gadgets

Google offers first developer boards for its Project Ara modular smartphone

Google hopes to launch its ‘build-it-yourself’ Project Ara smartphone next year and in preparation, the technology giant is accepting applications for its first development boards.

With these, developers can begin prototyping and constructing their own modules for the Ara platform. With the open-source MDK released during Google I/O, these could be cameras, antennas, batteries, processors – anything that can latch on to the Project Ara module shell.

As Eduardo Ruiz points out on Google+, yesterday developers were told that Google is now accepting applications for its Project Ara test boards. A request form is available online and the first round of applications will close in two days’ time (July 17). Only one application per company is allowed and Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria are currently excluded from the scheme.

If approved, Google says the dev boards will ship “starting in late July.” If you miss out on the current round – the deadline is fast-approaching – the second review period will run from July 18 to August 17.

For Project Ara to live up to its potential, Google needs third-party hardware developers to embrace the platform. If you weren’t convinced already, it seems the company is pretty serious about bringing its modular smartphone to market.

Read Next: Behind the scenes: How beehives inspired the design of Google’s innovative Project Ara smartphone10 things you need to know about Google’s Project Ara modular smartphones

Google+ | Request Form [Via PocketNow | Engadget]

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Teamreporter wants to replace your daily status meetings with daily email updates

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BACtrack releases a $50 smartphone breathalyzer that fits on your keychain

Breathalyzer maker BACtrack today announced the BACtrack Vio, a $49.99 alcohol testing unit that fits on a keychain and feeds the results over Bluetooth to your iPhone or Android smartphone.

BACtrack has been making breathalyzers for years, but it didn’t release its first smartphone unit until last year. The new Vio is more compact and affordable than the original BACtrack Mobile.

Alongside the product launch, BACtrack has also released an improved app with a better-looking design and new features like the ability to guess your blood alcohol content ahead of time.

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The Vio is a bit thicker than a large USB stick, but it’s not too big for your pocket. The device is powered by a AAA battery, which I prefer over the rechargeable micro-USB batteries that some units have. To test your levels, open up the app on your phone, hold down the button to pair the Vio and then wait for the device to warm up.

Keep in mind that you should wait 15-20 minutes after eating and drinking to test in order to ensure accurate results. Once your reading is in, the app will suggest how much time you have before you’re sober again. You can also save your results over time if you’d like to keep a history of your consumption and how it affects you.

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As I wrote last year, I’m a big supporter of the move to use our smartphones to make breathalyzers readily available to consumers. Most drinkers have to just guess what their limits are. The extra data could save lives.

Smartphone breathalyzers aren’t going to single-handedly do away with drunk driving, alcohol poisoning and other related problems, but if they make even a small dent, they will have proven themselves as powerful technology. Considering how convenient and affordable BACtrack’s Vio is, there aren’t many obstacles to keeping one on hand. If you’re a regular drinker, I recommend that you pick up the Vio, or a competing product like the Breathometer or the Alcohoot.

A smartwatch that projects notifications onto your hand is a crowdfunding hit

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Raspberry Pi Microcomputer Gets Beefed Up — Still Only Costs $35

The Raspberry Pi microcomputer has been a stunning success. More than 2.5 million of the low-cost Linux microcomputers have been sold in the two+ years since the gizmo went on sale, helping to power all manner of homebrew projects.

The sales figure is especially impressive when you consider that the not-for-profit UK organization behind the device initially reckoned it would sell maybe a few thousand units over its lifetime.

Given the large community that’s built up around the Pi, there have inevitably been calls for tweaks to the design to incorporate improvements that make the board more flexible and capable. And today the Pi Foundation has responded with a new model B Pi, called the B+, which beefs up aspects of the design yet keeps the same $35 price-tag.

Specifically the new Pi has more USB ports (four instead of two), which also have improved hotplug and overcurrent performance; more GPIO (general purpose input/output pins) — 40 pins up from 26, but keeping the same pinout for the first 26 pins so existing projects will still work — to accommodate more peripheral components (such as LEDs); a Micro SD card slot replacing the prior SD card socket and taking up less space on the board; lower power consumption; improved audio performance; and a neater form factor with USB ports aligned at the edge of the board, composite video moved onto the 3.5mm jack, and four mounting holes positioned to make it easier to fix the Pi in place.

