The tiny cyborg dragonfly drones have taken flight

The tiniest drones we’ve ever seen have lift off. 

Draper Labs, an independent biomedical solutions lab, first unveiled its DragonflEye concept back in January

The project aimed to create the smallest drone possible by doing more than just taking inspiration from the animal kingdom — Draper’s engineers literally outfitted an actual dragonfly with drone tech, putting a suite of next-gen navigation, synthetic biology, and neurotechnology systems on its back in the form of mini “backpack,” which is powered by a built-in solar cell.

When the project was first announced earlier this year, there was no actual footage or even images of the drones  — just a to-scale model of a dragonfly toting the backpack. That was six months ago — and now, the Draper team has made some impressive new progress. 

New video released this week shows off Draper’s progress with the DragonflEye concept, giving us a good look at how the system is applied to a real-life dragonfly.

The short footage shows Draper scientists delicately placing the tech on the back of a dragonfly, which doesn’t appear to be harmed by the procedure. By the end of the video, the hybrid creature takes flight — although it’s unclear whether it was controlled by Draper scientists or not.  

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The DragonflEye drones aren’t just using the insects to create the smallest drone possible — the tiny tech is actually built to allow Draper’s engineers to control the animals remotely. The team can send commands to neurons inside the dragonfly’s nerve cord, which are associated with navigation, in order to guide its flightpath. 

The cyborg is also controlled by a system of optical structures, called optrodes, that target the exact neural systems needed to send navigation commands without disrupting the rest of the dragonfly’s neural network. 

Image: draper

There are no other new details available about the DragonflEye project or its uses — other than the video and new images, of course — but the Draper team previously described a platform that could someday be used for surveillance, intelligence, and even to study the neural application for medical purposes in the future. 

For now, though, Draper will look to hone the system for longer flights than just the straight-ahead path shown in the video. Once they’ve locked that down, we could have a future filled with swarms of tiny cyborgs zooming around our airspace. 

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Adobe’s new app makes mobile scans searchable with auto-recognized text

Why it matters to you

Adobe’s auto-text recongition technology is now available in smartphones, making it easy to turn physical documents into searchable PDFs.

Using a smartphone camera to scan a new document is not anything new, but Adobe’s attempt at a mobile scanner uses artificial intelligence to turn the image into an editable PDF.  Adobe Scan, announced on Wednesday, is a free app for iOS and Android.

Like other scan apps, Adobe Scan snaps a photo of a document to turn it into a digital file. But, thanks to Adobe’s AI programming inside Adobe Sensi, translating a physical document to a digital one is not the end. The program will auto-recognize text, making it possible to refine the document later in Adobe Acrobat or easily copy and paste. Since the text is auto-recognized, documents become searchable too.

Adobe Sensi also powers the app’s ability to auto-recognize the document’s boundaries for an accurate crop. The program will also automatically correct perspective errors and remove shadows. Users can also fine-tune the scan with a set of manual adjustment tools, including cropping, rotating and re-ordering pages for larger documents.

“When you think of it, documents are the lifeblood of society, communicating data and information that spans contracts, textbooks, financial statements and everything in between,” wrote Abhay Parasnis, Adobe executive vice president and chief technology officer. “The challenge is unlocking the intelligence that lives in those documents, and extracting meaning that can be searched, analyzed and incorporated into digital workflows. Adobe Scan represents a critical step toward our broader innovation imperative for Adobe Document Cloud, and there’s much more to come.”

The tradeoff for the smarter scans? The app is cloud-based. The documents are automatically uploaded to the free Adobe Document Cloud in-app for access across multiple devices while exporting options comes with the $10 a month PDF Pack. Subscribers also have access to extras like adding signatures and merging PDFs. Adobe Scan is available from both the App Store and Google Play.

Yext passes its first test as a publicly traded company


Yext’s first earnings report as a publicly traded company seems to be a boringly pleasant one — but that’s a good thing for a company that needs to show strong performance out of the gate.

