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2018-05-22T13:39:50.607Z
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Every gamer with a disability faces a unique challenge for many reasons, one of which is the relative dearth of accessibility-focused peripherals for consoles. Microsoft is taking a big step toward fixing this with its Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device created to address the needs of gamers for whom ordinary gamepads aren’t an option.

The XAC, revealed officially at a recent event but also leaked a few days ago, is essentially a pair of gigantic programmable buttons and an oversized directional pad; 3.5mm ports on the back let a huge variety of assistive devices like blow tubes, pedals and Microsoft-made accessories plug in.

It’s not meant to be an all-in-one solution by any means, more like a hub that allows gamers with disabilities to easily make and adjust their own setups with a minimum of hassle. Whatever you’re capable of, whatever’s comfortable, whatever gear you already have, the XAC is meant to enable it.

I’d go into detail, but it would be impossible to do better than Microsoft’s extremely interesting and in-depth post introducing the XAC, which goes into the origins of the hardware, the personal stories of the testers and creators and much more. Absolutely worth taking the time to read.

I look forward to hearing more about the system and how its users put it to use, and I’m glad to see inclusivity and accessibility being pursued in such a practical and carefully researched manner.

It may be old-fashioned, but I find dedicated MP3 players wonderful little devices. I’ve used tons over the years (the Zune HD is still the best) and I’m glad to see they live on in some fashion, even if it’s as an objet d’art jammed with audiophile knick-knacks and a $700 price tag: Astell&Kern’s A&norma SR15.

Look at that thing! The ground of the tech world is littered with anonymous-looking lozenges made to appeal to as many people as possible. Then you have this thing.

What a design choice, to tilt the screen like that and form the rest of the device from prism-like complementary rectangles! The site even has a “design concept” page, on which it points out that this isn’t a purely aesthetic choice:

The slight angle and precise, mindful alignment show the empty space and tones that fills the space.
From any angle, or either hand you hold your device, it does not hinder the display screen and offers the best grip.

Isn’t that wonderful? And it’s even kind of true! Those areas we so carefully avoid with our fingers or thumbs are now grippable.

Meanwhile, the tilted screen also makes room for the knurled volume knob, while simultaneously protecting it from unwanted touches. And the angle of the screen makes for a visual hint for the power button.

I just love how risky this design is, how eye-catching, how simultaneously practical and impractical. We need much more of that...

Cornell researchers have made a little robot that can express its emotions through touch, sending out little spikes when it’s scared or even getting goosebumps to express delight or excitement. The prototype, a cute smiling creature with rubber skin, is designed to test touch as an I/O system for robotic projects.

The robot mimics the skin of octopi which can turn spiky when threatened.

The researchers, Yuhan Hu, Zhengnan Zhao, Abheek Vimal and Guy Hoffman, created the robot to experiment with new methods for robot interaction. They compare the skin to “human goosebumps, cats’ neck fur raising, dogs’ back hair, the needles of a porcupine, spiking of a blowfish, or a bird’s ruffled feathers.”

“Research in human-robot interaction shows that a robot’s ability to use nonverbal behavior to communicate affects their potential to be useful to people, and can also have psychological effects. Other reasons include that having a robot use nonverbal behaviors can help make it be perceived as more familiar and less machine-like,” the researchers told IEEE Spectrum.

The skin has multiple configurations and is powered by a computer-controlled elastomer that can inflate and deflate on demand. The goosebumps pop up to match the expression on the robot’s face, allowing humans to better understand what the robot “means” when it raises its little hackles or gets bumpy. I, for one, welcome our bumpy robotic overlords.

When you hear about beer vending machine BeerBox, you might wonder: Why don’t we have machines like this already?

Founder Robert Gaafar explained that there are actually several reasons why beer vending machines haven’t made sense in the past. For one thing, there’s the obvious legal necessity of ensuring that people are 21 years or older. For another, many venues won’t sell you a closed container of alcohol, because it can be used as a projectile (so you either get draft beer in a cup, or an already opened can or bottle). Plus, a normal vending machine might shake up the can too much, resulting in a foamy mess.

So BeerBox is a vending machine that opens the can for you. The company is part of the accelerator at ZX Ventures, the innovation arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Gaafar said that if all goes well, BeerBox could eventually spin out as a separate company.

He added that BeerBox is meant to address “a pain that we’ve all felt” at concerts or festivals or ball games — the long lines at the bar: “It’s like, do I really want a drink? I might miss the next quarter.”

