Saturday, July 05, 2014

Chrome Will Now Let You Surf In Virtual Reality


Chrome Will Now Let You Surf In Virtual Reality

Today's not only a great day for barbecue lovers, it's also a red letter day for anyone who loved 1992's The Lawnmower Man and has lamented a future without virtual reality everywhere. According to Google's Brandon Jones, Chrome, at least the Windows and OS X versions, now support WebVR letting you use virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift or Google's Cardboard with it.



Could future Lumia handsets come with Canon lenses?


As smartphone imaging gets better, the market for point-and-shoot cameras has evaporated. Perhaps sensing this shift in the wind, Canon has signed a patent-licensing deal with Microsoft where both companies will have easy access to each other's technological secrets. Dour-minded individuals may say that this is just some legal mutual arse-covering which is commonplace in these litigious times. That's probably true, but wouldn't it be great if we saw Canon's imaging technology wind up in a future generation of PureView device? After all, the company does need some new expertise after its last expert defected to the other side.

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Via: Pocket-lint

Source: Photography Blog


Friday, July 04, 2014

Android Wear review: Taking smartwatches in the right direction


When I was a tiny tot, I watched Knight Rider and pretended I was Michael Knight, talking to KITT on my watch. Yet now that there are real-life watches that can do even more things, I don't find myself quite as excited as my 5-year-old self was. Smartwatches have been around for over a decade already (remember Microsoft SPOT?), but the category hasn't evolved at the same pace as smartphones. It's not because there's a shortage of digital wrist-worn timepieces. The problem is that there's no common platform for third-party apps, which means there's little potential for growth.

There also doesn't seem to be any vision. Some watches act as Android phones with SIM cards and tiny touchscreens, while others try to establish their own platform to entice developers. Still others have even tried to put fitness bands and smartwatches into one device, to limited success. Even worse, most of the watches on the market today are what you might call "fashionably challenged" -- they simply aren't attractive enough to entice the masses. Google's solution is to extend its Android platform -- which has very strong market share and developer support -- to the wearables genre with Android Wear.

Why Android Wear?

Manufacturers don't have to waste precious resources on developing a watch ecosystem from scratch. Android Wear provides a low-cost launchpad for more companies to come out with a smartwatch of their own. Take Fossil: It has little to no experience developing software, so the introduction of Wear opens up more doors for the company to produce fashionable smartwatches without pouring quite so much money into R&D. Meanwhile, other manufacturers are reportedly attacking the lower end of the market with cheap Android Wear watches.

In any case, that's precisely what Wear promises: a wide variety of options in price, form and (we hope) fashion sense. But flooding the market won't magically make smartwatches a success. So what will? They have to look good and make life easier.


Android Wear wasn't designed to replace your smartphone; it's just meant to reduce the number of times you have to pull out your phone. With Wear, you can change your music, send and view emails and texts, dictate notes and reminders, answer or reject calls, keep track of a few fitness stats, look at your calendar appointments and ask a number of different questions.

Wear isn't meant to replace your smartphone.

Wear treats your watch as a wrist-worn version of your phone's notification bar. By scrolling down through the various cards displayed on my watch, I can see my most recent emails, Facebook messages, Google+ alerts, missed calls, number of steps I've taken today and how much time it'll take me to commute home. Swiping to the left of these cards reveals actionable items (replying to emails, marking a text as read, looking at my fitness history and so on), while swiping to the right allows you to dismiss the notification entirely.

The watches also use Google Now. Cards will pop up with information about stocks, time to my next destination, a friend's birthday, upcoming hotel reservations and when I need to leave for my upcoming flight. It'll even show me my boarding pass. (This is through Google Now, but Delta and American Airlines just came out with apps that do the same thing.) The latter case is actually one of the best arguments I've heard yet for Android Wear -- it's easier to scan a boarding pass on your watch if your hands are full with luggage and you don't want to take out your phone.

Wear also has voice search and Knowledge Graph access built in. Saying, "OK Google," will prompt me to make a voice command. I can ask it to do a variety of tasks -- send messages, set alarms and timers, show how many steps I've taken, pull up my calendar agenda for any given date, navigate a route and so on. I can also ask Wear random questions: When is the next Giants game? How tall is Mark Wahlberg? When was Chris Rock born? What's the tallest building in the world? Essentially, this is all the same type of stuff you can do with Google Now on the phone; it's just now accessible hands-free on your watch. If it can't find the answer, it'll pull up the top three search results for you to look up on your phone. Not quite as handy, but I suppose it's better than nothing.

If a third-party app uses notifications, it's technically going to show up on Wear, but its functionality will be limited unless the developer puts in some extra effort. The number of potential use cases will expand over time as more developers come out with apps of their own. Indeed, that's one of the most exciting parts of the platform: It's very basic at the moment, but its usefulness will grow as developer interest increases.

Even so, there are already some clever things you can do with Android Wear. You can check your finances, share your location with a friend through Glympse, take and read notes via Evernote, respond to tweet mentions with Tweetings, browse through a recipe on Allthecooks, activate your Phillips Hue light setup and get updated on the latest World Cup scores. I'll stop there, but you get the point: These are just a few examples from the first wave of Wear-ready apps.

