Shocker! Cellphone touchscreens are dirty

18 10 2010

If you have even the slightest inclination towards Mysophobia then please, do yourself a favor and stop reading now. A Stanford University study found that if you put a virus on a touchscreen surface then about 30 percent of it will make the jump to the fingertips of anyone who touches it. From there it goes into the eyes, mouth, or nose — whichever face-hole is in most urgent need of a rub. And just to drive the point home, the Sacramento Bee adds this little nugget from an unspecified British study: “Mobile phones harbor 18 times more bacteria than a flush handle in a typical men’s restroom.” Eww. You know, sometimes it’s best not to know how the sausage is made.


Google’s driverless car drives interest in driverless cars

18 10 2010

Self-driving cars are hardly new. We’ve seen dozens of automatic vehicles over the years, many of which have seen advances driven (so to speak) by various DARPA challenges. But now that Google’s involved — whoa! — the mainstream media is suddenly whipped into a frenzy of hyperbolic proclamations about the future. Still, it is fascinating stuff to watch. So click on through if you like having your tech salad tossed with a side of smarmy TV-news voiceover. Trust us, it’s delicious.


sourceABC News

HP’s Photosmart eStation Android tablet hands-on

7 10 2010

So here it is, after months of details coming to light an inkdrop at a time, the HP eStation all-in-one printing solution. But we’re not gonna dwell but on half of that: the 7-inch tablet skinned out by Yahoo and powered by Android 2.1. As we expected, though, the Google experience is decidedly less that you’re accustomed to: search is Yahoo only, and our attempt to find an alternate method was met with a barebones settings menu (search via the browser page still works). Additionally, there is no access to Android Market, relegating your customization instead to HP’s print-heavy app store — sorry, no games, as that’s not what the company wants to focus on here, according to the rep. That also means no native Gmail, much to our dismay. What Yahoo has provided is a suite of apps and widgets that actually work well in their simplicity, from weather to stocks and search.

We were reminded at numerous points that this is a prototype build, and for good reason — the responsiveness was questionably slow, especially in the browser. That said, the Nook store and e-reading app was as fluid as you’d ever need. WiFi is equipped on both the tablet and the printer for cloud-based connectivity on the go. Battery life is measured at four to six hours, and Android 2.2 is expected by holiday still sans Market, but beyond Flash (and at this point we question its performance on this hardware), there’s probably not a lot of value-add in the update. Expect this AIO to be shipping the in the next few weeks.

MIT Medical Lab Mirror tells your pulse with a webcam

7 10 2010
MIT Medical Lab Mirror tells your pulse with a webcam

Mirror mirror on the wall, who has the highest arterial palpation of them all? If you went to MIT you might be able to answer that question thanks to the work of grad student Ming-Zher Poh, who has found a way to tell your pulse with just a simple webcam and some software. By looking at minute changes in the brightness of the face, the system can find the beating of your heart even at a low resolution, comparable to the results of a traditional FDA-approved pulse monitor. Right now the mirror above is just a proof of concept, but the idea is that the hospital beds or surgery rooms of tomorrow might be able to monitor a patient’s pulse without requiring any wires or physical contact, encouraging news for anyone who has ever tried to sleep whilst wearing a heart monitor.

Berkeley Bionics reveals eLEGS exoskeleton, aims to help paraplegics walk in 2011

7 10 2010

Wondering where you’ve heard of Berkeley Bionics before? These are the same whiz-kids who produced the HULC exoskeleton in mid-2008, and now they’re back with a far more ambitious effort. Announced just moments ago in San Francisco, the eLEGS exoskeleton is a bionic device engineered to help paraplegics stand up and walk on their own. It’s hailed as a “wearable, artificially intelligent, bionic device,” and it’s expected to help out within the hospital, at home and elsewhere in this wild, wild place we call Earth. Initially, the device will be offered to rehabilitation centers for use under medical supervision, and can be adjusted to fit most people between 5’2″ and 6’4″ (and weighing 220 pounds or less) in a matter of minutes. We’re told that the device provides “unprecedented knee flexion,” and it’s also fairly quiet in operation; under ideal circumstances, speeds of up to 2MPH can be attained, and it employs a gesture-based human-machine interface that relies on legions of sensors to determine a user’s intentions and act accordingly. Clinical trials are going on as we speak about to begin, and there’s a limited release planned for the second half of 2011. We’re still waiting to hear back on a price, so keep it locked for more as we get it live from the event.

