These guys made a motorcycle look (and sound!) like a Star Wars Speeder Bike

These guys made a motorcycle look (and sound!) like a Star Wars Speeder Bike

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I’ve never been a big motorcycle guy. I have the hand/eye coordination of a sleepy toddler, and I’m pretty sure I’d hurt myself within about two minutes of firing up the engine.

This bike wants me to give it a try anyway.

Built by Wisconsin-based machining/customization shop Vintage Works, it’s a custom bike modeled after the mostly-impossible ride of every 80’s kids dreams: the Speeder Bike from Return of the Jedi. It’s about as close as you can get to a real Speeder Bike without, you know, defying our current understanding of physics.

Oh, and it doesn’t just look like a Speeder — it sounds like one, too. As demonstrated in the video below, they’ve hidden a speaker array within the bike that recreates the winding whirs of a Speeder zipping around Endor.

The bad news: unless you can convince these guys to build a second one for you and have the cash to make it happen, you won’t be able to get one of your own — it’s a one of a kind creation, for now.

[via io9]

And for good measure, the original scene:

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speeder

Source: TechCrunch

Tecla’s tech makes Pokémon Go more accessible for wheelchair users

Tecla’s tech makes Pokémon Go more accessible for wheelchair users

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Toronto-based B corporation Komodo OpenLab thought Pokémon Go using its Tecla product, an assistive hardware device designed to make it easier to use smartphones, tablets and users for people who might not generally be able to interact with these gadgets, including, for example, wheelchair users with spinal injuries or multiple sclerosis.

As you can see from the video above, the Tecla controller installed on the users’ wheelchairs allow control over iOS or Android devices paired via Bluetooth. A control unit switches the target device for the hardware controller between their wheelchair, and the smartphone, and it also works with single or dual switches, including those that respond to light touch and sip-and-puff switches for users with less range of motion in their hands.

The team behind Tecla first did some feasibility testing around use of their system with Go in late July, but were able to run an actual field test with the help of local Toronto Tecla users Neil and James. The result? Some freshly caught Pokémon, as you can see in the video above.

Source: TechCrunch

Facebook snatches up team from Eyegroove, a musical selfie app

Facebook snatches up team from Eyegroove, a musical selfie app

The team from a startup called Eyegroove, a “musical selfie” app, has joined Facebook. According to a message on the company’s website, most of the small team who worked on the app will now be focused on building new experiences for Facebook users that will help them to “create, share and connect.”

Founded in late 2013, the Eyegroove application was the brainchild of Scott Snibbe, an interactive media artist who worked on Bjork’s Biophilia app, acquired by MoMA. Eyegroove was aimed at helping users make their own, high-quality videos using their smartphone. As Snibbe explained in a 2014 interview, the idea behind Eyegroove was to be an “Instagram for interactive music.”

eyegroove-2-ws-385editLaunched to the public a couple of years ago, Eyegroove worked with SoundCloud, allowing users to make 19-second videos for any of the songs on SoundCloud’s service. It offered a social networking component, as well, where users could share their “Grooves,” as these videos were called. These Grooves could include special effects like a kaleidoscopic view, for example, or other video filters.

However, in the years since its launch, Eyegroove was overshadowed by other social video apps, including Dubsmash and Musical.ly, the latter which recently raised a whopping $100 million at a $500 million valuation. Meanwhile, Eyegroove failed to get traction.

Its last ranking on the iTunes App Store before being removed was in the low 500’s within the “Music & Video” category, according to data from App Annie. It wasn’t ranked on any other charts.

Eyegroove was backed by $3.5 million in seed funding from a range of angel investors, including Matt Papakipos, Roger McNamee, Amarjit Gil, and Bill McLean, as reported by CrunchBase and on the Eyegroove website.

While the team is joining Facebook, we understand that this is more of an acqui-hire – Facebook did not buy the company, the tech or IP. It’s more about bringing in talent who can help with the development of more creative tools on the site, but not necessarily those that would be a direct answer to Musical.ly.

The move – which took place within the last week – comes at a time when Facebook is ramping up its efforts in the video space, with Facebook Live, its Periscope competitor, and integrations between its acquisition MSQRD and the social network itself, announced earlier today.

A note from Snibbe on the startup’s website explains that the app is shutting down, and thanked its users for the “amazing community.” It also confirms that much of the team is joining Facebook.

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The startup had a small team of under a dozen according to AngelList and LinkedIn. (No one has yet to update their LinkedIn profiles to indicate they’re now at Facebook.) Along with the Eyegroove team, founder Scott Snibbe is also going to Facebook.

Emails to Snibbe were not returned. Other messages to the Eyegroove domain bounced. Facebook declined to comment.