These early reports can be critical for setting the stage and expectations for a company going forward. Snap, for example, whiffed on its first earnings and promptly saw its stock tank, and Twilio’s last report did not fare that well either. While Snap opened the floodgates for IPOs this year, an enterprise company like Yext had to show the kind of predictable growth and performance that might be expected from similar companies like Box (which also had a boringly pleasant earnings report this quarter).

Now on to the boring bits, which sent the stock up 1 percent in extended trading: Yext said it generated $37.1 million in revenue, up 37 percent from the same quarter last year. It also reported a loss of 13 cents per share. Wall Street expected a loss of 15 cents per share on revenue of $35.4 million. For a young company, it may seem like a nominal amount of revenue, but it has to show it can continue to grow a business built on the backs of a user behavior that companies have to chase — getting the information they need from a variety of different sources on the internet.

The company’s software helps companies make sure their basic information — like addresses — are the same and accurate across the variety of apps and sites that people use every day. If you’re looking for a location of a restaurant, you probably aren’t going to the company’s website. Instead, users are likely searching on Google Maps or other apps, which gives these companies an incentive to pay for Yext to make sure all that works smoothly.

Yext took clear advantage of the IPO window being open, with the stock popping nearly 21 percent on its first day of trading. After pricing the IPO at $11, Yext is now hovering at around $14.75 per share — putting its market capitalization over $1.2 billion. Yext was one of a large batch of companies that went public earlier this year, starting with Snap, and nearly all of them have at least appeared to have successful openings.

Featured Image: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Qualcomm Quick Charge 4 Plus is 15 percent faster, 30 percent more efficient

Why it matters to you

If your next smartphone has Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0 Plus, you can expect it to charge much more quickly and efficiently than the competition.

Qualcomm, the engineering powerhouse behind the Snapdragon chips in billions of devices, makes more than just processors. Take its Quick Charge platform, for example — it juices phones and tablets much quicker than a standard charger. Qualcomm announced Quick Charge’s newest iteration — Quick Charge 4 — six months ago, and on Thursday took the wraps off a revision — Quick Charge 4 Plus — with a few extras.

“When Quick Charge 4 was announced, it promised to bring even faster charging than its predecessor, allowing a device to go from empty to 50 percent in just 15 minutes,” Qualcomm said. “But we haven’t been resting on our accomplishments since then. In fact, since that time we developed new enhancements and created a special program for those device and accessory manufacturers who design their products with these new features included.”

A few of those Quick Charge 4 Plus features include Dual Charge, which leverages a second power-management chip to divide the current charge and reduce charge time. Qualcomm’s intelligent thermal balancing moves current via the coolest path, and new advanced safety features monitor the case and connector temperature levels simultaneously to prevent overheating, short-circuiting, and damage to the USB-C connector.

It is a step up from Quick Charge 4.0, which featured a 20 percent improvement in charging speed and a 30 percent improvement in energy efficiency. That translated to about five hours of extra battery in five minutes of charging, or 50 percent of a battery’s capacity in 15 minutes.

Qualcomm said the rapid charging tech is fully compatible with both the USB Type-C and USB Power delivery specifications ratified by the USB-Implementers Forum, the industry body that standardizes USB technologies. Previous implementations of Qualcomm’s tech ran afoul of spec by manipulating voltage to reduce recharge times and employing workarounds to set charging speed. Qualcomm said that Quick Charge 4.0, in contrast, is fully compliant.

Devices that incorporate all three features of Quick Charge 4.0 Plus have the potential to charge up to 15 percent faster, or 30 percent more efficiently when compared to Quick Charge 4. The Nubia Z17, a Snapdragon 835 phone with a 3,200mAh battery, will be the first smartphone to include it.

Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4 Plus technology isn’t limited to phones. Accessories such as wall adapters, car chargers, portable battery banks, and USB hubs can qualify for Quick Charge 4, and they’ll be backward compatible with Quick Charge 3.0 and Quick Charge 2.0.

