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The AA battery that never dies: Forever Battery uses Wi-Fi-like signals to stay fully charged

2018-01-12 17:18:11

Alex Lee

25 min 50 sec ago

Charging with cables. On any given day I can put my phone on to charge multiple times, often with a powerbank that then needs its own battery boost. To quote the accurate words of viral sensation, Sweet Brown, ain’t nobody got time for that. 

Over the past three years, Ossia has been the company pioneering truly wireless charging technology with Cota transmitters. This year at CES 2018, Ossia took things a step further, or a step back in time, with an AA battery that never dies.

While the act of taking out a battery and replacing it is less common now than it was five or ten years ago, a lot of gadgetry, and children’s toys, still rely on physical batteries. From remote controls and smoke detectors to smart IOT devices like lights, security systems and locks, removable batteries remain unavoidable. 

READ NEXT: We need to talk about batteries and their potential to save the planet

Ossia’s battery, dubbed the Forever Battery, isn’t a Qi charger or a charging mat, it’s more clever than that. Instead of having to replace the batteries in your Xbox controller or TV remote, Ossia’s system will consistently charge the battery from anywhere in the house, as long as it’s in range of one of the company’s Cota Tiles.

Initially coming in the form of an AA battery, the Forever Battery is equipped with an antenna that’s able to receive power from the Cota transmitter. The transmitter works by beaming radiofrequency (RF) through the air to devices installed with a Forever Battery chip. Ossia claims this works at a distance of up to ten metres, keeping them fully charged at all times. The Forever Battery signals are also able to bend around people and shoot through walls and objects, just like Wi-Fi.

“Think of Wi-Fi,” Ossia CEO, Mario Obeadat told Digital Trends. “Like you have a Wi-Fi router in the home, you have a Cota transmitter. You have many low-power devices, one of them could be the AA battery inside, and it has electronics that communicate and receive power from that transmitter.”

The key line there, however, is “low-power devices”. The technology isn’t at the level of charging your many power-hungry devices just yet, but it’s a start. 

Ossia’s innovation is mightily significant for the environment, though, and the repercussions of disposable batteries on our planet are already worrying. Every year, in the United Kingdom alone, 600 million disposable batteries are thrown away, with only a third of these being recycled. While the amount of mercury in these alkaline batteries has been reduced, the substances in batteries leak into the soil and groundwater in landfills, releasing pollutants and toxins into the air. 

While Ossia is the first company to work on wireless charging tech for disposable batteries, it isn’t the only company to have reportedly developed true-wireless charging technology. 

At CES 2015, Energous, another company working on true-wireless charging technology, unveiled a transmitter that uses radiofrequency to charge devices within range. However, it was pushed back after they announced that they had partnered with a huge consumer electronics brand. Last month though, Energous announced that they had received FCC approval for its three feet WattUp transmitter. 

On the other hand, WiTricity, a company started in 2007, is able to charge electric vehicles by having the car park just on top of a magnetic field resonator, doing away with the need for a bulky cable that snakes out from your house at all.

The bad news is, we’re unlikely to see any of this technology hit the market any time soon. Currently, a lot of true-wireless tech, like Ossia’s Cota Tiles, is being used in industrial settings, with companies giving no indication of bringing it to consumers. Although Ossia has said that it hopes to partner with smartphone manufacturers in the future. But seeing as we’ve only just received Qi charging on the iPhone, I doubt we’ll see true-wireless charging for a while yet.

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The future according to Alphabet Moonshots: From Calico to X

2018-01-12 17:07:45

Nicole Kobie

9 min 41 sec ago

Google is building the future – or, should we say, Alphabet is. The company formerly known as Google is using the billions of dollars it earns every quarter to build internet-supplying balloons, driverless cars and smart contact lenses – and is diligently studying thousands of rodents to help all of us live longer. Welcome to the strange world of Alphabet Moonshots.

Alphabet Moonshots – or “other bets” as they’re called in Alphabet’s financial reports – aren’t designed to pay off anytime soon. Over the last quarter alone, they cost the company $722 million. However, as Google co-founder Larry Page explains in Alphabet’s launch letter, “you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant.”

