If you want to build a robot that can fall hundreds of feet and be no worse the wear, legs are pretty much out of the question. The obvious answer, then, is a complex web of cable-actuated rods. Obvious to anyway, whose robots look delicate but are in fact among the most durable out there. The startup has been operating more or less in stealth mode, emerging publicly today onstage at our Robotics + AI Sessions event in Berkeley, Calif. It began, co-founder and CEO Alice Agogino told me, as a project connected to NASA Ames a few years back. “The original idea was to have a robot that could be dropped from a spacecraft and survive the fall,” said Agogino. “But I could tell this tech had earthly applications.” Her reason for thinking so was learning that first responders were losing their lives due to poor situational awareness in areas they were being deployed. It’s hard to tell without actually being right there that a toxic gas is lying close to the ground, or that there is a downed electrical line hidden under a fallen tree, and so on. Robots are well-suited to this type of reconnaissance, but it’s a bit of a Catch-22: You have to get close to deploy a robot, but you need the robot there to get close enough in the first place. Unless, of course, you can somehow deploy the robot from the air. This is already done, but it’s rather clumsy: picture a wheeled bot floating down under a parachute, missing its mark by a hundred feet due to high winds or getting tangled in its own cords. “We interviewed a number of first responders,” said Agogino. “They told us they want us to deploy ground sensors before they get there, to know what they’re getting into; then when they get there they want something to walk in front of them.” Squishy’s solution can’t quite be dropped from orbit, as the original plan was for exploring Saturn’s moon Titan, but they can fall from 600 feet, and likely much more than that, and function perfectly well afterwards. It’s all because of the unique “tensegrity structure,” which looks like a game of pick-up-sticks crossed with cat’s cradle. (Only use the freshest references for you, reader.) If it looks familiar, you’re probably thinking of the structures famously studied by Buckminster Fuller, and they’re related but quite different. This one had to be engineered not just to withstand great force from dropping, but to shift in such a way that it can walk or crawl along the ground and even climb low obstacles. That’s a nontrivial shift away from the buckyball and other geodesic types. “We looked at lots of different tensegrity structures — there are an infinite number,” Agogino said. “It has six compressive elements, which are the bars, and 24 other elements, which are the cables or wires. But they could be shot out of a cannon and still protect the payload. And they’re so compliant, you could throw them at children, basically.” (That’s not the mission, obviously. But there are in fact children’s toys with tensegrity-type designs.) Inside the bars are wires that can be pulled or slackened to cause to move the various points of contact with the ground, changing the center of gravity and causing the robot to roll or spin in the desired direction. A big part of the engineering work was making the tiny motors to control the cables, and then essentially inventing a method of locomotion for this strange shape. “On the one hand it’s a relatively simple structure, but it’s complicated to control,” said Agogino. “To get from A to B there are any number of solutions, so you can just play around — we even had kids do it. But to do it quickly and accurately, we used machine learning and AI techniques to come up with an optimum technique. First we just created lots of motions and observed them. And from those we found patterns, different gaits. For instance if it has to squeeze between rocks, it has to change its shape to be able to do that.” The mobile version would be semi-autonomous, meaning it would be controlled more or less directly but figure out on its own the best way to accomplish “go forward” or “go around this wall.” The payload can be customized to have various sensors and cameras, depending on the needs of the client — one being deployed at a chemical spill needs a different loadout than one dropping into a radioactive area, for instance. To be clear, these things aren’t going to win in an all-out race against a Spot or a wheeled robot on unbroken pavement. But for one thing, those are built specifically for certain environments and there’s room for more all-purpose, adaptable types. And for another, neither one of those can be dropped from a helicopter and survive. In fact, almost no robots at all can. “No one can do what we do,” Agogino preened. At a recent industry demo day where robot makers showed off air-drop models, “we were the only vendor that was able to do a successful drop.” And although the tests only went up to a few hundred feet, there’s no reason that Squishy’s bots shouldn’t be able to be dropped from 1,000, or for that matter 50,000 feet up. They hit terminal velocity after a relatively short distance, meaning they’re hitting the ground as hard as they ever will, and working just fine afterwards. That has plenty of parties interested in what Squishy is selling. The company is still extremely small and has very little funding: mainly a $500,000 grant from NASA and $225,000 from the . But they’re also working from UC Berkeley’s Skydeck accelerator, which has already put them in touch with a variety of resources and entrepreneurs, and the upcoming May 14 demo day will put their unique robotics in front of hundreds of VCs eager to back the latest academic spin-offs. You can keep up with the latest from the company , or of course this one.
A new report from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo details the cameras in the next-generation iPhones. The report confirms previous rumors — the successors of the iPhone XS and XS Max will have three camera sensors on the back of the device. In addition to the main camera and the 2x camera, Apple could add an ultra-wide 12-megapixel lens. Many Android phones already feature an ultra-wide lens, so it makes sense that Apple is giving you more flexibility by adding a third camera. Kuo thinks Apple will use a special coating on the camera bump to hide the lenses. It’s true that pointing three cameras at someone is starting to look suspicious. and shared the following render (without any special coating) a few months ago: The iPhone XR update will feature two cameras instead of one. I bet Apple will add a 2x camera. On the front of the device, Apple could be planning a big upgrade for the selfie camera. The company could swap the existing camera sensor with 4 layers of glass with a camera sensor that has 5 layers of glass. Apple could also be giving the camera a resolution bump, jumping from 7 megapixels to 12 megapixels. All three models should get the new selfie camera.
