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MyMilk Labs launches Mylee, a small sensor that analyzes breast milk at home

Many expectant mothers are told that breastfeeding will come naturally, but it is often a fraught and confusing experience, especially during the first few weeks after birth. Parents often worry about if their babies are getting enough nutrition or if they are producing enough milk. MyMilk Labs wants to give nursing mothers more information with Mylee, a sensor that scans a few drops of breast milk to get information about its composition and connects to a mobile app. The Israel-based company presented today at Disrupt Battlefield as one of two wild card competitors picked from Startup Alley.

The Mylee launched at Disrupt with a pre-order price of $249 (its regular retail price is $349). Based in Israel, MyMilk Labs was founded in 2014 by Ravid Schecter and Sharon Haramati, who met while working on PhDs in neuroimmunology and neurobiology, respectively, at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Mylee deviceDuring the company’s stage presentation, Schecter said the device is meant to give mothers and lactation consultants objective information about breast milk.

Breast milk changes in the first days and weeks after birth, progressing from colostrum to mature milk. Mylee scans the electrochemical properties of milk and then correlates that to data points based on MyMilk Labs’ research to calculate where the sample is on the continuum, then tells mothers if their milk is “delayed” or “advanced,” relative to the time that has passed since they gave birth.

The device’s first version is currently in a beta pilot with lactation consultants who have used them to scan milk samples from 500 mothers.

MyMilk Labs already has consumer breast milk testing kits that enable mothers to provide a small sample at home that is then sent to MyMilk Labs’ laboratories for analysis. One is a nutritional panel that gives information about the milk’s levels of vitamins B6, B12 and A, calories and fat percentage, along with dietary recommendations for the mother. Another panel focuses on what is causing breast pain, a frequent complaint for nursing mothers. It tests for bacterial or fungal infections and gives antibiotic suggestions depending on what strains are detected.

Though some doctors believe testing kits are unnecessary for the majority of nursing mothers, there is demand for more knowledge about breastfeeding, as demonstrated by the line-up of breast milk testing kits from MyMilk Labs and competitors like Lactation Labs, Everly Well and Happy Vitals. Haramati said on stage that MyMilk Labs plans to eventually transfer some of the tests’ capabilities to the Mylee.


Kickstarter darling EcoFlow Delta battery generator is not what it seems

The Delta EcoFlow is a new battery generator available on Kickstarter with incredible claimed features. Most are true, some are not.

Device like the Delta offer incredible battery storage capacity. Designed for more than just recharging phones and tablets, these can run refrigerators, pumps, power tools and medical equipment. They’re great for emergencies, camping and general use where power is not available. Similar devices have been on the market for some years so I was eager to verify EcoFlow’s claims.

The EcoFlow Delta can recharge from a wall outlet to 80% in an hour. It’s amazing. The GoalZero Yeti battery of a similar size takes 25 hours. This capability means the Delta can be used and then reused more than competitors.

The device is currently on Kickstarter where it quickly acquired over $2 million from over 2,000 backers. The device’s features listed on the Kickstarter page are clear, but after testing a pre-production unit, I found several of these advertised capabilities and features misleading or false.

The Delta is the latest product from EcoFlow. The company’s founder, Eli Harris, says it’s “The world’s strongest battery generator.” I found the Delta to be a competent battery generator with similar capabilities to competitors but it’s hampered by loud fans.

In short, if you need a battery generator that can recharge much faster than others, the Delta is a great option. Otherwise, the GoalZero Yeti makes more sense for most people.

Battery generators are a safe and more portable option than their gas counterparts. There are no harmful fumes or fuel allowing them to be used indoors, nearer the appliances or tools. Most often (though not with the Delta) they’re silent, too, making them perfect for a camping or hunting companion.

In real-world operation, this quick recharge time could come in handy. Say, on a construction site or in an emergency incident where power is still available, but out of reach of an extension cord — situations where loud gas generators are generally used. While the Delta is louder than other battery generators, it is not as loud as a gas generator.

The Delta battery comes packaged with a warning that the battery must be fully charged before use. I generally ignore warnings, but I followed this one and immediately plugged it in. Instantly, fans whirled to life and the screen popped on displaying the current charge levels and how long it would take to get to 100%. The Delta was at 30% and would take 45 minutes to fully recharge. It worked as advertised and 45 minutes later the battery was at 100%.

Recharging the Delta battery was a noisy affair. The fans are loud and continue to run after the battery is fully charged. Compared to a GoalZero Yeti, this was a shock. The Yeti is silent where the Delta is not. I keep a Yeti 1400 in my basement, plugged in and ready to use. But with the Delta, even when the battery is fully charged, loud fans still run presumably to keep the unit cool. EcoFlow says the shelf life on the Delta is over a year where the GoalZero Yeti is six months. To me, I would rather have the battery constantly plugged into power so I know it’s ready to go when needed.

The Delta recharges without an AC power inverter (a power brick); it uses the same sort of cable as a desktop PC. The company says by passing through the inverter directly, the Delta can increase charging speed to more than 10 times the traditional AC to DC adapter cable. This also means it’s easier to replace a lost charging cable.

The Delta is much lighter than competing products and its design makes it easier to move. EcoFlow says it’s rugged, and it feels the part. Even my pre-production sample feels tough and ready to go to work. Large rubber pads keep the battery in place and the tough plastic feels more durable than competing products.

There are a handful of plugs and outlets around the device, including USB, USB-C and six AC outlets. It’s a lot and similar in capacity to large gas generators. Most battery generators have much fewer AC outlets, though I’ve often supplemented the capability with small power strips.

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Kickstarter Beware

The Delta is currently on Kickstarter for pre-order and exceeded its goal. I fear a good amount of backers will be upset to learn several notable advertised features are false or misleading.

The Delta is not silent. Under operation, either recharging a cell phone or running a power tool, loud fans run on both sides of the battery. These fans run when recharging the battery, too — even when the battery is fully charged. The Kickstarter page and video lists throughout that the Delta produces no noise.

ecoflow delta

These fans detract from the appeal of the Delta battery. They’re loud. You have to raise your voice to speak over them. Because of these fans, I wouldn’t take the Delta camping or use it in the backyard for a quiet get-together. During power outage situations, I wouldn’t want to sleep near it. But I would use it for power tools — like EcoFlow does in one of its demo videos.