Investors needn’t feel uneasy, as Alphabet Moonshots are set against the overall company profit of $7.8 billion for the quarter. But, Alphabet has already started to shed some of its less successful side projects, suggesting the holding company will only tolerate so much discomfort. In the past year, it sold satellite imaging firm Terra Bella and terrifying robotics division Boston Dynamics, while shuttering down solar-powered, internet-by-drone idea Titan and modular smartphone Project Ara.

Here are the Alphabet Moonshots that the company has held onto – and what they may mean for our future health, cities, vehicles and more.

Advanced Technologies and Projects

Part of Alphabet’s hardware development labs, ATAP created Project Ara, the now-defunct modular smartphone. It’s currently working on Project Jacquard, a method of weaving technology into fabrics to create interactive clothing and touch-sensitive textiles. Then there’s Project Soli, a sensor that uses radar to track minuscule motions.

Calico

Wealthy geniuses who want to live forever? Sounds like the bad guys in a comic book, but the California Life Company (Calico) isn’t fiction and its goal is to understand ageing to help extend our lifespans. Little is known about its work – which is contrary to how such medical research usually operates, with transparency and collaboration between academics – although reports reveal its research includes experiments extending the lives of worms, a seven-year study of 1,000 mice to watch how a calorie-restricted diet changes how they age, and investigating why naked mole rats live ten times as long as other rodents.

In other words, it’s early days. Real progress will be a long way off, and that’s something Calico itself admits, with chief scientific officer David Botstein telling MIT Technology Review not to expect any breakthroughs for a decade or more. Here’s hoping Calico’s age-defying solutions land before they’re too late for us.

DeepMind

This British startup was snapped up by Google in 2014 for £400 million, earning the ire of data regulators with its NHS projects. However, it’s received plaudits for its AlphaGo AI, which beat human experts at the ancient board game in an echo of the famous chess match pitting IBM’s Deep Blue against grandmaster Garry Kasparov. DeepMind’s latest artificial intelligence has an imagination, which could make it handy for developing software, the company has said.

Waymo

This is what Google calls its driverless cars – and Waymo is suing Uber for allegedly stealing its laser-vision technology. While automated automotives feel like the ultimate tech of the future, Google’s first prototype hit the road in 2009, with its first full driverless ride in October 2015.

Before the driverless efforts were spun out of Google’s labs into its own Alphabet division, the project was eyeing a fully automated vehicle without user-accessible brake pedals or steering wheel. Those plans have been left by the side of the road in favour of Waymo working with existing automakers on bringing self-driving technology to standard cars. That small pivot has paid off: shortly thereafter, Fiat Chrysler signed a deal with the company to include its LIDAR-based system and maps into Pacifica minivans. Reports suggest that discussions with Toyota, Ford and Honda haven’t yet been fruitful.

Sidewalk Labs

Half of the world’s population lives in cities, and that’s set to rise to two-thirds within decades, worsening urban problems from traffic congestion to higher rents. Sidewalk Labs is Alphabet’s urban innovation project, hoping to solve city challenges with sensors, connectivity and data. So far, that’s been largely limited to free Wi-Fi in London and New York, and its “transportation platform” called Flow, which gathers traffic data and analyses it to suggest better bus routes, flag available parking, and tweak lights.

Sidewalk’s next plan could be building its own smart-city testbed from scratch – reports suggest it may be working on a new district in Toronto – to bring its vision of an urban future to life. That could include local renewable energy plants, fast-building techniques, and smart traffic lights that analyse pedestrians, cyclists and cars using computer vision to ease traffic.

Verily

Collect health data and put it to use: that’s Verily’s raison d’etre. Kind of like Google for the human body. The health-tech firm’s most famous creation to date is its smart contact lenses, which feature sensors and wireless comms to monitor and transmit glucose levels. Other devices include a connected patch to monitor glucose for people with diabetes, sensor attachments for utensils to make them easier to use for people with tremors, and the Study Watch, a smart wearable with top-end sensors and week-long battery life that aims to better collect medical data.

