Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 starts shipping

Earlier this year, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft announced the second generation of its HoloLens augmented reality visor. Today, the $ 3,500 HoloLens 2 is going on sale in the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand, the same countries where it was previously available for pre-order.

Ahead of the launch, I got to spend some time with the latest model, after a brief demo in Barcelona earlier this year. Users will immediately notice the larger field of view, which still doesn’t cover your full field of view, but offers a far better experience compared to the first version (where you often felt like you were looking at the virtual objects through a stamp-sized window).

The team also greatly enhanced the overall feel of wearing the device. It’s not light, at 1.3 pounds, but with the front visor that flips up and the new mounting system that is far more comfortable.

In regular use, existing users will also immediately notice the new gestures for opening up the Start menu (this is Windows 10, after all). Instead of a ‘bloom’ gesture, which often resulted in false positives, you now simply tap on the palm of your hand, where a Microsoft logo now appears when you look at it.

Eye tracking, too, has been greatly improved and works well, even over large distances, and the new machine learning model also does a far better job at tracking all of your fingers. All of this is powered by a lot of custom hardware, including Microsoft’s second-generation ‘holographic processing unit.’

Microsoft has also enhanced some of the cloud tools it built for HoloLens, including Azure Spatial Anchors that allow for persistent holograms in a given space that anybody else who is using a holographic app can then see in the same spot.

Taken together, all of the changes result in a more comfortable and smarter device, with reduced latencies when you look at the various objects around you and interact with them.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

How Axis went from concept to shipping its Gear smart blinds hardware

Axis is selling its first product, the Axis Gear, on Amazon and direct from its own website, but that’s a relatively recent development for the four-year old company. The idea for Gear, which is a $ 249.00 ($ 179.00 as of this writing thanks to a sale) aftermarket conversion gadget to turn almost any cord-pull blinds into automated smart blinds, actually came to co-founder and CEO Trung Pham in 2014, but development didn’t begin until early next year, and the maxim that ‘hardware is hard’ once again proved more than valid.

Pham, whose background is actually in business but who always had a penchant for tech and gadgets, originally set out to scratch his own itch and arrived upon the idea for his company as a result. He was actually in the market for smart blades when he moved into his first condo in Toronto, but after all the budget got eaten up on essentials like a couch, a bed and a TV, there wasn’t much left in the bank for luxuries like smart shades – especially after he actually found out how much they cost.

“Even though I was a techie, and I wanted automated shades, I couldn’t afford it,” Pham told me in an interview. “I went to the designer and got quoted for some really nice Hunter Douglas. And they quoted me just over $ 1,000 bucks a window with the motorization option. So I opted just for manual shades. A couple of months later, when it’s really hot and sunny, I’m just really noticing the heat so I go back to the designer and ask him ‘Hey can I actually get my shades motorized now, I have a little bit more money, I just want to do my living room.’ And that’s when I learned that once you have your shades installed, you actually can’t motorize them, you have to replace them with brand new shades.”

With his finance background, Pham saw an opportunity in the market that was ignored by the big legacy players, and potentially relatively easy to address with tech that wasn’t all that difficult to develop, including a relatively simple motor and the kind of wireless connectivity that’s much more readily available thanks to the smartphone component supply chain. And the market demand was there, Pham says – especially with younger homeowners spending more on their property purchases (or just renting) and having less to spare on expensive upgrades like motorized shades.

AXIS Gear 1The Axis solution is relatively affordable (though its regular asking price of $ 249 per unit can add up depending on how many windows you’re looking to retrofit) and also doesn’t require you to replace your entire existing shades or blinds, so long as you have the type that the Gear is compatible with (which includes quite a lot of commonly available shades). There are a couple of power options, including an AC adapter for a regular outlet, or a solar bar with back-up from AA batteries in case there’s no outlet handy.

Pham explained how in early investor meetings, he would cite Dyson as an inspiration, because that company took something that was standard and considered central to their very staid industry and just removed it altogether – specifically referring to their bagless design. He sees Axis as taking a similar approach in the smart blind market, which has too much to gain from maintaining its status quo to tackle Axis’ approach to the market. Plus, Pham notes, Axis has six patents filed and three granted for its specific technical approach.

“We want to own the idea of smart shades to the end consumer,” he told me. “And that’s where the focus really is. It’s a big opportunity, because you’re not just buying one doorbell or one thermostat – you’re buying multiple units. We have customers that buy one or two right away, come back and buy more, and we have customers that buy 20 right away. So our ability to sell volume to each household is very beneficial for us as a business.”

Which isn’t to say Axis isn’t interested in larger-scale commercial deployment – Pham says that there are “a lot of [commercial] players and hotels testing it,” and notes that they also “did a project in the U.S. with one of the largest developers in the country.” So far, however, the company is laser-focused on its consumer product and looking at commercial opportunities as they come inbound, with plans in future to tackle the harder work of building a proper commercial sales team. But it could afford Axis a lot of future opportunity, especially because their product can help building managers get compliant with measures like the Americans with Disabilities Act to outfit properties with the requisite amount of unites featuring motorized shades.

