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    The Robot-Arm Prosthetic Controlled by Thought

    The latest update on Johns Hopkin's Modular Prosthetic Arm, by way of Bloomberg Business: "Johnny Matheny is the first person to attach a mind-controlled prosthetic limb directly to his skeleton. After losing his arm to cancer in 2008, Johnny signed up for a number of experimental surgeries to prepare himself to use a DARPA-funded prosthetic prototype." Unlike previous versions of the prosthetic, this version is controlled through nerve signals detected on the skin, as opposed to deep neural implants.

    My Problem with Set-Top Streaming Boxes and TV Apps

    We're in the middle of testing the new crop of set-top streaming boxes, including the new Apple TV, Google Chromecast (though technically not a box), Amazon Fire TV, Roku 4, and even Steam Link. These devices are all vying to be the hardware interface for which you view most, if not all, of your TV content. Put another way, they want to be your "HDMI 1" device--the primary piece of hardware connecting content to your television. Currently, none of these boxes are plugged into my receiver's HDMI 1 port. And unless you're someone who's completely cut the cord with cable or satellite, they're probably not your HDMI 1 device either.

    Look at your own living room (ie. primary) TV or receiver setup. Do you have a cable or satellite box plugged into HDMI 1, streaming box into HDMI 2, and game console plugged into HDMI 3? Chances are you're not alone. That hierarchy of set-top boxes sums up the battle between device makers who want to control the gateway between you and video content. The content itself isn't mutually exclusive between those devices. You can watch HBO on a cable box, streaming box, and game console. Streaming boxes have been trying to shoehorn games into their platforms and controllers for years. And the Xbox One wants to leapfrog its place in the HDMI input line by convincing you to pass through your cable box through it. They're all nice tries, and yet in my house, Comcast still owns that first input slot.

    Every time we test a new streaming box, we've asked ourselves if this piece of hardware, its user interface, and library of available content make it compelling enough to drop cable. The new Apple TV, which now supports its own ecosystem of apps, makes a good--but not good enough--case for HDMI 1. And testing it helped me realize why the cable box has been so compelling. It's not about how much content is available on that platform, it's about how that content is grouped, organized, and made accessible to users. When content is split and duplicated into different an ever growing list of apps and services, complexity and choice works against the viewing experience. Cable's advantage isn't quantity or even quality of content, it's convenience of access.

    AltspaceVR Announces Support for Dungeons & Dragons

    AltspaceVR, a social VR company, just announced a partnership with Wizards of the Coast to bring Dungeons & Dragons to virtual reality. Currently, with support for the Oculus DK2, users can create instances of a virtual tavern, design a battlegrid map, and then join a DM-created campaign with other users to play out a game, complete with voice chat and crude robot avatars. It's the tabletop equivalent of Oculus' own Social app, with more interactivity. Social vr is going to be a big deal. (h/t Gizmodo)

    In Brief: How Apple Has Abandoned Basic User Experience Design Principles

    Writing for Fast Company, Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini--two of the original members of Apple's human interface group--explain at length about how Apple has abandoned many of the core design principles set forth in the company's own Human Interface Guidelines in iOS. The argument boils down to Apple changing its priorities and guidelines to accommodate beauty and simplicity. By tracking the progression of core design principles over time, Norman and Tognazzini show how gestural systems like that of iOS omit discoverability, feedback, recovery, consistency, and encouragement of growth. Whether or not you agree with the assessment, the commentary is worth reading to get a glimpse of how UX designers think about desktop and mobile interfaces from a high level.

    Google Play App Roundup: YouTube Music, Soda Dungeon, and Crimsonland

    There's no reason you wouldn't want the best apps on your Android device, but the Google Play Store makes that hard sometimes. Don't worry, though. That's what the weekly app roundup here on Tested is all about. This is where you can go to find out what the best apps are, and why they're the best. Click on the app name to go right to the Play Store web site to grab the app for yourself.

    YouTube Music

    As part of Google's big YouTube Red push, it has released a new YouTube app called YouTube Music. This was promised a few weeks ago when Red was announced, and now it's here. In the same way YouTube Gaming is an app focused on gaming videos on YouTube, the YouTube Music app is focused on music on YouTube. What the app can do for you is dependent on whether or not you have a subscription to Red/Play Music.

