amazon drone
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Amazon issued patent for delivery drones that can react to screaming, flailing arms

Amazon.com has been granted a new patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a delivery drone that can respond to human gestures.

The concept is part of Amazon’s goal to develop a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles that can get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less. Issued earlier this week, the patent may help Amazon grapple with how flying robots might interact with human bystanders and customers waiting on their doorsteps.

Depending on a person’s gestures — a welcoming thumbs up, shouting or frantic arm waving — the drone can adjust its behavior, according to the patent. The machine could release the package it’s carrying, alter its flight path to avoid crashing, ask humans a question or abort the delivery, the patent says.

Among several illustrations in the design, a person is shown outside his home, flapping his arms in what Amazon describes as an “unwelcoming manner,” to show an example of someone shooing away a drone flying overhead. A voice bubble comes out of the man’s mouth, depicting possible voice commands to the incoming machine. (Amazon.com chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“The human recipient and/or the other humans can communicate with the vehicle using human gestures to aid the vehicle along its path to the delivery location,” the patent states.

Another diagram depicts the steps a drone will take when reading human body language as it delivers packages. “Receive Human Gesture”; “Access Gesture Database”; “Determine Human Gesture Based on Gesture Database”; “Proceed in Accordance With Determined Human Gesture and Delivery Instructions.”

According to the patent, the drone’s communication system would include an array of sensors, including a depth sensor and cameras to detect visible, infrared and ultraviolet light. The drones would be able to recognize hand and body gestures, human voices and movement, such as a person walking closer to the drone or away from it.

If the drones are cleared to deliver, they can release boxes with extra padding from the air or they can land and then offer the parcels, the patent says.

Since announcing its plans to develop an air delivery service, Amazon has applied for several ambitious patents that include the use of giant airships to serve as mobile flying warehouses and designs for drones that self-destruct during an emergency.

There’s no word on when the gesture-recognition system might debut. Amazon declined to comment. In 2016, the company made its first autonomous drone delivery to a shopper in the United Kingdom. A private customer trial for drone delivery in Britain is ongoing.

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Private: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos plays ping-pong with robot
Featured, Technology

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos plays ping-pong with robot

 

 

MIT Technology Review/Twitter screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

For Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, it seems like it’s amusing to go to a conference and commune with robots.

On Monday at the company’s MARS conference in Palm Springs, California, he took a walk with a Boston Dynamics robot dog. He played beer pong with a robot, too.

On Tuesday, he took it to a more competitive level. He played ping-pong with a large piece of metal holding a red bat.

Footage posted by the MIT Technology Review to Twitter shows Bezos pitting his skills against a monstrosity from outer space. Or, perhaps, the new COO of Blue Origin.

Many will focus on Bezos’s table-tennis prowess, rather than the cast-off prop from “Men In Black.”

He seemed confident enough serving. His backhand and forehand, however, were a little tentative for a man of his muscle.

One would have hoped that he’d have displayed a little more topspin aggression on the forehand and some underspin on the backhand to make the robot move a little.

Instead, he put one shot into the net and another far off the table.

Perhaps it was nerves, you might think. It’s not easy exposing your ping-pong skills so publicly.

Naturally, I have a different theory.

This was Bezos showing excellent interviewing skills. After all, such machines will soon replace many of the humans he employs — the ones who, some say, are already at breaking point.

By hiding his true skills, he’s showing the robots deference, so that they will prefer to work for him rather than, say, Google.

On the day that Amazon surpassed Google’s parent company Alphabet to become the America’s second-biggest company, it’s heartening to see Bezos still can offer a display of modesty. As well as canny psychology.

Robots don’t like to be dominated, you know.

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Private: Facebook Lite Slims Down Your Social Experience
Featured, Technology

Facebook Lite Slims Down Your Social Experience

If you’ve ever wanted to go on a social media diet, here’s your chance. Starting this week, Facebook is making the slimmed-down Facebook Lite app available to Android users in North America, Australia, and Western Europe for the first time.

Facebook first debuted the lightweight version of its main social networking app three years ago to better serve users in developing countries—specifically, people in the parts of the world where a mobile data connection is difficult to access, unreliable, or just painfully slow. The streamlined app is only 1.68 megabytes in size, and downloads as fast as your average cat GIF. It installs on almost any Android phone, and runs well on flaky, low-bandwidth data connections. Critically, it uses less data than big ol’ regular Facebook; people who pay by the megabyte can use it to browse their News Feed without racking up crazy fees.

