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    Tested In-Depth: Boosted Electric Skateboard!

    Many futuristic ideas seem too farfetched to be practical, but this electric skateboard really works and turned out to be both fun and useful. Norm learns to skate with the Boosted electric longboard and we discuss how this board is more than just motors and batteries attached to a normal longboard. (Thanks to Jeremy Williams for helping with video coverage in this review!)

    In Brief: What You Should Know about Police Body Cams

    You may have heard about President Obama's recently announced plan to assist local law enforcement's acquisition, education, and use of new equipment. In addition to using Federal funds to help bolster frayed relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve, the pitch also called for funding of body cameras to be worn by police officers--a $75 million investment for 50,000 cameras. But what does the use of those cameras mean in practice? The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great breakdown of their concerns for the use of body cameras, and what they and the ACLU think needs to be addressed before implementation. And as for how body cameras have affected police departments already using them, The Atlantic has a report on the police department of Post Falls, Idaho, where body cameras use became mandatory in 2011.

    Norman 1
    Creating Haptic Holograms with Sound Waves

    From New Scientist, an experiment utilizing directed high frequency sound waves to give the sensation of touching a floating invisible object. It's the next version of the Ultrahaptics system developed by University of Bristol scientists. The researchers track users hands over empty space with a Leap Motion controller, and have been able to give the sensation of basic shapes like spheres and pyramids. It's something they hope to combine with VR or projected hologram systems. (h/t BoingBoing) Tangentially related: this great animated infographic explaining how loudspeakers make sound.

    Analyzing the Way Passengers Board Airplanes

    Many of you are traveling over the holidays, and have already experienced the dreaded delays and congestion at airports. Bad news: studies say it's going to get worse for the rest of the year as well. One area that passengers feel the most stress is plane boarding. This Vox video, based on a report they did earlier this year, explores the efficiencies of different boarding processes. The unfortunate thing is that the most efficient method isn't necessarily the one that people will want to use. Vox collaborated with combinatorial optimization researcher Menkes van den Briel to create the simulations for these tests. But if you want to see boarding simulations enacted with real people, Jamie and Adam did it a few months ago!

    In Brief: Sony Working on E-Ink Watch with Active Band

    Before Apple announced its watch, I had its upcoming wearable pegged as an active wristband instead of a more traditional-looking smartwatch. That obviously didn't happen, but Sony is leading the charge with an active wristband idea in its FES Watch. This actually debuted back in September on a Japanese crowdfunding site under a fake company, Fashion Entertainments. But Sony admitted to be the ones behind the product, which they're hoping to sell next May. The minimalist watch uses a flexible e-ink display that wraps around the users wrist, and wearers can change its designs. Its functionality is mostly cosmetic--it doesn't connect to the internet or a smartphone--but battery life on the watch is supposedly 60 days. According to someone working on the project, Sony decided to test the concept under a fake company to gauge user interest. In the crowdfunding campaign, 150 users backed the watch for a price of around $200 dollars.

    Norman
    10 Inventions Born From Disasters

    They say necessity is the mother of invention, but catastrophe may be the father. The mark of genius is the ability to pull success out of tragedy. When human survival is tested, our brains often kick into overdrive to come up with solutions. Today, we’ll tell the tales of ten inventions that started off as a response to a disastrous event and became something brilliant.

    In Brief: Samsung Announces Project Beyond VR Camera for Gear VR

    Oculus and Samsung have announced that Gear VR, the virtual reality headset accessory developed by both companies to work with Samsung's Note 4 phone, will be released early next month for an MSRP of $200 ($250 for the bundle with the Bluetooth controller). That's for what the company is calling the "Innovator Edition", which is essentially a commercially available developer kit for early adopters and developers. This announcement coincides with the release of the Oculus Mobile SDK (v0.4.0), specifically designed to work with the Note 4 and supporting several key VR features like Asynchronous Timewarp). Gear VR will ship with the Oculus Home interface, as well as the VR theater and a panoramic photo players. Samsung also used this opportunity to announce a camera system called Project Beyond, which is a 3D 360-degree camera designed to capture video and photos for viewing on Gear VR. The tripod-mounted camera houses 16 HD cameras, collecting a gigapixel of 3D data every second. The coolest part is that the camera apparently processes these images in realtime, streaming the imagery to Gear VR users with what Samsung claims to be minimal lag. The video teaser for Project Beyond is below.

