Amazon Hears An Echo, But Who Else Is Listening?

on Tuesday, Nov. 11th

The announcement last week of a “smart speaker” by retail giant Amazon was surprising for two reasons.

The first was that no one was expecting, even in the slightest, that Amazon had an intelligent home assistant/music player up its sleeve. The elegant lines of the cylinder bring the look of the Mac Pro to mind, even if the cheesy video that introduced Echo to the world had more of a Microsoft than an Apple vibe.

The second surprise was that Amazon had set itself the task of persuading consumers to put a listening device into their homes.

That’s the spin, at least, in headlines like “Amazon Wants To Put A Listening Speaker In Your Home“ from NPR and “Amazon Echo is either the coolest wireless speaker ever—or the creepiest“ from Fox. Finally, something the two news orgs can agree on: cloud connected microphones make everyone jumpy.

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The Smartphone That Sees Like You Do

on Friday, Feb. 21st

Smartphones are about to get a whole lot smarter thanks to Google’s latest experiment dubbed “Project Tango.”

What if you could capture the dimensions of your home simply by walking around with your phone before you went furniture shopping? What if directions to a new location didn’t stop at the street address? What if you never again found yourself lost in a new building? What if the visually-impaired could navigate unassisted in unfamiliar indoor places? What if you could search for a product and see where the exact shelf is located in a super-store?

Announced in a blog post and on Techcrunch yesterday, there is already footage of a room that was mapped using the phone prototype. The project lead, who can be seen in this video, is engineer Johnny Lee who previously worked on Microsoft’s Kinect, which did for the living room what Tango aims to do for everywhere.

We are hurtling at break neck speed towards a future where the line between “meatspace” and “cyberspace”–to use the 90s terms–are blurred to the point of invisibility. Smart-devices are having their awareness expanded daily, and the vision of the Internet of Things is to connect everything imaginable to the cloud. It all makes me wonder how long it will be until Animism makes a play to be the next big religious fad.

Google is currently accepting applications for designers and engineers who want to get their hands on one of the 200 prototypes they have made. They expect to have them all allocated by March 14th.

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Next Big Thing? Gesture Based Interfaces

on Wednesday, Oct. 2nd

Some dismiss gesture based computer interfaces as a gimmick, but more than one big company is betting heavily on the technology. There's Microsoft's doubling down on Kinect, and the Leap Motion startup got a lot of buzz pre-launch. (Since launch, not so much.)

Now Google is making what will be seen as either the same mistake as those other guys, or a shrewd move in future proving. They've acquired gesture startup Flutter.

When we started three years ago, our dream to build a ubiquitous and power-efficient gesture recognition technology was considered by many as just "a dream", not a real possibility. Since then, we have strived to build the best machine vision algorithms and a delightful user experience.

I'll say this much: I have a very specific gesture in mind for rebooting the computer when it hangs because of Flash.

H/T: The Next Web

Follow Noah Nelson on Twitter (@noahjnelson)

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The NSA, Xbox One and You!

on Tuesday, Jul. 16th

Consumer electronics being used as tools for government spying is so hot right now.

Like, radioactively hot.

Sean Hollister of The Verge has an in-depth feature at the site today which looks at whether of not the "always on" Kinect device that will ship with Microsoft’s new Xbox One game console can be used for snooping. Technically and legally.

But would Microsoft be willing to help the government snoop? That's a good question. Last week, a report in The Guardian alleged that Microsoft gave government agencies access to private Skype video and audio calls, perhaps even going so far as to integrate Skype into the NSA's controversial PRISM surveillance system.

Hollister points out in the piece that the One isn't the only new piece of tech that's making people nervous.


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Image via Polygon

Finally: Order Pizza Right From Your XBox

on Tuesday, Apr. 23rd

Polygon's Alexa Ray Corriea brings us word that the holy grail of gaming has been achieved.

Microsoft and Pizza Hut have partnered up to launch a pioneer app for Xbox Live that will allow users to order from the chain's menu directly through their Xbox 360.

