What’s new in Android Oreo

Google officially launched Android Oreo. today. To be honest, it’s probably one of the least exciting operating system releases in recent memory. While the team did plenty of work on the backend, Android Oreo only includes a few noteworthy user interface updates. The highlight of this release is probably the new Notification Dots — and that sums things up pretty well.

Android O is officially called Android Oreo

The latest version of Android is officially here, and it’s called Android Oreo, as most people suspected. Google made the interesting decision to reveal the final name and consumer launch details of Android 8.0 coincidentally with the arrival of the solar eclipse over NYC, which is where it held its launch live stream today.

Google has traditionally used sweet treats for the names of its major Android releases, dating back to Android 1.5, aka “Cupcake.” KitKat (4.4) was the last branded release, with Google typically sticking to generic dessert names wherever possible. Oreo is pretty much the only choice for an “O” dessert that’s broadly and instantly recognizable, however, so it seems like it was almost inevitable.

Here’s what Oreo contains: The foundational cookie sandwich pieces are likely the boot speed and memory improvements Google made by changing the way the operating system works at a basic level to boost Pixel smartphone start times by up to 100 percent, and to improve the efficiency of use of system resources among apps and background tasks.

For the creamy filling, we have picture-in-picture, which allows you to run video apps on top of other tasks, on both phones and tablets. There’s also now Android Instant Apps, which provide access to apps instantly without requiring a download for limited interactivity; notification dots, which tell you when there’s activity within a specific app with a dot in the corner; and autofill for apps, which is like the feature on the web but for individual Android applications.

Android O also ships with more security features, including remote location, locking and wiping with Find My Device, and Google Play Protect, which scans for, detects and automatically deletes malicious apps on a daily basis.

Finally, Google has completely overhauled their emoji set, which is a big change for the primary language of millennial users everywhere.

Android O is rolling out to Pixel and Nexus 5X/6P devices soon, Google says, and anyone on the preview will be updated to the final version, as well. Pixel C and Nexus Player are next up for official updates, too, with other devices to follow shortly.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

Markforged announces two 3D printers that produce items as strong as steel

Markforged, a 3D printer manufacturer based in Boston, has just announced two new models – the X3 and the X5. Both of these printers are designed to create carbon-fiber infused objects using a standard filament printing system and both can produce items that can replace or are stronger than steel objects.

Both printers have auto-leveling and scanning systems to ensure each printed object is exactly like every other. Further, the printers use Markforged’s special thermoplastic fiber filament while the X5 can add a “strand of continuous fiberglass” to create objects “19X stronger and 10X stiffer than traditional plastics.” This means you can print both usable parts and usable tools using the same machine and thanks to the fiberglass weave you can ensure that the piece won’t snap on use. For example, one customer printed a custom valve wrench in ten minutes using one of these printers.

Now for the bad news. The X3 costs a mere $36,990 while the X5 costs $49,900. These are aimed at what Markforged calls “local manufacturers.” Luckily you’re not stuck with the printer if you outgrow it. The X3 can easily be upgraded to work with X5’s filament and both are aimed at manufacturing shops that need to product finished products on the fly.

“Customers can now, with ease, print same-day parts that optimize strength and affordability for their specific needs,” said CEO Greg Mark.

These printers are part of Markforged’s effort at creating a real “teleporter.” Thanks to the complex scanning and measurement systems built into these units, users can receive a 3D printer model and print it to exacting specifications. The system also has a failsafe mode that restart at any time as the laser scanner can check to see exactly where the print stopped. The company is also hard at work at some impressive metal printing technologies that turn out parts that are usable in complex machines.

New drone perches on walls like a robotic bird

The Multimodal Autonomous Drone (S-MAD) is a fixed-wing drone that has a few bird-like tricks up its sleeve. You can, for example, fly it like a glider through a room or open space, but when it approaches a flat surface the drone quickly changes configuration and lands flat with its little spiky teeth digging in to keep it from falling. In short, this is one of the scariest robotic behaviors I’ve seen since Big Dog galumphed its way into our nightmares.