To date, Axis has been funded entirely via angel investors, along with family and friends, and through a crowdfunding project on Indiegogo which secured its first orders. Pham says revenue and sales, along with year-over-year growth, have all been strong so far, and that they’ve managed to ship “quite a few units so far” though he declined to share specifics. The startup is about to close a small bridge round and then will be looking to pin down its Series A funding after that, as it looks to expand its product line – with a focus on greater window coverings style compatibility as top priority.

 

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Oculus Quest and Rift S now shipping

Facebook -owned Oculus is shipping its latest VR headgear from today. Preorders for the PC-free Oculus Quest and the higher end Oculus Rift S opened up three weeks ago.

In a launch blog Oculus touts the new hardware’s “all-in-one, fully immersive 6DOF VR” — writing: “We’re bringing the magic of presence to more people than ever before — and we’re doing it with the freedom of fully untethered movement”.

For a less varnished view on what it’s like to stick a face-computer on your head you can check out our reviews by clicking on the links below…

Oculus Quest

TC: “The headset may not be the most powerful, but it is doubtlessly the new flagship VR product from Facebook”

Oculus Rift S

TC: “It still doesn’t feel like a proper upgrade to a flagship headset that’s already three years old, but it is a more fine-tuned system that feels more evolved and dependable”

The Oculus blog contain no detail on pre-order sales for the headsets — beyond a few fine-sounding words.

Meanwhile Facebook has, for months, been running native ads for Oculus via its eponymous and omnipresent social network — although there’s no explicit mention of the Oculus brand unless you click through to “learn more”.

Instead it’s pushing the generic notion of “all-in-one VR”, shrinking the Oculus brand stamp on the headset to an indecipherable micro-scribble.

Here’s one of Facebook’s ads that targeted me in Europe, back in March, for e.g.:

For those wanting to partake of Facebook flavored face gaming (and/or immersive movie watching), the Oculus Quest and Rift S are available to buy via oculus.com and retail partners including Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, Walmart, and GameStop in the US; Currys PC World, FNAC, MediaMarkt, and more in the EU and UK; and Amazon in Japan.

Just remember to keep your mouth shut.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Jaquet Droz is shipping its mechanical signing machine

Watchmaker Jaquet Droz announced its Signing Machine — a mechanical device that will sign your name for you using a series of miniature gears and springs — in 2014. Four years later, the company is ready to ship their miraculous contraption just in time for you to ink the deal you’ve made with Cybereus, lord of the digital underworld.

This exquisitely baroque gadget is essentially a little cartridge full of clockwork. You wind it up, stick a pencil in its tiny retractable claw, and let it go. The gears and levers recreate your signature with a series of flowing strokes generated by the movement of the gears.

Droz, an 18th century watchmaker and automaton manufacturer, was famous for his miraculous contraptions, including a Draughtsman and Writer, two human-shaped robots that could draw and write, along with his beautiful singing birds that used tiny pipes and bellows to recreate birdsong.

The Signing Machine is activated after you enter your four-digit code into the the device, and each unit is individually decorated for the owner.

How much does this bit of titanium jimcrackery cost? It starts at $ 367,500 and goes up depending on your signature. Too much? Just remember: Making deals with the cryptodemons of the digital underworld isn’t cheap. You’ll need something like this oddly tactical piece of metal to truly widen their hooded, red-shining eyes.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Massterly aims to be the first full-service autonomous marine shipping company

Logistics may not be the most exciting application of autonomous vehicles, but it’s definitely one of the most important. And the marine shipping industry — one of the oldest industries in the world, you can imagine — is ready for it. Or at least two major Norwegian shipping companies are: they’re building an autonomous shipping venture called Massterly from the ground up.

“Massterly” isn’t just a pun on mass; “Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship” is the term Wilhelmson and Kongsberg coined to describe the self-captaining boats that will ply the seas of tomorrow.

These companies, with “a combined 360 years of experience” as their video put it, are trying to get the jump on the next phase of shipping, starting with creating the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship, the Yara Birkeland. It’s a modest vessel by shipping terms — 250 feet long and capable of carrying 120 containers according to the concept — but will be capable of loading, navigating and unloading without a crew

(One assumes there will be some people on board or nearby to intervene if anything goes wrong, of course. Why else would there be railings up front?)

Each has major radar and lidar units, visible light and IR cameras, satellite connectivity and so on.

Control centers will be on land, where the ships will be administered much like air traffic, and ships can be taken over for manual intervention if necessary.

At first there will be limited trials, naturally: the Yara Birkeland will stay within 12 nautical miles of the Norwegian coast, shuttling between Larvik, Brevik and Herøya. It’ll only be going 6 knots — so don’t expect it to make any overnight deliveries.

“As a world-leading maritime nation, Norway has taken a position at the forefront in developing autonomous ships,” said Wilhelmson group CEO Thomas Wilhelmson in a press release. “We take the next step on this journey by establishing infrastructure and services to design and operate vessels, as well as advanced logistics solutions associated with maritime autonomous operations. Massterly will reduce costs at all levels and be applicable to all companies that have a transport need.”

The Yara Birkeland is expected to be seaworthy by 2020, though Massterly should be operating as a company by the end of the year.

Gadgets – TechCrunch