The number of Wear apps is steadily growing (you can find a comprehensive list here), but one of my favorites is Lyft. I told my watch to "call a cab" and it not only requested a driver for me, it also added a card that told me the driver's name and estimated time of arrival, and gave me the option to tell the driver my destination before she picked me up. After the ride was over, I got a card showing me how much it cost and asking me to rate my driver.

Fortunately, fragmentation shouldn't be as huge an issue with Wear as it's been on smartphones. Excepting some manufacturer-specific clock faces, Google won't allow the use of custom skins or user interfaces. If a company wants to build a Wear watch, it'll need to follow Google's rules. In theory, this should reduce the number of obstacles when pushing updates to the watch (which can be done in the About screen deep in the settings menu), and it'll make for a consistent user experience across the board. It's ironic, then, that Wear's reach is limited because of fragmentation -- the system is only compatible with devices running Android 4.3 or higher, which means 76 percent of current Android users won't even be able to use Wear.

User experience

So far, we've seen Wear watches that are square (think: the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live) or circular (like the Moto 360, seen above). This is really a matter of personal preference; the user experience is the same either way. Since most watches will have small screens, Google knows it doesn't have a lot of real estate to work with; thus, it's tried to make the user interface as simple as possible. That's why there's typically only one card per screen, and when you swipe to the left, you're only presented with one option per screen. Easy enough, right?

As minimal as the UI might be, it's hard to come up with an intuitive user experience on a touchscreen watch, and Wear doesn't do much to address that. There's a significant learning curve, and even though there's a tutorial the first time you use it, it'll take a while to get accustomed to the layout. The use of voice commands is a massive improvement for the smartwatch experience because it reduces the amount of times you need to touch it, but it's still impossible to get around your watch without doing a lot of swiping.

It's hard to come up with an intuitive user experience on a touchscreen watch, and Wear doesn't do much to address that.

Before anything else, you need to know this: You turn on the Wear screen by lifting up your arm. The watch interprets this act as a sure sign that you're ready to look at something. (The Wear display is always on by default, which means you can look at the time whenever you want without activating voice commands by accident.) As you'd expect, you're presented with a clock face. There are currently about a dozen faces to choose from; just long-press the face to look at all of your options.

You'll first be greeted by the Context Stream. This is your vertical-scrolling list of notification cards. You can't change the order in which these cards appear, and it seems as though many of them get put in a random order each time you scroll through the list. Cards that appeared near the top of the list would often sink farther down the next time I checked my watch, even though no new notifications had popped up.

If a notification has more information than a single card can manage, its corresponding card can be expanded. You'll have to be careful with long emails -- touch the card to expand it and you'll find yourself scrolling down for an eternity before you get to the next card. (This is one of those times in which it's just easier to whip out your phone and read it on the larger screen.) Some apps, such as Gmail and Calendar, will stack cards on top of each other; if you have six events coming up, Wear will show you the first and then feature a small button underneath that indicates you have five more. Touch this button and you'll see all six events laid out vertically. If you need to take action on one of them, you'll have to tap the individual event again before scrolling. You can't swipe to dismiss individual events, however -- just as on your phone, one swipe will dismiss all notifications for that particular app.

Saying, "OK Google," or tapping the open space at the top of the Context Stream will prompt you to give a voice command. I explained earlier this feature can do, but if you need help figuring out what to say in the heat of the moment, there's a handy set of examples in a scrollable list. (And yes, scrolling defeats the purpose of being hands-free, but your reliance on this cheat sheet will decrease as you get used to Wear.) You can even tap on each example and Wear will ask follow-up questions; for instance, if you tap the option to send a text, it'll ask you to whom you want to send it and what you want to say.

Oddly, apps and settings are hidden away at the very bottom of this list. If Google is trying to encourage developers to create apps for Wear, it sure has a weird way of expressing its gratitude. Granted, a lot of apps don't do much when you access them this way, but it's still confusing at first; if you're looking for a specific app, you're better off searching for it with voice commands (e.g., "open Evernote").

If you rely heavily on your phone for notifications, be prepared for some good and bad news. The good news is that you have access to all of those notifications on your wrist, so you don't have to take your phone out. The bad news is that while you can filter out certain apps from sending you notifications (bye-bye, Candy Crush Saga invites), you can't pick and choose which notifications you receive from within a particular app -- in other words, the watch can't decide which emails make it to your watch and which ones don't, so you have to see all of them.

When I pull down from the top of the screen, I see a shade with battery percentage and today's date; I can also mute my notifications if I continue pulling. This is handy when I don't want to be distracted or am trying to sleep, but I wish Wear offered quiet hours during which it would automatically turn off notifications when I go to bed. (That's if my battery lasts through the day and night, which wasn't always the case with the early Wear watches I've played with.)

The Samsung Gear Live comes with a button on the side that lets you turn the display off, but covering the screen with your palm will do the same thing on every Wear device.