Only one of the four videos on the Kickstarter page allows potential owners to hear the Delta battery. The third video on the page shows the battery powering a hammer drill. Six seconds into the video, the drill stops running, and the battery’s fans are audible.

There are a handful of competing batteries that operate without noisy fans. I’ve taken GoalZero’s Yeti batteries camping and they’re great despite their heft. They’re truly silent and can still recharge from solar panels and car batteries. I’ve used battery generators from Jackery, too, and those are also silent.

I spoke with Ecoflow CEO and Founder Eli Harris during the run-up of this review. He was clear that Ecoflow’s main competitor is not other large batteries, but rather small gas generators available from Honda and others. And that makes a lot of sense. Those are the best selling generators available and widely used for emergency and convenience. These small generators are loud, and the Ecoflow Delta is quieter than those options while still offering most of the power capabilities.

When asked why the Kickstarter page is misleading, he said “that fallacy has never been called out” and he would check with his team about the use of “superlatives and blanket statements.” Three days later, the Kickstarter page still lists the false claims.

EcoFlow claims the Delta battery can run a variety of power tools, including drills, circular saws, power washers and welders. I found this capability hit or miss. Despite some tools being under the claimed amperage and wattage of the Delta battery, the battery wouldn’t power my small or large circular saw or power washer. EcoFlow also claims the battery can recharge a Tesla; it doesn’t recharge my Chevy Volt.

Many tools require extra power when starting up, and I found most of these surge requirements to exceed the capabilities of the Delta battery. This is the same with other batteries like the GoalZero Yeti. In fact, I couldn’t find one tool in my workshop that the Delta powered and the Yeti did not; they worked the same for me, and I have a lot of tools.

Don’t mistake what I’m saying. The EcoFlow Delta has impressive capabilities mainly around its recharge capabilities. This makes it an attractive option for the right use. It’s compact and solid. It has a lot of outlets and is easy to move. This could be a lifesaver in emergency situations where a person still has access to power.

The Delta has some downsides just like other battery generators. It doesn’t offer a dramatic increase in electrical output over competitors so don’t expect this battery to power larger devices. Don’t expect a silent operation, either. This massive battery is loud though, I admit, that’s a relative term. It’s louder than other battery generators but less loud than a gas generator.

I would rather have a silent battery generator that recharges slowly versus a noisy, fast-recharging battery. I use my battery generators camping and around the house when the power goes out. The Delta makes sense on a construction site or when providing power is priority. I just can’t get over the loud fans.

Silicone 3D printing startup Spectroplast spins out of ETHZ with $1.5M

3D printing has become commonplace in the hardware industry, but because few materials can be used for it easily, the process rarely results in final products. A Swiss startup called Spectroplast hopes to change that with a technique for printing using silicone, opening up all kinds of applications in medicine, robotics and beyond.

Silicone is not very bioreactive, and of course can be made into just about any shape while retaining strength and flexibility. But the process for doing so is generally injection molding, great for mass-producing lots of identical items but not so great when you need a custom job.

And it’s custom jobs that ETH Zurich’s Manuel Schaffner and Petar Stefanov have in mind. Hearts, for instance, are largely similar but the details differ, and if you were going to get a valve replaced, you’d probably prefer yours made to order rather than straight off the shelf.

“Replacement valves currently used are circular, but do not exactly match the shape of the aorta, which is different for each patient,” said Schaffner in a university news release. Not only that, but they may be a mixture of materials, some of which the body may reject.

But with a precise MRI the researchers can create a digital model of the heart under consideration and, using their proprietary 3D printing technique, produce a valve that’s exactly tailored to it — all in a couple of hours.

ethz siliconeprinting 1

A 3D-printed silicone heart valve from Spectroplast.

Although they have created these valves and done some initial testing, it’ll be years before anyone gets one installed — this is the kind of medical technique that takes a decade to test. So in the meantime they are working on “life-improving” rather than life-saving applications.

One such case is adjacent to perhaps the most well-known surgical application of silicone: breast augmentation. In Spectroplast’s case, however, they’d be working with women who have undergone mastectomies and would like to have a breast prosthesis that matches the other perfectly.

Another possibility would be anything that needs to fit perfectly to a person’s biology, like a custom hearing aid, the end of a prosthetic leg or some other form of reconstructive surgery. And of course, robots and industry could use one-off silicone parts as well.

ethz siliconeprinting 2

There’s plenty of room to grow, it seems, and although Spectroplast is just starting out, it already has some 200 customers. The main limitation is the speed at which the products can be printed, a process that has to be overseen by the founders, who work in shifts.

Until very recently Schaffner and Stefanov were working on this under a grant from the ETH Pioneer Fellowship and a Swiss national innovation grant. But in deciding to depart from the ETH umbrella they attracted a 1.5 million Swiss franc (about the same as dollars just now) seed round from AM Ventures Holding in Germany. The founders plan to use the money to hire new staff to crew the printers.

Right now Spectroplast is doing all the printing itself, but in the next couple of years it may sell the printers or modifications necessary to adapt existing setups.

You can read the team’s paper showing their process for creating artificial heart valves here.

Did you fly a drone over Fenway Park? The FAA would like a chat

Drones are great. But they are also flying machines that can do lots of stupid and dangerous things. Like, for instance, fly over a major league baseball game packed with spectators. It happened at Fenway Park last night, and the FAA is not happy.

The illegal flight took place last night during a Red Sox-Blue Jays game at Fenway; the drone, a conspicuously white DJI Phantom, reportedly first showed up around 9:30 PM, coming and going over the next hour.

One of the many fans who shot a video of the drone, Chris O’Brien, told CBS Boston that “it would kind of drop fast then go back up then drop and spin. It was getting really low and close to the players. At one point it was getting really low and I was wondering are they going to pause the game and whatever, but they never did.

