Alphabet quits work on its energy-generating kites

Alphabet’s years-long involvement with energy-making kites is no more. The Google parent is ending its work on Makani’s wind power technology, with X’s Moonshot lead Astro Teller warning that the path to a viable business was "much longer and riskier" than expected. Alphabet liked Makani’s environmental focus, but felt that it was important to pour effort into those areas where it believed it could "have the greatest impact."

As Makani’s Fort Felker said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Makani is shutting down. Its recent investor Shell is "exploring options" to continue work on wind kite technology, although Felker didn’t elaborate on what that meant. The team did make some progress while under Alphabet’s wing, launching a 20kW demo project, and growing it to a kite capable of 600kW.

As TechCrunch explained, this may be as much about Alphabet’s shift to a more conservative strategy as anything else. When Google bought Makani in 2013, it was a company willing to take risks with many forms of technology, whether they were energy kites, internet balloons or smart glasses. The cost was almost incidental if it meant Google could get into a lucrative field at a very early stage.

Flash forward to 2020 and it’s a very different story. Google is now just one part of Alphabet, and idealistic founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are no longer part of the leadership. Alphabet is a more pragmatic company interested in turning a profit from all of its businesses, and that may mean cutting loose projects that are likely to continue bleeding cash, even if they’re ultimately promising down the road.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Makani (Medium)

via Engadget

February 18, 2020 at 07:52PM

Compal Develops FlexBook: A Foldable 13-Inch PC with a Hardware Keyboard

Compal, a leading contract maker/ODM of notebooks and other mobile devices, has developed a prototype of a foldable hybrid tablet that can be equipped with a hardware keyboard. The design concept of Compal’s FlexBook resembles Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold that is due to be released in the coming months, but it is unclear whether the FlexBook will ever be commercialized.  

Compal’s FlexBook looks like an ordinary 13-inch tablet with landscape orientation that features two speakers located on its lower side, two USB-C connectors, and volume buttons on a side. Yet the tablet can be folded in half as it is equipped with a foldable OLED display as well as a ‘zero gap lay flat hinge’. When half-folded, the device can be used as a notebook, but it is much more convenient to attach a dedicated hardware keyboard to it when working in stationary mode. The FlexBook also supports stylus, just like tablets aimed at creative professionals.

The FlexBook is encased in leather, so should look and feel very good. Unfortunately the company isn’t saying anything about the internals of the prototype FlexBook, as it’s clear they’re opting to instead focus on the design and folding capabilities (i.e. the parts they actually designed) rather than whose hardware is underneath. An Arm SoC seems likely for this prototype, though to a certain extent it doesn’t matter as devices this large typically can be made to accommodate SoCs from pretty much any vendor.

Since Compal is a contract maker of computers and other electronics, it does not manufacture its own products carrying its brand. To that end, FlexBook may serve as a proof of concept and as a reference design for a vendor interested in bringing a product like this to the market. Only time will tell whether or not Compal’s clients are interested in FlexBook-like devices, but the company evidently has engineering skills to develop and build foldable tablets.

Compal’s official description of its FlexBook reads as follows:

Encased in rich and luxuriant leather, the 13” FlexBook is a next generation flexible tablet/laptop duo that captures the supreme convenience of a lightweight tablet plus the usability and performance of a mini PC. When separated, the OLED tablet features a perfect, zero gap “lay flat hinge” so user is free to fold in half for effortless mobility and safekeeping, then flip open like a book to write with the stylus over its absolute no image loss screen. Attach tablet onto the keyboard and instantly turn FlexBook into a compact laptop great for fixed location work. This is a modern-day marriage between stationary and mobile work in style.

Related Reading:

Sources: iF World Design Guide, Liliputing

via AnandTech

February 18, 2020 at 03:35PM

Floating Farms May Help Reinvent the World’s Food Ecosystems

Karma, Courage, and Sustainabetty are special heifers. They have uninterrupted views of Rotterdam harbor, poop on a poop deck, and walk that gangplank to a pasture. They and 31 other Meuse-Rhine-Issel cows clomped aboard the world’s first floating dairy farm last May.