India and Indonesia were among the nations to get Facebook Lite at launch. Since then, it’s been made available in 100 countries across Asia, Latin America, Europe, and Africa.

Now, Facebook Lite lands in eight more countries—and some of them might even be your country. Facebook’s adding the new regions because, well, crappy or expensive data connections turn out to be a universal malady. So now we, too, get to take advantage of Lite’s data-saving magic—at least those of us with Android phones, since Facebook Lite isn’t available on iOS. (Yet.)

It could take a while for the app to show up in your region’s Play Store, but once you see it, you may wonder if it’s for you. Here’s what to expect if you go Lite.

Some Lite Prodding

The first thing you’ll notice is that Lite looks as though it’s been beamed in from 10 years ago. The default text size is smaller throughout the app. All of your friends are represented by small square avatars instead of big round ones. The buttons for liking and commenting are tiny and monochrome, and the overall visual style is simpler and less cartoonish. The simplicity echoes the design of its sibling Facebook app, Messenger Lite. More blocks, fewer balloons. Flat and clean and fast, like the mobile web used to be.

Facebook has often said that most of the changes in Lite are under the hood. These performance throttles aren’t transparent. You can tell the app has been tuned to operate more efficiently, and to feel snappy even on ancient Android hardware.

Whenever you tap something in Lite, either to dive deeper into a post or simply to fave a photo in your timeline, it doesn’t respond with animations. The comments window doesn’t slide up, the text field doesn’t grow larger and invite you to type, and the blue Like thumb doesn’t jiggle jollily when you tap it. Animations put more strain on a phone’s resources—you may have seen the animation-heavy interfaces slow waay down on great-uncle Joe’s Samsung Galaxy S II—so Facebook Lite does away with almost all of them. When you Like a post, the thumb just turns blue. Hold the Like button to choose an alternate reaction, and you get a simple two-by-three pop-up menu of your options. Tap the LOL face, and a LOL face just appears without ceremony.

Another big part of Lite’s appeal is its ability to cut back on data consumption. You can see the app working to save data by only downloading new photos and posts when you request them. Most noticeably, the News Feed only refreshes some data without pulling down on it with your thumb. You might see the number of comments or likes on a post change without a manual reload. But to see most pages update, you have to pull to refresh. You get a visual indication of each refresh, when a bright green progress bar scoots across the top of the screen.

You can also see new elements loading as you scroll. Most apps (including the normal version of Facebook) pre-load the content below the bottom edge of your screen. That way, when you scroll, new items appear seamlessly. You can see the next enticing photo or headline poking up from the bottom of the screen as you thumb through your timeline, and it makes you want to just keep scrolling. Facebook Lite doesn’t appear to preload photos at all. You may see the title of the next post in the feed and scroll ahead to it, but then you’ll wait a second or two for the photo to show up. Like so much about Lite, it’s a reminder of the past—when 2G was standard, 3G was a luxury, and every mobile experience was tempered.

Videos will only autoplay on Wi-Fi, not on mobile data. Tap through and you get a simplified video player with the bare-bones comment and reactions fields below it. Facebook is serving the photos and videos in Lite through proxy servers, but any compression being applied by default is imperceptible—my eyes can’t spot any differences on my Pixel XL. Additionally, a data saver feature lets you toggle to compress images and videos further, and a separate settings menu to lower your default image quality.

By making the switch, you gain speed and clarity.

The settings panes are greatly simplified, with top-level controls to “clean space” (delete old files from storage) and to adjust your notifications. Also, if you look at the menu bar running across the top of the screen, you’ll notice something truly delightful: There’s no tab for Facebook Watch, and none for Marketplace either. The only thing Lite offers is core Facebook, and none of the feature bloat you never wanted and probably never use.

So, should you download Facebook Lite? If you need to curb your data consumption, and especially if you have a pre-paid data plan and spend gobs of time on Facebook, then yes, you definitely should. Using Lite will burn fewer gigabytes and save you money. Even if you find Lite’s throwback look and feel too jarring, maybe keep it installed just for use during those weeks when you really have to be stingy with your mobile data.

