Category Archives: hardware

Grado takes the wraps off their first pair of wireless headphones

Legacy open-backed headphone maker Grado is taking their classic design into the future with the small Brooklyn company’s first pair of wireless headphones.

The GW100s have a familiar look, but integrate Bluetooth tech and volume controls. They go for $249.

Grado headphones are a favorite of mine; they have a very unique open sound that really resonates and are perfect for home listening. Previous iterations haven’t really thrived as much on the road or in noisy offices because they tend to let in a lot of outside noise and leak a lot of your tunes. The company says that they’ve redesigned the housings and internals of the GW100s to reduce noise leakage by 60 percent — no famed wooden enclosures on this design either.

Part of what’s great about Grado headphones is their history; we toured the company’s tiny Brooklyn HQ a few years back and took a look at their operations… really cool stuff.

It’s tough for a company to make do on just brand legacy alone, and even though audio tech generally has a much longer shelf life than other products, there’s always a time to adapt, especially now as more hardware makers purge headphone jacks from their devices.

In the past few years, the company branched out into some more mobile-friendly products, but the magic wasn’t all there. The wireless GW100s keep the company’s same drivers, though it’ll be interesting to hear what they sound like as the company tunes them to be more amenable to “on-the-go” listening. Speaking of which, they also look like they have a sturdier design than some of the company’s more spartan headbands, which were strangely kind of part of the appeal, but are definitely welcome for something more likely to be chucked in a backpack.

The headphones charge via micro-USB and offer a 15-hour battery life, the company says. They also pack an included 3.5mm cable if you want to use them with your old gear. More details on precise audio tuning are listed on its product page.

This box sucks pure water out of dry desert air

For many of us, clean, drinkable water comes right out the tap. But for billions it’s not that simple, and all over the world researchers are looking into ways to fix that. Today brings work from Berkeley, where a team is working on a water-harvesting apparatus that requires no power and can produce water even in the dry air of the desert. Hey, if a cactus can do it, why can’t we?

While there are numerous methods for collecting water from the air, many require power or parts that need to be replaced, what professor Omar Yaghi has developed needs neither.

The secret isn’t some clever solar concentrator or low-friction fan — it’s all about the materials. Yaghi is a chemist, and has created what’s called a metal-organic framework, or MOF, that’s eager both to absorb and release water.

It’s essentially a powder made of tiny crystals in which water molecules get caught as the temperature decreases. Then, when the temperature increases again, the water is released into the air again.

Yaghi demonstrated the process on a small scale last year, but now he and his team have published the results of a larger field test producing real-world amounts of water.

They put together a box about two feet per side with a layer of MOF on top that sits exposed to the air. Every night the temperature drops and the humidity rises, and water is trapped inside the MOF; in the morning, the sun’s heat drives the water from the powder, and it condenses on the box’s sides, kept cool by a sort of hat. The result of a night’s work: 3 ounces of water per pound of MOF used.

That’s not much more than a few sips, but improvements are already on the way. Currently the MOF uses zicronium, but an aluminum-based MOF, already being tested in the lab, will cost 99 percent less and produce twice as much water.

With the new powder and a handful of boxes, a person’s drinking needs are met without using any power or consumable material. Add a mechanism that harvests and stores the water and you’ve got yourself an off-grid potable water solution going.

“There is nothing like this,” Yaghi explained in a Berkeley news release. “It operates at ambient temperature with ambient sunlight, and with no additional energy input you can collect water in the desert. The aluminum MOF is making this practical for water production, because it is cheap.”

He says that there are already commercial products in development. More tests, with mechanical improvements and including the new MOF, are planned for the hottest months of the summer.

This box sucks pure water out of dry desert air

For many of us, clean, drinkable water comes right out the tap. But for billions it’s not that simple, and all over the world researchers are looking into ways to fix that. Today brings work from Berkeley, where a team is working on a water-harvesting apparatus that requires no power and can produce water even in the dry air of the desert. Hey, if a cactus can do it, why can’t we?

