression. It can also hand the call over between WiFi and cellular data as needed. The only controls of importance when you're in a call are mute and a front/rear camera toggle.

    Duo seems like a fine video chat app, but its success will depend on how many of your friends and family you can convince to install it. I would not be surprised to see Google start bundling Duo (and Allo) with the Google apps package for all phones.

    Weathering Techniques for Cosplay Costumes

    Making new fabrics look old and weathered is a practiced art. Doug Stewart has been working on costumes for film productions for over two decades. We chat about his work as a specialty costume maker and get a demo of his weathering process for costumes used at this year's E3.

    Tested Tours VR Projects at USC's Mixed Reality Lab

    At USC's Institute for Creative Technologies, computer scientists and engineers have been tinkering with virtual reality, augmented reality, and everything in between. We're given a tour of ICT's Mixed Reality Lab, where projects explore the intersections of VR and accessibility, avatars, and even aerial drones.

    Tested: Xiro Handheld Gimbal Mount

    Earlier this year, I reviewed the Xiro Xplorer V aerial photography quad. Changes come quickly in the ever-evolving multi-rotor market. In the time since I wrote the review, Xiro has dropped the price on the entire Xplorer series and introduced a new ground-based accessory. That new accessory, a handheld gimbal mount, is the focus of this review.

    A neat feature of the Xplorer is that the 3-axis camera gimbal is a detachable, modular unit. The gimbal on the Xplorer G is made to hold a GoPro camera, while the V-model gimbal has an integrated 1080P camera. In either case, Xiro's new handheld mount ($160) will allow you to utilize your gimbal for ground-based filming.

    The concept behind this mount is simple. It has a pistol grip layout with a rechargeable battery hidden in the handle. The gimbal clips into a socket that also mates all of the electrical connections. A spring-loaded clamp on top of the unit provides a nesting place for your smart phone.

    A thumbwheel is used to control the pitch angle of the camera.

    Once the device is powered on, a thumb wheel at the top of the grip allows you to control the pitch angle of the camera. A real-time video feed from the camera will be visible on your phone via a Wi-Fi connection and the Xiro app. The whole set-up effectively emulates the way the gimbal works while it's on the Xplorer.

    Making a 3D-Printed Sith Lightsaber Kit!

    We're thrilled to unveil a new 3D printed project from Sean Charlesworth! Sean was inspired to design and print his own Star Wars-inspired lightsaber, but with his own twist: this Sith model is a cutaway design that shows the internal construction of the hilt. Sean discusses how he came up with this design and how he used the Formlabs Form 2 printer fabricate it. Plus, the design files are free for anyone to download!

    Tested: Nvidia GTX 1060 Rains on the RX480

    AMD dreamt of mid-range glory when they shipped the Radeon RX480. The RX480 offered a great little package, including performance which matched high-end cards from past generations, lower power utilization, and a compact package suitable for most cards.

    True to form, Nvidia came along and crushed AMD's dreams.

    AMD announced its intent to pursue the ordinary gamer's heart months ago. Perhaps AMD's true high-end, code-named Vega, wouldn't be ready. Maybe AMD realized Nvidia would try to capture the high-end first. Either way, AMD laid their strategy bare for the world to see – including a certain Santa Clara-based GPU company.

    So it should surprise no one that Nvidia launched the GTX 1060 scant three weeks after the RX480 hit the street. At first, it seemed Nvidia's new mainstream card might not really be mainstream. Initial pricing suggested pricing closer to $300, based on Nvidia's own "Founder's Edition" card, which the company offers direct to users. Several weeks after the launch, pricing parity has hit, however. Prices for GTX 1060s running at stock clock speeds range from $249 to $329 depending on clock frequencies and cooler configurations. Radeon RX480 8GB cards run from $239- $279 while 4GB cards run right around $200. Availability for either the GTX 1060 or the RX480 remain spotty, suggesting demand still runs pretty high weeks after launch.

    So which should you buy? As always, let's look at the numbers.

    Google Play App Roundup: Inkwire, Mars: Mars, and Reigns

    A new week has dawned, and with it comes a new list of great things happening on Android. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what needs to be on your phone or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.


    Remote support is always messy in one way or another. Sometimes in more than one way, even. Android's security measures make true remote control of a phone or tablet tough to do, and even when you do have the tools in place, your capabilities are limited. Inkwire is a new remote assistance app that works within Android's limitations in a way that makes it easy to set up and use.

    As long as you've got an internet connection, Inkwire will work. That's because it's not relying on actually controlling the remote device. Inkwire lets you pain on top of the screen so the person on the other end can tap what you tell them to. This simpler approach is much easier to implement on a wide range of devices, and doesn't come with as many security risks. People who recently had their TeamViewer accounts hacked can certainly speak to that.