In a video introducing the new model B+, the Pi Foundation’s Eben Upton stresses that the B+ is not the next generation of Pi — but rather the final upgrade of the original design. So presumably we can expect even more from a Raspberry Pi 2 if/when that lands.

The model B+ Pi is on sale now, via the Foundation’s usual distributors (in the UK that’s element 14 and RS Components).

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The Orange Maker Spins The Plate To Make Better 3D Prints

We’ve just passed the stage where 3D printers themselves were exotic devices of magic and wonder, and now individual types of 3D printers are exotic devices of magic and wonder. To wit: Orange Maker.

This stereolithographic (SLA) printer is fairly standard – a UV light shoots through a special liquid which hardens into an object. However, thanks to a spinning print base, the printer can produce objects much faster than regular printers.

What is the primary difference? SLA printers like Form 1 shoot out a layer of the print and then “tilt” the tank to remove excess liquid. This brief operation slows down the printing process considerably. By turning the object as it’s made, you reduce the amount of time necessary to slough off the excess fluid.

Created in 2011 by Kurt Dudley, Doug Farber, and Chris Marion, the team has backgrounds in engineering and art. The device, as rendered, looks pretty cool and the spinning process, shown in the video below, makes sense when you think about the motions necessary to print and “peel” the parts as they’re built.

“Many of the other printer companies have repackaged 20+ year-old technology and are either held back from innovation by the industry giants, or utilize open-source technology,” said Dudley. “We designed our system to resolve the key issues facing current generation technology in a novel way that simultaneously expands its functionality.”

heliolithography-prototype-2

There is, arguably, very little information about the printer available. The company hasn’t talked about resolution or software and the price is still up in the air. They’ve also patented the concept of “Heliolithography” i.e. the spinning system they use and this could be more of a proof of concept than a product.

But the team expects to start selling the printers in 2015 and it will be interesting to see how they handle the issues of manufacturing, distribution, and support that have thus far hamstrung a number of promising 3D printing startups.

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Chinese State Media Renews Anti-Apple Rhetoric, Calls The iPhone A “National Security Concern”

Apple has faced a fair amount of state-sponsored criticism in China, a market where the prevailing powers have a stated goal of promoting more home-grown network and IT solutions. The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple’s iOS 7 poses a threat to national security because of its ‘Frequent Locations’ feature, which identifies and provides users a map of their oft-visited places, for the explicit purpose of improving various device functions.

This location information could be used to potentially sleuth out information about the state of affairs in China, including possibly “state secrets” according to Chinese researchers quoted in the report, which was broadcast on the state-run China Central Television network on Friday. CCTV has previously been critical of Apple, including when it accused the company of discriminatory practices against Chinese customers implied in its warranty policies. The People’s Daily also decried Apple’s customer service practices as “arrogant” last year, and Xinhua cited Apple as a cause behind students running up high-interest debt.

All of these campaign efforts have so far fallen on deaf ears; Apple’s consumer base in China is strong and growing stronger. Nevertheless, Apple CEO Tim Cook has shown himself willing to play ball with the criticism from Chinese media, warranted or not – last year he issued an apology in the form of a letter for the complaints by CCTV about its warranty practices, and promised to amend its policies accordingly.

In most cases, the concerns of the Chinese state-sponsored media appear to be overblown, and not without agenda, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have influence. Cook clearly recognizes that and has acted in the past to make changes accordingly, but we’ll have to see if Apple formulates a response to this fresh criticism as well.

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Google Adds Android Smartphone And Tablet Screen Mirroring To Chromecast

Google has released a feature for Chromecast announced at Google I/O this year – Android device screen mirroring. The update today brings the much-desired feature to all Chromecast-capable devices and makes Google Cast much more similar to Apple‘s competing AirPlay offering for iOS devices.

The “Cast Screen” option will now show up in the navigation drawer of the dedicated Chromecast app, which is available from the Google Play store. If you happen to own a Nexus device, you’ll also see the option right in the quick settings menu, so you don’t have to go to the Chromecast app itself.

Onstage at I/O, Google showed off the feature by browsing Google Earth on a projector connected to a Chromecast running on the presenter’s Android device. It should work with any apps that run on your Android phone or tablet, however, meaning that developers don’t have to have Chromecast compatibility built in to their software for it to have basic compatibility with Google’s streaming stick.