    Norman
    10 Ways You’re Being Tracked And How To Stop It

    You’d have to have your head in the sand like an ostrich to not realize that you’re constantly under surveillance in the modern world. Your actions are tracked by dozens of parties, from governments to banks to retailers. If you want to get out of the eyes of Big Brother, it’s going to take some work. Let’s run down who’s watching you right now.

    Tested In-Depth: SmartThings Home Automation

    Will's been testing the SmartThings system since its successful Kickstarter campaign, and shares his experience setting up home automation for his family. SmartThings lets you set a house up to be contextually aware of a variety of events, with no reoccurring fees. We discuss what aspects of home automation may make sense for most people, and how home control works via the app.

    Show and Tell: The Useless Box Kit

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm assembles a kit of a machine he's always wanted: a useless box. Flip the switch on the box and all it does is turn itself off. Simple, yet mesmerizing. The kit of laser cut plastic and some basic electronics isn't difficult to put together, and makes for a great afternoon project.

    Tested In-Depth: Desktop 3D Scanning and 3D Printing

    We've been experimenting with home 3D printers for a while, but we now finally have a desktop 3D scanner at the office too! We test the new Matter and Form 3D scanner that digitizes any small object, generating a 3D model and file that we can then send over to our 3D printer. Here's what worked well and what didn't--let's see if we can replicate Norm's head!

    My 10 Virtual Reality Takeaways from Oculus Connect

    I've had a few days now to digest all the information that came out of this past weekend's Oculus Connect conference. It may have only been a two-day developer conference, but the keynotes alone had enough information to expand the imaginations (and lexicon) of virtual reality enthusiasts. There was of course the big Crescent Bay prototype announcement and demo, which Oculus unfortunately said that it has no plans to release or show anywhere else. It was also my first time being able to try the Samsung Gear VR and Oculus' current VR UI solution in Oculus Home and the Cinema application. My mind's been buzzing since I got back from LA, and I wanted to distill some of my personal takeaways from the experience.

    Presence is NOT the same as reality

    More so than at any past Oculus event or meeting I had attended before, the Oculus team emphasized the idea of presence--a significant milestone in virtual reality technology. It's this threshold past which your brain's subconscious computing starts to take over and makes you believe that you're in a separate space within a VR headset. Presence was emphasized because the team thinks that they've achieved it for most people in the Crescent Bay prototype. The 10 minute demo I had with Crescent Bay was leaps and bounds better than the DK2 experience, but I'm going to hold off on giving them the sustained presence checkbox until I can get more time with it. More importantly, we now know Oculus' definition of presence, and the specific technical requirements they're targeting for a consumer release (sub-millimeter tracking accuracy, sub-20ms latency, 90+Hz refresh, at least 1Kx1K per eye resolution, highly calibrated and wide FOV eyebox).

    The reason I'm a little hesitant to say that I achieved the full presence in Crescent Bay is that I really have no appropriate point of comparison for that sensation. The feeling of presence in a virtual space should not be confused with the feeling of reality. I think a lot of people will expect that once they put on something like Crescent Bay, what they see inside the headset feels exactly like what the real world feels like. That's not the case at all. It still looks very much like rendered game graphics, with aliased edges and surreal feeling of disembodiment. To me, presence is about the feeling of space inside of the headset--a sense that the virtual objects and environments you're looking at have volume and a distance from you eyes that's not just two inches away on a screen. Stereoscopy and proper mapping of your head movements are a huge part of that. Presence in these VR demos never takes away the awareness of the virtual nature of that space, but you do feel more apart to it.

    Standing in VR opens up possibilities

    The biggest question for me coming out Oculus Connect was whether the consumer version of the Rift would be a sit-down-only experience. I know that Palmer told everyone in interviews that the Rift is meant to be used sitting down, but I agree with commenters that it may just be them working out a legally and ergonomically acceptable solution for a stand-up design. At least that's fun to think about. Regardless, the Crescent Bay demo confirmed that standing up in VR is technically possible with what Oculus has made so far, and that walking around isn't necessary for a stand-up VR experience (ie. we don't need VR treadmills). The square mat we were allowed to walk around on in the demo was sufficient to show how effective positional tracking could be in a stand-up experience. Even the ability to shift your full body and weight around was extremely meaningful--being able to physically crouch and duck in the virtual space felt liberating in a way that I think will have a profound impact in VR game design. Spinning around in a full 360 degrees was less important, or at least emphasized less with these demos.

