Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water now has a release date

It seems as though Guillermo del Toro is constantly attached to a ton of projects, but his next film, The Shape of Water, now has a release date: December 8th, 2017, right in the middle the Hollywood’s award nomination season.

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, The Shape of Water is described as “an other-worldly fairy tale,” which follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins,) who works at a top-secret government laboratory. There, she and a co-worker (Octavia Spencer) discovers a classified experiment in the form of an “aquatic man,” played by Doug Jones.

The film has been described as a more intimate picture along the lines of his earlier films Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, rather than the much bigger productions such as Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak. The film drops during the part of the year typically reserved for films studios are angling for awards coverage, and it’s worth noting that another of his more intimate, fantastical films, Pan’s Labyrinth earned a number of Academy Award nominations, and went on to win in the Best Art Direction, Cinematography, and Makeup categories.

Strava makes it easier for weekend warriors to coordinate workouts

Why it matters to you

It’s sometimes tough to schedule outdoor activities but Strava’s new Events feature makes it easier.

Strava, the self-styled social network for athletes, is getting better. On Wednesday, it took the wraps off Club Events for iOS and Android, a social feature aimed at coordinating meetups between members.

It’s a new component of Strava Clubs, informal groups of like-minded users. You can join a Club from Strava’s smartphone app, and once you do, you will see recent rides and runs logged by other members, a comment section, and a club widget that shows your club rides and runs on your blog or website.

The update lets Club administrators create Events from the Strava app and post event details with other Club members. Participants get alerts for new events and event details and can respond to event invitations and see route information.

There is a new Apple Watch complication, in tow, too. It acts as a shortcut to Strava’s companion smartwatch app.

“Bringing our Club Events feature to mobile is another way we’re continuing to help our community of athletes engaging with one another,” Will Lee, a product manager at Strava, said in a statement. “From talking to Club admins, we learned that they were looking for an easier way to plan group activities with members, especially on mobile. Club Events on mobile allow athletes in a club to quickly organize a real-world activity. Bringing Club events to mobile is our latest step to build thriving communities on Strava.”

The update comes on heels of Strava 2.0, a redesigned smartwatch experience that added the ability to record and upload workouts without the need for a paired smartphone.

It’s not the only improvement Strava has made recently. In August, it gained Beacon, a feature that lets users share distance, caloric expenditure, and speed in real time.  In March, it added Live Segments, a cyclist-focused feature that serves up real-time audio and visual cues.

Some users have gotten creative with the app’s tracking capabilities. Athletes in the U.K. ran 28 miles to plot the outline of a dragon in Strava’s shareable map.

The app is free to use, but the Premium tier ($60) adds daily schedule and riding advice, plus plans tailored to take into account the time you have to ride and the date you want to achieve your goal. You get leaderboard filters (by age and weight), a workout effectiveness ranking (Suffer Score), a real-time emergency monitoring feature, the ability to download third-party routes, and more.

Withings has canceled its Homekit-enabled Home Plus camera

Withings appears to have canceled the Home Plus, a Homekit enabled version of the company’s Home security camera, according to a report from 9to5Mac.

The Home Plus was announced at CES earlier this year as a second generation successor to the original Home, adding an Android app, new video logging and time-lapse features, and the aforementioned Homekit support. In a statement to a 9to5Mac reader, Withings customer support commented on the decision, nothing that “Guided by our evolving business strategy, we will not be releasing Home Plus.”

While Withings’ statement may be ambiguous as to the reasoning behind the cancellation, it’s easy to speculate that the decision to cancel the camera — which was specifically designed to work with Apple’s Homekit standard — is related to the ongoing spat between Apple and Withings’ parent company, Nokia, following Nokia’s suing of Apple last year. In response to that lawsuit, Apple pulled all Withings products from its online stores last December, and excluded the Home Plus from its list of Homekit devices when it refreshed it earlier this year.

It’s also possible that the reasoning might not involve that fight at all, and Withings is simply looking to focus more on a smaller portfolio of products as it goes forward.

Tesla withdraws lawsuit against former Autopilot head, gets $100k in settlement

Tesla has withdrawn the scathing lawsuit it filed against Sterling Anderson, the former program manager of its Autopilot team, and the company he founded with former Google exec Chris Urmson, Aurora Innovation.

