Posts tagged could

How Oculus Could Extend Into The Real World, Thanks To Surreal Vision

While Oculus has created immersive virtual 3D worlds inside the Rift headset, there isn’t much it can do with the actual world around the headset. However, that might change soon, as the Facebook-owned company announced the acquisition of computer vision startup Surreal Vision on Tuesday. 

See also: Get Your Faces Ready: Oculus Announces 2nd Developer Conference This Fall

The deal could be the beginnings of Oculus’ bid to extend its virtual reality (VR) promise to actual reality, including technology that can map out users’ physical environment and replicate it digitally, to augmented reality (AR), which layers information over their view of the real world. Here’s what Surreal Vision may bring to Oculus’ table.  

The Surreal Deal

The announcement describes the talent at Surreal Vision as “one of the top computer vision teams in the world focused on real-time 3D scene reconstruction.” The three founders, Richard Newcombe, Renato Salas-Moreno, and Steven Lovegrove, have all created impressive examples of computer vision in action, including KinectFusion, DynamicFusion, DTAM, SLAM++, and Dense Planar SLAM

Armed with a Microsoft Kinect, these tools can interpret and identify the real world and reproduce it in a virtual one. KinectFusion, for example, can digitally map the layout of a room:

SLAM++ (short for “Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping at the Level of Objects) can identify specific objects in a room based on digital reference models. So if the Kinect captures a room with two chairs and a table, it can figure out what those objects are and make a virtual copy using digital objects:

Developers could use these tools to make virtual replicas of actual places, opening the door for virtual tours or faster game development. 

So far, various prototypes of the Rift VR headset have been the only hardware we’ve seen out of Oculus. But the company likely hasn’t ignored augmented reality, particularly since its appeal got a boost recently, thanks to news that Google will reboot Glass development and Microsoft has entered the niche with its intriguing HoloLens project. Oculus, for its part, may also have an augmented reality device up its sleeve, one that blends digital creations with real world objects and environments. If so, the Surreal Vision deal would also represent a major leap forward in AR development. 

From there, it’s not hard to think of what Oculus could accomplish with Surreal Vision’s computer vision prowess. Imagine taking a virtual stroll with your vacationing friends in real time, or playing virtual laser tag across the country, with digital recreations of your living rooms. 

A Vision Of The Future

The computer vision field’s power and potential has been growing at an exponential rate lately. Two Google projects in particular have shown off just how far computer vision has come in a short time, with an impressive showing in the form of its 3D mapping Project Tango initiative, and the ever-evolving self-driving car project, which would have to map out real-world roads (and obstacles) and digitally interpret them. 

See also: Oculus Will Bring Virtual Reality To Real Reality On June 11

Magic Leap may be a little guy, but the much-hyped startup has laid out its vision for an upcoming initiative, courtesy of a video that relies heavily on the kind of 3D mapping tools Surreal could bring to bear at Oculus. 

With this acquisition, Oculus may have taken a solid forward to extend its road map into new areas that blend the physical world with its digital VR version. With a press event coming in June and its second developers conference scheduled for September, Oculus likely won’t be waiting long to usher us into the age of virtual surreality. 

Photo by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite

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MediaTek’s Linkit One Platform Could Make Makers Of Us All

MediaTek, a Taiwan-based semiconductor company, took to the Wearable World Congress floor last week to show off a new way for makers to bring their ideas off the drawing board and into the real world. Priced at just $79, the LinkIt One development kit seems geared specifically for tomorrow’s Internet of Things and wearable tech entrepreneurs.

Big Power, Little Chip

LinkIt One relies on the Aster 2502 chipset, a tiny-but-powerful system-on-a-chip that boasts 4MB of RAM and 4MB of flash memory, as well as support for Bluetooth LE, Wi-Fi, GSM cellular connectivity, and more. The chip itself is only about half the size of your pinkie nail, which leaves plenty of room to pack in whatever other hardware you might want to build.

The hardware platform includes a Arduino-based developer board made by Seeed Studios, the same Chinese company working on Pebble Time smartstrap compatibility.

The Linkit One Arduino development board

“Pretty much anything you want to do with [the Internet of Things] in home or a wearable product, you use this board to design your product,” Marc Naddell, VP of MediaTek Labs, tol me. MediaTek Labs represents the company’s attempt to branch out into maker-focused areas.

Currently, most of MediaTek’s business comes from contracts with big tech companies; their chips show up in dumb phones, smartphones, DVD and Blu-Ray players, and even the Xbox 360 console. But Naddell said that they recognize the innovations that are happening on much smaller scales, and wanted to get in on the action.

