Monday, 31 December 2012

If you asked 100 tech pundits which company will revolutionize television, many would say Apple. Some might insist that Google or even Samsung will eventually shake things up. A name that you probably wouldn't hear, though, is Intel. Apparently the chip-maker didn't get the memo, as it's reportedly set to launch its own virtual cable service and TV set-top box.
According to Techcrunch, the service will be a hybrid of streaming services and over-the-top (streamed) traditional cable channels. It's designed for "people who want streaming TV access but don’t want to entirely cut the cable cord and lose key content like sports." The report specifically mentions Redbox's streaming service (now in beta), but Netflix and Hulu Plus could also join the party.
Intel will debut the hardware at CES 2013, with the service then rolling out on a (U.S.) city-by-city basis. Content providers have previously balked at new distribution methods that could up-end their established (and highly profitable) model. A limited roll-out is less risky, and could make them more comfortable trying something new. It also prevents stubborn regional holdouts from grinding the entire operation to a halt.
We've already heard whispers of Intel's leap into TV. In March, the Wall Street Journal reported on the chip manufacturer's plans, describing it as a "virtual cable operator." Intel wouldn't provide internet service, but it would provide channel bundles (similar to traditional cable packages), which could be streamed over the internet.
The set-top box reportedly offers a fresh take on the DVR. If you're subscribed to a channel, you'll be able to watch every program from the last month at any time – without recording it. If Intel can't negotiate for a la carte channel subscriptions, then the improved DVR could be the service's killer feature.
Does Intel have what it takes to move television into the 21st century? Or is its plan merely the cloud version of the same old cable packages? We may get more answers during Intel's CES keynote next week.
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2012 saw a number of significant milestones in star gazing and space exploration. NASA's Mars rover Curiosity touched down on the Red Planet in spectacular fashion, super-Earth's were discovered, the Moon poundedand Voyager 1 edged ever closer towards interstellar space and we sawmore of the universe around us than ever before.
As the calendar rolls over, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has put together an album of its top images for 2012. We’ve also picked our NASA favorites, highlighting some of the fascinating discoveries and incredible imagery captured in the skies above during the last twelve months.
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Saturday, 29 December 2012

It might not win any beauty contests, but this electric vehicle developed by students at Hiroshima University would be my pick if I had the choice of which car I was going to be involved in an accident with. Instead of relying on interior airbags to cushion the driver during a collision, the iSAVE-SC1 is essentially a drivable cushion that should soften the blow for driver and pedestrian alike.
While the air-filled cushions probably don’t help the aerodynamics of the three-wheeled vehicle – contributing to a reported 50 km/h (31 mph) top speed and range on an overnight charge of 30 km (18.6 miles) – the goal of the students in the Humanix group wasn’t performance, but to build a vehicle that is “kind to humans.”
While a price of 790,000 yen (approx. US$9,212) is being bandied about, as well as features such as interchangeable plastic roof and cushioned bumpers that will come in a variety of different colors, we wouldn’t expect to see the vehicle on public roads. However, the concept would appear to have some merit for areas where pedestrians and slow moving vehicles have the potential to mingle, such as airports or amusement parks.
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Panoramas are all the rage. In the past year, both Apple's iOS 6 and Google's Android 4.2 added panoramic photography. You can even buy accessories that take interactive 360° videos. But a new app called Cycloramic takes a much simpler approach: it shoots panoramic videos by (literally) taking your iPhone 5 for a spin.
Like a record, baby
Cycloramic doesn't require any expensive accessories or complex user know-how. It only requires a US$0.99 download, a smooth surface, and one tap on your screen. After selecting the number of rotations, the app uses the iPhone's built-in vibration motor to twirl around, creating a panoramic clip that Google Street View could envy.
In our tests, the app worked as advertised. On a ceramic counter, Cycloramic rotated an iPhone 5 360°, creating a smoothly-panned clip. The app's developers say that it won't work on surfaces like rough wood or fabric, but any smooth, solid and level surface should do the trick.
Practical or parlor trick?
