Posts Tagged ‘Engadget’

HaptX promises to make your virtual hands feel like real ones

Posted by Carl on 20th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

The gloves are made by HaptX, which used to be known as AxonVR. It changed its name partially because there are a lot of other companies that are using the name Axon — it’s the name of a phone, a trucking company and a maker of non-lethal weapons. HaptX also happens to be the name of the technology that makes the realistic touch possible.

When the company says “realistic touch,” it means the gloves let you feel the shape, texture and even temperature of whatever you’re holding — you can even feel if an object is hard or soft. That’s right; the gloves will actually prevent your hand from going through virtual objects.

At the heart of the technology is microfluidics, which is a study of how fluids move through small, sub-millimeter channels. HaptX CEO and co-founder Jake Rubin spent several years at Cal Poly researching the subject, along with the company’s other co-founder, Dr. Robert Crockett. This led to the creation of the HaptX skin, which is made up of hundreds of tiny little air pockets. Whenever you touch something in the virtual world, these air bubbles — also known as haptic actuators — inflate, displacing your skin in the same way a real object would. The actuators can be woven into fabric, which results in what Rubin and co. call the HaptX smart textile.

“These are basically tiny little haptic pixels,” said Jake Rubin, CEO and founder of HaptX. “And by changing their pressure over time, very quickly, we can create any sensation in your skin.” He likens it to a visual display, with each pixel changing in color to create an image. He explained that with the HaptX gloves, the pixels are tiny and in high density near the fingers — where the most sensitivity is needed — and larger and lower density at the palm.

The sensitivity of the displacement can be up to 2 millimeters, which Rubin said is much higher of than that of other VR gloves. Other haptic gloves like the GloveOne and the aforementioned Manus use vibrating motors that buzz or rumble, the Teslasuit uses electrodes that deliver small electric shocks, and still others like the VRgluv use motors that provide resistance on the fingers. None of these, according to Rubin, offer the same accuracy and finesse as the HaptX.

I tried a prototype of the gloves, and I was trepidatious at first. For one, the test glove was too big for my hands — Rubin says most of the HaptX engineers have larger mitts than I do. The issue is that in order for the HaptX material to work, my fingers need to touch the glove’s fingertips.

After some pulling, however, my hand fit. The glove was made out of a mesh fabric on the inside and a Vive receiver was attached to the outside; my fingertips were secured by what felt like plastic clamps. The glove was attached to a wire connecting to a large Xbox-like machine. This, Rubin said, houses all the valves to control air flow.

The glove felt bulky, heavy and a little uncomfortable. Rubin tells me that the final version will come in different sizes and be slimmed down, so hopefully, this is only an issue with the prototype.

Then, I had an HTC Vive strapped to my head and the HaptX folks fired up the demo. A small farm appeared in front of me, with raining clouds, a barn and a wheat field. I placed my hand underneath one of the clouds and immediately felt light raindrops. I waved my hand through the wheat field and felt every strand run through my fingers.

Next, a small fox ran out. When I placed my palm in front of it, it leapt into my hand, giving me a ticklish sensation as it ran around. When the fox finally lay down, I felt its whole body in the palm of my hand. Next, a huge spider crawled into view; it too climbed onto my hand. Its eight legs felt so fuzzy and realistic that it sent shivers up my spine, and I cringed in reaction.

I also squeezed the clouds and the rocks to see which was softer. I felt more resistance with the rocks but still managed to close my fingers into a fist, forcing the rocks to slip out of my hand. Ideally, I shouldn’t be able to close my fingers at all. Rubin said that could be because the glove didn’t fit my hand well enough in the first place.

Despite the unpleasant feeling of the glove, I was surprised by how realistic the touch sensations felt. It’s unlike any other VR controller I’ve tried. That said, there are a few flaws. For one, the gloves need to be attached to the aforementioned box. Rubin said they could be put it in a backpack for untethered applications when doing room-scale VR, but that sounds a little clunky. He thinks the technology will get to the point where they won’t need a box, but it’s not there yet.