While there are numerous methods for collecting water from the air, many require power or parts that need to be replaced, what professor Omar Yaghi has developed needs neither.

The secret isn’t some clever solar concentrator or low-friction fan — it’s all about the materials. Yaghi is a chemist, and has created what’s called a metal-organic framework, or MOF, that’s eager both to absorb and release water.

It’s essentially a powder made of tiny crystals in which water molecules get caught as the temperature decreases. Then, when the temperature increases again, the water is released into the air again.

Yaghi demonstrated the process on a small scale last year, but now he and his team have published the results of a larger field test producing real-world amounts of water.

They put together a box about two feet per side with a layer of MOF on top that sits exposed to the air. Every night the temperature drops and the humidity rises, and water is trapped inside the MOF; in the morning, the sun’s heat drives the water from the powder, and it condenses on the box’s sides, kept cool by a sort of hat. The result of a night’s work: 3 ounces of water per pound of MOF used.

That’s not much more than a few sips, but improvements are already on the way. Currently the MOF uses zicronium, but an aluminum-based MOF, already being tested in the lab, will cost 99 percent less and produce twice as much water.

With the new powder and a handful of boxes, a person’s drinking needs are met without using any power or consumable material. Add a mechanism that harvests and stores the water and you’ve got yourself an off-grid potable water solution going.

“There is nothing like this,” Yaghi explained in a Berkeley news release. “It operates at ambient temperature with ambient sunlight, and with no additional energy input you can collect water in the desert. The aluminum MOF is making this practical for water production, because it is cheap.”

He says that there are already commercial products in development. More tests, with mechanical improvements and including the new MOF, are planned for the hottest months of the summer.

Zoetrope effect could render Hyperloop tubes transparent to riders

An optical illusion popular in the 19th century could make trips on the Hyperloop appear to take place in a transparent tube. Regularly spaced, narrow windows wouldn’t offer much of a view individually, but if dozens of them pass by every second an effect would be created like that of a zoetrope, allowing passengers to effectively see right through the walls.

It’s an official concept from Virgin Hyperloop One and design house Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and in fact was teased back in 2016. Now the companies have shared a video showing how it would work and what it would look like for passengers — though there’s no indication it would actually be put in place in the first tracks.

A zoetrope is a simple apparatus consisting of a cylinder with slits on the sides and a series of sequential or looping images printed on the inside. When the cylinder is spun, the slits blur together to the eye but have the effect of showing the images on the inside clearly as if they are succeeding one another — an elementary form of animation.

The design concept shown is actually a linear zoetrope, in which the images are viewed not as a loop inside a cylinder, but in a long strip. You may have seen these before in the form of animated advertisements visible through the windows of subways.

In the case of the Hyperloop, the tube through which the “pod” moves would have portholes or slit windows placed every 10 meters through which the outside world is visible. At low speeds these would merely zoom by a few per second and might even be unpleasantly strobe-like, but that would smooth out as the pods reach their target speed of 1200 KPH (about 745 MPH).

The team simulated how it would appear in the video below:

Is it really necessary? You could, of course, just provide a faked view of the outside via LCD “portholes” or have people focus on their own little TV screens, like on an airplane. But that wouldn’t be nearly as cool. Perhaps the windows could double as escape or access hatches; as you can see above on the existing test track, there are already regular such holes, so this may be easier than expected to implement.

Of course, it all seems a little premature, since Hyperloop type transport is still very much in prototype form and existing endeavors to bring it to life may in fact never come to fruition. Nevertheless it is a clever and interesting way to solve the problem of preventing people from thinking about the fact that they’re traveling at ludicrous speeds down a narrow tube.

Sonos announces the $399 Beam, its compact home theater smart speaker

Today, at a special event in San Francisco, Sonos announced a compact home theater smart speaker, the Sonos Beam.