There are caveats. The developers only recommend Cycloramic for theiPhone 5. Older iPhones' heavier builds and weaker motors prevent them from spinning. The phone will need to be naked too, so you'll want to remove your case before firing it up. The app also doesn't have audio, as the vibrations would overpower all other sound.
Why would anyone would need Cycloramic? There could be niche cases, like unique round-table shots or large group videos. For the most part, though, it's a novelty: amaze your friends with the mysterious spinning iPhone! We suspect that, for many buyers, the resulting video will be an afterthought.
A new interactive 3-D display developed by Californian startup Infinite Z can track hand and eye movements in real time to let users manipulate virtual objects in three dimensions in a highly intuitive way. The zSpace display could bring a new level of realism to computer-aided design, virtual reality simulations, and even gaming. 
There's no doubt that 3D displays have brought a level of interactivity and sense of immersion that isn't available with 2D. And yet, be it on a small TV or on the big screen, the illusion of depth is far from being entirely convincing. One of the reasons behind this is that traditional 3D displays can simulate binocular parallax – the slight difference in perspective that we witness from each eye – but not motion parallax – the depth cue by which we get a different point of view whenever we move our head with respect to an object.
Infinite Z's display addresses this issue by embedding infrared markers into its companion glasses. The markers allow the position of the viewer's head to be tracked and the three-dimensional image is adjusted accordingly, in real time. The result is when wearing the glasses, the viewer is presented with a much more intuitive experience in which virtual objects can be viewed from different perspectives as their point of view changes.
But this isn't all: besides being aware of the position of the viewer's eyes, the display also tracks the position of a stylus that can be used to manipulate the virtual objects in three dimensions, in a way that feels more natural.
The technology, which the company calls "Virtual Holographic 3-D," could become a hit in computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM), where it could lead to a much more intuitive way of quickly prototyping and tweaking new designs.
Should costs decrease – as they likely will – it is also not inconceivable that either the technology or one much like it could affirm itself as the new gold standard for virtual reality, immersive computer gaming and, perhaps, even provide elements for a much more intuitive and immersive user interface.
With a not-so-modest price tag of US$3,995, this technology may not become mainstream for some time yet. If you're a software developer who would like to create software that works with the display, however, the good news is that you can get your hands on one for considerably less – just $1,500.
A couple of years ago, I joined the call to bring back cult 80s British TV series Kick Start to our screens. Hosted by ex-children's television presenter Peter Purvis, the popular show tested the skill of accomplished trials bike riders on obstacles ranging from a VW Beetle to slippery logs to near-vertical walls of rock. Such a return today, however, may not necessarily mean the once-familiar sound of the two-stroke engine clattering through the home theater system. After seven years at the helm of French trials bike manufacturer Scorpa, Philippe Aresten has broken loose to market his own Electric Motion trials bike. 
Some three years in research and development, Aresten's EM 5.7 2011 model was claimed to be the first mass-produced electric trials bike designed for both competition and leisure (a removable seat can be installed for the latter). The new 2012 model has gone through some technical and design modifications, including a stronger and lighter frame, some body design tweaks and increased power and torque. The front fork and rear suspension also differ from the 2011 version, superior clamps have been used, the brake master cylinder protection has been upgraded, and the total weight has been reduced to just 70 kg (154 pounds). 
The electric trials bike's power comes from a brushless DC motor developed especially for the EM 5.7 and a custom-built, removable Li-Pol battery pack contained within an aluminum shell. The total weight of the latter (including cables, protection and measurement systems and the BMS) is 11 kg (24 pounds). It can be charged while sat in the bike or taken out and plugged into the supplied charger, and takes about two hours from full discharge. Riders can check status courtesy of an onboard LED charge level indicator.
An electronic clutch lever on the left of the handlebar and twist-grip throttle to the right allow for precision control over the power delivered by the motor, and a security switch to the top left works with a wrist-worn magnetic cap to secure the bike in the event of a fall. There's also a button positioned to the left that activates regen/electric braking.
The low-maintenance EM 5.7 has three operating modes to match the bike's performance with the rider's ability. The Novice mode has reduced speed, torque and power for beginners. Trek is chosen for leisure riding and offers decent power, torque and speed while also having a range of between 2 and 2.5 hours. The Trial mode is for the pros and comes equipped with two settings of its own, chosen using a button placed on the handlebar. Map 1 is designed for soft trial riding or wet conditions, and Map 2 is for hard trial/dry conditions.