Companion app

To pair the watch with your phone, you'll need to download the Wear companion app through the Play Store. It's essential for setting up your watch, but you'll find little use for it otherwise. The main screen shows a link to Wear-compatible apps in the Play Store and a list of eight voice actions. You can choose which app to use for each particular command, which will come in handy as more apps start showing up. So, let's say Uber adds the same ability to call a car as Lyft does, and I want to use that service instead; I'd have to select the "call a car" voice action and choose Uber from the list of possible apps, so that Wear doesn't keep defaulting to Lyft.

The companion app also has a list of settings tucked in the top-right section of the app. You can mute specific apps, as mentioned earlier; turn off the always-on display; silence notifications on your phone when the Wear is connected (why get vibrations on your wrist and in your pocket?); show calendar events; and keep the top card from showing up when your display is dimmed. Finally, you can use the app to pair a different Wear watch if necessary.

The app doesn't have an option to manage watch apps, which seems odd since there isn't a way to do this on the watch either. Perhaps it's because Wear-compatible apps automatically get installed on your watch once you've downloaded them onto your phone. This seems like an oversight. There may be certain apps that you barely use on your handset and have no interest in using on your watch; why not give users the option to get rid of the unnecessary clutter?


Essentially, Wear is a version 1.0 product, which means there's still a lot of work to be done. It's been a good experience thus far, but there are plenty of ways that Wear simply doesn't fit the bill, and you'll need to be aware of them if you're going to plunk down $200-plus for a smartwatch.

First, there's the excessive touching. If users have to go through the effort of tapping or swiping the screen on a regular basis, there's little incentive to use the watch instead of simply pulling out a phone. Most activities on Wear eventually point back to your handset anyway: Nearly every card in the Context Stream (excepting the step tracker) has an option to open on your phone, as if it's somehow faster to swipe down to the card, swipe across to that button, tap on it and then pull out your phone to access it. If you're going to use your phone, you might as well just whip it out from the start. What's more, if you give a voice command that isn't included in the supported list, or if you ask a question that can't be found in the Knowledge Graph, the watch provides you with a series of three cards, each one representing a different website that -- shocker -- you can tap and open up directly on your phone. Congratulations, you just wasted a minute by using your watch.

If you're going to use your phone, you might as well just whip it out from the start.

I'll discuss this more in the next section, but battery life is a big challenge here. There's a huge amount of computing and processing going on behind the scenes, on a colorful, capacitive touchscreen that by default doesn't turn off. Throw in voice commands, keyword detection and a tiny battery, and it makes sense: Of course the battery life is going to suffer. The problem is, users aren't going to want to plug in their watch as often as their phone. Until Google can find a way to extend the battery life by a few days, Android Wear will struggle to be anything more than a niche product.

Navigation is also an issue. Google Maps is technically compatible with Wear, but it only shows one step at a time. Given that card-stacking is an option on other apps, it'd make sense to use this style to display upcoming steps along your route so you could plan ahead. Swipe to the left to reveal a high-level map of the entire route that's void of any useful details; my brain comprehends visual maps more quickly than text, so I'd find this screen more useful if I could zoom in closer.

Additionally, voice commands for navigation will automatically default to driving directions. You can specify if you want biking or walking. Oddly, if the phone can't find a route, it doesn't bother telling the watch -- you simply get taken back to your clock face as if nothing even happened. And when I asked Wear for walking directions from my office to the Golden Gate Bridge, it presented me with a card with Google search results for three unrelated websites. ( Really?) Unfortunately, transit directions aren't supported either.

I've already mentioned the problem of excess notifications. The longer my Context Stream, the more inconvenient the watch experience becomes. Not only am I wasting time with countless swipes, but my anxiety increases when my wrist is vibrating a hundred times a day (this is actually a low estimate for me). There's no VIP list and no way to block out unimportant emails. It's possible to mute specific apps, but that's of little help when you're getting a flood of messages that don't require your immediate attention. At least when you do dismiss a notification, it disappears from both the watch and the phone.

Hardware: Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch

LG and Samsung are the first companies to produce Wear watches, and both are available in the Play Store (LG's G Watch is $229 and Samsung's Gear Live is $199). A third watch, the Moto 360, was shown off at Google I/O last week and will be released later this summer. I'll touch briefly on the G Watch and Gear Live; since Google won't allow custom firmware or user interfaces, you'll essentially get the same Wear experience on both watches.

When it comes to firmware, the only differences you'll see between the two are in the clock faces. That said, Samsung's found a loophole by adding its own stopwatch and compass, so you can choose to use either those or the stock versions. In any case, those are minor alterations, so the important points of differentiation are in the hardware, with each offering a unique personality.

The Gear Live is definitely your best looking option. At least, until the Moto 360 comes out.