Places where flying is regularly prohibited, like airports and major landmarks like stadiums, often have no-fly rules baked into the GPS systems of drones — and that’s the case with DJI. In a statement, however, the company said that “whoever flew this drone over the stadium apparently overrode our geofencing system and deliberately violated the FAA temporary flight restriction in place over the game.”

The FAA said that it (and Boston PD) is investigating both to local news and in a tweet explaining why it is illegal.

FAA Statement: The FAA is investigating a report that a #drone flew over @fenwaypark during the baseball game last night. Flying drones in/around stadiums is prohibited starting 1hr before & ending 1hr after the scheduled game & prohibited within a radius of 3 nm of the stadium. pic.twitter.com/o6nOGVf8K2

— The FAA (@FAANews) April 12, 2019

That’s three nautical miles, which is quite a distance, covering much of central Boston. You don’t really take chances when there are tens of thousands of people all gathered in one spot on a regular basis like that. Drones open up some pretty ugly security scenarios.

Of course, this wasn’t a mile and a half from Fenway, which might have earned a slap on the wrist, but directly over the park, which as the FAA notes above could lead to hundreds of thousands in fines and actual prison time. It’s not hard to imagine why: If that drone had lost power or caught a gust (or been hit by a fly ball, at that altitude), it could have hurt or killed someone in the crowd.

It’s especially concerning when the FAA is working on establishing new rules for both hobby and professional drone use. You should leave a comment there if you feel strongly about this, by the way.

Here’s hoping they catch the idiot who did this. It just goes to show that you can’t trust people to follow the rules, even when they’re coded into a craft’s OS. It’s things like this that make mandatory registration of drones sound like a pretty good idea.

(Red Sox won, by the way. But the season’s off to a rough start.)

The Inning: Bottom 9
The Score: Tied
The Bases: Loaded
The Result: pic.twitter.com/lrRneiCGim

— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) April 12, 2019

Leica’s Q2 is a beautiful camera that I want and will never have

Leica is a brand I respect and appreciate but don’t support. Or rather, can’t, because I’m not fabulously rich. But if I did have $5,000 to spend on a fixed-lens camera, I’d probably get the new Q2, a significant improvement over 2015’s Q — which tempted me back then.

The Q2 keeps much of what made the Q great: a full-frame sensor, a fabulous 28mm F/1.7 Summilux lens, and straightforward operation focused on getting the shot. But it also makes some major changes that make the Q2 a far more competitive camera.

The sensor has jumped from 24 to 47 megapixels, and while we’re well out of the megapixel race, that creates the opportunity for a very useful cropped shooting mode that lets you shoot at 35, 50, and 75mm equivalents while still capturing huge pixel counts. It keeps the full frame exposure as well so you can tweak the crop later. The new sensor also has a super low native ISO of 50, which should help with dynamic range and in certain exposure conditions.

Autofocus has been redone as well (as you might expect with a new sensor) and it should be quicker and more accurate now. Ther’s also an optical stabilization mode that kicks in when you are shooting at under 1/60s. Both features that need a little testing to verify they’re as good as they sound, but I don’t expect they’re fraudulent or anything.

The body, already a handsome minimal design in keeping with Leica’s impeccable (if expensive) taste, is now weather sealed, making this a viable walk-around camera in all conditions. Imagine paying five grand for a camera and being afraid to take it out in the rain! Well, many people did that and perhaps will feel foolish now that the Q2 has arrived.

Inside is an electronic viewfinder, but the 2015 Q had a sequential-field display — meaning it flashes rapidly through the red, green, and blue components of the image — which made it prone to color artifacts in high-motion scenes or when panning. The Q2, however, has a shiny new OLED display with the same resolution but better performance. OLEDs are great for EVFs for a lot of reasons, but I like that you get really nice blacks, like in an optical viewfinder.

The button layout has been simplified as well (or rather synchronized with the CL, another Leica model), with a new customizable button on the top plate, reflecting the trend of personalization we’ve seen in high-end cameras. A considerably larger battery and redesigned battery and card door rounds out the new features.

As DPReview points out in its hands-on preview of the camera, the Q2 is significantly heavier than the high-end fixed-lens competition (namely the Sony RX1R II and Fuji X100F, both excellent cameras), and also significantly more expensive. But unlike many Leica offerings, it actually outperforms them in important ways: the lens, the weather sealing, the burst speed — it may be expensive, but you actually get something for your money. That can’t always be said of this brand.

The Leica Q2 typifies the type of camera I’d like to own: no real accessories, nothing to swap in or out, great image quality and straightforward operation. I’m far more likely to get an X100F (and even then it’d be a huge splurge) but all that time I’ll be looking at the Q2 with envious eyes. Maybe I’ll get to touch one some day.

Feel the beep: This album is played entirely on a PC motherboard speaker

If you’re craving a truly different sound with which to slay the crew this weekend, look no further than System Beeps, a new album by shiru8bit — though you may have to drag your old 486 out of storage to play it. Yes, this album runs in MS-DOS and its music is produced entirely through the PC speaker — you know, the one that can only beep.

Now, chiptunes aren’t anything new. But the more popular ones tend to imitate the sounds found in classic computers and consoles like the Amiga and SNES. It’s just limiting enough to make it fun, and of course many of us have a lot of nostalgia for the music from that period. (The Final Fantasy VI opening theme still gives me chills.)

But fewer among us look back fondly on the days before sample-based digital music, before even decent sound cards let games have meaningful polyphony and such. The days when the only thing your computer could do was beep, and when it did, you were scared.

Shiru, a programmer and musician who’s been doing “retro” sound since before it was retro, took it upon himself to make some music for this extremely limited audio platform. Originally he was just planning on making a couple of tunes for a game project, but in this interesting breakdown of how he made the music, he explains that it ended up ballooning as he got into the tech.

“A few songs became a few dozens, collection of random songs evolved into conceptualized album, plans has been changing, deadlines postponing. It ended up to be almost 1.5 years to finish the project,” he writes (I’ve left his English as I found it, because I like it).

Obviously the speaker can do more than just “beep,” though indeed it was originally meant as the most elementary auditory feedback for early PCs. In fact, the tiny loudspeaker is capable of a range of sounds and can be updated 120 times per second, but in true monophonic style can only produce a single tone at a time between 100 and 2,000 Hz, and that in a square wave.

