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Apple’s Mac Pro ships in December with maximum 8TB of storage

16:30 | 13 November

Apple is making its Mac Pro and Apple Pro Display available in December, it announced today. The machine was announced earlier this year but no availability window had been set.

In addition to the previously announced specs, Apple also noted that it would be able to be ordered with up to an 8TB SSD. Apple’s Pro Workflow Team continues to take feedback about wants and needs of its pro customers and Apple says that the MacBook Pro can now handle up to 6 streams of 8K Pro Res vide, up from 3 streams quoted back in June. 

Apple also says that Blackmagic will have an SDI to 8K converter for productions using a serial digital interface workflow on set or in studio. This was a question I got several times after Apple announced its reference monitor to go along with the Mac Pro. This makes it more viable for many on-set applications that use existing workflows. 

I was able to get a look at the Mac Pro running the SDI converter box as well as a bunch of other applications like Final Cut Pro and it continues to be incredibly impressive for pro workflows. One demo showed 6 8K Pro Res streams running with animation and color coding in real time in a pre-rendered state. Really impressive. The hardware is also still wildly premium stuff. The VESA mount for the Pro Display XDR alone feels like it has more engineering behind it than most entire computers.

The new Mac Pro starts at $5,999 for tis base configuration, which includes 32GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a Radeon Pro 570X graphics card, and the Pro Display XDR 32-inch reference quality monitor that Apple will sell alongside it starts at $4,999.

 


0

MacBook Pro 16” first impressions: Return of the Mack

16:30 | 13 November

In poker, complacency is a quiet killer. It can steal your forward momentum bit by bit, using the warm glow of a winning hand or two to cover the bets you’re not making until it’s too late and you’re out of leverage. 

Over the past few years, Apple’s MacBook game had begun to suffer from a similar malaise. Most of the company’s product lines were booming, including newer entries like the Apple Watch, AirPods and iPad Pro. But as problems with the models started to mount — unreliable keyboards, low RAM ceilings and anemic graphics offerings — the once insurmountable advantage that the MacBook had compared to the rest of the notebook industry started to show signs of dwindling. 

The new 16” MacBook Pro Apple is announcing today is an attempt to rectify most, if not all, of the major complaints of its most loyal, and vocal, users. It’s a machine that offers a massive amount of upsides for what appears to be a handful of easily justifiable tradeoffs. It’s got better graphics, a bigger display for nearly no extra overall size, a bigger battery with longer life claims and yeah, a completely new keyboard.

I’ve only had a day to use the machine so far, but I did all of my research and writing for this first look piece on the machine, carting it around New York City, through the airport and onto a plane where I’m publishing this now. This isn’t a review, but I can take you through some of the new stuff and give you thoughts based on that chunk of time. 

This is a re-think of the larger MacBook Pro in many large ways. This is a brand new model that will completely replace the 15” MacBook Pro in Apple’s lineup, not an additional model. 

Importantly, the team working on this new MacBook started with no design constraints on weight, noise, size or battery. This is not a thinner machine, it is not a smaller machine, it is not a quieter machine. It is, however, better than the current MacBook Pro in all of the ways that actually count.

Let’s run down some of the most important new things. 

Performance and thermals

The 16” MacBook Pro comes configured with either a 2.6GHz 6-core i7 or a 2.3GHz 8-core i9 from Intel . These are the same processors as the 15” MacBook Pro came with. No advancements here is largely a function of Intel’s chip readiness. 

The i7 model of the 16” MacBook Po will run $2,399 for the base model — the same as the old 15” — and it comes with a 512GB SSD drive and 16GB of RAM. 

Both models can be ordered today and will be in stores at the end of the week.

The standard graphics configuration in the i7 is an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of memory and an integrated Intel UHD graphics 630 chip. The system continues to use the dynamic handoff system that trades power for battery life on the fly.  


The i9 model will run $2,699 and comes with a 1TB drive. That’s a nice bump in storage for both models, into the range of very comfortable for most people. It rolls with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of memory.

You can configure both models with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory. Both models can also now get up to 8TB of SSD storage – which Apple says is the most on a notebook ever – and 64GB of 2666 DDR4 RAM but I’d expect those upgrades to be pricey.