    Of course, this setup would require more hardware, including a way to mount the positional tracking camera above the standing user, and a cable management system to keep the headset cable out of the way.

    Hands-On with Samsung Gear VR at Oculus Connect

    At Oculus Connect, Norm gets to try out the upcoming Gear VR virtual reality headset, a collaboration between Samsung and Oculus. It uses a Galaxy Note 4 for its brains and screen, with VR software and optimizations designed by John Carmack. Norm shares his opinion of display performance on the Note 4's 60Hz 1440p screen, and whether the phone's technology is sufficient for a good mobile virtual reality experience.

    USB Type-C Will Carry Power, Data, and DisplayPort Video

    If you're the kind of person that gets excited about new cable technologies, you're in good company. Although it'll be a while before we actually see the next spec of USB 3.1 cables in circulation, I'm genuinely giddy about the potential of the impending USB Type-C connector. Late last year, we heard that it was going to be a reversible design, which was confirmed in the USB Promoter Group and USB Implementer Forum's final specs for the next-gen plug. Today, VESA--the standards group in charge of video connector standards--announced that USB Type-C will also be able to carry native DisplayPort signals through a "DisplayPort Alternate Mode". Through this spec, DisplayPort signals on compatible monitors and accessories will be able to use up to four of the Type-C connector's high-speed data paths for video, alongside data and power already being channelled. This won't be a pared down version of DisplayPort, either, meaning Type-C will be able to work with DisplayPort conversion adapters as well, such as for HDMI 2.0 and DVI. This means that future laptops may not need separate USB, HDMI, DP, or even VGA ports, and could just use a slew of thin USB Type-C ports for all inputs and outputs. Anandtech has more technical details about how this spec works, and what it may mean for the future of mobile PCs.

    Photo credit: Flickr user taylor90 via Creative Commons

    Of course, all these design specs and certifications mean nothing if hardware manufacturers don't begin to support them in both accessory devices and computer systems. That's where Apple has a leg-up on USB--its Lightning cable is ubiquitous in the iOS and Mac ecosystem, and Apple computers are still the only place you can find native support for Intel's Thunderbolt. Let's get on it, PC OEMs!

    In Brief: "Overhead" Car Camera Technology is Magical

    Of all the new technology and consumer electronics gear we learned about last week (Kindles, GeForces, VR prototypes, digital cameras, etc), the thing that wowed me the most was perhaps a piece of tech that's already been around for a few years. I flew to LA for video shoots with Frank Ippolito and Oculus, and we rented a car for the trip. The car Hertz gave us (read: upsold) was an Infiniti QX56 SUV--a massive land shark that made me feel like Turtle from Entourage driving around VIPs. Infiniti's SUVs have a similar backup camera technology as other manufactures--something that's going to be standard soon--but also has a patented "Around View" camera monitoring tech that blew my mind. It takes video feeds from four cameras around the car, skewing and compositing them to make it look like you're looking at a camera floating about 10 feet above the car. It's one of those tricks that sounds simple once you understand how it works, and works so seamlessly that you can't help but wonder why nobody had come up with it before. Really inspired innovation that has a huge impact on the way I drove and parked that car. Props to Infiniti for coming up with it! (The video below shows off Around View in action.)

    Norman
    Hands-On with Oculus Rift "Crescent Bay" Prototype Virtual Reality Headset

    Norm goes to Oculus Connect to get a hands-on demo of the new "Crescent Bay" feature prototype of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. We interview Nate Mitchell and Palmer Luckey of Oculus VR to talk about what's new in the headset, reveal some technical specifications, and then walk through the entire demo experience--with 1080p video from the private demo room!