    The main advantage to using YouTube as a source of music is that there's a lot of unusual stuff on there. You get all the usual albums and whatnot you will find on other services, but there's also a wealth of remixes, live concerts, covers, and so on. This is why a lot of people just use the YouTube website for their music needs in the first place. The app makes this easier by surfacing only music and music videos. The home tab lists things that you might be interested in based on what you've listened to in Google's ecosystem in the past. The next tab over shows you all the hottest music on YouTube, then there's a tab of all your liked music videos.

    When you're listening to your recommended music, there's a cool feature on the Now Playing screen that lets you determine how much variety you want in the station. More variety means Google ventures further from the taste profile it has built for you, and less means that it will mostly show you things you've liked in the past.

    All the above is available to all users of YouTube Music. If you've got a Red or Play Music subscription (both services are included for the $10 price), you get some cool bonuses. First and foremost, you can do background and screen-off audio streaming. If you leave YouTube Music or shut off the screen, the app will automatically switch to audio streaming mode and keep going. You even get playback controls in the notifications like a standard music app. There's a persistent toggle at the top of the screen to switch between video and audio-only mode too.

    Premium users can also cache music offline with a feature called Offline Mixtape. This isn't quite the same as the Play Music offline feature where you explicitly save tracks you want. Instead, YouTube Music grabs a set amount of music that it thinks you'll like based on your past behavior. The default setting for this is 80MB or about 20 tracks. The only semblance of manual control I can find here is that it does include your most recently liked videos. It's kind of a neat feature for offline listening.

    Perhaps most important here is that YouTube Music is ad-free for subscribers. Everyone else gets regular YouTube-style ads. They might not be on every video, but they're going to be there. Honestly, Google's $10 deal with Play Music streaming, YouTube Red, and now YouTube Music is such a fantastic deal, I can't think of a good argument against it.

    Testing the Lulzbot Mini 3D Printer

    This post was originally published on Overworld Designs and is republished here with permission. Follow Michelle on Facebook and find her work on Instagram.

    Back in March, Freeside Atlanta won a LulzBot Mini 3D printer during a hackerspace giveaway. We already have one of LulzBot's older machines, an AO-100, so we were very familiar with their printers and how easy they were to use. I've used several of LulzBot's printers before - I own an AO-101 myself - and I was really interested to see what the Mini brought to the table.

    As I said in my Cube 3D review, I really dislike the idea of "just press go" type of machines. 3D printing is still too young of a technology for mass adoption, and pushing fickle equipment on to the unsuspecting masses will put 3D printing in a negative light. Having said that: the Mini is probably the best printer I've ever used.

    The Mini's name comes from it's generally small build platform of roughly 6" cubed. Normally this would really deter me from using it as I am generally printing large costume pieces, but the small printing volume is the only negative I can possibly say about the machine. The machine comes fully built and ready to use, the frame is attractive and everything is very well constructed. It took us about 20 minutes between unboxing and pulling our first print off of the bed.

    Included is a LulzBot branded install of Cura slicing software which has all of the settings for the Mini included, so the time between unboxing and printing was incredibly fast. There are several preset quality options, and the highest detail option at 0.1mm produces amazing results. You can go under the hood and tweak all of the print options, but the default settings produce great objects on their own.

    But really, the two best features are the PEI printing surface, and the self leveling bed.

    Meet Pleurobot, an Amphibious Salamander Robot

    We meet Pleurobot, a Salamander-like robot that can both walk on land and swim in the water (with a wetsuit!) Kishore, our new science correspondent, chats with professor Auke Ijspeert of the EPFL about how Pluerobot's movements were programmed and how biorobotics engineers studied the physiology of salamanders in making this robot.

    Awesome BioRobots Inspired by Animal Movements!

    Roboticists from Switzerland's EPFL institute bring us four awesome robots that are designed to mimic the movements and gait of animals. We chat with these biorobotics researchers about the lessons learned from studying snakes and quadrupeds, and how their robots can be used in practical situations. Plus, these robots are actually pretty cute, and their lifelike movements make great animated GIFs!