“We want to attract innovation, so provide a platform for anyone basically to create their concept and have success, whether it’s just as a hobby or whether they plan to do a commercial business,” he said.

Of course, don’t think that MediaTek Labs’ LinkIt platform and its low price tag is a sign of the company’s altruism. Getting in with the makers means more MediaTek chips will be out in the world.

“We want to put our chipsets in the hands of the next generation customers, so whether there’s a new disruptor out there, or the next creator of a new device kit, we’d like to see that being done with MediaTek’s chipset,” said Naddell.

As the world of computing continues to shrink, so does the cost of that computing. It wasn’t too long ago that we heard about the crowdfunding success of Chip, a compact, $9 computer also geared towards makers who want to tackle tech challenges. MediaTek’s Aster 2502 chipset costs about eight times as much, but it’s also a whole lot smaller, and comes with the backing of MediaTek’s 18 year corporate track record and support system.

Brave New Brew

Naddell said that the LinkIt One’s versatility is already bearing fruit, with recent projects on display at Maker Faire UK.

One demo we showed at the Maker Faire was a smart brewer. Somebody wanted to brew their own alcohols from their home, they basically would put their ingredients into this air sealed, airtight container, and it has sensors on the inside to detect pH level, pressure, temperature, alcohol level, those kinds of things.

Sensors were coming out of the bottom of the lid, so you could see what’s going on inside the airtight container.

This smart brewer was made using LinkIt One, and was on display at Maker Faire UK

The markets for wearables and the Internet of Things are still wide open, so it’s telling that huge companies like Flextronics and MediaTek acknowledge the importance of garage inventors, and have developed new means for them to give shape to their ideas.

If nothing else, the LinkIt One might definitely give new meaning to the word “microbrew.”

LinkIt One and smart brewer images courtesy of MediaTek

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Google “Buy Buttons” Could Start Showing On Mobile Shopping Ads In A Matter Of Weeks

As the search engine adjusts to mobile behaviors, it is set to take on Amazon in the battle for the mobile transaction.

The post Google “Buy Buttons” Could Start Showing On Mobile Shopping Ads In A Matter Of Weeks appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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Chip, The $9 Computer, Could Fuel An Explosion Of New Applications

It wasn’t so long ago that a $25 Raspberry Pi seemed like a revolution in inexpensive single-board computers—but now a $9 computer called Chip has managed to go even lower. Having already surpassed its $50,000 Kickstarter goal more than 14 times over, Chip from Next Thing is, well, the next thing in cheap and versatile computing.

In fact, it’s the latest in a line of cheap but fully-featured computers that are rapidly bringing the Internet of Things within reach of your average DIY hacker or maker.

What Is Chip?

Simply put, the Chip is a teeny computer that boasts serious-enough specs to handle most basic computing tasks. It boasts a 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of internal storage, not to mention Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. It features a built-in composite output, and it can connect to VGA or HDMI displays via an adapter.

Chip helps teach users how to program with the Scratch coding language built in.

And since it already has a fully integrated battery power circuit, all you need to do is attach a 2.7 volt lithium-ion polymer battery to the thing and you’re good to build Chip into portable, hacked-together projects. Chip also features an open source operating system already baked in, which can handle the Chromium web browser or LibreOffice for productivity work.

Next Thing also offers the Pocket Chip, a Palm Treo-like housing for the Chip that features a 4.3-inch touchscreen, a full QWERTY keyboard, and a 5-hour battery—though I’m not sure how many people will be using the Pocket Chip to type out essays.

A Big Order For A Low Price

In order to offer the Chip at such a low price, Next Thing wanted to order parts in huge quantities from its suppliers. Doing so at a higher volume would obviously lower the individual cost of the parts, so Kickstarter was a natural choice. Considering that it’s already raised over $700,000 with about 25 days left on the campaign as of this writing, Next Thing probably won’t face any shortage of supplies to build Chips.

A built-in GUI operating system makes Chip cheap AND easy.

With the creation of a $9 computer, makers have more tools than ever before to create the projects of their dreams. As technology continues to get smaller and cheaper, even more people will learn to code and hack together their ideas. And at this rate, even a $9 computer may soon seem ridiculously overpriced.

Images courtesy of Chip

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What Microsoft Could (And Should) Pack Into The Surface Pro 4

Microsoft could launch its next laptablet—presumably the Surface Pro 4—by the end of May. The sourcing on that rumor may still be sketchy, but it makes sense, if for no other reason than it’ll have been a year since the Surface Pro 3.

