Google’s Lookout app says what it sees for blind users in the US

https://www.engadget.com/2019/03/13/google-lookout-app-us-release/

Google’s Lookout is now finally available for download, though it’s only compatible with Pixel devices in the US set to English at the moment. The application was first announced at Google’s annual I/O Conference in 2018 and was designed to help the blind and visually impaired navigate their surroundings. It comes with three modes: Explore, Shopping and Quick Read. Explore, its default mode, gives users audio cues about their environment, telling them if there’s a chair or a cute dog blocking the way, for instance.

Shopping can read barcodes and currency, giving users a way to, say, make sure they’re truly holding a $5 bill. Finally, Quick Read can read signs and labels, making it easy to find Exit doors or goods in a grocery store. In other words, the app can be especially useful for learning the layout of a new space for the first time, or for reading documents and completing daily tasks around the house.

Users only have to fire up the application once to use Lookout — they don’t have to tap any other button in-app. They only have to make sure their Pixel’s camera is facing out by holding their device, placing it in their shirt pocket or hanging it from a lanyard around their neck. Google admits that it’s still far from perfect, but those who believe that the app can help them out can download it from Google Play. The company says it’s hoping to make the application more accessible, so it could eventually make its way to to more devices, countries and platforms in the future.

Source: Google

via Engadget http://www.engadget.com

March 13, 2019 at 04:18AM

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Boeing’s fixes to 737 MAX software delayed by government shutdown, report claims

https://arstechnica.com/?p=1472965

A Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed in October 2018; a software fix based on the investigation was delayed by the US government shutdown. It's possible that the fix could have prevented the crash of a similar aircraft in Ethiopia on March 10, 2019.
Enlarge /

A Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed in October 2018; a software fix based on the investigation was delayed by the US government shutdown. It’s possible that the fix could have prevented the crash of a similar aircraft in Ethiopia on March 10, 2019.

Despite two crashes within six months, a growing number of grounding orders worldwide for the Boeing 737 MAX, and a number of recent complaints from US pilots over problems with the aircraft’s automatic trim controls, the Federal Aviation Administration continues to allow the 737 MAX to fly. “The United States Federal Aviation Administration is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators,” a Boeing spokesperson said in a March 12 statement.

But government inaction may have been at least partially to blame for the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX on March 10—the US government shutdown reportedly pushed back a fix to the aircraft’s software for more than a month.

On March 11, Boeing announced that the company “has been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer.” The shutdown of non-essential operations at the FAA caused work on the fix to be suspended for five weeks, according to unnamed US officials cited by the Wall Street Journal. The fix is expected to be mandated for installation by the FAA by the end of April.

The update seeks to correct what may have been the root cause of the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia last October—the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System’s (MCAS’) reliance on a single sensor to determine whether the aircraft is entering a stall. But according to a WSJ report, that fix was delayed because the FAA shutdown interrupted the approval process.

“We don’t have any comment on claims in the WSJ’s story,” a Boeing spokesperson told Ars.

A stall occurs when an aircraft’s angle of attack (AOA)—the relative angle of the aircraft’s wing surfaces to the flow of air across them—reaches the point where the wing can no longer generate enough lift to sustain flight. Usually, this happens in a climb with insufficient air speed. Automatic control systems such as MCAS try to solve this problem by pushing the nose of the aircraft down—putting the aircraft into a descent and increasing airspeed and relative airflow across the wings. MCAS relies on an AOA sensor to determine whether this is required. If the AOA sensor is faulty, it could create a false signal of a stall—which is what happened in the case of Lion Air Flight 610 and may have been the issue with the Ethiopian Airlines flight.

The MCAS software update includes a new “enhanced flight control law,” a Boeing spokesperson said, which “incorporates [AOA] inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading, and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority.”

In other words, it uses multiple sensor inputs to determine whether adjustments to the flight controls are necessary, giving the pilot direct control over the tail control surfaces to override any automatic adjustments. Currently, the pilot would have to entirely disable automatic stabilizer trim to counteract “stabilizer trim runaway” in the event of a sensor error.

