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    DARPA Robotics Challenge: Team IHMC's Atlas Robot

    The DARPA Robotics Challenge challenged teams with designing and teaching robots to complete an obstacle course simulating a disaster relief scenario--a task more difficult than it sounds. We chat with Doug Steven of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition to learn how the IHMC team has programmed a Boston Dynamics Atlas robot to tackle the competition.

    Codename Colossus Custom 3D-Printed Mech

    Singapore-based maker Michael Sng shared this video of his custom-designed mech that's composed entirely of hand-painted and assembled 3d-printed parts. His Codename Colossus is made of 400 printed components, with lights and servos to animate the kinetic art toy. To give you a sense of its complexity, Sng has also filmed videos showing the clean-up process for the parts, as well as the full assembly in time-lapse. An impressively time-consuming project that he calls an antithesis to mass production. It'll be on display at this year's New York Comic-Con. (h/t Jerome)

    The Talking Room: Adam Savage Interviews Astro Teller

    Adam Savage welcomes Astro Teller to The Talking Room! Astro is Google's 'Captain of Moonshots', directing the Google X lab where self-driving cars, smart contact lenses, and other futuristic projects are conceived and made real. Adam sat down with Astro at the Tested Live Show this past October to chat about the benefits of thinking big and failing quickly.

    Testing: Asus ZenFone 2 Smartphone

    In the United States, on-contract subsidies for phones is slowly being supplanted by leasing and "easy-pay" deals where users can get new phones for no money down--the full price of the phone is amortized over the term of the contract. It's another way that carriers are trying to hide the fact that the latest flagship phones are more expensive than most people think--$600 and up in the bottom line. That's why we take note when phones like the Nexus 5 and OnePlus One are released for half that price, off-contract and unlocked for use with any GSM carrier. The latest of these low-cost high-end phones is Asus' ZenFone 2, which I've been using for the past few weeks. Its recent US release turned heads because of its price: $200 for a 1080p phone with really good technical specs. Sounds great on paper, and I'm happy to report that there aren't many catches (at least not any you can't work around).

    The Asus ZenFone 2 is also interesting because it runs on an Intel Atom processor. The quad-core SoC is on the top end of Intel's Silvermont architecture, paired with a PowerVR graphics component. It's actually the same chip found in the Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet I tested at the beginning of the year, which was a great performer. As with the Dell tablet, you shouldn't have to worry about Android app compatibility with X86--Android Lollipop's ART runtime takes care of that. And running on a 1080p smartphone, the performance of the chip is competitive with the latest ARM SoCs from Qualcomm and Samsung. My benchmarks showed it fitting between the performance of the Galaxy S6 and LG G4--definitely flagship material. At that level, I couldn't notice performance differences in day to day use, even in gaming.

    I should mention that the ZenFone 2 does come at two price points, with meaningful differences. The $200 entry-level runs a slightly slower 1.8GHz processor, with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. The $300 model I tested has a 2.33GHz Atom, 4GB of RAM, and four times the storage at 64GB. RAM and SoC are the notable differentiators between the models, since you can expand storage on both with a microSD card. Both models also have dual microSIM slots. But even at 1.8GHz and 2GB of RAM, you're going to be able to run any new Android app and game without problems.

    The respectable performance doesn't come as a surprise, so we turn to the areas that really differentiate the day-to-day use of a smartphone: display quality, camera, and battery life. On these counts, the Asus ZenFone is above average, but doesn't claim any crowns. Let's start with the screen.

    In Brief: AMD Fury X Reviews and Benchmarks

    Reviews for AMD's latest flagship GPU are out, and the benchmarks reveal a card capable of solid for 1080p and 1440p gaming, and really excelling at 4K resolution. We don't have a R9 Fury X card in the office to test, but I would direct you to Tom's Hardware, Tech Report, PC Gamer, and PC World for benchmark binging. The upshot: the $650 card is about equal to Nvidia's GTX 980 Ti, with some room for overclocking.

    Norman 3
    Testing: Blade 200QX, A Multi-Purpose Multi-Rotor

    A good indicator of the success of any multi-rotor model is the number of different accessories and hop-ups that are offered for it. By that measure, the Blade 200QX is a big hit. Blade and several other companies offer an array of products for pilots who want to personalize their 200QX and/or change how it performs.

