The Awe-Inspiring Potential of Consumer Drones
May01

The Awe-Inspiring Potential of Consumer Drones

A few weeks ago, AlwaysCurrent published a story about an open platform drone created by 3D Robotics. The article was full of interest, excitement, and child-like wonder at our rapidly-changing world and new possibilities for humankind. Consumer-level, freely-modifiable drone technology? How vast the sea of opportunity, we thought; our expectations for the creativity and ingenuity of our race were foolishly high. Fortunately, one man stood ready to disappoint such naive positivity and bring us all back to reality. Just in time for finals week, too! On Wednesday, a prolific graffiti “artist”* and vandal, called KATSU, tagged an enormous billboard high over the streets of New York using a DJI Phantom drone he modified for this purpose. While some scant lines of red paint might not seem impressive at first, watching the video kind of changes that. The apparent ease of the action is almost unsettling, but really, this project has been in the works for quite awhile now. KATSU is a well-known vandal, but possesses a range of other skills as well, including hacking and drone-modifying, apparently. He has been working with DJI’s Phantom 2, it seems, figuring out how he can incorporate drone technology into his super-cool acts of vandalism; in fact, he debuted a prototype of his modified Phantom along with a series of drone-painted images a little over a year ago. In an interview with Motherboard in 2014 regarding that exhibition, KATSU expressed much of the same interest we did in drone technology and its potential to change the way humans interact with the world: “…really I think deep down it’s really magical what drones represent and what they can actually accomplish and do for human beings.” Well, so did we, KATSU; so did we…. Regarding his most recent escapade, KATSU said: “It’s exciting to see its [the drone’s] first potential use as a device for vandalism.” Please excuse us while we roll our eyes. — *Side-note: this AC writer has nothing against real artists. Just pretentious jerks who violate public or private property for the sake of...

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Google’s Parlor Walls
Apr24

Google’s Parlor Walls

Have you grown tired of that pedestrian, 80-inch screen sitting atop your home entertainment center? I mean, come on; you can still see the wall behind it. The good news for you is that it looks like Google is prepared to add some spice to the world of home entertainment, with a patent for a product Quartz compared to technology in Back to the Future II. Personally, I prefer a comparison to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, in which citizens are constantly transfixed and stupefied by gigantic television screens, but I suppose that’s not quite as fun. PSA: If you haven’t read Fahrenheit 451, you should. On Monday, Google filed a patent for walls that are also TVs. Well… pretty close, anyway. It definitely has the potential. Really, the patent is for “a method and apparatus for enabling themes using photo-active surface paint.” Explanation: What Google calls “photo-active paint” would work much like the digital ink in e-readers, changing the colors and images on a given surface to display, presumably, whatever the user desires. This would happen when a projection system hits the surface (in this case, a wall) with a new image. The emphasis of the patent seems to be on themes, like the desktop on your computer. Google suggests the image could change to correspond with holidays, seasons, city skylines and monuments (in case your view sucks), or just whatever the weather looks like – you know, so we can cut out the whole “going outside” wherever possible. “Ew, nature? Gross.” While the focus of the patent is on these themes, some of the language in the patent seems to indicate Google’s digital paint and projection system would be capable of displaying videos, too. So, if and when the technology reaches that point, it sounds like your walls can function as gigantic televisions. No need for the real world to encroach on your fantasy at all! Ditch that 80” HDTV, grab some photo-active paint, and prepare to binge watch your life away. Don’t get too excited about this dystopian vision of the future and quit your day job, though. When asked for a comment by Quartz, Google said: “Prospective announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patents.” …Right. We have a healthy dose of skepticism in regards to that comment, but until an official announcement is made, please keep reading,...

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Tinder + Instagram: A Match Made In Heaven
Apr17

Tinder + Instagram: A Match Made In Heaven

Tinder, the popular smartphone-based matchmaking app, rolled out some new features in the last few days, mostly linking Tinder profiles with other social media pages. The intended goal is to help users get more connected, of course. Tinder President Sean Rad said, “If we can provide our users with more relevant information for each connection, we can take them halfway there in terms of getting a conversation going.” As far as we knew, that was never a problem for Tinder users (there’s some explicit language here)…. The primary change is the connection of users’ profiles to their Instagram accounts. The new feature will display your last few dozen Instagram images within your Tinder profile, with the ability to visit your profile on Instagram with just a tap of the screen. Though we haven’t done enough research to be sure, we think this feature makes Tinder the first service of its kind that allows you to assess potential partners based strictly on diet and coffee shop culture. The update will also include more Facebook information – previously Tinder would show common “interests” (i.e. the pages you’ve “liked” on Facebook, a barometer for relationship success if ever there was one), you will now be able to see all the pages a user liked. This, while no less superficial, is at least a more complete profile as far as social media is concerned. Really, the interesting part is that you can now see mutual Facebook friends through the Tinder app – this could help you avoid some seriously awkward situations, and gives you an extra way to deem someone worthy of your time (they’re friends with those guys? Ugh, left-swipe). The Instagram connection is the one in all the headlines, but these changes honestly seem way more important. These changes will be applied to all versions of Tinder, so don’t worry, free users. You may not be able to take back that unfortunate left-swipe that haunts you late at night, but now it won’t take Tinder Plus fill the hole in your heart from that love that died before it had a chance to...