Gamers will be able to use the 360's Kinect if they wish. Meaning that you can now shout and wave at the TV and it will magically send you food. These orders can then be shared via Facebook, naturally.

No word on if they've found a way to turn the optical disc drive into a soda fountain/keg.

Corriea is the host of Polygon's daily news wrap up video show Speed Run. I can't wait to see how she tackles this news in today's episode.

Story/Image Via Polygon

Follow Noah Nelson on Twitter (@noahjnelson)

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Image: Thingiverse user chylld

As 3-D Printing Becomes More Accessible, Copyright Questions Arise

Steve Henn, NPR on Tuesday, Feb. 19th

Many people think 3-D printing could help spark a manufacturing renaissance in the U.S. — even President Obama highlighted this technology in his State of the Union address last week.

But as 3-D printers and 3-D scanners get cheaper, this nascent industry could be roiled by battles over intellectual property.

Not so long ago, a good 3-D scanner that could create accurate digital models of objects in the real world cost more than $10,000. Then, Microsoft released the Kinect — the video game controller that allows you to play games by just waving your hands.

“But it turned out that the Kinect was actually much more than that — it was a 3-D camera but one-hundredth of the price,” says Nicolas Burrus, co-founder of manctl, a 3-D scanning company. (more…)

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Hot List: Gestural Sensing’s New Toy, Drop It Like a Pin, Wellsleyan Netiquette

on Wednesday, Jan. 16th

AirHarp (Gestural Sensing Instrument)

Kinect has a new competitor in the gestural sensing technology market — Leap Motion. AirHarp is the result of a weekend hacking session with a Leap Motion dev board. As a musician, the main thing I was looking for watching the demo video is latency (response time). Lo and behold, AirHarp seems legit in that area. But until I see someone actually play a song, it won’t get more than cool points. -Brandon McFarland (more…)

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Motion and Music: ‘Songlines’ Conjures a World of Possibilities for Kinect

on Thursday, Aug. 23rd

UPDATE SEP 5th: I was contacted by Samantha Vick last night via Twitter, who let me know that as it turns out she will be at Indiecade this year.

The Indiecade finalists for 2012 hit the web yesterday, putting the spotlight on the games that will be at this year’s festival in Culver City. Yet what I want to talk to you today about is a game that won’t be there but was present at the festival’s booth at this year’s E3. That game is Songlines.

Steeped in two traditions– that of “god games” like the PC classic Populous and Australia’s aboriginal mythology– Songlines is a Kinect game which uses the motion controller’s abilities to create more of an interactive experience than a traditional game. It’s the kind of software that hardcore gamers like to scoff at, which in my eyes just shows the lack of imagination possessed by your rank and file Call of Duty player.

“We wanted to make an experience that made a player feel like a god,” Songlines creative lead Samantha Vick told me as she demonstrated the game. The gestures she made were those of a conductor manipulating an orchestra. A cartoonish avatar floated above a desert-like environment on the screen before us. With a wave of her hand the prairie was transformed into a river. (more…)

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THIS is What the Future of Game Consoles Looks Like

on Monday, Jun. 25th

About a month ago Microsoft started a pilot program in its own retail stores that allowed consumers to go home with an XBox 360 and Kinect bundle for the low price of $99. Of course, there was a hitch: a $14.99 a month subscription to XBox Live Gold (a premium over the usual Gold subscription) with a two year commitment. An extra year of warranty was thrown in to lessen the overall sticker shock; the math puts the package at coming out to $60 more than if you just pay up front.

Noted at the time was the similarity between this model and the model we find on phones.

Well, now that offer is coming to Best Buy and GameStop stores, which means it will pretty much be open to everyone. The restriction to Microsoft retail stores before was basically the offer as a private beta. Do YOU know where your local Microsoft store is? I thought not.

Okay, but what does this mean for the FUTURE of game consoles, since this is taking place RIGHT NOW?

