Researchers create a robot that can cling to shark skin underwater

The remora is a fish that that has a large sucker-like fin that it uses to hang onto sharks and dolphins while it picks up food scraps from its host and seeks protection from predators. It can remain attached to the marine animals even at top swimming speeds and with dolphins, can hang on even when they jump out of the water and spin around.

The research team designed their robot in the functional image of the remora’s fin. It has a softer, large suction pad as well as hundreds of small, rigid spines arranged in rows that mimic those found in the remora. The remora can change the position of those tiny spines in order to maintain adequate friction, a design that the research team incorporated into its model.

When tested, the suction disc was able to hang on to a variety of smooth and rough surfaces under water, including real shark skin. You can watch it in action here. Outside of the water (check out the video here) it also attached to glass, wood, a box of apple juice and a smartphone and was able to withstand twists and turns without detaching. The next step is to test in on real sharks or dolphins.

Overall, it stands to become a very useful tool in the study of underwater creatures. You can check out New Scientist’s video about the research below.

Image: Wang et al., Sci. Robot. 2, eaan8072 (2017)

https://www.engadget.com/2017/09/21/robot-cling-shark-skin-underwater/

‘Doom’ for the Nintendo Switch feels exactly like it’s supposed to

To start, Doom on the Nintendo Switch feels identical to Doom on other platforms. The same fast-paced, demonic shooter action that embodied the spirit of the classic game is there, and it still feels great. Sprinting through corridors of the UAC facility or performing stylistic “execution” glory kills on the spawn of hell is as satisfying as ever. The controls feel right. The complete experience translates. Still, the question that hung in everyone’s mind during the game’s announcement is the same one that lingered as I played through Bethesda’s portable Doom demo: Can the Nintendo Switch really handle this game?

At first blush, the answer seems to be yes. But the details of that answer were harder to make out. Bethesda only let us try the game in Switch’s handheld and tabletop modes, limiting our view of the port to the console’s 6.2-inch 720p display. Scaled down to that screen, the game looked pretty sharp — but behind the glare of the glossy display, it was hard to see what compromises might have been made. I spent half of my demo time staring at rocks on the surface of mars, trying to determine how that texture might look if it were scaled up on my 40-inch TV at home.

To the game’s credit, it looked good during the limited demo. I played through the first level of Doom without noticing any hiccups or slowdowns. At worst, the game seemed to have notably long load times and a little bit less anti-aliasing than its full-console counterparts — but without the advantage of seeing the Switch docked in console mode, it was hard to say for sure. Either way, it was a pretty early demo of the game. The full game is playable, but when I noticed a dip in framerate during some of arcade-mode’s later levels, staff on hand told me that most of the game hasn’t been optimized for Switch just yet.

Doom on Nintendo Switch is promising. It shows that with enough work from a dedicated developer, current-gen games can make their way to the hybrid portable. It’s also a strong show of support for the console from Bethesda — one of the biggest third-party developers in the industry. It’s still too early to say how good the port will be, but what we’ve seen so far is a good start. Hopefully, Bethesda can stick the landing and offer Switch owners a Doom experience that looks good from every angle — handheld mode, tabletop mode and of course, console mode.

https://www.engadget.com/2017/09/21/doom-for-the-nintendo-switch-feels-exactly-like-it-s-supposed/

‘Overwatch’ fights toxic players by muting them on Xbox Live

It’s a small consequence — those bad apples won’t have their play affected — but it spares everyone else from a player’s crappy or abusive attitude. Expanding the team’s toxicity-fighting toolset to include softer methods is just as important as introducing harsher punishments, especially if players are just having an uncharacteristically bad day.

This is the first new tool the Overwatch team is deploying to fight player toxicity, which it vowed to get tougher on earlier in the summer. Developer and face of the game’s team Jeff Kaplan uploaded a video last week urging the player community to behave better, pointing out that dealing with reported users took up time and delayed upcoming features.