The new power supply delivers an additional 12w of power and there is a new thermal system to compensate for that. The heat pipe that carries air in and out has been redesigned, there are more fan blades on 35% larger fans that move 28% more air compared to the 15” model. 

The fans in the MacBook Pro, when active, put out the same decibel level of sound, but push way more air than before. So, not a reduction in sound, but not an increase either — and the trade is better cooling. Another area where the design process for this MacBook focused on performance gains rather than the obvious sticker copy. 

There’s also a new power brick which is the same physical size as the 15” MacBook Pro’s adapter, but which now supplies 96w up from 87w. The brick is still as chunky as ever and feels a tad heavier, but it’s nice to get some additional power out of it. 

Though I haven’t been able to put the MacBook Pro through any video editing or rendering tests I was able to see live demos of it handling several 8K streams concurrently. With the beefiest internal config Apple says it can usually handle as many as 4, perhaps 5 un-rendered Pro Res streams.

A bigger display, a thicker body

The new MacBook Pro has a larger 16” diagonal Retina display that has a 3072×1920 resolution at 226 ppi. The monitor features the same 500 nit maximum brightness, P3 color gamut and True Tone tech as the current 15”. The bezels of the screen are narrower, which makes it feel even larger when you’re sitting in front of it. This also contributes to the fact that the overall size of the new MacBook Pro is just 2% larger in width and height, with a .7mm increase in thickness. 

The overall increase in screen size far outstrips the increase in overall body size because of those thinner bezels. And this model is still around the same thickness as the 2015 15” MacBook Pro, an extremely popular model among the kinds of people who are the target market for this machine. It also weighs 4.3 lbs, heavier than the 4.02 lb current 15” model.

The display looks great, extremely crisp due to the increase in pixels and even more in your face because of the very thin bezels. This thing feels like it’s all screen in a way that matches the iPad Pro.

This thick boi also features a bigger battery, a full 100Whr, the most allowable under current FAA limits. Apple says this contributes an extra hour of normal operations in its testing regimen in comparison to the current 15” MacBook Pro. I have not been able to effectively test these claims in the time I’ve had with it so far. 

But it is encouraging that Apple has proven willing to make the iPhone 11 Pro and the new MacBook a bit thicker in order to deliver better performance and battery life. Most of these devices are pretty much thin enough. Performance, please.

Speakers and microphone

One other area where the 16” MacBook Pro has made a huge improvement is the speaker and microphone arrays. I’m not sure I ever honestly expected to give a crap about sound coming out of a laptop. Good enough until I put in a pair of headphones accurately describes my expectations for laptop sound over the years. Imagine my surprise when I first heard the sound coming out of this new MacBook and it was, no crap, incredibly good. 

The new array consists of six speakers arranged so that the subwoofers are positioned in pairs, antipodal to one another (back to back). This has the effect of cancelling out a lot of the vibration that normally contributes to that rattle-prone vibrato that has characterized small laptop speakers pretty much forever.

The speaker setup they have here has crisper highs and deeper bass than you’ve likely ever heard from a portable machine. Movies are really lovely to watch with the built-ins, a sentence I have never once felt comfortable writing about a laptop. 

Apple also vents the speakers through their own chambers, rather than letting sound float out through the keyboard holes. This keeps the sound nice and crisp, with a soundstage that’s wide enough to give the impression of a center channel for voice. One byproduct of this though is that blocking one or another speaker with your hand is definitely more noticeable than before.

The quality of sound here is really very, very good. The HomePod team’s work on sound fields apparently keeps paying dividends. 

That’s not the only audio bit that’s better now though, Apple has also put in a 3-mic array for sound recording that it claims has a high enough signal-to-noise ratio that it can rival standalone microphones. I did some testing here comparing it to the iPhone’s mic and it’s absolutely night and day. There is remarkably little hiss present here and artists that use the MacBook as a sketch pad for vocals and other recording are going to get a really nice little surprise here.

I haven’t been able to test it against external mics myself but I was able to listen to rigs that involved a Blue Yeti and other laptop microphones and the MacBook’s new mic array was clearly better than any of the machines and held its own against the Yeti. 