According to a settlement agreement, Aurora will pay Tesla $100,000 (a paltry sum for a billion-dollar company like Tesla) and allow Tesla to hire an independent auditor to scour Aurora’s systems for confidential Tesla information, which would then be destroyed or returned to Tesla. Aurora will hire its own auditor to search for the same information, and will provide that information to Tesla. In a post on Medium, Anderson suggests that the $100,000 payment is meant to cover the cost of Tesla’s auditor.

Anderson and Aurora will also continue to abide by Anderson’s existing non-solicitation agreement with Tesla, and promise not to solicit employees or contractors of Tesla to leave that company for one year.

Though a cursory look suggests Tesla got most of what it wanted from its initial lawsuit filing (something that Tesla claims in its statement), there are two things that stand out:

First, $100,000 is not a lot of money to change hands considering that Tesla accused Anderson of taking confidential Tesla information and destroying evidence to cover his tracks, as well as attempting to poach a number of employees to his new venture. Second, the terms of the settlement are not covered by a confidentiality clause, a common requirement for many lawsuit settlements.

If Tesla’s claims about Anderson, stolen documents, and poached employees were completely accurate, one wonders why the company would withdrawn its lawsuit for such a small sum.

Even so, both companies are claiming victory. Here’s Tesla’s take:

Tesla’s lawsuit against Mr. Anderson, Mr. Urmson, and Aurora has been settled. Under the settlement, Mr. Anderson’s contractual obligations to Tesla will remain in place and will also be extended to Aurora, with additional specific protections being added to ensure there are no further violations. The settlement also establishes a process to allow Tesla to recover all of the proprietary information that was taken from the company, and it provides for Aurora’s computer systems to be subject to ongoing audits to monitor for any improper retention or use of Tesla’s property. Finally, $100,000 was paid to Tesla.

The statement issued by an Aurora spokesperson reflects that company’s very different view of the situation:

Delivering on a lofty vision is hard; in late January 2017 it got harder. Tesla filed a meritless lawsuit against us, supported by an aggressive public relations effort. Disappointed, but determined to defend our integrity, we immediately commissioned a comprehensive forensics audit that proved what we already knew to be true: (1) no material Tesla confidential information exists on our personal computers or company systems, and (2) there is no evidence that anyone at Aurora has used or has access to Tesla confidential information.

Today, less than three months after filing (and even before we were permitted to file a response) Tesla has withdrawn its claims, without damages, without attorney’s fees, and without any finding of wrongdoing. We have even agreed to reimburse the cost of a future audit to demonstrate the integrity of Aurora’s intellectual property.

In spite of this distraction, we’ve made great progress this last few months and are excited to now focus all of our energy on making transportation safer and better for all. We’ve been developing self-driving vehicles since long before it was trendy, and remain committed to bringing this important technology to market with the right team, doing things the right way.

Aurora remains in stealth, and will likely have more to share at a later date since it’s no longer being sued.

This epic hero of trash removal has gobbled up more than 1 million pounds of garbage

The world needs more heroes, even if those heroes are solar-powered water wheels.

Mr. Trash Wheel, the googly-eyed, trash-gathering water wheel that’s been keeping Baltimore Harbor clean since 2014, recently inspired us all by hitting a huge milestone: he’s removed more than one million pounds of garbage from Baltimore’s waterways.

Woah, baby.

According to the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore’s website, Mr. Trash Wheel operates by gaining power from Baltimore currents. The currents turn the water wheel and lift trash and debris from the water, transferring it into Mr. Trash Wheel’s mouth, I mean dumpster barge. And when there’s not enough water current to generate power? That’s where the solar panels come in.

Since May 9, 2014, when Mr. Trash Wheel found his home on Jones Falls River, he has officially removed 1,094,340 pounds of trash, including 8,965,600 cigarette butts, 372,650 plastic bottles and 257,337 grocery bags.

Trash.

Trash.

Not only is Mr. Trash Wheel adorable and great at keeping Baltimore clean, but also, all the trash he collects is incinerated and used to generate electricity. 

As Business Insider reported, the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore is so pleased with Mr. Trash Wheel’s positive contributions to the environment they’re fundraising for a second water wheel — a Mrs. Trash Wheel, perhaps?

Mr. Trash Wheel feat. ambiance.