Maybe you love the sound of your alarm clock blaring in the morning, heralding a new day full of joy and adventure. More likely, though, you don’t. If you prefer a more gentle wake-up (and have invested in some smart home technology), here’s some good news: Home lets you use your lights to wake you up by slowly changing the light in your room. first this integration at CES earlier this year, with a planned rollout in March. Looks like that took a little while longer, as Google and Philips gently brought this feature to life. Just like you can use your Home to turn on “Gentle Wake,” which starts changing your lights 30 minutes before your wake-up time to mimic a sunrise, you also can go the opposite way and have the lights mimic sunset as you get ready to go to bed. You can either trigger these light changes through an alarm or with a command that starts them immediately. While the price of white Hue bulbs has come down in recent years, colored hue lights remain rather pricey, with single bulbs going for around $40. If that doesn’t hold you back, though, the Gentle Sleep and Wake features are now available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Singapore and India in English only.
I’m excited to announce that is really shaping up! The awards will be held on 27 June 2019, in London, UK on the front lawn of the in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun, garden party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene. TechCrunch is once more the exclusive media sponsor of the awards and conference, alongside new ‘tech, culture & society’ event creator . You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor which you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months. *** The deadline for nominations is 1 May 2019. *** For the 2019 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. There are now 20 categories including new additions to cover AgTech / FoodTech, SpaceTech, GovTech and Mobility Tech. Attendees, nominees and winners will get discounts to , later this year. The Europas “Diversity Pass” We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why, for the upcoming invitation-only “Pathfounder” event held on the afternoon before The Europas Awards, we’ve reserved a tranche of free tickets to ensure that we include more women and people of colour who are “pre-seed” or “seed stage” tech startup founders to join us. If you are awomen founder or person of colour founder, for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event. The Pathfounder event will feature premium content and invitees, designed be a ‘fast download’ into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London. The Europas Awards The Europas Awards results are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs. The complete list of categories is here: AgTech / FoodTech CleanTech Cyber EdTech FashTech FinTech Public, Civic and GovTech HealthTech MadTech (AdTech / MarTech) Mobility Tech PropTech RetailTech Saas/Enterprise or B2B SpaceTech Tech for Good Hottest Blockchain Project Hottest Blockchain Investor Hottest VC Fund Hottest Seed Fund Grand PrixTimeline of The Europas Awards deadlines: * 6 March 2019 – Submissions open* 1 May 2019 – Submissions close* 10 May 2019 – Public voting begins* 18 June 2019 – Public voting ends* 27 June 2019 – Awards Bash Amazing networking We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. Instead of a sit-down gala dinner, we’ve taken on your feedback for more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden lawn party where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily with free-flowing drinks and a wide-selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last approximately 75 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact email@example.com Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs. The Europas Awards have been going for the last ten years and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes, Tech.eu, The Memo, Smart Company, Cnet, many others and of course, TechCrunch. • No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers • Key Founders and investors attending • Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters Meet the first set of our 20 judges: Brent HobermanExecutive Chairman and Co-FounderFounders Factory Videesha BöckleFounding Partnersignals Venture Capital Bindi KariaInnovation Expert + Advisor, InvestorBindi Ventures Christian HernandezChristian Hernandez GallardoCo-Founder and Venture Partner at White Star Capital
Discs! What are they good for? Well, they’re nice if you don’t want to be tied to an online-only ecosystem. But if you don’t mind that, latest Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” might be for you. With no slots to speak of, the console is limited to downloading games to its drive — which is how we’ve been doing it on PC for quite some time. Announced during today’s “Inside Xbox” video presentation, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition — honestly, why not just give it a different letter? — is identical to the existing One S except for, of course, not having a disc slot in the front. The Xbox One X (left) and S (center) are missing this valuable feature exclusive to the All-Digital Edition (right) The impact of the news was lessened somewhat by Sony’s of its next-generation console, revealing little — but enough to get gamers talking on a day Microsoft would have preferred was about its game ecosystem. But to return to the disc-free Xbox. “We’re not looking to push customers toward digital,” explained Microsoft’s Jeff Gattis in a press release. “It’s about meeting the needs of customers that are digital natives that prefer digital-based media. Given this is the first product of its kind, it will teach us things we don’t already know about customer preferences around digital and will allow us to refine those experiences in the future. We see this as a step forward in extending our offerings beyond the core console gamer.” The CPU and GPU are the same, RAM is the same, everything is the same. Even, unfortunately, the hard drive: a single lonely terabyte (imagine saying that a few years ago) that could fill up fast if every game has to be downloaded in full rather than loaded from disc. It’s also the exact same shape and size as the S, which seems like a missed opportunity — they couldn’t make it a little smaller or thinner after taking out the whole Blu-ray assembly? Well, at least the original is a nice-looking little box to begin with. (“Changes that affect the form of a console can be complex and costly,” said Gattis.) At $249 it’s $50 cheaper than the disc-using edition, and comes with copies of Sea of Thieves, Minecraft and Forza Horizon 3. That’s a pretty decent value, I’d say. If you’re looking to break into the Xbox ecosystem and don’t want to clutter your place with a bunch of discs and cases, this is a nice option. Sea of Thieves had kind of a weak start but has grown quite a bit, FH3 is supposed to be solid and Minecraft is of course Minecraft. You may also want to spring for the new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service, which combines Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass — meaning you get the usual online benefits as well as access to the growing Game Pass library. There’s enough there now that, with the games you get in the box, you shouldn’t have to buy much of anything until whatever Microsoft announces at E3 comes out. (There’s even a special offer for three months of Game Pass for a buck to get you started.) You can pre-order the All-Digital Edition (which really should have been called the Xbox One D) now, and it should ship and be available at retailers starting May 7.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can . 1. After eight years of teasing a folding device, Samsung finally pulled the trigger with an announcement at its developer’s conference late last year. But the device itself remained mysterious. Earlier this week, Brian Heater finally held the Galaxy Fold in his hands, and he was pretty impressed. 2. Some viewers following live coverage of the Notre-Dame Cathedral broadcast on YouTube were met with a strangely out-of-place info box offering facts about the September 11 attacks. Ironically, the feature is supposed to fact check topics that generate misinformation on the platform. 3. Disney now has a 67 percent ownership stake in Hulu — which it gained, in part, through its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Comcast has a 33 percent stake. 4. The “I” in question is our security reporter Zack Whittaker, who filed a Freedom of Information request with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain all of the files the government had collected on him in order to process his green card application. Seven months later, disappointment. 5. Video app TikTok has become a global success, but it stumbled hard in one of the world’s biggest mobile markets, India, over illicit content. 6. Canalys forecasts the installed base will grow by 82.4 percent, from 114 million units in 2018 to 207.9 million in 2019. 7. The company announced that it will integrate Salesforce.org — which had been a reseller of Salesforce software and services to the nonprofit sector — into Salesforce itself as part of a new nonprofit and education vertical.