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The update is in beta and will come to select devices from Samsung, HTC, LG and others over the coming days, according to Google, with the 1.7 update to Chromecast. As usual, it may take a while to roll out everywhere, so be patient — even if it’s hard — as this should add a lot to the existing Chromecast experience.

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Sprint’s new portable projector cleverly doubles as a Wi-Fi hotspot

Something we don’t see too often is a projector that doubles up as a mobile hotspot, but that’s the unlikely pairing the Sprint LivePro is promising to deliver.

The device is capable of projecting content from 10-inches to 10-feet and offers up 3G/4G mobile connectivity that can handle up to eight WiFi devices at the same time.

LivePro2 Sprints new portable projector cleverly doubles as a Wi Fi hotspot

As well as this, it sports a 4-inch display and is powered by Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, allowing you to use it to browse the internet in style and access the content you may want to project.

It’s also worth mentioning that the LivePro is only 1.1- inches thick and comes with a pumped-up 5,000mAh battery. Clearly, it’s been built for the road.

The LivePro can be picked up in the US for $449, with separate data plans starting at $34.99 a month.

 Sprint LivePro

Use your Android Wear watch to snap photos with the updated Google Camera

Tablet shipments declined year-over-year for the first time in Q1 2014

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Connected TV Market Crosses 1B Devices As Google Pins Its Hopes On Android TV

A new report from Strategy Analytics puts the global market for connected TV devices at over 1 billion currently installed units, which include smart TVs, set-top boxes like the Apple TV, game consoles, connected Blu-Ray players and more. The market is predicted to double in size between now and 2018, reaching the 2 billion mark, with smart TVs carrying embedded platforms as the main segment to watch.

Set top boxes is the other type of device that’s poised to lead the growth, and Google has announced that its new project Android TV will be a platform available to both categories. Android TV is Google’s second stab at the connected TV device market, after it first tried the waters with Google TV beginning a few years ago. That effort met with tepid response from consumers, but Android TV is a complete rethink of its connected media device strategy.

The new platform puts an emphasis on content first, highlighting stuff you’re likely to watch from various sources installed on your platform. Apps take second stage, and games round out the content delivery package. But what Android TV has going for it above all other competing solutions is the simplicity of the interface, and the similarity it has to the relatively mindless experience of idly browsing TV to watch delivered via traditional cable and satellite delivery methods.

From the Strategy Analytics report, we learn that Apple TV is the current leader of the market, with around 35 percent of 2013 share of devices. Google and Roku each had shares in the teens, with the research firm predicting a surge by Google because of the success of the Chromecast, and opportunities presented by the Android TV boxes coming up from Razer and Asus this fall. Pricing and availability will determine how much influence those have, however.

In the end, Google has learned a lot from Google TV and Chromecast, and Android TV clearly has input from both experiences. To capitalize on the growth coming up in the next few years, it’ll have to make sure Android TV comes in at the price point and with the convenience factor (ie. preinstalled on a variety of new devices) that consumers appreciate with the company’s increasingly powerful streaming stick.

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Wearable Solar’s Prototype Dress Combines Fashion With Phone-Charging Capabilities

Here’s an unusual way to keep your smartphone charged — with a solar-powered dress.

That’s what fashion designer Pauline van Dongen is developing with her startup Wearable Solar. She brought a prototype dress to Brooklyn’s Northside Festival last month, where I had a chance to see the dress in action.

Van Dongen told me that she had two main inspirations:

One of them is the fact that we highly depend on connectivity. We’re all addicted to our smartphones and we want them constantly powered, and the better our batteries get, the more we’ll use them. And at the same time, working as a werable tech designer, I know the difficulties when integrating these kind of bulky batteries that don’t allow for any comfort or wearability. So that’s why I thought, why not power your phone through your clothes? And eventually power other interactive qualities that our garments are becoming a platform for.

In the video interview above, van Dongen discusses how the dress is affected by the weather, as well as the next steps in moving from prototype to commercial product. She was actually part of a larger group of startups attending the festival from the Netherlands, so I also talked to both her and Rob de Vos, consul general for the Netherlands in New York, about their visit to Brooklyn.

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Virtual Reality Gets A Real Content Studio With Launch Of Alchemy VR

In the wake of the Facebook acquisition of Oculus VR, and the launch of Sony’s Project Morpheus a week earlier, virtual reality has quickly moved beyond its gaming roots and has seized the imagination of a generation of designers, entrepreneurs, and technologists.

