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    Google Announces Project Fi Wireless Service

    Google is now selling cellular internet service. Kind of. Today, they announced Project Fi, a MVNO service that taps into multiple-cellular networks as well as Wi-Fi. As a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, Google doesn't own the network it's selling service on--Project Fi piggybacks on Sprint and T-Mobile, and the trick is that compatible phones and SIM cards can seamlessly switch between the networks and open Wi-Fi hotspots without a break in connection (with data encrypted), even if you're making a phone call or streaming video. The catch is that this kind of network switching only works with certified hardware, of which Google's own Nexus 6 is the only device to support at launch. Here's Google's promo video for the service, which doesn't go into many details of how it works:

    Splitting data connections between multiple networks can theoretically increase coverage, but the real advantage here is pricing. Project Fi starts at $20 a month for unlimited talk, text, and Wi-Fi tethering, and cellular data is priced at $10 a GB. Google has worked out a deal so that you're only charged based on how much cellular data you use--so you'll be refunded for unused data, prorated. For example, if you sign up for 3GB of data for $50 a month ($20+$30), but only use 800MB, you'll be credited $22 at the end of the billing cycle. Project Fi will also come with a companion app for data usage tracking. Learn more about Project Fi at its website, where you can also request an invite to test the service.

    How to Get into Hobby RC: Testing AS3X Artificial Stabilization

    Of all the recent innovations in RC technology (and there have been many), one of the most substantial has been the development of artificial stabilization systems. They began several years ago as 1-axis gyros intended to tame the often unwieldy yaw behavior of RC helicopters. Now these devices are offered in 3-axis designs that can also assist the pilots of multi-rotors and all types of airplanes.

    As artificial stabilization systems have become more refined, capable, and affordable, they have gained wide acceptance in the RC community. Many pilots initially viewed stabilization systems as a crutch for ham-fisted pilots. I think we've turned the corner, and the majority of RC modelers now recognize artificial stabilization as a useful tool with potential applications for pilots of all skill levels.

    In previous articles, I provided overviews of the SAFE (Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope) system in the HobbyZone Delta Ray, Blade 350 QX2, and Blade 350 QX3. I have also reviewed the finer points of the Open Pilot CC3D unit. Over a series of articles, we will be looking at some of the other stabilization systems available today. We'll begin with a peek at the AS3X (Artificial Stabilization 3-Axis) system from Horizon Hobby.

    What is AS3X?

    As I began mapping out my plan to write about AS3X, I quickly realized that there are way too many different aspects of the system to cover in one article. So I decided to pare it down to its simplest form and provide a broad overview. Consider this an introduction. If there is interest, I will put together a follow-up article that explains some of the customization options that are available.

    AS3X works to keep the airplane on its current commanded path, compensating for the wind's impact on the model.

    The intent of AS3X is somewhat unique among stability systems. It is not meant to sense the horizon and level the wings to prevent a crash, as some other systems do. So there's no panic button to rescue your model from a piloting mistake. Rather, AS3X works to keep the airplane on its current commanded path, whatever it might be. If the integrated gyros sense a change in orientation due to an outside force (wind), the system provides corrective control inputs to the servos. This makes it seem as if the wind is having no impact on the model.

    With few exceptions, modelers typically want their aircraft to be as light as possible. Lightly-loaded models take off and land slower, require less power to stay airborne, climb faster, stall less harshly…the list of benefits goes on and on. The prime drawback is that the lighter a given model is, the more easily its flight path is disturbed by wind.

    In Brief: Ikea's Concept Kitchen 2025 Exhibit

    Ikea's vision of the future kitchen isn't based on furniture that's easier to assemble, but furniture that's more versatile. In its Concept Kitchen 2025 project, the swedish retailer collaborated with design students and design firm Ideo to produce four prototype pieces for a future where home living space is anticipated to be scarce. A multi-purpose projection-mapped table, a grey water recycling sink, a smart recycling system, and sensor-imbued shelving system populate this kitchen. Ikea's video showing off these concepts is embedded below. (h/t Gizmodo)

    Norman
    How I Turned Raspberry Pi 2 into an Audiophile Music Streamer

    I was all set for for a Raspberry Pi Model 2 server experiment until somebody asked me if HRT's dSp would work with a Raspberry Pi. Good question. The dSp is a DAC: a Digital to Analog converter. It turns the zeros and ones that make up a digital audio file into the analog signal a pair of headphones or speakers pump into your ears. A good DAC is a critical step in making your audio files sound amazing, and some third-party DACs are much better than the ones built into your smartphone or even your PC.

    That's when I remembered the cable hanging off the back of the amp and speakers in the warehouse. Nothing wrong with plugging that ⅛" jack from the amp directly into a phone or audio player, especially if it meant not using the cheap Bluetooth adapter that's usually plugged in there. But hey, what about turning the Pi 2 into a badass audio box that anybody on the network could use to stream their tune to the big speakers?

    Suddenly, I had a project! A D-I-Y SONOS, if you will. (I love the SONOS system, we run three of 'em at home, I'm just not ready to buy one for the office speakers!)