Inspired by games of the era that employed a variety of tricks to create the illusion of multiple instruments and drums that in fact never actually overlap one another, he produced a whole album of tracks; I think “Pixel Rain” is my favorite, but “Head Step” is pretty dope too.

You can of course listen to it online or as MP3s or whatever, but the entire thing fits into a 42 kilobyte MS-DOS program you can download here. You’ll need an actual DOS machine or emulator to run it, naturally.

How was he able to do this with such limited tools? Again I direct you to his lengthy write-up, where he describes, for instance, how to create the impression of different kinds of drums when the hardware is incapable of the white noise usually used to create them (and if it could, it would be unable to layer it over a tone). It’s a fun read and the music is… well, it’s an acquired taste, but it’s original and weird. And it’s Friday.

Samsung’s new Galaxy M smartphones will launch in India first

Samsung will launch its new lower-priced Galaxy M series in India before the smartphones roll out globally. Asim Warsi, senior vice president of Samsung India’s smartphone business, told Reuters that three devices will be available through its website and Amazon India at the end of January and are intended to help the company double online sales.

Samsung is currently trying to recover its lead in India, the world’s second-largest smartphone market behind China, after losing it to Xiaomi at the end of 2017, when Xiaomi’s sales in India overtook Samsung for the first time, according to data from both Canalys and Counterpoint.

Xiaomi’s budget Redmi series gave it an advantage since Samsung had a dearth of competitors in the same price bracket, but analysts noted the Korean electronics giant maintains an edge in terms of R&D and supply chain expertise. Samsung leaned into those strengths last year, opening what it describes as the world’s largest mobile phone factory in Noida, just outside of New Delhi.

Specs about the three Galaxy M smartphones emerged last month, with details appearing on platform benchmark Geekbench about devices called M10, M20 and M30, the latter of which may be powered by an Exynos 7885 chip with 4GB ram.

Warsi told Reuters that “the M series has been built around and incepted around Indian millennial consumers.” The price range of Indian-first smartphones will be from less than 10,000 rupees (about $142) to 20,000 rupees. TechCrunch has emailed Samsung for more information about the new phones.

The company will debut the latest version of its flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S10, in San Francisco on Feb. 20.

Images of Google’s new Pixel tablet leak before its October event

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At this point, the biggest question about Google’s annual hardware event is not what new products the company will show off, but if there’s anything left we haven’t seen yet.

The latest: images of Google’s new Pixel-branded tablet, which have surfaced thanks to My Smart Price. The leaks kicked into high gear a while ago, but even those have ramped up considerably in the last few days.

As with all leaks, some skepticism is warranted, but the new images line up with previous rumors and they appear to be the real deal.

The tablet, reportedly called the Pixel Slate, is meant to be Google’s answer to the iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface. It’s a standard-looking tablet with a detachable keyboard cover and stylus. Read more…

More about Tech, Gadgets, Google, Chrome Os, and Google Assistant

The Boring Company proves life can be a video game

The Boring Company just posted a video on Twitter showing its latest digging machine can be controlled by an Xbox One controller. Because, if you’re going to dig holes, why not make it a bit of fun?

Software makes it easy to map PC controls to an Xbox pad. Instead of developing and fabricating a custom controller, using an Xbox gamepad is a cost-effective alternative for a lot of organizations. The military services agree. In its latest subs the US Navy tapped the Xbox 360 controller to maneuver submarine periscopes and the Army’s anti-drone laser uses an Xbox controller. They’re used to control robots and drones, too.

The reasoning is simple: A lot of research goes into game controllers. Microsoft reportedly spent over $100 million on the Xbox One controller, which, is just an updated version of the Xbox 360 controller. More than that, these controllers, whether of the Microsoft or Sony variant, are already familiar to most users. Operators do not have to learn a new set of controls. They can pick up a controller and be familiar within seconds.

And if the Xbox or Playstation controller doesn’t offer enough buttons, companies could always look to repurposing Steel Battalion controllers.

Best video game ever pic.twitter.com/DlGFsji76l

— The Boring Company (@boringcompany) September 8, 2018

Microsoft no longer taking new enrollments for its Surface Plus financing program

Microsoft has quietly ended its Surface Plus financing program about a year after it launched. In a message on its site, the company said it stopped taking new enrollments on August 31 “after much thought and consideration.” The change does not affect existing customers, however, who will still be covered by their current financing plans.

Financed by Klarna, a Stockholm-headquartered online financial services provider, the Surface Plus financing program launched in August 2017. It targeted students and other people who wanted an affordable way to own a Surface device, allowing them to spread payments over 24 months. The Surface Plus plan also enabled customers to upgrade to the latest device after 18 months, as long as they returned their previous device in good working condition.

In a FAQ, Microsoft said existing customers will still be able to upgrade their Surface under the plan’s terms. The program’s end also does not affect existing warranty plans.

Microsoft’s Surface Plus for Business payment plans launched around the same time as the Surface Plus program and it looks like it will continue. TechCrunch has contacted Microsoft for more information.

Segway’s whacky new roller shoes will cost $399

Did you know Segway is making a pair of self-balancing roller shoes? It is! The company has been tinkering with all sorts of new form factors since it was acquired by Ninebot in 2015, from half-sized Segways to kick scooters. Next up: inline… shoe… platform things.

Called the Segway Drift W1s, they sorta look like what would happen if you took a hoverboard (as in the trendy 2016 hoverboard-that-doesn’t-actually-hover “hover”board, not Marty McFly’s hoverboard), split it in two and plopped one half under each foot.

It released a video demonstrating the shoes a few weeks back. Just watching it makes me feel like I’ve bruised my tailbone, because I’m clumsy as hell.

Pricing and availability was kept under wraps at the time, but the company has just released the details: a pair will cost you $399, and ship sometime in August. Oh, and they’ll come with a free helmet, because you’ll probably want to wear a helmet.

