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    Hands-On with FOVE Eye Tracking VR Headset

    We've tried several virtual reality headsets that track your head movement, but FOVE is the first that also tracks your eye movement. At this year's Game Developers Conference, we put on FOVE's latest prototype headset and chat with the company's CTO to learn what eye tracking can bring to VR.

    Your TV is Too Small (Why You Should Get a Projector)

    That weird little rainbow circle on a motor thing in the picture below? That's the color wheel for a DLP projector. More to the point, it's the color wheel that's going into my projector. It's twee and fragile, and I'm sure the old one made the tiniest ping when it shattered. I didn't hear it... but I didn't need to. The results were pretty obvious when I fired up the projector to watch a movie, and the screen was 50 shades of grey. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

    The wall of grey led to two things. First, I borrowed a gorgeous 55" Samsung Plasma TV. Second, the realization that 55" is way too small for an HDTV when you're used to 100 glorious inches of 1080p color blanketing the wall in my living room.

    We'll talk about the color wheel another time, but it was the 55" TV that got me thinking: most people buy televisions that are way too small for the room they put 'em in. So, my simple advice: buy a bigger TV than you think you need. Seriously. All too many people say "gosh, that thing is huge" or "60 inches? That's ridiculous!" while they're wandering through the TV aisle at Costco or Best Buy.

    This makes some sense. People who grew up with standard definition televisions remember a time when a 37” TV was too big. That’s a fair association; back in the CRT days, 37 inches was massive. A TV that size was also a couple feet deep, so it literally took up a lot of space in the room. And more often than not, living room CRTs were stuffed inside some huge piece of furniture to hide it when it wasn't on--which took up even more space.

    People who grew up with big CRTs need to rewire how their brains think about screen space in relation to TV sizes.

    Going much for a bigger screen in the days of VHS and DVD usually meant rear projection. These were massive boxes that hulked against the wall. We're talking a couch worth of floorspace...great for baseball games. Not, to paraphrase Loyd Case, so great for the Spousal Acceptance Factor.

    And in defense of spouses, husband or wife, a big blank 60" screen tends to really overpower a small living room. Which is a shame, because the higher resolution of HDTV (much less UHD/4K) means you can sit much much closer that before bigger screen stops looking really good. A 1080p screen displays 1920x1080 pixels, nearly six times as many pixels as 480i (let's agree that 480i, or 704x480 at 60 interlaced frames is roughly 'standard def' in a digital format). People really need to rewire how their brains think about screen space in relation to TV sizes.

    Epic 18 Month SSD Endurance Test Is Over

    We've advocated using SSDs in most PCs for several years, the benefits of having a drive with virtually no latency and a ton of bandwidth are obvious. But the longevity of flash memory used in SSDs has been worrisome--each flash memory cell can only be written to a finite number of times. That number of writes is large and SSDs use a variety of techniques to manage wear and keep your data safe when cells inevitably fail, but the manufacturer's endurance estimates for most SSDs range from writing a few dozen terabytes to several hundred.

    To test SSD endurance in the real world, The Tech-Report has spent the last eighteen months writing petabytes of data to a sextet of SSDs, noting the total amount of data written and the condition at the time of their failure. The results are in, and the Samsung 840 Pro was ultimately the winner, but seeing how the different drives failed might be informative when you're deciding between MLC and TLC drives or different controllers for your next SSD purchase.

    Of course, as the price per gigabyte for SSDs continues to drop, longevity isn't that much of an issue for home users. Typically people upgrade to larger SSDs before they have an opportunity to wear out. However, with new processes coming that promise to dramatically increase the density of flash memory, SSD endurance will become much more important.

    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 4

    The previous three articles of this series were all about getting the Strider Mini Quad assembled into an aerial racing machine. With all of those steps complete, it is now time to put the Strider in the air. I will cover my initial test flights, some configuration changes I made, and my thoughts on flying a quad racer.

    Test Flights

    I planned for my initial test flight of the Strider to be a quick, knee-high hover in my backyard, lasting only long enough to confirm that the controls operated correctly. Things started off well and all of the controls worked perfectly. Things worked so well in fact, that I spent more time hovering than I anticipated.

    A few minutes into the flight, the Strider unexpectedly tumbled into the grass and I heard something bounce off of the fence. In my excitement to get the quad in the air, I had neglected to adequately tighten the prop nuts…a rudimentary task that I really should not have missed. Remember when I mentioned that I was much too astute and diligent to need CCW-version motors? I guess I asked for it.