Which one is better? Suffice to say, the two watches each have trade-offs you'll need to weigh, but the Gear Live is definitely the best looking (at least, until the Moto 360 comes out). Their internals are similar too:

Samsung Gear Live LG G Watch
Display 1.63-inch sAMOLED, 320x320 pixels 1.65-inch IPS LCD, 280x280
Battery 300mAh 400mAh
Processor/RAM 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400; 512MB RAM 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400, 512MB RAM
Water resistance Yes, IP67-certified Yes, IP67-certified
Dimensions 37.9 x 56.4 x 8.9mm, 59g 37.9 x 46.5 x 9.95mm, 63g
Storage 4GB internal storage 4GB internal storage

Both have the same dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB internal storage. They each offer interchangeable wrist straps -- I especially appreciate this on the Gear Live -- and both feature a square shape. They're also IP67-certified, which means they have the same water and dust resistance as the Samsung Galaxy S5. I wouldn't take either one scuba diving, but you'll be fine wearing them while washing dishes or taking a shower.

Because both watches have the same engine underneath the hood, I didn't notice any difference in performance. They both smoothly, with only the occasional frame skip. In my comparisons, apps loaded in the same amount of time, and each one processed voice commands quickly.

I've already alluded to battery issues, but let's get specific. The Gear Live's battery is a mere 300mAh, while the G Watch has a capacity of 400mAh. That sounds small, and it is small. I strapped both watches on my wrist and used them during a full workday. My to-do list included four navigation routes, at least a hundred emails, hailing a Lyft driver and countless voice commands. When I finally got home 12 hours later, the G Watch had 20 percent life remaining, while the Gear Live had 15. After leaving them on mute overnight -- a seven-hour event -- I woke up to find the G Watch at 5 percent and the Gear Live at 2 percent. All told, LG's watch lasted around 90 minutes longer than Samsung's. The G Watch almost made it a full 24 hours, while the Live came in at roughly 22.

On weekend days with lighter use, I was able to push the life of both watches another eight hours or so, at best. There are a few ways to extend your battery life further, but since they significantly reduce how useful the device is, it completely defeats the point of using a smartwatch. You can turn off the always-on display setting so you're just staring at a black screen whenever the watch sits idle. You can turn down the brightness (I tested the watch at about 60 percent), limit the number of routes you navigate, mute notification-heavy apps and so on. But if you're constantly worrying about battery life, you're basically chained to yet another device.

Samsung Gear Live

You might confuse the Gear Live for one of its Tizen-based siblings, the Gear 2. It has a chrome band around all sides of the display, but it's all for show; you won't find any cameras or buttons here. There is, however, a button on the right-hand side, which powers off the active display with a quick press and brings up the settings menu when you hold it down for a few seconds. (I'd love the option to map this button to other actions.) Just like the latest Gear watches, the Live comes with a heart rate sensor on its belly, along with some pogo pins to connect a charging cradle.

It has a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display, with a resolution of 320 x 320. Breaking out my trusty pixel-density calculator (or cheating by looking at Google's product page), this translates to 278 ppi, which is actually good for a smartwatch. Of the two watches, the Live is easily the sharpest and most color-saturated, but it's also a fingerprint magnet and hard to see in direct sunlight.

Because the back of the Gear Live has a slight curve on the top and bottom, it's more comfortable to wear than the G Watch. That is, as long as you don't count the miserable wristband that feels like you need five hands and divine intervention to snap together. It's a mere four grams lighter than LG's watch, but a full millimeter thinner.

The charging cradle is nothing new for Samsung, but it's just as annoying. For a device that you'll need to charge once a day, it's not so easy to manage. It's a tiny cradle that has to be fitted just right onto your watch, and then you have to make sure it's snapped in securely before plugging the charger in.

LG G Watch

The G Watch has many redeeming qualities, but attractiveness isn't one of them. Featuring Gorilla Glass 3, stainless steel on the sides and a polycarbonate back, it's very solidly built, but it's also a boring square with no stand-out features. In fact, though, this was very much done on purpose: According to LG's design team, the G Watch is designed to help content look like it's floating above the screen. Extra tweaks often distract from the point of the product. I get the concept, but unfortunately it also works the other way -- the lack of any design whatsoever can often be just as distracting. It's a stark contrast to the gorgeous LG G3, which successfully found the middle ground between too flashy and not flashy enough. This watch falls in the latter category, and it's going to struggle to stand out from the Moto 360 when it launches. (Admittedly, the white option is a little more aesthetically pleasing than the black one.)

The IPS LCD screen is slightly bigger than the Gear Live -- 1.65 inch versus 1.63. The difference in resolution, however, is much more noticeable. At 280 x 280, it's easier to see pixelation without squinting. On the upside, it's more readable in bright sunlight than the Gear Live, and the screen has brighter whites. Then again, the darks aren't as dark as the Gear, and the colors aren't nearly as saturated.

Like the Gear Live, the G Watch also requires a separate cradle to charge up, but LG smartly uses a magnetic base that's much easier to attach the watch to than that of its Korean rival. The magnets do a great job of holding the watch in place.

The company's pricing strategy is a little confusing. It's $30 more than the Gear Live, even though it doesn't add any features or performance benefits (aside from a meager increase in battery life). I'd be surprised if this cost doesn't come down quickly -- especially once it has even more competition from the Moto 360 -- but in the meantime, LG is facing an uphill battle by selling its premier smartwatch at a higher price.


Android Wear has me more excited about the future of smartwatches than any other platform or device. It's more solid than I expected in a first-gen product, and of the options on the market, it has the most opportunity for growth. Wear enjoys a universal user experience; it's backed by a robust operating system with tons of user and developer support; and there's buy-in from manufacturers.