    I've been testing a 200QX for about two months. It is definitely a widely versatile multi-rotor, even without modification. Today, I'll share my opinions of the 200QX in stock form. I will also illustrate three add-ons that allowed me to try new things with this quad.

    Honey, I Shrunk the Skids

    The first thing that I noticed about the 200QX is that it looks a lot like my Blade 350 QX3 – only smaller (200mm diameter vs 350mm). Both feature a plastic shell as the main structural component and they share very similar styling. Although both quads are intended for Spektrum brand radios, the 200QX is only available as a Bind-N-Fly model. I linked the little quad to my DX8 transmitter.

    The 200QX presents a unique combination of size, weight, and power that makes it difficult to categorize. If a defining label is truly necessary, I think "Mini Sport Quad" would encompass the primary features of the 200QX. It is only slightly larger than several of my indoor quads, but its brushless motors and 2-cell LiPo battery make it much more powerful. Living room flights are probably taboo. Yet, I found an indoor basketball court to be a fun and comfortable flying spot.

    The 200QX offers styling similar to Blade's larger quad-rotors. Brushless motors and a 2-cell LiPo battery provide ample power.

    This quad has plenty of power and control authority for outdoor flights, but its small size will force you to keep it relatively close in. On the flip side, the bare 200QX weighs less than 7 ounces. Its light weight was a confidence builder for me. When flying over reasonably tall grass, I felt like I could push my comfort zone without much concern over breaking parts if I had a hiccup.

    Testing Samsung Gear VR for Galaxy S6 Game Demos

    While the consumer Oculus Rift won't be out until next year, developers and early adopters can still playtest virtual reality games with the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition headset. We test the new headset made for the Galaxy S6 smartphone--with its high-density 577 PPI display--and demo some of the winners of the recent Mobile VR Jam contest!

    Testing: TinyDuino Modular Electronics Platform

    For the past week and a half, I've been playing around with the TinyDuino set that Tiny Circuits founder Ken Burns sent our way. I first saw this postage stamp-sized development board and its accessories at this year's Maker Faire, where Ken's team was showing off numerous Tiny Shield configurations that make use of an ATmega 328 processor (the same chip in Arduino's own Uno board). TinyDuino was successfully launched on Kickstarter as a bite-sized alternative to the Uno board, designed to be stackable with a plethora of shields that add connectivity, storage, communication, and inputs to the microcontroller. Like Uno, its processing power is relatively puny--ideal for simple wearables--but its size allows for some creative implementation. For example, this 3D-printed Space Invaders arcade cabinet, for which Tiny Circuits will release STL files so you can make your own. (They are all about Open Hardware.)

    A more typical use of TinyDuino pairs the processor board with a USB shield for programming and some kind of LED matrix or display (all powered by a small rechargeable lipo battery). I particularly like the use of a microSD shield and the 96x64 pixel OLED Tinyscreen to run loops of animated GIFs. Snap that same screen and processor on the joystick controller shield and you get a miniature two-stick console that can play clones of classic games like Asteroids or OutRun. Tutorials and sample code are available for all of the shields, the Tiny Circuits forum is filled with useful advice for beginners.

    The TinyDuino starter kits aren't expensive, and the size of the stacked boards is appealing. Plus, all of the hardare is made in the US at Tiny Circuits' Akron, Ohio factory. Find more TinyDuino projects on their Hackster page!

    Hands-On: PlayStation Project Morpheus Games at E3 2015

    Our latest hands-on with Project Morpheus is all about the games. We chat with PlayStation's Richard Marks about the gameplay experiences being developed for Project Morpheus and how virtual reality in the living room can differentiate itself from VR on the desktop. Plus, lots of actual game demos!

    The Best Portable USB Battery Pack for Daily Use

    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.

    Smartphone batteries don't always last through a busy day, but a pocket-size USB battery pack can give your handset enough of a boost to survive the evening. After 40 hours of research and 65 hours of testing, the one we like the most is Anker's 2nd Gen Astro 6400. It fits in any pocket or purse, and it charges phones and small tablets about as fast as any pocket-friendly pack out there. At 6,400 mAh, it has a larger capacity than most, too.

    The Anker 2nd Gen Astro 6400 can slide into a relaxed-fit pants pocket alongside a smartphone, though a jacket pocket or purse will be a more comfortable fit.

    The Anker 2nd Gen Astro 6400 can slide into a relaxed-fit pants pocket alongside a smartphone, though a jacket pocket or purse will be a more comfortable fit.