So far, the team has disciplined over 480,000 players, Kaplan said, and they’ll continue to refine its reporting and consequence system. But when push comes to shove, the team would prefer to simply ban the worst-acting players from the game entirely rather than filter them into games reserved for bullies and malcontents.

Time will tell how the reputation-based muting works to curb bad attitudes on Xbox Live; As of yet, the team hasn’t announced whether this disciplinary action will be ported over to PSN or PC.

https://www.engadget.com/2017/09/20/overwatch-fights-toxic-players-by-muting-them-on-xbox-live/

Starting in 2020, it’s going to be hella easy to buy an EV

For decades, auto shows were filled with concept-car unveilings complete with loud music, extravagant light shows and company executives (or paid celebrities) extolling the virtues of cars that would never make it to production. Usually the cars had huge growling gas engines that drowned whatever guitar wail or pop song a committee deemed most appropriate for the vehicle. This year the thunder of cylinders was replaced with the quiet drivetrains of EVs and hybrids as the industry pulled back the curtain on the biggest change to cars since the introduction of the automatic transmission.

Judging by the pledges made by automakers ahead of, and during, the Frankfurt auto show, by the end of the 2020s, it’ll be tough to find a car that doesn’t have some serious batteries in it. Mercedes says it’ll have an electrified version of all its models by 2022. Its entire Smart subdivision will be entirely electric by 2020. Honda wants two thirds of its sales to be electrified in some way by the end of 2030, while Audi, Jaguar, Volvo and Volkswagen will all have a substantial proportion of their vehicles powered by electrons during the next decade. All of this is good news for drivers.

To help achieve their goals, automakers are already on the verge of unleashing new EVs. Honda’s Urban EV Concept is expected in Europe in 2019. The Jaguar i-Pace will be available in the United States in 2018 to challenge Tesla’s Model X as the dominant electric SUV.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen has been pushing its electric modular battery, MEB platform via the upcoming releases of its ID vehicles. The Buzz microbus is slated to be available in 2022 for fans of buses and nostalgia. The ID hatchback and Crozz crossover are slated to land in 2020.

A car is an investment. It’s something that’ll be around for years, and eventually, the oil under our feet will dry up. It might not happen for decades but there’s no reason to expedite the process by continuing to power all our vehicles with gasoline. Plus, when it does happen, the last thing you’re going to want is a car that runs on something that’s incredibly scarce. Automakers are aware of this — plus it helps that regulation can be a big motivator.

Both the UK and France plan to ban the sale fossil-fueled cars by 2040. Meanwhile China — a huge market for automakers — is considering its own ban on the sale of gas-powered cars. Automakers need to stay ahead of these trends in order to compete.

As for drivers, even if you don’t care about the environment (and seriously, who doesn’t care about the environment? It’s where we live) the first time you feel the torque of an electric car, you’re going to be hooked. It’s also the opportunity to fundamentally change our relationship to the car and how we consume energy.

More and more automakers — like Tesla and Honda — are talking about the ability to sell electricity back to grid from their vehicles. For example: If you car’s battery is already full, but the grid is in need to more power than it’s currently generating, your car (along with others) can sell some back. If your car can earn you a bit of cash while in the garage, that’s a plus. Also, as solar and battery technologies advance, there’ll be opportunities to power not only your home but also your main source of transportation for less than you’re paying today.

This will all most likely start for most of us in the 2020s. As customers, we’ll have more car choices, which is always a good thing. Electric cars are going mainstream whether you like it or not, and if you’re looking forward to eventually having a car that’s silent, maybe saves you a few bucks and is actually fun to drive, start saving now because your next car might plug into your home instead of tapping into a gas pump.

https://www.engadget.com/2017/09/20/starting-in-2020-it-s-going-to-be-hella-easy-to-buy-an-ev/

A new company is trying to revive the Skully AR helmet

Skully, Inc. is still dead and gone, but under the helm of co-founders Ivan and Rafael Contreras, a new company — Skully Technologies — has formed in its place. In the email, Ivan, the new company’s president, said that Skully Technologies would be bringing back the Skully helmet. “We are happy to inform you that the assets of Skully, Inc., have been acquired by Ivan Contreras and Rafael Contreras, successful businessmen in a variety of global turnaround industrial and technology ventures, with the goal of fulfilling Skully’s destiny,” he said.