Go home, 737 MAX…

On March 13, the European Union’s civil aviation authorities joined China, Australia, Singapore, Ethiopia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, and a number of Latin American air carriers in grounding Boeing 737 MAX aircraft after the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines flight just after take-off on March 10. As the EU imposed its grounding, a number of 737 MAX aircraft were forced to turn around in flight because they were no longer considered airworthy at their destinations.

Today, Canada’s transportation minister announced a grounding of all 737 MAX aircraft in Canada and a ban on the incursion of 737 MAX aircraft from other countries into Canadian airspace. The decision, Minister Marc Garneau said, was based on new satellite tracking data reviewed by Canadian aviation authorities.

Meanwhile, Boeing continues to stand behind the safety of the aircraft. “We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets,” a Boeing spokesperson said. “We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets.”

Those concerns may not be addressed until the software patch for MCAS is pushed out.

via Ars Technica https://arstechnica.com

March 13, 2019 at 11:42AM

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How To Make A Super-Hydrophobic Labyrinth Game

https://www.geeksaresexy.net/2019/03/10/how-to-make-a-super-hydrophobic-labyrinth-game/

From NightHawkInLight:

In this video I show how to make a classic coffee table game with a hydrophobic twist.

I’m sure I’ll be asked the question of why not just spray a store bought labyrinth game with a hydrophobic coating, and yes that is possible if you don’t care to make your own. For those that try it will be tricky to get an even coating but it should work fine with multiple coats.

[NightHawkInLight]

The post How To Make A Super-Hydrophobic Labyrinth Game appeared first on Geeks are Sexy Technology News.

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March 10, 2019 at 05:32AM

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Toyota will develop a manned fuel-cell lunar rover

https://www.autoblog.com/2019/03/12/toyota-manned-lunar-rover/

TOKYO — Toyota and Japan’s space agency said on Tuesday they had agreed to cooperate in developing a manned lunar rover that runs on fuel cell technologies.

Although Japan has no plan currently to make a manned rocket that could send people into space, the rover could be a major contribution to an international space program in the future, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

The rover “will be an important element supporting human lunar exploration, which we envision will take place in the 2030s,” JAXA Vice President Koichi Wakata told a symposium in Tokyo.

“We aim to launch such a rover into space in 2029.”

The rover is still in the conceptual stage, but an illustration in the news release showed a six-wheel vehicle that somewhat resembled an armored personnel carrier.

A spokesman for Toyota, which plans to ramp up fuel-cell cars as a zero-emission alternative to gasoline vehicles, said the project would give the company a chance to test its technologies in the moon’s harsh environment and improve them.

Said Toyota President Akio Toyoda: “The automotive industry has long done business with the concepts of ‘hometown’ and ‘home country’ largely in mind. However, from now on, in responding to such matters as environmental issues of global scale, the concept of ‘home planet’, from which all of us come, will become a very important concept. Going beyond the frameworks of countries or regions, I believe that our industry, which is constantly thinking about the role it should fulfill, shares the same aspirations of international space exploration. Furthermore, cars are used in all of Earth’s regions, and, in some regions, cars play active roles as partners for making sure that people come back alive. And I think that coming back alive is exactly what is needed in this project. I am extremely happy that, for this project, expectations have been placed on the thus-far developed durability and driving performance of Toyota vehicles and on our fuel cell environmental technologies.”

Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi stressed the excitement that comes with taking part in a space project.

“As an engineer, there is no greater joy than being able to participate in a lunar project by way of Toyota’s car-making,” Terashi told the symposium.

“Being allowed to be a member of ‘Team Japan,’ we would like to take up the challenge of space.”

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March 12, 2019 at 11:16AM

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Flynano is part electric aircraft, part jet ski

https://www.autoblog.com/2019/03/12/flynano-is-part-electric-aircraft-part-jet-ski/

Transcript:

Part electric aircraft, part jet ski. Flynano is an electric seaplane designed for the adventure seeker. It can lift off from a lake to the skies to give you an amazing aerial view. A joystick and pedals are used to control the vehicle. The 1,700 kWh electric brushless motor can provide speeds of up to 75 mph in the sky. On a full charge, the battery provides 10 to 15 minutes of flight time. Fly

Nano

Ltd. claims that Flynano can reach heights of 16,000 feet. The single-seater aircraft weighs 154 lbs and can carry up to 220 lbs. Flynano starts at $96,000.

