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Beware the Killer Robots
June 12, 2015
Russia's advanced military combat robot -- which has drawn alarmed comparisons to Hollywood's Terminator -- will be able to run and clear an obstacle course by late this year, according to reports this week. That's just the latest news fueling the already-fiery debate over what to do about killer robots. Stuart Russell, a UC Berkeley professor, believes the issue is urgent.
Microsoft's Surface Hub Aims to Unify the Enterprise
June 11, 2015
Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled the Surface Hub, a large-screen device meant to dramatically improve business collaboration. The interactive display marries white boards with presentations, voice with video, speakers with addressees, Android with iOS, and Windows 10 with conference rooms. The Surface Hubs will go on sale July 1 at $6,999 for the 55-inch model and $19,999 for the 84-inch version.
Gadget Ogling: A Speaker-Stuffed Tablet Case, a Soothing Wearable, and Earbuds for the Real World
June 9, 2015
Asus' new ZenPad 8.0 aims to end the scourge of tablets with terrible sound. Its interchangeable cover design gives users several functional options. One is the Audio Cover, which bumps up sound quality by tucking a 5.1 surround-sound system inside. Its six speakers, including a subwoofer, promise to significantly improve the tablet experience of watching video and listening to music.
Robots Meet DARPA Challenge Despite Pratfalls
June 8, 2015
Robots from Korea and the U.S. staggered off with the top three prizes at the DARPA Robotics Challenge, held in California over the weekend. In all, robots from 23 teams participated in the challenge, which consisted of an obstacle course simulating conditions similar to those following the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. DRC-Hubo, the entry from South Korea's Team Kaist, took first prize.
Doppler Labs Kickstarts 'Bionic Ear'
June 3, 2015
Doppler Labs on Tuesday launched a Kickstarter campaign for the Here Active Listening system, which takes noise-canceling technology to a new level. Unlike typical noise-canceling headphones, Here's Bluetooth earbuds allow a listener to customize ambient sound, not just block it out. Paired with a smartphone app, Here can be used to control volume, mix sounds and even add effects.
Scrappy Hound Stalks Siri and Cortana
June 2, 2015
SoundHound on Tuesday launched a private beta of Hound -- a personal assistant similar to Siri, Google Now and Cortana -- and began fielding requests for invites. SoundHound built its music ID service on voice and pattern recognition technologies. In developing Hound, SoundHound has retrofitted that technology's framework with what it calls its "Speech-to-Meaning" engine.
Google's Cardboard May Help Build Strong VR Foundation
June 1, 2015
It's a whimsical approach to virtual reality, but Google's Cardboard VR platform breaks down the barriers of entry and allows consumers to bring their own devices to the movement. "I think [Cardboard] will help with the general popularity of VR," said Marxent CEO Beck Besecker, "but I think the folks that are really going to gravitate to VR are going to want a high-quality experience."
Gadget Ogling: Casting Discs, Scent-uous Sunrises and Surfing Without Waves
May 30, 2015
Media streaming is becoming an ever-crowded market thanks to players like Chromecast, Sling, Apple TV and Roku. We can add another player to the mix with Lenovo Cast, which will become available in August. The puck-shaped accessory can stream 1080p video to your TV from your smartphone, tablet or computer. What's compelling about this is it can display just about anything you have on your smartphone.
Wood Chips: Electronics May Go Back to Nature
May 29, 2015
In a significant step toward a future in which consumers can toss old gadgets onto a compost heap, researchers have proved the viability of placing computer chips on support structures made from wood. This latest advance in green technology could "be used for many things, including mobile devices, displays, solar cells and much more," said UW engineering prof Zhenqiang "Jack" Ma.
5 Reasons Jony Ive's Step Back Is Apple's Step Forward
May 28, 2015
There seem to be two major reactions to the "promotion" of Apple's Jonathan Ive to the newly created position of chief design officer: first, that he deserves the recognition and reward; and second, that this is the beginning of the end for Jony Ive's tenure at Apple. Apple released the news in the UK... on Monday, which was the Memorial Day holiday in the United States.
Gadget Ogling: A Mighty Little Amp, a Credit Card-Sized Phone and a Food Tray Keyboard
May 26, 2015
Tinny, terrible laptop speakers may be a relic of the past, but there are still occasions when the built-in audio from your portable computer's speakers or audio jack just doesn't quite cut it. Let's say you're an electronic music luminary traveling the world without the comforts of one's home studio but with an album deadline to meet. You need to hear what's going on. So here's the Apogee Groove.
Is Home Where HomeKit's Heart Is?