Still, there are plenty of issues that need to be fixed. Few users will be content charging their watch on a daily basis or wasting time scrolling through endless cards and unwanted notifications. A smartwatch should make life simpler, more productive and more efficient, and at the present time, it's just as easy -- if not more so -- to do most things on a phone. The platform will blossom as more apps come out, but it still has a long way to go before shoppers will be willing to spend hundreds of dollars on accessories.

For now, Wear is the best OS for Android users who are in the market for a smartwatch, but since these devices aren't necessities, they'll need to be more stylish and add more convenience to your life if they're going to attract the average consumer. Unfortunately, the Gear Live and G Watch just don't have what it takes for Wear to go mainstream, although I'm holding out hope for the Moto 360.

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HummingBoard is a Raspberry Pi rival that lets you swap out its processor


You'd think the world of hobbyist mini computers would be full, considering that you've got a choice of Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone and even Intel's NUC. That hasn't deterred SolidRun, which is releasing the HummingBoard as a more powerful alternative to the Raspberry Pi. Built on the same platform, the HummingBoard promises faster silicon (1GHz ARM v7 vs. 700MHz ARM v6) while fitting into the same third-party cases as its education-centric rival. It also lets you switch out the CPU and memory module, should you need some more grunt further down the road. The base unit with 512MB RAM will set you back $45 plus $10 for a power adapter, while the top-spec model with 1GB RAM and a faster chip is priced at $100.

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Via: Liliputing

Source: SolidRun


Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Creepiness of Accidental Google Street View Camera Selfies


The Creepiness of Accidental Google Street View Camera Selfies

Ever wonder what the Google Street View camera looks like? Sure, you've probably seen the weird stick-like thing they put on top of cars. But a new Tumblr is showing off rare images of the hand-powered device that Google uses to create Street View inside of buildings like museums. It's a little bit creepy.



I Rode Shotgun in a Rally Race By Strapping a Phone To My Face


I Rode Shotgun in a Rally Race By Strapping a Phone To My Face

Google Cardboard and its ilk are proving that virtual reality isn't just the realm of the Oculus Rift; you can do wonders with not much more than a phone and a couple of lenses. I saw some proof of that this morning, when I rode shotgun in a motorsports rally by strapping a phone to my face.



Flying the uncertain skies with the latest Phantom drone


"Does it shoot?" That's the first question an enthusiastic kid asks as I test-fly the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ in a London park. When the child's father finally catches up, his first question is: "How much is one of those?" In my incredibly short career as a drone pilot, I've been reminded how the human imagination withers with age. A couple of weeks with the DJI drone would teach me quite a few things; not only about human perception of these flying devices, but also about the future of our skies.

The answer to the boy's question is no, it doesn't shoot... unless you're talking about video. The answer to dad's question is much less open to interpretation -- the Phantom 2 Vision+ costs $1,299, which includes a 1080p camera built in, plus a three-way brushless gimbal (the part that keeps the camera stable). The Vision+ is a ready-to-fly, all-in-one video-recording drone that lets amateurs like me record silky-smooth, almost cinematic aerial video. A fact that brings us to something of a fork in the road where drones are concerned.

Remote-control drones have been used by the military, academic research teams, big-budget video productions and the private sector. They're also popular with home-brew and hobby enthusiasts, but other than the odd $50 toy, they've never really crossed over to the mainstream. DJI isn't the only company that makes consumer-friendly drones, but it's the company leading the market. Its Phantom models require no assembly, and are (relatively) easy to fly. They have an impressive flying range, a decent 20 or so minutes of airtime per charge and a host of other premium features (including GPS, return to home and different flying modes). The Phantom 2 Vision+, with its built-in camera and smooth video (the first Phantoms with cameras were marred by unstable footage), could bring quadcopters, aerial photography and a whole bunch of privacy issues firmly into public consciousness.

After my maiden flight, I take the Vision+ on a trip to the seaside town of Bournemouth, UK, on a sunny Saturday. It's mid-spring and a steady flow of ice-cream-holding day-trippers crowds the promenade; small groups of people dot the beach. I'll admit, I'm nervous about flying the drone. Am I allowed to? Are there laws against this (the UK Civil Aviation Authority has regulations, peppered with terms like "substantially" and "near")? These are the questions in my mind.

The Vision+ shows you what the built-in camera sees in real time, often referred to as First Person View (FPV), through an app for your phone. The same app is where you change camera settings, angle (through 90 degrees) and swap between photo and video modes. It also locates your drone on a map (should it tank while out of sight), and displays battery status. If you have a GPS lock at takeoff, there are fail-safes that bring the drone back to you when battery levels are critically low. You don't want to rely on fail-safes, though. Having real-time info is immensely reassuring.