According to a , Apple is working on a feature that would let you pair your iPad with your Mac to turn your iPad into a secondary Mac display. That feature codenamed Sidecar could ship with macOS 10.15 this fall. If you’ve been using or , you’re already quite familiar with this setup. Those third-party hardware and software solutions let you turn your iPad into an external display. You can then extend your Mac display, move windows to your iPad and use your iPad like an external display. And it sounds like wants to turn those setups into a native feature. It could boost iPad sales for MacBook users, and MacBook sales for iPad users. Apple wants to simplify that feature as much as possible. According to 9to5mac, you would access it from the standard green “maximize” button in the corner of every window. You could hover over that button and send the window to an iPad. By default, apps will be maximized on the iPad and appear as full screen windows. Maybe you’ll be able to send multiple windows and split your display between multiple macOS apps, but that’s still unclear. Graphic designers are going to love that feature as you’ll be able to use the Apple Pencil. For instance, you could imagine sending the Photoshop window to your iPad and using your iPad as a Wacom tablet. Sidecar will also be compatible with standard external displays. It should make window management easier as you’ll be able to send windows to another display in just a click. Finally, 9to5mac says that Apple is also working on Windows-like resizing shortcuts — you could drag a window to the side of the screen to resize it to half of the screen for instance.
This Thursday, we’ll be hosting our third annual at . The day is packed start-to-finish with intimate discussions on the state of robotics and deep learning with key founders, investors, researchers and technologists. The event will dig into recent developments in robotics and AI, which startups and companies are driving the market’s growth and how the evolution of these technologies may ultimately play out. In preparation for our event, TechCrunch’s spent time over the last several months visiting some of the top robotics companies in the country. Brian will be on the ground at the event, alongside , who will also be on the scene. Friday at 11:00 am PT, Brian and Lucas will be sharing with members (on a conference call) what they saw and what excited them most. Tune in to find out about what you might have missed and to ask Brian and Lucas anything else robotics, AI or hardware. And want to attend the event in Berkeley this week? . To listen to this and all future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch.
According to a , the next major version of iOS for the iPhone and iPad will feature many new features, such as universal dark mode, new gestures, visual changes for the volume popup and more. Dark mode should work more or less like dark mode on macOS Mojave. You’ll be able to turn on a system-wide option in Settings. Apps that support it will automatically switch to dark mode the next time you launch them. Let’s hope that third-party developers will support that feature. Otherwise, it would be a bit useless if Facebook, Instagram, Gmail or Amazon still feature blindingly white backgrounds. The other big change is that you’ll be able to open multiple windows of the same app on the iPad. You can already open two Safari tabs side by side, but it sounds like plans to expand that feature beyond Safari with a card metaphor. Each window will be represented as a card that you can move, stack or dismiss. Other iOS 13 features sound like minor improvements that should make iOS less frustrating. And it starts with new gestures. Instead of shaking your device to undo an action, users will be able to swipe with three fingers on the virtual keyboard to undo and redo a text insertion. Similarly, Apple could be working on a new way to select multiple items in a table view or grid view. You could just drag a rectangle around multiple items to select them. Once again, Apple is reusing a classic macOS feature on iOS. Some apps will receive updates, such as Mail and Reminders. The default email client will sort your emails in multiple categories (marketing, travel, etc.) just like in Gmail. Finally, that annoying volume popup could be on the way out. Apple could replace that popup with a more subtle volume indicator. Overall, the most exciting change is probably the ability to launch multiple windows of the same app. It’ll be interesting to see how Apple plans to implement that feature and what you’ll be able to do with that. Moving away from the traditional “one app = one document” metaphor could open up a lot of different workflows.