Verily’s latest project is Debug, which engineered sterile mosquitoes for release in areas affected by bug-spread disease, with a first trial in Fresno, California. The sterile males don’t bite, but they do help cut down on reproduction, reducing the numbers of disease-carrying mosquitoes that are targeting humans. Such work may not pay off anytime soon for investors, but it has the potential to save the lives of millions of people killed by diseases such as malaria and dengue every year.

X

This lab may sound like somewhere you’d find Tony Stark, but that’s probably what its leader had in mind: he goes by the moniker Astro Teller, after all. X is the home to Alphabet’s early-stage trials, with graduates including Waymo driverless cars, Google Watch and Verily. X is where you’ll also find Project Loon, which delivers internet connectivity to remote areas via massive balloons, and Makani, a kite rigged with wind turbines. There’s also Alphabet’s drone-delivery research scheme, Project Wing.

Not all projects are successful, though, and X has no qualms killing off failed ideas. Foghorn made carbon-neutral fuel from seawater; it worked, but was deemed too expensive. High costs also sunk Calcifer, a “lighter than air” ship to reduce shipping times and costs. What else X might be working on remains a mystery – as if the name doesn’t make it intriguing enough.

…Plus GV, CapitalG and Jigsaw

Alphabet can’t make every aspect of the future within its own labs. For the innovations happening outside the company, it has investment firms and an accelerator. GV is Alphabet’s venture capital arm, while CapitalG focuses on social innovations such as health. Jigsaw is Google’s tech accelerator, backing projects as diverse as the Against Violent Extremism Network and uProxy, a peer-to-peer proxy tool to let users access the open internet from repressive countries.

Image: coniferconifer used under Creative Commons

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Google is removing Chrome’s ‘Supervised Users’ parental controls

2018-01-12 14:54:00

Edward Munn

4 min 3 sec ago

 In a frustrating blow for parents everywhere, Chrome’s ‘Supervised Users’ features is being phased out only four years after it was launched, according to an email sent to users of the feature.

"We've learned a lot in these four years, and heard feedback about how we can improve the experience for you and your children," the email explains. “Based on this feedback, we are working on a new set of Chrome OS supervision features specifically for the needs of families to launch later this year."

As its name suggests, ‘Supervised Users’ is a tool that lets you control other users profiles in Chrome, limiting their access to specific websites and monitoring what they’ve viewed.

In its email, Google claims the option to create supervised profiles has already been disabled (although at the time of writing, it still worked for me). If you’ve already set up supervised profiles, you’ll still be able to use them, but only in a limited capacity. That’s because from January 15, chrome.com/manage, the site that lets you change restrictions for the profiles, will cease to exist.

So what does this mean if you still want to be able to supervise the content your children visit? Well, if you’re quick, you could still get something set up using Supervised Users, but it’s probably not a great idea in the long term.

Google refers to “a new set of Chrome OS supervision features” in its email, but it’s unlikely these will be introduced on Windows and Mac devices. It also points users to Family Link. This newly launched app lets you set up a Google account for your children and monitor the way they use their Android devices. However, at the moment it’s only available in the US, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. There’s also no indication that it’ll work on a PC.

The best solution for monitoring your kids online is probably Qustodio. The program is free and easy to set up and lets you monitor what sites your kids visit, what they get up to and who they interact with on social networks. You can set limits on their online time and block access to unsavoury and dangerous websites. It’s also tamper-proof, so once up and running you can be assured they won’t be able to simply disable the program.

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There's £4.5 million to spend on EV charge points but local councils are ignoring it

2018-01-12 14:22:52

Chris Rosamond

1 min 37 sec ago

Councils have failed to make use of a £4.5 million government fund set up to pay for thousands of electric vehicle charging points, leaving residents left behind in the EV “revolution”.

Transport minister Jesse Norman, and climate minister Claire Perry, have written to local authorities in the UK, urging them to make use of the fund, which has gone largely untouched.