    And I have DAC issues. Or at least I could spare a DAC for a while. Within arms reach I've got a HeadRoom Micro DAC and Amp ($650) I used for headphone testing for several years, a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 for recording podcasts, the AudioQuest DragonFly 1.2 ($150) that replaced the HeadRoom DAC for testing, along with the headphone jack on my laptop. I've also, as of late, received that HRT dSp for testing, and, because I was curious, ordered a $42 HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC to see how it compared to the DragonFly, which, rumor has it, features a Saber DAC.

    The differences from a the headphone jack on your PC and one of these USB DACs can be subtle. Beat-up earbuds that came with your phone, low quality streaming audio (or those 128 Kbps MP3s you got off your uncle's old laptop), the sound of the bus engine coming through your feet--all of these things make it difficult to hear the goodness that an excellent DAC can bring. But when you can actually hear it, it's like being in the room where the recording engineer placed the microphones. That's a good thing.

    The audio built into the Raspberry Pi model 2 (or 1) is not that impressive. The hot ticket for serious Pi audio geeks is an i2s card that plugs into the pins on the Pi, but I figured USB DACs I already had (and could use for something other than a Pi) would have to work.

    Milling Time: Testing the Roland MDX-540 4-Axis CNC

    Previously, I've talked about testing the Othermill--an out-of-the-box work horse--and the Shapeoko 2--a CNC kit ripe for re-invention. Today, I'm going to talk about a big boy, examining a CNC mill that's bigger, pricier, and commands a steeper learning curve. That's because we're adding another axis!

    This is the MDX-540 with a rotary axis made by the Roland DGA Corporation. A 4-axis mill can do everything an X, Y, Z machine can do, but it can also rotate the cutting material around an 'A' axis. Essentially, this mill combines the functionality of a typical CNC and a lathe. With that additional axis, you're able to create complex double-sided objects and components with undercuts.

    Three cork "bottles" milled using different settings.

    I'm fortunate enough to work at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program , where we have a bunch of incredible tools and machines. The MDX-540 is our latest addition to the shop and we're just beginning to experiment with it.

    For all of my testing I mounted material in the rotary axis exclusively.

    3D Robotics Announces 'Solo' Quadcopter

    3D Robotics, the US company responsible for the Pixhawk multi-rotor flight controller and several DIY and RTF kits, today announced its latest quadcopter: Solo. This ready-to-fly quadcopter looks like 3DR's most consumer-friendly product yet; it's a self-contained package utilizing 3DR's own transmitter, app, and GoPro camera gimbal. If that sounds a lot like the RTF quads we've seen over the past year, it's not surprising--big multi-rotor companies see a lot of value in the RTF market for first-time quadcopter owners and aspiring aerial cinematographers.

    To that end, 3DR's Solo has some automated video shooting features that may allow a single pilot to fly and film complex aerial shots. For example, a "cable cam" flight mode allows you to set two anchor points for the quad to fly between, and either manually control the GoPro between them or program the camera's position at those endpoints for automated panning. The quad's app also taps into the GoPro for camera setting changes on the fly--no more pressing the record button before taking off. Flight time is estimated to be 20 minutes with a GoPro attached, and 25 minutes without the gimbal.

    Solo goes on sale this May, with a price point of $1000 for the quad and transmitter, and $1400 for a gimbal (no GoPro included). 3D Robotics is also touting a generous return policy and warranty. If you crash Solo and it's your fault (according to flight data), 3DR will sell you a refurbished unit at a discount. If the crash was Solo's fault, you get a free replacement. My recommendation: don't buy any of these $1000 quadcopters if you plan on relying on a warranty. Practice flying with a smaller and safer quad first. But we'll be testing one of these as soon as possible.

    In Brief: Stanford's High-Performance Aluminum Battery

    Stanford University recently revealed the work of scientists and students at its Precourt Institute for Energy. Their invention: an aluminum battery that they claim is fast-charging, inexpensive, flexible, long-lasting, and resistant to damage. These are all advantages over Lithium-based batteries we use in electronics today, but the experimental Aluminum batteries are only capable of outputting low voltage--about 2V. That's still more than an AA battery, and about half the output of typical lithium ion batteries. The researchers' breakthrough was pairing graphite for the battery's cathode with aluminum for its anode. A brief video explaining their battery is below.

    Norman 1
    10 Upcoming Products That May Change Modern Life

    It’s an exciting time to be alive – the pace of human progress is faster than it’s ever been, with fantastic scientific innovations hitting the market seemingly every day. Just as the Internet and other technologies have changed the world in our lifetime, some upcoming products might just do the same. Here’s our guide to ten technologies that could be near-future gamechangers.