“With Quick Charge 4+, Qualcomm Technologies once again shows our leadership in charging technology,” Qualcomm said. “Quick Charge 4+ continues the fast charging innovation, providing design flexibility for manufacturers, and a diverse ecosystem of certified products for consumers.”

Apple Swift Playgrounds can now program your robots and drones

Apple doesn’t build robots or drones, but now you can use its software to program them.

On Thursday, Apple announced that, starting June 5, its increasingly popular iPad-based programming app, Swift Playgrounds, can be used to program robots built with LEGO Mindstorms EV3. Version 1.5 of the app will also handle programming tasks for Sphero’s SPRK robot ball, Parrot’s Mambo, Airborne and Rolling Spider drones, as well as robots from UBTECH, Dash, and Skoog. All devices will connect to the iPad and Swift Playgrounds via a Bluetooth connection.

It’s a big win for Apple in education and in the burgeoning home robotics and drone space and, at least for LEGO, a surprising move, since it already provides iPad-based programming software for its EV3 robots.

“We’re pairing the familiar LEGO bricks and our hands-on approach to playful learning found in LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 with Swift Playgrounds’ powerful learning platform so now anyone can program their LEGO MINDSTORMS creation with real Swift code,” said Esben Stærk Jørgensen, president of LEGO Education, in a statement. 

A LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robot with the Swift Playgrounds programming interface.

A LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robot with the Swift Playgrounds programming interface.

Image: Apple

The benefit of Swift Playground, though, is that it’s designed to teach school-age children (and adults) how to code. The free app is simple and fun, but with hidden depths that slowly reveal themselves.

According to Apple, more than 1 million people (children and adults) use Swift to learn the fundamentals of coding. “Now they can instantly see the code they create and directly control their favorite robots, drones and instruments through Swift Playgrounds. It’s an incredibly exciting and powerful way to learn,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, in a statement.

As Apple CEO Tim Cook explained to Mashable last month, Swift Playgrounds is “Simple to learn and easy to understand, but could be used for most complex mobile apps.” Apparently, that now includes drones and robots, too.

Bonus: Airport robot makes traveling much easier

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Watch LeBron take on Steph with NBA Finals highlights in VR

Imagine this in virtual reality.
Imagine this in virtual reality.

Image: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The NBA Finals start Thursday night with yet another epic rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.

You can livestream the action between LeBron James’ Cavaliers and Steph Curry’s Warriors on ABC. But, if you really want to feel like you’re a part of the action without shelling out around $1,600 for a seat in Oakland’s Oracle Arena, there’s another option: VR.

The NBA partnered with NextVR to give fans the opportunity to watch highlights from the series as if you’re in front row seats.

The only catch is that you have to subscribe to NBA League Pass and have a Samsung Gear VR headset or Google Daydream View headset. (Sorry iPhone users!) Anyone with a compatible phone can download the NextVR app from the Google Play Store or Oculus Store. Here’s what you need to know to get everything set up.

And as a bonus, if you missed any of the earlier games in the 2016-2017 season, you can always get yourself up to speed by watching archived games before the Finals kick off.

NextVR CEO David Cole recently weighed in on the benefits of the partnership.

“This has been a season of firsts for our partnership with the NBA and we’re thrilled to be able to deliver highlights from each game of the 2017 NBA Finals to our fans,” Cole said in a statement. “After producing weekly live games, NBA All-Star coverage, and season highlights, the opportunity to deliver access to The Finals caps off an exciting 2016-17 season.”

While plenty of leagues are embracing VR, including UFC, NASCAR, the NHL, and NFL, it’s not clear whether fans are buying it. Still, with games getting so expensive, dropping $130 on a Samsung Gear VR doesn’t seem like a terrible idea.

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PCs Shine Again, but for How Long?

Just when PCs looked to be dying a slow, painful death, they became interesting again. As expected, this week’s news coming from Computex in Taiwan is flush with new PCs and PC technologies, but is it enough to reinvigorate a market that has faced declining sales since 2011?

