All posts in “Gadgets”

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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Watch Microsoft’s Xbox One X Gamescom conference live right here

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Microsoft is about to share the last details on the Xbox One X with a press conference ahead of the Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. You can watch it live right here at 12 PM on the West Coast, 3 PM on the East Coast, 8 PM in the U.K., 9 PM in Germany.

The company already said on Twitter that we can expect to hear more details about pre-orders for the Xbox One X:

Microsoft should also share new trailers for upcoming games, such as Forza Motorsport 7, Sea of Thieves, maybe another extension for Halo Wars 2, etc.

The Xbox One X is Microsoft’s upcoming gaming console. It’s a more powerful Xbox One that should work better with demanding games. You’ll be able to buy it on November 7 for $499. Microsoft says that you can expect 4K games with an acceptable framerate.

And yet, based on specs, the console should be more or less as powerful as a gaming PC with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070. If you have a 4K TV, games should definitely look better with an Xbox One X. But the existing Xbox One S is going to remain available after the release of the Xbox One X.

This 3D-printed robotic arm is built for sign language


While we usually see robotics applied to industrial or research applications, there are plenty of ways they could help in everyday life as well: an autonomous guide for blind people, for instance, or a kitchen bot that helps disabled folks cook. Or — and this one is real — a robot arm that can perform rudimentary sign language.

It’s part of a masters thesis from grad students at the University of Antwerp who wanted to address the needs of the deaf and hearing impaired. In classrooms, courts and at home, these people often need interpreters — who aren’t always available.

Their solution is “Antwerp’s Sign Language Actuating Node,” or ASLAN. It’s a robotic hand and forearm that can perform sign language letters and numbers. It was designed from scratch and built from 25 3D-printed parts, with 16 servos controlled by an Arduino board. It’s taught gestures using a special glove, and the team is looking into recognizing them through a webcam as well.

Right now, it’s just the one hand — so obviously two-hand gestures and the cues from facial expressions that enrich sign language aren’t possible yet. But a second coordinating hand and an emotive robotic face are the next two projects the team aims to tackle.

The idea is not to replace interpreters, whose nuance can hardly be replicated, but to make sure that there is always an option for anyone worldwide who requires sign language service. It also could be used to help teach sign language — a robot doesn’t get tired of repeating a gesture for you to learn.

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Why not just use a virtual hand? Good question. An app or even a speech-to-text program would accomplish many of the same things. But it’s hard to think less of the ASLAN project; taking an assistive technology off the screen and putting it in the real world, where it can be interacted with, viewed from many angles, and otherwise share the physical space of the people it helps, is a commendable goal.

ASLAN was created by Guy Fierens, Stijn Huys and Jasper Slaets. It’s still in prototype form, but once it’s finalized the designs will be open sourced.

Google Home now works with Spotify free accounts


For all the talk of how voice assistants could be the future of IoT or computing in general, the only consistently engaging use of home assistants like Echo or Google Home seems to be audio playback.

Today, Google is making it a bit easier for the cheapos to get in on the action, as it’s beginning to roll out support for Spotify free accounts on its Home platform. Google announced the integration was coming back at its Google I/O conference.

Currently, the company’s home assistant supports Google Play Music Free and Premium, Spotify Free and Premium, Pandora, YouTube Music, TuneIn and iHeartRadio. Deezer and SoundCloud support should be on the way soon as support for them was also announced at I/O.

Life in the free lane isn’t as glamorous on Home with Spotify, as there are a few differences in the way you can use the service. First off, you won’t be able to get the Home to play specific songs, albums or artists, instead you’ll have to settle for selecting music by mood, genre or one of the Spotify-curated playlists.

Things get dialed in a little bit more when you’re requesting Google Assistant to play Spotify on a Chromecast audio-enabled device, in which case you’ll be able to request specific playlists or artists and hear the applicable jams on shuffle. If you’re casting to a TV, your experience should be pretty comparable to what you get on Premium, with abilities to request songs, playlists, artists and albums all supported.

Check out the full spread on what you can and can’t do with Spotify Free on Google Home here.

Also, obligatory:

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