READ NEXT: Best electric cars in the UK

 The On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme was set up in 2016 to allow councils to buy and install charge points for as little as 25 per cent of their total cost. But with only five councils making use of the available funds, “thousands” of potential charge points have gone uninstalled.

The scheme was set up to provide charger point access for motorists who want an electric car but are prevented from buying one by a lack of off-street parking. Roughly a third of UK households rely on on-street parking, and most fast-charge home points will only be installed in residences with a driveway, garage, or other off-street parking facilities.

READ NEXT: Find your nearest electric car charging station

Despite the soaring popularity of electric cars, sales of which rose by almost 30 per cent in 2017 compared to the previous year, UK charging infrastructure has failed to increase at the same rate as demand for EVs, and is in danger of falling behind EU targets.

Transport minister, Jesse Norman, said: “We are in the early stages of an electric revolution in the UK transport sector, and connectivity is at its heart. Millions of homes in the UK do not have off-street parking, so this funding is important to help local councils ensure that all their residents can take advantage of this revolution.”

READ NEXT: Car scrappage scheme round-up

Responding to the lack of local authority take up, Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: “Eight out of 10 drivers say that a lack of charging points is a reason why they will not currently buy an electric car, so the poor take up of these seemingly generous grants is disappointing.

“The funding available could add at least 600 charging points to help these residents and encourage cleaner, greener motoring. However, with local budgets already hamstrung and cuts to services being made, even the promise of funding for three quarters of the capital cost may still not be enough of an incentive.”

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What is climate change? The science and the solutions

2018-01-12 13:14:57

Emma Sims

13 min 3 sec ago

The term “climate change” has been pretty much ubiquitous for the past couple of decades – although concern about it arguably spiked with Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the US presidency.

It’s one of those phenomena that everyone knows is bad, and rallies against accordingly, but put on the spot, how many of us would be able to provide a satisfactory answer as to what it actually is?

To help you out at dinner parties, environmental rallies and post-coital pillow talk, here’s the low-down on climate change: What is is, what it does, and how we can help.

What is climate change?

It’s *kind of* in the name. Climate change refers to the process of fluctuation that our planet’s climate undergoes over geological time. Our current global average temperature is 15C, although history tells us that average temperatures have been both much higher and lower in the past.

Recently, there’s been furore about climate change as our planet has been warming up with increasing speed. The problem with this – other than the obvious environmental ramifications (melting ice caps, rising water levels, sinking ocean beds) – is that the bulk of it is caused by humans.

“It is clear,” says the American Meteorological Society in an information statement, “from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), chlorofluorocarbons, methane, and nitrous oxide.”

READ NEXT: Here's the UK's 25-year plan to improve the environment

Human activity emits lots of so-called greenhouse gases; “greenhouse” because, like the eponymous garden structures, the gaseous substances trap heat from the Sun in the Earth’s atmosphere. This, in turn, fuels the “greenhouse effect” (“fuel” being the operative word – but more on that later) where the Earth heats up to unhealthy levels, triggering a cascade of undesirable side effects.

In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the following sobering statement: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.”

What is the “greenhouse effect”?

As mentioned above, the greenhouse effect is what happens when energy from the Sun is trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere. Solar energy radiates from the Earth’s surface, only to be absorbed by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and re-emitted back.

The greenhouse effect happens naturally to some degree, but human activity contributes massively to the emission of greenhouses gases, with industry and agriculture most at fault.

Greenhouse gas emissions come from a variety of sources, with the most culpable being carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel use, making up 57% of the net output, according to IPCC. This is followed by CO2 produced as a result of deforestation and decay of biomass (17%), with methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases bringing up the rear (at 14%, 8% and 1% respectively).

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have risen by more than 30%, with methane increasing by a whopping 140%. Thanks to the expansion of the automotive industry and beef-rich fast food outlets, we now inhabit a world which has the highest concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere for 800,000 years.

