This 20-Pound Portable Microwave Can Heat 11 Meals In Between Charges

Sometimes, the only thing that can get you through a long day of work is having a hot meal halfway through it. That’s not always an option if you’re stuck on a construction site, or even on the road, unless you’ve brought along Makita’s latest power tool: a cordless microwave that zaps instead of cuts.

If you thought your smartphone was a battery drainer, get ready for some depressing numbers. Electric motors, particularly those used in heavy duty power tools, can drain a normal rechargeable battery in mere minutes. As a result, there’s actually been a lot of innovation in power tool batteries to make them last as long as possible under heavy loads, and a recent push to make them compatible with other devices that usually rely on power outlets.

Companies like Dewalt now offer 60-volt rechargeable batteries that can work together to run even power-hungry table saws, while Makita has leveraged its own rechargeable battery tech to power everything from cordless coffee makers to jobsite wireless speakers.

Construction workers can’t run on empty, so Makita’s new cordless microwave is compatible with the company’s XGT system, allowing a pair of 40-volt rechargeable batteries to be clipped onto the back of the appliance for power. It’s not just targeted at construction sites, however; Makita’s new microwave could also ensure you don’t miss your hot morning coffee during a power outage, and seems like an ideal solution for camping (or glamping).Vanlifers living off the grid might also get a kick out of it.

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With two fully-charged XGT batteries, Makita’s microwave can deliver 500-watts of power for eight minutes before stepping down to 350-watts until the batteries are dead. The batteries provide enough power to reheat about 11 lunches, or 20 hot drinks, but mileage will vary, particularly if starting with frozen meals. With just 0.28 cubic feet of capacity, space inside the microwave is also limited, but it should be large enough to handle single portion meals.

There’s a handle on top and an included strap which makes the 20lbs microwave (without batteries attached) easier to carry, but don’t expect to heat up a meal while it’s hanging off your shoulder. Not only does opening its door deactivate the appliance, but there’s a tilt sensor that also deactivates it when it’s being moved around.

For the time being, Makita has only announced availability for its new cordless microwave in Japan, where it will sell for ¥71,500, or around US $540. That’s definitely not cheap, and almost twice the cost of a well-equipped countertop model. But the joy of strapping this in to the passenger seat of your car and enjoying a piping hot breakfast burrito on your drive to work? Priceless.

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March 16, 2023 at 11:15AM

Raspberry Pi lets you have your own global shutter camera for $50

Global shutter sensors with no skew or distortion have been promised as the future of cameras for years now, but so far only a handful of products with that tech have made it to market. Now, Raspberry Pi is offering a 1.6-megapixel global shutter camera module to hobbyists for $50, providing a platform for machine vision, hobbyist shooting and more. 

The Raspberry Pi Global Shutter Camera uses a 6.3mm Sony IMX296 sensor, and requires a Raspberry Pi board with a CSI camera connector. Like other global shutter sensors, it works by pairing each pixel with an analog storage element, so that light signals can be captured and stored by all pixels simultaneously. 

By comparison, regular CMOS sensors read and store the light captured by pixels from top to bottom and left to right. That can cause diagonal skew on fast moving subjects, or very weird distortion on rotating objects like propellers. The video below shows the difference with plucked guitar strings. 

By eliminating those issues, the new camera allows for distortion free capture of things like sports or fast-moving industrial processes. The relatively low resolution isn’t a problem, the company says, as video is usually downsampled before being fed into machine vision systems anyway. It uses the same C/CS lens mount as Raspberry Pi’s 12-megapixel High Quality Camera, so you can attach 6mm CS?mount and 16mm C-mount CGL lenses offered through the company’s reseller partners. 

If you’re interested but worried about delays, Raspberry Pi recently posted that it has been working on resolving supply chain issues. "We expect supply to recover to pre-pandemic levels in the second quarter of 2023, and to be unlimited in the second half of the year," it said in a December blog post. The Global Shutter Camera is now available to purchase for $50. 

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March 9, 2023 at 05:07AM

With the help of OpenAI, Discord is finally adding conversation summaries

Surprise, Discord is partnering with OpenAI to integrate ChatGPT throughout the app. There’s a chatbot, obviously, but the company also plans to use machine learning in a handful of more novel and potentially useful ways. Starting next week, the company will begin rolling out a public experiment that will augment Clyde, the built-in bot Discord employs to notify users of errors and respond to their slash commands, with conversational capabilities. Judging from the demo it showed off, Discord envisions people turning to Clyde for information they would have obtained from Google in the past. For instance, you might ask the chatbot for the local time in the place where someone on your server lives to decide if it would be appropriate to message them. You can invoke Clyde at any time, including in private conversations among your friends, by typing @Clyde.