The directional nature of many podcast mics is going to keep them well in advance of the internal mic on the MacBook for the most part, but for truly mobile recording setups the MacBook mic just went from completely not an option to a very viable fallback in one swoop. It really has to be listened to in order to get it. 

I doubt anyone is going to buy a MacBook Pro for the internal mic, but having a ‘pro level’ device finally come with a pro level mic on board is super choice. 

I think that’s most of it, though I feel like I’m forgetting something…

Oh right, the Keyboard

Ah yes. I don’t really need to belabor the point on the MacBook Pro keyboards just not being up to snuff for some time. Whether you weren’t a fan of the short throw on the new butterfly keyboards or you found yourself one of the many people (

) who ran up against jammed or unresponsive keys on that design — you know that there has been a problem.

The keyboard situation has been written about extensively by Casey Johnston and Joanna Stern and complained about by every writer on Twitter over the past several years. Apple has offered a succession of updates to that keyboard to attempt to make it more reliable and has extended warranty replacements to appease customers. 

But the only real solution was to ditch the design completely and start over. And that’s what this is: a completely new keyboard.

Apple is calling it the Magic Keyboard in homage to the iMac’s Magic Keyboard (but not identically designed). The new keyboard is a scissor mechanism, not butterfly. It has 1mm of key travel (more, a lot more) and an Apple-designed rubber dome under the key that delivers resistance and springback that facilitates a satisfying key action. The new keycaps lock into the keycap at the top of travel to make them more stable when at rest, correcting the MacBook Air-era wobble. 

And yes, the keycaps can be removed individually to gain access to the mechanism underneath. And yes, there is an inverted-T arrangement for the arrow keys. And yes, there is a dedicated escape key.

Apple did extensive physiological research when building out this new keyboard. One test was measuring the effect of a keypress on a human finger. Specifically, they measured the effect of a key on the pacinian corpuscles at the tips of your fingers. These are onion-esque structures in your skin that house nerve endings and they are most sensitive to mechanical and vibratory pressure. 

Apple then created this specialized plastic dome that sends a specific vibration to this receptor making your finger send a signal to your brain that says ‘hey you pressed that key.’ This led to a design that gives off the correct vibration wavelength to return a satisfying ‘stroke completed’ message to the brain.

There is also more space between the keys, allowing for more definitive strokes. This is because the keycaps themselves are slightly smaller. The spacing does take some adjustment, but by this point in the article I am already getting pretty proficient and am having more grief from the autocorrect feature of Catalina than anything else. 

Notably, this keyboard is not in the warranty extension program that Apple is applying to its older keyboard designs. There is a standard 1 year warranty on this model, a statement by the company that they believe in the durability of this new design? Perhaps. It has to get out there and get bashed on by more violent keyboard jockeys than I for a while before we can tell whether it’s truly more resilient. 

But does this all come together to make a more usable keyboard? In short, yes. The best way to describe it in my opinion is a blend between the easy cushion of the old MacBook Air and the low profile stability of the Magic Keyboard for iMac. It’s truly one of the best feeling keyboards they’ve made in years and perhaps ever in the modern era. I reserve the right to be nostalgic about deep throw mechanical keyboards in this regard, but this is the next best thing. 

Pro, or Pro

In my brief and admittedly limited testing so far, the 16” MacBook Pro ends up looking like it really delivers on the Pro premise of this kind of machine in ways that have been lacking for a while in Apple’s laptop lineup. The increased storage caps, bigger screen, bigger battery and redesigned keyboard should make this an insta-buy for anyone upgrading from a 2015 MacBook Pro and a very tempting upgrade for even people on newer models that have just never been happy with the typing experience. 

Many of Apple’s devices with the label Pro lately have fallen into the bucket of ‘the best’ rather than ‘for professionals’. This isn’t strictly a new phenomenon for Apple, but more consumer centric devices like the AirPods Pro and the iPhone Pro get the label now than ever before. 