Update: We just got to see the eLEGS walk across stage, and you’ll find a gallery full of close-up pics immediately below. We also spoke to Berkeley Bionics CEO Eythor Bender, who detailed the system a bit more — it’s presently made of steel and carbon fiber with lithium-ion battery packs, weighs 45 pounds, and has enough juice to run for six hours of continuous walking. While he wouldn’t give us an exact price, he said they’re shooting for $100,000, and will be “very competitive” with other devices on the market. Following clinical trials, the exoskeleton will be available to select medical centers in July or August, though Bender also said the company’s also working on a streamlined commercial version for all-day use, tentatively slated for 2013.

Xbox Live Fall 2010 Dashboard Update preview: ESPN, Netflix search, Kinect, and more!

7 10 2010

Shortly before Kinect hits store shelves on November 4th, Microsoft plans on rolling out the Fall Update to Xbox Live — even sooner for those who signed up for the preview program. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, really: even without the numerous leaks, the fall update is a longstanding tradition for the almost five-year-old console, and the company devoted a large chunk of its E3 2010 presentation to talk about the biggest additions. That includes Netflix search (finally!), Zune music, and an entertainment hub for a certain worldwide sports broadcaster… ESPN. We’ve had a chance to spend some time at home with the Fall Update, follow us after the break for our full impressions!

Update: As both Joystiq and a number of tipsters have alerted us, Microsoft has pulled the large, wooden lever in its dark underground lair that allows for the Fall Update to trickle out and assimilate itself into the consoles of those smart enough to sign up for the preview program. If you receive a prompt upon signing in, rejoice! If not, well, have patience!

P.S. – Looking for more? Our BFFs at Joystiq have compiled a series of exhaustive videos chronicling the Fall Update. Check it out!


The biggest change with the Xbox Dashboard, and arguably the biggest since the New Xbox Experience debuted in 2008, is with panel presentation — which is a mixed bag if you ask us. No long do they cascade, providing what was an admittedly obstructed view of six selections; instead, we’re shown three panels in their entirety, with just the subtlest of hints that there’s more to the right or left. It’s much cleaner and panels themselves more aesthetically-pleasing, sure, but to be honest, we thought it was functionally easier to have a hint of what’s further down the menu. Again, though, we can’t say we’re disappointed — after all, navigation feels much snappier. As we saw briefly on the Featured tab (with an advertisement, naturally), Microsoft allows for full-motion video presented even on non-highlighted panels.

Also getting a welcome UI overhaul is the Customize Avatar screen. Your virtual doppelganger now stands front and center as you go through the selection of wares and facial adjustments. There aren’t any surprise features, but navigation does feel much less cumbersome.


As far as new features go, ESPN3 is top of that list. For the cost of Xbox Live Gold and having an affiliated ISP (here’s a list, and not to worry NYCers, Microsoft assures us Time Warner Cable will soon be partnering up), you can watch live sporting events and replays of anything ESPN has the rights to stream — and trust us, that’s a lot. (Don’t have an affiliated ISP? You’ll miss out on the live events and full replays, but all other clips and highlights should still be available.) The initial screen features a crowd of avatars wandering on the bottom, while giant displays serve as the screens for the featured videos. Hovering over one selection for more than a few seconds and the video will autoplay; pressing X will make the video full screen, which you can do immediately at the cost of a brief bout of low-resolution footage as it buffers the HD stream.