Clyde, Discord's new ChatGPT-powered chatbot, can answer questions for users.

Discord is quick to note Clyde is programmed not to bother you and your friends. Admins can also disable the chatbot if they don’t want to use the feature on their server. The first time you activate Clyde, Discord will display an opt-in prompt. For users worried about privacy, Anjney Midha, Discord’s head of platform ecosystem, told Engadget the company is not sharing user data with OpenAI to assist the startup in training its machine learning models.

Separate from Clyde, Discord is using OpenAI’s technology to enhance AutoMod, the automated content moderation tool the company introduced last June. As a refresher, server admins and moderators can configure AutoMod to automatically detect and block inappropriate messages before they’re posted by creating a list of words and phrases they don’t want to see. In the nine months since it began rolling out AutoMod, Discord says the feature has blocked more than 45 million unwanted messages.

Moving forward, the tool will use large language models to interpret and apply server rules. In practice, this should make AutoMod capable of spotting and taking action against people who attempt to go against a community’s norms and expectations. In one demo, Discord showed AutoMod taking action against someone who tried to skirt a server rule against self-promotion by writing their message in a different language. In that instance, AutoMod wasn’t preprogrammed to watch for a specific word or phrase, but it was able to use context to infer that there was a potential infraction.

AutoMod screenshot, showing the tool's new capability to enforce server rules.

According to Midha, Discord has been exploring how machine learning can improve user safety for a while. While he didn’t have early data to share on AutoMod’s new capabilities, he said the early results are “super promising,” adding he has “never seen anything like it.” The new and improved AutoMod is rolling out to select servers starting today.

If you’re the type of person who uses Discord mostly to chat with friends, chances are the upgrades to Clyde and AutoMod won’t dramatically change your experience of the app, particularly since plenty of other apps already offer ChatGPT integration. But Discord is also using OpenAI tech to power a feature that everyone should find useful: Conversation Summaries. If you’ve ever joined a large server only to immediately feel like you can’t keep up with some of its more active members, this feature promises to solve one of Discord’s longstanding pain points. When it arrives in a limited number of servers next week, the feature will begin creating bundles designed to provide you with an overview of chats you may have missed while away from the app. Each bundle will include a title, a summary of what was said and any images that were shared, as well as a log of who took part. You won’t need to endlessly scroll to try and piece together something you missed.

It can feel like Discord is just another tech firm up in the generative AI craze, but Midha wants users to know machine learning has been part of the Discord identity for a while. Every month, more than 30 million people use AI applications through the platform, and almost 3 million servers include at least one AI experience. On GitHub, many machine learning projects feature links to Discord servers, a fact Midha attributes to Discord being a natural place for those conversations to start. With its emphasis on bringing friends and communities together, the company believes it has a leg up on the competition.

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March 9, 2023 at 10:09AM

Cowboy’s ‘Adaptive Power’ update breathes new life into its flagship bike

When Cowboy, a premium European e-bike company, invited the media to an event in Paris, France, it faced some unexpected challenges. Along with torrential rain, there also were strikes and protests against changes to the country’s pension system. And then the big reveal was… not a new bike. Instead, the announcement was three springtime color options for the Cowboy 4‘s step-through (ST) model plus Adaptive Power, a software upgrade coming to Cowboy 4 bikes this month. So when I met the company’s execs, I already had my question: Where’s the new model?

But before I sat down to speak with them, I was able to try out Adaptive Power, touring a few blocks and dipping down and out of Parisian car parks. Would this smarter e-bike (with the same motor) translate to any tangible improvements? Fortunately, yes. Adaptive power works by tapping into the e-bike’s accelerometer and other sensors, based on the rider’s weight, momentum and other factors – even wind. The new feature adjusts the motor’s power without the need for gears or tapping a boost button. The sensors also seemingly detect inclines as soon as your front wheel hits them, increasing motor assistance. The update taps into the same sensors and tech already used for crash detection.

Cowboy 4 Adaptive Power test ride
Mat Smith / Engadget

According to Cowboy, the e-bike should offer equivalent battery life between the two iterations, as the motors will likely work more than the last version when the bike needs more power, but also work less when it doesn’t. If you’re riding an updated Cowboy 4, you won’t be able to return to the previous system, but using the app, you can choose between adaptive and eco modes, with the latter offering reduced assistance.