A new product page also sheds some light on a few other previously undisclosed details: each unit will weigh about 7.7lbs, and top out at 7.5 miles per hour. Riding time “depends on riding style and terrain,” but the company estimates about 45 minutes of riding per charge.

I look forward to trying these — then realizing I have absolutely no idea how to jump off and just riding forever into the sunset.

Oh, the things I would do to get this cardboard-style Nintendo Switch

Nintendo is building on its strange but wonderful cardboard Labo platform with some sweet Mario Kart integration and a truly fabulous limited edition Switch with a faux-cardboard finish. It really is just the greatest thing and I would do terrible things to have it. Unfortunately some smart kid will probably get it, because you have to win it by designing something cool with Labo.

So, first the Mario Kart stuff. If you have Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch, and you really should because it’s excellent, you can now use the Toy-Con (buildable with the Labo Variety Kit) as a sort of real-world controller. You twist the right “handlebar” to accelerate and rotate the whole thing to turn.

This is the first game to get its own special Labo support, but the company says more are on the way. Splatoon 2, perhaps?

If you’re a creative type and you have a Labo set, you’re in luck. There are two new contests you can enter, and entry puts you in the running to win the amazing neutral-colored Switch shown up top. I really don’t know why I love it so much, but I do. And if you do too, you should enter. (If you’re in the U.S. or Canada. Sorry, world.)

The first challenge is to create a musical instrument with the Toy-Con pieces and “craft materials.” You’ll have to document its creation and show it working on video; it’ll be judged on “Quality, Creativity, Spirit, and Sound.” Caps Nintendo’s.

The second challenge is to create a game or game-like experience using Toy-Con Garage. Same judgment categories as before, minus Sound.

There will be one grand prize winner and four runners up per contest. Grand prize is that amazing Switch (approximate retail value $1,000?!), plus a cool (?) Labo jacket. Runners up get a pair of cardboard style Joy-Cons and a jacket. Respectable.

If you’ve been looking for a reason to pick up that Labo kit again or use some random pieces you never tried, this is surely that reason. Now get to work!

ASUS’ new ZenBook Pro features a 5.5-inch touchscreen instead of a touchpad

The ASUS event today at Computex in Taipei, Taiwan had three main hooks: health, ergonomics and, most importantly, second screens. The headliner was the premium ZenBook Pro 14 and 15 (pictured above), the latest versions of ASUS’ premium notebook that feature a touchscreen where the touchpad would usually be

Meant to increase the laptops’ multitasking possibilities, the 5.5-inch ScreenPad functions as a second screen for things like messaging or apps including a calculator, a video and music player or calendar. It can also be used as a launchpad for apps on the ZenBook Pro’s main display or serve as a function command screen for Microsoft Office programs.

During his presentation, ASUS global PC and phone marketing senior director Marcel Campos said the ZenBook Pro 15 was designed with three kinds of professionals in mind: video makers, photographers and 3D designers. It has a 15.6-inch 4K UHD NanoEdge display with Delta E<2 Color Accuracy (ASUS says the Pro 15’s display has been validated by Pantone) and runs on an Intel Core i9 processor, 16GB of memory, a 1TB PCIe SSD and a GTX 1050 Ti graphics card. The Pro 15 is 18.9mm thick and weighs 1.88 kg. It will go on sale in mid-July starting at $2,299.

The 14-inch ASUS Zenbook Pro 14 also has a 5.5-inch ScreenPad and boosts an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, a 1TB PCIe SSD and GTX 1050 MAX-Q GPU. It is 17.9 mm thick and weights in at 1.6kg.

Both of the latest Zenbook Pro models are built with a new hinge design ASUS calls ErgoLift, which props the laptop’s keyboards up at 5.5 degree angle when it is opened. ErgoLift is also built into the latest models of ASUS’ Zenbook and VivoBook series.

ASUS ZenBook S

The ZenBook S is 12.9-mm thick and weighs 1 kg and runs on an Intel Core i7 processor, with 16GB of memory, a 1TB PCIe SSD and up to 13.5 hours of battery life. It has a 4K UHD, 331ppi NanoEdge display and 2 USB-C drives. ASUS claims up to 13.5 hours of battery, which will be released on June 11 for $1,199.

ASUS VivoBook S15

The latest iterations of the VivoBook series, the 14-inch screen S14 and 15.6-inch S15, will come in 5 colors and also feature ErgoLift hinges. The S14 weights 1.4 kg and is 18-mm thick, while the S15 is 1.8 kg, 18-mm. Both have Intel Core i7-8550U or Intel Core i3-8130U processors, a NVIDIA GeForce MX150 or MX130 GPU and up to 16 GB of memory. The S15 will launch in the United States for $699 later this year.

ASUS VivoWatch

Other notable launches by ASUS include a blood pressure monitor that the company says is not a smartwatch or fitness tracker, even though it looks a lot like one. Called the ASUS VivoWatch, the wearable delivers real-time blood pressure data in 15 seconds, has a Gorilla Glass screen and ECG sensor on front of device and claims non-stop 28 day battery life.

Like last year, ASUS didn’t debut new ZenFones, though it did show off a collaboration with Intel and Microsoft called Project Precog, the main fruit of which will be a dual-screen laptop with AI-powered features that is supposed to launch next year. ASUS also held an event on Monday before the official start of Computex today, focusing on its Republic of Gamers line of PCs and peripherals. There it debuted the ROG phone, a rival to the Razer Phone for gamers, that also has a 90Hz display, meant for smoother display of animations, and a 2.96GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip. This was in addition to new gaming laptops, the Strix Scar II, which starts at $1,999, and the Strik Hero II, which will start at $1,699. Both have six-core Intel Coffee Lake Core i7-8750H or Core i5-8300H processors, 15.6-inch 144Hz 1080p “IPS-level” displays, up to 32GB of RAM, with a standard GPU of GTX 1060.

FBI reportedly overestimated inaccessible encrypted phones by thousands

The FBI seems to have been caught fibbing again on the topic of encrypted phones. FBI director Christopher Wray estimated in December that it had almost 7,800 phones from 2017 alone that investigators were unable to access. The real number is likely less than a quarter of that, The Washington Post reports.