The market peaked at just over 365 million units annually, and fell to 269 million units last year, according to Gartner. So, why all the excitement?

The excitement is emerging from both the technology driving PCs and the applications leveraging the processing power of PCs. In terms of technology, the battle between AMD and Intel for processor supremacy has heated up again, along with a new core race.

High-End Battle Impact

AMD kicked off the new battle with its Ryzen processor, featuring up to eight CPU cores with 16 threads, the equivalent of 16 virtual cores. With significantly lower price points, AMD also lowered the starting price for a well-equipped gaming PC to less than $2,000.

Intel has countered with a new line of Core i9 processors that will feature up to 18 cores and 36 threads — but at a price tag that puts the price of the processor alone at around $2,000. In addition, the graphics processing unit soon will get a significant bump in performance, when AMD introduces new products on its Vega architecture and Nvidia launches products based on its Volta architecture.

If that weren’t enough, the I/O on PCs is being upgrading to USB-C and Thunderbolt 3, and solid-state drives and memory are getting faster with larger capacities.

While these extreme systems won’t have much of an impact on average consumers in 2017, the impact of a performance battle at the high end of the market is that mainstream PCs will see new technologies and substantial bumps in performance at much lower price points starting in 2018.

For people who want to be productive but are more focused on social media, entertainment and light gaming, Microsoft and Qualcomm are pushing the concept of an always-connected PC, leveraging the performance of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 mobile processor.

Think of it as the Microsoft version of the Chromebook, but with the Windows 10 ecosystem and Windows Store, and similarly available from a variety of PC OEMs.

VR and AR Ahead

On the application side, gaming remains the application driving PC technology and market stability. In fact, gaming is the only area where PCs shipments actually have been growing.

However, just on the horizon is a new generation of virtual reality and augmented reality head-mounted displays that hold the promise of improving the PC experience in just about every application — from engineering and design to entertainment and gaming.

This is the first new application well suited for the PC in a long time, because VR and AR require increasingly more processing, graphics and I/O capabilities than the industry can deliver today.

More Power Users

Despite all the activity around PCs, most industry forecasts still point to a down year in 2017. We haven’t seen this much innovation in a tech segment in years, so why is the outlook for PCs still so negative? The answer lies in the dynamics of the market.

The first thing to consider is the adoption rate of these new PCs. While gamers are anxious to be on the latest and greatest technology, other power users, like enterprises, have longer and planned upgrade cycles. This means that adoption cycles can take a year or two for new technologies.

On the positive side, however, is that power users account for more than a third of the overall PC market, by some estimates, and the their ranks are growing. The shift to Windows 10 by consumers and enterprise users also bodes well for the overall PC segment next year.

The second issue is the adoption of new applications and technologies. While VR and AR hold promise, the applications are still limited and evolving toward a must-have user experience. In addition, the cost of the high-end HMDs that provide that rich user experience currently are upwards of $800, well out of the price range of the average consumer.

As the number of applications increases, the user experience improves, and as the technology evolves, prices will come down to a more reasonable $200-$300 price range, starting later this year.

Finally, there is the competition from other platforms. While PCs are a great platform for VR and AR today, game consoles, mobile devices, and other platforms will offer viable alternatives in the future, especially as HMDs move to next generation high-speed WiFi and 5G wireless interfaces, starting later this decade.

Keeping the Momentum Going

The new surge in technology around the PC might abate the decrease in PC shipments and may even show an uptick in late 2017 and throughout 2018 as the new platforms are introduced and the technology is pushed down into more affordable price bands, in the view of Tirias Research.

Products like the new Asus ROG Strix GL702ZC and the new Dell Inspiron gaming desktops announced at Computex, which are based on AMD technology, target lower price points than the traditional gaming platforms like Dell’s Alienware products.