That's until the connection between app and drone breaks. This happens one time as I'm flying above the sea. I still have full control of the Vision+; I just can't rely on FPV for navigation. Basic flying may be simple, but it's still easy to get in a pickle. Forward on the controller relates to the direction the drone is facing; when it's facing you, pushing forward will fly it toward you. Sometimes, when trying to avoid something, it's easy to fly in the wrong direction (often it's better to shoot straight up). On this occasion, the video connection restores after about 20 seconds. Long enough that I decide to play it safe and bring the Vision+ back in to land. Besides, a small crowd has gathered behind me on the promenade; they're either curious onlookers, or the beginnings of a mob.

Later, I take the Vision+ to a quiet location by a harbor. The weather is bright and sunny, with a moderate wind. Setting up the Vision+ for flight isn't difficult, but the last and vital step is to let the drone get a GPS lock -- which takes about 30 seconds. Without it, the drone could drift in the wind and disappear entirely. With GPS lock, when you take your hands off the controller, it'll keep its location.

On one flight, I lost the GPS signal, and within seconds the drone drifted 50 feet -- fortunately close to the ground, before ditching. Another use for the GPS is restricted flying zones. With this info loaded, you can't launch your drone near an airport. Or, if you're a bit farther away, you can only fly to a certain altitude. Aviation authorities are still catching up with what to do about consumer drones, but incidents are already taking place that could lead to more restrictive legislation.

At nearly 900 feet above the harbor, I completely lose sight of the Vision+. Thanks to the app, I can see what it is seeing. But I can't see it. It feels weird. You know it's up there, and you can control it, but it's also unsettling -- like riding a bicycle with your eyes closed. Before going out of sight, the Vision+ attracts the attention of a local kite flier. He marches over, informing me he'd seen these things online, and that "they go for, what, about £200?" He seems confident with his assessment of what the Vision+ is worth. He tells me I should definitely mention how high it flies in my review. It flies to at least 876 feet. Maybe more, but this is the point I chicken out and bring it down to a manageable (and visible) level. Pro tip: This descent feels like it takes forever, especially when you're being scrutinized watched by a know-it-all kite flier.

The only other time the Vision+ goes out of visible range is on my second-ever flight. I had it high enough that there was no chance of collisions, with a clear line of sight for its return. The truth is, no matter how confident you are, even with a video feed, flying blind is dangerous. I guided the drone back using the FPV until I got a visual on it, but had that link broken (like it did on later flights) I'd have been stuck hoping the GPS/return-to-home mechanism came through.

On assignment, I lug the Vision+ halfway around the planet to Hawaii. Fortunately, the drone is incredibly light (1.2kg/2.8 pounds). I bought a backpack built for transporting the Vision+, and I'm happy I did. The case is also light, but rugged, and the drone feels safe inside. It's on this trip I realize how popular DJI's Phantom line is. I spot a number of them, most with GoPros (only the "Vision" models come with a camera built in). While the camera on the Vision+ is decent, the video can appear washed out sometimes, or fuzzy when you move the drone quickly (it's full HD, and also takes 14-megapixel photos). If you want to add your own camera, the popular choice is a GoPro. It's conveniently sized, and has plenty of accessories for attaching it to DJI drones.

It's in Hawaii that I get a sense of what might be over the horizon in the world of drone flying. Coincidentally, I'm at a GoPro event. It's here I meet, and share the skies with, a number of other pilots for the first time. Standing between two trees, looking out over Kuilima Cove, I meet Roland. I assume he's part of the GoPro party, filming for them. I introduce myself, and learn that Roland's just here on vacation, a drone enthusiast out in the wild, soaking up the coastal views with his DJI Phantom. He tells me he likes to push them "pretty hard," and that he's lost one already (he spares no more details than that). His Phantom hovers over a group of kayakers heading out from the beach. One of them looks up and sees the drone, giving a wave as they pass underneath. Roland's not using FPV; he's just a skilled pilot, and manages to float his craft in the right place from quite far away. If the DJI app has taught me one thing, it's that my depth perception is questionable at best; terrible at worst.

It's later when I am flying the Vision+ on the other side of the cape that I have a wake-up call. My drone is high, with the camera facing straight down. On my FPV, I see another DJI drone come into view and fly directly underneath mine. It's not Roland; it's yet another pilot. We're both flying above some surfers in the water. I've spotted it, but I don't know if the other pilot has spotted me. Neither of us can see each other, so we're unable to communicate at all. If I take my Vision+ any lower, we'll have a real risk of collision, and with many people below and eight spinning rotors in play, it's risky at best. I bring it in to land to be on the safe side. As fun as flying the drone is, it's a test of your nerves at times.

In the weeks I've had the DJI drone, a number of newcomers join the consumer-friendly UAV market. Kickstarter has seen two action/sport-specific 'copters get funded, like Pocket Drone before them. DJI is no doubt already cooking up its next craft, too. That's a lot drones headed for inexperienced hands. My fear is that as numbers increase, people will start flying them in populated or built-up areas. How many news stories will it take before lawmakers re-think current legislation?

When I started flying the Vision+, I expected the public to be suspicious. In reality, everyone I met was genuinely curious, or entertained by it. Even when they were aware it had a camera, they seemed OK with it. No one ever told me to move along, or that I shouldn't be flying/filming here. I fear that won't be the case for long.

