Program your own self-driving racer with FormulaPi

Program your own self-driving racer with FormulaPi

Self-driving race cars are a few years away but why not simulate the roar of robotic Formula 1 cars with a little Raspberry Pi magic?

The folks at Piborg are offering the opportunity for hackers and makers to try and drive their own autonomous car brain in a centralized race. They’ve launched a Kickstarter and they’re looking for folks to download the autonomous racing code, modify it, and then race their code against other Raspberry Pi-based vehicles.
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$40 gets you a customizable “lid” that will contain the car’s brains. Your mission is to program the car to run the race as quickly as possible while avoiding other cars. Multiple cars with programs from all around the world with complete in a set of exciting, nerdy races.

The cars run on the Zeroborg motor platform and will race on a dedicated track with laser-controlled finishing line.

Formula Pi is an exciting new race series and club designed to get people started with self-driving robotics. The aim is to give people with little hardware or software experience a platform to get started and learn how autonomous vehicles work.

We provide the hardware and basic software to join the race series. Competitors can modify the software however they like, and come race day a prepared SD card with your software on it will be placed into our club robots and the race will begin!

Obviously this isn’t as exciting as crashing massive cars together at Robo La Mans but I suspect the folks who win at these mini races will soon be programming bigger and better cars.

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Source: TechCrunch

See you tonight in Chicago

See you tonight in Chicago

See you tonight! We’ll be meeting at 7pm in the MakeOffices space in the Loop. There will be some free beers and chicken sandwiches. We’ll hold a pitchoff at 8pm and close up at 9pm and perhaps we can go carousing afterwards.

The pitch-off will be very cool. I’ve already picked nine contestants and we have two VC judges. First place winners of the pitch off will get a table at Disrupt SF in September and two other companies will get two tickets each. It will be super great.

Please grab a ticket here as space is limited and please, if you grab a ticket, show up? I’ve kept things smaller on purpose because I’d like quality time with you all.

See you soon!

Featured Image: Pigprox/Shutterstock
Source: TechCrunch

Update on the Chicago Mini-Meetup: We have a space!

Update on the Chicago Mini-Meetup: We have a space!

We’ve found a location for our mini-meetup tomorrow! We’ll be meeting at 7pm in the MakeOffices space in the Loop. There will be some free beers and maybe we can get some pizzas in or something. We’ll hold a pitchoff at 8pm and close up at 9pm and perhaps we can go carousing afterwards.

I’ll be picking the pitch-off companies tomorrow morning at 8am so be prepared. I know it’s short notice but remember an entrepreneur is always prepared. First place winners of the pitch off will get a table at Disrupt SF in September and two other companies will get two tickets each. It will be super great. If you’re a VC or Chicago bigwig let me know because I need two judges to join me on stage. Email john@techcrunch.com.

Please grab a ticket here as space is limited and please, if you grab a ticket, show up? I’ve kept things smaller on purpose because I’d like quality time with you all.

See you soon!

Source: TechCrunch

The giant’s fall

The giant’s fall

One of the saddest scenes in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy is watching the slow-moving Ents – the massive tree shepherds that took days to decide whether or not to react Sauron’s onslaught – are cut down by the wily Orcs. Only a few fall in the battle but when they do the giants of the forests that at first seemed so powerful are exposed to be easily vanquished. They won the battle but we can presume the fallen ones made great kindling for the Orc’s fires.

Yahoo isn’t kindling yet but it – like the mighty AOL Ent on which you’re reading this – has fallen. Mayer’s Old Web property is now part of a phone company, a prospect that would be unfathomable when the first web portals hit the scene.

Think about Yahoo’s mission. Originally a catalog of important things on the web it became what Year 2000 dot-commers called a portal. It was, at its core, a sort of app store with multiple features including chat, weather, mail, and photo storage. It was an early, simple web-based operating system and it was as far away from the backward, boring infrastructure companies that were then trying to figure out a way forward in the online economy.

But infrastructure has one thing going for it: it has revenue, year after year, and that revenue can be used to take down upstarts when they’re weak. That’s exactly what happened here.