The technology surge is a positive for the industry, as the same technology will be used for other platforms, ranging from medical systems to gaming consoles. However, the PC still needs to evolve in both form factor and usage models to sustain this brief surge in momentum.


Jim McGregor is principal analyst at Tirias Research.

Intel predicts a $7 trillion self-driving future

The race to be the first to deploy autonomous vehicles is on among carmakers, emerging startups, and tech giants. Amid this constant news cycle of deals and drama, the purpose of all of it can get lost — or at least a bit muddied. What exactly are these companies racing for?

A $7 trillion annual revenue stream, according to a study released Thursday by Intel. The companies that don’t prepare for self-driving risk failure or extinction, Intel says. The report also finds that over half a million lives could be saved by self-driving over just one decade.

The study, prepared by Strategy Analytics, predicts autonomous vehicles will create a massive economic opportunity that will scale from $800 billion in 2035 (the base year of the study) to $7 trillion by 2050. An estimated 585,000 lives could be saved due to autonomous vehicles between 2035 and 2045, the study predicts.

This “passenger economy,” as Intel is calling it, includes the value of the products and services derived from fully autonomous vehicles as well as indirect savings such as time.

This is hardly the first attempt to place value on autonomous vehicles, nor will it be the last. However, Intel’s study offers a few interesting predictions for autonomous vehicles and how a combination of mobile connectivity, population density in cities, traffic congestion and subsequent regulation, and the rise of on-demand ride-hailing and car-sharing services will be the catalysts in this new economic era.

Of course, Intel has a vested interest in rosy predictions about the future of autonomous transportation. The chipmaker has promised to spend $250 million over the next two years to develop self-driving technology, and recently acquired Jerusalem-based auto vision company Mobileye for an eye-popping $15 billion. And Intel is working with BMW to put self-driving cars on the road later this year. So when Intel pays for a study that predicts self-driving cars will cause cash to rain from the sky, it should be seen as equal parts industry analysis and wishful thinking.

Autonomous technology will drive change across a range of industries, the study predicts, the first green shoots of which will appear in the business-to-business sector. These autonomous vehicles will first appear in developed markets and will reinvent the package delivery and long-haul transportation sectors, says Strategy Analytics president Harvey Cohen, who co-authored the study. This will relieve driver shortages, a chronic problem in the industry, and account for two-thirds of initial projected revenues.

One of the bolder predictions is that public transportation as we know it today — trains, subways, light rails, and buses — will be supplanted, or at least radically changed, by the rise of on-demand autonomous vehicle fleets.

The study argues that people will flock to suburbs as population density rises in city centers, pushing commute times higher and “outstripping the ability of public transport infrastructure to fully meet consumer mobility needs.”

The pressures of mounting traffic congestion and the correlated emissions will drive regulators to include autonomous vehicles as a part of their larger public transportation plans. Some cities may choose to own the vehicle networks not unlike existing public transportation, the study says.

The bulk of the revenue generated in the new economy will be driven by this “mobility-as-a-service.”

By 2050, business use of mobility as a service will generate about $3 trillion in revenues, or 43 percent of the total passenger economy. Consumer use will account for $3.7 trillion, or 53 percent, the study predicts.

The remaining $200 billion in revenue (of the $7 trillion total) will be generated by new applications and services as driverless vehicle services expand. A key opportunity will be how to capitalize on all of this saved time people will have once they no longer have to drive a car.

Self-driving vehicles are expected to free more than 250 million hours of consumers’ commuting time per year in the most congested cities in the world, the study says. That’s a lot of time that could be filled with streaming video, news, and other content delivered to a captured audience.

It could also change the way cars are used. Vehicles could become “experience pods,” places where people can have their hair styled and cut, conduct a meeting, or receive a health screening.

Keep in mind, that this reimagined future doesn’t mean people will necessarily spend less time in cars. One of the great promises of self-driving cars is a reduction in congestion because these vehicles will be able share real-time traffic data and optimize tasks like finding parking.