Source: TechCrunch

Incipio acquires Griffin, adding yet another accessory maker to its portfolio

Incipio acquires Griffin, adding yet another accessory maker to its portfolio

Incipio just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Shortly after after announcing that it had acquired up budget headphone maker Skullcandy, the Irvine-based accessories conglomerate has picked up Griffin for an undisclosed amount. The Nashville mobile peripheral manufacturer will join an sizable brand portfolio that already includes Incase, Braven, ClamCase and Incipio’s own titular in-house brand.

The latest score in Incipio’s supermarket sweep of mobile brands brings Griffin into the fold, but will maintain the standalone brand, including its headquarters, which will stay put in Tennessee. Griffin has been in the accessory game for a quarter decade, primarily making a name for itself in the world of Apple devices, including, perhaps most notably, the iTrip, an in-car FM transmitter for the iPod.

Two days ago, Incipio announced an amendment to a deal announced in June that would find the company picking up budget headphone maker Skullcandy, following the Incase deal, which went down last September. What does all of this mean for the rapidly growing hardware companies? Why, exciting new verticals, of course!

Here’s Incipio founder and CEO Andy Fathollahi in today’s official announcement, “As part of Incipio Group, Griffin strengthens our product development and manufacturing capabilities, complements our existing product lines in rugged cases, power and connectivity, and allows our brands to reach a broader domestic and international audience through enhanced distribution in the business-to-business, enterprise and education verticals.”

Verticals!

Source: TechCrunch

Microsoft, Sony, and other companies still use illegal warranty-void-if-removed stickers

Microsoft, Sony, and other companies still use illegal warranty-void-if-removed stickers

One of the ways manufacturers coerce users not to modify or even open hardware they’ve purchased is through warranty-void-if-removed stickers. These stickers are common on electronics equipment — Microsoft uses them on the Xbox One, Sony has them on the PS4, and you’ve probably owned a phone that had at least one somewhere.

These stickers are almost certainly illegal, as Motherboard points out in relation to the new Xbox One S. The problem with the stickers is that they run afoul of the FCC’s rules on tying repair services to specific products. This issue is also probably why Apple agreed to change its practices regarding iPhones, when devices that had been repaired by third-party shops would then suddenly fail when upgraded to Apple’s latest operating system.

“The stickers could be deceptive by implying consumers can’t use parts the warrantor doesn’t pre-approve, which violates the anti-tying provisions of MMWA,” FTC spokesperson Frank Dorman told Vice.

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This practice isn’t remotely unique to Microsoft. The PS4 does the same thing.  Image by iFixit

Companies don’t like to talk about these policies, most likely because they don’t want to admit they’ve been doing something illegal for decades. Laws like the 1975 Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act were passed to prevent companies from tying customers to expensive repair contracts, or requiring customers to use only approved hardware installed by “authorized” resellers. The common example for this is with cars, where it’s illegal for a manufacturer to try and force you to only install their own parts.

There are, of course, limits to these laws. If you destroy your transmission or engine while servicing them, the manufacturer is under no obligation to repair the vehicle. What manufacturers aren’t allowed to do is refuse to honor a warranty on your engine just because you installed a different set of speakers or an aftermarket radio. The obligation is on the manufacturer to demonstrate that your third-party repairs or modifications caused the failure, not the other way around.

Modern electronics are tightly integrated, but the concept is the same. Microsoft isn’t allowed to prevent you from opening your own hardware, and neither is any other manufacturer. So why do they?

The answer is simple: Because they know you won’t do anything about it. It’s a nifty example of how companies get away with doing illegal things — the cost of taking them to court and forcing them to comply with the law is higher than the value of the product. A car is expensive enough to repair that companies can’t get away with telling you to pony up thousands of dollars for their own parts and repair shops. On the other hand, a smartphone can cost $500 to $700, but that doesn’t begin to cover the cost of a lawyer to litigate the issue, and Apple, Microsoft, and other companies know it.

In Microsoft’s case, its warranty states that it ceases to apply if the Xbox One is “opened, modified, or tampered with.” It’s flatly illegal. But until someone brings a case against the company and litigates it out, electronics companies will continue to put these stickers on their products, and consumers will continue to believe the manufacturers are legally allowed to do.

The situation is also playing out in new ways thanks to the advent of DRM. Tractor manufacturer John Deere and the Library of Congress have both resisted any attempt to require manufacturers to share data on firmware or other DRM’d blocks of information, because it could conceivably allow for piracy or alter the function of the vehicle. John Deere has gone so far as to claim that by purchasing a tractor, farmers gain “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.” It’s the concept of software licensing, except applied to hardware, and the fact that it’s illegal doesn’t seem to concern anyone much.

