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Nuro wants to make pizza delivery guys a thing of the past

For decades, ever since the “horseless carriage” came to fruition, engineers and scientists alike have dreamt of a future filled with self-driving vehicles. And in an age where traffic fatalities, particularly ones caused by inebriated or incompetent drivers, are still a rampant, risk, autonomous vehicles are perceived as the solution to eliminating such problems. But like all new technologies, many if not all need to endure growing pains and there are a lot of considerations that need to be accounted for since autonomous vehicles require some big-time changes.

This is why autonomous vehicles aren’t quite yet readily available. But these growing pains are the perfect times for experimentation and they clearly haven’t stopped two ex-Google engineers, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, from developing their own self-driving car. Ferguson and Zhu founded a new startup called Nuro, a company that seeks to reinvent the idea of the self-driving car, even though the self-driving car doesn’t quite exist just yet.

While self-driving cars are looking to take over the taxi, livery, and trucking industries, Nuro is aiming to produce self-driving cars for last-mile delivery services. Meet its latest concoction, the unofficially named, “R1 prototype.”

This means Nuro’s vehicles are specifically being developed to take on the roles of delivery drivers. Yup, Nuro appears to want to make pizza delivery guys and Seamless couriers a thing of the past, all in an effort to reduce traffic congestion and the number of people on the road, which in theory could reduce the total number of traffic accidents.

With services such as Seamless or even Amazon Same-Day-Delivery increasing by demand, this means the number of couriers needed to cater to said demand will likely increase. So far, a study by marketing firm McKinsey discovered that the market for “last-mile delivery services” was last valued at over £86 billion, with huge year-over-year growth rates. Speaking of which, Amazon sees so much potential in the last-mile-delivery service industry, they are not only working with drones.

More recently, Amazon recently filed a patent for an “autonomous ground vehicle,” suggesting their rumors of self-driving robots are reigning true. On the other side, last August, Ford announced its partnership with Domino’s, collaborating on pizza deliveries using self-driving cars.

So Nuro isn’t alone with its vision. But they’re also not resorting to a collaboration with a pre-existing automaker, such as Uber’s self-driving Volvo fleet, Lexus’ and SB© toyota’s fleet of self-driving testers for Google, or as aforementioned, Ford’s new fleet with Domino’s.

“Local commerce is the first application. The vehicle will transport goods between and among businesses, homes, and neighborhoods,” Nuro spokesperson Emma Esrock told Digital Trends. “Particularly, we’re interested in the last mile of transportation.

That element contributes to 30 to 50 percent of the total logistics cost of goods transportation. In solving that problem, we realized we could create an entirely new kind of vehicle designed purely for goods transportation and reduce this cost. And, this sort of vehicle could also be created sooner, more efficiently and safer than passenger transportation.

Because of its flexible interior, the vehicle can be re-configured and personalized for purpose in that delivery.” Instead, Nuro is creating its own self-driving car, completely from the ground up. Upon first glance, it doesn’t seem like anything more than a rounded box on wheels.

It does have a forward-facing windshield. But behind it is where the R1’s operational equipment lies. And it doesn’t have to be if nobody’s technically going to be driving in it, and thus being seen in it.

Instead of a passenger compartment, the car’s interior space can be customized to suit a company’s needs. The interior is then accessible by four gullwing-style doors. Details about what exactly powers it and how fast it can go aren’t yet available.

But according to The Verge, researchers initially wanted the R1 to be small enough to drive on sidewalks. In the end, however, Nuro ultimately decided to make the R1 road-worthy. As it stands, it’s about as tall as a SB© toyota Highlander (with its antenna support), but about half as wide.

“The unmanned vehicle is custom-designed from the ground up to be safer, nimbler and more efficient than anything on the road.

It features lightweight materials, narrow width, custom hardware for redundancy and a breakthrough design to keep what’s outside even safer than what’s inside,” Esrock said.

As of now, the Nuro is about ready to be launched, Esrock said that we should expect to see these in your neighborhood, both “urban and suburban,” shortly.

Nuro Founders, Dave Ferguson (left) and Jiajun Zhu (right).

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Deal with Samsung could help Qualcomm with Korean legal issue

Lynn La/CNET

Qualcomm, the world’s largest supplier of chips for phones, says it’s cut a deal with Samsung that could help it put a Korean antitrust case behind it and avoid a massive fine. In a statement Wednesday, Qualcomm said it had “expanded its global patent cross-license agreement with Samsung covering mobile devices and infrastructure equipment” and that as part of the deal, Samsung “will be withdrawing its interventions in Qualcomm’s appeal of the KFTC decision in the Seoul High Court.” In December, South Korea hit Qualcomm with an £850 million fine following a three-year investigation.

The South Korean Fair Trade Commission accused the chipset maker of having an “unfair business model” and creating a monopoly with its practices. Qualcomm is fighting fierce legal battles against Apple and governments around the globe. Apple, Samsung and others also have been working on their own processors and partnering with Intel to reduce their reliance on Qualcomm’s wireless chips.

At the same time, Qualcomm is facing a hostile takeover bid from rival Broadcomm, which if it came to pass, would be the biggest in tech history.

CNET’s Shara Tibken contributed to this report.