    To start a session on your device, just open Inkwire and confirm screen sharing. You'll get a code that can be shared with the other party. After inputting that in the Inkwire app, they'll be able to see what's happening on your screen, and draw lines for you to see. They can indicate a button or menu item for you to tap, which might even be preferable to true remote access. This way, you're engaged with the process and can learn what to do yourself. The same app on your phone can also be used to connect to someone else if you're on the other side of the situation.

    Sending doodles on the screen is all well and good, but what if a line doesn't get the point across? Inkwire also has voice chat built-in. Simply activate the toggle on your device (the person sharing their screen must do this) and you'll be able to talk through the process in addition to seeing things drawn on your screen.

    The delay in the streaming is surprisingly low when using Inkwire, but the image you get isn't super-high quality. There's some visible artifacting and some blurriness that can make small text a little hard to read. Still, it's more than good enough to help someone figure out what's busted.

    Inkwire is free and is still in beta. However, the listing just went live in the Play Store for everyone. There might be a few bugs to deal with, but it seems stable for me on LTE and WiFi.

    USC Mixed Reality Lab's VR Redirected Walking Demo

    We recently visited the USC Institute of Creative Technology's Mixed Reality Lab, where virtual reality researchers are experimenting with software that will let you walk around forever in VR. We test their redirected walking and lightfield model demos and learn how these technologies could work in future VR games.

    Solar Impulse 2: Around The World On Sunshine And Guts

    With its gaunt skeletal frame and awkward, lanky proportions, the Solar Impulse 2 (SI2) is a far cry from the supersonic image one normally gets when discussing revolutionary, record-setting aircraft. Where is the pointy nose? What about the fire-belching rocket engines?

    Despite its dragonfly-like appearance, SI2 is indeed a radical and ground-breaking machine. Swiss Pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre' Borschberg recently completed a 23,000 mile journey around the globe in SI2 using only solar power. The words don't quite capture the enormity of this accomplishment. So let me say it again: This airplane flew completely around the world without using one single ounce of fossil fuel!

    Solar Impulse 2 may look a little strange, but it is a high-tech machine that holds numerous world records. It recently completed an around-the-world journey using only solar energy.

    If the feat accomplished by SI2 and her pilots does not leave you slack-jawed and perhaps drooling ever so slightly on your keyboard, you still don't get it. This is an enormous milestone for both aviation and solar power technology.

    Most aeronautical achievements are as dependent on technological breakthroughs as they are piloting feats of derring-do. SI2's around-the-world success was no different. It required not only a cutting edge machine, but also pilots who were willing to risk everything to see what it could do.

    Stop and Go

    SI2's circumnavigation was not accomplished in a single flight. The team's original plan divided the route into 12 eastbound legs spanning a period of about 4 months. These things take time when your average flying speed is only 41 miles per hour. As it turned out, SI2 landed in 17 cities and required more than 16 months to complete the trip.

    Solar Impulse 2 has only one seat. Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard (left) and Andre' Borschberg alternated flying duties during the globetrotting trip.

    The airplane is built to carry just one person, so Piccard and Borschberg traded off flying duties…each flying solo for specific legs of the flight. Throughout the journey, a support team travelled to each of the waypoints to receive and send off SI2. There was also a mission control center located in Monaco where, among other things, specialists kept an eye on the weather, and monitored SI2's myriad systems via satellite.

    The shortest leg of the flight was an outlier lasting less than 5 hours between Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania and New York City. The next shortest flight was just over 13 hours, with several other legs lasting less than 20 hours.

    In Brief: CX5 Sculptable 3D Printer Filament Launches on Kickstarter!

    Artist Adam Beane, who we met up with at this year's Monsterpalooza convention, just launched his CX5 sculptable filament Kickstarter. As we learned in our interview, this is his CX5 sculpting material (not clay) redesigned in 1.75mm filament form to go through standard FDM printers with adjustable heat settings. The material prints at a relatively low 70-80 degrees C, and prints can be smoothed out or worked on with a non-toxic solvent and standard sculpting tools. Check it out!

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    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (August 2016)

    If there has ever been a time to be wary of buying a new Android phone, this is it. We're mere days or weeks away from the release of Android 7.0 Nougat and some new Nexus phones, and you definitely want to give those a look before you make any firm decisions. There are also plenty of questions about which devices will get speed updates, which will ship with Nougat, and what will be left behind. Let's dig in and take a look at the lay of the land so you can make the right call.

    Carrier phones

    If you're dead set on picking up a phone from your carrier, you might still be safe to buy a device right now. The new Nexus phones will most likely be sold unlocked, and there's nothing on the carriers that's going to be getting an update particularly soon. The top pick as far as carrier devices is still the Galaxy S7.

    The Samsung Galaxy S7 feels like a solid device when you pick it up. It has a solid metal and glass design with IP68 water resistance. The glass back will, however, collect fingerprints and you could damage the body of the phone if you drop it.

    Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker than the GS6, but it had a good reason. There's more room inside for a bigger battery now. The glass panel on the back also has curved edges to make it more comfortable in your hand.The slightly thicker frame means the regular GS7 has a 3000mAh battery and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. With the aid of Android 6.0's Doze Mode, both these devices have great battery life.

