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“Violent hack-‘n’-slash game Let It Die passes 1 million downloads” plus 29 more VentureBeat


“Violent hack-‘n’-slash game Let It Die passes 1 million downloads” plus 29 more VentureBeat

Violent hack-‘n’-slash game Let It Die passes 1 million downloads

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 01:30 PM PST

Let It Die.

Death nets downloads.

Publisher GungHo Entertainment announced today that its free-to-play hack-‘n’-slash game Let It Die has surpassed 1 million downloads since coming out for the PlayStation 4 on December 3. Those could translate into potential customers that could spend money on in-game transactions.

GungHo’s best known for its biggest hit, the mobile game Puzzle & Dragons. Let It Die is the publisher’s first PlayStation 4 game, although it did publish the mobile version of Galak-Z. Grasshopper Entertainment developed Let It Die. Goichi Suda, also known as Suda 51, is the chief executive officer of that studio, known for violent, over-the-top games like No More Heroes and Lollipop Chainsaw.

“Developed by the creative minds at Grasshopper Manufacture, Let It Die is set in a post-apocalyptic Japan that starts players with little more than their undergarments to survive,” GungHo detailed in a press release sent to GamesBeat. “Players must forage for powerful weapons and armor to do battle with the over-the-top ultraviolent future that waits.”

To celebrate the milestone, Let It Die is giving players who log in a daily bonus Death Metal from January 6 to January 8. Death Metals are an in-game currency that allow players to continue the game after dying. You can also buy Death Metals with real money.

Samsung to invest $150 million in early-stage emerging tech startups

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 01:24 PM PST

The logo of Samsung Electronics is seen at its headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, July 4, 2016.

Samsung on Wednesday announced its intentions to support early-stage startups focused on emerging technologies. The company, through its global innovation group has established a $150 million fund targeting businesses specializing in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, internet of things, and “other new frontier technologies.”

So far, Samsung has made investments in 10 startups, including Converge Industries, Dashbot, Entry Point VR, Filament, Intezer, LiquidSky, Otto Radio, 2Sens, SafeDK, and Virtru. The fund is aimed at making pre-seed to series B investments.

"Our investments bring the power of the Samsung platform to startups to accelerate their growth and ultimately their success," said Brendon Kim, vice president and the managing director of Samsung’s NEXT Ventures. “The Samsung NEXT Fund expands our global reach and capabilities, while increasing Samsung's access to more great ideas, products and talent.”

Samsung declined to specify how much each startup receives. In addition, it appears that the company could be targeting those in Israel next with opening of a new office in Tel Aviv, Israel in September. There are now five offices worldwide dedicated towards innovation, including San Francisco, Mountain View, Korea, and New York. More locations are planned later this year.

Samsung NEXT formerly was known as the global innovation center. The name change was done because “our new name reflects our passion for partnering with tech innovators to take them to the NEXT level – build great ideas into products, grow products into thriving businesses and scale businesses that leverage and transform the Samsung ecosystem.”


Toyota’s latest concept car uses AI to understand your driving habits

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 01:00 PM PST

A rendering of Toyota's newest concept car, the Concept-i.

Toyota on Wednesday unveiled the next concept car it’s working on, called the Concept-i. Jumping into the autonomous vehicle space, the car maker doesn’t envision a system to let you get to your destination hands-free, but rather one that knows not only your route, but also driving patterns, schedules, emotion, and other data points.

The Concept-i is expected to begin on-road evaluations within “the next few years” in Japan.

In a statement, Toyota explained that the philosophy underlying this futuristic vehicle, centered around wanting it to be warm, welcoming, and fun. To accomplish this, the manufacturer opted to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) to see if the car was able to anticipate the driver’s needs and improve the overall experience.

A rendering showing the interior and steering wheel of Toyota's new concept car, the Concept-i.

Above: A rendering showing the interior and steering wheel of Toyota’s new concept car, the Concept-i.

Image Credit: Toyota

Toyota believes that the driver-vehicle relationship should be one that’s “meaningful and human,” which is why its AI, dubbed “Yui,” promises to process numerous signals to make getting around easier, such as driving patterns, emotion, and when and where you go. The vehicle also possesses other technology to heighten safety, including recognizing visual and haptic stimuli, monitoring road conditions and your attentiveness, and allowing you to retake the wheel from self-driving mode at any time.

Designed by Toyota’s CALTY design research team in collaboration with the company’s innovation hub, Concept-i certainly doesn’t look like a vehicle you would currently see on the roads. Beyond having a smarter computer inside, Toyota has done away with the traditional gauges on the dashboard, opting to use light, sound, and touch to communicate critical information. Colored lights in the foot wells will indicate whether the Concept-i is in automated or manual drive, and projectors in the rear dock will tell you if another car is in your blind spot. Yui greets riders at the door through exterior panels, and the rear of the vehicle will display messages about upcoming turns or warning about potential hazards.

Rendering showing the messages displayed on the rear panel of Toyota's Concept-i vehicle.

Above: Rendering showing the messages displayed on the rear panel of Toyota’s Concept-i vehicle.

Image Credit: Toyota

Don’t get too excited about this futuristic-looking car, though — it’s going to be a while before something like it comes to the market for you to own. Toyota hasn’t set a date for mass production, which is smart since there’s still a lot of things to be worked out, such as getting the AI to a point where it won’t endanger people’s lives, run red lights, or freak out in inclement weather. And then there’s the regulatory process that companies need to go through in the U.S. But with Tesla’s autopilot becoming rather mainstream now, it’s feasible to assume that you might get to open up your wallet sometime in the near future.

The push into AI isn’t new for Toyota, as the car maker has been actively researching the technology for a while. It has invested $1 billion over five years to establish a research facility in Silicon Valley to investigate visual computing, machine learning, robotics, human-computer interactions, intelligent systems, decision making, natural language processing, and more. Last year, the company suggested that the public would begin seeing some advances being released over the next five years.

But Toyota isn’t the only one in looking at AI, as it joins Honda, Ford, BMW, and Volkswagen among the major manufacturers. And there are plenty of other companies promising self-driving technology, including, Google, Tesla, Mobileye, Uber, and AImotive.

“At Toyota, we recognize that the important question isn’t whether future vehicles will be equipped with automated or connected technologies,” said Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota. “It is the experience of the people who engage with those vehicles. Thanks to Concept-i and the power of artificial intelligence, we think the future is a vehicle that can engage with people in return.”


‘Brooklyn 99’ star Terry Crews wants to voice an Overwatch character

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 12:30 PM PST

Terry Crews wants to be Doomfist.

Overwatch could be adding a celebrity to its roster.

Terry Crews, an actor known for his intensity and bulging muscles, wants to voice a character in Overwatch, Blizzard’s hit team-based shooter that has over 20 million players since launching last May for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The Brooklyn 99 star (or maybe you know him from those over-the-top Old Spice commercials) recently visited Blizzard and posed in front of an Overwatch logo. Crews site, ArtBuff, then today posted a story about Terry’s visit and the rumors that he could voice a new character, Doomfist. Crews then posted the following Facebook status today.

Fans have been guessing that Doomfist could become an addition to the team-based shooter since Blizzard first revealed the title. Overwatch’s debut trailer had characters fighting over Doomfist’s gauntlet, and three banners in the Numbani map show three different people who used the Doomifst moniker.

Who is "the successor."

Above: Who is “the successor.”

Image Credit: ArtBuff

Could “the successor” be the Doomfist that Crews wants to voice?

So far, Overwatch has added two characters after it launched: the sniper-healer Ana and the stealth-hacker Sombra. Since those two were a support and offensive character respectively, it makes sense that a tank (a character designed to absorb a lot of damage) could be next. The beefy-looking Doomfist could easily be a tank, and Crews bravado could be an interesting fit.

Blizzard has cast traditional voice actors for the roster of Overwatch heroes, so netting a celebrity would be a change. Also, Blizzard constantly records new lines of dialogue for its characters to match holiday events and interactions with new maps and characters. So, if Crews really wants to be Doomfist, it wouldn’t be a one-time gig.