    There was zero damage to the Strider, and I quickly found the flyaway prop. The offending prop nut is another story. It is definitely somewhere in my back yard, but I gave up looking for it. Lawn mowers are great at finding (and hurling) such things, so it’s only a matter of time before we are reunited. Luckily, I had a pair of replacement prop nuts that, while not the same color, fit the threads on the prop shaft.

    WHETHER THE STRIDER IS DOCILE OR AGGRESSIVE DEPENDS ENTIRELY ON YOUR RADIO CONFIGURATION AND FLIGHT CONTROLLER SETTINGS. TAKE THE TIME TO EXPERIMENT AND SEE WHAT EFFECTS PROGRAMMING CHANGES CAN MAKE.

    Subsequent flights took place at my RC flying field, where I have plenty of room to let the Strider run free. I began with a few line-of-sight flights in Attitude Mode so that I could get a feel for the quad’s speed and handling. I don’t know how my Strider compares to other racing quads, but it’s fast! Because of the quad’s small size, I had to be very careful to keep it in relatively close, or it would quickly morph into a tiny black blob in the sky.

    I soon became comfortable flying the Strider in Attitude Mode, so I switched to Rate Mode. The stock Rate Mode settings in the CC3D felt pretty aggressive to me. So, I toned down the rotation rates and added about 30% exponential (using Open Pilot GCS) for subsequent flights. Even though that helped tame the quad, I decided that I still wanted an easier transition to Rate Mode. The solution was using Rattitude Mode.

    Slow Mo Guys Film Shattering CD at 170,000FPS

    The Slow Mo Guys put a 170,000FPS camera on a CD shattering from the stresses of rotational motion. At that framerate, four seconds of real-time translated to over seven hours of footage--96GB of data. Gav and Dan run their test at multiple framerates and from different angles--the shot of the CD warping off-axis before it cracks is super cool. BBC's Earth Unplugged channel also put up its latest high speed video test yesterday, showing a panther chameleon tongue attack at 1500fps. It's all about finding the appropriate framerate to capture what you want to show off.

    In Brief: 2015 GPP Photography ShootOut Competition

    Every year at the GPP Dubai Photography Festival, three guest photographers are challenged to shoot a mystery subject in just 20 minutes, from start to publish. The event--the GPP ShootOut--has featured amazing photographers like Gregory Heisler, David Hobby, and Zack Arias, to name a few. This year's surprise subject was the idea of "intimacy between strangers." It's a great look into the thought process and execution of professional photographers, each with their own specialties and style. You can watch it on Vimeo(embedding wasn't allowed on this video).

    Norman
    Flying FPV Multi-Rotors with Team Blacksheep

    We met up with Team Blacksheep pilot Raphael Pirker (AKA Trappy) to talk about his FPV flying exploits, videos, and new ready-to-fly hexacopter. Pirker talks frankly about his dealings with the FAA, views on multi-rotor safety, and the newly proposed guidelines for RC flyers. We also do some flying and racing!

    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 3

    Through the first two articles of this series, I assembled the bulk of the Strider Mini Quad frame, installed the propulsion system, and configured the flight controller. This time around, I will concentrate on the components of the First Person View (FPV) system, as well as the camera used to record in-flight videos.

    The FPV System

    The components that I chose for the Strider’s FPV system are quite common. The camera is a PZ0420 with a 2.8mm lens and IR filter. It mounts directly to the camera mounting plate that is provided in the Strider kit. The mounting plate is then sandwiched between the center plate and top plate of the frame. Since the center plate of the Strider frame features an integrated Power Distribution Board (PDB) there are 5-volt and 12-volt power taps for the camera located directly behind the camera mount. There are also inputs for the video and audio (if your camera has it) signal wires from the camera.

    The camera I used does not have audio capability. It includes a 3-wire pigtail for power, ground, and the video signal. I shortened the pigtail considerably to reduce unnecessary wire on the airframe. The camera can accept 5-17 volts, so I plugged the pigtail into the 12-volt tap of the Strider.

    My video transmitter (VTX) is a TS832 5.8GHz 600mW unit. Like most VTXs for FPV, it requires a FCC amateur radio license to operate. I attached the VTX to the bottom side of the top plate using self-adhesive Velcro. The rear end of the Strider center plate includes another set of power taps and nodes for connecting the video and audio signals. I again used the 12-volt tap and video signal.