Internal records cited by sources put the actual number of encrypted phones at perhaps 1,200 but perhaps as many as 2,000, and the FBI told the paper in a statement that “initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported.” Supposedly having three databases tracking the phones led to devices being counted multiple times.

Such a mistake would be so elementary that it’s hard to conceive of how it would be possible. These aren’t court notes, memos or unimportant random pieces of evidence, they’re physical devices with serial numbers and names attached. The idea that no one thought to check for duplicates before giving a number to the director for testimony in Congress suggests either conspiracy or gross incompetence.

The latter seems more likely after a report by the Office of the Inspector General that found the FBI had failed to utilize its own resources to access locked phones, instead suing Apple and then hastily withdrawing the case when its basis (a locked phone from a terror attack) was removed. It seems to have chosen to downplay or ignore its own capabilities in order to pursue the narrative that widespread encryption is dangerous without a backdoor for law enforcement.

An audit is underway at the Bureau to figure out just how many phones it actually has that it can’t access, and hopefully how this all happened.

It is unmistakably among the FBI’s goals to emphasize the problem of devices being fully encrypted and inaccessible to authorities, a trend known as “going dark.” That much it has said publicly, and it is a serious problem for law enforcement. But it seems equally unmistakable that the Bureau is happy to be sloppy, deceptive or both in its advancement of a tailored narrative.

OnePlus 6 review: Flagship Killer

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There are no shortcuts to greatness and no smartphone maker knows this more than Chinese startup OnePlus.

To fully understand and appreciate the company’s new OnePlus 6 Android smartphone, we need to take a brief trip back a couple of years.

In 2014, the company nobody had heard of had, against all odds, successfully launched its first phone, the OnePlus One.

The sales pitch was remarkably simple: The best Android hardware paired with virtually unmodified (aka “stock”) Android software with prices that’d cost hundreds less than premium phones from Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, or whoever.

Android diehards flocked to OnePlus. Through word of mouth and gimmicky “invite-to-buy” tactics, the company delivered what Samsung and Google’s Nexus devices couldn’t. Read more…

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Xiaomi is bringing its smart home devices to the US — but still no phones yet

Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone maker that’s looking to raise as much as $10 billion in a Hong Kong IPO, is continuing to grow its presence in the American market after it announced plans to bring its smart home products to the U.S..

The company is best known for its well-priced and quality smartphones, but Xiaomi offers hundreds of other products which range from battery chargers to smart lights, air filter units and even Segway. On the sidelines of Google I/O, the company quietly made a fairly significant double announcement: not only will it bring its smart home products to the U.S., but it is adding support for Google Assistant, too.

The first products heading Stateside include the Mi Bedside Lamp, Mi LED Smart Bulb and Mi Smart Plug, Xiaomi’s head of international Wan Xiang said, but you can expect plenty more to follow. Typically, Xiaomi sells to consumers in the U.S. via Amazon and also its Mi.com local store, so keep an eye out there.

Xiaomi just announced during #io8 that our smart home products will work with the Google Assistant. The initial selection of compatible products includes Mi Bedside Lamp, Mi LED Smart Bulb and Mi Smart Plug, which will be coming to the U.S soon! https://t.co/f65lj2jNej pic.twitter.com/nEXMiIyyZ8

— Wang Xiang (@XiangW_) May 10, 2018

Smartphones, however, are a different question.

Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun — who stands to become China’s richest man thanks to the IPO — previously said the company is looking to bring its signature phones to the U.S. by early 2019 at the latest.

There’s no mention of that in Xiaomi’s IPO prospectus, which instead talks of plans to move into more parts of Europe and double down on Russia and Southeast Asia. Indeed, earlier this week, Xiaomi announced plans to expand beyond Spain and into France and Italy in Europe, while it has also inked a carrier deal with Hutchinson that will go beyond those markets into the UK and other places.

You can expect that it will take its time in the U.S., particularly given the concerns around Chinese OEMs like Huawei — which has been blacklisted by carriers — and ZTE, which has had its telecom equipment business clamped down on by the U.S. government.

Hat tip Android Police

Don’t just stir; Stircle

Although I do my best to minimize the trash produced by my lifestyle (blog posts notwithstanding), one I can’t really control, at least without carrying a spoon on my person at all times, is the necessity of using a disposable stick to stir my coffee. That could all change with the Stircle, a little platform that spins your drink around to mix it.

Now, of course this is ridiculous. And there are other things to worry about. But honestly, the scale of waste here is pretty amazing. Design house Amron Experimental says that 400 million stir sticks are used every day, and I have no reason to doubt that. My native Seattle probably accounts for a quarter of that.

So you need to get the sugar (or agave nectar) and cream (or almond milk) mixed in your iced americano. Instead of reaching for a stick and stirring vigorously for 10 or 15 seconds, you could instead place your cup in the Stircle (first noticed by New Atlas and a few other design blogs), which would presumably be built into the fixins table at your coffee shop.

Around and around and around she goes, where she stops, nobody… oh. There.

Once you put your cup on the Stircle, it starts spinning — first one way, then the other, and so on, agitating your drink and achieving the goal of an evenly mixed beverage without using a wood or plastic stirrer. It’s electric, but I can imagine one being powered by a lever or button that compresses a spring. That would make it even greener.

The video shows that it probably gets that sugar and other low-lying mixers up into the upper strata of the drink, so I think we’re set there. And it looks as though it will take a lot of different sizes, including reusable tumblers. It clearly needs a cup with a lid, since otherwise the circling liquid will fly out in every direction, which means you have to be taking your coffee to go. That leaves out pretty much every time I go out for coffee in my neighborhood, where it’s served (to stay) in a mug or tall glass.

But a solution doesn’t have to fix everything to be clever or useful. This would be great at an airport, for instance, where I imagine every order is to go. Maybe they’ll put it in a bar, too, for extra smooth stirring of martinis.

Actually, I know that people in labs use automatic magnetic stirrers to do their coffee. This would be a way to do that without appropriating lab property. Those things are pretty cool too, though.

