All posts in “Gadgets”

MakeX announces the first 3D-printing backpack

In the year 2020, when the Earth is overrun by aliens, it will be mandated by the Galactic Council of Extraterrestrial Life that all children must walk around with 3D-printing backpacks. Why not get a head start with the MakeX Migo backpack that lets you care your ultra small 3D printer anywhere you need to go?

This wild, see-through backpack is designed to hold a Migo 3D Printer (the thing MakeX is actually trying to sell). The backpack fits the Migo perfectly and offers the maximum visibility for your 3D printer thanks to the clear hardshell outer casing.

The printer itself is fairly standard. It prints ABS or PLA plastic and includes modeling software. It weighs about 4 pounds and has a 100x120x100 mm build envelope which means you can print things like smaller action figures and other fun models. Early birds get the printer for $219 and backpack will be a $70 add-on.

3D printers are essentially commodities but by adding wacky but endearing things like this fun backpack the makers are really taking 3D printing to the next – and not-so-obvious – level.

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Some HP laptops are hiding a deactivated keylogger

Researcher Michael Myng found a deactivated keylogger in a piece of software found on over 460 HP laptop models. A full list of affected laptops is here. The keylogger is deactivated by default but could represent a privacy concern if an attacker has physical access to the computer.

“Some time ago someone asked me if I can figure out how to control HP’s laptop keyboard backlight,” wrote Myng. “I asked for the keyboard driver SynTP.sys, opened it in IDA, and after some browsing noticed a few interesting strings.”

The strings led to something that appeared to be a hidden keylogger – a program that sends typed characters to an attacker – in a Synaptics device driver. Given that the decompiled code prepared and sent key presses to an unnamed target, Myng was fairly certain he had something interesting on his hands.

Luckily, HP responded quickly.

“I tried to find HP laptop for rent and asked a few communities about that but got almost no replies,” he said. “One guy even thought that I am a thief trying to rob someone. So, I messaged HP about the finding. They replied terrifically fast, confirmed the presence of the keylogger (which actually was a debug trace) and released an update that removes the trace.”

The bottom line? Update your HP laptop as soon as possible. If you are on HP’s list of affected laptops you can download the fix here.

Holography-based 3D printing produces objects in seconds instead of hours

3D printers are useful devices for all kinds of reasons, but most have a critical weakness: they simply take a long time to actually make anything. That’s because additive manufacturing generally works by putting down an object one microscopic layer at a time. But a new holographic printing technique makes it possible to create the entire thing at once — in as little as a second or two.

Light-based 3D printing techniques generally use lasers to cause a layer of resin to harden in a pattern, but like extrusion printers, they have to do it layer by layer. If the laser shined all the way through the liquid resin, it would cause a big line of it to cure.

But what if you shined multiple weaker lasers through the resin, none of which was powerful enough to cure it except when they all intersected? That’s the technique developed by a team led by researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

This basic idea has been applied in several other domains: by carefully overlapping weak beams of light, sound or radiation, you can expose a chosen volume to a critical amount while leaving other areas largely untouched.

In this case, the three beams of light must be carefully patterned to only intersect with each other and produce that constructive interference in the exact points that need to solidify. And once that pattern is set, it only takes a handful of seconds to actually complete the process of curing the resin — drain it away and your object is ready to use. A couple of other techniques have attempted something like this, but haven’t been able to create complete 3D shapes like this.

This figure from the paper shows the lensing and holographic setup as well as several examples of shapes printed using the technique.

The advantages are plenty: you could, for instance, produce structures with other structures freely moving inside of them, like gears in a gearbox. There’s no need for support structures underneath overhangs, so certain shapes that were impractical or impossible when printing from the bottom up or top down are straightforward to create this way. You also could quickly print multiple structures simultaneously — a bunch of dice, for instance.

It’s still a bit crude compared with what comes out of most commercial 3D printers, but that’s to be expected — this is really just a proof of concept in a lab.

“With this work we’ve taken a solid first shot at this to demonstrate and prove out that ‘3D all at once’ fabrication is possible,” lead researcher Maxim Shusteff told TechCrunch in an email. “So we haven’t yet pushed the limits of any of the build performance metrics (speed, build size, resolution, complexity).”

Ultimately the “resolution” will likely be determined by the smallest bit of resin that can reliably be solidified, which has to do with a number of chemical and optical factors. It would be premature to speculate on what that resolution might be, but from the results already obtained it seems clear that it will certainly work for the complexity levels for which 3D printers are already being used.

Shusteff and his colleagues at LLNL, MIT, Berkeley and the University of Rochester aim to continue to develop this highly promising technique. Commercial applications are still a ways away, but it’s not hard to imagine parties that would be interested in a 3D printer that creates things in a few seconds rather than, at the very least, several minutes, and more often, hours.

