You can now buy AWS’ $99 DeepComposer keyboard

AWS today announced that its DeepComposer keyboard is now available for purchase. And no, DeepComposer isn’t a mechanical keyboard for hackers but a small MIDI keyboard for working with the AWS DeepComposer service that uses AI to create songs based on your input.

First announced at AWS re:Invent 2019, the keyboard created a bit of confusion, in part because Amazon’s announcement almost made it seem like a consumer product.

DeepComposer, which also works without the actual hardware keyboard, is more of a learning tool, though, and belongs to the same family of AWS hardware like DeepLens and DeepRacer. It’s meant to teach developers about generative adversarial networks, just like DeepLens and DeepRacer also focus on specific machine learning technologies.

Users play a short melody, either using the hardware keyboard or an on-screen one, and the service then automatically generates a backing track based on your choice of musical style.

The results I heard at re:Invent last year were a bit uneven (or worse), but that may have improved by now. But this isn’t a tool for creating the next Top 40 song. It’s simply a learning tool. I’m not sure you need the keyboard to get that learning experience out of it, but if you do, you can now head over to Amazon and buy it.

 

Apple accidentally confirms the existence of an unreleased product, AirTags

Whoops! Apple inadvertently revealed the existence of an unreleased product, AirTags, in a support video uploaded to its YouTube account today. The video, “How to erase your iPhone,” offers a tutorial about resetting an iPhone to factory settings. Around the 1:43 mark, it instructs users to turn off “Find my iPhone” as part of the process. On the Settings page that then appears, another option for “Enable Offline Finding” is shown, and beneath that, the text references AirTags by name.

Specifically, it says: “Offline finding enables this device and AirTags to be found when not connected to Wi-Fi or cellular.”

The discovery was first spotted by the eagle-eyed blog Appleosophy.

Apple has since pulled the video. (A copy of the video is embedded below.)

AirTags, essentially Apple’s Tile competitor, were already known to be in the works. Based on details and assets found in Apple’s iOS code, AirTags are believed to be small tracking tiles with Bluetooth connectivity that can be used to find lost items — just like Tile.

The difference is that Apple’s AirTags will benefit from deeper integration with iOS, including within its “Find My” app. There, the tags will show up in a new “Items” tab allowing you to keep track of items that tend to get lost or stolen — like your keys, wallet or even your bike.

According to reports from MacRumors, the tags will feature a removable CR2032 coin cell battery, also similar to Tile.

Apple’s intention to copy Tile’s concept has not gone unnoticed by Tile.

The company on Wednesday told a congressional panel that Apple’s anticompetitive behavior has “gotten worse, not better.”

During the hearing, Tile referenced Apple’s plans to integrate its own product into the “Find My” app. Tile and other Bluetooth trackers won’t be able to do the same. They also have to ask for background location access repeatedly, while Apple’s AirTags, presumably, will not. That gives Apple’s own product an advantage as it owns the platform.

Apple has been asked for comment.

Image credits: Apple, via YouTube; MacRumors 

Estimote launches wearables for workplace-level contact tracing for COVID-19

Bluetooth location beacon startup Estimote has adapted its technological expertise to develop a new product designed specifically at curbing the spread of COVID-19. The company created a new range of wearable devices that co-founder Steve Cheney believes can enhance workplace safety for those who have to be colocated at a physical workplace even while social distancing and physical isolation measures are in place.

The devices, called simply the “Proof of Health” wearables, aim to provide contact tracing – in other words, monitoring the potential spread of the coronavirus from person-to-person – at the level of a local workplace facility. The intention is to give employers a way to hopefully maintain a pulse on any possible transmission among their workforces and provide them with the ability to hopefully curtail any local spread before it becomes an outsized risk.

The hardware includes passive GPS location-tracking, as well as proximity sensors powered by Bluetooth and ultra-wide band radio connectivity, a rechargeable battery, and built-in LTE. It also includes a manual control to change a wearer’s health status, recording states like certified health, symptomatic, and verified infected. When a user updates their state to indicate possible or verified infection, that updates others they’ve been in contact with based on proximity and location-data history. This information is also stored in a health dashboard that provides detailed logs of possible contacts for centralized management. That’s designed for internal use within an organization for now, but Cheney tells me he’s working now to see if there might be a way to collaborate with WHO or other external health organizations to potentially leverage the information for tracing across enterprises and populations, too.

These are intended to come in a number of different form factors: the pebble-like version that exists today, which can be clipped to a lanyard for wearing and displaying around a person’s neck; a wrist-worn version with an integrated adjustable strap; and a card format that’s more compact for carrying and could work alongside traditional security badges often used for facility access control. The pebble-like design is already in production and 2,000 will be deployed now, with a plan to ramp production for as many as 10,000 more in the near future using the company’s Poland-based manufacturing resources.

Estimote has been building programmable sensor tech for enterprises for nearly a decade and has worked with large global companies, including Apple and Amazon . Cheney tells me that he quickly recognized the need for the application of this technology to the unique problems presented by the pandemic, but Estimote was already 18 months into developing it for other uses, including in hospitality industries for employee safety/panic button deployment.

“This stack has been in full production for 18 months,” he said via message. “We can program all wearables remotely (they’re LTE connected). Say a factory deploys this – we write an app to the wearable remotely. This is programmable IoT.

“Who knew the virus would require proof of health vis-a-vis location diagnostics tech,” he added.

Many have proposed technology-based solutions for contact tracing, including leveraging existing data gathered by smartphones and consumer applications to chart transmission. But those efforts also have considerable privacy implications, and require use of a smartphone – something that Cheney says isn’t really viable for accurate workplace tracking in high-traffic environments. By creating a dedicated wearable, Cheney says that Estimote can help employers avoid doing something “invasive” with their workforce, since it’s instead tied to a fit-for-purpose device with data shared only with their employers, and it’s in a form factor they can remove and have some control over. Mobile devices also can’t do nearly as fine-grained tracking with indoor environments as dedicated hardware can manage, he says.