But the 16” MacBook Pro is going to alleviate a lot of the pressure Apple has been under to provide an unabashedly Pro product for Pro Pros. It’s a real return to form for the real Mack Daddy of the laptop category. As long as this new keyboard design proves resilient and repairable I think this is going to kick off a solid new era for Apple portables.

 


0

These sneakers vibrate

16:02 | 13 November

Sometimes it seems like you can hear a song all the way in your toes. With these new sneakers, you actually can.

Meet the new EP 01 sneakers out of DropLabs. Yes, you read that right. We’re talking about sneakers.

Invented by a man named Ross Seiler, and led by former Beats by Dre CEO Susan Paley, DropLabs aims to take audio to a whole new level by syncing music, movies and other audio to shoes that vibrate the soles of your feet.

It started when Seiler, who works in the music industry, was standing in a side room at a recording studio while a band was recording. He could feel every beat and low note in the song in his feet while standing over this particular patch of floor, and wanted to experience all music like that, as though he could feel the energy of the stage itself.

Eventually, Paley signed on as CEO of DropLabs and the EP 01 was born.

The EP 01 is a slightly chunky sneaker that’s equipped with Bluetooth, a speaker-grade transducer, and a power source to sync with almost any audio. As a movie or music or video game plays, the sneaker picks up the audio and sends it as a perfectly synced vibration right to the soles of your feet. For big, thunderous steps of a T-Rex in Jurassic World, the vibrations are heavy and full. For the pitter patter of the townspeoples’ footsteps in Red Dead Redemption II, the vibrations are light and muted.

What’s more, the vibrations are slightly directional. Noise that’s coming from the right vibrates on the right, and vice versa, which can be particularly impactful while playing video games.

Indeed, Paley sees gaming as a huge opportunity to enter the market. Audio, and particularly good directional audio, is incredibly important for gamers who compete at a high level. The growth of esports has allowed a number of brands to emerge as the “X for gamers”, not least of which being energy drinks.

DropLabs has an opportunity to market to gamers, offering a more immersive experience across their games and potentially even a competitive advantage.

Paley explained to TechCrunch that the brain actually functions at a higher level when three or more of the senses are engaged. Feeling something, alongside hearing and seeing it, flips a switch when it comes to processing information.

For this reason, Paley sees a huge potential to target gamers as an early demographic, particularly big name streamers and gaming influencers.

In fact, DropLabs has given the shoes to various researchers and universities around the country to learn more about how these shoes might be used. After meeting with them, Paley believes that there are applications that extend well beyond entertainment and into the health space.

I got a chance to try on the shoes and play around with them for a little while last week, and while I’d like to reserve my complete thoughts for a proper review, it goes without saying that wearing the shoes surely leaves an impression.

[gallery ids="1911372,1911373,1911374,1911375,1911376"]

But the EP 01 have challenges ahead.

For one, the shoes cost upwards of $500. It’s a mighty high price point for a gadget that most folks will need to try before they feel committed to buying.

“Whenever you create a new category and a new product, you have the challenge of asking consumers to change their behavior,” said Paley. “And this, in particular, is so visceral. How do you communicate viscerally what is an emotional experience? You can talk about it, but it’s very different to put someone in the shoe.”

The EP 01 must also find their place in a category that’s defined by fashion and personal style. Our shoes say something about us, and for now, the EP 01 comes in one style and one color (black). It’s as universal a shoe as it can be, considering all the electronics packed in there, but it doesn’t leave customers many options to change up their own look.

Of course, DropLabs is deep in the learning phase, soaking up as much information about its first-gen sneaker as possible as it looks to iterate for v2.

The EP 01 is available for pre-order now, and DropLabs has plans to launch pop-up shops and other IRL experiences for folks interested in the shoes.

 


0

Review: Samsung’s Space Monitor is handsome and minimal — if you have the desk for it

22:18 | 12 November

When Samsung announced the Space Monitor, I knew in an instant that it was going to be something I had to try out in person. Now that I’ve had time to do so, I’m happy to say it’s much as advertised, a streamlined and solid monitor with a smart new design — but not necessarily one for everybody.