Anxieties aside, I'm hooked on flying the DJI. Already I've been researching scenic locations and accessories to geek out on. At $1,299 (for the camera-enabled model), it's not cheap. But, with new competition on the way, DJI will want to maintain its head start. Given the amount of time between its original Vision and the Vision+ (less than four months), it might not be too long until the next model takes off.

With more drones in the skies, the potential for accidents can only increase. How long before there's a defining case, or a change in public perception due to increased privacy concerns? Perhaps, like the cameraphone, the gradual introduction of more flying cameras will lead us to adapt and become more comfortable with them. The only thing for sure is that with drones like the Vision+, that future isn't far around the corner, and the skies will be buzzing with people ready to film it.

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Source: DJI


You Can Get A Full PC That's The Size Of A Credit Card For Just $45


Raspberry Pi, the $35 Linux-based computer for educational projects and home tinkering, has by and large cornered the market for those who need a quick and easy single-serving computer. But it appears to have new competition from the HummingBoard, a similar computing setup with a few spec improvements and slightly higher price.

Starting at $45 for the barebones device and going as high as $117, the HummingBoard aims to fill pretty much the same niche as the Raspberry Pi, but its various models boast faster processors, more RAM, and more USB connections.

Screen Shot 2014 07 03 at 8.49.51 AM

The HummingBoard could be used as a credit card-sized personal computer or it could act as the brain for your next internet-connected project. The video below gives you an overview of the device, and you can compare the various models available on the HummingBoard site.

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There's Now an Automotive Grade Linux for Open Source Cars


There's Now an Automotive Grade Linux for Open Source Cars

There's no denying your car's dashboard is pretty dumb , which is why Microsoft, Apple and Google are all trying to smarten it up. But there's also a new open source source alternative, in the shape of Automotive Grade Linux.



Wednesday, July 02, 2014

This is the coolest demonstration of self-driving cars Iâve ever seen


This is the coolest demonstration of self-driving cars I’ve ever seen

If Volvo had to appeal to Van Damme's epic split to sell more trucks, Hyundai just released this insane self-driving demonstration to try to sell their vehicles: A group of stuntmen jump from the roof of moving cars leaving them on their own. It's impressive to see the cars driving and braking without a driver.



NVIDIA's Shield successor is a tablet


The next version of NVIDIA's funky handheld Shield console will actually be called the Shield Tablet, according to a listing from a testing body called the Global Certification Forum (GCF). There's been much speculation about the device, especially after a diagram of what looks like the controller showed up at the FCC. That's usually a sign that a product is imminent, and we were told last year that a new model could come sooner than expected by NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang himself (see the video below). As a reminder, the original Shield is a portable, Tegra-powered console, with a built in controller and 5-inch screen that can run Android games and apps. But it's main raison d'etre is to wirelessly stream games from your NVIDIA-equipped PC, making it a rather nichey device. The GCF page confirms the "Shield Tablet" name that NVIDIA posted by mistake on its own site, and adds the fact that it'll have 4G capability.

So why a tablet? The original Shield is just a tablet with a controller (permanently) attached, so separating them makes sense. That way, NVIDIA could market it as a high-end tablet, a handheld gaming device and possibly a home console that'd plug into your TV. It's also feasible that more than one Shield device is coming, though that seems less likely. Either way, a mysterious benchmark for an NVIDIA Mocha tablet gives us a clue about the specs, which are identical to the new Xiaomi Mii pad. That device has a 7.9-inch, 2,048 x 1,536 screen, with 2GB of RAM and NVIDIA's new Tegra K1 quad-core CPU. If the Shield Tablet is similarly equipped, it'd be much more capable of running serious games than the original, as shown in the video below (which features NVIDIA's reference Tegra K1 tablet, by the way). 4G connectivity would also make it much more usable on the road. If all this pans out, it'd make sense -- allowing the Shield to be a standalone tablet might be the final carrot to entice gamers into throwing their cash at it.

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LEAKED: This Might Be Google's Next Major Tablet Release (GOOG)



Google hasn't updated its Nexus line of tablets since it introduced the latest Nexus 7 about one year ago.

It's about time for an upgrade, but don't expect another standard Nexus successor this year.

A new leak suggests that HTC is working on a new tablet codenamed Volantis.

This tablet is expected to be released under Google's branding, which means it's either a new Nexus tablet or one of the first devices to launch under the company's rumored Android Silver program.

Even if it is a new Nexus device, it probably won't look much like Google's current Nexus tablets based on reports we've seen. 

The photo shown in this story is said to be a leaked press image of the tablet obtained by Android news blog Android Police.

However, Twitter account @evleaks, which has a strong track record for leaking products before their unveiling, claims that this image is fake. We won't know for sure until Google officially unveils its next tablet. 

Evleaks also claims to have revealed the tablet's specifications, which suggest that Volantis could be a strong competitor to other Android tablets out there. It's expected to come with a sharp 8.9-inch 2560 x 1600 resolution display, which would pack 281 pixels per inch. Android Police, however, reports that the display resolution will be 2048 x 1440. 

The higher the pixel density, the sharper the image. So, this would make the Volantis' screen slightly less sharp than those of the iPad Mini (326 ppi) and 8-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab S (360 ppi) if @evleaks' information is true.