The S-MAD uses something called microspines to attach itself to rough surfaces. The spines are essentially hardened steel spikes that grip small bumps in a surface from two directions — “the opposed-grip strategy for microspines is just like a human hand grasping a bottle of water, except that while humans require some macroscopic curvature to get our fingers around both sides of an object, the microspines can go deep into the micro-features of a rough surface and latch on those tiny bumps and pits,” said researcher Hao Jiang of Stanford. These spines are already being used on multi-rotor drones, but this is the first time they’ve been used on a fixed-wing device. The plane now lands on surfaces 100 percent of the time, an impressive feat for such a drone.

With these microspines, the plane can flatten itself against a wall and perch there, gathering data and scanning the environment. When it’s ready to move on, it releases the spines and flies off into the wild blue. Researchers Dino Mehanovic, John Bass, Thomas Courteau, David Rancourt and Alexis Lussier Desbiens from the University of Sherbrooke decided to connect these spines with a fixed-wing drone and had to create a new way to essentially stop the plane in mid-air — something birds are quite adept at — and settle on a surface. The system switches from plane to helicopter in a split second, allowing it to flatten against the wall instantly. From Spectrum:

There are several tricks to this. The first trick is the pitch-up maneuver, which turns the fixed-wing airplane into a temporary helicopter of sorts, relying entirely on the propellor for lift generation (the thrust to weight ratio is 1.5) while the wings provide enough of a control surface to cancel out the torque. At that point, the UAV can approach the wall as slowly as you like (using a laser rangefinder for wall detection), which leads to the second trick: maximizing the “zone of suitable touchdown conditions,” or making sure that the approach is slow enough and steady enough that you can perch reliably with little hardware (sensing and otherwise). And the third trick is having a perching system, legs and microspines in this case, that are flexible enough to achieve a robust perch even if the aircraft isn’t doing exactly what you’d like it to be doing.

This is obviously a proof of concept, but it could be used in situations where long-distance glides terminate in a permanent perch at some high point for data collection. After the data is collected, the plane can essentially fall off the surface and fly back by righting itself, climbing to altitude and gliding home.

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As Android O debuts, Marshmallow still commands about a third of devices

The arrival of a new Android version isn’t nearly as rare as a total solar eclipse, but Google’s hoping the solar system will share the spotlight as it takes the wraps off of its latest mobile operating system. Among other things, Android O will likely be getting an official release date and alphabetic dessert name, with “Oreo” looking like the top contender.

So, how does the current Android landscape shake out? Fragmentation will almost certainly continue to be a concern for the Android ecosystem. That’s just the nature of the beast when you’re dealing with an open operating system and countless different manufacturers, each with their own Google partnerships, customizations, and security focuses. But things actually seem to be heading in the right direction since the last time we checked in.

Back in November, we noted that Gingerbread, Android’s 2011 version, had a wider distribution than Nougat, the latest version, released earlier in the year. But Nougat’s made up a decent amount of ground since then. According to numbers collected by the Android Developers Dashboard earlier this month, the two versions of the operating system (7.0 and 7.1) make up about 13.5-percent of the market, with 7.0 comprising the vast majority. That’s up from around 0.3-percent of the total market.

Marshmallow (6.0), meanwhile, has leapfrogged Lollipop (5.0/5.1), to make up just under a third of the market, at 32.3-percent, to its predecessor’s 29.2. Keep in mind, Marshmallow is a two-year-old operating system, so it’s not exactly bleeding edge, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.

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We’ve already seen a fair number of O(reo)’s features, courtesy of a beta release, and honestly, it’s not the most exciting Android update — a fact that could mean people aren’t going to be rushing to upgrade. There are still some important questions that will hopefully get answered today, however, including which devices will be the first in line to be upgraded.

With IFA coming up in a few weeks, we may also soon see the first devices to ship with the new Android out of the box.