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    Hands-On: Fantastic Contraption with HTC Vive Pre

    At the recent SteamVR Developer Showcase, we got more hands-on time with Fantastic Contraption, a creative physics-based puzzle game that makes excellent use of virtual reality. We chat with the developers to learn how they're experimenting with physics and user interface in VR.

    Testing SAFE Plus Stabilization for RC Aircraft

    If you've ever flown a fixed-wing RC model with artificial stabilization such as SAFE or WISE, then you know that these systems are not some magic wand that prevents all crashes and makes new pilots expert flyers overnight. Artificial stabilization is merely a useful training tool. When used correctly, it can significantly shorten a rookie pilot's learning curve—and perhaps help avoid some carnage along the way.

    Artificial stability systems continue to become more sophisticated and capable. The SAFE Plus (SAFE+) system installed in the Hobbyzone Sportsman S+ model is a prime example. This system is unique in that it utilizes GPS and a compass in order to realize heretofore unseen capabilities in fixed-wing models. In some cases, those new capabilities address shortcomings that I found in other stability systems.

    My original plan for this article was to exercise the various features of SAFE+ and report how well it performs. I'm still going to do that. Yet, as I spent more time flying the Sportsman S+, I slowly began to realize that artificial stability has turned a very significant corner. I think that these systems which are meant to assist new flyers could actually make learning more difficult and confusing for some pilots. I'll explain my reasoning for that opinion as well.

    Why GPS and Compass?

    The core functionality of a fixed-wing stability system is to know what straight and level flight is and then command the model to get there when asked. If a pilot gets disoriented or puts the airplane in a bad attitude, the system will execute recovery maneuvers and save the day. The pilot can then resume control with no harm done. One problem that I've found with these systems is that they still require the pilot to execute turns to keep the model in sight. Even a few seconds of unsure hesitation on the controls could be sufficient to send the perfectly stabilized model flying off into the horizon. That's one reason why it is still a good idea to have an experienced pilot on hand to coach you through those first awkward steps.

    This GPS module permits the SAFE+ system to overcome the shortcomings of other fixed-wing stabilization units.

    By integrating GPS and compass into SAFE+, the dreaded "fly away" scenario is mitigated. We've become accustomed to (and perhaps dependent on) the GPS and compass-enabled features in multi-rotors. By knowing where the model is and which way it is pointing, multi-rotors can automatically hold their position in the sky when the wind blows or return to their takeoff location with the push of a button. SAFE+ brings similar capabilities to fixed-wing aircraft.

    Meet the Mcor Arke Full-Color Paper 3D Printer

    Traditional desktop 3D printers use melted plastic as their build material, but Mcor's printers layer sheets of paper on top of each other to create their models. We check out the new Mcor Arke, a printer that cuts from a large spool of paper, glues those sheets together, and then prints color on them to turn digital files into large paper models!

    Interview: Valve's Chet Faliszek on Steam VR and HTC Vive Pre

    We return to the HTC booth to meet up with Valve's Chet Faliszek, who has been working with developers on virtual reality games and content. We chat with Chet about the latest updates to the HTC Vive Pre, the Steam VR platform, and what developers have learned from their experimentation with roomscale VR!

    Meet Kodak's New Super 8 Film Camera

    Kodak is making a recommitment to film with its new Super 8 camera, announced at this year's CES. We visit the Kodak booth to take a look at the camera, which shoots 8mm film but also has a digital viewfinder and other hybrid elements. Here's what we learned about how filmmakers will be able to take advantage of Kodak's new consumer film ecosystem.

    Interview: Palmer Luckey on Oculus Rift's Launch Price and Hardware

    We couldn't leave CES without checking in with the Oculus team and checking out the final hardware and packaging for the Oculus Rift. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey chats with us about the Rift's $600 price, how much custom hardware goes into building the headset, Oculus Touch changes, and Oculus Home software.

    What Makes a Good Digitizer Stylus for Artists?

    New tablets and notebooks are being equipped with advanced digitizer styluses for artists to write and draw, but it's not simple to perfectly simulate a pencil or pen on a screen. At CES, we ask Wacom what they think are the important features of digitizers that artists should test when shopping for devices like the Apple Pencil and Microsoft's Surface.