Also, the prototype I tried didn’t have a temperature setting, because that version uses water instead of air. Rubin said the company is focusing on the non-temperature version of the gloves so it can get them to market sooner.

As impressive as the HaptX gloves felt, Rubin doesn’t intend for them to be used for video games, at least not yet. Right now, Rubin is marketing HaptX to be used for commercial applications like training simulation in medical, military and industrial spaces, location-based entertainment for theme parks, and design and manufacturing using telerobotics. This is because, in those applications, fidelity and finesse are way more important than in gaming.

“Some of these full-scale military simulators cost tens of millions of dollars,” said Rubin. “And there are these entertainment companies that are overlaying VR on physical environments but you still need a very large room. It’s not very scalable.” With something like HaptX, however, all you’d need to is change the software. He said that HaptX can be used when prototyping products, so manufacturers can “feel” what a car’s interior is like, for example.

Rubin hopes to release the first version of the gloves starting next year. He doesn’t rule out the technology trickling down to consumers, but that’s not the company’s focus. “We expect the price to come down quickly over a course of two to three years, to the point where consumers can have it,” he said. “It may never be, you know, $100 but it should be cheap enough within a couple of years that a consumer could certainly purchase and own this kind of technology.”

Interestingly, Rubin also said it’s possible for the HaptX material to be built into a full bodysuit. “When you combine these existing arm exoskeletons, our haptic wearables and a locomotion solution like an omnidirectional treadmill or a lower-body exoskeleton, it would get you very close to a holodeck — a full immersion in a virtual environment.”

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Senators propose ‘USA Liberty Act’ to reauthorize NSA surveillance

Posted by Carl on 18th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Even with that, there are critics saying it doesn’t go far enough. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says that most importantly, it doesn’t stop the NSA from collecting data on innocent people. Further, its rules on “new reporting requirements, new defaults around data deletion, and new guidance for amicus engagement with the FISA Court” don’t go far enough, and won’t end so-called “backdoor searching.” Still, ACLU counsel Neema Singh Guliani called it an improvement over the House legislation, noting its warrant requirement.

Section 702 is supposed to let the NSA collect emails and communications of foreigners living overseas from US companies, but because those people communicate with Americans, all of that data is potentially accessible. This prospect of domestic spying without a warrant, as other agencies can ask for access the NSA’s data. It also needs to be reauthorized periodically, which is why lawmakers are considering this now.

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AT&T tells customers to restart their phones to make calls

Posted by Carl on 15th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Now that Google Docs is back up and running, it’s apparently ATT’s turn to take a stumble. Customers have reported trouble making calls for the last couple of hours, however, the company said the problem can be resolved by restarting your phone (it may take multiple restarts). There’s no word yet on the root cause of the problem, if we get more information then we will update this post.


We are aware of an issue affecting some users’ ability to make certain wireless calls. These users should restart their devices, which should resolve the issue.

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AT&T and Verizon team up to build hundreds of new cell towers

Posted by Carl on 13th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Tillman is a relative newcomer to the cell tower space. Its parent company, Tillman Global, was founded in 2013, while tower big shots like American Tower, Crown Castle and SBA Communications have been around since the 80s and 90s. “We need more alternatives to the traditional tower leasing model with the large incumbents. It’s not cost-effective or sustainable,” said Susan Johnson, ATT’s senior vice president of global supply chain. “We’re creating a diverse community of suppliers and tower companies who will help increase market competition while reducing our overhead.”

While it makes sense from a business standpoint to share cell towers, it will also benefit consumers as the new towers will help fill in areas that are currently lacking wireless coverage. Verizon recently came under fire for cutting off service to thousands of rural customers, many of whom didn’t have access to other wireless providers.

Construction on the first round of towers will begin in early 2018.