The Contreras’ iteration of Skully is headquartered in Atlanta. Ivan goes on to vaguely suggest in his letter that those who backed the original helmet may get something for their efforts, but doesn’t say in any concrete terms what that might be. “Although Skully Technologies has no formal obligation to the customers of the now defunct Skully, Inc., we recognize that hundreds of Skully helmet enthusiasts around the world have contributed to this product and were understandably disappointed that they never received one. We are determined to make this right.”

That last bit also appears on Skully Technology’s website, the homepage of which prominently features the phrase “Determined to make it right.” How the new company will do that is unclear and it’s very possible that it won’t at all. Plus, only time will tell whether it can actually get the helmet on the market. But backers of the original Skully can have slightly more hope today than they did yesterday that they might finally get something for their investment.

https://www.engadget.com/2017/09/19/new-company-trying-revive-skully-ar-helmet/

Last Frontier’ multiplayer will test friendships

The origin story of Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is one of fortuitous timing. Former VP of Disney Interactive Martin Alltimes had planned to leave his post with the goal of setting up a nimbler, independent studio focused on narrative-driven games. Andy Serkis’ The Imaginarium, a production company specializing in motion capture, had finished work on Ryse: Son of Rome and thought an in-house video game arm would be a sensible expansion. A few pitches later and The Imaginati Studios was born, with Alltimes at the helm and a license from 20th Century Fox in hand.

The game is set between the events of the last two movies in the rebooted franchise. It follows a shrewdness of apes that left San Fransisco after their chosen leader Koba was defeated by main protagonist Caesar (the climax of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). Fearing reprisal, they journeyed hundreds of miles to the Rocky Mountains to start their own community, arriving in spring. We join the story as winter is setting in and food is scarce, forcing the apes to come into contact with a human compound occupied by mid-western farmer types that themselves are most concerned with quiet survival.

Both camps have similarly messy internal dynamics, and it’s your job to decide how those take shape and ultimately, how interactions between the groups play out. On the side of the apes, you assume the role of Bryn, one of three sons of troupe leader Kahn. On either side of him you have the aggressive and warmongering Tola, and the fearful Juno, who has a genetic deformity that makes other apes see him as weak and expendable.

This simpler, high school-esque hierarchy is in contrast with the more political power struggle looming over the human camp. Jess’ status as leader is vulnerable, since she inherited the title from her late husband. She’s a relatively diplomatic member of the group, and must contend with more pragmatic views and manage the aggressive nature of trigger-happy, ape-hunter types.

By playing as both races, you are encouraged to empathize with each side, making no decision truly black or white. And Last Frontier is all about decisions. It’s more like an interactive movie in that respect, as choosing what road the story takes is the sole gameplay mechanic. When Last Frontier is released later this year (no firm launch details as yet), it’ll be priced to reflect that. I’m told around the $20-25 mark — somewhere in between the cost of a cinema ticket and triple-A title.

Alltimes was inspired to go all-in on the storytelling side of things by some of his favorite games, such as Until Dawn, Life Is Strange and particularly, Heavy Rain. “I thought what they did at Quantic Dream was really groundbreaking. They took a big risk. They put storytelling front and center, they didn’t rely on traditional game mechanics,” he told me.

Setting a narrative game in the Planet of the Apes universe felt like a good fit. The Imaginarium already had a long relationship with 20th Century Fox, the technology to capture lifelike and emotionally engaging performances for the game, and it was an easy way for investors to understand how that expertise could be leveraged by an in-house development team. Importantly for Alltimes, though, it’s a compelling storyline.