Samsung Space Monitor

Pros:

  • Clever space-saving design
  • Quiet, attractive look
  • Solid color out of the box

Cons:

  • Doesn’t rotate and height depends on distance from wall
  • Sub-par viewing angles
  • Doesn’t work with every desk

Price: $400 (27-inch); $500 (32-inch)

We don’t review a lot of monitors at TechCrunch — none, really. This was more of a curiosity to me. I’m interested in design and monitors are usually ugly at best. But I was impressed with Samsung’s approach here and wanted to see if it worked in real life.

The big advance of the Space Monitor is its very low-profile mount, which grips the edge of your desk on the wall side and can be folded up flat against it. It can rotate up and down, the monitor tilting to taste — not so far as the Surface Studio but with that same general range of motion.

The monitor itself comes in two varieties: a larger 32-inch 4K one and a smaller 27-inch one at 2560×1440. I reviewed the smaller one, as the large one has a lower refresh rate and I really don’t have any use for 4K in my workflow.

The ideal situation for this thing is a relatively small work space where having the monitor actually sitting on your desk kind of invalidates all the space around it. With the Space Monitor, the stand is flush with the wall, clearing up the area below and in front of it even when it’s folded outwards. It’s easier than piercing the wall for a free-floating display

The performance of the monitor, as far as I am able to tell, is good but not great. The colors are vibrant and the default settings are solid, if perhaps a little warm (easily adjusted, of course). The refresh rate goes up to 144 Hz, which is more than enough for gaming, and can easily be tweaked to 120 for those of us who are very picky about video pulldown and other deep frame rate stuff.

One thing that isn’t impressive is the viewing angle. I feel like the sweet spot for this monitor is far narrower than on the Dell Ultrasharp IPS panel I’ve used for years. If you’re not sitting directly in front of it, you’re going to get color and brightness falloff at the edge you’re farthest from.

The bezel is narrow, a bit more than a quarter inch, a little thicker on the bottom side. It’s also nearly flush on the top and sides so you don’t feel like the bezels protrude towards you. All in all it’s a very handsome and understated design, as these things go. It’s worth noting that Samsung appears to have fudged the press imagery a bit and the microscopic bezel you see in official images is not actually what you get.

Installation isn’t quite as easy as just setting something down on your desk, but if you have a compatible desk, it’s literally as easy as sliding the clamp on and tightening it. A custom cable (optional, but convenient) combines HDMI and power into one, and fits into a groove on the back of the stand, eliminating clutter.

But you’ll want to take a good look at your desk to make sure it is compatible. I didn’t, and had to jury-rig a solution.

Basically, unless your desk is more or less solid and has a ledge that the clamp can close down on, you might have a problem. My desk is solid and about an inch and a half thick, but has a sort of wall that juts down about two more inches. I removed and reattached the bottom part of the clamp so it could just barely be slipped around the wall, but then the screw wouldn’t reach the bottom surface of the desk, so I had to fill the gap with a book. (It’s okay, I’ve got lots.)

The stand is plenty stiff and the monitor stays exactly where you’ve put it, but it is a little wobbly — understandable given that it sits at the very tip of a 14-inch-long arm. I only really noticed when I was typing very hard or bumped the desk, when I noticed it wobbled more and longer than the Dell on its traditional stand.

Now, if you’ve looked closely at the way this monitor and stand is set up, you may have noticed something else: this thing can’t rotate. Yes, unfortunately, the nature of the Space Monitor means that it must always be parallel to the desk edge it’s attached to, and can only move directly perpendicular to it. There is also no way to slide the monitor up and down, or rather to do so you must also move it towards or away from you.

For some this is unacceptable. And although it’s fine for me as a primary monitor, it would never work as a secondary one, like the Dell I now have angled toward me adjacent to the Samsung.

That does significantly limit its use cases, and the spaces in which it works well. But I still feel it’s a great option for some. If you have limited space and plan to primarily work from the sweet spot directly in front of it, this is a solid monitor big enough for productivity, movies, and games.

For those seeking a low-profile, space-saving alternative to the usual monitors, the Space Monitor is a great option. But for multiple-monitor setups or people who shift the angle a lot, it probably isn’t the best. At $400 it has strong competition from the usual suspects, but for some people the slight increase in image quality or the ability to slide the monitor up and down isn’t worth losing the desk space or having a clunky design. The Space Monitor is available now, at Samsung’s site or your usual electronics retailer.