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See battle royale brawler ‘The Darwin Project’ in action this weekend

Posted by Carl on 11th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

The alpha is launching alongside a first developer diary video (below) that explains what helps the game stand out from the pack. Darwin Project places a strong emphasis on tracking, which reduces some of the downtime you see in games like PUBG. You have to craft fires to avoid freezing to death, but those give away your position — it won’t take long before someone knows where you are. Footprints can reveal your path, too. Combine that with up-close weaponry (you have a bow and axe to defend yourself) and a strong emphasis on spectating and it promises to be tense whether or not you’re playing.

The game isn’t due to launch until spring 2018, when it should arrive for both PCs and Xbox One. It probably won’t usurp PUBG‘s crown (Bluehole’s title has already sold over 20 million copies before it’s even finished), but it could offer a refreshing twist on an increasingly well-worn formula.

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Your therapist will text you now

Posted by Carl on 9th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Rather than trek to a lavishly-appointed therapist’s office uptown, users can simply reach into their pocket and get help. These e-therapy platforms offer a variety of options, from a Skype-esque video and phone calls through to a more instantaneous, text-based chat protocol. Talkspace claims to have around 500,000 users engaging with more than 1,000 professionals.

In fact, you can expect to hear more from Talkspace in the very near future, as it recently signed a deal with medical giant Magellan Health. At some point soon, Magellan’s clients will be able to access on-demand psychotherapy, provided by Talkspace, through its own assistance program. That means if Magellan runs your employer’s health-care provision, you’ll have the option of contacting a therapist online as part of your package.

Talkspace emphasizes the benefits of online therapy, including the pros of having an on-demand, asynchronous relationship with their caregiver. Time-poor folks who struggle to carve out a couple of hours each week to journey to a clinic can still get the help they need. Plus, it’s cheaper: An hourlong session in the real world could cost hundreds of dollars and may require wrangling with your insurance provider.

By comparison, Talkspace’s plans begin from $32 a week, for which you can talk to a therapist once per day via text. For $39 a week, you’re entitled to two check-ins per day, while for $49 a week, you can get that, plus an additional half-hour “live session” with your therapist each month. Other services charge similar prices, with rivals 7Cups charging $150 a month and Betterhelp asking $280 monthly.

Talkspace’s Scott Christnelly believes that this push online has been beneficial. As well as overseeing therapist performance for the service, he is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist. Before joining Talkspace, Christnelly worked at a community organization offering therapy to individuals with chronic physical and mental illness. “The job became more about paper and chart compliance and less about the healing relationships I formed with clients,” he said. Talkspace enabled him to quit his job and build up an independent practice by going directly to individuals.

The challenges are different when offering therapeutic services online, especially when compared to the real world. Face-to-face, therapists are able to read a person’s nonverbal cues in order to understand the subtext of what they’re saying. “It’s definitely a unique experience,” says Christnelly, adding that “there is a learning curve in figuring out how to bridge that gap.” For his part, he says that experts also need to “learn how to communicate warmth and empathy and understanding through the written word.”

Another issue is the belief that, because it’s online, the client’s journey toward gratification or success is shorter. Christnelly says clients make more progress when they drop their need for an instant response or an ostensible cure. “It takes time for some clients to adjust to asynchronous communication,” although he believes that the delay is actually “beneficial.” The extra time between missives “gives the therapist and client time and space to explore their actions.”

Technical issues aside, Christnelly doesn’t believe that there’s a big difference between therapy online and in the real world. “The issues are the same that I saw when working with clients face-to-face,” he explained, and the clients are the same, too. “Everyone has different life circumstances,” says Christnelly, “but share the same internal struggles as everyone else.”

One of the benefits of online therapy is that the interactions can be instant, but also asynchronous, and you ultimately have the ability to choose how engaged you are. But when your motivation flags, or life gets in the way, it’s easier to walk away from the project than a real-world therapist. Much like that gym subscription you bought January 3rd, a Talkspace account may be left fallow for long periods of time. Neglect could, over a year, amount to the better part of $2,000-worth of wasted money. Talkspace will only unsubscribe you if a therapist marks you as absent — unless it’s related to a complaint.