And we’re most certainly feeling the ramifications, with the news that 2016 was the hottest year on record, for the third time in a row. The data is still being processed for 2017, but analysts don’t think it’s likely to deviate from this trajectory, with speculation abounding that it’ll remain in the top three hottest years on record.

Climate change doesn’t just mean incrementally warmer temperatures worldwide. It also contributes to the melting of polar ice caps, and, ensuing from this, rising water levels worldwide. In turn, this means flooding, and destruction of homes and agricultural lands (particularly rice paddies), triggering a domino-effect of destructive events, putting livelihoods and lives at stake.

Global warming has also contributed to the death of coral by bleaching, a phenomenon which destroys coral reef ecosystems, areas known for supporting the highest marine biodiversity in the world.

Recent news also shows a hitherto overlooked impact of climate change – our ocean beds are sinking. Weight from the extra volume of water the oceans are taking on thanks to all those melting ice caps has led the ocean beds to sink 2.5mm over the past ten years. Not only is this a troubling phenomenon in itself – the planet is literally depressed as a result of climate change – but it could mean that we’ve been underestimating the extent of the damage, with measurements pertaining to rising water levels not accounting for the extra room at the bottom of the ocean.

What can we do to stop climate change?

What can us mere mortals do to halt the incineration of our planet? Actually, there’s lots.

  • Switch off your lights - Household energy efficiency is one easy step you can take to slow down climate change’s relentless onward march. Light bulbs can be changed to fluorescents or LEDs, and electronic devices unplugged when they’re not in use (if you’ve ever owned a hair straightener, this will also ease your anxiety immeasurably).
  • Renewable energy – It’s worth asking your utilities provider if you can switch to a cleaner energy source, such as solar, wind or hydropower. If this isn’t a service they offer, you can request that they do. Make a phone call, send an email, @ them on social media. Technology facilitates activism at the touch of a button.
  • Change your diet – The beef industry is a huge driver of climate change, thanks to methane emission and deforestation associated with cattle-rearing. Try and avoid it where possible, or endeavour to eat at least one meat-free meal a day. 
  • Travel smarter – whether this means flying less or cycling to work, there are several ways you can tweak the way you navigate the Earth for the greater good (and, y’know, the longevity of Earth itself). Businesses should also consider swapping transcontinental travel for cheaper, and more environmentally friendly video conferencing. 
  • Recycle – Landfills produce methane and CO2, which, as discussed before, makes up 14% of greenhouse gas emission. Instead, opt for a recycling bin or compost heap, reducing the masses of rubbish that gets unnecessarily chucked in landfills. In the meantime, lobbying companies to stop unnecessary use of plastics can help. This doesn’t have to mean chaining yourself to guilty firms’ HQs – social media is a powerful tool, with accounts like Step Into Sustainability promoting green activism
  • Environmental activism – Granted, this one’s not for everyone, given the energy, time and wherewithal required to properly engage in it. If you can though, writing letters to your local MP and campaigning on the ground for environmental change with advocacy groups such as Greenpeace, the Woodland Trust or the Environmental Law Foundation, makes an enormously visible and valued contribution to the cause.

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Enormous water ice reserves found close to the surface on Mars

2018-01-12 11:14:43

Emma Sims

6 min 52 sec ago

Scientists have found reserves of “water ice” on Mars, a discovery which makes human visitation to the planet much more viable. The reserves were found around the mid-latitudes of Mars, with images of the planet revealing bands of blue material – assumed to be water ice – emerging from between eroded cliffs.

The study examined images of material taken from eight different sites on the planet, with rock erosion revealing bluish bands of ice that could been seen overhead. The images were taken by HiRISE – nope, not South London’s newest trip-hop artist, but rather an exceptionally powerful camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

As well as providing a feasible water source for legions of future human visitors, the discovery gives credence to the idea that Mars’ middle section saw heavy periods of snowfall millions of years ago (back in the old days when the planet was tilted on a steeper axis than is currently the case).