Yahoo wasn’t always doomed. It was once, like AOL, a web giant. It still gathers millions of eyeballs and plenty of traffic. But then slowly (then quickly) Google overtook all comers with its superior search and that search revenue helped the company expand away from its core business leading it to create a true app store as well as a truly powerful mobile infrastructure. Yahoo and AOL, for their parts, focused on ad automation and when Facebook ate a piece of that pie they had little left to fight over. The once mighty giants were struck blow after blow and they couldn’t survive.

What is Verizon doing with its relics of Internet Past? Not much. They have been fairly hands-off with AOL (and this site) and their interest, I suspect, is in building a media conglomerate like Disney or Comcast – a set of businesses that report to the mothership and use synergy and shared goals to raise all boats. Whether or not a company like Verizon whose primary expertise is in setting up cell towers can do this is still up in the proverbial air but here’s hoping.

There aren’t many tech giants left. Hardware greats like Xerox, Cisco, and Nokia are moribund. Software houses like Oracle and Microsoft are doing enough to be dangerous and little more. And old-guard websites are basically no more except perhaps Amazon and Drudge. If the 2010s have brought anything it’s been a wholesale cleanout of massive tech brands and the rise of hundreds of orc-like replacements.

The thing that is sadder still is that more giants will fall over the next few years. Gawker is already teetering, about the fall into the ZDNet swamps. Travel stalwarts like Kayak and CheapCaribbean are being replaced by low cost travel apps that reduce the complexity of booking a trip to nil. Advertising companies have been swallowed up one by one until there are only a few left. The only things really left to disrupt are online banking and commodity web hosting and those spaces are deeply entrenched.

Yahoo was the last of the giants. There are plenty of smaller companies still around from the 1990s but they were always scurrying in Yahoo’s shadow. Now the company’s forward facing tools and media services will be folded into Verizon and when Yahoo employees become AOL employees it will be harder to separate out what was Yahoo and what wasn’t. Like the venerable Treebeard, Yahoo will put down roots, grow leaves, and become part of the undifferentiated forest. It was sad but expected.

Source: TechCrunch

Let’s meet in Chicago for a mini-meetup

Let’s meet in Chicago for a mini-meetup

I’ll be in Chicago this week and I’d love to meet some startups. I’m thinking about holding a micro-mini-meetup on Tuesday, July 26 at a location to be determined. Here’s what I need from you all:

Email or tweet me with recommendations where we can meet. I like to just hang out in bars but I could do a co-working space. I know there are a few in town but I’ve lost touch with folks there so it would be great if you could drop me a line. My email is john@techcrunch.com and I’m @johnbiggs on TwooterTalk.

I expect we’d meet at about 7pm and I’d be happy to run a pitch-off. If you’d like to pitch just fill this out and I’ll let you know the details when I have them.

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Source: TechCrunch

100% Fun

100% Fun

If 2016 taught us anything it’s that the Internet isn’t fun anymore. It’s not that a soulless network of computers interconnected via TCP/IP was ever supposed to be fun. It’s that eventually fun overlaid itself on that network and created a world where nearly everyone could interact without fear. Kids grew up in a world where it was easier to talk to someone in Malaysia than it was to go next door to play Lego. The Internet created a safe place for millions of outcasts who used it to turn themselves into entrepreneurs, artists, and writers. It was a place where intellect could be augmented and discrimination abated.

Now all that’s being augmented an overarching sense of fear and meanness.

The Internet is a force multiplier. It holds our entire lives these days and stores everything from our private longings to our workaday mundanity. It is also our source of entertainment and addictive media and, for many of us, it is a livelihood. Whereas a fun IRC chat and a quick visit to MySpace was once enough to satiate the part of the brain that craved novelty, now we are like rats coming back for an angry fix and marketers and politicians are beginning to harness this power in ways that are at once ham-handed and frightening.

