Let’s face it: Google Translate is a handy tool when traveling abroad or reading text on the web that’s written in a different language. The software already offered help with seven languages, and today Mountain View added 20 more. This means that you’ll be able to translate to and from English to Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch, Indonesian, Polish, Turkish and several others. You’ll also be able to leverage one-way translation from English to Hindi or Thai. And all of those are just for printed text.
You can also use the camera on your mobile device to snap a pictures of a sign or text that you need a hand with as Google Translate’s camera mode supports 37 different languages. To put the software to work, though, you’ll have to download a 2MB language pack for each one inside the app. Google also beefed up the voice conversation mode so that its real-time translation works well even on slower networks, which is particularly handy in developing areas. The updates are hitting both Android and iOS apps over the next few days.
Apple has discreetly released an RF-based interior positioning app called Indoor Survey, as spotted by developer Steve Troughton-Smith. It appeared recently on the App Store, and the description says you can “drop ‘points’ on a map within the Survey App [to] indicate your position within the venue as you walk through. As you do so, the Indoor Survey App measures the radio frequency (RF) signal data and combines it with an iPhone’s sensor data.” That lets you find your position inside a mall, arena or other venue “without the need to install special hardware,” according to Apple.
The app appears to be the fruit of Apple’s $20 million purchase of WiFiSlam back in 2013. That technology also used WiFi signals to detect your location within a building. Apple also added features last year that enable developers to get indoor positioning data from from M7 motion sensors on recent iPhones. As other Twitter users pointed out, Indoor Survey may be a way for business users to funnel data to Apple’s MapsConnect, an app that lets businesses “add or correct information to help your customers find you in Apple Maps.”
Indoor Survey is hidden from the App Store search, and is only available via a direct link. However, it’s shown as version 1.0, and available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices. We’ve reached out to Apple for more info.
While companies like Amazon and Google are betting on airborne drones for the future of delivery, two of the founders of Skype are taking a more pedestrian approach. They’ve created a company called Starship Technologies, and its eponymous robots are autonomous rovers that drive along sidewalks to carry packages at an average speed of 4mph. The aim is to deliver “two grocery bags” worth of goods (weighing up to 20lbs) in 5-30 minutes for “10-15 times less than the cost of current last-mile delivery alternatives.”
Starship’s robots are said to be “99-percent” autonomous, which means that although they’ll drive themselves, human oversight will be present at all times, ready to take control if the robot gets confused. The goods inside Starship’s “cargo bay” are securely locked while it’s making deliveries, and can only be opened with the recipient’s mobile phone. We assume that’s through a specific application, as you’ll also be able to track the robot’s progress as it makes your delivery.
Because of the slow speed and limited range, there would need to be a number of Starship hubs in any given city — each hub could only serve a few miles. “Our vision revolves around three zeroes,” says Ahti Heinla, CEO at Starship Technologies, “zero cost, zero waiting time, and zero environmental impact.” The rovers are electric, so they’re only technically as environmentally friendly as the power grid they charge from, but they’re undoubtably more friendly than traditional delivery vans and bikes. The grand plan is for businesses to ship goods in bulk to hubs, and then have the robot fleet do the door-to-door deliveries. That’s actually not too dissimilar from the way Amazon runs its Prime Now delivery service; it just replaces human drivers with slow-moving robots.
Starship Technologies is clearly targeting companies that want to compete with services like Amazon’s Prime Now one-hour deliveries — although there’s no reason why Amazon couldn’t integrate this robot into its supply chain if it proves as cost-effective as claimed. The company still has a lot of questions to answer, though. It says the robots “consume less energy than most light bulbs,” but that’s not exactly the most precise metric. We also don’t know how much it’ll cost companies to run and maintain a fleet of bots, or whether Starship can secure the necessary regulatory permission to ride on sidewalks. Assuming it can answer those questions, and the many more that’ll arise in the coming months, Starship says it’ll launch “pilot services” in partnership with other companies across the US, UK, and other countries in 2016.
Commercial drone operations like Amazon’s highly-touted delivery service could commence in about a year, according to a senior official from the Federal Aviation Administration. FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker told a congressional committee on Wednesday the necessary regulations for commercial UAVs to operate in public airspace will “be in place within a year.” That’s way shorter than the 2017 start date that the FAA originally figured on. And when the rules are finally settled on, Amazon will be ready. “We’d like to begin delivering to our customers as soon as it’s approved,” Paul Misener, Amazon’s VP of global public policy, testified at the hearing. “We will have it (the technology) in place by the time any regulations are ready. We are working very quickly.”
