All posts in “electronics”

The Skagen Falster is a high fashion Android wearable

Danish understatement meets Mountain View tech

Skagen is a well-know maker of thin and uniquely Danish watches. Founded in 1989, the company is now part of the Fossil group and, as such, has begin dabbling in both the analog with the Hagen and now Android Wear with the Falster. The Falster is unique in that it stuffs all of the power of a standard Android Wear device into a watch that mimics the chromed aesthetic of Skagen’s austere design while offering just enough features to make you a fashionable smartwatch wearer.

The Falster, which costs $275 and is available now, has a fully round digital OLED face which means you can read the time at all times. When the watch wakes up you can see an ultra bright white on black time-telling color scheme and then tap the crown to jump into the various features including Android Fit and the always clever Translate feature that lets you record a sentence and then show it the person in front of you.

You can buy it with a leather or metal band and the mesh steel model costs $20 extra.

Sadly, in order stuff the electronics into such a small case, Skagen did away with GPS, LTE connectivity, and even a heart-rate monitor. In other words if you were expecting a workout companion then the Falster isn’t the Android you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a bare-bones fashion smartwatch, Skagen ticks all the boxes.

What you get from the Flasterou do get, however, is a low-cost, high-style Android Wear watch with most of the trimmings. I’ve worn this watch off and on few a few weeks now and, although I do definitely miss the heart rate monitor for workouts, the fact that this thing looks and acts like a normal watch 99% of the time makes it quite interesting. If obvious brand recognition nee ostentation are your goal, the Apple Watch or any of the Samsung Gear line are more your style. This watch, made by a company famous for its Danish understatement, offers the opposite of that.

Skagen offers a few very basic watch faces with the Skagen branding at various points on the dial. I particularly like the list face which includes world time or temperature in various spots around the world, offering you an at-a-glance view of timezones. Like most Android Wear systems you can change the display by pressing and holding on the face.

It lasts about a day on one charge although busy days may run down the battery sooner as notifications flood the screen. The notification system – essentially a little icon that appears over the watch face – sometimes fails and instead shows a baffling grey square. This is the single annoyance I noticed, UI-wise, when it came to the Falster. It works with both Android smartphones and iOS.

What this watch boils down to is an improved fitness tracker and notification system. If you’re wearing, say, a Fitbit, something like the Skagen Falster offers a superior experience in a very chic package. Because the watch is fairly compact (at 42mm I won’t say it’s small but it would work on a thinner wrist) it takes away a lot of the bulk of other smartwatches and, more important, doesn’t look like a smartwatch. Those of use who don’t want to look like we’re wearing robotic egg sacs on our wrists will enjoy that aspect of Skagen’s effort, even without all the trimmings we expect from a modern smartwatch.

Skagen, like so many other watch manufacturers, decided if it couldn’t been the digital revolution it would join it. The result is the Falster and, to a lesser degree, their analog collections. Whether or not traditional watchmakers will survive the 21st century is still up in the air but, as evidenced by this handsome and well-made watch, they’re at least giving it the old Danish try.

Tokyoflash has created a radar watch that scans the skies (or your wrist)

Tokyoflashis one of my favorite watchmakers. Unabashedly analog, the watches pay homage giant robots and old tech, looking like a cross between something that you could find in the hatch in Lost and a Shinjuku fever dream.

Now the company has launched the Radar LED watch, a clever piece that shows the time with sweeping beams of light that flash across the watch face. The watch features a USB-rechargable movement and a mineral crystal with silk-screen cross hairs and markers. Behind the glass are a set of LEDs that either blink when you raise the watch to look at the time or tap a side button.

No step counters or notifications mar the stark simplicity of this strange watch. The time flashes up on the face and disappears just as quickly.

Like most Tokyoflash watches this thing is hard to read at first I suspect it becomes an acquired skill. While you won’t be able to scan for bogeys for real on this decidedly unsmart watch, it makes for an interesting – if bold – conversation starter. It’s shipping now for $189.

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Foxconn to plug at least $340M into AI R&D over five years


Manufacturing giant Foxconn has said it will make a major investment in artificial intelligence-based R&D as it looks for new business growth opportunities in a cooling global smartphone market, Nikkei reports.

“We will at least invest some 10 billion New Taiwan dollars ($342M) over five years to recruit top talent and deploy artificial intelligence applications in all the manufacturing sites,” said chairman Terry Gou.

“It’s likely that we could even pour in some $10BN or more if we find the deployments are very successful or can really generate results.”

Gou added that the ambition is to become “a global innovative AI platform rather than just a manufacturing company”.

Data put out this week by Strategy Analytics records a 9 per cent fall in global smartphone shipments in Q4 2017 — the biggest such drop in smartphone history — which the analyst blames on the floor falling out of the smartphone market in China.

“The shrinkage in global smartphone shipments was caused by a collapse in the huge China market, where demand fell 16 percent annually due to longer replacement rates, fewer operator subsidies and a general lack of wow models,” noted Strategy Analytics’ Linda Sui in a statement.

On a full-year basis, the analysts records global smartphone shipments growing 1 percent — topping 1.5 billion units for the first time.

But there’s little doubt the smartphone growth engine that’s fed manufacturing giants like Foxconn for so long is winding down.

This week, for example, Apple — Foxconn’s largest customer — reported a dip in iPhone sales for the holiday quarter. Though Cupertino still managed to carve out more revenue (thanks to that $1k iPhone X price-tag). But those kind of creative pricing opportunities aren’t on the table for electronics assemblers. So it’s all about utilizing technology to do more for less.

According to Nikkei, Foxconn intends to recruit up to 100 top AI experts globally. It also said it will recruit thousands of less experienced developers to work on building applications that use machine learning and deep learning technologies.