The first group who made the Internet not fun are who writer Laurie Penny calls “the insider traders of the attention economy.” This is the troll army that turns its baleful eye on target after target, turning a day on the Internet into a fight for sanity. What happened to Leslie Jones, for example, was a course of powerful and unrelenting trolling. Her story, like so many other tales on the new Internet, is one of a celebrity’s jovial back and forth with fans that turned into a relentless racist attack. But she wasn’t shot, right? She wasn’t stabbed? The real effects, however, are more jarring. Being attacked on a medium that we never took seriously is odd and unsettling. Many would recall the old adage that “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” The guy who wrote that never hung out on Twitter when someone wants to argue with you all night.

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To be clear no one is truly hurt on the new Internet. But the echo chamber afforded by this massive network can have real consequences. Trump’s rise to power came through the Internet. Pundits note that his was not a televised candidacy but that is because all of his views were served up in 120 character bites through Twitter. By doing this he created fodder for the online news writers and the outrage trickled down to the moribund TV and newspaper business. The closest corollary were the first televised debates between Kennedy and Nixon that cemented physical appearance as a primary driver towards the Oval Office. The ability to outrage millions in social media is simply the next key to political power.

It bears repeating that when the Turkish coup began the government shut down the two Bosphorus Bridge along with Twitter and Facebook. It is an era of Internet as weapon and it’s only going to get worse.

The Internet stopped being fun when it became hard to separate truth from reality, outrage from concern. It lost something when it became trivial to share both cat pictures and beheading videos on Facebook. It lost its innocence when it became the de facto outlet for both ISIS and videos of cops shooting citizens. It stopped being fun when its strengths – the ability to interconnect with anyone, the ability to broadcast to millions, the ability to access the cosmic jukebox and movie theatre at all hours – became secondary to to a say-anything, anti-PC form of discourse shed of courtesy and play.

Again, I don’t expect the Internet to be fun and fancy free. But does it have to be endlessly oppressive?

What can we do to make the Internet fun again? “In a time of destruction, create something,” said writer Maxine Hong Kingston. Why not try? Create on the Internet, share your creations, and interact with the people who like it. Use the tools afforded you – blogs, news aggregators, Product Hunt and Patreon – to make something. The Internet was made for humans to talk to humans, not for Amazon to chase us around the Internet with viral videos of disposable shavers.

In the end the fun I miss is definitely still there. There are thousands of sites dedicated to hundreds of things, great and small. You can find people like you out there and you can remain unmolested in niche areas of the Web. But as a few sites take up the majority of our time we enter a world in which our entire understanding – political, cultural, and professional – is mediated by a worldview created by both human aggregators and robots. This worldview rewards conflict and ignores nearly everything else and this is exactly the worldview that thrives on Facebook and Twitter.

In the end we will survive the death of the fun Internet. It is a media just like any other and all new media enters a flowering stage and a seed stage. We are well into the seed stage when new media will spring up around the moribund one and the way we interact will further be changed by whatever comes next.

I just miss the fun Internet. Let’s see if we can’t bring that back, even for a few years.

Source: TechCrunch

Print your own triple-axis tourbillon (trust me, it’ll be cool)

Print your own triple-axis tourbillon (trust me, it’ll be cool)

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In the world of horology there are few things fancier than the tourbillion and there are few things extra fancier than a triple-axis model. Originally invented by Abraham Louis Breguet, the tourbillion was a modification designed to ensure that a watch would keep good time in any number of positions – in a pocket, on a desk, or jostling around in a bag. It does this by spinning balance wheel, the little wheel that is essentially the heart of a mechanical watch.

Then there’s the triple-axis tourbillon, a truly rare bird. And now you can print your own in ABS or PLA plastic.

Created by maker Adam Wrigley, this tourbillon is like a tourbillion of tourbillons. It not only spins the balance wheel on one axis but it actually rotates the entire wheel in three dimensions. It’s the kind of mechanical overkill that makes a watch cost $250,000.

Now you can 3D print your own! The files are available here and consist of 99 separate parts. The tourbillon doesn’t really tell time but it does show how a real triple-axis tourbillon would work albeit in a much larger size. Think of it as a visible motor model for a massively expensive horological bauble.