Then there are the risks and dangers inherent with switching from a direct doctor-patient model to an Uberized marketplace. In 2016, former Talkspace therapists blew the whistle, telling The Verge about the company’s apparent failure to properly safeguard those who may be at risk. Whereas traditional mental-health professionals have a duty of care to notify law enforcement when individuals could be in danger, Talkspace users are anonymous to their therapists.

Other controversies have also hurt the service somewhat, including cutting off a therapist from clients when the therapist filed a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services. Todd Essig, a prominent critic of TalkSpace, wrote in Forbes that the company behaved in a “hasty, ill-advised and hurtful,” way. Essig has also said that online therapy platforms are no substitute for the real thing, creating “momentary feelings of being understood, which should never be confused with actually being understood.”

Talkspace CEO and co-founder Oren Frank says that the platform has remedied a lot of these issues, revising and updating its approach as it goes. He told Engadget that it has been a process to “learn and improve our understanding of how remote delivery of therapy is different.” Frank, a former advertising creative, founded the site with his wife in 2012 with the aim of making therapy cheaper and accessible “to all.” The CEO says that the service has received “overwhelmingly good feedback,”

For all of Talkspace’s potential pitfalls — of which some therapists may believe there is many — the company’s success may not be tied entirely to its business. In fact, online therapy platforms more generally may be helping to make mental health care more accessible to more people. Talkspace even cites an extensive study concerning almost 99,000 veterans with mental-health issues before and after exposure to long-distance psychiatric help. It claims that online therapy managed to reduce instances of hospitalization by around 25 percent.

There are still, however, caveats, like the sort found by Gabrielle Moss when she tried Talkspace out for Bustle back in 2015. Moss, who has lots of experience using real-world therapy, found it far too easy just to ignore the app’s requests for contact. “I hadn’t realized that much of what I was paying for,” she wrote, “was the accountability.” “Since there was no appointment,” she added, “and since I could erase those push notifications without even reading them […] I fell off the web-therapy wagon almost as quickly as I started.”

Talking to Engadget two years later, Moss said that, on reflection, “in-person therapy is the gold standard for a lot of reasons — not least of all because you can easily ignore an email from an online therapist.” “The fact that it’s hard to cut and run on an in-person therapist is positive,” because, she added, “when you feel the urge to flee, it’s tied to the fact that it’s bringing up scary feelings or memories that you don’t want to deal with.”

The distance created by online therapy, as Moss says, makes it “just too easy to end things because I was being pushed even slightly out of my comfort zone.” That’s not to say that online therapy has no value, however, and she believes that it can be a “great tool” for people who “can’t physically access a therapist.” Be it because of cost, geography, mental health or any other barrier, online therapy “can bring therapy to people who would not have been able to access any other form.” Although, in her mind, it remains a useful but not entirely satisfying substitute for the real thing.

In the future, the service’s sheer availability could well help reduce the stigma around mental health and encourage more folks who need help to seek it. Not to mention that having ubiquitous access to a calm, helpful voice on the other end of your smartphone or computer should reduce potential crises.

Online therapy cannot replace more direct interventions that are required in serious cases. If a person is in direct risk as a consequence of their own feelings or those of others, then the platforms discussed in this article are not a suitable place to seek help. In those instances, people are advised to reach out to agencies like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the emergency services.

Image Credit: Wavebreakmedia via Getty Images

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Samsung’s hardy Galaxy S8 Active comes to Sprint and T-Mobile

Posted by Carl on 7th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

The S8 Active shares much in common with the standard S8, including the processor, cameras and 64GB of expandable storage. Really, it’s all about a design that can take a bruising: the bumper-clad design can take falls from up to 5 feet high, and the flat 5.8-inch screen is designed to be shatter-resistant. Naturally, dust and water resistance are part of the package. There’s only one internal change, but it’s a big one — the S8 Active touts a hefty 4,000mAh battery (versus 3,000mAh on the regular S8) that should last through day-long adventures.