Embedding sensors into production line equipment to capture data to feed AI-fueled automation development is a key part of the AI R&D plan, with Foxconn saying earlier that it wants to offer advanced manufacturing experiences and services — eyeing competing with the likes of General Electric and Cisco.

The company has also been working with Andrew Ng’s new AI startup Landing.ai — which is itself focused on plugging AI into industries that haven’t yet tapping into the tech’s transformative benefits, with a first focus on manufacturing — since July.

And Gou confirmed the startup will be a key partner as Foxconn works towards its own AI-fueled transformation — using tech brought in via Landing.ai to help transform the manufacturing process, and identify and predict defects.

Quite what such AI-powered transformation might mean for the jobs of hundreds of thousands of humans currently employed by Foxconn on assembly line tasks is less clear. But it looks like those workers will be helping to train AI models that could end up replacing their labor via automation.

Featured Image: Matt Wakeman/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

The self-contained Fusion electric guitar lets you truly rock out


As a hard-core rocker and roller I find that my gear has to be ready to rock and/or roll at a moment’s notice. There is no telling when I’ll have to lay out a face-melter during jury duty or blast out some Stairway while giving plasma at the local blood bank, and I often note to friends that I enjoy rocking and rolling all night and part of every day. Are you in the same rocking boat? Then let’s take a look at the Fusion Guitar.

An Indiegogo darling, this crowdfunded guitar is now shipping and costs $999 in maple and rosewood. The guitar itself has the fretboard of a full-sized electric but a squat hollow body that is full of batteries, a 20-watt amp, and speakers which gives it a sort of lumpen shape. It’s surprisingly dense – it weighs eight pounds but most of the weight is in the body – and it runs for six hours on a charge.

Like the Yamaha Transacoustic I played a few years ago the trick is that the Fusion contains an amp and speakers, allowing you to turn up the tunes and even run the audio through an iPhone to add audio modeling and record your hot licks. The guitar is compatible with iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 6, 6 Plus, 5/SE and iPhone Touch Gen 5 and an iPhone X shield is coming soon. It has three lines out including a P.A. out, a standard 1/4-inch jack for amps, and a 3.5mm jack for headphones. A small speaker on the top of the guitar acts as a sort of built-in monitor.

$999 gets you the guitar, a strap, and a case along with a set of compatible plates. There is no Android compatibility.

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I am not a great guitarist but I am a gear head, a sad state of affairs which puts me at a loss when reviewing these in depth. The folks at Guitar World created a far more detailed video of the thing but let me offer a few points for the amateur guitarist. This is a solid learning guitar simply because you can run learning apps front and center and plug the thing into headphones to hear the results. It’s also a very fun tool for looping and noodling, allowing you to record and replay various licks and, with the help of tools like Garage Band, record sketches of songs on the fly. I did enjoy my time with the Fusion and found it to be a clever take on the traditional all-in-one guitar. I could definitely see this as a busker’s friend, allowing a guitarist to fill a little more space without the cost or inconvenience of carrying a full amp, and if you’re fast and good enough you could do some real damage with loops and other digital tricks.

If I had any complaint it’s that the built-in iPhone dock, while clever, didn’t quite work as well as I’d like. While you can see below that various iPhone apps can make your Fusion experience quite unique I didn’t find the entire system to be very intuitive. I mostly enjoyed the amplification and a bit of distortion from the hum bucking pickups and internal amp and ignored a the apps.

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I’ve found that guitarists either love or hate gadgets like the Fusion. The familiar, analog sound of a Stratocaster paired with a good amp is always welcome in a music studio but a clever amped guitar like this one is a far harder sell. Like other wacky guitars of the past – the Fusion reminds me a lot of the Vox Guitar Organ – playing these are an acquired taste and require a real investment on the part of the player. At $1,000 the Fusion is far too expensive to be a first guitar – you can get a beginner’s Telecaster for $200 – and too weird to be a daily driver. If you very specifically need a guitar that can be heard in a crowded hall without outside amplification or if you’re a gadget fiend, the Fusion is for you. Otherwise, a digital Line 6 amp or Roland Go:Mixer and some kind of six-string are all you need to recreate this guitar for less cash but I doubt you’ll get the same self-contained satisfaction that this weird Frankenguitar has to offer.

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LG wants these large robots to follow you around airports and hotels

LG electronics announced some rather large, human-sized conceptual robots today that it seems to be marketing to people that don’t want to schlep around their luggage or groceries.

The announcement comes just before the start of  CES, a time rife with of ideas — some which turn out to be useful and innovative, but many of which are junk. LG is betting on some interest for its three CLOi (pronounced KLOH-ee) robots: the Serving Robot, Porter Robot and Shopping Cart robot. 

These robots aren’t yet being produced for consumers, but will be on display at the CES show.

The company says that these prototypical machines recently completed successful trial runs at Korea’s Incheon International Airport, wherein they presumably wheeled over food to human patrons and carried luggage around. It’s unknown if the trials were actually successful and whether or not the large robots spilled any drinks.

In the case of the Shopping Robot, LG envisions humans following this machine around grocery stores, guiding people to products they’ve selected on an app. Apparently this bot might come in handy for those unable to navigate or not interested in navigating grocery stores on their own. 

LG calls these robots a “key factor of LG’s transformation into an AI company.” It’s unclear how the bots might be employing sophisticated machine-learning algorithms, rather than simply following directions (like robots have been doing for decades). LG does note, however, that it plans for these robots to one day have the capacity for “emotional interaction” with its human patrons, but this is a longer-term hope: Today’s popular home assistants like Alexa and Google Home, for instance, certainly don’t understand how you’re feeling or what you desire.

Fortunately, LG’s conceptual servant robots don’t need to understand your sentiments in order to bring your a beer. 

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