The idea that water ice is present on the red planet has long been explored; in 2002, NASA’s Odyssey mission monitored the planet from orbit to detect signs of shallow ground ice. Six years later, in 2008, the NASA Phoenix mission extracted water ice near the north pole in Mars. Progression was made in 2016 as scientists operating the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) found a hefty, buried sheet of ice, with a similar volume of water as Lake Superior – the largest of North America’s Great Lakes.

Meanwhile, it was only as recently as 2015 that NASA confirmed the presence of liquid, as opposed to ice, water on the planet. Dr Michael Myers, the lead scientist on NASA’s Mars exploration programme, spoke to The Guardian, explaining, “[t]here is liquid water today on the surface of Mars [...] because of this, we suspect that it is at least possible to have a habitable environment today.” Crikey.

The above was recently called into question, however, with the news that the so-called liquid water might actually be, er, rolling sands. NASA’s scientists in reality found that the evidence for liquid water was ambiguous, with a paper published in Nature Geoscience revealing that Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL) in Eos Chasma, a deep depression on the planet, are "inconsistent with models for water sources". Hmm…

In the meantime, the space agency’s most recent findings prove an exciting addition to the viable habitation narrative, registering feasible water sources for future space explorers. As early as 2016, NASA warned that, while ice mining in theory provided a viable water source, logistical difficulty (mining through 30ft of rock as a prerequisite) meant the source was negated by sheer inefficiency.

The new images, which reveal ice sheets lying within only a few feet of the surface, close enough to be seen within aerial shot, mean the inefficiency caveat ceases: “It’s looking more encouraging that water ice could be available at depths shallow enough that could be used as resources for human missions to Mars,” explained Angel Abbud-Madrid, director for the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines.

In the meantime, there’s more digging – literally and metaphorically – to be done. The properties of the ice (its depth, purity and so on) are yet to be determined. Whether it could be used for life-supporting practices, such as crop-growing or cultivating hydrogen for fuel, has yet to be discerned by planetary geologists. That being said, the discovery gives a whole new momentum to the “Life on Mars” ideal.

Images: NASA, JPL-Caltech, University of Arizona

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Razer wants to turn your smartphone into a gaming laptop with the crazy Project Linda

2018-01-12 11:09:57

Vaughn Highfield

15 min 52 sec ago

Razer always loves to unveil something unexpected at CES 2018. Last year it was the fantastic triple-screened Project Valerie laptop and a “room scale” projector going by the name of Project Ariana. This year, you can say hello to Project Linda, a laptop powered entirely by the Razer Phone.

Unlike the two stolen prototypes from CES 2017, Project Linda is a dumb device. Designed in the form of a 13.3in laptop that looks uncannily like the Razer Blade, Project Linda is little more than an aluminium case with a screen. Drop your phone into the space where the touchpad is normally located, hit the dock button on Project Linda’s keyboard and, voila, you have an Android-powered laptop ready for light productivity and gaming on the go.

As a concept, turning your Android phone into a computer is nothing new. Samsung DeX turns the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8 into a workable computer already and there are various dongles and apps that can connect a phone to a computer monitor. Also, remember the Motorola Atrix Lapdock? That purported to do the same thing, though it was plagued by performance issues and it isn’t as elegantly realised as this.

Razer Project Linda hands-on: A twin-screen wonder

The most interesting aspect of Project Linda is how it puts the Razer Phone to use. Although it’s a lot more powerful than the Atrix was, powered by an eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and 8GB of RAM, the phone isn’t only used to power Project Linda; it’s also a fundamental part of a clever dual-screen design.

By default, the Razer Phone’s touchscreen acts as a trackpad but if you connect a wireless mouse it becomes a second screen, used for menu information or extra stats in certain games and apps. At the moment, in the early prototype stage, it simply mirrors what’s being shown on the display, but it’s clear Razer sees a lot of potential in further exploring the idea of a phone-powered laptop.

Razer won’t go into specifics around Project Linda’s internals, but we do know it has enough battery to fully charge the Razer Phone three times over, and should last you nearly all day if used like a laptop. You’ll also find 200GB of extra storage which Razer sees as either being used as an offline backup of your phone’s memory, or as a way to offload larger video and image files, or for apps that only need to be used with the phone docked.