The trickier question is whether you should download Facebook Lite even if data’s not an issue. Messenger Lite, after all, is in many ways preferable to its full-featured cousin. The case isn’t as clear-cut here. There are still ads in Lite, so you won’t get away from those. And you do lose some of the fun of modern Facebook, like the animated reactions, or the excitement of seeing friends’ comments appear under your adorable selfies in real-time.

But by making the switch, you gain speed and clarity. If you feel the bubbly, overly kawaii look of Facebook’s mobile app to be too visually busy, or if you find the navigation too complex, then give Lite a shot. It’s barren, sure, but that only gives your mind more room to roam.

Lite Up

 

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Private: Apple’s new Families page details ways to monitor kids’ iPhone use
Featured, Technology

Apple’s new Families page details ways to monitor kids’ iPhone use

apple-families-site

Apple launched a new site with information about tools to monitor kids’ device usage, among other features.

 


Apple

Apple is taking its first steps toward making it easier for parents to control their children’s devices.

The company this week launched a new section on its website called “Families.” The page includes information about parental controls, do not disturb and other features to help monitor kids’ device usage.

“You want to do what’s best for your family. So do we,” Apple said on its new page. “We’re continually designing new features to help make sure kids use [their devices] in the ways you want.”

None of the features detailed by Apple are actually new, though. They’re simply now compiled in one place, making it simpler for parents to discover what they can do.

Apple has been facing backlash from investors and device users over concerns about phone addiction among children. A 2016 report by social agency Influence Central said the average age for children to get a phone was 10.3, and Apple’s devices remain among the most desired by children and teens.

Two of Apple’s major shareholders published an open letter in January that asked Apple to take a socially responsible approach toward children’s device use. It cited concerns about mental health problems and other issues that come from heavy phone use. In response, Apple vowed to introduce new features to help parents manage their children’s use of its smartphones.

It’s likely to be a topic Apple will address during its Worldwide Developers Conference on June 4 in San Jose, California.

The new Families page, meanwhile, gives parents information about usage monitoring tools, tracking capabilities, family sharing features, health programs, privacy, and classroom use of Apple devices.

It noted the Kids section of the App Store includes “carefully curated” apps that can be restricted by whatever age parameters parents desire. Parents also have the ability to prevent kids from installing new apps or can enable a feature called “Ask to Buy” that requires the parents to approve or decline app purchases and downloads from the adults’ device.

Parents have the ability to keep track of where their kids are through the “Find My Friends” feature. They can share movies, games and other items through a shared iCloud storage account, among other family friendly features.

The Smartest Stuff: Innovators are thinking up new ways to make you, and the things around you, smarter.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech’s role in providing new kinds of accessibility.

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Private: Rumors point to cheaper iPads and MacBooks this year
Featured, Technology

Rumors point to cheaper iPads and MacBooks this year

An influx of rumors suggest that we should expect cheaper iPads and MacBooks this year. First, we know that the MacBook Air may be getting a less-expensive refresh, as hinted by multiple reports. The latest comes from DigiTimes, which today reported that Apple will launch a new 13.3-inch “entry-level” MacBook late in Q2 this year.

While the report refers to the new device as a “MacBook,” its screen size suggests it may be an updated version of the Air, since the MacBook only comes with a 12-inch display. The timeline also matches with WWDC in June. DigiTimes indicates that the MacBook will have a Retina Display with a 2560 x 1600 resolution.

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said earlier this month that Apple would release a cheaper 13-inch MacBook Air during the second quarter of this year and that the lower price could help boost Apple’s laptop sales. A few days later, a report from Taiwan’s Economic Daily News claimed that the new MacBook Air would cost between $799 to $899, matching up with Kuo’s report. The current 13-inch, mid-2017 MacBook Air costs $999.

We’re expecting cheaper iPads this year, too. The DigiTimes report mentions we can anticipate an updated 9.7-inch iPad in the second quarter of this year, and a new iPad Pro in the second half of the year.

Last December, the outlet similarly reported that the new 9.7-inch iPad could cost around $259, down from the $329 iPad Apple released last March, and Taiwan’s Economic Daily News recently reported the same thing. In late February, Apple won regulatory approval for two mystery iPads in Eastern Europe, which suggests new iPad models could be coming.

As competitors slash prices during the holidays and Apple mostly abstains from cutting prices, perhaps having lower base prices to begin with will be the company’s strategy for selling more units this year.

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