Now you can add award-winning storytellers to the list, with the launch of a new entertainment studio from London called Alchemy VR, dedicated to creating new content in virtual reality for both the Rift and Morpheus.

The studio is the brainchild of Atlantic Productions, an Emmy- and BAFTA-winning English production company responsible for a number of documentary and educational programs, and its Emmy-award winning visual effects and animation studio ZOO.

“VR has been around for us for about 15 years,” says Anthony Geffen, the chief executive officer and creative director of Atlantic. Back then, Geffen and Atlantic were working with Michael Deering at Sun Microsystems on developing a virtual chariot ride.

“About a year ago when we started seeing the things that Oculus and other people were coming up with,” Geffen says he realized, “the technology had arrived to allow us to move on to a very exciting, new, digital frontier.”

The company has a history of embracing new technologies in the service of telling its non-fiction, educational stories — as does its frequent, and celebrated, collaborator Sir David Attenborough.

A longtime BBC celebrity, and one of the world’s most famous naturalists, Attenborough has collaborated on projects with Geffen and his team at Atlantic for the past six years, after leaving the BBC to work independently.

“We always liked exploring new technology,” says Geffen. “[Attenborough] loves new technology and is very excited about another massive new frontier of storytelling.

For the company’s first virtual reality project, Alchemy is collaborating with Attenborough on a guided tour for a look at earth’s earliest inhabitants in a world entirely created from computer generated imagery.

Opabinia, 5 eyes and a trunk, a 450 million years old creature from

Opabinia, 5 eyes and a trunk, is a 450 million year old creature from David Attenborough’s VR journey.

Filmmakers like Geffen and his team say the new frontiers opening up through Oculus are like the ways in which movies evolved from the kinetoscope — or the evolution from silent films to talkies.

However, the new technology breeds questions on how best to develop a narrative, given the immersive quality of virtual reality as a medium. “How to sort that problem is the most interesting question,” says Phil Harper, Alchemy VR’s creative director. “We looked a at a first person narrative [and] there’s definitely room in that direction. We’ve also experimented with if someone could guide you through a story and capture everything in the feed… You can feel like you’re really with someone.”

Ultimately, that’s the form for the first project with Attenborough, a guided tour by one of the world’s foremost naturalists among the habitats of the first creatures alive on planet earth. “Rather than viewing a story on the feed, in a sense, the viewer becomes part of the story,” says Harper.

The decision to create content in a computer generated environment first, gave the company more control over what a viewer could see, according to James Prosser. The work also leans heavily on existing content libraries that the studio had developed for some of its three dimensional work.

Alchemy VR’s work with Attenborough is the first of several virtual reality projects that the company is cooking. Geffen says the company has plans to bring even more educational content online. The company has already worked with the University of Arkansas to scan some of the wonders of the ancient world.

“We have some very large scale Attenborough and non-Attenborough projects and we’re looking to add VR components to [them]. And combining them with all these different digital platforms is very exciting and you can monetize the content in a different way,” Geffen says. “We’re bringing back whole chunks of the ancient world to explore… Imagine you could go to the Great Pyramid and interact with it.”

Great Sphinx of Giza

These possibilities are only the beginning of what virtual reality can do, according to the Alchemy VR team.

“Once a project goes live, it’s not the end,” says Harper. “You can update these projects with different features, which is something that has never happened in film… Instead of sequels, there’s just updates.”

Atlantic’s customers include the BBC and PBS here in the U.S., and according to Geffen, there are plans afoot to add virtual reality components to programming for both broadcasters. “If you’ve got a major series and you’re building apps for that and add on a virtual reality component, you’ve already got eyeballs and that’s very exciting.”

Behind all of the opportunity is the breakneck speed at which technologists are bringing new virtual reality technologies to the market, and an acknowledgement that without good content all of the development could be wasted.

“We’re talking about a massive revolution in storytelling and in content,” says Harper. “It’s going to happen very quickly — in two or three years.”

Visual media privileges storytelling, according to Geffen and for this new generation of virtual reality to really take off, it has to have great content. “The world wants to go on a journey in VR,” he says. And Alchemy VR is creating the means to take the trip.

Photo via Flickr users George M Groutas

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