“[Planet of the Apes] gave me a great basis for a choice-based game because it meant I could have legitimately interesting endings. So you’ve got this morally ambiguous universe where both sides of the story have good and bad sides to them and where there are legitimate reasons to their behavior — because bottom line, they’re both trying to survive.”

Keen for Last Frontier not to appear as merchandise, the game includes an all-new cast of characters and isn’t timed to coincide with anything from the film franchise. And by doing the exact opposite of sticking an ape on a horse, handing it a machine gun and turning into an action game, Alltimes hopes it’ll be judged on its own merit. Making you play as both sides of the conflict and toying with your loyalties is also key. “Otherwise, there’s no tension. There’s no drama.”

https://www.engadget.com/2017/09/19/apes-last-frontier-multiplayer/

Pi can wirelessly charge your phone from a short distance

The device is called, well, Pi, and the company says it’s the first-ever contactless wireless charging product to make it to market. It’s shaped like a lampshade, or a cone with its tip cut off. It uses resonant induction, which is the same tech that Qi uses, but with a special beam forming algorithm that lets them shape and direct magnetic fields around the device. That means that instead of needing to put your phone directly on it, you can just put your phone next to it.

In a demonstration on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt, Macdonald and his business partner Lixin Shi, showed that you could bring a phone within a foot of the Pi in order for it to start charging. He says that you can move the device in whatever direction around the Pi, and in different orientations, and it’ll still work. Then he added a second phone, a third, and a fourth, and they all started to charge. The tech applies to iPhones, Galaxy phones and even a large iPad, as long as they have the appropriate magnetic charging case. If the phone already has wireless charging built-in — like the new iPhones, for example — then a case is not required.

According to Macdonald, you can charge up to four phones at full speed if they’re all 12-inches or so away from the Pi. Once you add more phones, it’ll slow down slightly, but they’ll still get well above the one watt required to turn on the charging circuit. Shi says that the maximum output right now is 20 watts, but it’s theoretically possible to increase the power by integrating components with a higher power rating, which might be able to accommodate laptops in the future.

Right now, Macdonald and Shi plans on selling the Pi charger as a standalone product, but they’re also talking to partners about possibly integrating the technology in other devices. One possibility is in smart speakers like Google Home or the Amazon Echo. Since the speakers are already supposed to be at the center of your home, integrating a charging tech into them makes sense.

As for pricing, well, they don’t have that just yet. But Macdonald promises that it will be well under $200 when it does ship. And if you want, you can go to the company’s website right now to reserve your own Pi. The first 314 people — get it? — will get a $50 discount code.

https://www.engadget.com/2017/09/18/pi-can-wirelessly-charge-your-phone-from-a-short-distance/

Google’s mobile wallet for India uses sound for money transfers

Tez currently supports several Indian banks using the government-backed Unified Payments Interface (UPI) for free mobile bank transfers. To get more businesses onboard, Google is introducing a new program for online sellers to integrate the service. Merchants that sign up for “Tez for Business” will also get their own “channels” inside the app, allowing direct access for quick payments and interactions via text. The app’s launch partners include a mixture of local transportation, cinema, flights, and cable TV providers. And, Domino’s for the pizza crowd. There is currently a ₹1,00,000 ($1,561) limit on daily transfers across UPI apps, and only 20 transfers are permitted per day.

Google is already working on increasing internet and smartphone penetration in India, courtesy of its Android One and Station Wi-Fi initiatives. By its own account, the country’s digital payments market will grow to $500 billion by 2020. And, Google evidently wants a slice of the pie.

Although the company claims the app is made for “India first,” it could be slated for other Asian countries too. As TechCrunch notes, Google has trademarked the name “Tez” in Indonesia and the Philippines.

https://www.engadget.com/2017/09/18/google-tez-payments-app-india/

The best handheld vacuum

Who should get this

The most compelling reason to buy a good handheld vacuum is because it can reach places that bigger vacuums can’t, like the interior of a car or surfaces around your house that aren’t the floor. Handheld vacuums are also convenient for quick cleanups around the house because they’re battery-powered and compact enough to sit on a shelf or countertop between uses.