Aresten told us that the cost of the EM 5.7 varies from country to country, but reckons that "the price is the same as a trials bike with a gas engine, not more not less
Car makers have been slowly but surely sucking content off your phone and into your vehicle. With the help of a smartphone, you can now access navigation, music, text messaging and other phone functions from the driver and/or passenger seat. The Hyundai Connectivity Concept takes things a step farther, wirelessly transferring all of the phone's content to the car's touchscreen display and adding other wireless functions.
Hyundai calls the Connectivity Concept a "technology study" and imagines it reaching production within the next three years. It has equipped the conceptual system on a New Generation i30 in order to demonstrate it.
The Connectivity Concept hardware starts before the driver ever enters the car. In place of a hard or electronic key, the system uses near-field communications (NFC) to pop the locks open. The driver simply places the phone over an NFC tag on the door.
When the driver steps inside, the phone slides into a wireless dock in the center console and all of its content – music, phone contacts, profile settings and more – is streamed to the car's 7-inch touchscreen. The car's infotainment system takes on the look and function of the phone's touchscreen. Like Toyota has done in the new Avalon, Hyundai includes a wireless charger as part of the system.
"With this technology, Hyundai is able to harness the all-in-one functionality of existing smartphone technology and integrating it into everyday driving in a seamless fashion," said Allan Rushforth, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Hyundai Motor Europe, in a statement. "As the technology continually develops there will be capabilities to store driver’s seating positions and exterior mirror settings, providing customers with a comfortable and individual driving environment."
Because the system relies on a smartphone, multiple drivers can enjoy a personalized driving experience within the same Hyundai.
The Connectivity Concept isn't that much more advanced than the technology that some cars have today. Smartphones can stream content via Bluetooth, and door-opening apps are available. Hyundai's integration just creates a more robust, seamless smartphone-car connection that should make commutes a little more enjoyable.
Hyundai is working with the Broadcom Corporation on the system, and expects to have the connectivity technology ready for market as early as 2015.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

According to Nature, Japan is the frontrunner for the planned International Linear Collider (ILC), for which Europe and the United States are also in the running to host. Scientists and engineers are already examining potential sites in the island nation for the US$7 to $8 billion machine, which is intended to complement the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. The head of the global design effort for the ILC, physicist Barry Barish, presented finalized blueprints at a ceremony in Tokyo earlier this month. 
Unlike the LHC located near Geneva in Switzerland, which has a ring-like shape, the ILC would be straight and 31 km (19.2 miles) long. It would house 16,000 superconducting cavities that can accelerate particles to 500 gigaelectronvolts, with the possibility of doubling that with a later upgrade. More importantly, unlike the LHC's protons (which produce unwanted debris), the ILC would collide electrons and positrons, giving scientists a clearer look at the Higgs when they collide.
Because it is a linear collider, the ILC won’t be able to collide particles with the same levels of energy possible with the LHC, whose circular shape allows particles to be run through the accelerator multiple times. But, unlike the LHC, the ILC is better able to accelerate light particles, such as electrons, which lose energy through synchrotron radiation when accelerated through circular magnetic fields.
If the ILC is built in Japan, the dangers from earthquakes and flooding would prohibit it from being build underground like the LHC, which is "technically completely different than what we were looking at," said Barish. At either of the proposed Japan locations it would have to be built above ground, and they would need to carve into a mountain to make room for it. However, Barish says, "both sites would be excellent sites for an accelerator."
"It's either Japan or it's going to be on the shelf for a while," Barish warns. Construction could begin by the end of the decade if an agreement can be reached in the next few years. Japan has expressed interest in hosting a large-scale international project before: in 2005 they put in a bid for the US$17 billion dollar ITER fusion reactor, which they lost to France.