How personal tech giant Garmin turned data + creative into a 9.7x return on ad spend (VB Live)

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 12:25 PM PST


The very best marketing campaigns grab their audience by the gonads — but it takes data to figure out exactly what goes into reaching out and touching someone. Join GPS technology giant Garmin for insight into turning analytics into powerful creative that gets bottom line results.

Register here for free.

Under global digital advertising and social media manager Carla Meyer, Garmin has grown from a one-person social media team to a ten-person global digital advertising department — and, in the process, has become a data-powered creative force.

“We had a good creative foundation,” Meyer says, “but creative wasn’t being informed by digital and social data.” They now are able to create assets specifically and custom-designed for every platform, medium, and audience they target, rather than repurposing TV commercial or print ads.

“That makes all the difference in the world for us and our campaigns,” says Meyer. “For us, creative is a really important variable. It’s the creative that people engage with and that drives the feelings or emotion and connection to our brand and so really, creative is the variable that’s driving the success of the campaign.”

Data is not just the guiding force for their creative choices but sometimes the spark, she says. “I’m able to look at it and say, ‘What are we getting, what is the connection, and how do we make it better?”” she explains. “How are we engaging our audiences — is it meaningful? Is it impactful?”

The analytics behind their upper-tier fēnix 3 multi-sport watch campaign showed that their initial hunch — that the watch would appeal to the serious and seriously athletic rugged sports enthusiast — was a case in point.

“Through running this campaign, we actually found that we had a very large audience in the business segment — a more casual fitness enthusiast, who definitely cared about the look and the style of the watch,” Meyers says. “From the ad data, we were able to identify an entirely new audience of people that we weren’t necessarily looking for at the outset but that loved the watch — higher-end businessmen with the expendable income to purchase it.”

They adapted their creative strategy throughout the campaign funnel in response, Meyer says, adding a new angle alongside the colorful, high-energy outdoor lifestyle footage. “We did more fashion-focused ads, less outdoorsy rugged; more close-up product shots in a fashionable, more business environment and it worked well for us.”

Their campaign was two-part, with video ads on Instagram building awareness and Facebook carousel ads driving conversions. When Meyer says ‘it worked well for us,’ she’s referring to the fact that the adapted campaign generated a 9.7x return on ad spend — slightly ahead of their hoped-for 2x goal.

This kind of success is all about breaking down silos. “So we’re getting creative at the table with strategy, with planning, and media buying, and our partners,” says Meyers. “Looking at all our campaigns this year as we’re building out, and bringing creative closer in the process, is really helping us drive future ripples too.”

Want to know how to start, and where? Join our interactive round table discussion with GPS technology giant Garmin and advertising technology leader Undertone for insights into leveraging the dramatic power of data-driven creative.

Don't miss out!

Register here for free.

In this VB Live event, you'll learn how to:

  • Find your customers online and how to reach them
  • Refine targeting and creative with data
  • Leverage creative as the key variable in digital marketing
  • Reach out to influencers, the new gatekeepers


  • Carla Meyer, Global Digital Advertising and Social Media Manager, Garmin
  • Eric Franchi, Co-founder and SVP Business Development, Undertone


  • Wendy Schuchart, Analyst, VentureBeat

This VB Live event is sponsored by Undertone.

Medium pivots and lays off one-third of its team

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 12:13 PM PST

Medium's new logo

Medium announced it is changing business models in a bid to salvage its original mission, but in doing so, it has to lay off 50 employees, or one-third of the workforce. The departures come from “sales, support, and other business functions”. The move was driven by the company’s recognition that it didn’t have the right solution for monetizing based on its content. To continue on this route would “put us at risk.”

Another result of the layoffs include the closure of the company’s New York and Washington, D.C. offices, although Medium said that some people will continue to work from those locales. The product development and engineering teams are unaffected.

In a Medium post announcing the move, company chief executive Evan Williams placed blame on a broken system that’s driven by advertisements. “It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other ‘content’ we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get … well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.”

The move is a little bit surprising in light of recent metrics Medium released prior to the new year. The service now counts 60 million monthly visitors, an increase of 140 percent annually, and there are more than 7.5 million posts penned, a 295 percent increase.

Medium didn’t offer specifics about its pivot except to say that it’s shifting resources towards establishing a new model where writers and creators will be “rewarded” (paid?) based on the impact of their work. Could this mean that Medium will employ a similar strategy like YouTube with content creators? Williams acknowledged that the plan is still in its early stages and cautions that it will take some time to get it right.

As the publishing platform provider seeks to right itself, one thing remaining unclear is how will this affect publishers that have slowly but surely flocked to Medium, such as Pacific Standard, The AwlFranklin Leonard's The Black ListMonday Note, FemsplainElectric Literature, FilmSchoolRejectsThe Kicker, The Bold Italic, NewCo Shift, The Banana Boat, MEL, and Above Average, all of whom seem to place more trust in the service.

In April, Medium sought to establish itself as a publishing powerhouse, launching a specialized product for bloggers and writers, allowing publishers to customize the look and feel of their site, including navigation, layout, and color scheme. It built on top of efforts to consider paywalls and premium content, all things that could make writers money. Things clearly didn’t work out the way Medium wanted.

Doctors, data, and diseases: How AI is transforming health care

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 12:10 PM PST

healthcare security

Health care doesn’t have a big data problem. It has a big data opportunity, thanks to artificial intelligence. Think about the number of inefficiencies in your daily life — long lines, traffic jams, a reliance on “snail mail” for certain bills or communications. Those inefficiencies are inconvenient and annoying, yes, but they are usually not a matter of life and death. Health care is different. The need for productivity in health care is different. The potential for automation in health care is different. In fact, it’s greater.

Data: The driving force

The amount of data in health care is mind-boggling. As more traditional forms of information like patient records become electronic, we also have new sources of data being digitized — think 4D images of the body and high-resolution genomes. One study in PLOS Biology, a journal published by the Public Library of Science, forecasted that data generated by genomics alone will be on par with that generated by astronomical science, YouTube, and Twitter by 2025.

So how do we possibly make sense of all this information? Machine and deep learning can help.

Machine learning, an approach to achieve artificial intelligence, and deep learning, a subset of machine learning that trains artificial neural networks over time to provide answers to questions with near 100 percent accuracy, can process, analyze, and identify patterns in that information to help improve quality, speed, and access to care.

AI already making an impact

For example, Stanford University researchers developed an algorithm that identified thousands of objective features from pathology images of lung cancer tissue, then trained a computer software program to evaluate the samples. The computer accurately predicted the prognoses of the cancer patients from the slide pathology in a fully automated method that the researchers suggested “could provide rapid and objective survival prediction for numerous patients.”

And through a partnership GE Healthcare recently announced with UC San Francisco (UCSF), we will be developing a library of deep learning algorithms to expedite and aid differential diagnosis and improve clinical workflows, shortening time to treatment and improving patient outcomes. Once such algorithms are deployed globally as applications on the GE Health Cloud and smart GE imaging machines, clinicians around the world will have virtual access to the associated clinical expertise and workflows used to create the algorithms.*

Of course, radiology is just one of the many areas in which machine and deep learning could transform health care. Other areas for exploration include personalized medicine and drug discovery, remote monitoring through virtual nursing assistants, and natural language voice recognition software to eliminate the need for manual entry of notes into an electronic health record (EHR).

Addressing the doubt

But with all the promise, we cannot ignore the skepticism and fears that machine and deep learning bring. Health care is highly complex, regulated, and personal. Because of its unique combination of data, science, and machines and the interactions with patients’ lives, innovation in the industry requires much more than cool new gadgets or one-off apps that don’t get to the heart of challenges around cost, quality, and access.

Machine and deep learning can be the real, actionable, supporting innovation. With an aging population, increased consumer engagement, heightened demands around value-based care, and a global shortage of health care professionals, machine and deep learning has incredible potential to solve providers’ greatest pain points and address patients’ greatest needs.

Ultimately, all of us will be a patient. We’ll have friends and family who will be patients, too. Machine and deep learning is about improving the lives of individuals so that all that data — from EHRs, lab tests, genomics, and imaging — can be analyzed and leveraged in real time for the highest quality, most efficient delivery of care.