Source: ExtremeTech

Apple acquires Turi, a machine learning company

Apple acquires Turi, a machine learning company

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Word just started going around the rumormill that Apple has acquired Turi, a company that describes itself as a “machine learning platform for developers and data scientists”

In addition to their machine learning products, Turi also runs the Data Science Summit — a two day conference focusing on, as the name implies, data science.

We reached out to Apple for confirmation, and sure enough — we got the standard reply they give when they’re confirming an acquisition but not saying much else:

“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

Apple declined to comment on the financial terms of the deal, but Geekwire suggests that it was upwards of $200 million.

This isn’t the first acquisition Apple has made in the AI/Machine Learning space — for example, they acquired Perceptio, a company that specialized in machine learning and image recognition, back in September of 2015

Turi was previously known as “Dato” (and before that, “GraphLab”), but changed their name in July of this year after a trademark dispute.

Turi began reaching out to its customers to let them know their products would no longer be available at the end of July, the first indication that an acquisition had occurred. Turi’s own blog, meanwhile, no longer loads.

We’re hearing that Turi’s team will remain in Seattle, rather than moving down to Apple’s Cupertino HQ.

Source: TechCrunch

New climate modeling shows Venus may have once been habitable

New climate modeling shows Venus may have once been habitable

It’s hard to imagine a less-hospitable location in the solar system than the surface of Venus. Humans can’t survive without spacesuits and life support systems anywhere besides Earth, but Mars, the Moon, and Europa present challenges we could probably meet with current technology. Venus’ atmosphere is 92 times thicker than our own — step outside the comfort of a hypothetical space craft, and you’d be crushed like the organic equivalent of a beer can. The question of how Venus, the planet most like Earth in size, gravity, and composition, ended up a toxic hellstew of sulfur dioxide with a runaway greenhouse effect has fascinated scientists for decades. Now, new research suggests that Venus might have been the first habitable place in our solar system — and it might have remained so for billions of years.

Our current models suggest that Venus and Earth formed from similar materials, which would strongly imply that the planet initially had substantial water reserves. The scientists in this report used computer modeling to simulate how Venus might have evolved if it began as an Earth-like planet with shallow oceans and an Earth-like atmosphere. Keep in mind that “Earth-like” refers to the conditions of the ancient Earth, not the markedly different ones we find ourselves inhabiting today.

Atmosphere_composition

The researchers found that Venus’ simulated rotation speed had a profound impact on how the climate of paleo-Venus evolved over time. Currently, Venus spins extremely slowly, with a year that’s actually significantly shorter than its day. When the climate models kept this slow spin, the temperatures on ancient Venus remained within habitable ranges for a substantial amount of time — up to 2 billion years.

Paleo-Venus

Speed up the rotation, however, and the situation goes south in a hurry. If the Venusian day is “just” 16x slower than our own, surface temperatures skyrocket in a hurry. One of the noteworthy characteristics of Venus is that its high-altitude wind speeds dwarf anything on Earth, with wind speeds up to 60x faster than the planet rotates. In hypothetical early Venus, with a slow rotation speed, the climate model predicts significant layers of cloud cover that would’ve shielded the young planet from the increased level of solar radiation it received relative to Earth. Speed up Venus’ rotation, and the weather patterns that dominate its atmospheric behavior change. As a result, surface temperatures rise markedly.

While our ability to estimate ancient Venusian climate is limited by our understanding of the planet and its evolution, results like this are interesting when considered through the lens of a Fermi Paradox solution we discussed earlier this year. One argument for why we’ve found no evidence of other life to date is that while the conditions for life to arise may be initially abundant, only a handful of planets manage to sustain life long enough for that life to begin reshaping its own biosphere on a global level. On Earth, events like the Great Oxygenation Event reshaped our entire atmosphere and, by extension, our entire biome. On Venus or Mars, even if life initially arose, it was unable to overcome other forces that were heating the planet and driving a runaway greenhouse effect (Venus), or cooling it, leading to the evaporation and sublimation of available water (Mars). Venus’ lacks plate tectonics but has been extensively reshaped by volcanism; these eruptions are thought to be partially responsible for the current climate and toxic hell-stew atmosphere.

Humans will likely never live on the surface of Venus; the environment is hilariously noxious to our own existence. The challenges Venusian terraformers would face make Mars look like a walk in the park, though there’s actually been some interesting proposals to create floating colonies in the upper layers of the Venusian atmosphere. Still, understanding how Venus’ atmosphere and characteristics evolved over time could help us focus our efforts to find stars with planets within their own habitable zones.