The ILC now enjoys strong political support in Japan, and a portion of the funds earmarked for reconstruction following the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011 could be put towards the project, and the EU would likely contribute on some level to reciprocate Japanese contributions to the LHC.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

When Google bought Motorola, most assumed that it was for the patents. Moto could still be a valuable weapon in the courtroom, but the search giant is also ready to wield it in the smartphone market. According to theWall Street Journal, Google is developing a new Motorola flagship, codenamed the X Phone.
Google is developing the phone to take on Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy S product lines. It wants the device to "stand apart from existing phones," and has experimented with top-notch camera and photo software, bendable screens, and ceramics. But the company ran into obstacles, including poor battery life and supply chain issues. It isn't clear what differentiating features it's moving forward with.
Google CEO Larry Page reportedly told the X Phone team to "think big," and strive for Samsung's level of success. The company is also focusing its product line, reducing its smartphone footprint to several Verizon Droid devices and the X Phone. This reflects a similar trend in Google, as Page united the company's software and media sales into the Google Play brand, and cut many of its smaller services.
Playing with fire
Up to this point, Google has been hesitant to put too many eggs in the Motorola-Android basket. It doesn't want to alienate rival Android manufacturers, turning them to other platforms or forked (no Google apps) versions of Android.
Google, however, is preparing for the worst. Samsung is the only company profiting significantly from Android. Samsung could hypothetically shut the door on Google, using its own apps for email, maps, and messaging. This would threaten Google's mobile advertising revenue. Consider the X Phone an insurance policy.
Selling with the best
Non-Samsung Android manufacturers' struggles, however, can't necessarily be traced to a lack of quality. HTC's One X, LG's Optimus G, and Motorola's own Razr Maxx HD were generally well-received, but they haven't been huge sellers.
To take on Apple and Samsung, the X Phone will need an advertising campaign that resonates with regular (non-geek) customers. Google apparently knows this, and is ready to invest heavily in marketing the device.
Motorola also reportedly poached Brian Wallace, who was one of Samsung's top marketing execs. He was instrumental in Samsung's popular Apple-customer-mocking campaign.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

In February of this year, we covered the release of the nifty solar Window Charger from XD Modo (now XD Design) that maximizes available sunlight by sticking to a window with a removable silicone patch. Now, Gizmag has spent a little time with the company's latest sun-soaking gadget charger ... the cute-as-a-button Solar Sunflower. 
The 23 x 10 x 10 cm (9 x 3.9 x 3.9 inch), 252 g (8.8 ounce) Solar Sunflower was the brainchild of Ryan McSorley, and forms part of the design collective's ECO collection. The white pot-shaped plastic base is home to a 2500 mAh lithium battery (almost twice the capacity of the 1300 mAh Window Charger), from which sprouts an 8-cm (3.14-inch) stem flanked by two green plastic leaves for decoration. The stem is topped by a white plastic flower head with an 8.5-cm (3.34-inch) diameter 5V/100 mA PV panel set at an angle of 35 degrees. 
A rubberized base helps protect your precious antique table top from scratch damage, or keeps the unit in position on the windowsill. To the bottom and right of the front of the pot are two LED lights. The green LED comes to life when the PV panel is soaking up sufficient light to charge the battery. This light stays on even when the battery is full, although XD Design does point out that the battery is protected against overcharging.
When the white LED next door lights up, the battery is being charged via the mini-USB input to the rear (cable included). This indicator goes off when the battery is full, and the unit is said to include short circuit protection. When both lights are on, the Sunflower's battery is enjoying a good juicing up from both sources. There's also a full-size 5V/1000 mA USB power output around the back.

After fully charging the Sunflower's battery via USB for the first use as per the instructions, I subsequently drained it again courtesy of a couple of very hungry smartphones. I managed to fully charge one, but only got to 80 percent on the other before the Sunflower rolled over and played dead. As it's necessary to charge the battery via USB after a full drain, the charger spent the next five to six hours plugged into a USB wall socket charger (not supplied).
Unlike the new Eton battery packs I handled at IFA 2012, the Sunflower doesn't have any built-in charge level indicators, so there's no way of gauging remaining charge. This means that you're left to guess how much charge the unit has to offer, which is not ideal.
As I didn't want to completely empty the battery's reserve, I topped up my mobile music player only (assuming there would be charge to spare). Then it was time for the Solar Sunflower to join our living plants at the window.
