All posts by Reuben Deveras

New Stars Photos Unveiled for Star Wars Day

May the fourth be with you. Star Wars day kicks off with a batch of photos released, which reveal the behind the scenes snapshots of the sets as well as its cast for JJ Abram’s upcoming sequel to the original sci-fi trilogy. Vanity Fair received the exclusive pictures and posted them on its website for fans to consume.

The images showcase the characters in their respective roles. Newcomers Jon Boyega and Daisey Ridley’s characters Finn and Rey can be seen on Vanity Fair’s cover sitting in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon with Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew, reprising their roles as Han Solo and Chewbacca.

Adam Diver can be seen leading snowtroopers in a Hoth-like icy planet. Diver will be playing Kylo Ren (who I can only wish is actually Darth Revan, a major character from the expanded Star Wars Universe) the new antagonist of the trilogy.

Gwendoline Christie is seen wearing a chrome stormtrooper costume which fans have called her as “The Chrometrooper.” She’ll be playing as Captain Phasma, a member of the first order – the movie’s new evil empire.

Best news of the day for all you Jar Jar Binks haters, JJ Abrams said he considered putting an the bones of Binks in the background for the movie. Taken from a Mashable article, he said “I’m serious!” he added. “Only three people will notice, but they’ll love it.”

Abrams’ is misunderstanding the power of the internet if he thinks only three people will catch it.

Twitter is flooded with messages of excitement as well as promotional messages from @starwars.

 

Star Wars is set for release on December 25th, 2015.

 

 

Amazon Launches Handyman Service

Amazon launched a professional handyman business called Amazon Home Services last Monday.

It works through a simple three-step process on their website. You can start by browsing a multitude of services ranging from iPhone repair, car stereo installation, music lessons, and even goat grazing. You then add that service to your cart and pick a time that’s best for the person to come and feed your goats.

The pricing will be known upfront, similar to purchasing a product through their website, except that you will only pay for the service once it’s completed.

The services are provided by professionals in their respective fields and are selected via an invite-only condition by Amazon. So don’t expect to see your cousin who fixes old iPhones on Craigslist to be listed.

This news places Amazon among similar business-referral services such as Yelp or Angie’s List, according to Cnet. Amazon will also offer re-do’s or refunds in cases where the customer’s aren’t satisfied, and the service will provide reviews from verified customers to help shoppers choose, according to TechCrunch.

Boston-based handyman service TaskRabbit announced Monday that they will be integrating with Amazon Home Services in San Francisco as well as other areas in the following weeks.

Finally you can hire someone knowledgable enough to safely mount that flat-screen TV on your ceiling.

 

 

Source: Cnet

Game of Drones

Be sure to check out more of this story in this month’s edition of Xpress Magazine! Photos by Drake Newkirk

Teams of builders, college graduates, and hobbyists gathered to fight each other to the death on a large field at Oakland’s Shoreline Park. They’ve come with knowledge of robotics to commandeer aerial drones to fight, or race, one another in a battle of speed and finesse. Their weapons: flying robots, or drones, are still under review by the Federal Aviation Commission. However, that hasn’t stopped Marque Cornblatt from pitting them against one another to fight in an arena-style tournament he calls Game of Drones.

Cornblatt is an SF State alumnus and co-founder of Game of Drones, an Oakland-based company, which launched a successful Kickstarter, early last year that enabled them to purchase a 3D printer to craft prototype parts for an indestructible drone body. The end product is their Hiro airframe, an impact and fire body that weighs less than a pound.

The Kickstarter, which raised $51,143, was a tremendous success and convinced Cornblatt to launch his hardware company with Eli Delia, also a co-founder.

“I like to call myself a garage engineer,” said Cornblatt, as he reflected on his passion for machinery.

YouTube videos posted by Cornblatt’s production company show him and his colleagues attempting to destroy their drone frame by: shooting it with shotgun shells, savagely beating it with a baseball bat, and attempting to set it on fire.

As a student, Cornblatt studied various degrees of machine art, a deviation from contemporary art forms that focused on bold colors and mechanistic forms. What was initially a hobby, the Kickstarter convinced him that drones can be a viable business.