The tablet is also expected to run on a 64-bit processor, which could enable performance that's f! aster, m ore efficient, and better at multitasking than 32-bit processors. This seems plausible since Google announced at its most recent developer's conference that devices running on Android L will support 64-bit processing by the end of the year. 

If you're a fan of the HTC One's design, chances are you'll take a liking to Volantis. Rumors from both @evleaks and Android Police suggest that the HTC tablet will feature the same zero-gap aluminum construction found in the HTC One. It'll have the company's signature BoomSound speakers too, which deliver audio that's superior to other phones on the market.

There are a few inconsistencies between @evleaks' newest report and previous rumors. While @evleaks reports that this is probably one of Google's first Android Silver devices, Android Police's report calls it the Nexus 9. Regardless of what it's called at launch, it seems likely that HTC's tablet will be sold under Google's brand.

SEE ALSO: Which Android Phone Should You Buy?

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Optical illusion painting changes its perspective as you move around it


Optical illusion painting changes its perspective as you move around it

When I started to watch this video I thought I wasn't looking at a painting but a high definition flat display that tracked your eyes, modifying a 3D model to give you the illusion of real depth. And then the magics finally get revealed. It's so simple and so damn cool.



Stuntmen in LED Suits Made This Impossible Parkour Run a Reality


Stuntmen in LED Suits Made This Impossible Parkour Run a Reality

The advent of CGI has allowed us to realize things on-screen we never thought would be possible—from living, breathing dinosaurs , to giant transforming robots . But it's become so over-used that over-the-top practical effects now draw the biggest wows from audiences, like Lexus' use of countless LED-suit clad stuntmen to create one unbelievable parkour run across Kuala Lumpur.



drag2share: Googleâs killer Android L feature: Up to 36% more battery life thanks to Project Volta


When the next version of Android arrives, don't be surprised if your phone can run longer on a single charge. Project Volta, part of Android L, is the reason. Google devoted an entire session at Google I/O to Project Volta, which optimizes power consumption on an Android device and also provides some developer tools to help make more battery-efficient apps.

While Android L is only available in a developer preview, we can already see the potential of Project Volta thanks to Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo. He used the same standard and repeatable battery test Ars typically uses to measure Android device battery life. The findings with Android L? Amadeo's Nexus 5 phone lasted two hours longer with Android L as compared to Android KitKat, a gain of 36 percent.

android l preview project volta

So what's the secret sauce in Project Volta that makes Android L more power-efficient? It's a number of different things that quickly add up to more battery life. In the Project Volta session at Google I/O, Google said it scrutinized how different components use power, and for how long, in various but typical circumstances.

Passing data through the cellular radio obviously causes a spike in power usage, for example, but the radio doesn't drop back to a sleep state for several seconds. Turning on the phone's display just to check for new notifications can quickly gobble up battery power as well. After examining these and other use-cases, Google determined that for every one second of "active" use on a typical phone, standby time is reduced by a full two minutes. If you have 50 apps that are active for a second, then — say for synching, polling or showing notifications — that's 100 minutes of standby time gone.

Enter Project Volta, which groups and schedules certain tasks in a more efficient manner. It also includes new APIs for developers to take a similar approach and reduce the overall number of power-intensive activities needed for their apps to work. There's a new network activity awareness API, for example, so that apps can determine if the cellular radio is active, in which case an app can "piggyback" on the connection instead of later waking up a sleeping radio.

That's just one of many Project Volta enhancements; you can hear about all of them in this recording of the Project Volta session from Google I/O 2014.


Apple May Be Killing iPhoto, But It Sounds Like The New Photo App Will Be A Lot More Powerful


photos app mac

Last week, Apple announced it would halt development on two of the company’s signature photography applications, Aperture and iPhoto, instead shifting its focus to the new Photos app introduced at WWDC last month.

For those worried the Photos app might not be robust enough to handle the needs of professional users, Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech learned from an Apple representative that the new Photos app will include “professional-grade features such as image search, editing, effects, and most notably, third-party extensibility.”

Here’s the full statement from Apple:

With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture. When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS X.

You read that correctly: Though Photos may eventually introduce some great features for professional and casual photographers alike, Photos for the Mac won’t be available when OS X Yosemite ships this fall. It will instead release at some point in 2015.

However, the inclusion of third-party extensibility in the new Photos app will be a nice touch. 

For those uninitiated, Apple introduced “extensibility,” or app extensions, at its WWDC keynote last month, which is Apple’s way of letting applications talk to each other and even project software elements into other ! apps whi le still maintaining a highly secure environment. 

In the case of Photos, this means app developers will soon be able to build sharing options within the Photos app to link to their own applications. For example, this could let users apply photo-filters from third party apps that aren’t available in the new Photos app.

The new Photos app will offer plenty of tools to keep your photos looking beautiful and organized, and it’s all tied together with a search engine that lets you explore your photos based on the date or time the photo was taken, its location, or by albums or favorites. You can also drag and drop your photos to customize the order in which they’re displayed, and all of your changes will immediately auto-sync across all your devices.

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