May 26, 2015
Since Apple SVP Craig Federighi announced HomeKit at last year's Worldwide Developers Conference, the company has been working on making it ready for prime time. Now, a year later, Apple finally may have an app to go with its framework for integrating home management and monitoring devices with iOS. Whether Apple will announce the new app, called "Home," at this year's WWDC is unknown.
DoT: Time to Get Serious About Car Talk
May 21, 2015
United States Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently called for accelerating the timetable to develop technology allowing communication between cars and highway infrastructures. The end goal is to effect a shift in automotive safety goals: Rather than improving the odds of surviving a crash, the goal will be to avoid crashes completely.
Fove VR Headset Locks Onto Your Gaze
May 20, 2015
Fove is the first virtual reality headset to feature eye-tracking -- meaning, among other things, that characters you view on screen can look right back at you. So far, close to 500 people have pledged nearly $200,000 to bring the Fove VR headset to fruition. Just a day into its 45-day Kickstarter campaign, the Fove appears certain to reach its $250,000 goal.
NASA's $2.25M Challenge: 3D-Print a Space Base
May 18, 2015
NASA and America Makes have challenged innovators in the additive construction market to design a habitat for deep space exploration for the first stage of the competition and to fabricate such facilities in the second phase. The organizations will award a $50,000 prize and a pair of $1.1 million purses for the winners of the multistage challenge. Registration opened for phase one on Saturday.
The Future According to Qualcomm
May 18, 2015
I was at the Qualcomm Internet of Things event in San Francisco last week during what was a major IoT event in the city. What is kind of amazing is the larger event was just a small part of the applications show that used to go on at the same time. This year it is twice the size of that older show. Companies are flocking to this IoT concept like ducks to water.
Google's Driverless Cars to Leave the Nest
May 16, 2015
Google on Friday announced it will begin testing prototypes of its fully autonomous self-driving cars on public roads. The vehicles won't roam too far from their Mountain View, California, home -- but this latest phase of testing could be critical both for cultivating positive consumer perceptions, and influencing future legislation affecting the nascent sector.
Gadget Ogling: A Tracking Camera Drone, a Rockin' Speaker and a Water-Boiling Efficiency Expert
May 16, 2015
Camera drones certainly are growing in popularity -- or further polluting the sky, depending on your perspective. A new model plans to follow your every move, thanks to a tracker on your wrist. After you throw Lily, it will fly up to 50 feet in the air and 100 feet away from you, knowing where you are and keeping its lens focused on whatever you're doing.
Fresh Takes on Shipping Perishable Online Purchases
May 15, 2015
It's one thing to ship books and electronics across the U.S. -- but it's quite another to get fresh fruit, baked goods, meat, fish, prepared meals, raw meal ingredients, and other perishables to consumers' front doors in prime condition. Once perishables are delivered to a customer's door, they often have to sit there for an unpredictable amount of time before the customer gets home.
Apple Likely to Pony Up to Settle A123 Poaching Suit
May 14, 2015
Apple reportedly has agreed to settle the lawsuit brought by battery manufacturer A123 Systems, accusing it of poaching engineers who were under non-compete agreements. A123 develops technologies for electric car batteries. News of the rumored settlement has fueled speculation that Apple poached talent from the firm to forward its ambitions to enter the electric vehicle market.
Consumer Group Worries Over Safety of Google's Self-Driving Cars
May 14, 2015
Even though Google's self-driving technology was not at fault in any of 11 minor accidents involving the cars over six years of testing, Consumer Watchdog has raised an alarm over the vehicles' safety, even releasing a video that simulates a serious crash in a tech-failure scenario. The group frequently accuses Google of privacy violations and exerting undue influence on the U.S. government.
Lily Camera Gilds the Selfie
May 13, 2015
Lily is taking the selfie up a notch. The startup on Tuesday began taking preorders for a drone camera that will shoot video and stills as it flies above you. While drone cameras have been on the market for some time, the Lily offering combines the popularity of first-person video cameras, like the wildly successful GoPro line of products, with the emerging consumer flying drone market.
Smart Car 2 Transforms Itself to Tuck Into Tiny Spots
May 11, 2015
DFKI Robotics last week unveiled a prototype of the EO Smart Connecting Car 2. The tiny, two-seater electric vehicle operates much like a traditional car, but because each wheel is powered by its own motor, it can make extremely tight turns and even drive sideways. This capability could address issues that plague many big cities, notably traffic congestion and inadequate parking space.
3 SciFi Technologies That Are About to Get Amazingly Real
May 11, 2015
Lisa Su, the talented new CEO for AMD, last week gave a pitch on the future to get people excited about where AMD is going. Based on the stock performance after her talk, she and her team knocked it out of the park. They also got me thinking about some tech advancements that have been quietly percolating, which likely will form the basis for a revolutionary announcement in the next few years.

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