 


0

Smartphone maker Realme is taking India and other emerging markets by storm

02:32 | 12 November

As Xiaomi widens its smartphone lead over Samsung in India, a new competitor is increasingly posing a challenge.

Realme, a one-and-half-year-old smartphone vendor that spun out of Oppo, commanded 14.3% of the world’s second largest smartphone market in the quarter that ended in September, research firm IDC said on Monday.

While Xiaomi, with 27.1% of the local smartphone market share, still dominates the market, the volume of handsets that Realme has shipped in India rose at a staggering 401.3% since the same period last year, according to IDC.

Market share of smartphone vendors in India

What’s fascinating about Realme’s expansion in India is just how closely it is replicating Xiaomi’s playbook in the country. Like Xiaomi, Realme for a year sold phones only through an online channel to cut overhead costs. Last quarter, the company began selling phones in India through offline stores, which still account for more than two-thirds of all smartphone sales.

In terms of online-only shipment, the company’s market share has ballooned to 26.5% in Q3 2019 from 16.5% in Q2 this year, the research firm said.

Realme has launched more than a dozen aggressively priced smartphone models so far, all priced between $80 to $240 — the sweet spot in the local market. In fact, IDC says Realme’s C2, 3i and 3 models — priced between $80 and $110 — were the top-selling phones for the company in Q3 this year.

Like Xiaomi’s handsets, Realme smartphones pack above the punch — sporting some of the highest-end hardware modules for their price range. The $80 Realme C2 features a six-inch HD+ display, 3+2 rear megapixel cameras, 4,000 mAh battery, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of expandable storage — and it supports 4G networks and has a facial unlock feature.

Other markets

Realme today operates in 18 countries, including its home market China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Vietnam and Egypt. In May this year, the company entered the European region.

In a report Counterpoint shared with its clients recently, the research firm said that based on the number of smartphones that Realme has shipped, the company’s rank went from 47th in Q3 2018 to 7th as of September this year. By shipping more than 10 million smartphones, the Chinese firm’s shipment grew by a whopping 808% during this period, the research firm said.

India and Indonesia accounted for more than 80% of smartphones that Realme has shipped to date, according to Counterpoint.

“We expect realme to become a serious contender in the market next year as growth will continue in emerging markets and online channels. The value for money proposition is also powerful in times of stagnant economic growth globally,” Counterpoint analysts wrote.

The aggressive growth of Realme hasn’t gone unnoticed with Xiaomi. The two companies have already exchanged testy words with one another and made allegations.

And you thought smartphone wars were over.

 


0

Adidas backpedals on robotic shoe production with Speedfactory closures

01:38 | 12 November

An expensive experiment in global distribution has been abandoned by Adidas, which has announced that will close its robotic “Speedfactories” in Atlanta and Ansbach, Germany, within 6 months. The company sugar-coated the news with a promise to repurpose the technology used at its existing human-powered factories in Asia.

The factories were established in 2016 (Ansbach) and 2017 (Atlanta) as part of a strategy to decentralize its manufacturing processes. The existing model, like so many other industries, is to produce the product in eastern Asia, where labor and overhead is less expensive, then ship it as needed. But this is a slow and clumsy model for an industry that moves as quickly as fashion and athletics.

“Right now, most of our products are made out of Asia and we put them on a boat or on a plane so they end up on Fifth Avenue,” said Adidas CMO Eric Liedtke in an interview last year at Disrupt SF about new manufacturing techniques. The Speedfactories were intended to change that: “Instead of having some sort of micro-distribution center in Jersey, we can have a micro-factory in Jersey.”

Ultimately this seems to have proven more difficult than expected. As other industries have found in the rush to automation, it’s easy to overshoot the mark and overcommit when the technology just isn’t ready.

Robotic factories are a powerful tool but difficult to quickly reconfigure or repurpose, since it takes specialty knowledge to set up racks of robotic arms, computer vision systems, and so on. Robotics manufacturers are making advances in this field, but for now it’s a whole lot harder than training a human workforce to use standard tools on a different pattern.