Researchers at have built a web app that lets you (and them) spy on your smart home devices to see what they’re up to. The open source tool, called IoT Inspector, is available for download . (Currently it’s Mac OS only, with a wait list for Windows or Linux.) In a about the effort the researchers write that their aim is to offer a simple tool for consumers to analyze the network traffic of their Internet connected gizmos. The basic idea is to help people see whether devices such as smart speakers or wi-fi enabled robot vacuum cleaners are sharing their data with third parties. (Or indeed how much snitching their gadgets are doing.) Testing the IoT Inspector tool in their lab the researchers say they found a Chromecast device constantly contacting Google’s servers even when not in active use. A Geeni smart bulb was also found to be constantly communicating with the cloud — sending/receiving traffic via a URL (tuyaus.com) that’s operated by a China-based company with a platform which controls IoT devices. There are other ways to track devices like this — such as setting up a wireless hotspot to sniff IoT traffic using a packet analyzer like WireShark. But the level of technical expertise required makes them difficult for plenty of consumers. Whereas the researchers say their web app doesn’t require any special hardware or complicated set-up so it sounds easier than trying to go packet sniffing your devices yourself. (, which got an early look at the tool, describes it as “incredibly easy to install and use”.) One wrinkle: The web app doesn’t work with Safari; requiring either Firefox or Google Chrome (or a Chromium-based browser) to work. The main caveat is that the team at Princeton do want to use the gathered data to feed IoT research — so users of the tool will be contributing to efforts to study smart home devices. The title of their research project is Identifying Privacy, Security, and Performance Risks of Consumer IoT Devices. The listed principle investigators are professor Nick Feamster and PhD student Danny Yuxing Huang at the university’s Computer Science department. The Princeton team says it intends to study privacy and security risks and network performance risks of IoT devices. But they also note they may share the full dataset with other non-Princeton researchers after a standard research ethics approval process. So users of IoT Inspector will be participating in at least one research project. (Though the tool also lets you delete any collected data — per device or per account.) “With IoT Inspector, we are the first in the research community to produce an open-source, anonymized dataset of actual IoT network traffic, where the identity of each device is labelled,” the researchers write. “We hope to invite any academic researchers to collaborate with us — e.g., to analyze the data or to improve the data collection — and advance our knowledge on IoT security, privacy, and other related fields (e.g., network performance).” They have produced an extensive which anyone thinking about running the tool should definitely read before getting involved with a piece of software that’s explicitly designed to spy on your network traffic. (tl;dr, they’re using ARP-spoofing to intercept traffic data — a technique they warn may slow your network, in addition to the risk of their software being buggy.) The dataset that’s being harvesting by the traffic analyzer tool is anonymized and the researchers specify they’re not gathering any public-facing IP addresses or locations. But there are still some privacy risks — such as if you have smart home devices you’ve named using your real name. So, again, do read the FAQ carefully if you want to participate. For each IoT device on a network the tool collects multiple data-points and sends them back to servers at Princeton University — including DNS requests and responses; destination IP addresses and ports; hashed MAC addresses; aggregated traffic statistics; TLS client handshakes; and device manufacturers. The tool has been designed not to track computers, tablets and smartphones by default, given the study focus on smart home gizmos. Users can also manually exclude individual smart devices from being tracked if they’re able to power them down during set up or by specifying their MAC address. Up to 50 smart devices can be tracked on the network where IoT Inspector is running. Anyone with more than 50 devices is asked to contact the researchers to ask for an increase to that limit. The project team has produced a video showing how to install the app on Mac:
Drones are great. But they are also flying machines that can do lots of stupid and dangerous things. Like, for instance, fly over a major league baseball game packed with spectators. It happened at Fenway Park last night, and the FAA is not happy. The illegal flight took place last night during a Red Sox-Blue Jays game at Fenway; the drone, a conspicuously white DJI Phantom, reportedly first showed up around 9:30 PM, coming and going over the next hour. One of the many fans who of the drone, Chris O’Brien, that “it would kind of drop fast then go back up then drop and spin. It was getting really low and close to the players. At one point it was getting really low and I was wondering are they going to pause the game and whatever, but they never did. Places where flying is regularly prohibited, like airports and major landmarks like stadiums, often have no-fly rules baked into the GPS systems of drones — and that’s the case with DJI. In a statement, however, the company said that “whoever flew this drone over the stadium apparently overrode our geofencing system and deliberately violated the FAA temporary flight restriction in place over the game.” The FAA said that it (and Boston PD) is investigating both to local news and in a tweet explaining why it is illegal. FAA Statement: The FAA is investigating a report that a flew over during the baseball game last night. Flying drones in/around stadiums is prohibited starting 1hr before & ending 1hr after the scheduled game & prohibited within a radius of 3 nm of the stadium. — The FAA (@FAANews) That’s three nautical miles, which is quite a distance, covering much of central Boston. You don’t really take chances when there are tens of thousands of people all gathered in one spot on a regular basis like that. Drones open up some pretty ugly security scenarios. Of course, this wasn’t a mile and a half from Fenway, which might have earned a slap on the wrist, but directly over the park, which as the FAA notes above could lead to hundreds of thousands in fines and actual prison time. It’s not hard to imagine why: If that drone had lost power or caught a gust (or been hit by a fly ball, at that altitude), it could have hurt or killed someone in the crowd. It’s especially concerning when the FAA is working on establishing . You should leave a comment there if you feel strongly about this, by the way. Here’s hoping they catch the idiot who did this. It just goes to show that you can’t trust people to follow the rules, even when they’re coded into a craft’s OS. It’s things like this that make mandatory registration of drones sound like a pretty good idea. (Red Sox won, by the way. But the season’s off to a rough start.) The Inning: Bottom 9The Score: TiedThe Bases: Loaded The Result: — Boston Red Sox (@RedSox)
If you’re lucky enough to get to travel abroad, you know it’s getting easier and easier to use our phones and other gadgets to translate for us. So why not do so in a way that makes sense to you? This little gadget seeking funds on looks right up my alley, offering quick transcription and recording — plus music playback, like an iPod Shuffle with superpowers. is really not that complex of a device — a couple of microphones and a wireless board in tasteful packaging — but that combination allows for a lot of useful stuff to happen both offline and with its companion app. You activate the device, and it starts recording and both translating and transcribing the audio via a cloud service as it goes (or later, if you choose). That right there is already super useful for a reporter like me — although you can always put your phone on the table during an interview, this is more discreet, and of course a short-turnaround translation is useful, as well. Recordings are kept on the phone (no on-board memory, alas) and there’s an option for a cloud service, but that probably won’t be necessary, considering the compact size of these audio files. If you’re paranoid about security, this probably isn’t your jam, but for everyday stuff it should be just fine. If you want to translate a conversation with someone whose language you don’t speak, you pick two of the 12 built-in languages in the app and then either pass the gadget back and forth or let it sit between you while you talk. The transcript will show on the phone and the ONE Mini can bleat out the translation in its little robotic voice. Right now translation online only works, but I asked and offline is in the plans for certain language pairs that have reliable two-way edge models, probably Mandarin-English and Korean-Japanese. It has a headphone jack, too, which lets it act as a wireless playback device for the recordings or for your music, or to take calls using the nice onboard mics. It’s lightweight and has a little clip, so it’s probably better than connecting directly to your phone in many cases. There’s also a 24/7 interpreter line that charges two bucks a minute that I probably wouldn’t use. I think I would feel weird about it. But in an emergency it could be pretty helpful to have a panic button that sends you directly to a person who speaks both the languages you’ve selected. I have to say, normally I wouldn’t highlight a random crowdfunded gadget, but I happen to have met the creator of this one, Wells Tu, at one of our events, and trust him and his team to actually deliver. The previous product he worked on was a pair of that worked surprisingly well, so this isn’t their first time shipping a product in this category — that makes a lot of difference for a hardware startup. You can see it in action here: He pointed out in an email to me that obviously wireless headphones are hot right now, but the translation functions aren’t good and battery life is short. This adds a lot of utility in a small package. Right now you can score a , which seems reasonable to me. They’ve already passed their goal and are planning on shipping in June, so it shouldn’t be a long wait.