However, in a more densely populated world, where cities rely on shared autonomous vehicles for public transit, there will be more traffic than ever before. The question is: how do people want to spend their time?

Courts in Florida grapple over Fifth Amendment as it applies to passcodes

Why it matters to you

Can your smartphone passcode and the secrets it protects be used against you in a court of law? A pair of recent rulings did little to answer that question.

Generally speaking, locking your smartphone with a PIN or passphrase is a good idea. It hides your social media, budgeting, and finance app data from prying friends and family, and it is a simple safeguard against theft.

But in some United States courts, passwords can be a liability.

The Miami Herald reports that Christopher Wheeler, a child abuse suspect, has been held in criminal contempt and sentenced to 180 days in jail for refusing to reveal his iPhone’s passcode. That is despite the man’s claims that the password he provided, which did not work, was correct.

“I swear, under oath, I’ve given them the password,” Wheeler told a Florida circuit court judge on Thursday.

Wheeler, who was arrested on accusations he hit and scratched his young daughter, was charged with child abuse in March. Detectives believe that his phone contains pictures of the child’s injury, which could help prove the case.

A judge authorized a search warrant for Wheeler’s iPhone, but police were unable to get in. Wheeler will be allowed to post bond pending an appeal, or set free if he provides a working passcode.

In a separate Florida case, a judge declined to hold in contempt a man accused of extortion for refusing to unlock his iPhone.

The man, Wesley Victor, had been ordered by a judge to hand over the passcode of phones suspected of containing incriminating text messages. He and his girlfriend, reality TV star Hencha Voigt, are accused of threatening to release sex videos stolen from social media icon YesJulz in exchange for $18,000.

Victor claimed he could not recall the password, and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Charles Johnson ruled that there was no way to prove that he remembered his PIN code more than 10 months after his initial arrest.

According to the Fifth Amendment, defendants have the right not to say anything that could be used against them. But recent court decisions have muddied the waters.

Both Wheeler and Victor were ordered to give up their passwords under a Florida precedent that let police force a voyeur to give up his passcode. The state Court of Appeals ruled that defendants can sometimes be compelled to give up passcodes based on the “foregone conclusion” doctrine of the Fifth Amendment, which states that if police can compel a defendant can testify if they’re reasonably certain of what they’re going to find.

The Florida Supreme Court has yet to take up the issue.

Some legal experts argue that smartphones should be exempt from the doctrine, arguing that passcode demands lead to “fishing expeditions” — phone searches without clear objectives. Short of final world from the Supreme Court, though, little seems poised to change.

“[It’s] the law in Florida at this point,” Johnson said, citing the Court of Appeals judgement in the case of Voigt.

Instagram celebrates Pride Month with a very rainbowy sticker set


There is no such thing as too many rainbows. For LGBTQ Pride Month, Instagram is rolling out a special set of pride-flavored features, including a sticker set (Instagram has stickers now, you’ve probably noticed) and a rainbow brush. The sticker set includes a swoopy-banged person holding a rainbow aloft, a cute trans flag/heart situation and a rainbow megaphone for when you need to metaphorically shout assorted gay things from within your Instagram story.

Once you post a sticker to your story, it becomes clickable with a pop-up link to the #pride2017 Instagram hashtag and a little shout-out to the creator. In this instance, all of the creators are LGBTQ artists, which thank goodness. The rainbow brush button now lives next to the regular drawing tools and, predictably, it creates rainbows. Did I mention you can never have too many rainbows?

Instagram is also launching an international mural project where it will transform walls around the world into selfie-friendly rainbow art projects, starting with the Paul Smith wall in Los Angeles.

This is the part for the necessary disclaimer about how topical product features don’t always mean that a company (or its parent company) does the work to pursue the deeper parts of an LGBTQ-inclusive agenda, a message worth remembering as we sail swiftly into the ever-corporate seas of Pride Month. Still, rainbows are definitely better than no rainbows and visibility remains an important piece of the progress puzzle.

Featured Image: Les Chatfield/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)