    The Atlantic Covers FPV Quadcopter Racing and DroneShield

    Over the past year, we've seen increasing coverage of the FPV quadcopter racing community (which also held its first "Drone Nationals" competition this summer). As a companion video piece for a massive magazine feature on Drone businesses, The Atlantic profiles hobbyist drone racers as well as DroneShield, a company building technologies to take down quadcopters. And for more video coverage of the quad FPV racing community, here's another good profile piece.

    Tested In-Depth: How to Listen to High-End Audio

    This week, we're joined by the inemitable Patrick Norton--co-host of TekThing--to talk about high-end audio! We see a lot of headphones and speakers in the $500+ category, and wanted to learn the best way listen to music on those. Patrick and Norm discuss the importance of audio sources, DACs, and the environment you listen to your music. We'll have more from Patrick on Tested in the future!

    PowerUp's Paper Airplane You Can Fly with FPV

    Entrepreneur Shai Goitein built a business by making ordinary paper airplanes a lot less ordinary. His company, PowerUp Toys, integrates new technology with these ageless foldable aircraft. The PowerUp 2.0 is a clip-on device that provides an electric motor to keep a paper airplane flying long after the energy of your toss fades away. PowerUp 3.0 adds throttle control, a moveable rudder, and an interface that lets you control the paper model's path with your smartphone. Now, Goitein is planning to add streaming video that will fold paper airplanes into the popular hobby of first-person-view (FPV) flying. I recently spoke with Goitein and asked him about the new project, which just launched a Kickstarter campaign.

    Tested: Has it always been your plan to create an FPV platform, or is this simply a natural progression of your previous products?

    Goitein: The short answer is that it wasn't part of the plan. When we launched the Kickstarter for PowerUp 3.0, very quickly our backers started asking for stretch goals. So we opened it to our backers to tell us what they want the most. Everybody was very vocal about 'Hey we want a camera…and make it a live-streaming camera.

    For me, going to FPV was actually something that I wanted to avoid. It looked too complicated. Then, I recalled watching Elon Musk or one of those amazing guys talking about innovation and that really inspired me. The message was 'When you know that there is something really difficult to do, that's when you know that you need to do it.' That's when I knew I have to test this. I have to try it.

    At this point [following proof-of-concept testing], I knew that this is an amazing thing and we need to do something with it. But we needed to make it affordable, not a $1000 item--something everyone can do. Google Cardboard, this low cost VR [Virtual Reality] system, is happening in parallel. It looked to me, if we could marry these concepts together, it would be great.

    MIT's LineFORM Shape-Shifting Robot

    From MIT's Tangible Media Group: "LineFORM is a novel Shape Changing Interface which has the form of a "Line". Lines have several interesting characteristics from the perspective of interaction design: abstractness of data representation; a variety of inherent interactions / affordances; and constraints as boundaries or borderlines. By utilizing such aspects of lines together with the added capability of shape-shifting, we present various applications in different scenarios such as shape changing cords, mobiles, body constraints, and data manipulation to investigate the design space of line-based shape changing interfaces." Basically, it's the robot equivalent of slap bracelets!

    In Brief: Google Maps Adds Offline Navigation for Android

    Couple big app update and releases for Android today. First off, Google has updated its Maps app with offline navigation, meaning you can download maps of regions (cities, counties, or even countries) to your phone/tablet and get address searching and turn-by-turn navigation with just GPS, without taking up data. It'll come to iOS "soon". On the flipside, an iOS app that now has an Android release is Apple's own Apple Music. And if you subscribe to the service on an Android phone, Google will take 30% of Apple's cut.

    Testing: Valve's Steam Controller

    This is not a review of Valve's Steam Controller. It it was a review of the controller, my recommendation would be not to buy it. Even though the controllers (and Steam Link set-top box) have been shipping to early customers for a few weeks now, Valve has stressed that the hardware availability is simply the beginning of its ongoing development work to take Steam and PC gaming outside of your home office and into place like the living room. You can buy the hardware, but just don't think of it as the final final product experience yet--more updates are coming!