    I upgraded the stock VTX antenna with a circular polarized model. I also added a 7cm long extension between the VTX and antenna. The extension provides a flexible link between the antenna and its mount on the VTX. This isolates the VTX from the hard knocks that the protruding antenna is bound to endure.

    When you are shopping for VTXs, antennae, and accessories, be sure to pay close attention to the gender of the connectors. Some components use standard SMA connectors, while others use reverse polarity (RP-SMA) connectors. You want your equipment to have the minimum number of connections and adapters, so get equipment with compatible connectors from the start.

    The State of Computer Vision Research

    At the recent TED conference, computer vision expert Fei-Fei Li explains how she and the researchers at the Stanford Computer Vision Lab are developing ways to teach computers visual perception by studying human vision. Her breakthrough a decade ago: instead of simply improving object recognition algorithms, her team increased the quantity and quality of input fed to the program to the tune of 15 million photos.

    The Best Wi-Fi Hotspot You Can Buy

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If you regularly travel with devices needing Wi-Fi, get Verizon's Jetpack MiFi 6620L. Its battery life is among the best we’ve seen in hotspots, it runs on the largest and fastest U.S. LTE network, and its pricing is competitive.

    Is my smartphone enough?

    Just about every smartphone can act as a hotspot, sharing its connection over Wi-Fi with tablets or laptop. But if you work on the road a lot, a hotspot offers a more reliable data connection than your phone and will run for much longer on a charge than a phone in tethering mode. Think two full days of work versus five hours.

    How we picked and tested

    We started with networks. Our best-wireless-carrier research and outside reports like PCMag’s “Fastest Mobile Networks” and RootMetrics’ testing all pointed to Verizon.

    AT&T, however, isn’t far behind and in parts of the U.S. beats Verizon. It also ended an advertising scheme to track subscribers’ unencrypted Internet use, while Verizon took until January to announce an opt-out.

    The LTE networks of T-Mobile and Sprint, even after recent progress, can’t match the big two’s rural coverage--important in a device used often on the road. (For more on this, check out our guide to the best wireless carriers.)

    Android Tablet Roundup: Which Tablet Is Right for You?

    Android tablets are going through an interesting transition right now. We're seeing the first few hints of 64-bit support, 4:3 screens, and some powerful gaming features. However, these products are still imperfect. I don't think there's such a thing as the perfect Android tablet for everyone right now, but there are a few good ones that might work well for you.

    Let's check out all the top tablets on the market and see what they all have going for them.

    Nexus 9

    If you like having access to the latest software and dig the 4:3 form factor, the Nexus 9 might be an appealing option. This tablet runs on a Denver dual-core Nvidia Tegra K1 chip with 2GB of RAM and 16-32GB of storage. The centerpiece is clearly the screen, which is above average compared to most Android tablets. It's an 8.9-inch LCD with a resolution of 2048x1536, just like the iPad. At 8.9-inches, a widescreen tablet would be awkward to use in portrait orientation, but the the N9 is quite comfy.

    The Nexus 9 runs Android 5.0/5.1 Lollipop without any OEM junk added. This is Android as Google intended with updates more or less guaranteed for at least two years. The Nexus 9 might fall back to second priority in a year or so when new devices come out, but you won't be left to rot on an old version of Android within the expected life of this tablet. There are also full system images for the Nexus 9 and an unlockable bootloader, making for easy modding (and fixing your mistakes so you don't end up with a brick).

    I think the biggest knock against the Nexus 9 is that the build quality simply isn't where it needs to be for a $400 and up tablet. The buttons are a little mushy, the soft touch plastic feels a little cheap, and it's slightly heavy. More recent production runs of the Nexus 9 are much more solid. It still takes a weirdly long time to charge, though.

    More problematic is the state of the Nexus 9's software. It's overall a better experience than many Android tablets, but the N9 still stutters and hangs more than it should. Nvidia's Denver CPU core has a lot of power, but it seems like it's not being fully harnessed in the N9. Hopefully a future software update gives this tablet the extra boost it needs to be a better experience.

    The Nexus 9 is a good tablet, but it's pricey. If you can find one on sale, it might be a good buy. Even if you can't the form factor makes it worth considering.

    Test Driving the BMW i3 Electric Car

    Will's on a quest to to find a new car, and is considering an all-electric vehicle. This week, he test drives the BMW i3, a unique hatchback that can run for 80 miles on a full charge. We take the i3 on the freeway, on San Francisco's steepest hill, and test its self-parking feature.