Mr. Trash Wheel feat. ambiance.

Way to go, Mr. Trash Wheel — keep takin’ out that trash!

Mashable reached out to the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore for additional comment.

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Facebook’s newest tech will let you type with your brain and hear with your skin

Why it matters to you

These breakthroughs may seem lightyears away, but Facebook says they are in fact closer than we think — possessing massive implications for the future of communication in our lifetime.

Facebook has some pretty surprising ideas about the future of communication, and they extend far beyond news feeds and even augmented reality. The social media giant announced during day two of its F8 developer conference that its Building 8 hardware lab is working on technology that will one day allow you to type with your thoughts and hear through your skin.

Our brains, along with the cochleas in our ears, possess the power to reconstruct language from components , and Facebook is looking at hardware and software to transmit those components to the body via pressure changes and vibrations. During the day 2 keynote, the company demonstrated a video of one of its engineers repeating words communicated to her through sensors embedded in a sleeve on her arm. Simple words, like “blue” or “cube,” were sent through a smartphone, and the engineer was able to understand without a single word being uttered.

The concept may seem crazy at first glance, until you consider the work that has already been done in the field, dating as far back as the development of Braille in the 19th century. Facebook is building upon that foundation, with the ultimate goal for one person to be able to “think in Mandarin,” and someone else to instantly “feel in Spanish.”

Regina Dugan, who heads the division and is formerly the head of Google ATAP, said we’re much closer to these goals than many realize. The company is also working on a project that would allow humans to type 100 words per minute using only their brain. Through the use of improved, non-invasive sensors, breakthroughs in optical imaging technology, and machine learning, it’s already a reality as Facebook showed a patient with ALS typing just a handful words with her mind. More than 60 scientists from universities all over the world are working on this project with Facebook to make the goal of typing 100 words per minute with the brain possible.

Still, the social media company is well aware of the privacy questions that will inevitably surface with this initiative. Dugan stated the objective was to achieve the speed of voice with the privacy of text, likening the approach to sharing photos online. We have only several thoughts out of many we’d actually like to share, Dugan said, and Facebook is not interested in broadcasting the random noise in your head.

“Imagine the power such a capability would give to the 780 million people around the world who cannot read or write — but who can surely think and feel,” she said.

Don’t expect to see any of this technology in the real-world this year, but Dugan said maybe in a couple of years.

That fancy smart gadget you put in your car could let hackers turn off the engine while you drive

More and more devices, from smart dash cams to head-up displays to Bluetooth-enabled diagnostics dongles, are looking to tap your car’s built-in diagnostic (or OBD-II) port for power and data.

The problem: this port… really wasn’t built to be used like that. Primarily designed to be tapped occasionally to better explain that oh-so-vague “Check Engine” light, it certainly wasn’t built to be connected to an always-attached device blasting out all sorts of different wireless protocols whenever the vehicle is on.

Example A: Researchers at Argus Security have found a flaw in a commercially available Bluetooth-enabled diagnostics dongle that let them turn off the vehicle’s engine while the car was moving, as long as they were within Bluetooth range.

The dongle in question is the Bosch Drivelog Connect, a device meant to shed insight on your driving behaviors and send diagnostic information to a companion smartphone app via Bluetooth. To Bosch’s credit, the company began addressing the issue within a day of being alerted, and publicly acknowledged and outlined their fix for the issue here.

“Who cares? I’ve never even heard of that device,” you might say.

It’s a fair stance, but one that assumes that this is the only device that has this sort of flaw. Similar flaws have been found in other devices. Meanwhile, more gadgets are tapping the OBD-II port than ever — I see a new one hit my inbox every few weeks. Many of the ones I check out have obvious user-facing bugs… so it’s probably safe to assume that all the workings behind the scenes aren’t exactly flawless.

So do you need to go rip that shiny new dash cam or smart display out of your car? Probably not — but be mindful of the attack vector you’re introducing to the 4,000-pound metal box you’re cruising around in. It’s the owner’s responsibility to stay up to date on reports regarding the device’s security, and to keep the device itself up to date (a lot of these things are easy to set up and then completely forget).

More crucially, it’s up to the device makers to test the hell out of their devices, hire external firms to try to crack them and patch bugs as quickly as they responsibly can. Consider building a “red alert” notice/mandatory update into apps for the worst stuff.