You might remember Amron from one of their many previous clever designs; I happen to remember the Keybrid and Split Ring Key, both of which I used for a while. I’ll be honest, I don’t expect to see a Stircle in my neighborhood cafe any time soon, but I sure hope they show up in Starbucks stores around the world. We’re going to run out of those stirrer things sooner or later.

Samsung’s latest smartphone can’t connect to the internet. Like, at all.

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Well, here’s something you don’t see announced often (or ever, for that matter): A smartphone that can’t connect to the Internet.

That’s right, Samsung’s new Galaxy J2 Pro (it ain’t a “pro” anything if it can’t go online) is intentionally designed to have no way to go online. And nope, we haven’t slipped into a Tardis and time traveled into April Fool’s Day 2019.

Apparently made for students and senior citizens, the J2 Pro lacks any kind of cellular data connectivity. 

Samsung’s press release (Google translated) says the phone “blocks mobile data such as 3G, LTE, and Wi-Fi” with the intent of helping students focus on learning (instead of, you know, getting distracted by Instagram and stuff). The phone’s also good for seniors who apparently have no interest in going online? 🤦‍ Read more…

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Elon Musk’s Boring Co. flamethrower is real, $500 and up for pre-order

 So that flamethrower that Elon Musk teased The Boring Company would start selling after it ran out of its 50,000 hats? Yeah, it’s real – and you can pre-order one now if you want need a ridiculous way to spend $500. Musk revealed the flamethrower on Saturday, after some digging tipped its existence late last week. The Boring Company Flamethrower is functional, too, as you can see… Read More

Holography-based 3D printing produces objects in seconds instead of hours

 3D printers are useful devices for all kinds of reasons, but most have a critical weakness: they simply take a long time to actually make anything. That’s because additive manufacturing generally works by putting down an object one microscopic layer at a time. But a new holographic printing technique makes it possible to create the entire thing at once — in as little as a second… Read More

Researchers create a light-based key distribution system for quantum encryption

 Researchers at Duke University, OSU, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have solved one of the biggest problems with new forms of quantum encryption: quantum key distribution. QKD is the process of distributing keys during a transmission and in a way that will tell both sides of the conversation that someone is eavesdropping. The new system, which uses lasers to transmit multiple bits at once,… Read More

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BlackBerry’s KEYone ‘Black Edition’ offers more than just good looks

 BlackBerry’s most interesting phone in years – if not an entire decade – is the KEYone, an Android device with a classic BlackBerry hardware keyboard that finally answers the needs of truly dedicated thumb typists with a modern mobile OS. Now, the KEYone ‘Black Edition’ has arrived, and it’s more than just a fresh coat of paint on an older gadget. In fact,… Read More

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Watch Google unveil the Pixel 2 live right here

 Google’s big event is today. And this time, it’s all about new devices — the company should unveil a handful of new hardware products. The event will start at 9 AM in San Francisco, 12 PM in New York, 5 PM in London, 6 PM in Paris. And we already know what to expect. The big elephant in the room is Google’s new flagship Android phone, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. It… Read More

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Petcube Bites is a capable canine companion for when you’re not home

 Keep your dogs close but your kitties closer, is I think the expression. Maybe. Whatever it is, pets are important to people. And keeping a close watch on them even when you’re not located in the same place has become increasingly possible thanks to the broad proliferation of tech like Wi-Fi connected cameras. Petcube Bites is one of those cameras, but it’s also a treat… Read More

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iRobot to acquire its biggest European distributor for $141M

 Consumer robot maker iRobot is to acquire its largest European distributor, Robopolis, in a cash deal worth $141 million. The company said it’s signed a definitive agreement to acquire the privately-held, French company, with the acquisition expected to close in October 2017. Read More

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Vertu is dead

 It’s been a long, downward slide for cellphone maker Vertu. The company, founded by Nokia in 1998, was supposed to be a luxury phone provider to the stars and, to a degree, it delivered. They sold the $11,000 phones like expensive watches in boutique stores in tony neighborhoods. Vertu, with its precious metals and fine, hand-cut leather was supposed to maintain its luxury lead for… Read More

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Don't buy the crappy TruTemp digital thermometer

It’s invariably the cheapest on the shelf, but the Taylor/TruTemp 3516 I got at Target fell apart the first time I pushed the button. It’s the shabbiest piece of electronic tat I’ve bought from a major U.S. retailer. Don’t buy it! A different brand is only $4 at Amazon, has good reviews, and isn’t held together by the clasping pressure of a plastic cap that will obviously expand when pushed.

I even tried gluing it on with superglue. Then it stopped working altogether. Then I threw it in the trash.

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Review: bug-zapping lightbulbs are worthless

I got one of those bug-zapping LED lightbulbs, in hopes of murdering the flies drifting into my office during the increasingly warm and muggy Pennsylvania summer. I got mine from Home Depot, but the bulbs at Lowes, Wal-Mart and Amazon are all obviously identical. There are two lights in each bulb: an ultraviolet one inside an electrified bug-zapping cage, and a standard 60W-equivalent LED element to light the room. You can have one or both lit simply by turning the light off and on repeatedly within a second: it sounds clunky, but in practice is an ingenious way to cycle the options without adding interface elements.

But it doesn’t matter, because they’re useless.

I installed my bulb in three locations, moving it every couple of days until a week had passed. As a control, I moved one of those traditional gooey fly strips likewise.

Subjectively, neither did much to stop the flies, a job clearly best accomplished by closing the damn windows.

Objectively, the death tolls were as follows:

Traditional fly strip: 9 bugs, 3 large.

Bug-zapping lightbulb: 4 bugs, all tiny. (The bulb is pictured here, without cleaning)

VERDICT: Don’t be tempted: they’re not half as good as fly strips and are many times the price. The only advantage they have is not being quite so gross when you throw them in the trash.