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March 12, 2019 at 04:28PM

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Zuckerberg Wants Facebook to Build a Mind-Reading Machine

https://www.wired.com/story/zuckerberg-wants-facebook-to-build-mind-reading-machine

For those of us who worry that Facebook may have serious boundary issues when it comes to the personal information of its users, Mark Zuckerberg’s recent comments at Harvard should get the heart racing.

Zuckerberg ostensibly dropped by the university last month as part of a year of conversations with experts about the role of technology in society, “the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, and the anxieties.” His nearly two-hour interview with the Harvard law school professor Jonathan Zittrain in front of Facebook cameras and a classroom of students centered on the company’s unprecedented position as a town square for perhaps two billion people. To hear the young CEO tell it, Facebook was taking shots from all sides—either it was indifferent to the ethnic hatred festering on its platforms or it was a heavy-handed censor deciding whether an idea was allowed to be expressed.

Zuckerberg confessed that he hadn’t sought out such an awesome responsibility. No one should, he said. “If I was a different person, what would I want the CEO of the company to be able to do?” he asked himself. “I would not want so many decisions about content to be concentrated with any individual.”

Instead, Facebook will establish its own Supreme Court, he told Zittrain, an outside panel entrusted to settle thorny questions about what appears on the platform. “I will not be able to make a decision that overturns what they say,” he promised, “which I think is good.”

All was going to plan. Zuckerberg had displayed a welcome humility about himself and his company. And then he described what really excited him about the future—and the familiar Silicon Valley hubris had returned. There was this promising new technology, he explained, a brain-computer interface, which Facebook has been researching.

The idea is to allow people to use their thoughts to navigate intuitively through augmented reality—the neuro-driven version of the world recently described by Kevin Kelly in these pages. No typing, no speaking, even, to distract you or slow you down as you interact with digital additions to the landscape: driving instructions superimposed over the freeway, short biographies floating next to attendees of a conference, 3-D models of furniture you can move around your apartment.

The Harvard audience was a little taken aback by the conversation’s turn, and Zittrain made a law-professor joke about the constitutional right to remain silent in light of a technology that allows eavesdropping on thoughts. “Fifth amendment implications are staggering,” he said to laughter. Even this gentle pushback was met with the tried-and-true defense of big tech companies when criticized for trampling users’ privacy—users’ consent. “Presumably,” Zuckerberg said, “this would be something that someone would choose to use as a product.”

In short, he would not be diverted from his self-assigned mission to connect the people of the world for fun and profit. Not by the dystopian image of brain-probing police officers. Not by an extended apology tour. “I don’t know how we got onto that,” he said jovially. “But I think a little bit on future tech and research is interesting, too.”

Of course, Facebook already follows you around as you make your way through the world via the GPS in the smartphone in your pocket, and, likewise, follows you across the internet via code implanted in your browser. Would we really let Facebook inside those old noggins of ours just so we can order a pizza faster and with more toppings? Zuckerberg clearly is counting on it.

To be fair, Facebook doesn’t plan to actually enter our brains. For one thing, a surgical implant, Zuckerberg told Zittrain, wouldn’t scale well: “If you’re actually trying to build things that everyone is going to use, you’re going to want to focus on the noninvasive things.”

The technology that Zuckerberg described is a shower-cap-looking device that surrounds a brain and discovers connections between particular thoughts and particular blood flows or brain activity, presumably to assist the glasses or headsets manufactured by Oculus VR, which is part of Facebook. Already, Zuckerberg said, researchers can distinguish when a person is thinking of a giraffe or an elephant based on neural activity. Typing with your mind would work off of the same principles.

As with so many of Facebook’s innovations, Zuckerberg doesn’t see how brain-computer interface breaches an individual’s integrity, what Louis Brandeis famously defined as “the right to be left alone” in one’s thoughts, but instead sees a technology that empowers the individual. “The way that our phones work today, and all computing systems, organized around apps and tasks is fundamentally not how our brains work and how we approach the world,” he told Zittrain. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m just very excited longer term about especially things like augmented reality, because it’ll give us a platform that I think actually is how we think about stuff.”