    If that sounds sketchy to you, you're not alone. We've always said that products should be evaluated for what you're getting when you pay for them, not for the potential they hold or the promises of their makers. And Valve made some lofty promises with the Steam Controller. It's supposed to be the kitchen-sink device that can replace the keyboard and mouse for playing games of any genre. That requires not only a novel controller concept (which this certainly is), but also the software integration and game design compliance to seamlessly support it. That's the part that's not done yet. So this is not a review of that promised catch-all living room game controller. That device is not here yet. These are notes and current impressions from my ongoing testing of the Steam Controller, as released to the public.

    You know the story of the Steam Controller. Originally announced back in 2013 with a laundry list of concepts including a touchscreen, the design of the controller has been pared down to something that resembles a console gamepad, kinda. There are ABXY action buttons, triggers, shoulder buttons, and even an analog stick. But it differentiates itself with two large haptic touchpads that can be programmed to simulate a variety of inputs, as well as two big paddle grips under the controller. Ergonomically, the controller feels really good, even though you don't hold it exactly the same way you do an Xbox or PlayStation gamepad. Adjusting to it from those devices is easy.

    What's a little more difficult to adjust to are the large touchpads at the top of the controller. Those utilize linear actuators (magnets) to not only provide haptic response to your thumb movements, but convincing surface resistance to guide those movements. It's a strange sensation to glide the tip of your thumb across the pad and feel subtle pulsing feedback that makes it feel like you're rolling a trackball or spinning a clicky dial. That haptic response makes using the relatively-small touchpad as a mouse cursor a much satisfying and effective than a zero-resistance touchpad, like the large glass rectangles you'd find on a laptop. And if I was just using the Steam Controller to move a mouse cursor around and click menu icons, I'd be very happy. But it's meant for playing games. Not just any game--all the games. And that's where I started getting frustrated.

    In Brief: 'Adrift' and Locomotion Solutions in Virtual Reality

    Game developer Double Fine and art collective iam8bit put on the third annual Day of the Devs event in San Francisco this past weekend, a day-long showcase of independent games that was free to attend. Over 40 games were on display, including some highly anticipated ones like Tacoma and Spy Party. There were also a few VR games present, too, on PlayStation VR, Vive, and Oculus. I stretched my brain with some SuperHyperCube and Fantastic Contraption, but was really wowed by ThreeOneZero's Adrift, a first-person experience that tells the story of an astronaut surviving after the destruction of his space station (think Gravity, but a VR game). The five-minute demo didn't reveal much of the story, but I was struck by the comfort of the game's locomotion system. It wasn't a roomscale game--I wasn't walking around the room--but my body and mind felt completely comfortable and immersed floating through space and the wreckage of the space station. That's because I was using the controller to activate thrust on the spacesuit, like NASA's MMU propulsion system. In a sense, the spacesuit your character wears is actually like a spaceship, except motion controllers will let you reach out and interact with objects in the environment. Adrift is an Oculus launch title, so it'll be out early next year. I can't wait to play more of it!

    Google Play App Roundup: Texpand, Shooty Skies, and 1 Volt

    You probably want more apps, but more than that, you want the right ones. That's what we're here to deliver with the weekly Google Play App Roundup. This is where you'll find the best new and newly updated apps and games on Android. Just click the link to head right to Google Play.


    Typing things out on even the best software keyboard can be tedious. It can be helpful to keep some frequently used snippets of text in a note app for quick copying and pasting, but Texpand makes it even easier to insert text with fewer keystrokes. As the name implies, it's a text expander app, and you can try it for free.

    Setting up Texpand will only take a minute, but it varies from one version of Android to the next. On Lollipop and earlier it only needs to be added as an accessibility service, but on Marshmallow it also needs access to drawing on top of other apps. Texpand will link you to the appropriate menus to get that done. After it's enabled, Texpand will work with just about any keyboard (even a Bluetooth keyboard) by reading the text you're inputting and watching for the shortcuts you've created.