Sprint hasn’t detailed pricing as of this writing, but T-Mobile will sell the S8 Active for $30 per month over 2 years (plus $100 down), or $820 outright. That’s not a trivial outlay, especially when the base S8 is several months old, but it could be justifiable if you can’t stand the thought of your phone breaking mid-expedition.

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After Math: Xs and Os

Posted by Carl on 5th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

$370,000: That’s the street value of some 300 iPhone Xs a band of thieves managed to purloin from a UPS truck parked outside of the Apple Store in San Francisco on Thursday. Be wary of any unreasonably good deals (read: less than a grand) you see on eBay for them in the coming weeks.

11 minutes: The only tolerable span of time to occur in 2017 was when the president’s personal attack vector, er, Twitter account was taken offline by an American hero.

Lafayette, US - December 27, 2016: Tesla Supercharger Station. The Supercharger offers recharging of Model S and Model X electric vehicles XI

$7,500: That’s how much the electric vehicle tax credit is worth that the Republicans want to get rid of. Because who needs to reduce the global carbon footprint when a couple dozen rich families here in the US can reduce their tax bases?


321 GB: That’s the size of the CIA’s most recent file dump from Osama bin Laden’s personal laptop. Turns out the dude was super into off-brand sexy ROMs, who knew?

1440p: That’s the maximum monitor screen resolution the new Xbox One X will support. Don’t worry, it’ll still display in 4K when you hook it up to your living room TV.

4 seasons: That’s how many seasons too long House of Cards ran before Kevin Spacey’s sexual predatory past caught up with him and curb stomped the remainder of his career.

A 3D rendered image of cells.  One of the cells has dark tubules protruding from it as compared to the other clear cells.

86 percent: That’s how effective a new AI system developed at Showa University in Japan is in detecting colorectal cancer. Because the quicker you catch this form of cancer, the better the chance you have of beating it.

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Thieves pilfer $370,000 worth of iPhone Xs in San Francisco

Posted by Carl on 3rd November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

“Given the dollar value in the incident itself it appears it was planned,” said Yarid. UPS and Apple are assisting police, and the IMEI serial number of each phone has been recorded. That created one of the “fattest” police reports he’d ever seen, said SFPD Sgt. Paul Weggenmann.

The phones will likely be blacklisted on all US cellular networks, but it’s a lot easier for thieves to change an EMEI before an iPhone is set up by a customer. Obviously, if you happen to see a particularly good deal on an iPhone X on the SF Craiglist, assume it’s stolen.

So far, the iPhone X is Apple’s hottest-selling smartphone ever, with more than double the number ordered in the first few days than the previous champ, the iPhone 6S. Within minutes, the iPhone X sold out online, pushing orders well back from the original November 3rd ship date. This despite reports that the device, which is Apple’s first without a home button and with “Face ID” facial recognition security, is in short supply.

As a result, folks have been queuing at Apple Stores as much as ever, hoping to get one in hand before they disappear. Luckily, folks who pre-ordered their iPhone Xs from the Stonestown Apple Store will still receive them on time, CNET reports.

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Former Windows, Office exec Julie Larson-Green leaves Microsoft

Posted by Carl on 1st November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Veteran Microsoft exec Julie Larson-Green is leaving the tech giant to explore new opportunities. During her almost 25 year stint at the company, Larson-Green really did see it all, making her way from Windows software to Xbox and Surface hardware. After returning to work on Office in recent years, the senior software engineer took leave to recover from spinal cord surgery six months ago. While out, she spent time advising other firms. “It made me realize I was ready to take what I learned at Microsoft and apply it in other places,” she said in a statement.

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