While I'm lucky enough to live in a region that gets plenty of year-round sun, getting the required amount of bright sunlight in winter did prove a bit of a trial. As it happens, I was graced with a few days of bright sunshine during the review period. After spending some 30 daylight hours at the window (spread over four consecutive days), however, the Sunflower's PV panel failed to collect enough energy to give its battery sufficient juice to more than half-charge my smartphone's almost lifeless 1350 mAh Li-ion battery.
Subsequent attempts also failed to fully charge the Sunflower's battery on solar alone. While this may be due to a weaker and lower winter sun smiling down on the panel, I have to admit to being a little disappointed. XD Design says that it will take around 25 hours of bright (sun)light to fully charge the Sunflower's battery, but this depends on the quality of light hitting the PV panel. I'll therefore need to undertake further testing in the stronger summer sun before being able to confirm the manufacturer's claims.
Given its dimensions, this device is unlikely to provide users with a means of rescuing depleted batteries while on the move. It will likely find a permanent spot in front of the home/office window and is certain to prove a talking point. Everyone who has seen it in my home has fallen in love with it.
If you have the patience to play the waiting game while the PV panel fully charges the Sunflower's battery pack, then you'll benefit from being able to power your vast collection of gadgets without paying a penny to the utility company. More likely, you will use a combination of solar and USB power.
Either way, the battery has proven capacious enough to almost charge two smartphones before needing to return to the window and/or USB power source itself. Additionally, its neutral coloring and clean fresh design means that it will doubtless make an attractive addition to any room, and brighten up an otherwise drab and dreary window ... as it did mine.
First of all, how can non-invasive surgery even be possible? After all, even in the case of minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgery, small incisions are still made in the skin. Nonetheless, that’s just what scientists from the University of Michigan are proposing. They believe that it could be achieved by using a beam of sound, which would be emitted through the skin to a highly-focused point within the body – and they’ve already created such a beam and used it.
Focused sound waves are already used in the field of medicine, for doing things such as non-invasively shattering kidney stones and prostate tumors. These waves can generally only be focused to a point no smaller than several millimeters across, however. This means they wouldn’t work at all well for performing delicate surgery.
By contrast, the U Michigan sound beam can be focused down to a point measuring just 75 by 400 micrometers. At that size, it can manipulate individual cells, and could perhaps avoid coming into contact with nerve fibers – if that were possible, the patient wouldn’t experience any pain during the operation.
To create the beam, the researchers used an optoacoustic lens, that converts pulsed laser light into high-amplitude sound waves. Ordinarily, these waves wouldn’t be powerful enough to be of much use. To amplify them, the scientists coated the lens with a layer of carbon nanotubes and a rubbery material known as polydimethylsiloxane. The nanotubes absorb the laser light, and respond by generating heat. That heat causes the polydimethylsiloxane to rapidly expand, which in turn gives a boost to the sound waves passing through it.
Those waves have a frequency 10,000 times higher than that which humans are able to hear. When focused on a target, they produce shockwaves and micro-bubbles. These create pressure, which can be used to blast or cut away that target. The sound waves currently used for things like kidney stones, by contrast, work by producing heat, not mechanical pressure.
In tests of the technology, the scientists have successfully detached a single ovarian cancer cell, and bored a hole measuring under 150 micrometers into an artificial kidney stone – in less than one minute. Down the road, it is hoped that “micro ultrasonic surgery” could be used to remove items such as tumors or arterial plaque deposits, or even to deliver medication to individual cells.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Depending on where you live, the Wii U has been out a few days, a couple of weeks, or is yet to be released. Regardless, you may be wondering whether to invest 300 to 400 Earth credits on Nintendo's latest offering. Having sunk several hours into playing with the console, here are a few thoughts that might help you decide.