And with Windows 10 due this summer, Microsoft would be stupid not to launch a new flagship tablet-laptop hybrid that can take advantage of the new OS’s mobile-friendly features such as Continuum.

What can we expect? Let’s ponder for a moment.

Surface Similarities

Last October, an official Microsoft blog post confirmed that the Surface Pro 3’s detachable keyboard (the “Type Cover”) and docking station will both be compatible with “the next generation of the ‘Pro’ line of Surface.” That means that the new Surface Pro will almost undoubtedly boast the same dimensions in terms of width and height—11.5 inches by 7.93 inches (29cm x 20.1cm) to be precise.

The Surface Pro 3 dock will apparently work just fine with the Surface Pro 4, so they’ll likely share very similar—if not identical—dimensions.

Then there are the details from SlashGear’s tipster, who claims the Pro 4 will share the Pro 3’s 12-inch, 2160 x 1440 pixel resolution. The post adds that the Surface Pro 4 could sport a fifth-generation Intel Broadwell Core i-series CPU and a new version of the Surface Pen, made by N-Trig, a company Microsoft recently acquired.

The Broadwell CPU could make things interesting. SlashGear’s report suggests the Pro 4 will be thinner than its precedessor and will ditch the internal fan while retaining heat vents. The last high profile computer to lose its fan was Apple’s new Macbook, which did so thanks to its less-powerful Intel M processor.

See also: There’s A New Macbook In Town

It’s not at all clear whether Microsoft can pull off the same trick with the Intel i-series, especially considering how the Surface Pro line has always struggled with heat. Even with its fan, my Surface Pro 3 gets pretty hot as a matter of course. I’d love to believe that Microsoft has licked that problem with the Surface Pro 4, but I have my doubts.

Our Surface Pro 4 Wishlist

Microsoft shouldn’t skimp on other aspects of the new Surface Pro’s physical design. For starters, when Microsoft revealed the Surface 3, the Windows tablet regressed a bit with its three-position kickstand.

Hopefully the Surface Pro 4 will keep the same multi-angle kickstand that’s found on the Surface Pro 3, since it’s by far one of the device’s best ergonomic features.

The Surface Pro 3’s kickstand worked beautifully. Hopefully it’ll make a return appearance on the Surface Pro 4.

Likewise, I hope Microsoft finds a better place for the Surface Pen. Since Microsoft’s new Edge web browser will be Windows 10’s default web browser, users are about to get a whole lot more joy out of Microsoft’s stylus.

But the Surface Pro 3 didn’t have a good home for it beyond a flimsy little loop on the Type Cover. Again, this is a small detail, but if Microsoft wants Web page annotation to take off, it had better give us a good home for our Surface Pens.

See also: Microsoft’s Edge Will Let You Scribble On The Web—And That’s Awesome

Another area where the Surface Pro 4 could easily outmatch its predecessor is in its rear camera. While the Surface 3 took a step backward in terms of its kickstand, its auto-focus equipped 8 MP rear camera easily beats the Pro 3’s 5 MP shooter.

I know what you’re thinking: a rear camera is pretty unimportant when it comes to a computer like the Surface. Let me counter that by saying that having a rear camera on a tablet that’s capable of auto-focus is a huge benefit to anyone who has to work with physical documents.

On my research trips, I’ve had to pack my Nexus 9 tablet (or deplete my Nexus 5’s battery) to take tons of document photos so I can access them later. If my Surface Pro 3 had a camera that was worth a damn, then I could truly use it like a PC and a tablet—you know, the thing that Microsoft said I could do with my Surface from the start.

All told, Microsoft learned valuable lessons from the first two iterations of the Surface Pro line, which helped make the Surface Pro 3 the best (and best-selling) entrant in its flagship computer line. Hopefully it can refine its formula even further with the Surface Pro 4—and truly make Apple fans stuck with the under-powered new Macbook green with envy.

Images courtesy of Microsoft

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How Self-Driving Cars Could Radically Transform Cities

A fascinating new simulation finds that self-driving cars will essentially terraform cities by eliminating 90% of cars on the roads, opening up acres of land and slashing commute times. This per a team of transportation scientists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that analyzed data on actual car trips in Lisbon, Portugal, to see how a fleet of self-driving, shared “taxibots” would change the metropolitan landscape (PDF link).

The “taxibots” envisioned by the researchers are a marriage of mass carpooling and UPS delivery intelligence. They constantly roam throughout cities and match carpool routes with mathematical elegance. Ultimately, the team estimates, nine out of 10 cars would be completely unnecessary — as would public transit.