Kelly, in his essay about AR, likewise sees a world that makes more sense when a “smart” version rests atop the quotidian one. “Watches will detect chairs,” he writes of this mirrorworld, “chairs will detect spreadsheets; glasses will detect watches, even under a sleeve; tablets will see the inside of a turbine; turbines will see workers around them.” Suddenly our environment, natural and artificial, will operate as an integrated whole. Except for humans with their bottled up thoughts and desires. Until, that is, they install BCI-enhanced glasses.

Zuckerberg explained the potential benefits of the technology this way when he announced Facebook’s research in 2017: “Our brains produce enough data to stream 4 HD movies every second. The problem is that the best way we have to get information out into the world—speech—can only transmit about the same amount of data as a 1980s modem. We’re working on a system that will let you type straight from your brain about 5x faster than you can type on your phone today. Eventually, we want to turn it into a wearable technology that can be manufactured at scale. Even a simple yes/no ‘brain click’ would help make things like augmented reality feel much more natural.”

Zuckerberg likes to quote Steve Jobs’s description of computers as “bicycles for the mind.” I can imagine him thinking, What’s wrong with helping us pedal a little faster?

And while I reflexively gag at Zuckerberg’s thinking, that isn’t meant to discount its potential to do great things or to think that holding it off will be easy or necessarily desirable. But at a minimum, we should demand a pause to ask hard questions about such a barrier-breaking technologies—each quietly in our own heads, I should hasten to add, and then later as a society.

We need to pump the brakes on Silicon Valley, at least temporarily. For, if the Zuckerberg reflection tour has revealed anything it is that even as he wrestles with the harms Facebook has wrought, he is busy dreaming up new ones.


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March 7, 2019 at 06:06AM

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Track a Tank Shell With a Mirror and Polar Coordinates

https://www.wired.com/story/physics-tank-shell-polar-coordinates

If the internet was your online physics textbook, The Slow Mo Guys would be writing a good number of those homework questions. Of course The Slow Mo Guys are Gavin and Dan and they use a super high speed camera and look at stuff around us. OK—in this case, they aren’t looking at normal things. They are looking at the motion of a high speed shell fired from a tank.

But how do you see this tank shell if it is traveling around 2,000 feet per second (609 m/s)? You could just put the camera far enough away that the path of the projectile would be in the frame. However, in that case you could barely see the fast moving object. It would be too small in the video. OK, what about getting close to the path so that the shell looks larger? Yes, you could see it, but just for a tiny fraction of the total path.

The solution to this problem is to use both methods. Get the camera close to the path and then rotate the view as the projectile passes. The Slow Mo Guys are going to put the camera 82 feet from the path which means it would have to rotate at around 3,000 degrees per second—which is pretty much impossible. But instead of rotating a camera, they will just use a rotating mirror. The camera looks at the mirror and from that it can see the tank shell. Then the camera can stay in place while the mirror rotates. Perfect.

Here is the real question. How do you determine the angular position of a mirror so that it can track the projectile? The answer: polar coordinates. Yes, you thought they were just joking when they made you do stuff with polar coordinates in math class. Surprise. You actually need this sometimes.

Let’s do this. How about a review of two different coordinate systems: cartesian and polar coordinates. Also, how do you use polar coordinates to track a super fast projectile?

Cartesian Coordinates

This is the one you are likely familiar with. In two dimensions, there is an x-axis and a y-axis. They are perpendicular to each other. Once you pick the origin, you can describe the location of an object with an x and y coordinates.

Rhett Allain

There’s really not too much to say about this coordinate system since you’ve probably seen it before. Let me just make some comments. Don’t forget about units. It’s not just x and y numbers, these numbers have to have units to make a connection to the real world.

Now let’s say that the projectile is moving in the negative x-direction with a velocity of 600 m/s. In that case, I can write the following kinematic equations for the position of the projectile.

Rhett Allain

In these expressions, x1 is the starting x-position and x2 is the position after some time Δt. Notice that the y-position doesn’t change since it’s only moving in the x-direction.