The $399 device boasts a much smaller footprint than its previous home theater products, the company says Beam is 60 percent smaller and 28 percent shorter than the Playbase. The speaker is available for pre-order starting today.

The company’s new home theater product will support Amazon Alexa controls at launch alongside Airplay 2 connectivity which will arrive in July. The product will be set up to gain support from other voice assistants in the future, the company says. You’ll be able to perform tasks like turning on the TV and changing the device’s volume, with FireTV support you’ll be able to query Alexa to direct you to specific movies and shows.

“We believe that people want a better way to listen,” said CEO Patrick Spence onstage at the event.

The product launch is an important one for Sonos which is still seeking to expand its footprint in home audio products. In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sonos had filed confidentially for an IPO that could take place as early as this summer.

While the Santa Barbara company was the incumbent disruptor of the stodgy whole room audio systems of the past, deep-pocketed tech giants like Google and Apple have invested heavily in audio streaming hardware and APIs. Sonos has found itself having to compete in a home audio market that is increasingly becoming more about the embedded AI tech of virtual assistants.

Apple’s $349 HomePod is just the latest competitor to prioritize more intelligent music playback, meanwhile there are dozens of speakers with Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant. Last year, Sonos added Alexa functionality to its new product, its Sonos One speaker which is also set to pick up support in July for Apple’s new Airplay 2 alongside the Playbase, Play:5 and the new Beam.

Indiegogo expands its efforts to help Chinese startups reach global consumers

While crowdfunding company Indiegogo has been running a pilot program in China for the past couple of years, it’s now building on those efforts with the launch of the Indiegogo China Global Fast-Track Program.

CEO David Mandelbrot is in Shenzhen, China this week to announce the program, which is designed to help Chinese entrepreneurs reach a global audience. In an email, he told me:

The China Pilot Program is officially out of pilot phase — today, we are officially launching the Indiegogo Global Fast Track. During the pilot phase, the team experimented with different ways to help service Chinese brands and manufacturers who were looking to launch products overseas. After helping companies raise over $100 million and launch over 3,000 China-based projects over two years time, the team has finalized its new suite of services.

Those services include guidance around crowdfunding and marketing in the United States and other countries, access to a network of more than 65 service providers (including retailers and marketing firms, as well as Indiegogo’s manufacturing partner Arrow Electronics and shipping partner Ingram Micro) and Chinese-to-English consultation with bilingual staff.

Even while in the pilot phase, Indiegogo has had some success stories in helping Chinese companies launch globally. For example, Bluetooth headphone company crazybaby raised more than $4 million across three campaigns.

Mandelbrot said Indiegogo also has opened a satellite office in the Tencent incubator in Shenzhen — a manufacturing hub that’s become a hub for hardware startups, too.

Amazon is bringing Alexa and Echo to France this month

Amazon just got a step closer to world smart speaker domination. Starting today, users in France can pre-order the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Spot. The standard Echo and Echo Dot will start shipping to users next week. The display-equipped Echo Spot will arrive at some point next month.

Naturally, the expansion also includes a French version of Alexa. As the company notes, the Alexa Skills Kit rolled out in March to French developers and device makers to prep for the expansion and create skills focused on the new market. After all, tweaking a smart assistant for a new market requires more than just learning a new language.

There are also a dialect and local customs to contend with, in order to offer the best possible experience. The skills that devs have built will also arrive later this month.

France joins a rapidly growing list of countries with Alexa/Echo, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, India, New Zealand, Germany, Japan and Ireland. No word on availability for the rest of the Echo line. Google Home, meanwhile, has been available in France since last summer

iOS 12 will let users register another person to their Face ID

From advancements in AR to Memojis to group FaceTime, there is plenty to be excited about with iOS 12. But one of the more practical updates to Apple’s mobile operating system, coming this fall, went unmentioned during the keynote at WWDC.

According to 9to5Mac, iOS 12 will allow for two different faces to be registered to Face ID.