    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 2

    In the first installment of this series, I assembled most of the frame components of the Strider Mini Quad. I also installed and soldered the motors and ESCs. Although the flight controller was installed in the frame, it still required attachment of the various wires and configuration of the firmware within. Let’s focus on those tasks and keep moving.

    Plugging in the CC3D

    The flight controller is the nerve center of any multi-rotor. It takes your control inputs and the data from its onboard sensors and translates it all into commands for each of the ESCs. There are several different brands of flight controllers. Considering all that they do, most of these units are incredibly small. The flight controller I chose is the OpenPilot CC3D (CopterControl 3D), which fits perfectly on the Strider’s stock flight controller mount.

    THE OPENPILOT CC3D IS A POPULAR FLIGHT CONTROLLER. IT FITS THE STRIDER PERFECTLY.

    From a wiring standpoint, the flight controller is situated between the radio receiver and the quad’s ESCs. First I attached the ESCs to the CC3D. The CC3D has a bank of pins that accept the standard receiver plugs found on most consumer RC equipment. The quad’s motors are numbered sequentially as you go clockwise, with the #1 motor being the front left. I attached the plug from this motor’s ESC to the #1 pins on the CC3D and then followed suit with the other ESCs.

    To connect the CC3D to my Futaba R617FS receiver, I used the 8-wire harness included with the flight controller. The colors of my wires didn’t match those on the OpenPilot diagram, so I just referenced the pin order. The first two pins are negative and positive power. The remaining pins are signals for channels 1-6 respectively.

    THIS VIEW ILLUSTRATES THE BUNDLE OF WIRES FROM THE SPEED CONTROLLERS (ORANGE/RED/BROWN) THAT ARE CONNECTED TO THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE CC3D. THE MULTI-COLORED BUNDLE OF WIRES EMERGING FROM THE LEFT SIDE OF THE BOARD ARE CONNECTED TO THE RADIO RECEIVER.

    PPM (Pulse Position Modulation) receivers like the FrSky model shown in the Strider manual, and Sbus receivers like some Futaba models require only one signal wire for all of the channels. The R617FS is a standard PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) receiver. As such, it has three pins for each channel: positive, negative and signal. The positive and negative connections from the CC3D can be connected to any channel on the receiver. The signal wires must be connected to their assigned channels.

    In addition to the connections to the CC3D, I made a signal wire connection from the receiver to a pin on the Strider’s frame. This wire allows a 3-position switch on the transmitter to operate the Strider’s built-in LED lights, lost model alarm, and also toggle crosshairs in the OSD function. I used channel 7 for this, since it was already mapped to a 3-position switch on my Futaba 7C transmitter. By going this route, I did not need the channel 6 signal wire from the CC3D.

    Testing: Autopilot App for DJI Phantom 2 Vision+

    While it was somewhat overshadowed by the announcement of Inspire 1 quadcopter last year, DJI also released an SDK for its Phantom line of consumer quads. This was a big deal--the SDK allows developers to tap into the data feed and capabilities of the Phantoms, including video streams, camera controls, flight telemetry, and most interestingly, flight control. It meant that devs could make apps to serve as alternatives to DJI's own Vision flight app, or apps with specialized capabilities to serve specific user needs. Notable apps that have come out of this program include autonomous mapping and photogrammetry from Pix4D, as well as multiple UAV fleet control from PixiePath. Today, a startup called Autoflight Logic has released its own app using the DJI SDK--one that gives the Phantom the ability to autonomously follow and film a moving subject.

    We've discussed this idea on the podcast before--the Phantom technically should have enough information in its telemetry to know where it is relative to any fixed target. It's just geometry: you can use altitude (height) and lateral flight distance (length) information to calculate not only the Phantom's absolute distance (hypotenuse) from you, but the angle at which it would need to aim its camera to center you in its sights. That kind of autonomous tracking gets more complicated for moving subjects, but an autopilot app could tap into the relatively precise GPS information provided by a phone or cellular-enabled tablet. The quad knows where it is, it can know where you are, the rest is math.

    Of course, implementing such a system isn't really as simple as that. There are so many factors to consider: the accuracy of the GPS, how often data is sent between Phantom and app, limitations of the SDK, failsafes, etc. There's also the consideration of quadcopter as a cinematography tool--something we've had a little experience with. Automated camera control needs to simulate the steady and graceful pans of manual control, or at least produce footage in predictable way that can be edited later. The video in this promo for Autoflight Logic's Autopilot app ($20) looks promising:

    Autoflight Logic claims to have solved for many of these problems, and it's the first third-party autonomous flight app approved by Apple's App Store review team. We were given access to the final build of the app ahead of its release this morning, and spent an afternoon testing it in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park with the help of our friend (and experienced Phantom pilot) Jeremy Williams. Some of our flight footage from the test is embedded below.