    The Best Wireless Carriers Today

    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’re in the U.S. and looking for a carrier with good coverage, fast bandwidth and—this may surprise you—affordable single-line plans, you should consider Verizon Wireless. We found it has the widest coverage map, the fastest network, and the lowest costs for individuals. But it’s not the only answer for everyone: Some situations call for other carriers, and we discuss that below.

    How We Decided

    We reached that conclusion after a good 70 hours poring over the large and small print of wireless plans, checking coverage maps, and calculating the cost of smartphone service: 500MB of data per month, 2GB and 4GB. We did the math for all those scenarios with expensive and affordable phones, ran the numbers for two and four phones on the same plan and recalculated again for those who want to use their own device not purchased through the carrier.

    Finally, we inspected prior research and testing from a host of reputable sources and publications. We also consulted experts from around the industry.

    Why Verizon is best for most people on an individual plan

    Verizon has the widest coverage map, the fastest network, and the lowest costs for the medium solo-usage scenario.

    Our endorsement rides on some assumptions: coverage where you need it trumps all else; then the lowest total cost of ownership for your typical usage; and that tethering and a wide choice of Android phones aren’t necessarily deal-breakers. (Though we have other recommendations if they are deal-breakers.)

    Verizon has the widest coverage map, the fastest network, and the lowest costs for the medium solo-usage scenario—analysts estimate that this ranges between less than 1.5GB a month and 1.2GB. Its “Single Line Smartphone” plans limit the two-year total cost of a new iPhone with 2GB of data a month to $1,640, versus $1,680 at Sprint (that’s an iPhone 6/6 Plus exclusive lease deal, while non-Apple high-end phones cost $2,090), $1,730 at T-Mobile, and $2,120 at AT&T.

    10 Major Data Breaches And How Thieves Tricked The System

    It’s quite possible that the most valuable thing you own is something you can’t even touch – your personal data. Cybercrime is a booming pursuit in the underworld, and today we’ll tell the stories of ten massive incursions where data was compromised, and how the perpetrators pulled it off.

    How to Get Started in Hobby RC: Body Painting Your Vehicles

    We've run through the basics of several types of remote controlled vehicles, from cars to boats to planes--and some tweaks to modify them. But one of the best ways to personalize an RC kit is to give it a fresh coat of paint. This guide will focus on the basics of painting bodies for RC cars--a genuinely fun and rewarding art form.

    Most RC car bodies are made from polycarbonate plastic (aka Lexan). It is incredibly tough stuff, which makes it ideal for absorbing the abuse that RC cars are routinely subjected to. The bodies are formed by vacuforming a sheet of clear Lexan over a mold. The body is then painted on the inside surface, which effectively makes the plastic a thick, shiny clear coat. If painted correctly, a body can last and look good for a long time.

    The Caveats

    If you are an accomplished airbrush or spray paint graffiti artist, you already possess many of the skills necessary to paint a RC car body. There are, however, a few elements that are specific to painting car bodies that you must consider. The number one thing to know is that most paints will not stick to Lexan. You must use specially formulated products that are typically sold in hobby shops as RC car body paint. This isn’t a marketing gimmick. These are truly the only paints I have seen that bond reliably to Lexan. If you use some random hardware store paint, it will only look good until that first crash. Then, the paint will begin to chip and flake off, randomly eroding your artistic efforts. Trust me; don’t get cheap with the paint. Buy the right stuff and have no regrets.

    Since we will be painting the inside of the body, some things may be reversed from painting tasks you are used to. Obviously, any masking must be done as a mirror image. Less obvious is the need to apply the darkest colors first. Since it is difficult to achieve a fully opaque finish, having a dark color behind a light color may affect the tint of the light color. Applying the dark color first negates this effect. Keep this in mind as you plan out your paint scheme and order of operations.

    Working with Lexan requires special paint as well as specific tools to achieve clean, long-lasting results. A variety of common masking options can be used.

    You may need to do trimming or drilling of the car body. I highly recommend using tools designed for the job. The curved blades on Lexan scissors make it easy to trim wheel wells and other rounded areas without creating jagged edges on the body. A tapered reamer is the only sensible way to drill holes in Lexan. Regular drill bits will grab and tear as they go through, often leaving a mess. . If you are using a body that will require cutting and drilling, it is usually better to do this before painting. It helps to have the body clear when you are trying to get everything aligned and fitted.