    So, you need to make some shortcuts, right? For each one just create a short string of letters, for example "adr" for your full address. Texpand lets you create up to 10 of these with the free version, After that, it's $2.99 for the pro upgrade to make unlimited shortcuts. A small floating button will pop up when Texpand detects that you're typing what might be one of your shortcuts. Tapping that when you've not yet completed a shortcut gives you suggestions, but once the shortcut is completely out there, tapping will insert your desired text. There's also an option when setting up a shortcut to have it expanded automatically.

    The manual text entry is Texpand is cool, but it goes a step further with dynamic values. You can have the app insert the date, day of the week, time, or even the contents of your clipboard when you trigger a shortcut. I'd like to see more of the dynamic values added, but this is a good start. The clipboard shortcut in particular is really handy. By default, Texpand works in any app, but you can block it from reading the text in an app by adding it to the exemption list in the settings.

    There are a ton of cool extras in Texpand to round out the feature set. You can back up your shortcuts to Google Drive, move the floating UI around, make shortcuts case-sensitive, and more. It's really great even without the full version upgrade, but I think you'll run through the 10 free shortcuts quickly when you see how useful it is.

    Tested Mailbag: RGB Tie Event

    Time to open a mystery mailbag from a Tested viewer! This week's, we receive a project sample we can't wait get around our necks. There's one for Joey, too! Thanks to Gary for sending us this package!

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (October 2015)

    We're heading into the holiday season, and the device lineup is pretty much locked down. You can also expect carriers and retailers to start tossing out deals on smartphones, but you don't just want to get whatever's cheapest. You want what's best, and that's what we want to find by examining the Android phone landscape like we do every month. So let's take a look at what phones are available on your carrier of choice so you can get the right device.

    Photo credit: Flickr user bestboyzde via Creative Commons

    Carrier-branded phones

    We are thankfully no longer living in a world where carrier exclusives rule the smartphone market. Most phones can be had on any of the big carriers, and that's the case with most of the top Android devices. There are two phones that still warrant your attention and can be purchased directly from the carriers. I speak, of course, of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4.

    The GS6 has a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED panel, and it's one of the best screens available on a smartphone at 2560x1440. It's small enough that most people should be able to use it comfortably one-handed, which is an increasing rarity. This continues to be one of the primary selling points of this phone. There are devices you can get with better software or longer battery life, but none of them are as pleasant to look at.

    Samsung also continues to impress when it comes to the camera. The Samsung Galaxy S6 has a 16MP shooter with optical image stabilization and an f/1.9 lens. This sensor is still one of the best you can get in a phone. I'm constantly floored by how well exposed images are, and the accuracy of colors in even poor light. I've actually started taking a lot of my review photos with a Galaxy S6 because it's easier than dragging out my DSLR for a minor improvement in image quality.

    The Galaxy S6 has an aluminum frame and Gorilla Glass front and rear panels. There aren't any weird gaps or spaces in the casing as there have been with some past Samsung phones -- it's a solid little phone. The glass back panel is another thing to break, but I've dropped mine a few times and no catastrophic failures yet.

    In Brief: Lytro and YouTube Expand VR Video's Reach

    Two interesting bits of news in the virtual reality video space. First, light-field camera company Lytro announced its Immerge camera system, which is made for capturing 360-degree video for VR. It's a big pivot from the company's previous prosumer cameras, which used light-field sensor technology to allow photographers to manipulate their photos' focus in post. Immerge supposedly takes that light field "volume" tech and applies it VR filmmaking, which would in theory allow viewers some degree of movement in positional space, as opposed to watching the content from a fixed position. Lytro says it'll have prototypes ready next year, and samples of the content it can produce then as well.

    360-degree video is a point of contention for virtual reality enthusiasts--it's one type of content that makes use of rotationally-tracked headsets like Google Cardboard, but falls a long way short of the kind of immersive experiences of room-scale VR. Still, Google and YouTube are committed to the format, announcing yesterday that it's rolling out depth-enabled "virtual reality video" tools and content for Cardboard. Also, to compete with the offerings of Oculus Video, the entire YouTube library will be available for viewing in a simulated big screen with Cardboard. The VR content wars begin.