Wii U is not a Wii
This sounds obvious, but it warrants mention. The Wii U is not a Wii. The launch titles do not require that you stand up and wave your arms around. This is significant. For many, the Wii experience was Wii Sports, and that experience was largely a social one. Though a great game, once the appeal waned (as eventually happens with nearly all games), the Wii suffered from a lack of quality software (though not a total lack, of course). Few movement-based games delivered on the promise of Wii Sports, and few quality traditional (or so-called hardcore) games appeared to supplement them – at least not in the volumes they did for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
You might argue that, thanks to the screen built into the Wii U's GamePad, the console is founded upon a similar gimmick, which may in turn lead to a similar dearth of meaty gaming content further down the line. Perhaps, but consider: New Super Mario Bros U, arguably the best of Wii U's launch titles, does not rely on the GamePad's screen – at least not for the main thrust of the game. The same is largely true for the cross-format titles appearing on Wii U: Batman: Arkham City, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Assassin's Creed 3 all make use of the GamePad's screen through maps, additional information, menu navigation and object selection, but it is not core to the gameplay. The GamePad's screen may be the most eye-catching facet of the Wii U's design, but it doesn't feel quite so central to the concept as the Wiimote was for the Wii. There's more to say on that, but for now, know that that's probably a good thing.
About that GamePad, then…
If, like me, you were never quite sold on the sideways Wiimote as a traditional gamepad, the good news is that the Wii U's controller delivers. Screen aside, this is a perfectly capable and comfortable controller that does not feel compromised in any way (it has the full quota of buttons, for example). In fact, thanks in part to its size, the GamePad may be the most lap-friendly controller yet devised. One particularly punishing challenge inNew Super Mario Bros U calls for a series of coordinated, sprinting triple jumps. After a few failed attempts I instinctively placed the GamePad on my lap, the better to simultaneously press the controller's face buttons with fingers rather than thumbs. Weirdly, this felt perfectly comfortable. It did the trick, too. Boing, boing, badoing.
The screen itself is good, if not great. Look at it, and you see pixels. Retina display aficionados may dry-swallow an unpalatable ball of nothing at the prospect of playing the latest triple-A title using it – I certainly would – but for tackling an odd level or two of Mario while the TV is otherwise in use, it's perfectly fine.
For multiplayer gaming, it's certainly less of a visual pain in the behind than split-screen mode. That the Wii U can handle two-player over two separate screens in, say, Black Ops 2, is impressive. However, I'd be loath to experience the spectacle of Assassin's Creed 3's single-player campaign, or undertake an extended Ghillie-suited deathmatch campathon (where every pixel can count for long-distance movement-spotting) using the GamePad alone. For certain purposes, the 854×480 resolution isn't up to the job.
That said, the most exciting aspect of the screen are the opportunities it presents for asymmetric multiplayer gameplay. If you're not familiar with that expression, bear with me. This could be a thing.
Live, in glorious asymmetry, it's…
If you want to get asymmetric multiplayer gameplay, play Nintendo Land. The main point of the GamePad's screen seems to be asymmetric multiplayer gaming. If that concept isn't as central to the Wii U as the movement-sensing Wiimote was to the Wii, that's simply by virtue of the fact that most gamers spend most of their time playing alone. That said,Nintendo Land is the Wii U's Wii Sports: the game that shows off what the console is about, and what it can do.
What is asymmetric gaming? I'll answer that with an example. Mario Chaseis one of the various mini-games that make up Nintendo Land. In it, one player, with their Mii dressed in a Mario suit, is given a few seconds to run away and hide from up to four other players (with Miis dressed in Toad costumes). We were playing two-player, so the other Toads were replaced by CPU-controlled robot Yoshis. Mm. When the count is over, the hunt begins, and quickly, inevitably and rather joyously descends into a chase.
Anyway, I, vicariously playing the part of fugitive Mario through my fancy-dressed Mii, take the GamePad, and view the game through its screen. On it, I can see a map of the level with the location of all my pursuers indicated. A pop-out window shows as third-person view of the more localized action, so I can attempt to dodge yapping Yoshi-bots and of course, the Toady Mii of my human pursuer.
My human counterpart, meanwhile, views the action through the television, but is limited to a much more restricted over-the-shoulder view of the technicolor world. The only additional clue to my whereabouts is an indicator revealing the distance I am away, which will either roll up or down on according to whether my assailant is traveling in broadly the right direction. Of course, with more human pursuers, they would be verbally sharing information as to my whereabouts as they glimpse my panicky breaks from cover: instead, my assailant has to settle for robotic Yoshi yaps. It's great fun.