    The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have new Super AMOLED panels at 2560x1440 resolution. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. The Edge, of course, has a screen that curves down on the left and right edge. The Edge phone looks undeniably cool, but it's not as comfortable to hold thanks to the narrower metal band around the rim due to the Edge screen. None of the software features that are supposed to take advantage of the Edge display really do anything special. Most of them would work on the regular phone too. It's just an arbitrary attempt to justify the design. Both displays have very accurate, rich colors and the brightness gets very high outdoors for good visibility.

    Google Play App Roundup: Dropbox Paper, Riptide GP: Renegade, and FIE Swordplay

    Well, your phone or tablet might be cool, but it could be a lot cooler with the right apps. So what? Spend like mad until you find the apps that suit your needs? Nah, just read the weekly Google Play App Roundup here on Tested. We strive to bring you the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just click the app name to head to the Play Store.

    Dropbox Paper

    At present, Google Docs is the go-to platform for team-based document creation and editing. It's not that it's perfect, but it's the most feature complete and it plugs into a platform that almost everyone uses. Dropbox is trying its hand at making documents work with its popular cloud storage platform. It's called Dropbox Paper, and you can give it a shot right now.

    Dropbox Paper is still in beta on Android, but so has Google Maps navigation for the last seven years. There's not a ton to screw up in a document editor, and indeed, Dropbox Paper gets most things right out of the gate. It's existed on the web for about a year, but it was in closed beta and lacking some important features. With the Mobile release, Paper is getting more useful. For example, tables are more handy with adjustable width and you can create image galleries. The app is a bit more focused, though.

    Paper is more basic than something like Microsoft's Office suite, but right now it doesn't come with an added fee. You can log into Paper using Dropbox, but you'll need to actually sign up for Paper first—the signup flow isn't great. Once you get in, you'll be presented with a series of sample documents to play with and see how the app works.

    When you create a new document, it's a blank canvas to drop your thoughts into. There are no templates or special tools. So we're mainly talking about text-based documents here. If you need to create complicated spreadsheets or presentations, you should stick with Google or Microsoft. There's a toolbar that floats just above your keyboard that lets you access text indent, photos, and text modes. If you want to add bullets, headings, and so on, that's where you need to go.

    I think the most confusing thing in this initial release is the use of rich media like photos and videos. Paper will expand YouTube video, for example, but it doesn't seem to work in the app right now. I can add photos, but removing them is either not possible or just bugged at the moment.

    As with similar products, adding other people to your documents as collaborators is a big part of the appeal. You can invite people via email, allowing them to set up a Paper account and add things to your documents. Each addition is marked with the username so you can keep track of who's doing what. You can also add comments to the document. You can @mention people to send a push notification to them as well. This works in text and in comments.

    Dropbox Paper is interesting, and it has a lot of good features for the first mobile release. It seems more focused on planning and team-focused activities right now, as opposed to generating content. I'd never use it in place of Google Docs to get things done, for example. That could change one day, though.

    Building A Cheap RC Airplane, Part 3: Adding Power

    In previous articles, I've shown you how to convert a toy store glider to RC and how to use that glider for learning to fly. After you've spent a little time with the glider, you should have a much better understanding of what it takes to fly an RC model successfully. In this final installment of the series, I'll show you how I added a power system to give the model longer flights, a wider performance range, and more control.

    The glider I've been using is the Air Hogs Titan. Just like every other aspect of the conversion to RC, I approached the power system with the aim of keeping everything as simple and straightforward as possible. What results is an affordable, functional and well-behaved model that is not likely to overwhelm RC newcomers.

    Power to the People

    I was really happy with the power system that I installed in my Airplane! model (another chuck glider conversion), so I decided to repeat it here. It consists of an ElectriFly Rimfire 250 brushless motor, a GemFan 5x4 propeller, a 3S-500mAh LiPo battery, and a Flight Power 6-amp Electronic Speed Control (ESC). This particular ESC is no longer made. The Castle Creations Thunderbird 9 is a good substitute.

    The ESC has a Battery Eliminator Circuit, which provides power to the onboard radio gear from the flight battery. This allowed me to get rid of the 4-cell 1100mAh NiMH battery that previously powered the radio. In fact, the combined weight of the new power system components is within a gram of the weight of the NiMH battery alone. So the Titan is no heavier as a powered model than it was as a pure glider.

    The power system components I used are almost the exact same weight as the radio battery used for the glider version of the Titan (right).

    Rather than locating the motor in the tail, as I did with my knotted airliner, I decided to mount the Rimfire to a pylon on top of the fuselage. Among the benefits of this configuration are short wires and minimal weight distribution. The high location also helps to keep the motor out of the dirt and grass during landings (and crashes). The only significant tradeoff of the pylon-mounted motor arises when you launch the model. I'll talk about that a bit later.