    Hands-On with Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core

    Razer is known for unveiling far-out gaming hardware concepts at CES, but this year's product reveal seems more practical. The Razer Blade Stealth is an Ultrabook, running an Intel Core i7 processor and integrated graphics. However, games can run on an external graphics card in the form of the Razer Core, which simply connects to the laptop over a Thunderbolt cable!

    In Brief: Using Electromagnetic Finger Tracking for Virtual Reality

    The potential solutions for positional hand-tracking for virtual reality are numerous. Some developers are experimenting with optical tracking systems, some with infrared systems like Leap Motion, and others with inertial-based systems like Control VR. Each process has drawbacks stemming from occlusion to latency to drift. A new system called Finexus theoretically avoids these pitfalls by using an electromagnetic positioning system.

    Finexus is being developed at the University of Washington, but began as a project for its founder while he was an intern at Oculus Research. It uses a system similar to that of the Sixaxis Stem controller--the position of electromagnets are determined by triangulating its distance between fixed sensors. In this case, the small magnets are attached to your fingertips, and the sensors on your wrist. With the distance between magnet and sensor kept short--under 12 centimeters--the system can be accurate to within 1.3 millimeters. Here's a brief video demonstrating its positional accuracy.

    Norman
    Interview: Oculus' Jason Rubin Talks Virtual Reality Game Development

    We recently demoed The Climb, a new virtual reality game from Crytek. At our demo session, we had the opportunity to chat with Jason Rubin, the Head of Worldwide Studios at Oculus, about his role in working with developers to make great virtual reality games for the launch of the Oculus Rift. The following is a transcript of our conversation, which you can also watch in our preview video for The Climb.

    Tested: Jason, you work with game developers to make games for the Oculus Rift. What's been your experience working with those devs making their first virtual reality games?

    Jason Rubin: My job is to bring great titles to the Oculus platform at launch and thereafter, and make sure that we push VR forward and kind of do new things and experiment--experimentation that might not happen if Oculus didn't get out there and get involved in the developer community. We bring best practices, finances, production expertise, and things like that. And we've had a lot of takers.

    When I started, I thought it was going to be a job about convincing people to develop for VR. Turns out that's actually the easiest thing I do--I just drop off a development kit, and the minute it's in some studio, the studio immediately wants to work on it. I end up giving them more kits and people come up with ideas. So I spend a lot of my time working on best practices, making games comfortable, making them novel and unique, scoping things, and then making sure the games actually happen.

    Do you find that the first wave of what the developers try to make end up all being similar? What are the things they gravitate toward that aren't necessarily the things that you want to push for Oculus?

    We have a difficult challenge because we have 30 years of game development behind us as a community. Obviously, we've come up with ideas we really like, that are also extremely fun, some of which work really well in virtual reality, and some of which don't. But also importantly, we've opened up an entirely new realm of games that could be created--it's hard to say "you have a year, go create new stuff." It takes time to experiment, and it takes time to come up with those new ideas.

    [Crytek's] The Climb is one of those things where I walked into a pitch for--"things we think would be cool in VR"--there were a slew of ideas on the table, and I just latched onto this idea of climbing. It was extremely well prototyped, it was comfortable, it was fun, and you could see the hook there immediately. On top of that, one of the demos that we had been giving at Oculus that was most well received was standing at the edge of a building. So I knew people really liked the immersion and the presence that VR brings, like that kind of butterflies-in-your-stomach moment when you're looking out over the edge. Here was a title that could bring that to the gamer, but also offer really compelling gameplay. So we decided to focus on this, and Crytek was extremely excited to get going and focus on that specific idea and flesh it out into something that's a wide ranging and compelling gameplay experience.

    Jesse Schell's 40 Predictions for Virtual Reality

    From the recent VRX conference, hosted by VR Intelligence: "Virtual reality legend Jesse Schell talked about the varied worlds he and his team have created, how the technology has changed and why now is a very exciting time to be in the VR and AR space. Jesse delivered analytical insight into what we can expect from VR/AR in the coming decade." Almost all of Schell's 40 predictions sound on-point--this is an essential talk for anyone interested in the future of consumer virtual and augmented reality. You can find the accompanying slides here.

    Illustrating The Ethical Dilemma of Self-Driving Cars
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    Patrick Lin, the Director of Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, narrates this recent TED-Ed lesson illustrating the murky ethics of self-driving cars: "Self-driving cars are already cruising the streets today. And while these cars will ultimately be safer and cleaner than their manual counterparts, they can’t completely avoid accidents altogether. How should the car be programmed if it encounters an unavoidable accident?" This TED-Ed short was animated by artists Jiaqi Wang and Kevin O'Shea.

