Space, Sound, Sunlight, Sleep – Technology News Digest #4

wrench printed in space

wrench printed in spaceIt’s been another slow news week in the photo biz, but there’s still too much general technology news to keep up with yourself… So let us do it for you!
The new Top Ten Today-Tech digest provides a brief look at recent interesting or important items.

1. NASA emails a wrench to the space station
2. Graphene to extract energy from air
3. Sunlight-to-electricity made much more efficient
4. Capture at 100 billion frames per second
5. App helps autistic kids make eye contact
6. 3D Sound tracks head movement
7. Rewritable paper fabricated
8. Look to Unlock
9. A safer touch in your car
10. Sense your sleep for sounder slumber
You can read the full free briefing here.

Microsoft debuts HoloLens augmented reality



Weird coincidence department: the same week Google all-but cancels its Glass hardware that overlaid computer visuals atop your real-world view, Microsoft debut its HoloLens which can be described as doing the same thing…

“The era of holographic computing is here,” the company says. “When you change the way you see the world, you can change the world you see.”

It has a depth camera, motion sensors, a GPU, and “the world’s most advanced holographic computing platform,” Microsoft says, to “bring high-definition holograms to life in your world, where they integrate with your physical places, spaces, and things. Holograms will improve the way you do things every day, and enable you to do things you’ve never done before. Microsoft HoloLens puts you at the center of a world that blends holograms with reality. As holograms, your digital content will be as real as physical objects in the room. For the first time, holograms will become practical tools of daily life… A new reality.”

…Okay, that is a bit more than Glass, which basically put a camera next to your eyeball and juxtaposed blurry smartphone graphics over what you were trying to look at. Not saying that making you think “digital content [is] as real as physical objects” is particularly a good thing, but it’s certainly more ambitious than Glass — which Microsoft dismisses without naming the “simple heads-up display.”

The untethered holographic computer has “no wires, phones or connection to a PC,” the company adds. The “see-through holographic high-definition lenses and spatial sound” mean you “view and hear holograms in the world around you.”
Here’s a demo video.
CNet has a hands-on look here.


As part of its Windows 10 roll-out, Microsoft also announced the Surface Hub, a huge 84-inch multi-touch video-conferencing screen with built-in cameras, sensors and microphones that “make every person… feel as if they’re in the same collaborative space.”


Skydio’s smarter quadcopters see where they are going — funded $3 million



Start-up Skydio is making flying cameras that are almost impossible to crash — and the proof of concept has won them $3 million seed funding.

“Drones are poised to have a transformative impact on how we see our world,” the new firm says. “They’ll enable us to film the best moments of our lives with professional quality cinematography — and they’ll also change the way businesses think about monitoring their operations and infrastructure. This grand vision is starting to come into focus, but existing products are blind to the world around them. As a consequence, drones must fly high above the nearest structures or receive the constant attention of an expert operator. “Flyaways” and crashes abound. These problems must be solved for the industry to move forward.”

Skydio says it will offer “safe and intuitive” drones “for a much broader audience and a much broader set of applications.” Their flying camera will be “aware of its surroundings” and so be “far easier to control, safer to operate, and more capable.”

How will it work? By using it’s camera not just to record images, but to ‘see’ where it’s at. “Almost all the information a drone needs to be good at its job can be found in onboard video data; the challenge is extracting that information and making it useful for the task at hand. That challenge, and the incredible capabilities that are unlocked, are our focus.”

Here’s a cool video demonstration.

And TechCrunch has more on the company here.


Swarm of “incredibly cheap” camera drones

apex flyfrog

apex flyfrog

“A swarm of incredibly cheap camera drones is buzzing your way,” reports Quartz from the Hong Kong Toy and Games Fair. “2015 will be the year of the super-cheap camera-equipped drone, capable of traveling up to several hundred meters and priced so low that consumers could potentially buy them for $100 or less.”

The report notes the Flyfrog quadcopter will be sold by manufacturer Apex Toys in Shenzhen to distributors for just $27 — and it can fly up to 50 meters, controlled by a phone, and take 10 minutes of video.

“This flood of inexpensive, camera-carrying drones is sure to be welcomed by tech enthusiasts who don’t want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a professional-grade aerial photography kit,” the report concludes.