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New toolkit makes it easy to drag and drop your own robot

 The old song tells us that leg bone is connected to the hip bone how are we to know if the articulated cam can connect to the brushless motor? There are, sadly, no songs designed to tell us how to build robots. Luckily CMU’s Ruta Desai has us covered. His project, “Computational Abstractions for Interactive Design of Robotic Devices,” is essentially a robotics toolkit. You see… Read More

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Project recreates cities in rich 3D from images harvested online

 People are taking photos and videos all over major cities, all the time, from every angle. Theoretically, with enough of them, you could map every street and building — wait, did I say theoretically? I meant in practice, as the VarCity project has demonstrated with Zurich, Switzerland. Read More

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Microsoft’s killer feature for its Chromebook competitor is Office

 Microsoft just unveiled a new operating system at a press event this morning. Windows 10 S is a streamlined and more secure version of Windows 10. But it still looks and feels like a normal PC. And it runs essential apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. While I haven’t used Office apps for years, I spent most of my days using them back when I was in a student. I used Word to write… Read More

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The best guide to mechanical keyboard switches

Like me, you may have taken an interest in mechanical keyboards only to uncover a world of baffling options. “Can I have a clicky one, please” is like asking for a drink in a pub: they’ll stare at you for a moment then say “which one, mate?” Brandon West reminded me that Input.Club is the best guide to all the options available, so when someone asks you if you want your Cherry Yellow or a nice Lubed Zealio, you’ll know to slap them hard across the chops and say, “How dare you. 55g Topre Realforce Linears or nothing.”

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Tempow turns your dumb Bluetooth speakers into a connected sound system

 Meet Tempow, a French startup that can make your Bluetooth speakers more versatile. The company has been working on a new implementation of the Bluetooth protocol in order to let you play music from your phone on multiple speakers and headphones at once. Bluetooth speakers have become a common gift and a hit item in consumer electronics stores. Most people now have multiple Bluetooth speakers… Read More

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Why Sony PS4s get roach-infested so easily

It’s not your imagination: Sony’s Playstation 4 really is unusually vulnerable to cockroach infestation. The reasons why remind me of airline disasters: a combination of several individually-trivial mistakes that combine to form something awful. But the results are so gross Sony won’t repair PS4s with roaches in them, writes Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio, sending mystified owners into the arms of disgusted local repair shops.

Matt Zieminski, who works for console repair suite IFixit, told me that most of the time, the consoles aren’t sent in for roach cleaning—the users don’t know they’re infested. The PS4s just stop working and the owners don’t know why. Turns out, the PS4’s internal power supply fries roaches onto its components, which can stop the PS4 from turning on. When the bugs have made little homes in there, and have little roach kids, those roach kids and their feces can melt onto the hardware.

Zieminski knows a PS4 is infested because “Roaches leave traces,” he says. “Their poop color is distinct and has a certain smell to it. We kind of know right off the bat if there are poop stains on the vent of the fan—we assume it’s bug-loaded.”

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Pittsburgh’s Kerf Cases enrobes your phone in fine wood

 One iPhone case is much like the other unless it’s made of figured walnut wood from a retired woodworker in California and feels like the surface of a finely-sanded and well-made piece of antique cabinetry. That’s why Kerf Cases, a Pittsburgh-based manufacturer, is so cool.
The founder, Ben Saks, has been working in wood for most of his life. While working at Carnegie Mellon… Read More

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Transparent refurbished Super Nintendo consoles

Rose-Colored gaming’s producing a limited run of transparent Super Nintendo consoles, refurbished from cosmetically-damaged originals. The guts are painted and polished to be pretty behind the new acrylic enclosures. [via]

These SNES consoles have been treated to a 100% brand new, hand-built exterior, all while retaining complete original function. Each is assembled by hand with the care and attention to detail that you have come to expect from RCG. The housing consists of laser cut and etched acrylic components which have been drilled, bent, bonded, threaded, & assembled using all new anodized aluminum hardware. Many internal components have been slathered in various finishes then etched in order to accentuate items which were never meant to be seen. All hand-built, these units will only be available in VERY limited quantities upon release, with each being treated to a unique serial number.

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A UK entrepreneur takes flight by attaching miniature jet engines to his limbs

 A YouTube collection of grainy video clips highlights the progress Gravity founder Richard Browning has made toward his outlandish dream over the past year. Each seems more terrifying than the last, with multiple jet engines attached to his limbs in various configurations, as he hovers a few feet from the ground. Read More

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Facebook opens up 360-degree live streaming to all

 Facebook just made live streaming 360-degree video relatively easy, provided you have the equipment to capture the content. Users of devices like the new 2017 model Gear 360 just announced at the S8 smartphone launch, or the Insta360 Nano (for iPhone) and Air (for Android), or a host of higher-end models designed for pros, you can go live and broadcast an immersive feed for your audience.… Read More

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Nomos Glashütte’s Metro Neomatik is modern, slim and sophisticated watch

 The smartwatch era has done nothing so much as renew my interest in real watches, which have their own type of special intelligence, albeit laid out in intricate arrays of gears and springs rather than written in silicon. Few watchmakers express this intelligence site so wonderfully as Nomos Glashütte, the German manufactory that produces exquisite timepieces with house made movements in… Read More

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ANA’s new C-3PO jet is fluent in over 6 million forms of communication

 Fancy paint jobs for airplanes are nothing novel, but few airlines ever really commit to making their jets look unique like Japan’s ANA. The air carrier’s latest custom craft is one of its Star Wars series of planes, commemorating everyone’s favorite golden protocol droid with a C-3PO yellow fuselage wrap, and interior decorating to match. The C-3PO ANA Jet follows R2-D2… Read More

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Apple is opening new stores in Downtown Miami, Cologne and Nanjing

 While Apple’s retail team is currently remodeling all its stores, the company is also opening brand new stores around the world. Apple is opening a flagship store in Downtown Miami, a new store in a historic building in Cologne and a third store in Nanjing.
Last weekend, Apple reopened the 35th remodeled store across 18 different states. “Almost 50 percent of the stores in the U.S. Read More

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Pebby makes long-distance pet relationships more fun

 I’m convinced that if humans could find fun in simple games as easily as pets, our world would be a healthier place. Watching footage of dogs playing with Hansen Goh’s Pebby pet toy, launched today, has only persuaded me of this further. The smartphone-controlled mechanized ball keeps pets active and in good spirits, letting owners remotely draw their companions from one room to… Read More

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