Simulation of a self-driving carpool fleet by fullness of car in Lisbon, Portugal

“Nearly the same mobility can be delivered with 10% of the cars,” the report notes. It continues:

TaxiBots combined with high-capacity public transport could remove 9 out of every 10 cars in a mid-sized European city…. For small and medium-sized cities, it is conceivable that a shared fleet of self-driving vehicles could completely obviate the need for traditional public transport.

Goodbye, Parking Spaces

Such a dramatic reduction in individually owned of cars would also eliminate much of the need for existing street parking, the authors found. In Lisbon alone, that would free up an extra 210 soccer fields of available space—20% of the city’s curb-to-curb street area—that could be dedicated to “non-motorised transport modes, delivery bays, parklets or other recreational and commercial uses,” the report suggests.

There should also be other significant savings not mentioned in the report. Because parking spaces increase the cost of construction, expensive development gets passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices on retail goods and rent. One study found that parking spaces bump the price of retail goods one percent. The Sightline Institute, an environmental research outfit, estimated that Seattle rules requiring apartment buildings to provide parking push up monthly rents by 15%, or roughly $246.

Uber is funneling some of its sizable cash hoard toward making this self-driving fantasy city into a reality. The company recently invested in a new facility to accelerate technology that could completely automate their entire fleet.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Microsoft’s New Enhancements Could Put the “Edge” Back Into Voice Search

At its Build conference, Microsoft unveiled its new browser, Edge, as a follow-up to the recently defunct Internet Explorer. The new browser boasts faster speeds and better features, which could enhance the search experience for users.

View full post on Home – SearchEngineWatch

Circa Could Become Big Media’s Bet On Wearable News

Circa: From smartwatch to smartphone to Web.

Circa is seeking a buyer after failing to raise a new round of venture capital funding, Fortune reports. It sounds like 2015 is going to be a definitive, make-or-break year for the pioneering mobile news app, which first appeared nearly three years ago.

Circa delivers bite-sized nuggets of breaking news on mobile devices which can then be followed in more depth on the Web. In many ways it anticipated the era of the smartwatch, where “glanceable” snippets arrive to lead users into more detail on subjects that interest them.

See also: Circa’s Matt Gilligan On The Future Of Wearable News

It’s mobile first in a way that most big media outlets aren’t, even if they have smartphone and wearable apps to their name. Its approach has never made more sense than it does in the era of the Apple Watch and its ilk.

Whoever buys Circa to make use of its technologies has a ready-made head start in the wearable race—something that certainly should interest major publishers. Remember, Yahoo was willing to pay handsomely for a news summary tool of its own, spending $30 million on Summly a couple of years ago.

Circa has amassed more than $5 million in angel and seed funding since its October 2012 launch. It offers dedicated apps for iOS and Android, complete with Apple Watch and Android Wear support.

Wearable Screens

Circa CEO Matt Galligan (photo by Dave Morin, used with permission).

A smartwatch screen is not just smaller than a smartphone display, it’s used in a completely different way—a point Circa CEO Matt Galligan made to us as part of his Wearable World Congress speaker profile.

“Anyone who’s going to try to present articles [on a smartwatch] is insane,” he says. “The lesson for me is that it’s all about ‘glanceability’ and quick actions. Get those right, and then worry about features.”

See also: Old Media Beware: Mobile-Native News Is Coming

Users can’t spend a long time staring at a wristwatch like they can with a phone or tablet. Plus, notifications are harder to ignore, because a smartwatch is always at hand—and that means alerts have to be as useful and as pertinent as possible.

Which brings us back to Circa and its uncertain future. If it can get wearable news right, then that’s worth a lot to the right buyer. The startup is working with an undisclosed third-party to explore who that could be.

The failure to secure more funding will be a disappointment to the Circa team, but in a market shifting towards smaller screens and wearable devices, there’s still potential in its unique approach to news.

If you want to find out how the Circa story continues, join us at Wearable World Congress 2015, May 19-20 in San Francisco, where you can hear from Matt Galligan and many other innovators at experts.

Lead image by Nick Statt for ReadWrite

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Microsoft’s New Enhancements Could Put the “Edge” Back Into Search

At its Build conference, Microsoft unveiled its new browser, Edge, as a follow-up to the recently defunct Internet Explorer. The new browser boasts faster speeds and better features, which could enhance the search experience for users.