Just days after Danish energy provider Dong announced it had signed off plans to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm comes news of another milestone in the UK’s push for renewable energy. The Scottish Government has confirmed it has given consent to another Scandinavian company, Norway’s Statoil, to build Britain’s first floating wind farm. A park consisting of five 6MW turbines will be installed off the coast of Peterhead, eclipsing Japan’s single 7MW turbine to become the world’s largest offshore wind development.
According to officials, the farm will generate 135GWh of electricity each year, enough to power 19,900 houses. Where traditional turbines are built into the sea bed, the Hywind turbines are placed on top of a ballasted steel cylinder that is anchored to the sea floor using three anchored mooring lines. This makes it easier to install them in deep water. Norway became host to the world’s first full-scale floating turbine in 2009, but Statoil is now ready to expand its footprint with a pilot park off the mid-eastern shores of Scotland.
But why floating turbines? According to Carbon Trust, it’s all about cost. It believes that floating developments have the potential to “reduce generating costs to below £100/MWh” in commercial environments. However, concepts like Statoil’s Hywind are already driving down costs to between £85-£95MWh.
When the UK government began pulling subsidies for onshore wind farms, it meant that private companies dedicated to harvesting renewable energy would no longer receive financial kickbacks when they sold their electricity to energy suppliers. The decision could have affected the UK’s total wind-collecting footprint, but offshore wind farms have remained exempt, allowing companies like Dong — Denmark’s largest energy company — to commit to new, massive installations in British waters. The company announced it is to build the world’s biggest offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea, around 19 kilometres off the coast of Cumbria.
Dong says it has completed all of the necessary paperwork for its 660-megawatt Walney Extension project and expects it to open in 2018. The company will rely on turbines built by MHI Vestas Offshore Wind and Siemens, allowing it to surpass the current record-holder, the 630-megawatt London Array, which is another Dong installation. When the Walney Extension goes live, Dong will contribute 5,089 megawatts of offshore wind energy to UK and German infrastructure, enough to cover the needs of more than 12.5 million people.
DJI has created a computer called Manifold that extends the capabilities of its Matrice test drone. It’s a platform for developers to build on, which DJI says can turn drones into “truly intelligent flying robots that can perform complex computing tasks and advanced image processing.” Think of it as something like an overpowered Arduino built specifically for drones. As well as customized ports for interfacing with the Matrice, the Manifold has USB, Ethernet, Mini-PCIe, HDMI, UART, SPI and I2C ports, which allow for all manner of sensors and add-ons to be connected. It’s powered by an Nvidia K1 processor with Kepler graphics, runs Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (a version of Linux with “long-term support”), and weighs less than 200g.
Because it runs Ubuntu and has a Kepler GPU, the Manifold plays nice with developer APIs and libraries, parallel processing tools, and robotics platforms, with support for CUDA, OpenCV, ROS, DirectX, and OpenGL. DJI believes this combination will allow developers to build “artificial intelligence applications” for drones. It specifically calls out computer vision (the CV in OpenCV) and deep learning. The long game? Your drone “will not only be able to sense the surrounding environment, but also identify objects and respond in an instant.” Manifold goes on sale at $499 today, and will ship November 15th. Of course, if you want to make this flying computer fly, you’ll need to shell out the additional $3,299 for the Matrice test drone as well.
Snapchat’s focus of late has been on showcasing mainstream content, while simultaneously continuing to enhance its core business: quick-and-dirty pictures and videos. To make those even more entertaining, the Snapchat apps for iOS and Android are now getting slow-motion, fast-forward and rewind filters, which the startup is calling Speed Modifiers. Once you record a clip, all you have to do is swipe to try each one of them out. In addition to that, iPhone 6s and 6s Plus users are getting something a little extra, with the application now supporting Apple’s 3D Touch feature. Force pressing your home screen’s Snapchat icon will give you easy access to two options: Chat With and Add Friends, both self-explanatory. It’ll be interesting to see how creative people’s snaps get with the new filters.
The Large Hadron Collider recently got back to work after a two-year layoff for maintenance and upgrades, but soon it will go under the knife again. Last week 230 scientists met at CERN in Switzerland to discuss the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC) project, and move it from the development phase to the construction stage. After two more Long Shutdown periods in 2019 and 2024, the HL-LHC will deliver 10 times the amount of particle collisions it does now. New technology coming its way includes 12 superconducting quadropole magnets (one is pictured above), “crab” cavities that tilt the particle beams before collisions and more. When we took a look at the science behind particle accelerators a few years ago, the HL-LHC was already in development and after a four year design study it’s one (big) step closer to reality.