    How we decided

    We started by looking for packs that could slide into a relaxed-fit jeans pocket without bulging too much. We also wanted a pack that could fully charge power-hungry phones like the Apple iPhone 6, Motorola Moto X, and Samsung Galaxy S6 at least once, and at full speed. From there, we favored packs with the best cost-to-capacity and size-to-capacity ratios and higher-current power output (up to a point).

    Photo Gallery: Behind the Scenes at BattleBots

    The new season of BattleBots premiered this past weekend, and it looks like viewers really liked it! We saw some great bouts between bots old and new, with some upsets and surprise explosions. If you're watching the show, you should check out our behind-the-scenes interviews with all the builders. We'll have more videos from our visit to the BattleBots set coming in the next month, too. Until then, here are some photos I took from the builder's pit, combat arena, and backstage where teams tested and tuned their robots.

    In Brief: How the Modern Laptop was Made

    Here's some morning reading for ya: Ars Technica UK's Sebastian Anthony chronicles the technological advances that allow computer makers to design and build today's laptops. It's an informative feature that tracks how process technology (as guided by Moore's law) and battery chemistry grew up together, bonded by new manufacturing technologies like CNC machines. Great stuff.

    Norman
    Hands-On: Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller

    What makes up a $150 game controller? We go hands-on with Microsoft's new Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller, a customizable gamepad that will work on the console and desktop. We explain how it competes with custom gamepads like the SCUF system, with programmable buttons, adjustable triggers, and new paddles.

    Google Play App Roundup: Portal, TransPlan, and Chronology

    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.

    Portal

    Pushbullet has been one of the most consistently useful apps on my devices for a long time, and now the developers have released a new app that addresses one of the shortcomings of Pushbullet. It's called Portal, and it provides a quick and easy way to send big files from your computer to your phone.

    Portal works over your local WiFi to send files of any size to Android. This is not a completely new idea, but Portal improves things quite a bit. For example, Pushbullet allows you to send files, but the process is a little cumbersome and the file size is functionally unlimited. I also recall an app some years back that had very similar functionality called Awesome Drop. The company was acquired by HTC and the app was eventually killed. Portal is like a turbo charged version of that.

    Using Portal is really slick. Just install the app on your phone or tablet and open the Portal website on your computer. The site will generate a unique QR code that connects your phone and computer. Tap the scan button in the app and point it at the screen to pair them -- it recognizes the QR code almost instantly. The browser window will become a drag-and-drop target so you can take any file on your computer and push it to the phone or tablet.

    I've tested this with files up to several gigabytes in size, and they transferred fine. This only works over WiFi, remember. So you won't use your data plan to send the files. Portal is light on settings because it really just does this one thing. You can optionally have images and music routed to different folders to keep your storage a little more tidy. The general Portal download folder can also be specified. If you're on Lollipop, it can also request SD card access to put files there.

    Portal is a handy thing to have around, and like Pushbullet, it's completely free.

    Tested Meets the New BattleBots, Part 3

    In part three of our interviews with the new BattleBots contestants, we check out the final eight robots competing in this series premiere! Some of the designs and strategies are very nontraditional and beautiful. Plus, we step inside the newly built BattleBots arena to learn what hazards the robots will face when they're engaged in combat. The show premieres tonight at 9PM on ABC!

    Tested Meets the New Battlebots, Part 2

    The new BattleBots is premiering this weekend, and we have exclusive access to the builders pit to check out the new combat robots. The new robots are spectacular; teams have new technologies at their disposal and are getting creative with their designs. We interview eight of the teams and learn their strategies for success in the arena!

    10 Awesome Wildlife Photos Taken With A Hidden Camera

    The natural world is replete with fantastic beauty, but many of the creatures in it don’t take too kindly to human beings harshing their mellow. More and more photographers are using hidden cameras, triggered by remote control or proximity sensors, to capture images of wildlife. Today, we’ll share ten amazing images of the wild kingdom taken without a human hand on the camera.

    Hands-On: Microsoft HoloLens Project X-Ray

    Norm gets his first demo of Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset! At this year's E3, we went behind closed doors to playtest Project X-Ray, a "mixed reality" first-person shooter demo using HoloLens. Microsoft wouldn't let us film or take photos inside the room, so we describe and evaluate the experience after the demo.