Juul Labs is today launching a pilot for its new Track & Trace program, which is meant to use data to identify exactly how Juul devices wind up in the hands of minors. Juul vaporizers all have a serial number down at the bottom, by the Juul logo. However, it wasn’t until recently that Juul had the capability to track those serial numbers through every step of the process, from manufacture to distribution to retail to sale. With Track & Trace, Juul is calling upon parents, teachers and law enforcement officials to come to the when they confiscate a device from a minor and input the serial number. Each time a device is input in the Track & Trace system, Juul will open an investigation to understand how that minor wound up with that device. In some cases, it may be an issue with a certain retail store knowingly selling to minors. In others, it may be a case of social sourcing, where someone over 21 years of age buys several devices and pods to then sell to minors. Juul will then take next steps in investigating, such as talking to a store manager about the issue. It may also enhance its secret shopper program around a certain store or distributor where it sees there may be a spike in sale/distribution to youth to identify the source of the problem. To be clear, Track & Trace only tracks and traces the devices themselves, and does not use personal data about customers. It’s also worth noting that Juul Labs has increased Juul isn’t yet widely publicizing Track & Trace (thus, the “Pilot” status), but it is focusing on Houston as a testing ground with banner ads targeted at older individuals (parents, teachers, etc.) pointing them to the portal. Of note: the ad campaign is geofenced to never be shown in or around a school, hopefully keeping the program a secret from young people illegally using Juul. The company wants to learn more about how people use the portal and test the program in action before widening the campaign around Track & Trace. That said, the Report portal is not limited to Houston residents — anyone who confiscates a Juul can report it through the portal and trigger an investigation. “It’s important to note that the pilot is an opportunity for us to learn how the technology is working and optimize the technology,” said Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould. “It’s not just at the retailer level. It’s a whole process through the supply chain to track that device and find out if everyone who is supposed to be scanning it is scanning it, and the software that we’ve created to track that serial number through the supply chain to the retail store is working. The only way we’re going to know that is when someone puts in the serial number and we see if we have all the data we need to track it.” According to Juul, every device in production will be trackable in the next few weeks. In other words, Juul vapes that are years old are likely not fully traceable in the program, but those purchased more recently should work with the system. Juul has been under scrutiny from the FDA and a due to the device’s rise in popularity among young people. Outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has called it “an epidemic” and . Juul has also made its own effort, , enhancing their own purchasing system online to ensure online buyers are 21+ and not buying in bulk, posing as Juul products, and exiting its Facebook and Instagram accounts. But Juul Labs also committed to build technology-based solutions to prevent youth use of the product. Cofounder and CPO that the company is working on Bluetooth products that would essentially make the Juul device as smart as an iPhone or Android device, which could certainly help lock out folks under 21. However, the Track & Trace program is the first real technological step taken by the e-cig company. And it’s been an expensive one. The company has spent more than $30 million to update its packaging, adjust printing standards, changing manufacturing equipment, and integrate the data and logistics software systems. For now, Track & Trace is only applicable to Juul vaporizers, but it wouldn’t be shocking to learn that the company was working on a similar program for its Juul Pods.