* Technology in development represents ongoing research and development efforts. These technologies are not products and may never become products. Not for sale. Not cleared or approved by the U.S. FDA or any other global regulator for commercial availability.

Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides for Android now let you import and export OpenDocument files

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 12:03 PM PST

Google Docs for Android in the Google Play Store.

Google today said it’s enhancing Google Docs for Android with support for importing files in OpenDocument Text (.odt) format and then exporting documents as .odt files.

A similar thing is happening with Google Sheets for Android: It now supports importing and exporting of OpenDocument Spreadsheets (.ods) files. And with Google Slides for Android — you guessed it! — you can now import and export OpenDocument Presentations (.odp) files.

This comes after Google made it possible to import .odt, .ods, and .odp files in Google Drive in late 2014.

The new support does not work offline, Google said in a blog post.

And there’s no word about .odt, .ods, and .odp support coming to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides on iOS.

Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for iOS all support OpenDocument files. But they’re not accessible in the Android versions of those apps.

The OpenDocument format originated in the 2000s at time when Microsoft Office, with its .doc, .xls, and .ppt formats, was dominant and the Google portfolio of competing cloud-based apps was still coming up. Ultimately Microsoft added support for it on its desktop productivity apps with the release of Office 2007 Service Pack 2.

Also today Google said it has added support for exporting docs in .epub format from Google Docs for Android. (Last year Google added .epub exporting support to Docs on the web.) And that app is also getting page setup options such as orientation (portrait or landscape), paper size, and page color.

Little Bug seeks funding on Fig to bring a cute platformer to life

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 11:50 AM PST

Little Bug.

This little bug has big dreams that you can help come true.

The stylized 2D platformer Little Bug is the latest game to seek funding on Fig, a crowdfunding site that gives people the choice to invest in a project, giving them a chance to share in potential profits. Little Bug has a funding goal of $35,000, with a deadline on February 9. It’s under development for PC and Mac for a spring 2018 release.

“In the arcade-style indie Little Bug, a young lost girl Nyah learns to harness emerging telekinetic abilities to navigate through real, metaphysical, and emotional challenges, working with her firefly companion,” Fig detailed in a press release sent to GamesBeat. “Little Bug won the Best Platformer award in Intel's 2016 LevelUp competition and has been building interest through a recent free demo version release.”

You can try out that free demo here.

Fig has helped fund seven games, including Psychonauts 2, Wasteland 3, and Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch. Famed developers Tim Schafer of Double Fine, Brain Fargo of InXile, and Feargus Urquhart of Obsidian Entertainment started the site in 2015 as an alternative to Kickstarter that focuses exclusively on games.

Asus unveils ZenFone AR with Google’s Daydream and Tango support, coming in Q2 2017

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 11:30 AM PST


Probably the most-leaked device at CES 2017 so far has been the Asus ZenFone AR, through no fault of the Taiwanese company. Partner Qualcomm revealed much of the details in a blog post touting the use of its Snapdragon 821 chipset, and infamous leaker Evan Blass (evleaks) added front and back press renders of the phone. The key part that was missing was a release timeframe, which we now have: Q2 2017.

The ZenFone AR stands out as the first smartphone that will support both of Google’s Daydream and Tango platforms, and is only the second to support the latter (Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro was the first). Daydream is a virtual reality (VR) platform built into Android 7.0 Nougat and above. Tango is an augmented reality (AR) platform that detects users’ positions relative to places and objects around them without using GPS or other external signals.

Asus states the phone “was developed in close cooperation with Google to deliver the best user experience” using both AR and VR technologies. For both platforms, content is still lacking — Asus and Google will be working to bring more apps to the market.

For VR, Asus points to the phone’s 5.7-inch WQHD (1440 x 2560 resolution) screen and high-contrast super AMOLED technology that enhances the 3D effect. The device can be used as a VR display mounted in the Daydream View headset.

For AR, the phone has a set of sensors and computer vision software for interpreting images, videos, space, and motion. Tango allows the ZenFone AR to offer motion tracking, depth perception, and area learning so that it can detect how far it is away from a floor, wall, or an object and understand where it is moving in three-dimensional space.

The Zenfone AR is powered by a Snapdragon 821 processor, like the Google Pixel, as well as an Adreno 530 GPU and 6GB of RAM. The ZenFone AR also has a vapor cooling system to prevent overheating, a common issue when powering AR and VR experiences.

The phone features a PixelMaster 3.0 camera system, a Sony IMX318 sensor, and TriTech Autofocus system. The camera has a few special modes: 4-axis OIS photo, 3-axis EIS video stabilization, Super Resolution (92MP photos by capturing and combining four native 23MP photos), low light, and 4K video recording. You can also expect support for Hi-Res Audio, DTS virtual surround sound, and a 5-magnet speaker.

If you’re fascinated with mobile AR and VR, or a developer interested in both, this phone looks like a solid bet. The only missing piece of the puzzle is pricing, which will be unveiled later this year.


Apple reportedly confirms $1 billion investment in SoftBank fund

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 10:32 AM PST

Apple sign Mr Gray Flickr

(Reuters) — Apple confirmed its plans to invest $1 billion in a tech fund being set up by Japan’s SoftBank Group, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

“We believe their new fund will speed the development of technologies which may be strategically important to Apple,” the Journal quoted Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet as saying.

SoftBank has said it is investing at least $25 billion in the fund and has been in talks with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund for an investment that could go up to $45 billion.

SoftBank has also said that it plans to make future large-scale investments via the tech fund, rather than on its own.

Reuters reported in December, citing sources familiar with the matter, that Apple had held talks with SoftBank about the investment.

Apple and SoftBank did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

What are the best-looking video game consoles of all time? GamesBeat Decides

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 10:30 AM PST

Good looking consoles and dudes.

It’s 2017, and — as we all know — this means that presidential politics no longer affect us and all celebrities from the 1970s and 1980s are now immortal. But the GamesBeat Decides podcast? Well that never changes.

Except for when one of us has a kid!

Your host, Jeffrey Grubb, is about to have his first kid, and he’s essentially on paternity leave. That means we’re recording some miniepisodes for the next couple of weeks. We’re kicking that off with a look back at the history of video game consoles. And instead of deciding which one was the best at playing games, we’re going to choose which one looked the coolest. Join us, won’t you?

The topic:

  • The top 5 best-looking video game consoles of all time

Listen by pressing play here or on the video above:

Other ways to listen:

  • Watch the episode live every Monday on our Facebook page, just hit the Like button to get notifications.
  • Watch the recording on YouTube.
  • Subscribe to our podcast RSS feed using a podcatcher app.
  • Subscribe on iTunes (also please leave us a review to help other people learn about the show!).
  • Subscribe on Google Play Music.
  • Subscribe on Stitcher.

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

HTC is launching the 5.5-inch One X10 phablet in Q1

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 10:14 AM PST


HTC is poised to release a sequel to last year’s 5.5-inch One X9 phablet later this month in the form of the HTC One X10 — a handset only slightly different from its predecessor, according to a person who has used one.

In fact, while most key specs remain the same (save for the camera resolutions), HTC is said to be using a slightly less powerful version of the Mediatek system-on-chip that powered the X9.

Specifically, X10 contains the octa-core MT6755V/C (also employed by HTC in last year’s Desire 10 Pro) running at 1.9GHz and paired with a Mali T860 graphics processor. Compare that to the X9, whose MT6795 SoC also contains eight cores, but clocked at a higher 2.2GHz.

With the same RAM/ROM combination of 3GB and 32GB of storage, along with an identical screen resolution of 1080 x 1920, it’s hard to qualify the X10 as an upgrade — it’s very much a refresh.

The only improvements, at least on paper, are found in the X10’s imaging capabilities. Its 16.3 megapixel rear camera and 7.9 megapixel front cam both exceed the maximum resolutions of the X9, with its 13 megapixel and 5 megapixel sensors, respectively.