If you’re interested in the specifics of the research on the aforementioned dongle, Argus has a deep breakdown of their methodology here, from disassembling the companion app, to poking holes in the device’s security, to actually shutting down one of their own vehicles while it was in motion.

Facebook F8 Day 2: AR glasses, brain typing, skin listening, and more

Day 1 at Facebook’s annual F8 conference was filled with enhancing the present. Day 2 was all about setting the vision for the future, and things got weird. The company also stated a new goal to “create and ship new, category-defining consumer products that are social first, at scale.”

New Surround 360 cameras

Image: facebook

Facebook began by announcing two new 360-degree developer cameras, the x24 and the x6, which will join the company’s Surround 360 line that the company unveiled at F8 last year.

AR Glasses

Oculus’ chief scientist, Michael Abrash, took the stage and talked about AR and AR Glasses. Abrash defined “full AR” as AR that is socially acceptable, with both audio and visual elements and contextually aware AI — not an occasionally used device for special situations. Abrash said that such an AR device is five years away at best. 

Terragraph, Aquila and Tether-tenna

Image: facebook

The company gave an update on its Terragraph and Aquila projects, and introduced Tether-tenna, a small helicopter attached to a fiber line that can be flown to create a virtual tower a few hundred feet above the ground. “This is still in the early stages of development, and lots of work is needed to ensure that it will be able operate autonomously for months at a time, but we’re excited about the progress so far,” Yael Maguire wrote. 

Building 8

Facebook’s Regina Dugan, who leads Facebook’s mysterious Building 8 took the stage and demoed a few awe-inspiring, if terrifying, technologies.

Dugan demoed a “brain mouse for AR,” which the company described as “a silent speech interface with the speed and flexibility of voice and privacy of text.”  Facebook has “a goal of creating a system capable of typing 100 words per minute, straight from the speech center of your brain — 5x faster than you can type on your smart phone today.”

Dugan also played a video of an engineer who has learned to “listen” with her skin. The company is using the “Tadoma method” which was developed based on the experience of Helen Keller. “The cochlea in your ear takes in sound and separates it into frequency components that are transmitted to the brain. We can do the same work of the cochlea, but transmit the resulting frequency information, instead, via your skin.”

Dugan didn’t give a timeline on the skin interface, but she did say the brain-typing tech is about three years away.

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Google Voice now filters out unwanted calls, thanks to update

Why it matters to you

Google Voice is a useful tool that was ignored for too long, but with January’s major update and its new anti-spam measures, it’s now more powerful than ever.

The major update that hit Google Voice back in January was mostly aesthetic, as it brought the app up to date with the company’s Material Design standard, but didn’t add much in the way of new features. Many of those faithful to the long-running call forwarding service were just excited to see it get any attention from Google at all, after being largely ignored for a number of years. Fortunately, Google is keeping the updates coming with the announcement of improved spam filtering for Voice users.

Last summer, Google took the initiative of adding anti-spam features to Nexus, Pixel, and Android One phones, allowing your device to warn you if you were receiving a ring from a “suspected spam caller.” Now, Google Voice is receiving the same functionality.

These measures have resulted in twice as many caught spammers, 20 percent fewer spam reports from customers, and 40 percent more calls correctly identified as spam, according to Google. The steps to enable spam filtering in Voice have been laid out on the company’s support site.

Previously, many of Voice’s features were added, over time, to Hangouts. Hangouts began as a messaging and internet-based calling app designed for regular users, but in recent months Google has decided to re-purpose it for enterprise customers. As a result, the app has dropped longstanding features like SMS support, and Google is propping up Voice to be its replacement for calling features — several years after it replaced Voice.

All the features that made Voice groundbreaking back when it launched more than seven long years ago are still on board, such as the ability to text from the same number from any device, including your computer; voicemail transcription, and call recording. That last one in particular is still shockingly absent as a stock feature on smartphones, and Google’s app remains one of the only free and convenient ways to do it.

Nature Conservancy gives forest management a digital makeover

Keeping a forest healthy often means deciding what to do tree by tree and acre by acre. That’s easy enough with a square mile of it, but what about a thousand? The Nature Conservancy is working on tools that will make it easy for park services, fire control and conservationists to keep entire forests alive, thriving and — you know, not on fire.