    What The Biggest Machines In The World Are Used For

    Size isn’t everything, of course, but there’s something about a huge machine that captures the imagination. Human ingenuity is always pushing for the bigger and the better, and we’ve managed to construct some truly titanic devices. Today, we’ll spotlight ten of the most enormous and tell you exactly what they’re used for.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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
    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 1

    Racing quadrotors have captured the interest of a lot of people. They’re fast, nimble, and tough. Best of all, having a First Person View (FPV) system installed lets you get a sense of what it’s like to be onboard your speed machine. In the past, we’ve presented a video of Norm building a racing quad with the help of Carlos Puertolas (Charpu). We’ve also given you a buyer’s guide that outlined all the equipment you need for your own racing quad. This week, I’ve prepared a four-part series that will cover each aspect of getting a racing quad built and flight-tested:

    • Part 1: Frame Assembly
    • Part 2: Flight Controller Setup
    • Part 3: Configuring the FPV System
    • Part 4: Flight Testing and Tuning

    A friendly reminder: if you are new to multi-rotors, racing quads are a horrible place to start. Get yourself something a little more sedate to help you learn the basics. Once you’ve honed your flying skills, racing quads are much more practical and enjoyable.

    Frame Assembly

    The quad that I’ll be building for this series is a Strider Mini Quad provided by Red Rotor RC. The Strider is a 250mm-class ship with a carbon fiber frame. There are a few features on the Strider that negate purchasing some of the common components found on racing quads. The Power Distribution Board (PDB), lost-model alarm, and On-Screen Display (OSD) are all integrated into the frame itself. This saves you the cost of buying those components separately, as well as the hassle of installing them.

    THE STRIDER FROM RED ROTOR RC IS A 250MM RACING QUAD WITH A CARBON FIBER FRAME. AS YOU CAN SEE, THERE AREN’T MANY PARTS. THE INCLUDED HARDWARE HAS BEEN SORTED IN AN ICE TRAY FOR EASY IDENTIFICATION.

    Red Rotor provides an online assembly manual, so make sure you are using the latest version. In addition to what’s provided in the kit, you will need a few basic tools and supplies: metric Allen wrenches, zip ties, heatshrink tubing, soldering iron, etc…pretty basic stuff. To prepare for the build, I sorted all of the included hardware in a plastic ice tray. There are four different length screws in the kit and this helped me keep them all distinct.

    The first few steps of assembly are very straightforward. They involve fastening the bottom plate of the frame to the center plate. They’re simple assembly tasks with nuts, bolts and spacers. All of the parts lined up perfectly, so things progressed quickly.

    Testing the New Apple Force Touch Trackpad

    Apple recently updated its MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops with a new trackpad system it's calling Force Touch. We've always maintained that Apple makes the best trackpads, but we were concerned about losing the ability to "click". So here's our test of the new Force Touch system, comparing it to the previous trackpad.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Starter FPV Quadcopters

    I’ve written countless times that I think beginning multi-rotor pilots should learn the ropes with a small, inexpensive quad. More and more of those small quads are now being offered with built-in First Person View (FPV) systems. Although they’re not quite as inexpensive as their non-FPV cousins, they can do a little more. If flying via FPV is one of your goals in the hobby, these machines can serve two useful purposes:

    1. Provide a stress-free way to learn the basics of multi-rotor flight

    2. Provide a stress-free transition to the challenges introduced by going FPV

    Today, I will look at four FPV starter quads that take different paths to the FPV destination. My goal is not to rank these models, but rather to illustrate the choices that are available, so that you can decide what suits you. All of the models are available as complete ready-to-fly packages. Also, none of the included FPV systems require an amateur radio license for operation.

    WITH ALL FOUR QUADS POSITIONED TOGETHER, YOU CAN SEE THE RELATIVE SIZE DIFFERENCES. THEY ALL DO FPV WELL…JUST DIFFERENTLY.

    For a few months, it looked as if FPV would soon become an illegal activity. The FAA made known that they intended to outlaw any form of FPV used by the pilot. More recent communications from the FAA have taken a much more relaxed stance, except in regard to over-the-horizon FPV activities. FPV is still legal as pending regulations are still being ironed out, yet the outlook for the future of FPV flying is once again promising. The uncertainty is moot with these indoor-oriented models, however, as indoor airspace is not regulated by the FAA. As long as you’re under a roof, you can fly FPV all you wish.

    The FPV “Problem”

    The first challenge posed by FPV is the limited situational awareness that it affords.

    Before introducing the models, I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the hurdles that I’ve faced while learning the nuances of FPV flight. I consider myself a fairly competent pilot, but there have been times that I was completely flummoxed by FPV. I wouldn’t say it’s like learning to fly all over again, but the transition has been tougher than I expected.

    The first challenge posed by FPV is the limited situational awareness that it affords. Your only perspective comes from a single camera. Having your camera on a gimbal with the ability to pan and/or tilt, helps somewhat, but those actions take time are a distraction from actually flying the vehicle. It’s like driving a car with no rearview mirrors…while wearing a neck brace.

    Tested In-Depth: Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition

    Consumer-ready virtual reality is still at least half a year away, but Samsung's Gear VR Innovator Edition gives us a first glimpse at what the first apps and games for mobile VR could look like. We discuss the headset's hardware, Oculus-made interface software, and demo some of the first games being sold on this platform. Plus, weird Gear VR eyes! (Thank to B&H for providing the Note 4 for this review. Find out more about the phone here.)