According to a report out of China late last year, HTC is preparing a total of three handsets for release in the first quarter of the year. X10 is one of them, while another goes by the codename Ocean Note, a higher end phablet with a curved screen and reported industry-leading camera. The third model, then, should be HTC’s mass market flagship for the year, a followup to 2016’s HTC 10.

Whistle 3 helps you keep track of your wandering pet

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 10:01 AM PST

Whistle 3 can track your lost pet.

Whistle, the maker of pet-tracking and monitoring devices, announced its Whistle 3 product at CES 2017, the big tech trade show this week in Las Vegas.

The device can quickly locate a lost pet and can track your pet’s daily exercise. The newest product combines continuous location tracking with upgraded activity monitoring. Whistle has built a best-of-breed pet tracking device and companion mobile app to make pet care smarter. Americans spend $63 billion on their pets every year, according to the American Pet Product Association, and pet care devices could exceed $2 billion by 2023.

The Whistle 3 has faster and more accurate location tracking than its predecessor. A brand new wireless infrastructure — using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, and GPS radios — enables pet owners to get escape alerts more quickly and to track down a lost pet using their smartphone.

The app has a geo-fencing feature that lets pet owners create multiple safe spaces for the pet to wander in within the home, office, or a vacation spot. The Whistle 3 mobile app has been completely redesigned based on real-life user experiences with pet loss and activity tracking. The setup process has been simplified, and the new framework creates a platform for interesting future applications, including clinical trials, partnerships, and more.

Whistle 3 is 50 percent smaller than the previous model.

Above: Whistle 3 is 50 percent smaller than the previous model.

Image Credit: Whistle

The device has also been redesigned to fit pets of all shapes and sizes. It is now 50 percent smaller, and it weighs less than an ounce. It is durable and waterproof.

"Until Whistle entered the market, pet loss interventions and preventative care was a system of hoping for the best without much reliable information about your pet’s specific needs. Even today, you're likely to find pet loss flyers posted nearby," said Ben Jacobs, CEO and cofounder of Whistle, in a statement. "With the largest database of pet location and activity data, Whistle can better understand how to prevent the biggest risks our pets face — like loss and obesity-related illnesses. Our goal with Whistle 3 is to make the world of pet care smarter, and more responsible, so pet owners can have peace of mind while they focus on the best parts of sharing life with a pet."

Whistle 3 will be available for $80 on and The required Whistle subscription provides continuous national cellular coverage to ensure you can locate your pet anywhere there is cell service. Plans start at $7 a month and top out at $10 a month. The free mobile app will be available for iOS and Android users in the App Store and Google Play Store.

Whistle will continue to support the original Whistle app and related devices (Whistle Activity Monitor, Tagg Pet Tracker, Tagg GPS Plus, Whistle GPS Pet Tracker) with no interruption to service. The brand doesn't have plans to switch off the service and remains committed to all Whistle users. The original Whistle GPS Pet Tracker is still available for purchase for $50 while supplies last at Best Buy,, and

Founded in 2012 by Ben Jacobs, Steven Eidelman, and Kevin Lloyd, Whistle is on a mission to equip pet owners with simple tools that help them stay connected to their pets from anywhere. Whistle has about 75 employees, and it has raised $21 million in two rounds. Mars Inc. acquired the company in 2016. Whistle has sold more than 200,000 pet trackers to date.


Mass Effect: Andromeda gets March 21 launch date for PS4, Xbox One, and PC

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 10:00 AM PST

Mass Effect Andromeda E3 2016 04

You won’t have to wait much longer to leave this galaxy.

BioWare has announced that its sci-fi role-playing game Mass Effect: Andromeda will come out for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on March 21 in the U.S. and on March 23 in Europe. The Mass Effect series has sold over 14 million units since the first game came out in 2007. This is publisher Electronic Arts’ first major release of 2017, and it will attempt to extend Mass Effect outside of the narrative and characters from the original trilogy. It’s something of a relaunch for the franchise, and its success (or lack of) could dictate the future the life of the brand.

This new entry is the first in the franchise since 2012’s Mass Effect 3. Andromeda is the first Mass Effect not to star Shepard, the commander that served as main character in the trilogy. Instead, Andromeda takes place in a new galaxy (hence the name) with new faces.

The new Mas Effect is also one of the most anticipated games of 2017, especially for the first half of the year. Outside of expansions for the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic, Andromeda is BioWare’s first release since 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition.

BioWare first showed off Mass Effect: Andromeda on June, 2015 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. BioWare originally planned to release it in late 2016, but the game suffered a small delay.

Slack invests in 11 bot startups to seed its platform

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 10:00 AM PST

The Slack Fund, with partners like Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, has invested in 25 companies making bots for business and collaboration

Slack announced today that it has invested in nearly a dozen new bot startups to bolster its Slack App Directory.

The team collaboration chat app has invested in 25 startups thus far with money from the Slack Fund, an $80 million investment fund backed by venture capital firms like Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.

The group of startups announced today, like Salesforce data deliverer Troops and internal company blog Bold, is the third wave of Slack Fund investments.

The first investments were made in December 2015 in startups, Small Wins, and Howdy, maker of the Botkit open source framework that can be used to create bots for Slack. Last July, Slack announced its second round of investments in 11 companies, including Growbot and Automat.

Also in December 2015, the same day the Slack Fund went live, Slack launched its platform for bots and its Slack App Directory.

Since its launch of the platform and an initial 150 apps, the Slack App Directory has grown to include more than 750 apps, and apps have been downloaded more than six million times.

Slack declined to disclose the amount of money invested in each company.

Among investments announced today in a Slack blog post:

Guru makes enhanced search of conversations in Slack.

Bold is like Medium for internal company use and is meant to give employees a platform to think out loud and spread good ideas.

DataFox automates reports and notifications about companies that sales teams want to turn into customers.

Troops brings Salesforce data into Slack and serves up regular team performance reports.

Demisto automatically alerts IT security teams if a malicious URL or file is shared in Slack.

SwayFinance shares critical data about a company’s financial state.

Statsbot, one of the most popular bots in the Slack App Directory, serves up data from sources like Mixpanel, Salesforce, and Google Analytics.

Donut arranges one-on-one meetings between colleagues to improve team communication.

WorkRamp is a training platform for sales teams built into Slack.

Twine is a piece of hardware you plug into a TV or projector HDMI port to control video calls through Slack.

Synervoz is a voice chat platform for teams to communicate in real time.

Since the launch of its platform, Slack has seen increased competition from Microsoft, who launched Microsoft Teams last November, and Facebook, who launched Facebook Workplace last October.

Slack isn’t the only company giving money to startups interested in creating bots. IBM, Amazon, Twilio, and other companies are giving hundreds of millions of dollars to makers of bots, virtual assistants, and other innovative tech.

Beautiful indie game Firewatch passes 1 million copies sold

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 09:26 AM PST

Casting voices for an audio-only relationship presented challenges - and one key benefit - for Firewatch writer Sean Vanaman.

Even though it traded the guns for a walkie-talkie, Firewatch has become a first-person success.

Developer Campo Santo revealed on its Twitter account that its game Firewatch has sold 1 million copies. The first-person, story-driven adventure was released last February for PlayStation 4 and PC, with an Xbox One version following in September. This is a major milestone for the indie game, cementing it as a commercial success.

Our review of Firewatch called the game “special and rare” for its mature story. It has a different setup, starring a fire lookout at a national forest in 1989. It also looks gorgeous, as you can see in the screenshot above.

Campo Santo is also working with production company Good Universe on turning Firewatch into a movie. So you’ll eventually be able to watch Firewatch.

BMW, Mobileye, and Intel will test 40 self-driving cars on U.S. and European roads in 2017

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 09:07 AM PST


BMW is planning to put 40 autonomous test cars on public roads in the second half of 2017, as the race to capitalize on the burgeoning self-driving car industry intensifies.

The German luxury car maker teamed up with chip giant Intel and Mobileye, an Israeli computer vision company specializing in building driverless car technology, back in July when they first announced plans to put self-driving cars into full production by 2021.