More highlights can be found in a menu accessible via the leftmost panel. It’s a setup familiar to Netflix owners: a textual list of categories and a horizontal smorgasbord of related videos. Here’s where we come into some hiccups, however: when we last checked live event replays, there were 241 games in all — not easy to navigate. Microsoft alleviates some of this by adding the My Sports tab, allowing you to select and quickly peruse your favorite ball game, but even then, expect some sifting. We’ve been promised more more integration with ESPN’s online suite — including being able to select specific “My Teams” to follow — some time in the not-too-distant future.

All the video streams in HD using the same variable bitrate technology as Zune video. You’re also given the same controls (pause, fast forward, rewind, etc.) and the portal will remember where you left off in a certain video if you want to jump in and out of a handful at a time. The best part is with live events, being able to rewind to parts you missed even if you tuned in late. Unfortunately there’s no jumping to key moments à la the web browser stream, but like we were told with My Teams, it’s on the proverbial roadmap. At any point during any video, you can press Y to bring up the scores for all current, recent, and upcoming games, sortable by sport, and if it’s on at the moment, you can quickly jump to the game with a press of a button. Again, the repeated mantra here is that there’s potential for more and it’s in the works. That’s not to downplay anything that’s being offered out the gate; what we have hear is pretty impressive for sports fans, if for nothing else as a great way to stream matches from your living room set without having to invest in a cable TV.


Netflix has been an enduring staple to the Xbox 360’s entertainment side, and for a long time one of the biggest non-gaming reasons to pick up the console. The only problem was that you still needed another device altogether to explore the library, as the software limited you to a pre-selected array of films (organized by category) and what was already added to your Instant Watch queue. Thankfully that’s all been changed with this update. In addition to eschewing cascading navigation in favor of something on the same plane of depth (notice a trend here?), search has now has been added. It works well, opting for a line of letters instead the classic Xbox 360 virtual keyboard, and the results update with each letter added. If a selection isn’t available to watch instantly, it’ll still show up on the list as “DVD Only” and offer suggestions to similar titles. Needless to say, this still remains one of the best Netflix experiences out there.

Zune music

Zune video got a handful of UI tweaks — its selection menu for video is thankfully much more streamlined — but newcomer here is music and Zune Pass. Unsurprisingly, it works similar to Zune video and most other entertainment panels, as far as navigation is concerned. Search presents you with multiple separate panels for results that updating with each additional letter: artist, song, album, playlist. The artist page sorts songs by album and individual popularity, and even provides bios with hotlinks to other artists, a nice little touch. All the Zune functionality you’d expect is here, including Smart DJ. Pick an artist as a jumping off point and adjust the playlist according to your likes. The program itself works great; whether or not you want to devote your TV to streaming music is entirely your call, but at least the option’s there.


Screen from E3 2010

We didn’t get a chance to bring Kinect home to give it a spin (no beta for us, we’re afraid), but Microsoft did invite us to its offices to try it in studio. By and large, though, it’s what we saw back at E3 with some refinements — and yes, it does work while sitting down. If you’re calibrated to your profile, walking in front of the Kinect camera will automatically sign you in (if no one else is already). Waving your hand will engage the gestures, swiping from one side to the other will navigating through the special panels (so long as you connect the hand cursor to the proper arrow icon ahead of time), and you still have to hover on a panel for multiple seconds to select certain items. That part seemed quicker than before, but it’s still a hassle compared to quickly moving through via a controller. Voice commands are again limited to select options, and it’ll prompt you on what does and doesn’t work. Using your hand to grab and fine-tune where in a video you are is still a nice touch, but really, this is just an alternate method for navigation. Great for novelty’s sake or if you can’t find the remote / are out of batteries, but we’re still a ways off from Minority Report.



We hate to use the revolution vs. evolution analogy here, but that’s exactly what the new dashboard is: an evolution of the New Xbox Experience. Aesthetic revisions and impending Kinect integration notwithstanding, the big takeaway from this update is a vastly improved Netflix and a strong debut for ESPN, which really is going to make some people rethink their cable TV subscription. Sure, it’s mandatory, but don’t worry, it’s pretty much an improvement in every way imaginable — unless, of course, you like cascading panels.