Featured Image: LLNL / Maxim Shusteff

Researchers train robots to see into the future

Robots usually react in real time: something happens, they respond. Now researchers University of California, Berkeley are working on a system that lets robots “imagine the future of their actions” so that they can interact with things they’ve never seen before.

The technology is called visual foresight and it allows “robots to predict what their cameras will see if they perform a particular sequence of movements.”

Write the researchers:

These robotic imaginations are still relatively simple for now – predictions made only several seconds into the future – but they are enough for the robot to figure out how to move objects around on a table without disturbing obstacles. Crucially, the robot can learn to perform these tasks without any help from humans or prior knowledge about physics, its environment or what the objects are. That’s because the visual imagination is learned entirely from scratch from unattended and unsupervised exploration, where the robot plays with objects on a table. After this play phase, the robot builds a predictive model of the world, and can use this model to manipulate new objects that it has not seen before.

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“In the same way that we can imagine how our actions will move the objects in our environment, this method can enable a robot to visualize how different behaviors will affect the world around it,” said Sergey Levine, assistant professor at Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineeing and Computer Sciences. “This can enable intelligent planning of highly flexible skills in complex real-world situations.”

The system uses convolutional recurrent video prediction to “predict how pixels in an image will move from one frame to the next based on the robot’s actions.” This means that it can play out scenarios before it begins touching or moving objects.

“In that past, robots have learned skills with a human supervisor helping and providing feedback. What makes this work exciting is that the robots can learn a range of visual object manipulation skills entirely on their own,” said Chelsea Finn, a doctoral student in Levine’s lab and inventor of the original DNA model.

The robot needs no special information about its surroundings or any special sensors. A camera is used to analyze the scene and then act accordingly, much as we can predict what will happen if we move objects on a table into each other.

“Children can learn about their world by playing with toys, moving them around, grasping, and so forth. Our aim with this research is to enable a robot to do the same: to learn about how the world works through autonomous interaction,” Levine said. “The capabilities of this robot are still limited, but its skills are learned entirely automatically, and allow it to predict complex physical interactions with objects that it has never seen before by building on previously observed patterns of interaction.”

Featured Image: Kevin Smart/Getty Images

Zelda expansion, Death Stranding and other titles hyped at The Game Awards

The Game Awards, an event that’s exactly what it sounds like, took place shortly ago and, like any gaming event, it was shot through with trailers and announcements. What’s the biggest announcement, you ask? It’s probably a tie between the sudden release of a new expansion for Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a teaser for the next project from From Software, the creators of Dark Souls and Bloodborne.

Well, let’s be honest – a new Zelda expansion, available now, is pretty much the only thing that matters in the world. Everything else can wait.

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The Champions’ Ballad appears to be a follow-up to the original story, with the four champions working to defeat “the beast” once and for all. More importantly, there’s new horse armor that lets you teleport your mount to your location instantly. New weapons and armor await, and it also looks like there are a number of new shrines and larger dungeons. Oh, and you get an “ancient” motorcycle. I’d be playing it now if I hadn’t left my Zelda cartridge in the U.S. when I crossed the pond for Disrupt Berlin. What was I thinking?!

Less immediate but perhaps ultimately more intriguing is From Software’s minimal trailer for its new game, which has no name but does have a tagline: “Shadows Die Twice.” Some speculate this is a reboot of Shadow Tower, one of From’s earliest games, but others point out that not only is this a line from venerated ninja series Tenchu, but the music and writing suggest a Japanese theme. No one is quite sure what the gruesome hardware on display is, though my guess is it’s a grapple made from a bone.

Next on the hype train is Death Stranding, the next project from Hideo Kojima, of Metal Gear fame. In the longest and most substantive look at the game so far, which really isn’t saying much, we see a space-suited-up Norman Reedus attempting in vain to hide from invisible and enigmatic pursuers that seem to be attracted to… suffering? Life? Anything but the baby in bottle that later turns up inside Reedus.

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We’re really no wiser than we were before, but Kojima’s eye for the uncanny and dramatic is clear. He may be rather off the rails, but often our most interesting artists are.

Some other trailers of note: The developers of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a creepy mystery, show off their latest project, Witchfire.

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But if you were expecting another somber, slow-moving affair, the developers would like to remind you that they were also behind the excellent Painkiller and underrated Bulletstorm. It looks like a high-energy shoot-em-up in a strange, arcane world.

I’m particularly interested in Campo Santo’s In the Valley of the Gods, in which it appears you and a partner (likely computer controlled) infiltrate a tomb not to raid it, but to document it with an old-timey movie camera.

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Perhaps you’re not as much of an antiquarian as I am, but this looks like it should be a very interesting little adventure.

Some other things worth noting: Bayonetta 3 was teased as a Switch exclusive, along with remasters of 1 and 2. This should please hardcore action fans who might not be satisfied with the console’s otherwise great selection of games.

And the soul still burns: Soul Calibur 6 was announced, though honestly I’m still happy to play the original on Dreamcast.