Speaking at a joint press conference at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, the three firms revealed that BMW 7 vehicles will “employ cutting-edge Intel and Mobileye technologies” as part of the trials that will take place in the U.S. and in Europe. In addition to their collaboration, the companies revealed that they have developed a “scalable architecture” that can be used by other carmakers — so in effect they’re working on a white-label platform that can be used by other brands.

“This partnership has all of the skills and talent necessary to overcome the enormous technological challenges ahead and commercialize self-driving vehicles,” explained Klaus Fröhlich, member of the management board at BMW AG for Development. “Therefore, we are already thinking in terms of scalability and welcome other companies — manufacturers, suppliers or technology companies — to participate and contribute to our autonomous platform. This year our fleet of vehicles will already test this joint technology globally under real traffic conditions.”

BMW first revealed its plans for self-driving cars last May when it discussed a futuristic concept car called the iNext, which it touted as its “innovation driver” for autonomous driving. And it’s the iNext that will form the building blocks of its autonomous driving strategy. “This is a significant step towards the introduction of the BMW iNEXT in 2021, which will be the BMW Group's first fully autonomous vehicle,” continued Fröhlich.

We’re starting to see a significant degree of collaboration between the automotive and technology industries — car companies typically don’t have the technological smarts to build self-driving cars, while technology companies don’t have the automotive capabilities. So partnerships like the one we’re seeing between BMW, Intel, and Mobileye is to be expected — self-driving cars will drive demand for high-end chips, which is where Intel comes into play. And self-driving cars need to be able to understand their environment, which is where Mobileye will help. That the trio is opening the platform to other companies also reveals that the race is on to become one of the default platforms powering the self-driving car industry.

“From an industry perspective, we are already seeing savings and speed in development by sharing development costs and in pooling resources to develop a complete autonomous platform,” added Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. “The car-to-cloud system will perform with consistent, predictable behavior and is validated to the highest level of safety. That’s why this partnership is breaking new ground.  We have established a dedicated team with clear, shared goals and a culture of innovation and agility and accountability.”

We saw a number of notable developments in the autonomous car realm last year. The world's first public self-driving taxi service hit Singapore roads in August, courtesy of NuTonomy, with Uber following suit a month later in Pittsburgh. Uber’s foray into San Francisco in December was short-lived, however, with the company conceding defeat in its battle with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles.


Honda partners with AT&T to put 4G LTE and Wi-Fi inside its cars

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 09:00 AM PST

Honda's in-dash connectivity platform HondaLink.

AT&T has signed a partnership with Honda North America to be the exclusive provider of in-vehicle 4G LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity in both the U.S. and Canada. This is a multi-year agreement that will apply to HondaLink-compatible cars.

"Wireless connectivity and connected car services continue to be a key feature in customers’ next car purchase decision. Our work with Honda will deliver new capabilities to future models," said the president of AT&T’s Internet of Things solutions, Chris Penrose.

With this connectivity, HondaLink’s apps and services, such as navigation, streaming radio, diagnostics, and remote lock/unlock, will have dedicated network access.

HondaLink launched in 2012 and enables drivers to access music, radio, and other content through their smartphone. Now you won’t have to use your personal phone’s data plan anymore — Honda is including the feature with purchase of select vehicles. Currently, 14 models support HondaLink, including the Honda Accord, Civic, Pilot, Ridgeline, CR-V, Fit, and Odyssey.

In a 2015 study commissioned by AT&T, 78 percent of buyers surveyed indicated that they would wait to purchase a connected car. And as the world becomes further infatuated with the Internet of Things, vehicles have been targeted as the next great opportunity. Besides Honda, a number of other car makers have launched their own efforts, including Chevrolet MyLink, Ford Sync, Toyota Entune, and GM OnStar.

The deal with Honda adds to the growing number of automotive brands AT&T has partnerships with, including Audi, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Porsche, Land Rover, Jaguar, GMC, and Volvo.


AT&T, Delphi, and Ford partner to create an LTE network that helps cars avoid accidents

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 08:59 AM PST

AT&T and Connected Cars

AT&T has teamed up with Delphi and Ford on an initiative to develop a communication network that will allow vehicles to converse with their surrounding environment. With this "vehicle-to-anything" (V2X) framework, the idea is to improve safety, security, traffic congestion, and more.

"We’re moving from today’s connected car to a fully autonomous vehicle," said Chris Penrose, president of AT&T’s Internet of Things solutions. "Our work with Delphi and Ford will deliver safer, more secure, cost-effective, and efficient solutions to do this."

Federal regulators have bought into the idea of vehicles talking to each other as a way to reduce crashes and potential fatalities. Using dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) technology, cars would transmit data, such as location, direction, and speed, to nearby vehicles. We’ve already seen an instance where the autopilot system on a Tesla reportedly predicted an accident ahead of it, so it’s feasible that having a similar system, absent full self-driving capabilities, will be beneficial to drivers.

AT&T, Delphi, and Ford are jointly researching ways to monitor traffic conditions and notify drivers of approaching vehicles and events. While Ford provides the in-car integrations, AT&T was tasked with developing the software for the analytics platform and wireless connectivity. Delphi provided the on-board module to allow the vehicle to communicate with its surroundings. So, if a car somewhere down the road deploys an airbag or turns its hazard lights on, those signals could be distributed and warn vehicles nearby to take precautionary measures or avoid the scene.

"This technology has the ability to drastically reduce accidents and save lives," said Delphi vice president of engineering Jim Zizelman in a statement. "DSRC and LTE both have a unique role to play. The combination will help accelerate the adoption of V2X overall."

The general public may not be able to afford a self-driving car anytime soon, but if there is a way for all of us to have DSRC technology included in our vehicles, it could potentially save lives.

While it’s interesting that AT&T, Delphi, and Ford have worked on this communication platform together, the platform itself appears to still be in its earliest stages, so it may not be available en masse for some time.


Google confirms its AlphaGo AI beat top players in online games

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 08:55 AM PST

Google DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis, left, shakes hands with Go player Lee Sedol after DeepMind's AlphaGo player beat him 4-1 in Korea in March 2016.

Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence (AI) research group is back again at the ancient Chinese game of Go. Rather than playing top-ranking Go players in person (with the help of a human to make its moves), now AlphaGo has gone up against players and beat them online — and covertly at that.

Earlier today Google DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis posted a message to Twitter confirming that an updated version of AlphaGo had in fact played people online.

“Over the past few days we’ve played some unofficial online games at fast time controls … to check that it’s working as well as we hoped,” Hassabis wrote. “We thank everyone who played our accounts Magister(P) and Master(P) on the Tygem and FoxGo servers.”

This concludes the bout of wondering just who that very good online player was. A report today from China Daily indicates that many people weren’t sure, and that some suspected it was indeed a computer. One player, Gu Li, even offered up 100,000 yuan, or $14,300, to the person who could beat the Go player, according to the newspaper.

In the message posted to Twitter, DeepMind said now that the unofficial testing is done, it’s “looking forward to playing some official, full-length games later this year in collaboration with Go organizations and experts, to explore the profound mysteries of the game further in this spirit of mutual enlightenment.”

LG Gram 14-inch laptop weighs less than a kilogram

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 08:45 AM PST

LG's 14-inch Gram laptop.

The LG Gram 14 is a 14-inch laptop that weighs 980 grams (2.16 pounds), making it the world’s lightest 14-inch Ultrabook laptop, according to the South Korean company.

LG showed the laptop at its CES 2017 press conference this morning ahead of the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week. The laptop is just a half-inch thick at its widest.

LG’s laptop is one of a raft of new machines being introduced at CES, and most of them use Intel’s latest Kaby Lake processors. We’ll see if the company still holds the record of having the world’s lightest 14-inch laptop by the end of the show.

The LG laptop has a battery life of up to 21 hours. While it’s extremely light, LG said it is very durable. It has a four-side slim bezel IPS display and a full-metal body built from nano carbon magnesium alloy. LG said this is the first time the metal has been used in an LG product. The system has a Core i5 5200U Intel processor, 8GB of DDR3L, 1600 Mhz main memory, and a 128GB solid state drive.

The laptop sells for $850.



LG bets big on AI, robots, cloud, and Internet of Things

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 08:35 AM PST

LG is big on cloud, the Internet of Things, and AI at CES 2017.