Project Linda also has Razer’s iconic Chroma backlighting for the keybard, an audio jack, a USB port and a USB Type-C charging port. There’s also a 720p webcam and dual-array microphone embedded just above the Full HD display, while audio comes direct from the Razer Phone’s impressive speakers. Although Razer says it’s going to optimise audio output when docked, it already sounds pretty solid as a means of delivering laptop-quality sound.

Razer has plans to keep advancing Project Linda, too. The current prototype has a Full HD screen but the plan is to include a QHD, 120Hz display – an exact mirror of the Razer Phone’s screen.

Razer Project Linda: Early verdict

As with all prototypes, Razer isn’t discussing possible release dates or price points just yet. Seeing as it offers offline storage, a power bank, a keyboard and laptop screen, I can’t foresee this being a cheap product, not that Razer produces low-cost devices anyway.

There’s also a relatively small market for such a device as there can’t be all that many Razer Phone owners out there, but as a concept, I think it’s absolutely incredible. Hopefully, it’ll spur other manufacturers to start thinking about their phones in a similar way, especially as – for a lot of people – a smartphone is their only connection to the internet.

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Black hole breakthrough reveals wobbling jets

2018-01-12 11:01:17

Thomas McMullan

27 min 52 sec ago

With the help of pioneering supercomputer simulation, scientists have made a tantalising breakthrough to understanding how black holes interact with space-time.

Black holes are known for gobbling particles and light with their colossal gravitational effects, but there is a mysterious material that does manage to escape their maw. These are known as “relativistic jets”, and they shoot out from black holes across millions of light years.

Given the difficultly of observing and studying black holes, a team of researchers from Northwestern University and Amsterdam University turned to high-powered supercomputers to simulate the actions of these relativistic jets.

"Similar to how water in a bathtub forms a whirlpool as it goes down a drain, the gas and magnetic fields that feed a supermassive black hole swirl to form a rotating disk - a tangled spaghetti of magnetic field lines mixed into a broth of hot gas,” explains Northwestern University, in a rather delicious sounding overview of the research.

"As the black hole consumes this astrophysical soup, it gobbles up the broth but leaves the magnetic spaghetti dangling out of its mouth. This makes the black hole into a kind of launching pad from which energy, in the form of relativistic jets, shoots from the web of twisted magnetic spaghetti."

The study, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, found that relativistic jets periodically change their direction due to the position of space-time spinning around the black hole.

While previous simulations have tended to align the spinning disk with the black hole’s orientation, the researchers claim most supermassive black holes – such as the one at the centre of our galaxy – have tilted disks, at a different axis to the black hole itself.

Similar to how a spinning top will change its orientation as it spins (a movement known as precession), the spinning disk around a black hole will also ‘wobble’ – changing the direction of its relativistic jets.

To simulate the region surrounding a rapidly spinning black hole requires a massive amount of computational power, hence why it has taken so long for this precession to be discovered. The researchers were able to manage this by conducting the first black hole simulation code accelerated by graphical processing units (GPUs), with the help of the Blue Waters supercomputer. You can see the results on the right side of the below video.

“The high resolution allowed us, for the first time, to ensure that small-scale turbulent disk motions are accurately captured in our models,” said Alexander Tchekhovskoy, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

“To our surprise, these motions turned out to be so strong that they caused the disk to fatten up and the disk precession to stop. This suggests that precession can come about in bursts.”

The results from this study will be critical for further investigations into black holes, as well as phenomena like gravitational waves from neuron star collisions and the engulfing of stars by supermassive black holes. The simulation is also being used to interpret observations from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), examining the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way.  

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Bye bye brands: Facebook is pivoting back to friends and family, but should be wary of the law of unintended consequences

2018-01-12 10:58:17

Alan Martin

26 min 52 sec ago

In the beginning, Zuck created the newsfeed. Well, not quite the beginning, but close enough: 2006, so positively ancient history for social media historians. Originally, this was dedicated to the very definition of hyperlocal news: your friends’ birthdays, relationship changes and so forth. Over time, it mutated to encompass clickbait news stories, desperately clamouring to be heard over the deafening chatter of auto-playing videos. Your friends’ and colleagues’ day to day chatter gradually got muted out.