    Vincent Laforet's AIR Photography Project

    We've previously talked about Vincent Laforet's AIR project on Still Untitled, in which the photographer captures cityscapes from thousands of feet in the air. His photos of New York and Las Vegas are breathtaking. And most recently, he visited San Francisco for two helicopter rides for the project, snapping shots of our fair peninsula as we've never seen it. The photos are beautiful, of course, but Laforet's commentary about the logistics and creative opportunities afforded from shooting from high altitudes is the juicy stuff. Every photographic opportunity is framed by its constraints, and there are plenty of considerations he has to juggle up in the air--flight plans, weather, and even which side of the helicopter to shoot out of. I'm definitely picking up his AIR project book when it comes out.

    Marketing VR and AR Will be a Challenge

    Among virtual reality enthusiasts, there seems to be a conviction that this current wave of VR is destined to succeed. The technology is finally ready; virtual reality as a mainstream platform for computing, entertainment, and digital interactions is inevitable. That's far from the case--regardless of how "ready" the hardware and software experiences are, VR still has to make its case to the public at large. As writer/futurist Warren Ellis points out in this recent Gizmodo Q&A, we should be prepared for the possibility that Oculus and SteamVR will "just turn out be some clunky shit that most people don't want." " Social embarrassment will murder almost anything." It's a reason that John Carmack wants to make sure that the consumer version of Gear VR gets demo stations in phone stores--a little reminiscent of the Virtual Boy rollout twenty years ago.

    But as much as good VR demands to be experienced by potential consumers, demo stations and word of mouth aren't going to be enough for public awareness. And neither are YouTube Let's-Plays capturing warped game video and showing users bobbing their heads around. I don't know what a television commercial for SteamVR looks like, but it's something that VR makers will eventually have to figure out. Even if the viewer is familiar with the VR experience, developers will have to find a way to show how their specific games makes use of that interface. The closest I've seen it being done well is this recently-released Eve: Valkyrie trailer, which captures head-tracking footage. Two things help it: undistorting the field of view, and playback at 60fps. But even then, it could be misinterpreted as just a freelook demo using a mouse or joystick.

    With augmented reality, the challenge of portraying the technology over video is even more daunting. No one has done it well. Remember Google's original Project Glass concept video? It got a lot of eyeballs (22 million and counting), but failed as a product demo; it didn't adequately convey why someone should use Glass, and the disconnect between what the video promised and the actual Glass experience (social awkwardness included) soured an initially interested public to the device. Microsoft's HoloLens and the mysterious Magic Leap--both which have their own concept videos--aren't faring much better. Early press reports from the HoloLens demo have focused on the differences between what Microsoft showed in the concept video and what's actually experienced in the prototype. The Magic Leap video below looks even more farfetched (hand-recoil, really?). Both companies are making tradeoffs between raising public interest with these concept videos and impressing users. Marketing working against its own product. I'm really curious to see how Facebook, Valve, Microsoft, and Magic Leap overcome that hurdle.

    In Brief: Apple's New Transparency

    Hey, did you hear? Apple is releasing a watch next month. And unlike past product category launches like the iPad and iPhone, Apple seems to be a bit more open in allowing the press and public to glimpse into its product development process. There was that massive Jony Ive profile in the New Yorker, where writer Ian Parker spent days in Apple's design lab chatting with Ive's collaborators. There are the three craftsmanship videos about Apple watch manufacturing, which Greg Koenig has delightfully dissected. And even Good Morning America recently visited Apple's health testing lab, where dozens of employees are strapped to complex health monitoring systems for study. Just a little bit like the gym in Gattaca. This new approach to transparency as marketing is smart--it doesn't feel like Apple's giving away state secrets, at least, not that any it thinks competitors can reproduce. It's more posturing than anything, more of a "look what we can do with over $150 billion in cash reserves." And like Koenig's analysis of Apple's materials process, I'd love to see context from health companies like Fitbit and Withings to see what kind of rigor they're putting their health tracking technologies through. Or is all of this extra research unnecessary, given academia and the medical industry's current understanding of fitness?

    Norman 2