Wrigley works at Frog Design and he said he based this project on a few online resources. The hardest part was creating the escapement, the toothed “fork” that releases and grabs the balance wheel as it spins back and forth.

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This is a fun weekend project for someone with a horological bent and looks to be easy enough to print without supports. With 99 parts, however, I’d set aside a nice chunk of time for the complex and very rewarding assembly process.

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Source: TechCrunch

For my daughter

For my daughter

My daughter is almost eight. She likes princesses and Harry Potter and doll houses and making videos to Taylor Swift songs and she has a few very clear influences and/or heroes. Mal from the Descendents. Hermione. My wife. Me. Her great grandmother Sadie.

And now I want her to be influenced by the Ghostbusters. The new Ghostbusters, not the version with Murray and Ackroyd. I want her to love the version with women.

As an aside when I started this post I was unaware of this horrible attack on Leslie Jones, the smart African-American Ghostbuster who knows New York history. On behalf of – I don’t know, the Internet everywhere? – I apologize. We suck. I wish that after 20 years of regular Internet use we’d all be better people. We’re not. We are literally the worst.

But back to girls.

When I was a kid I learned to love science from action movies. I built bombs with an old chemistry set so I could be like American Ninja. I learned “survival” – really just running around in the woods – from Predator. Some of my first programs mimicked the onscreen prompts from WarGames.

I made a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher so I could be like Commando. I was not a smart boy.

Girls watched some of the same movies but, as we are fast learning, they didn’t get the same lessons. While I had a funny/smart Matthew Broderick to look up to, my sister had his girlfriend. Boys had Flight of the Navigator and girls had… Splash? Strawberry Shortcake? Jem and the Holograms?

What I’m saying is that boys were told that science was cool and that it was fun to kill people. Girls weren’t.

To a degree we’re reaping that whirlwind now. But this isn’t about that.

What this is about is why the Ghostbusters reboot exists. It exists in order to show that girls can tell fart jokes, that they can say scientific-sounding stuff and be taken seriously, and can that they can be cool and funny and useful. All of these should be things we take for granted, things that are obvious to us. And to many they are obvious.

But culture must remind us. It needs to remind us of this through movies like Ghostbusters. I needs to know she could grow up to be a big nerd. Or not. But by having female role models across fields, that choice is hers.

The importance of this movie isn’t in that it’s a reboot of a childhood favorite. It’s in the fact that it puts science and technology front and center in a film about women. Argue all you want about the logic of a reboot (I’ll point you to the awful Superman, Spiderman, and Batman reboots as being equally illogical). Argue all you want about the sexism of casting a hot male receptionist who is ditzy for comedic effect (I’ll point you to every single comedy between 1980 and 2016 but in those cases the receptionist was a woman). Argue all you want about the plot (I’ll cede that point. The plot was pretty rough). This movie was important because it shows girls that they can do what boys do.

I made my own proton pack when I was kid. It was made of cardboard and vacuum hose. We ran around sucking up ghosts and fighting demons. My sister didn’t.

Now I hope daughter builds a proton pack. I hope she runs around with a light saber. I hope she learns to program because a cool girl told her she could.

The Yamaha LL-TA Guitar turns a lonely little room into a concert hall

The Yamaha LL-TA Guitar turns a lonely little room into a concert hall

“Well you’re in your little room,” wrote the bard. “And you’re working on something good. But if it’s really good you’re gonna need a bigger room.” With the Yamaha LL-TA you can have just that.

The $1,600 Yamaha LL-TA – the TA stands for Transacoustic – is an acoustic guitar with a built-in effects processor and actuator that augments the sound of the strings. Inside the body of the guitar, hidden on one side, is an effects generator and strapped to the front is a transducer that changes the sound as you play. You can turn it off and on at will and even route the sound to a line-out in the endpin next to the double AA battery pack.