Israel’s SpaceIL almost made history today as its Beresheet spacecraft came within an ace of landing on the surface of the Moon, but suffered a last-minute failure during descent. Israel missed out on the chance to be the fourth country to make a controlled lunar landing, but getting 99 percent of the way there is still an extraordinary achievement for private spaceflight. Beresheet (“Genesis”) launched in February as secondary payload aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, and after a month and a half spiraling outward, . Today’s final maneuver was an engine burn meant to bring down its relative velocity to the Moon, then brake to a soft landing in the Mare Serenitatis, or Sea of Serenity. Everything was working fine up until the final moments, as is often the case in space. The craft, having made it perfectly to its intended point of descent, determined that all systems were ready and the landing process would go ahead as planned. They lost telemetry for a bit, and had to reset the craft to get the main engine back online… and then communication dropped while only a handful of kilometers from the surface. The “selfie” image above was taken from 22 km above the surface, just a few minutes that. The spacecraft was announced as lost shortly afterwards. Clearly disappointed but also exhilarated, the team quickly recovered its composure, saying “the achievement of getting to where we got is tremendous and we can be proud,” and of course, “if at first you don’t succeed… try, try again.” The project began as an attempt to claim the Google Lunar Xprize, announced more than a decade ago, but which proved too difficult for teams to attempt in the time frame specified. Although the challenge and its prize money lapsed, Israel’s SpaceIL team continued its work, bolstered by the support of Israel Aerospace Industries, the state-owned aviation concern there. It’s worth noting that although Beresheet did enjoy considerable government support in this way, it’s a far cry from any other large-scale government-run mission, and can safely be considered “private” for all intents and purposes. The ~50-person team and $200 million budget are laughably small compared to practically any serious mission, let alone a lunar landing. I spoke with Xprize’s founder and CEO, Peter Diamandis and Anousheh Ansari, respectively, just before the landing attempt. Both were extremely excited and made it clear that the mission was already considered a huge success. “What I’m seeing here is an incredible ‘Who’s Who’ from science, education and government who have gathered to watch this miracle take place,” Diamandis said. “We launched this competition now 11 years ago to inspire and educate engineers, and despite the fact that it ran out of time it has achieved 100 percent of its goal. Even if it doesn’t make it onto the ground fully intact it has ignited a level of electricity and excitement that reminds me of the Ansari Xprize 15 years ago.” He’s not the only one. Ansari, who funded the famous spaceflight Xprize that bore her name, and who has herself visited space as one of the first tourist-astronauts above the International Space Station, felt a similar vibe. “It’s an amazing moment, bringing so many great memories up,” she told me. “It reminds me of when we were all out in the Mojave waiting for the launch of Spaceship One.” Ansari emphasized the feeling the landing evoked of moving forward as a people. “Imagine, over the last 50 years only 500 people out of seven billion have been to space — that number will be thousands soon,” she said. “We believe there’s so much more that can be done in this area of technology, a lot of real business opportunities that benefit civilization but also humanity.” Congratulations to the SpaceIL team for their achievement, and here’s hoping the next attempt makes it all the way down.
announced that there are now that have committed to use clean energy for Apple production. It doesn’t mean all suppliers are using renewable energy, it also doesn’t mean that they use 100 percent clean energy for all their clients. But it’s still good news. All of Apple facilities on clean energy, such as offices, retails stores and data centers. But Apple is well aware that it manufactures a ton of devices and works with a ton of suppliers. That’s why the company has created a fund to help finance renewable energy projects in China. Apple is also allocation $2.5 billion in green bonds. Thanks to these initiatives, Apple has financed solar rooftops in Japan, a custom alloy made of recycled aluminum that you can find the MacBook Air and Mac Mini and more. Overall, Apple expects to reach its 2020 goal of injecting 4 gigawatts of renewable energy into its supply chain well before 2020. In fact, the company now says that it will indirectly generate around 5 gigawatts of clean energy. Suppliers in the program include Foxconn, Wistron, TSMC, Corning, STMicroelectronics and dozens of names that are mostly unknown to end customers.
The Link takes streaming music and makes it sound better. Just wirelessly connect it to an Echo device and plug it into a set of nice speakers. It’s the missing link. The Link bridges the gap between streaming music and a nice audio system. Instead of settling for the analog connection of an Dot, the Echo Link serves audio over a digital connection and it makes just enough of a difference to justify the $200 price. I plugged the Eco Link into the audio system in my office and was pleased with the results. This is the Echo device I’ve been waiting for. In my case the Echo Link took Spotfiy’s 320 kbps stream and opened it up. The Link creates a wider soundstage and makes the music a bit more full and expansive. The bass hits a touch harder and the highs now have a new-found crispness. Lyrics are clearer and easier to pick apart. The differences are subtle. Everything is just slightly improved over the sound quailty found when using an Echo Dot’s 3.5mm output. Don’t have a set of nice speakers? That’s okay, also just released the Echo Link Amp, which features a built-in amplifier capable of powering a set of small speakers (read the review here). Here’s the thing: I’m surprised is making the Echo Link. The device caters to what must be a small demographic of Echo owners looking to improve the quality of Pandora or when using an audio system. And yet, without support for local or streaming high resolution audio, it’s not good enough for audiophiles. This is for wannabe audiophiles. Hey, that’s me. Review There are Echo’s scattered throughout my house. The devices provide a fantastic way to access music and NPR. The tiny Echo Link is perfect for the system in my office where I have a pair of Definitive Technology bookshelf speakers powered by an Onkyo receiver and amp. I have a turntable and SACD player connected to the receiver but those are a hassle when I’m at my desk. The majority of the time I listen to through the Amazon Echo Input. I added the Onkyo amplifier to the system last year and it made a huge difference to the quality. The music suddenly had more power. The two-channel amp pushes harder than the receiver, and resulted in audio that was more expansive and clear. And at any volume, too. I didn’t know what I was missing. That’s the trick with audio. Most of the time the audio sounds great until it suddenly sounds better. The Echo Link provided me with the same feeling of discovery. To