“These venues would love to sell more beer at the end of the day but they’re limited with real estate,” Gaafar said. “They can’t build more bars in the arenas, nor do they necessarily want to hire more people to staff that.”

The machine was developed in partnership with Intelligent Product Solutions. Ralph Cassara, the company’s senior...

Making something fly involves a lot of trade-offs. Bigger stuff can hold more fuel or batteries, but too big and the lift required is too much. Small stuff takes less lift to fly but might not hold a battery with enough energy to do so. Insect-sized drones have had that problem in the past — but now this RoboFly is taking its first flaps into the air… all thanks to the power of lasers.

We’ve seen bug-sized flying bots before, like the RoboBee, but as you can see it has wires attached to it that provide power. Batteries on board would weigh it down too much, so researchers have focused in the past on demonstrating that flight is possible in the first place at that scale.

But what if you could provide power externally without wires? That’s the idea behind the University of Washington’s RoboFly, a sort of spiritual successor to the RoboBee that gets its power from a laser trained on an attached photovoltaic cell.

“It was the most efficient way to quickly transmit a lot of power to RoboFly without adding much weight,” said co-author of the paper describing the bot, Shyam Gollakota. He’s obviously very concerned with power efficiency — last month he and his colleagues published a way of transmitting video with 99 percent less power than usual.

There’s more than enough power in the laser to drive the robot’s wings; it gets adjusted to the correct...

If there’s one thing I envy in the global spirit and character its the appreciation of a fine bidet. Hygiene being close to godliness, one can imagine the huddled scientists at CERN and KAUST and Tokyo University creating scientific marvels, secure in the knowledge that their posteriors were as clean and crisp as their lines of thought. The same can be said of peoples of all continents who celebrate the occasional fountainal intrusion, from those who use bidets complete with birdsong to hide their doings to those with a simple hose next to the can.

But America, that land of the free and the home of the brave, can’t join in the fun? Is there no bidet culture in Dear Columbia? Pshaw. After all, there’s something called Tushy.

This simple bidet system is the gateway drug to posterior enjoyment. I’ve been trying to install a proper bidet in my home since 2007. The problem I discovered was that the design of my toilet did not allow for something large and heavy up against the toilet tank. Because the system was so large I couldn’t fit it in place of the seat, resulting in endless heartbreak. I was almost going to swap out my toilet for one of a simpler designed but luckily the Tushy is the low-cost, low tech solution I was looking for.

It works by sitting in line with the tank refill line. You simply connect the line to the Tushy and then connect a line from...

If you’ve ever been hiking or skiing, or gone to a music festival or state fair, you know how easy it is to lose track of your friends, and the usually ridiculous exchange of “I’m by the big thing”-type messages. Lynq is a gadget that fixes this problem with an ultra-simple premise: it simply tells you how far and in what direction your friends are, no data connection required.

Apart from a couple of extra little features, that’s really all it does, and I love it. I got a chance to play with a prototype at CES and it worked like a charm.

The peanut-shaped devices use a combination of GPS and kinetic positioning to tell where you are and where any linked Lynqs are, and on the screen all you see is: Ben, 240 feet that way.

Or Ellie.

No pins on a map, no coordinates, no turn-by-turn directions. Just a vector accurate to within a couple of feet that works anywhere outdoors. The little blob that points in their direction moves around as quick as a compass, and gets smaller as they get farther away, broadening out to a full circle as you get within a few feet.

Up to 12 can link up, and they should work up to three miles from each other (more under some circumstances). The single button switches between people you’re tracking and activates the...

French premium cable television company Canal+ is slowly moving away from building its own set top boxes. As Next INpact spotted, you can now subscribe to Canal+ and get an Apple TV 4K with Canal+’s myCanal app already preloaded.

Canal+ has been around for decades and was the first premium TV channel in France. Over the years, the company started distributing all sorts of premium channels through satellite, cable and partnerships with internet service providers.

While you had to get your own Canal+ set top box to receive Canal+ 15 years ago, the company’s own box has slowly become irrelevant. As all the main French internet service providers give you a set top box, Canal+ has partnered with them to offer multiple add-ons to receive Canal+’s content.

When Canal+ announced its most recent device, Canal+ already said that you’d get a better experience with the myCanal app on the Apple TV.