In a press release, Adidas global operations head Martin Shankland explained that “The Speedfactories have been instrumental in furthering our manufacturing innovation and capabilities,” and that for a short time they even brought products to market in a hurry. “That was our goal from the start,” he says, though presumably things played out a bit differently in the pitch decks from 2016.

“We very much regret that our collaboration in Ansbach and Atlanta has come to an end,” Shankland said. Oechsler, the high-tech manufacturing partner that Adidas worked with, feels the same. “Whilst we understand adidas’ reasons for discontinuing Speedfactory production at Oechsler, we regret this decision,” said the company’s CEO, Claudius Kozlik, in the press release. The factories will shut down by April, presumably eliminating or shifting the 160 or so jobs they provided, but the two companies will continue to work together.

The release says that Adidas will “use its Speedfactory technologies to produce athletic footwear at two of its suppliers in Asia” starting next year. It’s not really clear what that means, and I’ve asked the company for further information.

 


0

Vape lung ‘breakthrough’ suggests lethal culprit in THC products could be vitamin E acetate

23:23 | 8 November

Official word has come down from federal authorities on one potential cause of the mystery illness affecting vape users: Vitamin E acetate, a chemical found in some vaping products that has been demonstrated to linger in the lungs long afterwards. The finding has been called a “breakthrough” but is far from the last word on the situation.

Sadly, the condition has already claimed the lives of at least 39 people, and more than 2,000 cases have been reported collectively from every state but Alaska. At present the only advice offered has been to stop vaping altogether.

In a media teleconference, the heads of the investigation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained the basis for pointing the finger at Vitamin E acetate. The substance was cited as a possible problem early on but only recent testing has established it as a bona fide suspect, the team explained.

Samples taken from the lungs of 29 victims of the condition were sent in from 10 different states, and vitamin E acetate was found in all of them. “These findings provide direct evidence of vitamin E acetate as the primary site of injury within the lungs,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC .

Although she agreed that this evidence is a “breakthrough,” she noted that it is at present merely a correlative finding — more research is required to establish causation, namely the mechanism of harm, though other work has been done in that area.

“Previous non-CDC research suggests that when vitamin E acetate is inhaled, it may interfere with normal lung function,” she said.

“It’s important to note that these findings do not rule out other possible compounds or ingredients that may be causing these lung injuries,” she continued. “There may be more than one cause of the outbreak.”

Equally important are the statistics involved with the sources of the substances in question. As mentioned earlier in the investigation, a huge proportion of those suffering from this condition were using THC products, and specifically ones acquired through unregulated channels like street dealers.

The vitamin E acetate may have been added for the purpose of essentially cutting the product, Schuchat mentioned in response to a question on the call.

“That may be done for the illicit purpose, or the profit purpose, of diluting the materials, making it look nice and perhaps not having to use as much THC or other active ingredients,” she said.

Other potentially dangerous chemicals have been identified in vape products when heated and aerosolized, including many that even the creators might not have predicted.

Knowing a potential culprit doesn’t get at the heart of the problem, which would be that this chemical (perhaps among others) has already built up over months or years in the lungs of frequent vape users. Treatment is a parallel line of research, but knowing at least one substance responsible should be helpful.

The CDC’s previous advice still stands, the officials noted: They advise avoiding vaping altogether, since there are very few controls at present over what ingredients are allowed in vape products, and what must be declared on the packaging, or indeed whether those declarations are in any way accurate.

 


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This robotic arm slows down to avoid the uncanny valley

00:48 | 8 November

Robotic arms can move fast enough to snatch thrown objects right out of the air… but should they? Not unless you want them to unnerve the humans they’re interacting with, according to work out of Disney Research. Roboticists there found that slowing a robot’s reaction time made it feel more normal to people.

Disney has of course been interested in robotics for decades, and the automatons in its theme parks are among the most famous robots in the world. But there are few opportunities for those robots to interact directly with people. Hence a series of research projects at its research division aimed at safe and non-weird robot-human coexistence.