I was able to compare the C4, both with and without the feature, and the biggest improvement from Adaptive Power was how it kicked in at the perfect moment while accelerating from stationary. That’s not to say the Cowboy 4, pre-Adaptive Power, was slow, but it felt smoother and more responsive – it’s impressive for a single-gear bike. Previously, the bike’s motor would respond to your pedal pushes. This time it takes in more information to decide whether to boost.

While that was the most convenient benefit, there’s also a tangible improvement when tackling hills and inclines. With Adaptive Power, steep hills demanded a bit of pedaling but were surmountable. Downgrading to a bike without Adaptive Power – but the same motor with 45 Nm of torque – it’s a journey on the struggle bus. This was a common complaint from Cowboy 4 riders, with several saying that hilly environments were difficult to tackle, even with electric support. This new feature seems to address that, judging by my brief ride on the updated Cowboy 4. (If Cowboy is looking for what to improve when it eventually gets to its fifth-generation bike, this city rider would appreciate a more comfortable saddle.)

This update plays to the Cowboy 4’s design, too. Unlike many e-bikes, there are no controls to tap directly into the electric motor. It’s meant to look (and ride) like a normal push bike and that’s what it does. The Cowboy 4 is also, still, a few kilograms lighter than VanMoof’s latest e-bike, its most comparable rival. Both are premium e-bike options with similar pricing and features, but if you’re lifting your bike up stairs, or into buildings, it’s worth considering.

While Adaptive Power has been in beta testing with users before now, the official launch coincides with three new color options of both the Cowboy 4 and 4ST. While it’s an impressive way to upgrade the e-bikes of existing users – and do it without having to take it to a service center– these are the same bikes that first launched in 2021.

Until now, Cowboy has iterated fast, with new models arriving at a similar cadence to flagship smartphones. We reviewed its first bike in 2019, which wasn’t long ago. But there are a few reasons for the company to stick with the Cowboy 4.

 A lot of e-bike tech will not change hugely in the next few years. Barring incremental efficiency updates, the motor inside most e-bikes likely won’t see generational updates. I also wonder how existing Cowboy e-bike owners see the company’s updated models, having spent thousands on an e-bike 18 months earlier, only to see it replaced so soon. So why no Cowboy 5? For Cowboy, CEO and cofounder Adrien Roose told me the focus is on improving quality, efficiency and all the things that come with scaling up to sell more bikes. The C4 and C4 ST both remain priced at around $3,000, depending on region, and the challenge is getting e-bike prices low enough for wider-spread adoption.

Cowboy 4 Adaptive Power test ride
Cowboy has a retail space on the first floor of a prestigious Parisian department store.
Mat Smith / Engadget

The company has opened up flagship stores in Germany, Belgium and France – the countries Cowboy is intently focused on, and where it sells most of its bikes. So far it’s sold over 50,000 bikes, globally. But while the C4 is available in the US (and being a company called Cowboy), earnestly targeting the American market remains a future challenge. Roose told me they’re in “learning mode” regarding the US. The plan appears to focus on keeping the company healthy and profitable. Roose added that he believes that Cowboy should get to that point by next year. Maybe they’ll celebrate with a new bike?

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March 14, 2023 at 09:17AM

Baidu unveils ERNIE Bot, its ChatGPT rival

Baidu, China’s search engine giant, has unveiled its answer to OpenAI’s ChatGPT service. It’s the latest version of the company’s ERNIE (Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration) Bot that it has been developing over the past decade and was first launched back in 2019. In a press event, Baidu CEO Robin Li said this version of ERNIE Bot has capabilities close to GPT-4, the latest iteration of OpenAI’s large language model released just a couple of days ago. 

The chatbot apparently has 550 billion facts in its knowledge graph, but they’re mostly focused on the Chinese market. So while it will be able to list Chinese idioms for you, it may not be able to answer as many questions for certain subjects outside the region. ERNIE Bot has the capability to answer a user with audio responses in different Chinese dialects, though, and it can also generate images and videos out of Chinese text.

During its demo at the event, the chatbot was able to summarize a Chinese sci-fi novel and give suggestions on how to continue writing the book if it were to be expanded. It was also able to name the actors in its film adaptation, compare their heights and conclude who was taller between the two of them. In another demo, it was able to suggest names for a high-tech service company catering to small and mid-size enterprise, write slogans for it and even generate a newsletter with a specified word count.

Li said that 650 companies have already signed up to use ERNIE Bot’s technology, but he also admitted that it’s not ready for a public debut. Baidu has merely unveiled it early due to market demand brought about by ChatGPT’s meteoric rise in popularity. For now, the Chinese tech giant will only grant access to those who’ve already received invites, though more companies can apply for the ability to embed the chatbot into their products via Baidu’s cloud platform.

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March 16, 2023 at 06:20AM