The point is that, thanks to a second screen that only one of the players can see, multiplayer games can take on new and interesting game mechanics by virtue of different players being afforded different views of the game world. The additional possibilities afforded by a second screen aren't limited to asymmetric gaming, of course; nor are they restricted to disposable mini-games; but it's the asymmetric examples that most vividly communicate the potential.
And yet at this stage it is only potential. As fun as they array of mini-games available in Nintendo Land are, this is not a title of sufficient depth and quality to launch a console. It's no Wii Sports. But then it doesn't need to be: Wii U has New Super Mario Bros U for that. And though we've not spent sufficient time with the major launch titles to definitively pass judgement on the absolute worth of the second screen, the aggregate signal emerging from the mess of critical noise appears to be that, so far, the second screen entices more than it delivers. Is that a problem? Not necessarily – it's very early days.
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AliveCor’s smartphone Heart Monitor has received FDA approval and will go on sale to healthcare professionals in the United States in January 2013. The AliveCor Heart Monitor allows the recording, display, storing, transferring, and evaluation of single-channel electrocardiogram (ECG) rhythms using an iPhone 4 or 4S.
The Class II medical device consists of a self-powered case that attaches to the back of an iPhone, which is running the associated heart monitor app. The phone and case communicate with one another wirelessly, though the phone doesn't need to be paired to the device. To generate a Lead I ECG, the patients rests the fingers of each hand on the electrodes on the rear of the device and, once the connection is made, the app monitors and records heart rhythms and rates for evaluation.
Clinical studies have shown an accuracy of the device in single-channel ECGs of 94 to 100 percent. 
The company is continuing research on the device regarding its effectiveness in monitoring post-ablation follow up, long-term atrial fibrillation monitoring, multi-specialty care integration, medication-induced QT duration response monitoring, expanding PA/RN data collection abilities. preventive pediatric care and stress induced rhythm morphology changes.
The AliveCor Heart Monitor is priced at US$199 and is currently available for pre-order for U.S. customers ahead of the January 2013 release date.
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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

While it’s all very well and good to use an electric vehicle as your around-town ride, full-size electric cars can still be pretty pricey. Also, as many of their critics are quick to point out, the electricity used to charge their batteries currently still tends to come from eco-unfriendly sources such as coal-burning power plants. Well, that’s where the three-wheeled ELFvelomobile comes into play. It’s cheaper than a car, can be pedaled like a tricycle, and the battery that powers its electric assist motor can be charged from the Sun. 
Prototypes of the ELF are presently being built by Organic Transit, a Durham, North Carolina-based company founded by entrepreneur Rob Cotter. The vehicle has an aluminum frame, a single seat, rear cargo compartment (reportedly good for about eight bags of groceries), a vacuum-formed ABS-composite body, and a polycarbonate windshield. It also features a full LED lighting package.
“Under the hood,” so to speak, it has a 750-watt permanent neodymium magnet motor powered by an 8-pound (3.6-kg) 88.8-volt lithium battery pack. Although drivers can extend the range by choosing to pedal or by adding an additional battery pack, a single pack will take them about 30 miles (48 km) per charge.
While the battery can be charged in two hours from a standard outlet, the ELF also features a roof-mounted 60-watt photovoltaic panel. This provides a trickle charge to the battery while the vehicle is parked – provided it’s getting a good dose of sunlight.
All told, it has a claimed fuel economy of 1,800 MPGe (0.13 L/100km equivalent).
Some of the ELF’s other features include disc brakes, standard 26-inch mountain bike-style wheels, and a top allowable speed of 20 mph (32 km/h) – under U.S. federal regulations, the vehicle is classified as a powered bicycle. The target weight for a full production model is 100 pounds (45 kg), including battery.
Of course for most people, what it all ultimately comes down to is price. Cotter and his team are currently raising production funds on Kickstarter for an initial run of 100 ELFs, each of which should be priced at US$4,000. This is actually quite a good price for an electric-assist velomobile. Similar vehicles that we’ve covered recently include the $7,450 Tripod and the $5,700 Hornet ... and those ones are at the low end of the price scale.