In this case the question was how to make handing over an item to a robot feel natural and non-threatening. Obviously if, when you reached out with a ticket or empty cup, the robot moved like lightning and snapped it out of your hands, that could be seen as potentially dangerous, or at the very least make people nervous.

So the robot arm in this case (attached to an anthropomorphic cat torso) moves at a normal human speed. But there’s also the question of when it should reach out. After all, it takes us humans a second to realize that someone is handing something to us, then to reach out and grab it. A computer vision system might be able to track an object and send the hand after it more quickly, but it might feel strange.

The researchers set up an experiment where the robot hand reached out to take a ring from a person, under three conditions each of speed and delay.

When the hand itself moved quickly, people reported less “warmth” and more “discomfort.” The slow speed performed best on those scores. And hen the hand moved with no delay, it left people similarly uneasy. But interestingly, too long a delay had a similar effect.

Turns out there’s a happy medium that matches what people seem to expect from a hand reaching out to take something from them. Slower movement is better, to a certain point one imagines, and a reasonable but not sluggish delay makes it feel more human.

The handover system detailed in a paper published today (and video below) is robust against the usual circumstances: moving targets, unexpected forces, and so on. It’ll be a while before an Aristocats bot takes your mug from you at a Disney World cafe, but at least you can be sure it won’t snatch it faster than the eye can follow and scare everyone around you.

 


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DNA testing startup Veritas Genetics confirms data breach

00:13 | 8 November

Veritas Genetics, a DNA testing startup, has said a data breach resulted in the theft of some customer information.

The Danvers, MA-based company said its customer facing portal had “recently” been breached but did not say when. Although the portal did not contain test results or medical information, the company declined to say what information had been stolen — only that a handful of customers were affected.

The company has not issued a public statement, nor has it acknowledge the breach on its website. A spokesperson for Veritas did not respond to a request for comment.

Bloomberg first reported the news.

Veritas, whose competitors include 23andMe, Ancestry, and MyHeritage, says it can analyze and understand a human genome using a smaller portion of an individual’s DNA, allowing customers to better understand what health risks they may face in later life or pass on to their children.

Although the stolen data did not include personal health information, it’s likely to further fuel concerns that health startups, particularly companies dealing with sensitive DNA and genome information, can’t protect their users’ data.

Privacy remains an emerging concern in genetics testing after law enforcement have served legal demands against DNA collection and genetics testing companies to help identify suspects in criminal cases. Just this week, it was reported that a “game changer” warrant obtained in Florida allowed one police department to search the full database of GEDmatch, a DNA testing company, which was last year was used by police to help catch the notorious Golden State Killer.

Some 26 million consumers have used an at-home genetics testing kit.

 


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Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 starts shipping

16:00 | 7 November

Earlier this year, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft announced the second generation of its HoloLens augmented reality visor. Today, the $3,500 HoloLens 2 is going on sale in the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand, the same countries where it was previously available for pre-order.

Ahead of the launch, I got to spend some time with the latest model, after a brief demo in Barcelona earlier this year. Users will immediately notice the larger field of view, which still doesn’t cover your full field of view, but offers a far better experience compared to the first version (where you often felt like you were looking at the virtual objects through a stamp-sized window).

The team also greatly enhanced the overall feel of wearing the device. It’s not light, at 1.3 pounds, but with the front visor that flips up and the new mounting system that is far more comfortable.

In regular use, existing users will also immediately notice the new gestures for opening up the Start menu (this is Windows 10, after all). Instead of a ‘bloom’ gesture, which often resulted in false positives, you now simply tap on the palm of your hand, where a Microsoft logo now appears when you look at it.

Eye tracking, too, has been greatly improved and works well, even over large distances, and the new machine learning model also does a far better job at tracking all of your fingers. All of this is powered by a lot of custom hardware, including Microsoft’s second-generation ‘holographic processing unit.’

Microsoft has also enhanced some of the cloud tools it built for HoloLens, including Azure Spatial Anchors that allow for persistent holograms in a given space that anybody else who is using a holographic app can then see in the same spot.

Taken together, all of the changes result in a more comfortable and smarter device, with reduced latencies when you look at the various objects around you and interact with them.

 


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