“It’s the best milk in the world,” says Peter van Wingerden, founder of the Dutch property development company Beladon, which built the barge. In 2012, hearing that floods from Hurricane Sandy had crippled New York City’s food distribution system, he imagined that waterborne urban farms could boost food security. Why Rotterdam? A quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level. Why 1,500-pound bovines? “If we could put big animals inside the city on a floating barge, we could do anything.”

Getting a green light required years of answering questions from local officials: Crucially, do cows get seasick? On a steady platform, their research concluded, heifers likely won’t spew their cud. The 4,843-square-foot stable floats on concrete pontoons anchored by two steel beams driven 65 feet into the seabed. The structure rises and falls with the 8-foot tides and never tilts more than 11 inches, even in winds topping 70 mph or if the herd crowds the stern to watch passing crustaceans.

Each day aboard this largely self-sustaining ecosystem, cows eat potato peels and grass clippings, then set free 5,700-plus pounds of dung, which a Roomba-like robot sucks up and dumps down a shaft to a deck below. There it’s turned into fertilizer for the soccer fields and parks that grow the grass feed. A milking robot pulls around 5 gallons from each heifer, which is bottled or made into yogurt and then trucked to local grocery stores.

Van Wingerden has talked to food companies and developers seeking to bring buoyant dairies to Singapore, Dubai, and New York. Alas, experts say large-scale floating farms would be prohibitively expensive and rely on too many resources to remain sustainable. But van Wingerden hopes the sight of cows grazing on a boat sparks creative thinking for future food production. Humans must produce 56 percent more food to feed a global population of 9.8 billion by 2050. Sure, seems like that’ll happen when pigs fly. Or, when cows float.

Laura Mallonee (@LauraMallonee) writes about photography for WIRED.

This article appears in the March issue. Subscribe now.

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via Wired Top Stories

February 18, 2020 at 05:11AM

Well, Looks Like HQ Trivia’s Finally Dead

Let’s be honest, the writing’s been on the wall for a while now.

HQ Trivia announced its shuttering Friday in a notification to users that seems to imply the company gives precisely zero fucks at this point: “HQ is live. Just kidding. We’re off-air indefinitely.” Not even a “Thanks for playing,” as the notification goes on to say,

It’s an abrupt end for the once-viral live trivia app, formerly valued at more than $100 million while boasting millions of concurrent players that competed for its daily prize pools. That was back in ye olden days of 2018, though, HQ Trivia’s heyday. Mounting complaints about rampant cheating via bots and delayed payouts for winners have dogged the company since, and its viewer numbers only continued to spiral with the addition of an unpopular points-based system that left fans questioning whether HQ was struggling to maintain its cash flow.

On Friday, CEO Rus Yusupov told employees that “lead investors are no longer willing to fund the company, and so effective today, HQ will cease operations and move to dissolution,” per a company-wide email obtained by CNN Business. In a last-ditch effort, the email continues, HQ previously hired a banker “to help find additional investors and partners to support the expansion of the company” and they’d even “received an offer from an established business” projected to be finalized Saturday. But those plans ultimately fell through, he said per the report. Leaving HQ Trivia, and its now-former 25 full-time employees, SOL.

“With HQ we showed the world the future of TV,” Yusupov tweeted Friday, commenting on the company’s shuttering. “We didn’t get to where we hoped but we did stretch the world’s imagination for what’s possible on our smartphones. Thanks to everyone who helped build this and thanks for playing.”

And while thanking fans for playing is nice, one glaring question Yusupov and HQ Trivia have failed to touch on, however, is what happens to any winnings players haven’t cashed out yet. Well, sad to say, it’s looking like they may well be SOL too.

While HQ Trivia did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for inquiry, several fans have already reported encountering problems when trying to obtain their earnings. Some users said they received an error message when they tried to access their account balance, while others claimed their balance had inexplicably dropped to zero, erasing its previous total. A few said they managed to successfully navigate to the page and request a payout, but, though the app asked for their PayPal information in order to transfer the winnings, they’ve yet to receive any cash.