South Korean electronics giant LG kicked off Wednesday morning press conferences at CES 2017 by saying its appliances are being infused with artificial intelligence, robots, cloud, and Internet of Things technology.

Those are the buzzwords of the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week. Skott Ahn, president and chief technology officer of LG Electronics, said it is using all of those technologies to deliver better home appliances and digital products in this year’s lineup of products.

The company teamed up with Amazon to integrate Alexa voice technologies into LG’s products such as the InstaView refrigerator. It remains up to LG to prove to consumers that the combination of LG products and Amazon is better than all of the other technologies at the show that will have Alexa integration — and that it’s worth the extra price tag that smart devices carry.

LG and Amazon have teamed up.

Above: LG and Amazon have teamed up.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

David VanderWaal, vice president of marketing at LG, said that all of the company’s appliances now have built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. Robot vacuum cleaners now learn about obstacles in front of them, asking humans to move to the side or moving around a nest of wires. Smart air conditioners will use LG’s DeepThinq technology to focus on energy-efficient cooling by tracking where your family is in the home and focusing the cooling on those areas.

LG home robots

Above: LG home robots.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

LG also has an InstaView refrigerator, with the WebOS operating system, so that you can look up recipes and stream video on the refrigerator’s 29-inch touchscreen display. You can peek inside the refrigerator without opening the door with the InstaView function. And it can order your groceries for you.

Mike George of Amazon said on stage that you can use voice commands with Alexa to add things to your shopping list, check the weather, and play music.

LG also created its Hub Robot as a home service and convenience servant. It can play your music, monitor your home energy, and keep tabs on your home’s security. LG also has a mowing robot and a guide robot for airports.

LG has Nano Cell technology for its latest TVs.

Above: LG has Nano Cell technology for its latest TVs.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

LG is also involved with cars, creating a driver state monitoring system to keep drivers alert. It is working on advanced driver assistant systems, and it is leveraging 5G technology to connect cars.

On the TV front, LG announced its Nano Cell technology to deliver more accurate, intense colors, and luminance. It can render a billion colors and reduce onscreen glow. It is also working to completely eliminate the sweet spot for viewing a TV by using Nano Cell to create wider viewing angles.

LG also announced new organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TVs at the high end of its lineup, with 75-inch and 65-inch 4K OLED models. The TVs have Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos surround sound and visual technologies. One of the TVs, the LG Signature OLED TV W, is a “wallpaper TV” that is just a tenth of an inch thick, or 2.57 millimeters.

And LG debuted its 4K Blu-ray player as well.


Linden Lab debuts marketplace for Sansar VR world

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 08:00 AM PST

Loz Hyde's scene in Linden Lab's Sansar.

Linden Lab‘s Sansar virtual reality world is taking shape. The company is announcing today that it is inviting hundreds of new creators into its test, and it is also opening up a marketplace where users can sell virtual items for real money.

That marketplace will enable monetization for the denizens of Sansar right from the start, said Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab, in an interview with GamesBeat. The marketplace and the addition of new users is the next step as the company makes its way toward a general release for everyone in early 2017.

Linden Lab’s prior online world, Second Life, democratized the creation of virtual objects in a virtual world on the PC. And now Sansar is meant to democratize VR, empowering people to easily create, share, and monetize their own multi-user, interactive virtual experiences without requiring engineering resources. Creators are now able to apply to get early access to build virtual spaces, and starting today, the creators who are already in Sansar can buy and sell content on the platform.

“This sets the tone and shows creators they will monetize what they create on day one, when we open our doors,” Altberg said. “The buying and selling will get them comfortable with the new platform.”

The virtual economy will be similar to Second Life, where you use real money to buy Linden dollars and then spend it on objects in the world. In this case, you’ll use real money to buy Sansar dollars. Those Sansar dollars can be spent on items, and you’ll be able to redeem them for real money at an exchange rate that will be set in the future. Linden Lab will take a small percentage of transactions in Sansar, as a fee on the gross domestic product (GDP) of Sansar. Altberg likened that to a consumption tax in the real world.


Above: Sansar

Image Credit: Linden Lab

Meanwhile, there will also be a small “hosting fee,” or a property tax equivalent in the real world, for the spaces that you create in Sansar. I explored Sansar earlier and I marveled at the high-end 3D graphics of the world, as well as the creativity already expressed by creators.

“We want it to be low enough that it does not add unnecessary friction to the economy,” Altberg said. “But we do want to get a piece of the GDP and then make the hosting fees for Sansar as low as possible. We charged quite a bit for the hosting fees in Second Life and didn’t have a consumption tax to take part of the GDP. So now we will balance the hosting fees and the consumption fees in the economy.”

Project Sansar will be optimized for VR headsets like the Oculus Rift but also accessible via PCs and (at consumer launch) mobile devices. (Mobile VR access will be coming later on, as the spaces are best accessed via PC-based VR at the moment.) About 75 people are working on it, and the whole project has been in the works for three years. An editor exists that allows people to create their scenes on the PC or in VR. As people publish their experiences, they can make them available in the cloud.

This is a long way from Linden Lab’s origins. The company started in 1999, and it triggered huge interest in virtual worlds. After a big shakeout, Linden Lab’s Second Life was one of the survivors. But its technology looks a bit backward today, and Sansar is an attempt to return to the high ground of entertaining virtual experiences.

Sansar will make exploration, socializing, and other experiences possible through expressive avatars, using text, and voice chat. And it will make it easy and fun for people to create their own social VR experiences, eliminating the need to find a professional developer to build such an experience today. While it will be challenging for Linden Lab to operate both worlds at once and to inspire people to create in Sansar, it’s also exciting to be there at the creation of a new world.

Going forward, with each new release, Sansar will preserve what has been previously created. There will be another significant upgrade at the end of January, and the goal is to let a lot of people in to Sansar in the first quarter.



Plott’s Cubit makes it easy to measure spaces for creative projects

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 07:00 AM PST

Plott's Cubit makes it easier to design things.

Plott has launched Cubit, a tool that makes it easy to take measurements in real time in order to plan creative projects.

Plott created the tool to remove complexity from the creative process for projects ranging from do-it-yourself (DIY) to those involving more complex work.

Cubit lets creators visualize, and ultimately realize, their ideas by gathering, organizing, and managing data on their behalf.

"Cubit is the only solution that partners with the user along their entire creative journey, allowing them to get over mental and physical hurdles and bring their projects from idea generation to reality," said David Xing, Plott CEO, in a statement. "We believe people should spend their time enjoying their projects, rather than struggling to figure out how to get them done. We've designed Plott's ecosystem of tools as a direct response to that, leveraging best-in-class technology to remove complexity from the creative process."

Plott's Cubit

Above: Plott’s Cubit

Image Credit: Plott

Cubit is the first in Plott's line of consumer tools. Plott is the direct-to-consumer subsidiary of NWi, which has a lot of experience in Internet of Things solutions in construction and DIY.

Plott utilizes NWi's optical and laser instrument technology to bring next-generation solutions to a new audience.

Cubit features include real-time dimensional data for quick, easy, and accurate measurements; control of all dimensional and layout data in the planning and layout of a project; a laser distance measuring device; and built-in smart wheel for measure-just-once capability for both regular and irregular objects and surfaces.

It also offers visualization, context, and guidance of dimensional data, displayed in a format the user can understand with minimal measurements and no calculations. This enables users to keep information in a central hub and includes the ability to attach photos, videos, and notes to data points.

Cubit also has Bluetooth connectivity. It will be launching on Kickstarter in February 2017 and is scheduled to begin shipping in the second quarter of 2017. About 15 to 20 employees are working on it.


Merge VR shows off Holo Cube holographic toy

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 07:00 AM PST

Merge VR's Holo Cube.

It isn’t easy to stand out among the virtual reality headsets available today. But Merge VR is trying to do something different with its holographic toy, the Holo Cube, which lets users interact with holograms through augmented reality technology.

The Holo Cube is a block that you hold in front of your face while looking through the Merge VR/AR headset. The company is showing off the toy at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week.