If you think that sounds like a bad user experience that somewhat goes against Facebook’s woolly-sounding do-good mission statement, you’re right: and it’s something that CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg has decided to take action on.

“We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “That's why we've always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.

“But recently we've gotten feedback from our community that public content -– posts from businesses, brands and media – is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

That sound you just heard was a collective intake of breath from publishers which had decided to put all their eggs in the big blue Facebook basket – something the social network actively encouraged when it incentivised them to take up their offer of “Instant” articles within the site.

Facebook to digital publishers: hey thanks for all the cheap video that grew our platform, best of luck in all your future endeavors https://t.co/xU5Bq1pkpR

— Steven Perlberg (@perlberg) January 12, 2018

Zuckerberg continued: “We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people's well-being.” He then proceeded to explain that academic research points to personal connections as being better for our wellbeing than “passively reading articles or watching videos,” even if “they’re entertaining or informative.”

As such, starting with the news feed, “you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.” But this isn’t necessarily the end of chat with strangers: “the public content you see more will be held to the same standard – it should encourage meaningful interactions between people,” he explained. “For example, there are many tight-knit communities around TV shows and sports teams. We've seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones. Some news helps start conversations on important issues.”

For Facebook’s bottom line, Zuckerberg isn’t clear that this will be immediately positive: “by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” he wrote. “But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”

Unintended consequences

This all fits in rather neatly with Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year’s Resolution to “fix Facebook”, and a general acceptance that his brand may be changing the world in ways which aren’t necessarily objectively for the better. But it does leave a few gaps that need answers: what happens to ads, for example? Can people still pay to fill that slot between your friends’ wedding pictures and your aunt’s birthday? Because that doesn’t sound good for the soul.

And what if your friends share a news story a lot – will it feature prominently then? If so, doesn’t that just mean brands and media outlets have even more incentive to be outrageous and encourage heated arguments in the comments to trick the algorithm? And on that note, doesn’t excluding wider news from people’s Facebook experience just push them closer and closer into their ideological echo chamber, potentially exacerbating one of the main criticisms of Facebook?

We won’t know until we see the changes Facebook makes, but the worrying thing is that Mark Zuckerberg can’t possibly know either. That may sound downbeat, but more than any brand on the planet, Facebook should be aware of the law of unintended consequences, given its gradual acceptance that it may have inadvertently helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election – something Zuckerberg was unlikely to have considered when he first launched thefacebook.com from his Harvard dorm room, back in 2004. He may know more now than he knew then, but there are some things you just can’t predict or control – no matter how good your intentions.

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Black cabs will soon be mapping London to help pave the way for self-driving cars

2018-01-12 08:02:37

Hugo Griffiths

3 hours 20 min ago

London cabbies will soon be taking to the capital’s streets with state-of-the-art data-logging systems, creating a dynamic and high-definition virtual map for future autonomous vehicles.

The announcement comes following a series of agreements between tech and ride-hailing companies as well as government authorities, and will see around 500 black cabs in London kitted out with mapping equipment.

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 By using cutting-edge advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) fitted to London taxis, a network of “high-definition crowdsourced maps” will be created, detailing streets and key infrastructure in the capital for autonomous cars to use, while also helping London itself become ‘autonomous ready’.

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The mapping hardware and software, developed by Intel-owned tech company Mobileye, is to be fitted to London cabs by ride-hailing company Gett.

It can be installed in any vehicle and comprises a single windscreen-mounted camera, together with a processing system. As well as building up a dynamic data picture of city streets, the company’s equipment could bring extra safety features, thanks to its collision prevention features.

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The project, due to start in early 2019, will also see Uber drivers in New York and cabbies in Düsseldorf help shape the self-driving future while, in the US, up to 2,000 trucks are expected to be kitted out with the necessary equipment.

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