To really get a sense of the company’s precipitous nosedive in just a few short years, let me snag you for a stroll down memory lane. 

Developed by Vine creators Yusupov and Colin Kroll, HQ Trivia enjoyed ridiculously viral success—to the point where its mushrooming viewership practically rendered the app unusable from lag—after its launch in 2017. At its zenith in March 2018, the app reportedly hosted 2.38 million concurrent players. Long-established heavy hitters like General Motors, ABC, and NBC were vying for partnership deals, Time magazine ranked it the number one app of the year, and it was even nominated for an Emmy for its partnership with Warner Bros. to promote The Lego Movie 2.

By the summer of 2018, though, things were already beginning to spiral. As public interest waned (and complaints didn’t) its viewership and app store ranking continued to fall month after month. In a now-deleted tweet, Yusupov tried to assuage concerns about the company at the time, saying “Games are a hits business and don’t grow exponentially forever.” The company also battled with internal turmoil, including the death of its cofounder, Kroll, in December 2018 from a drug overdose and, later, a full-fledged employee mutiny to oust Yusupov, who staffers claimed was driving HQ Trivia into the ground (looks like they were right on that one). Heavy layoffs last July that cut a quarter of its employees also signaled HQ Trivia’s finances had taken a turn for the worse.

However, for most HQ Trivia players, the company’s death knell came with the departure of fan-favorite host Scott Rogowsky

See what happens when you leave, “quiz daddy”? Everything goes to hell.

via Gizmodo

February 14, 2020 at 10:30PM

Google is bringing Stadia to 18 new phones, including the Galaxy S20

Google’s cloud gaming service, Stadia, has been exclusive to Pixel phones since its launch three months ago, but that’s changing this week. On February 20th, Stadia will hit 14 Samsung models, plus the Asus ROG Phone, ROG Phone II, Razer Phone and Razer Phone II. The supported Samsung devices are (deep breath) as follows: S8, S8+, S8 Active, Note 8, S9, S9+, Note 9, S10, S10+, Note 10, Note 10+, S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra.

All of the freshly activated phones will work with wireless gamepads over Bluetooth — except for the Stadia controller. As with Pixel phones, the Stadia gamepad will have to be plugged in. Google is working on a system that would allow the Stadia controller to connect to browsers and mobile devices via WiFi, rather than the standard Bluetooth connection. For now, the controller has to be wired for PC, laptop and mobile play, though it works wirelessly on the TV via Chromecast Ultra.

"This is one of the items on our roadmap which is going to be launched shortly, but we’re actually using a very different approach with our controller, one that connects directly over WiFi to the data center," Stadia’s head of gamer experience Andrey Doronichev said. "It doesn’t actually maintain a Bluetooth connection with a phone, which is a slightly different way of doing things and requires some extra work on both the app side and the controller side to make sure it works well."

Today’s expansion, while significant, is still a drop in the Android ocean. Microsoft’s xCloud service, meanwhile, supports any Android device running Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) or higher and Bluetooth 4.0 or better. Microsoft and Samsung have also promised a deeper cloud-based gaming collaboration in the future. At the same time, NVIDIA has relaunched its long-in-preview GeForce Now streaming service, which should work on any smartphone with 2GB of RAM and Android 5.0 (Lollipop) or higher.

Clearly, Google has some catching up to do.

Today’s news comes three weeks after a Redditor accused Google of not providing a significant update to Stadia players for 40 days straight. At the time, Stadia had been out for 69 days. The post ran down a list of updates and promised features that were still missing from Stadia, and lamented the lack of new games and poor communication from Google. Players — each of whom spent $130 on the Stadia Founder’s Edition — were still waiting for 4K capabilities, Google Assistant support and wireless controller functionality in browser mode, plus family sharing and an actual list of new games heading to the platform. The post is packed with players who viewed their Stadia experience as an ill-disguised beta, rather than a full launch.

Google responded by saying it understood players’ frustrations, but that it was "up to the publishers" to announce their games. Many players saw this as a dodge, rather than a legitimate response. Google has rolled out a few updates since that Reddit post, adding a handful of new games to Stadia, headlined by Panzer Dragoon and the Serious Sam Collection. And, of course, there’s today’s news about Samsung, ROG and Razer phone functionality.