And contact tracing at this hyperlocal level won’t necessarily just provide employers with early warning signs for curbing the spread earlier and more thoroughly than they would otherwise. In fact, larger-scale contact tracing fed by sensor data could inform new and improved strategies for COVID-19 response.

“Typically, contact tracing relies on the memory of individuals, or some high-level assumptions (for example, the shift someone worked),” said Brianna Vechhio-Pagán of John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab via a statement. “New technologies can now track interactions within a transmissible, or ~6-foot range, thus reducing the error introduced by other methods. By combining very dense contact tracing data from Bluetooth and UWB signals with information about infection status and symptoms, we may discover new and improved ways to keep patients and staff safe.”

With the ultimate duration of measures like physical distancing essentially up-in-the-air, and some predictions indicating they’ll continue for many months, even if they vary in terms of severity, solutions like Estimote’s could become essential to keeping essential services and businesses operating while also doing the utmost to protect the health and safety of the workers incurring those risks. More far-reaching measures might be needed, too, including general-public-connected, contact-tracing programs, and efforts like this one should help inform the design and development of those.

This adorable tiny record maker lets you cut your own 5-inch vinyl singles

Vinyl has been coming back for the last few years, but unlike MP3s, CDs or even cassette tapes (also coming back), records aren’t easy to record on your own. This tiny toy record maker makes it easy, though you probably shouldn’t expect that famous vinyl sound quality.

The Easy Record Maker was created by designer Yuri Suzuki, who has been itching to do something like this for years.

“This idea has been my dream machine since I was teenager,” Suzuki told Dezeen. Digital media are easy to copy, but making your own vinyl has proven difficult. “Of course professional-use record cutting machines exist, but they are very expensive. As it’s a complicated process with records, there is no way to create them at home.”

That’s not quite true — last year the Phonocut record maker hit Kickstarter and more than doubled its goal, but the large (think turntable plus hi-fi), $1,000+ machine is a bit more than many are ready to commit to. The tiny Easy Record Maker is meant to be a simpler, smaller option for people who want, for instance, to let their kids create their own records for fun. (This was done in the past when records were more common, but this is surely a more serious effort.)

The device cuts and plays five-inch records, of which it comes with 10, at both 33 and 45 RPM. Operating it is as simple as plugging a sound source — your phone, a mic, whatever — into the 1/8″ headphone jack and playing the content while the cutting head is in the groove. Put down the other head to play it back, or put the record in any other turntable.

The resulting records have a “nice low-fi sound,” Suzuki said, which is as much as admitting they don’t sound particularly good — but that’s not the point.

He’s hoping that the device will make the idea and process of creating vinyl records familiar to a new generation, helping them appreciate the physical side of the medium and the value of a permanent object associated with music rather than a fleeting stream.

There’s no price yet, and no definite retailers, but expect the Easy Record Maker to be available later this year (certainly before the holidays) online and in a few stores in the U.S. and EU.

Philter Labs nets additional funding in quest to build a better portable smoking filter

Philter Labs aims to reduce the stigma associated with vaping tobacco and cannabis. The company’s product is simple enough: It’s a portable filter that, to my surprise, eliminates nearly all secondhand smoke and vapor.

The company today is announcing an additional $1 million in funding from a private equity firm that invests in the cannabis industry. This round brings the San Diego-based company’s total funding to $3 million; it previously raised from Bravos Capital and Explorer Equity Group.

“PHILTER’s mission is to empower responsible adults with the choice to keep the air clean for those around them by filtering their emissions while still protecting a person’s right to vape,” said Philter Labs CEO Christos Nicolaidis. “This new funding allows us to continue to leverage science and our patented technology to eliminate secondhand smoke, reduce waste, and live out our mission to help lead a cultural shift for cleaner air and a better environment.”

The product works as advertised. Take a drag on a vape or joint or cigarette and exhale through the filter. The little filter then grabs all the particulate and, I guess, stores the bad stuff, leaving very little exiting the other side of the filter. Even the most considerable clouds of vapor disappear.

I tried both of the company’s current products, the Phlip ($30) and Pocket ($15). Both use the same filter. The difference is use. The Phlip is designed to put a filter alongside a vape pen. A silicon band ties the filter to most small vapes — it works fine with my Pax Era. This way, with the Phlip, the idea is a person inhales from one end and exhales through the other.

Does it eliminate all the smell and vapor? No, not totally, but the device makes a dramatic reduction.

There are similar products on the market. Smoke Buddy is a longtime favorite of mine, and these work in a similar fashion but have a more pocketable design. I’m more likely to carry this filter because it fits in a pocket without an issue.

There are no buttons to press or batteries to charge. The device is passive, and Philter Labs says each filter will last about 200 exhales. The company has filed half a dozen patents, with three recently being approved for upcoming products.

“Our mission is to inspire a change in the habits that are already out there,” John Grimm, co-inventor and CTO said. “We want to reduce emissions, not only to society but to the environment, and change smoking and vaping.”

Grimm explained that it’s more than reducing the harm. To him, it’s also about reducing the stigma that’s associated with smoking and vaping.

The system uses a propriety filtering process that breaks down the emissions at a molecular level through a five-step filtration process. The company says its technology captures and dissolves the particulates, pollutants and VOCs, which results in clean air exiting the filter.

I asked Grimm if the company has published a white paper on their findings. They have not; though he pointed out that Philter Labs founded a scientific advisory board (SSAB) that includes toxicologists formally from big tobacco, along with former executives from Dosist, Curaleaf and Juul.