How we picked and tested

Photo: Liam McCabe

We’ve researched about 50 models since we started covering this category, searching for a handheld vacuum that made tidying small messes—or messes where a regular vacuum couldn’t easily reach—as easy as possible. We looked for the following criteria:

  • An 18-volt battery or greater. More voltage does not necessarily mean more cleaning power, but 18 volts is a good baseline for decent suction.
  • A lithium or lithium-ion battery.
  • Attachments or at least extensions for easy cleaning of tricky materials and hard-to-reach areas.
  • Strong user ratings of at least four out of five stars on average.
  • Battery life and recharge time, though most vacuums have enough juice that this is a nonissue.

I tested the contenders around the house for a few weeks, mainly for everyday tasks like picking up random tufts of cat hair, cleaning crumbs off countertops or the kitchen floor, and tidying my car after moving sports equipment—most of the typical uses for handheld vacuums, in other words—to get a feel for the real-world pros and cons. Sometimes I used two contenders side by side for these cleanups to see a more direct comparison.

I also set up an informal test to gauge suction. I poured out six lines of coffee grounds on a countertop, used each finalist to suck up one line each, and then made notes on how easily each model accomplished that task.

Our pick

black+decker bdh2020fl

Photo: Liam McCabe

The Black+Decker Max Lithium Flex Vacuum BDH2020FL is our favorite handheld vacuum because the flexible 4-foot hose and clip-on attachments help it reach and clean awkward spots around your home and car where other handhelds struggle. The suction is strong enough to handle most common types of debris. It has a 16-minute, no-fade run time, which should be enough to give most cars a thorough tidy-up, and its 20-volt battery offers plenty of suction for most household jobs.

The Max Flex Vac’s hose accepts attachments and comes with three tools: A combo tool, a crevice tool, and a pet-hair brush. The combo tool has bristles that can help grab clingy particles. The crevice tool is helpful as a wand extender, but it also makes it easier to get in tight nooks and crannies. If you’re a pet owner, the pet-hair brush is also a big help. It’s nothing fancy, just a rubbery surface with nubs, but it does help corral fuzz in a way that most handhelds struggle with. Once you’re done cleaning, the Max Flex Vac’s dirt canister is easy to empty: Pull a latch on the side of the vacuum’s body, tip it toward the garbage can, give it a whack, and you’re done.

Of course, the Max Flex Vac has flaws. There’s the price: It often costs $120, which is a lot for a handheld vacuum, but we think that the Flex Vac’s versatility and solid suction make it worth the price for people who will use it a few times per week. We also noticed the filter gets dirty very quickly, which can cause drop-offs in suction as quickly as two battery cycles. This is a common problem with most handheld vacuums, so you’ll need to be diligent about knocking the dust loose.

An almost-identical runner-up

The Black+Decker Max Flex Vac BDH2020FLFH is the same vacuum as our main pick, with the same useful clip-on attachments, plus an extension wand and floor tool to turn it into an ersatz stick vacuum. Though the floor-cleaning kit sounds like a good value, it’s actually totally worthless, because the suction becomes too weak by the time it reaches the end of the extension wand to be useful at all. We recommend buying whichever version of the Max Flex Vac costs less when you’re shopping.

A budget pick for quick cleanups

black+decker chv1410l

The Black+Decker CHV1410L is a typical DustBuster-style handheld, with a better battery than most others at this price. Photo: Liam McCabe

If you need a regular DustBuster-style handheld for quick cleanups, buy the Black+Decker CHV1410L. It’s a perennial best-seller, and one of the most affordable vacuums with a strong lithium battery. In our testing, the CHV1410L had no trouble sucking up crumbs and dirt off of bare surfaces like countertops, tile floors, and windowsills. Though the 16-volt battery is smaller than our top pick’s battery, we found the CHV1410L was about as effective for small cleanups. We clocked a 12-minute run time, but have heard reports of shorter life spans.