"Toys are the tools we use for growing up, and our Holo Cube offers brand new ways to learn, play, and connect with others," said Merge VR founder Franklin Lyons, in a statement. "Rather than using the typical interfaces of 2D screens, we're developing physical products that merge the real world with the digital, and creating new ways for imagination and creativity to flourish."

Merge VR is showing experiences that bring the cube to life in users' hands — from drawing with music to caring for a virtual space pet to building a mini-block world. Pairing Holo Cube with the company's Merge VR Goggles lets users interact directly with holograms while freeing both hands for the immersive experience.

"We want to unlock an entirely new digital world for children that's always safe, exciting, positive, and playful," said Merge VR cofounder Andrew Trickett, in a statement. "HOLO CUBE continues what we started with our revolutionary soft goggles, and it's just the beginning. We are developing an entire line of products that will create more magical experiences for kids everywhere."

Merge is also unveiling several new colors of its Merge VR Goggles at CES. Merge VR's recently announced universal motion sensing controller for virtual reality will also be available for demos, and dev kits will be available in 2017. Founded in 2013, Merge VR is working on a variety of VR and AR products.


Carnival’s Ocean Medallion wearable levels up guest experience on cruises

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 06:35 AM PST

Carnival's Ocean Medallion wearable makes it easy to tailor a guest experience on a cruise ship.

Carnival is introducing a personalized concierge service for its cruise ship guests through its Ocean Medallion wearable.

The wearable will do everything from unlock your cabin door to check you in for a reservation at a restaurant, and it will work both during and after cruise vacations. Arnold Donald, CEO the world’s largest cruise company, introduced the Ocean Medallion at a keynote speech at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week. Donald isn’t from a tech company, but his presence at CES shows how technology has spread into all forms of business.

The wearable combines a personal digital vacation concierge and an Internet of Things network of intelligent sensors to provide better service for millions of passengers on 10 different cruise lines.

The Ocean Medallion enables sophisticated wayfinding, food and beverage on demand, and an array of interactive gaming and personalized entertainment experiences. It is the size of a quarter and weighs 1.8 ounces.

Ocean Medallion wearable can unlock your room on a cruise ship.

Above: Ocean Medallion wearable can unlock your room on a cruise ship.

Image Credit: Carnival

The device is powered by proprietary technology developed by Carnival that features an IoT network of intelligent sensors and experiential computing devices. While the Ocean Medallion resembles the wearables used at theme parks, Carnival said its wearables go well beyond those in terms of capability. Nytec designed the hardware system, working with Carnival.

The wearables will streamline and expedite the port embarkation and disembarkation process, allow guests to access their staterooms as they approach the door (no keycard required); locate friends and family around the cruise ship; enable guests to purchase merchandise without any transaction, cards, or paper; deliver enhanced dining experiences, based on food and beverage preferences; and power an array of interactive gaming and immersive entertainment experiences.

"With this interactive technology platform, we are poised to have our global cruise line brands at the vanguard of forever changing the guest experience paradigm — not just in the cruise industry, but in the larger vacation market and potentially other industries," said Donald, in a statement. "Our focus is on exceeding guest expectations every single day and consistently delivering great experiences, and we do that extremely well. Now we are in prime position to take the guest experience to a level never before considered possible and build on cruising's popularity and value as the fastest growing segment of the vacation sector."

The Ocean Medallion pairs with an optional personalized digital concierge called the Ocean Compass, a digital experience portal available online, on smart devices, on kiosks in home ports, on stateroom TVs, on interactive surfaces located throughout the cruise ship, and on devices carried by all guest service hosts.

Ocean Medallion lets you interact with interactive displays on a cruise ship.

Above: Ocean Medallion lets you interact with interactive displays on a cruise ship.

Image Credit: Carnival

Both innovations combine with an invisible network of proprietary sensors and computing devices embedded throughout the ship, home ports, and destinations that collectively form the Experience Innovation Operating System known as xiOS.

The proprietary xiOS uses a guest-centric, IoT approach to enable guests to maximize their experiences in real time based on their choices and preferences — delivering enhanced personalization across every aspect of their cruise vacation. The xiOS seamlessly leverages hardware and software to enable all experiences, including access, lodging, food and beverage, entertainment, retail, navigation, payment, and media.

The new guest experience platform will debut on Princess Cruises' Regal Princess in November 2017, followed by Royal Princess and Caribbean Princess in 2018. The new Medallion Class Ocean Vacations will be rolled out over multiple years on the entire Princess Cruises fleet.

The guest experience platform is a key element of OCEAN, or One Cruise Experience Access Network, a new effort by Carnival focused on expanding the cruise vacation market through guest experience innovation. This includes the development of original experiential media content and inclusion of new TV programs airing on national TV and the expansion of its portfolio of exclusive and unique destinations.

Medallion Class Ocean Vacations leverage multiple technologies that work together. These include the Ocean Medallion wearable, which is laser-etched with the guest's name, ship, and date of sailing and will be provided to passengers at no extra cost.

Inside each guest's Ocean Medallion are multiple communication technologies, including Near Field Communication (NFC) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

Meanwhile, the Ocean Compass is a digital concierge that works with the Medallion. Ocean Compass is available online, on smart devices, on kiosks in port terminals, on stateroom TVs, on interactive surfaces located throughout the cruise ship, and on devices carried by crew members.

Guests can use Ocean Compass to enhance their vacations, select experiences, and create personalized, event-based itineraries. No guest is required to have a personal device to access Ocean Compass. The Ocean Compass also serves as a digital media platform that offers custom experiential media content, as well as access to vacation photos captured during a cruise.

The xiOS uses an invisible network of interactive intelligent sensors and embedded devices and unifies hardware and software to create an Experience Platform, which is deployable on any ship, regardless of its age or size.

You can interact with Carnival's portal via a smartphone or other devices.

Above: You can interact with Carnival’s Ocean Compass portal via a smartphone or other devices.

Image Credit: Carnival

"The Ocean Medallion creates an elevated level of service that's made possible by technology but doesn't feel like technology," said John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer for Carnival, in a statement. "Whether guests are exploring new experience options, having a drink delivered to their seat at the night's show, or trying their luck gaming while lounging poolside, we will assist our guests wherever they are, while engaging with them in a uniquely personal way. Our mission is to help our guests make the most of every moment of their vacation."

It’s easy to get lost on a big cruise ship, but the Medallion enables point-to- point wayfinding across the ship, thanks to an intelligent navigation assistant — similar to a car or phone GPS app.

It also facilitates ordering, menu exploration, and delivery of food and beverage services. Guests can even place orders and view the whereabouts of their food and beverage from anywhere on a ship, as well as placing future orders and having them delivered wherever they plan to be at a designated time.

Guests will be able to conveniently and securely make payment for experiences using their Ocean Medallion. Guests can associate any number of credit cards, reward cards, gift cards, and advanced payment services (Apple Pay, PayPal, etc.) with Medallion Pay.

Lippincott helped implement Carnival’s vision.

“We were thinking pretty much like a startup, although Carnival Corp. is an established company with 50 percent market share,” said Randall Stone, chief experience officer and director of Lippincott’s Innovation Lab, in an email. “They enlisted the help of us to bring their vision to market. That aspect is often the last part of an innovation project. This time it was part of it."

“As an innovation team partner, we worked across teams to blend experience innovation with the expression of the new brand,” Stone added. “Our work is helping to establish a common language across development partners and an experience that never loses sight of the new guest experience."


Peloton launches immersive fitness bike for commercial gyms

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 06:26 AM PST

Peloton's new commercial bike.

Peloton is launching its immersive fitness bike for commercial environments such as gyms, hotels, country clubs, hospitals, universities, and health clubs.

The bike combines hardware and software to deliver an immersive experience for stationary cyclists. The New York company announced the new commercial-grade bike at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week.

The bikes will be available in the spring of 2017. Peloton touts itself as a tech company that is revolutionizing the fitness industry. The bike’s display shows you live and on-demand classes that allow you to receive instructor feedback and choose the workout that you want, when you want, with 12 daily live rides and 4000-plus on-demand rides.

Peloton can access on-demand classes at any time.