be clear the $200 Echo Link does not provide a night and day difference in my audio quality. It’s a slight upgrade over the audio outputted by a $20 Echo Input — and don’t forget, an Echo device (like the $20 Echo Input) is required to make the Echo Link work. The Echo Link provides the extra juice lacking from the Echo Input or Dot. Those less expensive options output audio to an audio system, but only through an analog connection. The Echo Link offers a digital connection through Toslink or Digital Coax. It has analog outputs that’s powered by a DAC with a superior dynamic range and total harmonic distortion found in the Input or Dot. It’s an easy way to improve the quality of music from streaming services. The Echo Link, and Echo Link Amp, also feature a headphone amp. It’s an interesting detail. With this jack, someone could have the Echo Link on their desk and use it to power a set of headphones without any loss of quality. I set up a simple A/B test to spot the differences between a Link and a Dot. First, I connected the Echo Link with a Toslink connection to my receiver and an Echo Input. I also connected an Echo Dot through its 3.5mm analog connection to the receiver. I created a group in the Alexa app of the devices. This allowed each of the devices to play the same source simultaneously. Then, as needed, I was able to switch between the Dot and Link with just a touch of a button, providing an easy and quick way to test the differences. I’ll leave it up to you to justify the cost. To me, as someone who has invested money into a quality audio system, the extra cost of the Echo Link is worth it. But to others an Echo Dot could be enough. It’s important to note that the Echo Link works a bit differently than other Echo devices connected to an audio system. When, say, a Dot is connected to an audio system, the internal speakers are turned off and all of the audio is sent to the system. The Echo Link doesn’t have to override the companion Echo. When an Echo Link is connected to an Echo device, the Echo still responds through its internal speakers; only music is sent to the Echo Link. For example, when the Echo is asked about the weather, the forecast is played back through the speakers in the Echo and not the audio system connected to the Echo Link. In most cases this allows the owner to turn off the high-power speakers and still have access to voice commands on the Echo. The Echo Link takes streaming music and instantly improves the quality. In my case the improvements were slight but noticeable. It works with all the streaming services supported by Echo devices, but it’s important to note it does not work with Tidal’s high-res Master Audio tracks. The best the Echo Link can do is 320 kbps from or Tidal. This is a limiting factor and it’s not surprising. If the Echo Link supported Tidal’s Master Tracks, I would likely sign up for that service, and that is not in the best interest of Amazon which hopes I sign up for Amazon Music Unlimited. I spoke to Amazon about the Echo Link’s lack of support for Tidal Master Tracks and they indicated they’re interested in hearing how customers will use the device before committing to adding support. The Link is interesting. doesn’t have anything similar in its Google Home Line. The Sonos Amp is similar, but with a built-in amplifier, it’s a closer competitor to the Echo Link Amp. Several high-end audio companies sell components that can stream audio over digital connections yet none are as easy to use or as inexpensive as the Echo Link. The Echo Link is the easiest way to improve the sound of streaming music services.
Kindle is of course the brand most think of when they consider buying an e-reader, but competition does exist and the truth is it makes the company’s newest entry-level device look like a poor bargain. The price may be low, but this budget reader just doesn’t meet the bar. The most basic current device in the e-paper Kindle lineup, the plain old “Kindle” (as opposed to Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite, etc) has gained a couple features. An adjustable frontlight illuminates the E-Ink screen, there’s an improved touchscreen and a refreshed hardware design, though you’re forgiven if you don’t notice. At $110, or $90 if you allow ads on your device, it’s among the cheaper devices out there, falling well below the $150 Paperwhite and $270 Oasis (again, subtract $20 if you don’t opt out of “special offers,” which I always make sure to mention). It runs the familiar Kindle OS and of course seamlessly connects to your Amazon account, just like the others in the lineup. In general it’s more or less the same as the others in terms of formats, store and access features, and so on. So you’re not sacrificing anything on that front. Unfortunately, what you do sacrifice is something much more important: a decent screen. We’ve been privileged in the last couple years to see the quality of e-reader displays improve considerably, both in terms of resolution and lighting. A couple months ago , which offers few frills and, frankly, inferior build quality, but a beautiful screen and color temperature-adjustable frontlight, which is really worth paying for. The specs speak for themselves: the “all-new” Kindle has a 6-inch with a pixel density of 167 PPI. The Clara HD has nearly twice that: 300 PPI, like the nicer Kindles, and believe me, you notice. It makes a huge difference to how text looks — there are diminishing returns past that point, but the change from 167 to 300 is a big one. Letters look much crisper and more regular, and fonts look much more different from each other, allowing you to customize your reading experience a more. (I recently found out I can easily add fonts to the Kobo and it’s great.) It’s hard to capture the difference between the two except in macro shots, but in person it’s a serious one. There’s a reason phones, tablets, and e-readers (including Amazon’s own) all went to high pixel density and never looked back. [gallery ids="1810104,1810107"] The Clara also has a frontlight that lets you adjust the color cast from cool to warm, which you can see above (I realize the temperatures of the images themselves are different as well but you get the idea). I didn’t think I’d find this useful, but as with resolution, it’s one of those things where once you have it, it’s difficult to go back. The cold, pixelated screen of the basic Kindle was unbearable after the warm, smooth look of the Kobo. If you must have a Kindle reader and can’t spend more than $100, I’d seriously advise you to try to find an old generation of Paperwhite or the like with the higher resolution screen and frontlight. It makes a huge difference to readability and that’s really the most important part of a reader. I would however advise you to spend a little more now to avoid buyer’s remorse. The Paperwhite is a great device and not too much more if you’re willing to accept Amazon’s “special offers.” Kindles in general have great build quality as well. If you aren’t attached to the Kindle brand, however, the is only a bit more money and offers a better reading experience than either, in my opinion, as well as the flexibility that comes with the company’s devices. When the entry-level Kindle gets a screen that matches the entry-level competition, I’ll happily endorse it, but for now I have to recommend its slightly more expensive peers for a major bump in quality.