    In Brief: How the Sounds of Live Sports are Recorded

    With our local Golden State Warriors on a historic winning streak, I've been watching a lot of basketball games lately. And one of the things I started wondering about was how the audio of basketball games--as well as other sports--are recorded for live broadcasts. 99% Invisible tackled the topic of sound design for live sports last year, showing how in some cases, prerecorded sounds are used for the benefit of the TV audience. Mics attached to or pointed at players allow a different type of real-time sports storytelling, including trash talk between teams. Outside of references in technical books, this Stack Exchange answer was the best I could dig up about how audio is recorded for different sports, and how different stadiums and arenas have different microphone configurations. And this curiosity eventually led me to the awesome Creative Field Recording blog, where audio engineer Paul Virostek goes into exhaustive detail about his adventures recording interesting and evocative sounds. His latest entry about recording the sounds of race cars is awesome.

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    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.

    Norman
    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Recording Flight Data

    Last month, we covered the basics of RC telemetry systems – including how they work and why they're useful. Despite the apparent benefits, telemetry is not for every modeler or every RC aircraft. In fact, many hobbyists feel that only large, high-dollar models warrant the expense and added complexity of telemetry components. That opinion is debatable, but there are alternatives for those who would like the benefits of in-flight performance data without the overhead of telemetry. One way is to use a GPS recorder.

    Modelers often wonder how fast their airplane can fly or how far it travels during a flight. A GPS logger can answer these questions without the need for a real-time telemetry system.

    There are numerous GPS recording devices available, and many are tailored for the demands of specific activities such as hiking or driving. The Hobbico Big 5 GPS Meter ($90) is intended for use in RC airplanes. It collects time, location, altitude (present and peak values), and speed (present/average/peak) data. Following a flight, you can scroll to read selected parameters on the Big 5's LCD screen. Or, you can upload the data to a computer and plot out the entire flight on Google Earth.

    The Unit

    The Big 5 unit measures 2.56" x 1.57" x 0.82" (65mm x 40mm x 21mm) and weighs 1.4 ounces (40 gr). To invoke a common yardstick, it is very nearly the same physical size as a GoPro Hero 3 (but lighter). This size and weight make the Big 5 unit compatible with a wide array of RC airplanes. I'd say that most models weighing at least 12 ounces are fair game.

    Power for the Big 5 comes from a built in 200mAh LiPo battery that is recharged via USB. You can expect up to 150 minutes of operating time. This is adequate for any RC application that I can think of. It may fall short, however, if you want to repurpose the Big 5 for something else, such as a long bike ride. In any event, you can operate the unit with external power via the USB port or the 3-pin RC-style plug.

    The Hobbico Big 5 is a GPS recording device created specifically for use in RC airplanes.

    Up to six hours of data can be saved to the built-in flash memory. There is no provision to expand the storage capacity.

    This GPS unit can be attached to your model using whatever method you like. I use self-adhesive Velcro. The prime consideration when mounting the device is to avoid placing it such that electrically conductive material (metals, carbon fiber) are blocking the signal path up to the orbiting GPS satellites. You will also want to ensure that the Big 5 does not upset the model's center of gravity.

    The Light Field Stereoscope

    At this year's SIGGRAPH conference, researchers from Stanford's Computation Imaging lab introduced a prototype head-mounted display that eliminates the eye-focusing problem of "vergence-accommodation conflict." Essentially, the light-field display stacks two LCDs at different depths in front of your eyes to provide focus cues for a less straining simulation of depth-of-field--your eyes actually get to naturally refocus across multiple planes. The technology is far from ready for consumer VR headsets, though. Read more about how the concept works here.

    The Anatomy of a Modern BattleBot

    What does it take to build a BattleBot, and what technology makes a good combat robot? We chat with BattleBots competitor Will Bales about his matches and examine the parts of his HyperShock robot. From chassis to circuitry to weapons systems, we run through each component to give you an idea of how these 250-pound machines work!

    FPV Quadcopter Racing at the 2015 Drone Nationals

    The California State Fair recently hosted the first ever Drone Nationals--a FPV quadcopter racing competition that brought together pilots from all around the world. After two days of races and freestyle stunt performances, we chat with the event's director and the competition's eventual winner about the developing sport of FPV aerial racing.