The main downside is that the CHV1410L can’t clean carpet or upholstery effectively. Debris clings to fabric, and the CHV1410L has neither the suction to offset the clinging, nor any tool that can agitate debris out from the fibers. Also, because the CHV1410L has no hose, cleaning the kinds of odd angles that our main pick excels at is a hassle.

The most cleaning power

dyson v6

Photo: Liam McCabe

If you’re willing to pay for the strongest handheld vacuum possible, get the Dyson V6 Car + Boat. It has much more suction by a wide margin than any other handheld vacuum we’ve tested, including our main pick. It also has more battery life than its competitors, with a run time of 20 minutes. Several V6 variants are available, but we think that the Car + Boat has the best set of attachments. The V6 Car + Boat is very expensive, and probably overkill for most people, but no other handheld vacuums comes close to its power and versatility.

The Car + Boat comes with a flexible extension hose (like the one built into our main pick), crevice tool, combo brush, stiff-bristle brush, soft-dusting brush, and a mini motorized brush roll. The mini brush roll is especially useful because it lets the V6 pick up the kind of clingy debris that every other handheld we tested left behind. If you don’t think you’ll need all the attachments included with the V6 Car + Boat, consider the V6 Top Dog instead. It costs a little less most of the time, but still comes with the mini motorized brush roll.

This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Sweethome: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

https://www.engadget.com/2017/09/17/the-best-handheld-vacuum/

Advertisers are upset with Safari’s new anti-tracking features

One of the lesser talked about announcements from Apple’s WWDC event is that High Sierra’s Safari will have something called “Intelligent Tracking Prevention,” which uses machine learning to identify ad tracking behavior. Specifically, it’ll stop you from being tracked by advertisers as you go from site to site, so that you no longer keep seeing an ad for that thing you looked up on Amazon that one time. As you might expect, however, advertisers are not too happy about this, and a group of them have come forward to condemn the company for its “unilateral and heavy-handed approach” to user privacy.

Six major advertising trade associations released a joint letter stating that the new Safari would “create a set of haphazard rules over the use of first-party cookies (i.e. those set by a domain the user has chosen to visit) that block their functionality or purge them from users’ browsers without notice or choice.” They continue to say that the rules will hurt the user experience and that they’re “bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love.”

Apple, however, is firmly convinced that it’s doing the best it can for users. In a statement, the company says: “Apple believes that people have a right to privacy. Safari was the first browser to block third-party cookies by default and Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a more advanced method for protecting user privacy.”

It further states: “Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the internet. The new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature detects and eliminates cookies and other data used for this cross-site tracking, which means it helps keep a person’s browsing private. The feature does not block ads or interfere with legitimate tracking on the sites that people actually click on and visit. Cookies for sites that you interact with function as designed, and ads placed by web publishers will appear normally.”

This is how ITP works: First-party cookies, which are the ones set by the domain that you visited, are allowed to stick around for 30 days. If you don’t revisit it after that, those cookies are purged. Third-party cookies, which are ones set by third-party ad networks, are purged immediately if they’re used as tracking cookies. If you interacted with those third-party cookies in a first-party context — aka they’re added when you visited a certain site — they’re allowed for 24 hours. After that, they exist in a partitioned state for 30 days before getting purged.

Advertisers, of course, would prefer that this was a user choice rather than one imposed on you by the browser. And, according to Apple, ITP can be turned off. But if you’re a user who’d rather not have companies track your browsing habits to show you ads, then you probably won’t do that.

This is just one problem that advertisers are dealing with. Google is also fighting back against ads with the introduction of a Chrome ad-blocker in early 2018, which should have Chrome users see fewer pop-ups and auto-playing videos. Yet, the Chrome ad-blocker doesn’t block all ads; just the annoying and distracting ones.

https://www.engadget.com/2017/09/16/advertisers-are-upset-with-safaris-new-anti-tracking-features/