That’s why Canal+ is betting everything on over-the-top distribution. If you don’t subscribe to Canal+ through your ISP, you can get an Apple TV 4K for €6 per month in addition to your TV package. If your internet connection isn’t fast enough or you’d rather use satellite TV, you can still get a Canal+ set top box.

But the writing is on the wall. Most people will soon watch Canal+ through myCanal on Android TV, tvOS, iOS, Android, a Samsung TV and desktop computers.

In France, Molotov and myCanal have been some...

Do you remember the Surface Hub? Chances are you forgot it even existed. And yet, Microsoft just announced a second version of the Surface Hub. The company hasn’t shared any specifications or price, but it won’t be available before 2019 — selected customers will test the Surface Hub 2 starting this year.

The Surface Hub was a crazy expensive digital whiteboard that could handle anything from video conferences to document collaboration. Microsoft says that there are 5,000 companies using Surface Hubs, including half of Fortune 100 companies.

It’s unclear if each company has bought one Surface Hub or a thousand. But it seems like there was enough interest to work on a second version. At heart, it’s still a gigantic touchscreen-enabled display. It runs Windows 10 and supports the Surface Pen.

Compared to the previous version, Microsoft has drastically reduced the bezels. It looks like a modern TV now, but with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Surprisingly, the video camera is now gone from the main device. You’ll need to plug a webcam above the display to start video conferences.

The most interesting part is the concept video. You can see a device with fluid use cases. You can hook it to a wall, you can put it on a rolling case, you can create a wall of Surface Hubs.

Users log in by putting their finger on the fingerprint sensor. This way, you can find all your...

Japanese gamers and manga aficionados and every combination thereof will get a treat this summer with the release of a NES Classic Edition loaded with games from the pages of Weekly Jump. The beloved manga mag is celebrating its 50th anniversary and this solid gold Famicom is part of the festivities.

There’s basically no chance this Jump-themed NES will get a release in the US — first because hardly any Americans will have read any of these manga (with a couple exceptions) and second because even fewer will have played the Famicom games associated with them.

Familiar… and yet…

That said, this nurtures the hope inside me that we will at some point see other themed NES Classics; the original has, of course, a fantastic collection — but there are dozens more games I would have loved to see on there.

You can hack the thing pretty easily and put half the entire NES library on it, but Nintendo’s official versions will have been tested and perhaps even tweaked to make sure they run perfectly (though admittedly emulation problems aren’t common for NES games).

Review: The NES Classic Edition and all 30 games on it

More importantly it’s possible these hypothetical themed consoles...

The Insight launch earlier this month had a couple stowaways: a pair of tiny CubeSats that are already the farthest such tiny satellites have ever been from Earth by a long shot. And one of them got a chance to snap a picture of their home planet as an homage to the Voyager mission’s famous “Pale Blue Dot.” It’s hardly as amazing a shot as the original but it’s still cool.

The CubeSats, named MarCO-A and B, are an experiment to test the suitability of pint-size craft for exploration of the solar system; previously they have only ever been deployed into orbit.

That changed on May 5, when the Insight mission took off, with the MarCO twins detaching on a similar trajectory to the geology-focused Mars lander. It wasn’t long before they went farther than any CubeSat has gone before.

Citizen spacecraft builders literally race to the moon in NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge

A few days after launch MarCO-A and B were about a million kilometers (621,371 miles) from Earth, and it was time to unfold its high-gain antenna. A fisheye camera attached to the chassis had an eye on the process and took a picture to send back home and inform mission control that all was well.

But as a bonus (though not by accident — very few accidents...

The three-axis tourbillon is one of the most complex watch complications in the world. Originally based on a design by watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, this type of tourbillon – literally “whirlwind” – rotates the balance wheel of a watch in order to ensure that gravity doesn’t adversely affect any part of the watch. It’s a clever, complex, and essentially useless complication in an era of atomic clocks and nano materials but darn if it isn’t cool-looking.

Based on this original, simpler model, this new three-axis tourbillon is available for download here. It consists of 70 potentially fiddly parts and runs using a basic motor.

As you can see, the main component is the balance wheel which flips back and forth to drive the watch. The balance wheel is contained inside a sort of spike-shaped cage that rotates on multiple axes. The balance wheel controls the speed of the spin and often these devices are used as second hands on more complex – and more expensive – tourbillon watches. Tourbillons were originally intended to increase watch accuracy when they were riding in a vest pocket, the thinking being that gravity would pull down a watch’s balance wheel differently when it was vertical as compared to being horizontal. In this case, the wheel takes into account all possible positions leading to a delightful bit of horological overkill.