To “activate” the effects you touch one of the unobtrusive buttons on the top side of the guitar. The entire system is silent – the only indication that it is working comes from a lone green light inside the guitar body. Very quickly, however, the chorus and reverb kick in and you’re transported on a magic carpet ride to James Taylor-town.

15B92B4C120349EAA8A7AA427D2CF969_12005The sound is impressive. To get a silvery, rippling reverb and chorus out of an unplugged acoustic guitar is pretty exciting. Imagine an electric guitar with a built-in Marshall stack and overdrive unit – all inside the thin body of a Strat – and you kind of get the idea: you can get natural sounds out of this guitar that would usually require a few hundred dollars of gear to recreate. The actuator on the front of the body reacts to the sounds of the strings, expanding them without sounding like the sound is being piped through a speaker.

The following is a quick test I ran. The first part is with the TA off completely and then the last two bits are with TA on.

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I found it very pleasant to play and the effects added a bit of creativity to my plinking. I’m not a great guitarist by any stretch but this was plain fun.

Why do you want a guitar like this? First it gets rid of bulky chorus and reverb pedals. While you won’t be recreating Stairway in its glorious entirety with this thing you can get a nice approximation of the early acoustic parts. Yamaha makes a good guitar in the first place and this one is based on the Original Jumbo body and the workmanship and woods are a delight. Turning on the effects is just icing on a guitar cake.

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But, for some, the LL-TA is truly an odd duck and a hard sell. The reverb and chorus, when they kick in after a bit of fingerpicking, sound amazing especially considering they are not actively connected to an amp, effects, or speakers. You can add a great deal of depth and brightness with just a single button tap. But why?

Most musicians want a clean sound from their guitar, a special sound from the effects, and a clean sound from the amp/speaker. Embedding the effects into a guitar, while cool, might be seen as a gimmick. However, given that the Yamaha is a solid workhorse guitar and the effects don’t take up any space in your gig bag it could be a good busker’s guitar, a good singer-songwriter axe, or a nice way to add a little sparkle to your demos and recordings.

The LL-TA is not a Keytar. It’s not a MIDI device. It’s basically an acoustic guitar that can sound like a nicely augmented electro-acoustic. Because the modeling is literally internal to the body you avoid a lot of the plinky sounds associated with acoustic-electrics and it means you can get some nice tones without much gear.

To be clear $1,600 for a Yamaha is a bit of a stretch but it’s a clever add-on to a nice guitar and you will be amazed when you hear your rendition of “No Woman No Cry” sound like an ethereal reverb-rich whale call the way Bob Marley intended.

Source: TechCrunch

New technique lets you fold flat metal or plastic into a 3D shape

New technique lets you fold flat metal or plastic into a 3D shape

A computational design tool created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology lets you fold a piece of metal or plastic into a “complex 3D shape” like a mask or even a shoe.

“We’re taking a flat piece of material and giving it the tendency, or even the desire, to bend into a certain 3-D shape,” said Keenan Crane, part of the Carnegie Mellon team.

By making hexagonal cuts into flat materials the team is able to let the pieces expand uniformly allowing them to create, say, a sphere from a rigid piece of plastic.

Origami-style techniques are already in use in deep space solar arrays and arterial stents. However this technique lets fully 3D objects to spring forth from a piece of plastic.

This means you can make something like a wild 3D dress out of metal or a car piece out of plastic with a few well-placed cuts. Write the researchers:

Metal and plastic sheets, altered with cuts to lend them auxetic qualities, are convenient materials to explore how to create these complex designs, Crane said. In this study, a series of hexagonal slits were cut into the sheets to create triangular elements that were able to rotate relative to their neighbors, allowing them to expand uniformly.

Based on a 3-D digital model, the computational tool can determine the pattern of slits necessary to make the sheet conform to the desired shape. This pattern can then be transferred to a laser cutter to begin the fabrication process. The researchers used this process to make a woman’s high-heel shoe, a sculpture, a woman’s fashion top, a lampshade and face masks.

The next step, say the researchers, is to create a way to map 3D objects for easy printing and to ensure that objects pop into place automatically when folded slightly.

Source: TechCrunch