Forest management is a complicated industry, but for our purposes what matters is that this part is done in a pretty old-school way.

One approach has someone walking through the forest, scoping things out, and using a can of spray paint to designate certain trees one by one to be cut down or left behind. Nice to have a personal touch, but not exactly quick to execute.

Another has an expert marking up a map with “prescriptions” for each area: what types of trees to cut, what to leave, etc. But not only does this lack the detail of the previous approach, but the loggers who are to cut the trees will move more slowly as they rely on their discretion to determine what fits the prescription’s bill, or argue over which zone they’re in.

Here’s a situation where technology actually can come to the rescue. Neil Chapman at Nature Conservancy is leading a project that aims to make this part of forestry simpler, cheaper and faster. And with the devastation caused by wildfires recently, it’s not merely a question of healthy forests any more, but of preventing serious disasters.

Cutting delays

“Northern Arizona is home to the largest continuous Ponderosa pine forest in the country, and we’ve had a million acres of it burn up in catastrophic wildfires over the last 15 years,” said Chapman in an interview with TechCrunch.

Workers marking trees on their tablets in the field.

“Forestry practices need to be scaled up to deal with the problem. But they do not have the time or the money to be painting the trees on 50,000 acres a year. So we said, there has to be something we can design that will let forestry increase that pace, while still relying on boots on the ground.”

The resulting Digital Restoration Guide combines the directness of painting with the scalability of prescription.

Essentially, a forestry worker will walk (or ATV) around as before observing the forest directly. “But instead of having a paint can, they have a tablet in their hands,” said Chapman.

They can note the locations of individual trees or groups of them with GPS coordinates, but they don’t need to tag every one. Instead, after getting the gist of an area, they can make a little polygon on the tablet’s map that has all the details.

This data can be adjusted after the fact, archived and sent to harvesters, who can consult it from an in-cab tablet. (You can see the app in the image at top.)

Not only are they given more specific instructions and better granularity, but the tablet will also record the exact location, time and diameter (among other things) of felled trees. This saves time on the back end — much less paperwork — and lets harvesters track progress more easily, to boot.

This is important, Chapman said, because the forestry service has more complex guidelines regarding restoration and harvesting, more so than city or county authorities, which have comparatively small and homogeneous forests to manage.

Tech among the trees

A pilot deployment on 327 acres found that, compared with painting trees directly, the digital prescription method cost less than half as much and was five or six times faster. Productivity was similar to the old prescription methods, which Chapman portrayed as a victory.

“If in these early stages we can keep up with DxP on city and state land… Forestry is much more demanding,” he said, something that plays to digital prescription’s strengths. And that isn’t even taking into account the considerable benefits of the workflow in tracking and ease of use.

“After the markers go through, our staff is able to calculate the size, interspace, tree numbers… in the past they used to have to go out and take samples.”

They have had to modify the interface and hardware in response to feedback, for instance upping the power of the tablets.

“It turned out some of the maps were pushing the limit of the processor speed on the tablets we were using. Loggers were zooming in and out of a 300-megabyte image and it wasn’t going fast enough,” Chapman said. “It’s better now. I mean, you can’t be sitting there in your cab waiting for an image to render.”

Lidar and drones, perennial favorites when it comes to crossing over between the digital and real worlds, are also in play.

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“We’ve been looking into how to use lidar for the planning and monitoring stages,” he said. “Normally we’d have to go out and do time-consuming ground truthing. Using lidar or structure from motion [another 3D imaging technique], if we have images of 50,000 acres, then images after we cut those acres, we don’t need to go out there and use ground data.”

Fixed-wing and multirotor UAVs are in the mix, the former for larger surveying missions and the latter for monitoring smaller areas and rapid ground truth.

The pilot studies impressed the Forest Service enough that the tech has been okayed for use on 5,000 acres in the Coconino National Forest and 3,800 acres in Kaibab National forest; it’s part of the ongoing Four Forest Restoration Initiative. The former has already been mapped and the test will be the deployment of the enhanced harvesting teams to the areas designated using the new tools.

If this catches on, and it really ought to, it could drastically improve the efficiency of the rangers and loggers who care for our forests. You can follow the project’s progress over at Nature Conservancy’s site, or at Arizona’s 4FRI page.

Featured Image: Mark Skalny / The Nature Conservancy