Porsche's big unveil at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show was the all-new third-generation version of its Cayman sports car. The new coupe packs extra Porsche punch in terms of styling, content and performance. 
When compared to the outgoing Cayman, the newly minted version is longer, wider, lighter, lower, faster, more powerful and more efficient. Porsche stretched out the wheelbase by 2.4 inches (61 mm), widened the track and upped the size of the wheels by an inch to increase stability and handling. Meanwhile, it employed the same lightweight body strategy as used on the latest 911 and Boxster, cutting 60 pounds (27 kg) of weight when compared to the outgoing Cayman.
Porsche took restyling as seriously as we can expect from a company that's models look painfully similar from one generation to the next. The cabin has been stretched out, with the base of the windshield pushed forward and the roof line pushed back. The hatch extends downward toward the bumper, which eliminates the bulbous butt that the Cayman has traditionally failed to work off and makes the car look more 911 and less Boxster. As someone that's always found the styling of the Cayman a bit disjointed, I think that the new cabin dimensions make it a much more appealing car. I immediately thought "911-light" when I first laid eyes on it.
Other styling changes include a more aggressive belt line that runs through the side mirrors, sculpted edges and tapered intakes on the doors.
In terms of engine, Porsche managed the dynamic duo of increasing power while decreasing fuel consumption. The smaller 2.7-liter flat-six engine gets 10 extra horses over the outgoing 2.9-liter, up to 275 hp. When equipped with the PDK seven-speed automated transmission, highway fuel economy leaps to 32 mpg (from 29 mpg in the current model). The car hits 60 mph (96.5 km/h) in 5.4 seconds with the six-speed manual or 5.3 seconds with the PDK transmission. The top speed is 165 mph (266 km/h).
The new Cayman S gets a 325-hp 3.4-liter flat-six engine, up 5 hp from the outgoing Cayman S. Fuel economy sits at an even 30 mpg with PDK transmission, and acceleration is 4.6 seconds for the 0-60 mph (4.7 seconds with manual transmission). The Cayman S tops out at 175 mph (282 km/h).
The Cayman's balance of sportiness and efficiency continues through other components and systems. Direct injection, thermal management, electrical system recuperation, auto start/stop and a coasting function help the driver get the most out of every gallon. A Sport button allows the driver to shut down the auto start/stop and coasting on PDK-equipped models, actuating more aggressive engine response.
Other mechanical changes include a new electromechanical power steering system, next-generation Porsche Active Suspension Management (optional) and increased braking power.
Inside, Porsche zeroed in on comfort and ergonomics with features like the ascending center console with high-set gearshift lever and sport seats with electric backrest adjustment. A seven-inch touchscreen audio system comes standard, and a premium 800-watt Burmester sound system is available as an option. Other new options include adaptive cruise control and a keyless Entry & Drive system.
The new Cayman will hit the market in the first half of next year. It will start at US$52,600 and $63,800 for the Cayman S, not including a destination charge of $950.
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Researchers at North Caroline State University have come up with a new tool to speed up public Wi-Fi hotspots. The researchers say that WiFox software can improve data throughput by up to 700 percent and could be packaged as an update to existing networks.
Current Wi-Fi hotspots can get annoyingly slow because both users and the Wi-Fi access point are connected via single channel that sends data back and forth, creating a bottleneck when a large number of users submit data requests on that channel. Even if the access point is given permanent high priority, so that it passes over user requests in order to send out its data, users would then have trouble submitting their data requests.
The NC State researchers say WiFox works like a traffic cop, keeping data flowing smoothly in both directions by monitoring the amount of traffic on a Wi-Fi channel and granting an access point priority to send its data when it detects that a backlog is developing. The more people that are using the Wi-Fi, the greater the benefits of the system, because the access point will be given priority based on the size of its backlog.
When testing the Wi-Fi in their lab, whose top capacity is around 45 users, the researchers achieved an improvement to data throughput performance of 400 percent with 25 users. The figure increased to 700 percent when there were around 45 users on the network.
The research will be presented at the ACM CoNEXT 2012 conference in Nice, France, between December 10 and 13.
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