Imagine that the next XBox and Playstation come out at a “buy it” price of around $600. In this economy who would want such a thing? The PS3 had a hard time making the value proposition for years. Now imagine that they could cram some high end hardware onto the service contract model, sell you the kit for $199 with a contract.

Instant install base. You’ll still be able to buy an “unlocked” Next XBox or PS4, but you probably will just swallow the contract like you do on your phone. Welcome to tomorrow. It’s just like today.

Source: Xbox Live’s Major Nelson blog h/t to The Verge

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IndieCade: E3’s Oasis and Scrying Pool, All in One

on Friday, Jun. 8th

The general reaction to this year’s E3 by the gaming press is one of disappointment. Everyone is upset about either the lack of new hardware, too much emphasis on marketing to the shooter loving hardcore, not enough games for the hardcore and just a general lack of inventiveness. To which I say: they must not have spent any time at the IndieCade booth.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed at E3, and the the relentless march of ultra-violence can take it’s toll on even the most jaded of gamers. Which is why IndieCade’s annual set up is a needed oasis, complete with a scrying pool for seeing the future of games.

This year the booth was set up on the concourse between the two main halls, within the eyeline of expo-goers crossing from one part of the Convention Center to the other. This made it hard to miss IndieCade, if you bothered to turn your head while racing from one trade show spectacle to the other. Those who did, and took the few steps off the path to actually visit the booth were able to play some of the most inventive, if not incredibly polished, games at E3.

I spoke at length with festival director Sam Roberts and you can hear the interview above. We got into the life cycle of indie game development in this year where games at the edges of the industry are finding huge financial success. Also covered: the new possibilities of play that are being opened up by inventive college students experimenting with Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral.

One Kinect game in the booth was Songlines, where the player takes on the role of god, using gestural controls to shape the landscape. It’s a project that is almost more of an interactive art installation than a game— but could one day be brought into your home, using the technology you already have. A few minutes with Songlines was an effective palate cleanser after hours of explosions and gunfire. (We’ll have more about Songlines in a separate write-up.)

Another game that piqued my interest was Prom Week, a game that seeks to graft a complex social structure onto gameplay reminiscent of The Sims. Co-developer Ben Samuel explained to me that the idea was to create a version of a classic high school movie– think John Hughes territory here– through emergent gameplay. The character AI in Prom Week is focused on remembering and assigning value to interactions.

Not only are the direct interactions between the player and a given non player character tracked, but in classic high school anxiety fashion everyone seems to know everything that’s happened to everyone one else.  What you say to one character on the Monday before prom may come back to haunt you on the big night itself.

While I might not be chomping at the bit to experience a virtual prom– hell, I skipped my real one– innovations in this kind of game play are sorely needed in the industry right now. Systems that allow for intricate social structures and dynamic narrative designs are a balm a field that has become dominated by carbon copy first person shooter play needs. The games on display at the IndieCade E3 showcase this year might not have the flashy appeal of the “AAA” titles being marketed by the major publishers, but they are a preview of where the next generation of designers will be taking an industry that is learning bolder tricks every season.

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To Build The VR Education of Tomorrow One Scholar Turns To The Past

There are plenty of folks in the education technology field who are excited about virtual reality as the next great educational tool.



We’re Closer To Our Photorealistic VR Future Than You’d Think (INTERVIEW)

A look into the virtual world of tomorrow with USC researcher Paul Debevec.


Prepare Yourselves For The Personal VR Video Revolution

Virtual Reality is rapidly approaching a watershed moment.

Ralph Echemendia

Spoiler Alert: Hollywood Isn’t Taking Cyber Security Seriously (LA Film Fest)

Tonight at the Los Angeles Film Festival, squeezed in between movies and red carpet events, a symposium on Cyber Security is being held at the Grammy Museum.

Gumroad Rentals H

Rent Video Straight From Social Media Via Gumroad

The people who brought the “Buy Now” button to Twitter are going all-in on film distribution.