Stadia at GDC 2019


Before heading up Stadia’s product team, Doronichev was a product manager and head of mobile in the early days of YouTube, and he sees a lot of similarities between the services.

"Stadia is built on the same infrastructure, Google infrastructure, that has been delivering search queries and YouTube videos for billions of users out there all over the world over the last decade or two," he said. "So this is one of the things where, I think that, at this point there’s no question we can do it."

Players do still have questions about Stadia’s stability, of course. The cloud gaming industry is finding its footing in 2020 and every service — including Stadia, xCloud and GeForce Now — is figuring out how to deal with game-breaking latency issues and dips in fidelity. Stadia had a rocky start, with many reviewers and early players running into significant problems. We found the service worked fine under ideal conditions, but overall it was spotty as hell.

It’s incredibly difficult to tailor one streaming system to every user’s end environment, Doronichev explained. It’s never just about resolution, framerate, connection speeds or latency alone. He ran into this issue while building YouTube’s mobile apps, and it’s even more exacerbated with Stadia.

"It will take us time to get there."

"I can draw a parallel with video streaming, which was the previous wave of media," Doronichev said. "We were asking all sorts of questions — what constitutes a high-quality video session? Is it the resolution? Is it frame rate? Is it delay? Or is it the number of buffering events that interrupt your play session or your video session, in that case? Generally, you want to build a system that can manage connection parameters in a very smart way, adapting to end-user conditions. And conditions include many factors, not just your network."

Google has its eyes on the end result with Stadia. The company has laid out ambitious goals, including seamless 4K streams and games shareable via links, and so far it’s missed more than it’s hit. However, Doronichev reminded us, Stadia has only been out for three months.

"We went ahead announcing our vision, which is big, and it will take us time to get there," Doronichev said. "This is fine. This is great. This is what it’s all about, right? It’s not just about some marginal improvements, it’s not about a specific feature. It’s about a big, bold statement of where we are going. We’re going there very, very confidently. So judging by the velocity so far, if anything, I’m more confident in our ability to deliver and over-deliver."

Surely, Stadia players would be happy with just "deliver" first.

Nick Summers contributed to this report.

via Engadget

February 18, 2020 at 11:06AM

Qualcomm’s New 3rd Generation Snapdragon X60 5G Modem, Built on 5nm

To date Qualcomm has promoted two key standalone 5G modems for widespread adoption: the Snapdragon X50 and the Snapdragon X55. Today the company is disclosing details on its upcoming 3rd generation 5G modem design, the Snapdragon X60, which is being promoted as the premium offering for smartphones, industrial, and commercial designs that require a discrete 5G modem. Key features of this modem include the fact that it is built on a 5nm process, supports carrier aggregation between Sub-6 and mmWave, and offers up to 7.5 Gbps download speeds.

via AnandTech

February 18, 2020 at 06:40AM

Science!: Floating An Iron Anvil In A Tub Of Liquid Mercury

This is a video of Youtuber Cody’sLab (heck yeah, let me grab my white coat and goggles and I’ll be right over) floating a 110-pound iron anvil in a tub of liquid mercury. Obviously, the anvil floats in the mercury because mercury has a density almost twice that of iron (13.69 g/cm³ and 7.87 g/cm³, respectively). It’s still crazy to watch though. And some would argue even crazier to drink, but that didn’t stop me from scooping a cupful. "Isn’t mercury poisonous?" Only to people afraid of superpowers. "What you got?" *tries to take sip, spills down front of shirt* Only blurred vision and loss of coordination so far.
Keep going for the whole experiment, complete with just how much the mercury deadens the sound of a hammer on the anvil at 2:45, and some sweet slow-motion footage at the end.

Thanks to again to hairless, who agrees chemistry is cool. Yeah it is *winking* especially the stuff between you and me.

via Geekologie – Gadgets, Gizmos, and Awesome

February 14, 2020 at 01:15PM