He and Delia are expected to launch an entire product line related to Game of Drones mid-2015. Until then, they’ve been busy contacting the Federal Aviation Administration regarding regulation as well as filing patents for their products.

Back at Shoreline Park, an audience waits for a drone race to start. Randy Parco regularly attends Game of Drones and brought his family to watch him compete in the races. According to Parco, he learned a lot about drone assembly by watching tutorials on YouTube. Similar to how car enthusiasts would modify their cars to obtain peak performance, these YouTube engineers and hobbyists are altering their drones to obtain a competitive edge. Parco equipped his drone with a first-person camera and GPS stabilizers to assist him during the race.

“People are just geeking out on the technology,” Parco said. “You need to learn how to fly or else your drone will land on the White House Lawn.”

DJI, a Chinese-based company, introduced their Phantom drone to the U.S market, which helped paved the way for a mainstream audience to adopt drone flying as a hobby. Unfortunately, their drone was the same one that crashed on White House grounds in early 2015, where an un-named government employee crashed his Phantom drone in a drunken stupor at 3 a.m. Despite it being illegal to fly a model aircraft or drone in the nation’s capital, the pilot was not charged. DJI responded by issuing a firmware update called the “White House Patch” which limits flights above Washington D.C., according to their press release.

Parco said that the White House incident could have been avoided if the pilot treated the drone with some respect. He added that the drone pilots must be passionate about their vehicles, because passion is a key to proper flying.

Parco brought two of his drones, which he learned to create by watching various YouTube instructional videos, to Shoreline Park. With a front row view of the action, strapped with a Fat Shark brand headset, he raced his camera-equipped drone.

“If you’re really into it, you’re going to fall off your chair,” said Parco.

Tinkering away across the field, Frank Aalbers brought both his racing and fighting drone to the event. Aalbers, who works at Pixar as a technical director, started working with drones only half a year ago, had four of his drones on display on a picnic table. His fighting drone, Metallico, or as he called it “El Metallico”, was set to fight in Game of Drones. The rules for the deathmatch are simple: Two drones enter the arena, last one flying wins, and if both drones crash, the first one back in the air is the victor.

The drone arena, also known as the battlecage, consists of a net barrier that prevents the drones from wildly spinning out after clashing into one another. Aalbers, wearing a black conference shirt tucked underneath a pair of ashen-gray pants, is seen smiling as he enters the cage. His drone is equipped with two fixed metal prongs resembling helicopter blades with the words “protect” sharpied on each. This modification gives Metallico a unique look from the other fighters as it cuts through the air.

However, Metallico did not win its first fight, the metal prongs and parts of its rotor were ripped apart by the opponent. Thomas Jacobson is fighting Aalbers with his drone named Spike, which is decorated with numerous sharp metal prongs protruding from its body. Jacobson uses these spikes to his advantage by hovering over the enemy and quickly impaling them by slamming its body towards the ground.

Amy Chen Aalbers came to support her husband Frank.

“He’s 50 years old and he’s acting like a kid again!” screamed Chen, as Aalbers was fighting again in the battlecage, his screams of jolly laughter reverberated through the park.

“Your next pizza, maybe 15 years from now, may be delivered by these guys,” Chen laughed as she discussed the possible impact of drones in the future.

Game of Drones has been featured on numerous news outlets such as Good Morning America and Wired. Cornblatt had no clue that the popularity of Game of Drones would such a spectacle that it would turn out to be. His friend, Edie Sellers, expressed much excitement over the future potential impact of drones.

“This feels like the beginning of the internet,” said Sellers. “It’s like a lemonade stand that exploded! It’s been a hell of a lot of fun.”

According to Sellers, Cornblatt, Delia, and everyone working with Game of Drones, they are searching for ways to cooperate with the FAA in establishing drone safety awareness. Sellers referred to drone regulation as uncharted territory, and factored in the potential impact Game of Drones will have in establishing safety regulations. Coincidentally, the FAA posted updated drone safety guidelines that same day, she noted.

As the sun was setting, Cornblatt and Sellers expressed excitement for next month’s Game of Drones.

“We’re only going to have more spectators every single time!” stated Sellers as she smiled and gazed at the park.