The full story is here.


Construction to begin on world’s largest camera

lsst camera

lsst camera

A 3,200-megapixel camera will provide “unprecedented details of the universe and help address some of its biggest mysteries,” Stanford University reports.

The construction of the world’s largest digital camera received key “Critical Decision 2” approval from the U.S. Department of Energy, Stanford adds. It’s the centerpiece of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Construction is a long process: science operations are scheduled to begin in 2022, the university notes, “with LSST taking digital images of the entire visible southern sky every few nights from atop a mountain called Cerro Pachón in Chile. It will produce the widest, deepest and fastest views of the night sky ever observed. Over a 10-year time frame, the observatory will detect tens of billions of objects—the first time a telescope will catalog more objects in the universe than there are people on Earth—and will create movies of the sky with details that have never been seen before.”

The LSST will generate approximately 6 million gigabytes per year.

lsst observatory

“A Network of Eyes” — help the blind to see with a phone app

be my eyes 1

be my eyes 1

An app connects blind people with volunteer helpers via a live video chat.

“Be My Eyes” lets a blind person request assistance for “anything from knowing the expiration date on the milk to navigating new surroundings,” the developer says. The sighted volunteer “receives a notification for help and a live video connection is established. From the live video, the volunteer can help the blind person by answering the question they need answered.”

Imaging Resource calls it “one of the most incredible uses of camera technology and crowdsourcing we’ve ever come across.” We agree. Check it out here.

be my eyes 2

Google’s Translate app sees and speaks

google sees translate

google sees translate

Google has improved its Translate  app’s ability to translate street signs: point your phone camera at a sign and translated text is overlaid on the screen.

The app integrates feature Quest Visual’s Word Lens app — which Google acquired last May.

“The Translate app already let you use camera mode to snap a photo of text and get a translation for it in 36 languages,” Google says. “Now, we’re taking it to the next level and letting you instantly translate text using your camera—so it’s way easier to navigate street signs in the Italian countryside or decide what to order off a Barcelona menu. While using the Translate app, just point your camera at a sign or text and you’ll see the translated text overlaid on your screen—even if you don’t have an Internet or data connection.”

There were also several improvements to the spoken word translations. More than 500 million people use Google Translate every month, the company adds, “making more than 1 billion translations a day to more easily communicate and access information across languages. Today’s updates take us one step closer to turning your phone into a universal translator and to a world where language is no longer a barrier to discovering information or connecting with each other.”

More information is here.

Disney’s Beachbot draws pictures in the sand

Disney beachbot

Disney beachbot

Disney Research has built a robot that etches massive pictures onto a beach.

The Beachbot autonomously rakes the sand to recreate an image file it is provided with. It’s large, soft wheels let it move about without marring what it’s drawn.

The mobile robot “can turn an ordinary beach into an artist’s canvas,” Disney says.

There’s a video demonstration here.

TechCrunch has more on the story here.

CNN gets FAA approval for UAV Research

mit drone light

mit drone lightThe Federal Aviation Administration is increasingly regulating the use of camera-equipped quadcopters — but news agency CNN reports it “has entered into a cooperative research and development agreement with the FAA to advance efforts to integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into newsgathering and reporting.”

The FAA will use data collected from this initiative to formulate a framework for various types of UAVs to be safely integrated into newsgathering operations, CNN adds.

“Our aim is to get beyond hobby-grade equipment and to establish what options are available and workable to produce high quality video journalism using various types of UAVs and camera setups,” CNN says. “Our hope is that these efforts contribute to the development of a vibrant ecosystem where operators of various types and sizes can safely operate in the US airspace.”


On the PMA Podcast: Panasonic promotes 4k video for still photography


darin peppleWe’re back from the 2015 PMA conferences, where Panasonic sponsored our Future Imaging Summit panel on Cameras & Capture — and the first Visionary Awards reception where, coincidently, Panasonic won the Capture category for its work in utilizing 4k video for also producing still photographs.

Just before we all left for Las Vegas, we spoke with marketing manager Darin Pepple about the company’s work in the area, as well as improved optics from its partnership with Leica, its outreach to retail partners and differing user segments, and what else is evolving in the world of image capture.

You can download the episode or subscribe to the podcast here.

Or you can tune in now with the player below.