Researcher Amanda D. Hanford at Pennsylvania State University has created a real cloaking device that can route sound waves around an object, making it invisible to some sensing techniques.

From the report:

Hanford and her team set out to engineer a metamaterial that can allow the sound waves to bend around the object as if it were not there. Metamaterials commonly exhibit extraordinary properties not found in nature, like negative density. To work, the unit cell — the smallest component of the metamaterial — must be smaller than the acoustic wavelength in the study.

Hanford created an acoustic metamaterial that deflected sound waves under water, a difficult feat. In testing she and the team were able to place the material in water and measure sound waves pointed at it. The resulting echoes in the water suggested that the sound waves did not bounce off or around the material. This means the new material would be invisible to sonar.

Obviously this technology is still in its early stages and the material does not make the objects invisible but just very hard to detect in underwater situations. However, the fact ship captains could soon yell “Activate the cloaking device” as evil, laser-toting dolphins appear on the horizon should give everyone a bit of cheer.

Makula Dunbar Contributor Makula Dunbar is a writer with Wirecutter.

Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter . When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work.

It should be easy to give a gift. But it can be hard trying to choose which gift to give. That’s especially true with technology, where products tend to be more functional than emotional. Here’s what matters most: finding a present that connects to the recipient, creates a sense of enjoyment, and that they’re actually going to use. Here are five tech gifts that will appeal to almost anyone.

Jaybird X3 Wireless Sport Earbuds

The Jaybird X3 earbuds are designed for working out, but their design and great audio makes them perfect for anyone on the go. The X3’s interchangeable tips and fins offer a highly customizable, comfortable fit. Overall sound is high quality out of the box, but we like that the companion Jaybird app allows a tailored listening experience. Eight hours of playback time means you’ll be set throughout multiple workouts or a full work day.

Amazon Echo (2nd generation) Voice-Controlled Speaker

While there’s more than enough buzz surrounding voice-controlled speakers,...

Today brings historic firsts for both SpaceX and Bangladesh: the former is sending up the final, highly updated revision of its Falcon 9 rocket for the first time, and the latter is launching its first satellite. It’s a preview of the democratized space economy to come this century.

You can watch the launch below:

Although Bangabandhu-1 is definitely important, especially to the nation launching it, it is not necessarily in itself a highly notable satellite. It’s to be a geostationary communications hub that serves the whole country and region with standard C-band and Ku-band connectivity for all kinds of purposes.

Currently the country spends some $14 million per year renting satellite time from other countries, something they determined to stop doing as a matter of national pride and independence.

“A sovereign country, in a pursuit of sustainable development, needs its own satellite in order to reduce its dependency on other nations,” reads the project description at the country’s Telecommunications Regulation Commission, which has been pursuing the idea for nearly a decade.

It contracted with Thales Alenia Space to produce and test the satellite, which cost about $250 million and is expected to last at least 15 years. In addition to letting the country avoid paying satellite rent, it could generate revenue by selling its services to private companies and nearby nations.

Bangabandhu-1 in a...

In a move seemingly designed specifically to frustrate law enforcement, Apple is adding a security feature to iOS that totally disables data being sent over USB if the device isn’t unlocked for a period of 7 days. This spoils many methods for exploiting that connection to coax information out of the device without the user’s consent.

The feature, called USB Restricted Mode, was first noticed by Elcomsoft researchers looking through the iOS 11.4 code. It disables USB data (it will still charge) if the phone is left locked for a week, re-enabling it if it’s unlocked normally.

Normally when an iPhone is plugged into another device, whether it’s the owner’s computer or another, there is an interchange of data where the phone and computer figure out if they recognize each other, if they’re authorized to send or back up data, and so on. This connection can be taken advantage of if the computer being connected to is attempting to break into the phone.

USB Restricted Mode is likely a response to the fact that iPhones seized by law enforcement or by malicious actors like thieves essentially will sit and wait patiently for this kind of software exploit to be applied to them. If an officer collects a phone during a case, but there are no known ways to force open the version of iOS it’s running, no problem: just stick it in evidence and wait until some security contractor sells the department a 0-day.

But...

Generations ago, the internet spoke of an old saying that involved a man exhibiting excitement about hearing of a person’s love of an object, so he did favor, and put that something inside of something else. That’s what Netgear did here. Netgear heard people like the internet so much that the company put an internet modem inside a WiFi router.