View full post on Home – SearchEngineWatch

Facebook’s Changes Could Break Some Of Your Favorite Apps Tomorrow

Last year, at Facebook’s F8 developers conference, the company introduced developer tools designed to crack down on apps that took liberties with users’ Facebook account data. Apps new to the Facebook fold had to support them immediately, while existing partners got a year to embrace the changes. 

Now, time’s up: On Thursday, the company will flip the switch on its Login and Graph APIs (see our API explainer), making support mandatory for everyone. That means all apps that tie into Facebook must allow users to pick and choose the data outside apps can read. The company also wants to prevent apps from making extraneous or unnecessary requests for Facebook information. 

“We want developers to make it clear to people how their [Facebook] information’s being used,” said Facebook product manager Simon Cross, at an intimate “whiteboard” press meeting Tuesday. “And we want people to have more control over apps.” 

Admirable goals. But the move could also cause a ripple effect that kicks up errors, bugs and crashes in apps—as well as even entire app removals, in some cases. 

How Facebook Is Clamping Down On Data Requests

The old Facebook Login vs the new Facebook Login

According to Cross, Facebook released the APIs last year to give everyone plenty of time to work with them. At this point, the majority of apps that connect to Facebook today already support the updates. 

The most visible change appears when you launch an updated app, choose Facebook Login and see a new link on the authentication page: “Edit the info you provide.” Tapping the link conjures a list of options users can approve or nix, one by one. If an app doesn’t need your birthdate, you can uncheck that. No need for your “Likes” or “Friend List,” then go ahead and untick those options. (In some cases, you may have to go into your Facebook app settings, remove the app from the page, and then re-download the mobile app to see the link.) 

But there’s a caveat: Setting permissions now won’t alter the Facebook data that apps may have already collected about you. If you’ve already given up access to your birthday, address or other details, you must contact the app developers directly, if they want those bits removed from your account. 

The company wants to prevent third-party apps from gathering unnecessary information about Facebook users from the get-go, so it also instituted a new Login Review process. Apps that ask for basic data—like a public profile, e-mail address and friend list—can bypass it, but those trying to dig in deeper will have to go through a manual review by Facebook staff. The team makes its decision based on how reasonable the data requests are, assessing whether they’re really necessary for the app to function. 

The process can take roughly three to five days per app, Cross added, though the team aims for just a day or two. So far, he estimates that Facebook has reviewed more than 40,000 apps over the past year.

The Graph API, version 2.0, adds another layer of protection. Essentially, the changes prevent apps from pulling in data from Facebook friends, just because the primary accountholder gave permission. 

That often comes into play when users grant access to their newsfeeds, which are essentially populated by other people’s posts and photos. A user can still connect their own images or updates to outside apps. 

What The Changes Mean For Developers And End Users

Ultimately, the changes were designed to beat back the Facebook “creepiness factor”—that uneasy feeling when users suddenly saw third-party apps posting on their timelines, contacting their friends or pulling their shared photos. 

“We’ve gotten clear feedback that people wanted this experience,” said Cross, who explained that putting users at ease can help developers make more revenue. It makes for a compelling case. Since the company debuted the tools last year, it has seen 50% fewer permissions requested, and an 11% increase in the numbers of people logging in, at least according to Facebook’s numbers.  

This screen shows what declined requests could look like within a third-party app. Those that haven’t supported the new APIs, however, might look buggy or even crash. 

Cross mentioned several times that the “majority” of partner apps already support the new APIs. However, he wouldn’t offer specific numbers or percentages, so there’s no telling how many apps actually made the transition. As many as 99.9% of Facebook partner apps may work, or nearly half may fail, which makes for a huge margin of uncertainty. 

“We’re not turning off the old system, so if you haven’t upgraded, it’s not like everything will break,” said Cross. “How the app behaves if you haven’t upgraded yourself will very much depend on how you coded the system. [But] there could be errors.” 

The issues could range from pop-up error alerts to app crashes, or even worse. One photo-sharing app that relies on Facebook will pull its app, pending support for Facebook’s APIs. (In this instance, a brand-new version will debut with support for Facebook’s changes.) Other apps, according to TechCrunch, plan to shut down completely in the face of the forced changes—like Job Fusion, which needs to know where friends work to display job openings with those employers. According to the site, CareerSonar, Jobs With Friends, and adzuna Connect will also join the ranks of the fallen. 

Major apps from marquee partners—such as Netflix, Pinterest and Hootsuite—have already transitioned, so they should continue working without interruption. As for indie apps, the future seems far less certain. 

Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

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