But just because it’s easy to find the position doesn’t mean you would know where to point your camera mirror. OK, I get it. It’s possible to use the position to calculate the angle to aim the mirror—but that’s not as much fun as using polar coordinates.

Oh, I should also point out that if you move the origin of the cartesian coordinate system it’s not a big deal. Sure, you will have different starting positions but the velocity equations mostly look the same.

Polar Coordinates

If you are still dealing with motion on a flat plane (ignoring the vertical motion of the tank shell), you will need two coordinates to describe the location of the object relative to the origin. Instead of using two perpendicular distances (x and y), polar coordinates uses an angle and a distance. Here is the same object from before using polar coordinates.

Rhett Allain

Instead of x and y, we use r (the distance from the original) and θ the angle from the x-axis. Yes, if you draw the polar coordinates on top of the cartesian coordinates it’s possible to see the connection between the two systems. If you want to find the r and θ values you can use a right triangle. The hypotenuse of this triangle would be r and the angle would be θ. This gives the following conversion.

Rhett Allain

Everything looks great. But there is a problem. How do you express the velocity of an object in polar coordinates? It’s not a simple problem. If a projectile is moving in the x-direction, its velocity is just in the x-direction in the cartesian coordinate system. However, for polar coordinates both its angular value and its r value will change. You can see this if I show the coordinates of the object at two different times.

Rhett Allain

Describing the velocity in polar coordinates isn’t just in one dimension and those values aren’t constant. Why would anyone use polar coordinates? Because with polar coordinates, you get the angular position of the object. This is exactly what you need to aim the mirror. Oh, notice that if I move the origin for the polar coordinate system the values can change quite a bit.

OK, let’s just do this. Let’s get an expression for the velocity in polar coordinates. Since it involves a lot of math, I’m just going to share this video of my derivation instead of writing it out. Actually, I wrote it out too—here you go.

But in the end, you don’t get something nice and simple like you do in cartesian coordinates. You get an r and θ expression that changes with time and depends on second derivatives with respect to time. Yes, you get a differential equation. But wait! All is not lost. I know you don’t want to solve a differential equation—and you don’t have to. We can create a solution to this problem by breaking it into tiny steps and solving each step. This is the key idea in a numerical calculation. It’s easiest to do something like with a small bit of computer code.

In order to create a numerical calculation, I need the following (in polar coordinates).

  • The starting position of the object. The video states that the camera is 82 feet away (25 meters), so I will use that as my starting r value. The initial angle will be 90 degrees.
  • What about the starting velocity? Since I have two dimensions (r and θ) I need the velocity in these two directions. Here is the weird thing about the velocity in polar coordinates. As the object moves the r-direction and θ-direction change. In cartesian coordinates, the x and y-direction stay constant. OK, so let’s give this thing an initial velocity in the θ direction with a magnitude of 600 m/s.

That should be enough. With these values, I can use the differential equations to find the polar velocity and position after some short time interval. Then I just keep doing that until I want to stop or my computer explodes. Here is the code with a plot of the angular value of the position as a function of time. Feel free to edit it and rerun it. You can’t break anything.

From the plot of angle vs. time, you can see it’s not such a simple problem. You can’t just turn the camera mirror at a particular angular speed to follow the projectile. The closer the tank shell gets to the camera, the faster you have to rotate the mirror for it to stay in view.

OK, now for some questions for you (or for me in the future).

Homework

  • Use the code above. Create a plot of r vs. time.
  • In the code, use the values of r and theta during each time step to calculate the x-position of the object. Plot the position vs. time to show that it is indeed a constant x-velocity.
  • Modify the starting position (r) in the code. What happens if the starting position is closer to the tank shell? What if it is farther away?
  • What is the maximum angular velocity (in radians per second) for the mirror?
  • Suppose you put a camera that has a length of 10 cm and rotates about the center. Calculate the centripetal acceleration for the end of this camera if it was to follow to projectile. Suppose the end of the camera has a mass of 50 grams. Calculate the force needed to keep it together.
  • Estimate the power (in watts) needed for a camera to rotate to track the tank shell.

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March 6, 2019 at 08:06AM

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