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Flying Solo: 3D Robotics Releases Open Platform Drone
Apr15

Flying Solo: 3D Robotics Releases Open Platform Drone

Consumer-level drone technology just took another big step forward. 3D Robotics recently announced an addition to the market: the 3DR Solo. Developed through a partnership with GoPro, this little guy will give users the ability to attach GoPro cameras to their drones, allowing for incredible aerial videography. The drone will cost $1,000, and the GoPro Gimbal (the attachment that holds and moves the camera) will be another $400. Of course, the Solo is by no means the first drone with the capability to carry a camera, so what’s special about it? First, the Solo comes equipped with two computers: one on-board the drone itself and another in the controller. The drone is able to detect and fix the camera on an object, follow preprogrammed flight paths, and perform maneuvers that would be near-impossible for a human operator. Additionally, long-distance broadband capabilities means you can control the camera and receive a live HD video from this thing up to half a mile away, well beyond GoPro’s typical Wi-Fi reception range. Another feature of this connection is that the Solo can keep flight records, and if there are any problems, detailed error reports will help 3DR fix the problem – including repairing or replacing anything that gets damaged because of a system error. The powers of Solo’s twin computers aren’t even the most exciting part, though. 3D Robotics is going to sell their drone as an open platform – both the hardware and the software. This means anyone is allowed to design and develop new parts or program new features for the drone, tweaking the device for new purposes or situations. Basically, potential uses for this thing are left to the minds of developers everywhere. Cnet quoted Chris Anderson, the CEO of 3DR, who put it this way: “This is like the PC or the early days of the App Store. Who knows what these things will some day become. What we want to do is create a system by which other people can reimagine the future of the drone and then act on them simply.” Considering it from that perspective, it’s crazy to imagine where this could go – just take a look at the huge number of iPhone apps available these days. None of those existed just a few years ago (as this AlwaysCurrent editor remembers well). What will an open platform drone look like in just a few years? A decade? We can’t wait to find...

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Amazon Echo Grows Ever More Powerful
Apr10

Amazon Echo Grows Ever More Powerful

As if privately-operated drones and button-press convenience shopping weren’t wild enough, Amazon is making even bigger strides in the field of home automation. Recently, the company announced that the Amazon Echo would be receiving some new features including the abilities to: Control lights and powered appliances in your home with voice commands (assuming you have the supported sockets, switches, and bulbs currently available through WeMo and Hue) Give you traffic reports, sports scores, and schedules Play your Pandora stations For those of you unfamiliar the Amazon Echo, it’s a small-ish speaker that connects to the internet. Released as an always-on, at-home assistant, Echo is similar in function to Siri. Like the Apple AI, you can tell Echo to play music, ask it questions, or tell it to take a memo. Unlike Siri, you don’t have to do much to activate the device – just say whatever word you’ve chosen to activate it, and talk – from anywhere in the room, without raising your voice, if Amazon’s promotional video is to be believed. Echo works by connecting to Amazon’s servers, and apparently gets better and better at recognizing and responding to commands over time. In other words, with the ability to control your appliances is added, we’re looking at what pretty much amounts to an actual robotic servant. It seems like the major downside to the Echo at this point is that once it’s made your coffee, you still have to get off the couch to pour it into a cup. I doubt there’s any reason to panic; I’m sure someone at Amazon is working on it. Really, as the resident technophobe-turned-tech-writer at AlwaysCurrent, the thing that sticks out to me most about the Amazon Echo are potential privacy issues. The implications of an extremely powerful microphone, in your home, that is connected to the Internet and never really shuts off are pretty readily apparent. Considering Amazon’s position as a gigantic virtual store, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which this device isn’t used to analyze and influence your purchasing habits. Others have considered possible ramifications as well, but honestly, the device is so cool and seems to have so much potential it’s hard not to be impressed and excited by...

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