Flying cars definitely sound cool, but whether they’re actually a good idea is up for debate. Fortunately they do seem to have some surefire benefits, among which you can now count improved efficiency — in theory, and on long trips. But it’s something! Air travel takes an enormous amount of energy, since you have to lift something heavy into the air and keep it there for a good while. This is often faster but rarely more efficient than ground transportation, which lets gravity do the hard work. Of course, once an aircraft gets up to altitude, it cruises at high speed with little friction to contend with, and whether you’re going 100 feet or 50 miles you only have to take off once. So researchers thought there might be a sweet spot where taking a flying car might actually save energy. Turns out there is… kind of. The team in Nature Communications. The U-M engineers made an efficiency model for both ground transport and for electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, based on specs from aerospace companies working on them. “Our model represents general trends in the VTOL space and uses parameters from multiple studies and aircraft designs to specify weight, lift-to-drag ratio and battery-specific energy,” said study co-author Noah Furbush . They looked at how these various theoretical vehicles performed when taking various numbers of people various distances, comparing energy consumed. As you might imagine, flying isn’t very practical for going a mile or two, since you use up all that energy getting to altitude and then have to come right back down. But at the 100-kilometer mark (about 62 miles) things look a little different. For a 100 km trip, a single passenger in a flying car uses 35 percent less energy than a gas-powered car, but still 28 percent more than an electric vehicle. In fact, the flying car is better than the gas one starting at around 40 km. But it never really catches up with the EVs for efficiency, though it gets close. Do you like charts? ICEV: Internal combustion engine vehicle; VTOL: Vertical takeoff and landing; BEV: Battery electric vehicle. The vertical axis is emissions. To make it better, they had to juice the numbers a bit bit, making the assumption that flying taxis would be more likely to operate at full capacity, with a pilot and three passengers, while ground vehicles were unlikely to have their average occupancy of 1.5 people change much. With that in mind, they found that a 100 km trip with three passengers just barely beats the per-person efficiency of EVs. That may seem like a bit of a thin victory, but keep in mind that the flying car would be making the trip in likely a quarter of the time, unaffected by traffic and other issues. Plus there’s the view. It’s all theoretical right now, naturally, but studies like this help companies looking to get into this business decide how their service will be organized and marketed. Reality might look a little different from theory, but I’ll take any reality with flying cars.
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has released a new report about future products — 9to5mac the report. The company could be working on a new 31.6-inch external display with a 6K resolution that could work particularly well with the Mac Pro. New iPad and MacBook Pro models with better displays are also in the works. Apple used to sell but stopped selling the latest model in 2016. The 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display had an aluminum case and an LED-backlit LCD display. It had four times less pixels than the 27-inch 5K iMac with a resolution of 2560×1440 pixels. And it never made the switch to Thunderbolt 3. When that it was working on a Mac Pro, the company confirmed that there would be a new external display. “We want them to know we are going to work on a display for a modular system,” Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller told Matthew Panzarino. According to Ming-Chi Kuo’s report, the new display will come earlier rather than later. Apple plans to launch the device during the second or third quarter of this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an announcement at WWDC. As for new iPad and MacBook Pro models, Ming-Chi Kuo has learned that Apple will use mini-LED technology to improve color gamut, contrast ratios, etc. This new technology should also improve battery performance compared to traditional LED displays. Those new devices with mini-LED displays will arrive on the market at the end of 2020 or at some point during the first half of 2021. It’s unclear if Apple plans to update the MacBook Pro before then.
Eleven democratic senators, led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), have to , asking a series of questions around the product’s marketing, its effectiveness as a tool to help people quit smoking combustible cigarettes, sales figures and, perhaps most importantly, more information on the deal that gave Altria a minority stake in Juul Labs. “The corporate marriage between two companies that have been the most prolific at marketing highly addictive nicotine products to children is alarming from a public health standpoint and demonstrates, yet again, that JUUL is more interested in padding its profit margins than protecting our nation’s children,” writes Sen. Durbin in the letter. Questions in the letter include records around advertising and marketing spend for Juul products, as well as any changes that might have been made to Juul’s Youth Prevention Plan following the deal with Altria. In late 2018, Juul it had sold a 35 percent minority stake of the company to Altria Group, makers of Marlboro cigarettes, for $12.8 billion. The company said that a partnership with Altria would help Juul market and distribute to currently addicted adult cigarette smokers. In the letter, the senators cite the American Heart Association, which called the Altria/Juul deal “a match made in tobacco heaven.” Juul was already in hot water over its product’s popularity among young people, so it’s only expected that a partnership with traditional Big Tobacco would further fuel concerns among critics. More from the letter: JUUL’s decision to team up with Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, is also bad news for children considering that Altria has a long and sordid history of spending billions to entice children to smoke through targeted campaigns that intentionally lied about the science and health effects from cigarettes. And their efforts have clearly paid off. According to the CDC, Altria’s Marlboro cigarette continues to be the most popular cigarette brand among children in the United States, with 48.8 percent of high school smokers preferring Marlboro cigarettes. Further, the proportion of high school smokers who smoked Marlboro cigarettes increased dramatically between 2012 and 2016, by a whopping 27 percent. While JUUL has promised to address youth vaping through its modest voluntary efforts, by accepting $12.8 billion from Altria—a tobacco giant with such a disturbing record of deceptive marketing to hook children onto cigarettes—JUUL has lost what little remaining credibility the company had when it claimed to care about the public health. A Juul Labs spokesperson had this to say in response to the letter: We welcome the opportunity to share information regarding JUUL Labs’ commitment to curbing underage use of our products while fulfilling our mission to eliminate combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in our country. We agree that companies such as ours must step up with meaningful measures to limit access and appeal of vapor products to young people. That’s exactly what we’ve done, and we will do more to combat teen use to save the harm-reduction opportunity for the 34 million adult smokers in the United States. Don’t take our word for it — look at our actions. As part of our action plan deployed in November 2018 to keep JUUL products out of the hands of youth, we stopped the sale of certain flavored JUULpods to traditional retail stores, strengthened our retail compliance and secret shopper program, enhanced our online age-verification, exited our Facebook and Instagram accounts and are continuously working to remove inappropriate third-party social media content. We support the FDA’s draft guidance restricting the sale of certain flavored products, including JUULpods, at retail outlets and online, and will continue to work with FDA, Congress, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations as a transparent and responsible partner in combating underage use. U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined Sen. Durbin in sending the letter. It comes just a month after the . Juul has until April 25 to provide answers and information in response to the letter.