Source: ExtremeTech

Christoph Waltz gets goofily patriotic in Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 7 spot

Christoph Waltz gets goofily patriotic in Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 7 spot

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He’s won a couple of Oscars, he’s worked with some of the best directors in the biz, and he’s even played a Bond villain. So, where does Christop Waltz go from here? Phone commercials, obviously. The acclaimed Inglourious Basterds actor has signed on with Samsung for a silly new ad touting the company’s eagerly anticipated Note 7 phablet.

In the spot, Waltz actor praises/complains about the American work ethic, while multitasking through a series of increasingly ridiculous costumes, as a housewife, car sales, short-shorted child and track and field runner, before launching into a love fest for American ingenuity. An interesting creative choice for a team up between a South Korean company and an Austrian-German actor.

But hey, whatever it takes to put Christoph Waltz in a Lincoln costume is certainly worth the effort.

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God bless America.

Source: TechCrunch

The social app redundancy engine

The social app redundancy engine

Tumbled glass has a definite appeal: It’s eye-catching, has a pleasant variety of colours, and feels nice in the hand. And making it just takes time, and repetitive motion – throw some glass in a rock tumbler for about a week and voila – what comes out is better than what came in. But it’s also ultimately just glass.

The social apps we use every day are starting to look a lot like tumbled glass.

If you subscribe to the notion that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, this past week has made Facebook the sincerest technology company in existence, and Snapchat the most flattered.

On Tuesday, Instagram launched Stories, which didn’t even bother changing the name of the product it was copying, Snapchat Stories. Facebook-owned Instagram wasn’t shy about the similarity, either: Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom freely gave Snapchat credit for the concept, which if you’re out of the social loop, involves letting users post photos and videos strung together in a “story” that expires after 24 hours.

Then, on Friday, Facebook proper began testing an experiment whereby the mobile app opens directly to a camera window atop a user’s feed, which makes use of Facebook acquisition MSQRD’s selfie filters for an Olympics tie-in. Sure, it’s a special case tied to a specific event, and available only in Brazil (makes sense, Olympics are there) and Canada. Canada is the more interesting component, because the great white north is normally where companies run tests ahead of big U.S. roll outs, since the market is so similar but low-risk due to its much smaller size.

TechCrunch Facebook Camera Feed

Opening direct to a camera definitely drives that kind of engagement, especially with younger audiences. We know that because that’s how Snapchat works. Which is where Facebook got this idea. In an interview with The Verge, FB product manager Sachin Monga explained it’s designed to give everyday users “this magical AR experience.” It’s no Systrom-style shoutout, but Snapchat is widely regarded as pioneering broad consumer use of augmented reality through its own dynamic selfie filters.

These two examples so close to one other in time would probably be enough to make my point, but TechCrunch’s Josh Constine also found out that Facebook had fully built but then scrapped the launch of a Snapchat Stories clone on Facebook itself.

Meanwhile, it’s not entirely a one-way street. Snapchat launched Memories earlier this month, which is a pretty directly comparable offering to Facebook Moments. It not only brings some Facebook style permanence to a social network that perviously leaned heavily on ephemerality, but it also introduced the ability to pull content from your camera roll to snap, which allows brands and publishers to treat it more like Facebook and Instagram as an audience engagement channel.

Snapchat MemoriesI’m all for refinement, and I don’t think any technology company is wrong for identifying an effective interaction model or product, and trying to make it even more effective, or better suited to their own audience: That’s how we get nice things. But I can’t escape the feeling that the social space is starting to feel like so much tumbled glass, with a lot of retread and few new paths.

Sure, with more novel efforts, we’ve had some goofs. Beme. Peach. Twitter (I kid, sort of). It’s a list that includes some companies with a lot of early excitement, and founders who should know a thing or two about social. At least, though, they had some sharp edges, and it’d be nice to see a few more of those coming from the players who can stand to absorb the most risk.

Source: TechCrunch

Amazon wants more people to develop speech-based adventure games for Alexa

Amazon wants more people to develop speech-based adventure games for Alexa

Amazon’s plucky little voice assistant already has a fairly broad skill set – but gaming has never really been Alexa’s strong suit. Granted, the AI is no Xbox, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some potential for a little gaming fun. A few developers have already created titles for the platform, adventure games that a bit of a throwback to the text-based titles that graced early home computers.

The Wayne Investigation is of particular note, a Batman v Superman promotion written by DC Comics creators that managed to get better reviews than the big budget blockbuster it was tied into, asking users to help solve the mystery being the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents (spoiler. Also he’s Batman. Double spoiler).

The help ease game creators into the process, Amazon is offering up a tool to make it easier to create titles for its home-ruling robot voice. The development tool, available now through Github breaks game creation down into a graphical interface, offering up a sort of decision tree to map out the turn-by-turn game play.

The company’s got a turn-by-turn breakdown of the Interactive Adventure Game tool on its developer blog.

Source: TechCrunch