Cornblatt had recently returned from New York to videotape a segment on Good Morning America in which he flew and showcased his drones to millions of viewers across the   country.

“Our next phase is getting investment capital to expand past our initial Kickstarter campaign,” said Cornblatt.

Until then, he and his company will continue facilitating Game of Drones events as well as working with other various drone organizations to build the foundation for proper drone etiquette and regulations.

Apple Announces New Goodies

Get your wallet ready because Apple revealed new goodies at their “Spring Forward” press event in San Francisco. The long-awaited Apple Watch, a new super-thin Macbook, and HBO NOW Streaming Service were the highlights of the event.

Image provided by Apple
Image provided by Apple

The Apple Watch is slated to come in different models based on size and their intended use but all are expected to hold an 18-hour battery life. The entry level variants, Watch and Watch Sport which both feature a stainless steel case, are priced starting at $349 for 38mm  and $399 for 42mm sizes.

A standard steel case version starts at $549 and can go as high as $1,049 depending on the band you’d like. However, those models are cheap compared to the $10,000 Edition version which touts an 18-karat gold case with options that can rack the price up towards $17,000.

An iPhone 5 or higher is required for use of all Watch models.

Macbook 2015
Image provided by cnet

 

The new 2015 Macbook is the thinnest 12″ laptop that Apple has ever made, coming in at just 13.1mm thin and sporting a 2304 x 1440 resolution. While keeping close to Apple’s iconic Macbook design, there have been a few changes to the keyboard and inputs were implemented.

The keyboard uses a “butterfly” mechanicism which uses a single assembly that allows the laptop to be 40 percent thinner. The trackpad no longer has a hinge when clicked and has been substituted with the feel of a click through haptic feedback vibration. There will be no internal fan and there will be two ports, which include a headphone jack and USB-C, a new USB variant, which will allow you to charge your Macbook without a power supply, similar to charging a tablet.

Each model comes in three colors: space gray, silver, and gold.

HBO NOW Streaming Service was detailed and you’ll now be able to watch your Game of Thrones on demand and on up to three devices simultaneously. At $14.99 per month, service to HBO NOW will be available through all Apple devices including the Apple TV, which also had its price cut to $69. All customers will receive a free month if they sign up from an Apple device during April.

Pre-orders for the Watch and Macbook will be available on April 10 and the estimated shipping date is April 24.

 

HTC and Valve debut virtual reality headset

The device, called Vive, uses cutting-edge VR technology in the form of dual light sensors. Photo courtesy of Valve

The Oculus Rift is perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when virtual reality (VR) headsets are mentioned. The device, which was initially funded by a successful Kickstarter, is also supported by gaming industry veterans like John Carmack and Cliff Blezinski. The possibility of putting on a headset and immersing yourself in a different world became more possible after its success. However, competitors saw the rising popularity of the Oculus headset and have entered the market with their own products, like how Sony is bringing its own version of VR to gamers in the form of Project Morpheus, a headset catered specifically to work with Playstation 4 consoles. Competition has gotten even more fierce with the recent announcement of another VR headset called Vive, introduced at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, a device created in collaboration with software company Valve and hardware company HTC.

What sets Vive apart from the Oculus and Morpheus headsets is the inclusion of light sensors built into the product itself. Competitors have used a single point, such as a camera, to detect the user and estimate his or her place in a 3d space. The Vive headset instead uses two transmitters that would have to be placed in the room so that the wearer’s light sensors can communicate with the transmitters. Thus, an extra level of freedom is given by not having the 3D space limited to the peripheral view of a single point. The user has a longer range of freedom to walk around the room. This works opposite of how Morpheus and Oculus detects the user by reversing the roles of the cameras’ tracking properties and having the user become the camera. Think of it as the freedom of running on a treadmill versus running in your neighborhood.

The best part about this all? Valve is releasing its lighthouse technology for free so that other VR manufacturers such as Sony and Oculus can adopt it into their hardware. Imagine playing Goat Simulator with a Vive. Someone should develop a device that connects to our tongues so that we can not only be a goat, but eat and taste virtual grass as well for maximum points.