Up until now, Face ID has only allowed a single appearance to be registered to the iPhone X. 9to5Mac first noticed the update when combing through the iOS 12 beta, where one can find new settings for Face ID that allow users to “Set Up an Alternative Appearance.”

Here’s what the description says:

In addition to continuously learning how you look, Face ID can recognize an alternative appearance.

While that’s about as unclear as a description might be, 9to5Mac tested and confirmed the update, with the following caveat. Users who choose to register two faces to Face ID will not be able to remove that face without starting over from scratch with their own FaceID registration. In other words, if you choose to reset the alternate appearance, you’ll also have to clear out all existing data around your own face, too.

That small inconvenience aside, the ability to add a second face to Face ID makes total sense. Couples often pass their phones back and forth as a matter of practicality, and parents often let their children use their phones to play games and check out apps.

Plus, this may hint at Face ID on the next generation of iPads, which tend to be shared amongst multiple users more often than phones.

This robotic hose-dragon could jet its way into burning buildings

While hose-toting drones may be a fantasy, hose-powered robo-dragons (or robotic hose-dragons — however you like it) are very much a reality. This strange but potentially useful robot from Japanese researchers could snake into the windows of burning buildings, blasting everything around it with the powerful jets of water it uses to maneuver itself.

Yes, it’s a real thing: created by Tohoku University and Hachinohe College, the DragonFireFighter was presented last month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

It works on the same principle your hose does when you turn it on and it starts flapping around everywhere. Essentially your hose is acting as a simple jet: the force of the water being blasted out pushes the hose itself in the opposite direction. So what if the hose had several nozzles, pointing in several directions, that could be opened and closed independently?

Well, you’d have a robotic hose-dragon. And we do.

The DragonFireFighter has a nozzle-covered sort of “head” and what can only be called a “neck.” The water pressure from the hose is diverted into numerous outlets on both in order to create a stable position that can be adjusted more or less at will.

It requires a bit of human intervention to go forwards, but as you can see several jets are pushing it that direction already, presumably at this point for stability and rigidity purposes. If the operators had a little more line to give it, it seems to me it could zoom out quite a bit further than where it was permitted to in the video.

For now it may be more effective to just direct all that water pressure into the window, but one can certainly imagine situations where something like this would be useful.

DragonFireFighter was also displayed at the International Fire and Disaster Prevention Exhibition in Tokyo.

One last thing. I really have to give credit where credit’s due: I couldn’t possibly outdo IEEE Spectrum’s headline, “Firefighting Robot Snake Flies on Jets of Water.”

Apple TV gets Dolby Atmos and streamlined sign-ons for channels and services

Apple TV, still definitely not a hobby, has some new features to add as it grows. Tim Cook mentioned that there are 50 percent more users now than there were last year, and no doubt they’ll be happy with the addition of Dolby Atmos audio and some nice sign-on streamlining.

Apple TV is now the only streaming player to be both Dolby Atmos and Vision certified. Assuming you’ve got a 4K HDR-capable TV, it could be nice to have, since iTunes boasts the biggest selection of content for those — but since hardly anyone does, it’s more of an aspirational feature at present.

There are over 100 video channels now after the addition of several live news and sports ones. In France Apple TV will be the exclusive provider of Canal+, and in Switzerland Apple has partnered with Salt for a similar exclusive. And Charter Spectrum will also be coming to Apple TV later this year, so around 50 million people will be able to watch their normal cable content through the device. Finally!

Helpfully, many of these apps won’t require a separate log-in, including Charter Spectrum — as any smart TV user or cable cutter knows, managing these logons can be incredibly annoying. So a single sign on (or zero sign on in some cases) will be a boon.

Unclear what this means for those of us who share passwords between friends and family. Possibly not good.

If you’re a TV background video aficionado, you’ll also be interested in the new orbital video of Earth that can be displayed while nothing else is going on. It’s exclusive to Apple.

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