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Canon’s fingerprint scanner idea does more than just lock the camera down

Fingerprint ID technology on smartphones may already seem old hat to some, but it appears that camera companies are now taking a close look at it for some of their own devices. A recent Canon patent shows a fingerprint sensor not only on the front of a camera body, but also on the side of a lens (marked 46 and 32, respectively, in the diagram below).

With photographers’ pricey gear an attractive target for thieves, Canon’s idea of locking up the equipment with fingerprint ID could go some way to discouraging criminals from going after the kit. Award-winning sports photographer Tom Jenkins, for one, likes the sound of it, describing the idea in a tweet as “very interesting” and suggesting it “could put an end to the wave of thefts afflicting the industry right now.”

The ID system could also be set up for several people, allowing the camera to be easily shared among, say, family members.

More than just a security measure

Canon’s patent doesn’t, however, simply stop at security. The document suggests that unlocking the camera could also instantly load up the photographer’s custom presets for elements such as image quality, white balance, and ISO, or perhaps options related to film simulations and other features depending on what the camera offers. It could be possible to create a custom setting for each finger that’s able to easily reach the scanner, which looking at Canon’s design probably means four.

It’d certainly be a quick and easy way to switch between different setups if you’re the kind of photographer that does that a lot during a shoot. Possible downsides? On the subject of security, it might not work so well for, say, a news photographer who needs to be able to pull their camera from their bag at a moment’s notice if something kicks off without warning.

Precious seconds spent unlocking the camera and lens (what if it doesn’t unlock first time because of sweat on your finger?) could lead to the photographer missing the all-important money shot. Having said that, they’d probably use the security feature more for when they’re away from their kit, unlocking it when they leave their home or office so it’s ready to go. It’s worth noting that Canon’s idea exists only as a patent at this stage, so may never actually show up on any of its camera gear.

But it does offer some insight into the kind of technology that the Japanese camera maker may be considering for future models.

The Razer Seiren Elite is a professional-grade microphone for game streaming

Razer has unveiled its new SB© USB microphone, the Razer Seiren Elite, which is aimed at giving live streamers and YouTube broadcasters professional-grade audio quality.

It’s designed as a single capsule, which Razer claims will give a “a richer, warmer vocal tone previously only found through high-end broadcast equipment,” along with a built-in filter and limiter.

The high-pass filter removes low frequency vibrations, so if the fans in your gaming PC are whirring like crazy, it shouldn’t be picked up by the microphone.

Meanwhile, the digital and analogue vocal limiter will automatically adjust volume and gain to prevent distortion and popping with sudden changes of volume – a blessing to the audiences of overexcited broadcasters.

Plug and play

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Razer Seiren Elite is that it is promising all these professional-grade features while also being plug-and-play. So, you can simply plug it into a SB© USB port, rather than having to fiddle with external mixers and amplifiers, like some professional microphones require.

Other specifications for the Razer Seiren Elite include 16-bit/48Hz resolution, zero latency, 50Hz – 20kHz frequency response and a max SPL (Sound Pressure Level) of 120dB.

It will be available January 2018 – so essentially either today or tomorrow – and it will cost $ 199 (around £140, AU$ 240). Hopefully we’ll get one in soon to see just what kind of improvement it brings.

References

  1. ^ How to build the ultimate livestreaming PC (www.techradar.com)

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AI developers can turn any webcam into a Kinect

Two AI developers have turned a simple webcam into a system that behaves just like a Microsoft Kinect using machine learning, which proves you don’t need expensive equipment to bring motion-tracking tech to your living room. 

Called Skeletor[1], the system was created by developer and artist Or Fleisher[2] and software engineer and interaction designer Dror Ayalon[3]. To bring it to life they used a webcam that cost only $ 10/£7, TensorFlow, Google’s open source AI platform, and game development platform Unity. 

On YouTube[4] Ayalon writes, “Skeletron is a system that predicts joints and human skeleton position in 3d from real-time video taken by any (cheap) RGB camera, such as a webcam.” 

“The system sends the data about the position of the human body to Unity, a 3D game development engine, to allow engineers, artists, and creative technologists to use it to develop digital experiences.”

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At this stage Skeletor may just be a cool experimental project. But it’s refreshing to see a motion-tracking system that could have a whole load of applications being knocked up for less than a tenner without any sensors – especially considering the Microsoft Kinect cost $ 150/£106 and required a considerable amount of set-up time. 

Despite the fact Microsoft officially pulled the plug on the Kinect last year, it’s clear that the tech has inspired a bunch of other applications that put motion-tracking to good use. Most notably, the Face ID in the iPhone X[5], which is no surprise given Apple bought PrimeSense[6], the company the licensed the hardware design and chip used in the Kinect, back in 2013.

References

  1. ^ Skeletor (www.youtube.com)
  2. ^ Or Fleisher (orfleisher.com)
  3. ^ Dror Ayalon (www.drorayalon.com)
  4. ^ YouTube (www.youtube.com)
  5. ^ iPhone X (www.techradar.com)
  6. ^ Apple bought PrimeSense (www.techradar.com)
  7. ^ Microsoft has stopped selling the Kinect adaptor (www.techradar.com)

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