Above: Peloton can access on-demand classes at any time.

Image Credit: Peloton

Also at CES, Peloton announced a partnership with Fitbit, the leader in the connected health and fitness market.  Peloton ride metrics can now sync directly to the Fitbit app, making it easier for you to see the impact your ride has on your day and view a more complete picture of your overall health and fitness.

Since its inception, Peloton has promised to deliver the best workout to people on their own time, in their own space. Over the last two years, members of the Peloton community have voiced their desire for uninterrupted access to Peloton, starting within their home and beyond.

Uber's NY offices, the Monarch Beach Resort, and the Westin Chicago River North were among the early adopters who purchased Peloton bikes for their indoor cycling employees and guests, and are among a much larger group who independently placed Peloton bikes in their multi-use spaces.

"The launch of this new category for Peloton is truly a reaction to the demand of our dedicated rider community," said John Foley, cofounder and CEO of Peloton, in a statement. "Our community of riders love the experience so much that they want to engage with our products and our content wherever they go.”

He added, “Whether that's traveling to a hotel, going to their fitness club, or at their office gym, our riders want to continue enjoying the Peloton experience wherever they are. Launching this new commercial-grade bike with specialized hardware and software made perfect sense as the next step in the Peloton journey."

The bike's features work together to create an optimal multi-user experience. These features include software that accommodates multiple riders and allows for easy account creation for new users; heavy-duty durability; quick, easy adjustability, allowing you to switch between multiple users; a larger range of user sizes, with soft-grip, pull-pin height adjustment controls and hybrid/dual-sided pedals; a laser-cut steel frame that has been re-engineered for maximum comfort and stability; and the new Peloton Drive, which allows for the most efficient power transfer and most accurate power measurement.

The bike also has a real-time leaderboard that lets you compete against riders across the country, a 22-inch high-definition, sweat-proof touchscreen that fully immerses you in every class, and in-depth performance metrics — including heart rate, output (KJ), cadence (RPM), and resistance — that allow you to push yourself in every ride.

All Peloton riders — at home and in the commercial setting — can connect their account to Fitbit, ensuring that every mile you ride counts toward your overall health and fitness goals. Starting this week, you will be able to log each Peloton ride as an exercise in the Fitbit app, where you can view your ride summary, including name of ride and instructor, length of ride, distance ridden, and calories burned.

Founded in 2012, Peloton makes bikes that provide access to live and on-demand fitness group classes led by elite NYC instructors. The company has more than 300 employees and has raised $120 million from investors such as Catterton, Tiger Global, and True Ventures.



Changhong’s H2 smartphone lets you scan objects for molecular authenticity

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 06:05 AM PST

Consumer Physics enables you to scan products in latest Changhong smartphone.

Chinese tech company Changhong is unveiling a new smartphone, the H2, that can scan objects for molecular authenticity using a technology developed by Consumer Physics and Analog Devices (ADI).

The H2 is the first smartphone to use the Scio molecular identification technology developed by Consumer Physics, which uses spectroscopy sensing techniques as well as cloud computing to identify objects. Changhong (known formally as Sichuan Changhong Electric Co.) unveiled the H2 at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week.

Launching in 2017, the Changhong H2 and its advanced molecular material sensing and identification technology will allow consumers to scan material and immediately receive actionable insights based on its underlying chemical composition.

Changhong H2

Above: Changhong H2

Image Credit: Changhong

“The Changhong H2 is a remarkable device with unique capabilities that we are excited to add to our growing portfolio of connected and IoT-enabled devices,” said Jin Li, deputy general manager of Changhong, in a statement. “Along with ADI and Consumer Physics, we look forward to bringing the Changhong H2 to the world and inspiring curious thinkers around the world to explore their surroundings in a new and revolutionary way. We also look forward to working closely with third party developers via a software development kit (SDK) that they can use to develop their own applications for the Changhong H2 smartphone.”

Changhong has worked closely with Consumer Physics and ADI to develop and manufacture this first-of-its-kind smartphone. Since collaborating in early 2016, ADI and Consumer Physics have worked to miniaturize the Scio sensor for integration into a wide variety of connected devices.

“Each year, the Internet of Things continues to grow and the profound impact of smart, connected devices is felt more and more in our daily lives,” said Martin Cotter, senior vice president at Analog Devices, in a statement. “Changhong H2, with the integrated, miniaturized near-infrared spectrometer, marks a huge step forward for connected devices and makes it possible to see the physical world around us like never before via a mobile phone, which is the most common smart device in the world.”

Using Changhong H2, consumers can analyze the properties of foods, liquids, medication, body metrics, and more. This will give consumers new ways to improve their personal wellness, select the best fruits and vegetables, stick to their diets and nutritional needs, and verify product authenticity. Changhong is also working to create a broad ecosystem of mobile applications that utilize the Scio sensor for a wide range of use cases.

Everything in the world is made of molecules and, theoretically, the H2 smartphone can be used on almost any material.

“Just as the smartphone put the power of the internet and a vast knowledge base into our pockets, this innovation will put the capability to learn about the chemical and molecular makeup of materials into the public’s hands,” said Dror Sharon, CEO of Consumer Physics, in a statement. “This is the next leap forward not just for mobile phones, but for all sorts of connected devices. The Changhong H2 and smartphones are only the beginning.”

Compared to regular smartphones, the Changhong H2 is 20 percent more energy efficient. It has a unique 6-inch extra-large high-resolution screen and a 2.0GHz/8-core CPU.

Changhong was started in 1958, and it has been the biggest maker of TVs in China for 18 years. In 2015, its revenues were $15.1 billion.


GE’s Paragon Mat lets you precisely control stovetop temperatures

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 06:01 AM PST

FirstBuild's Paragon Mat lets you precisely control temperature on your induction cooktop.

General Electric’s FirstBuild subsidiary is announcing a way to precisely control the temperature on your stovetop.

The Paragon Mat is like a “cruise control” for the cooktop, bringing precision to induction cooktops using temperature control instead of traditional power control. FirstBuild introduced the product at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week.

Have you evern wondered why ovens cook at precise temperatures like 325 degrees, but stovetops are limited to ambiguous settings like low, medium, and high? That’s why we burn the first pancake and undercook the second one. The Paragon Mat solves this problem by precisely controlling pan temperature, automatically adjusting burner output so that cooking will be consistent.

When controlling with traditional settings like medium-high, pan temperatures can vary dramatically throughout a single cooking session, resulting in inconsistent and even puzzling results. By contrast, the Paragon Induction Cooking System allows chefs to specify a cooking temperature, just like they have been doing in the oven for decades. No more overcooking or undercooking due to unknown temperatures.

“Precision cooking is the most significant innovation in home cooking since oven temperature control,” said Larry Portaro, director of FirstBuild, in a statement. “The original Paragon was the first induction cooktop designed for sous-vide cooking, earning its place in the hearts of foodies and dinner party hosts. The Paragon Mat dramatically expands Paragon’s utility by controlling pan temperature, making Paragon the new cooktop of choice for everyday chefs.”

The Paragon Mat is the latest addition to the Paragon Induction Cooking System, which debuted today on Indiegogo and includes: the Paragon Induction Cooktop, designed to receive temperature feedback from a variety of Bluetooth-connected temperature sensors; the Paragon Mat, which directly monitors and controls cookware temperature; the Paragon Probe, for controlling liquid temperature, as in sous vide cooking; and the FirstBuild App, which has precision cooking profiles tailored to a variety of foods.

Home cooks will find that the Paragon Mat takes the guesswork out of staples like bacon and grilled cheese. Meanwhile, the Paragon Mat allows the aspiring and experienced to easily tease out the subtle nuances in their favorite dishes — like the difference between light-brown and medium-brown butter, or the magic that creates eggs-over-medium.

FirstBuild is GE Appliances’ global co-creation community of designers, engineers, and appliance users. It first launched the Paragon Induction Cooktop in February 2015. The new Paragon Induction Cooking System is available for purchase exclusively on Indiegogo now.

The Paragon will sell at retail for $350, but it will cost $200 on the first day of the Indiegogo campaign.


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