The Orbi WiFi System with Built-in Cable Modem is just that. It’s an Orbi WiFi router with a DOCSIS® 3.0 cable modem built in. In theory this setup would make for easier setup and troubleshooting of internet issues while providing the home with great WiFi.

I have an Orbi system in my house and it’s wonderful. The system does a far better job at covering my home with WiFi than my previous single router setup. Including the cable modem in the setup, though, just makes sense and other networking companies would be smart to follow Netgear’s lead. Naturally, there’s a danger in including a cable modem in a router as one piece could become obsolete before the other but I would argue that most consumers upgrade their equipment every few years anyway.

This convenience comes at a cost. The router with built-in Orbi networking costs $299 and a system with an Orbi extender costs $399.

Nintendo has finally revealed the details of its paid online service after months of speculation by fans. The pricing is pretty much as expected ($20 per year), but the additions of online save game backups and NES games with added online multiplayer sweeten the deal.

We first heard the pricing last June, including the $3.99 monthly and $7.99 3-month options, but the announcement then left much to the imagination. This one makes things much clearer, but there are still a few mysteries it will perhaps clear up at E3 or closer to the September launch.

Save data being backed up online is perhaps the most asked-for feature on the Switch, and one other platforms have provided for years. So its official announcement will surely be greeted with cries of joy. The exact details are coming soon.

But it’s the online play for NES games that really caught my eye. Officially called “NES – Nintendo Switch Online,” it will be a collection of 10 games to start and 10 more to come, all of which can be played in both single- and multi-player modes online. How that looks exactly isn’t quite clear; the Nintendo release says “Depending on the game, players can engage in online competitive or co-op multiplayer, or take turns controlling the action.”

Does that mean we’ll have leaderboards? Ghost runs in Super Mario Bros 3? Low-latency battles in Balloon Fight? No clue.

At least the...

At Kaptivo, a company that’s bringing high-tech image recognition, motion capture and natural language processing technologies to the lowly whiteboard, executives are hoping that the second time is the charm.

The Cambridge, U.K. and San Mateo, Calif.-based company began life as a company called Light Blue Optics, and had raised $50 million in financing since its launch in 2004. Light Blue Optics was working on products like Kaptivo’s white board technology and an interactive touch and pen technology, which was sold earlier in the year to Promethean, a global education technology solutions company.

With a leaner product line and a more focused approach to the market, Kaptivo emerged in 2016 from Light Blue Optics’ shadow and began selling its products in earnest.

Founding chief executive Nic Lawrence (the previous head of Light Blue Optics) even managed to bring in investors from his old startup to Kaptivo, raising $6 million in fresh capital from Draper Esprit (a previous backer), Benhamou Global Ventures and Generation Ventures.

“The common theme has been user interfaces,” Lawrence said. “We saw the need for a new product category. We sold off parts of our business and pushed all our money into Kaptivo.”

What initially began as a business licensing technology, Lawrence saw a massive market opening up in technologies that could transform the humble whiteboard into a powerful tool for digital business intelligence with the application of some off the shelf technology and Kaptivo’s proprietary software.

Kaptivo’s technology does more than just create a video of a conference room, Lawrence...

The whole-home wireless craze peaked and waned last year with the rise of Orbi, Eero, Google WiFi, and Linksys’ Velop. These routers use mesh technology to blanket your home in soft, velvety Wi-Fi, ensuring that everything from the front camera/lamp to the Wi-Fi-connected grill in the back yard are connected to the Internet. I’ve tested a number of these so far and have settled on Orbi as the best of the bunch but the original tri-band Velop was excellent and this dual-band model – a cheaper but still speedy whole home solution – has maintained quality and value and holds the crown for the cheapest – and best – mesh network you can buy.

This new mesh kit, the Velop AC3900, costs $299 and is slightly smaller than the original AC4400, a tri-band solution that started at $349 for three units. Considering most routers hover around the $100 mark with some falling as low as $20, it was a hard sell and the story manufacturers told – your Wi-Fi was insufficient for your home and you needed multiple little routers instead of one in the living room – didn’t quite resonate. Linksys reacted to this by releasing this smaller, cheaper model onto a single-router world.

The result is the AC3900, a shorter, smaller device that can hide in your home (as long as it’s near an electrical outlet) or sit out as a high-design techno-tchotchke. The Velop can blanket up to 4,500 square feet and even act...