Project Ara to launch $100k module contest to focus minds of developers

Google Project AraOn the second and final day of the Project Ara Developers Conference in Mountain View, California, Paul Eremenko, the guy leading Google’s ambitious initiative, unveiled plans for a $100,000 module contest to encourage developers to start designing parts for the build-your-own handset. The announcement came a week after the team released its first developer resources for the project.

The contest, which it’s hoped will incentivize talented developers into designing an array of useful modules for the revolutionary smartphone, will be officially unveiled next month. Other prizes include all-expenses paid trips to other Ara developer conferences to be held in the coming months. Entrants have until September to submit their module ideas.

To enter the contest, developers must first submit an outline of their module idea together with a hardware loan agreement so they can receive special tools to build their proposed part.

“Google wants a functional form factor module around this prototype hardware or the developer’s own prototype hardware,” Eremenko told the conference audience Wednesday, adding that entrants have to design not only the driver but also any necessary apps for their module.

The entries will be judged according to their uniqueness, as well as their novelty value, functionality, elegance, and overall quality. Potential for commercialization will also be taken into consideration.

The first Project Ara frame is projected to hits stores in January next year with a $50 price tag. Buyers can then build their handset according to their smartphone habits and needs, choosing from various modules, each one offering a different feature.

The idea for the highly customizable handset emerged last year from the Advanced Technology and Projects Group (ATAP), which used to be part of Motorola Mobility. Google held on to the group when it sold Motorola to Lenovo at the start of the year.

Digital Trends

Google Courts Developers for Modular Smartphone Project

Google AraGoogle, with Project Ara, is trying to bring customization to smartphone hardware using a marketplace akin to software app stores. But it needs third-party developers to succeed.

Executives and engineers from Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group came up with the project, and are holding their first conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. The goal: to persuade developers to create new hardware for the effort.

The Ara smartphone is based on a metal frame designed by Google. Hardware “modules” built by outside developers will slot into this frame and will be held in place by magnets.

Google plans a basic Ara phone that costs about $50 to build. Consumers can then buy new modules, via an online marketplace or app store, from developers, depending on what they want their phones to do.

On Tuesday, some developers were already discussing hardware add-ons for the nascent platform.

Peter Sisk, a senior engineer from The Institute for Health Metrics, said he is working on an Ara module that could analyze a small drop of blood and collect results that usually require much larger samples.

“This is essentially a blood lab on a chip,” he added. The technology could be used to analyze blood samples in remote locations and send the information back to hospitals through wireless networks, Sisk explained.

Eric Blanchard, a design engineer from satellite communications provider Globalstar, said his company could make an Ara module that users slot into their phone when they are out of the range of wireless and wifi signals. The module would hook the phone up to Globalstar’s satellites and let users make calls and access the Internet, he explained.

Derek Linden, founder of X5 Systems, is developing antenna modules for Ara phones that can be customized online based on users’ requirements.

“You could have hundreds of thousands of hardware apps on this platform,” Sisk said. “Compared to software, it’s a little harder to do hardware hacks, but it’s getting easier.”

Kaigham Gabriel, deputy director of Google’s ATAP group, said Ara phones could help villages in developing countries connect to the Internet and wireless voice services cheaply. Each villager could have a basic Ara phone and the village could have one module that provides 4G wireless services.

When someone needs to make a call, they can insert the 4G module into their device. When they are done they can pass it to their neighbor, Gabriel explained.

WSJ

Anyone can get a pair of Google Glass on Tax day

free_glassThis is kind of interesting – I’m not exactly sure what to make of Google’s decision to make Glass available for a single day to everyone (yes, there are certain qualifications like being able to afford a $1500 piece of tech and being in the US).  But this kind of feels like a liquidation sale where you try to get rid of something.  But this could also be a way to get non-devs and non-tech folks to give Glass a try (so it lets a few more people jump in the pool).  At this point, I’m not sure there’s a lot of people who want Glass (and meet the qualifications) that haven’t gotten an invite.  Come on, if I can find someone to give me an invite and I couldn’t even use up all the invites I had, I think anyone who wanted a pair already has a pair.  In any case, it’s an interesting marketing/PR move, but I don’t think it helps the Glass movement much.  Mine is still sitting on my desk waiting for me to play with it.

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There are countless reviews and critiques arguing that Google Glass is far from ready for the consumer mass market yet. But the Internet giant is going ahead with the digitized headset anyway — at least for one day only.

After being scooped earlier on Thursday, Google came clean that it would be making Glass available for purchase to anyone (but not quite everyone) on Tuesday, April 15. The timing couldn’t be better for those looking to blow their tax refunds.

Up until now, Glass has only been available to developers and other industry insiders via the Google Glass Explorer Program, which started taking applicants as far back as Google I/O in 2012 when Glass was first unveiled.

Since then, the program has slowly opened up by allowing existing members to invite colleagues and friends to throw down $1,500 (plus tax) for prototypes of their own. The Android maker also let in another pool of interested beta testers through promotions on Google+. (See: #ifihadglass.)

Google is still keeping the lid on the Glass Explorer program, albeit slightly ajar. Anyone interested in joining the Explorer program (and willing to pay the aforementioned hefty fee) can sign up starting at 6AM PDT on April 15.

Without offering a specific figure, Google warned that there are only a “limited” number of spots available.

Another catch: The program continues to remain only available in the United States.

ZDNet

Google Chrome 34 is Out: Responsive Images, Supervised Users

Google Chrome 34Google today released Chrome version 34 for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The new version includes support for responsive images, an unprefixed version of the Web Audio API, and importing supervised users. You can update to the latest release now using the browser’s built-in silent updater, or download it directly from google.com/chrome.

First off, Google is introducing the “srcset” attribute to let Web developers provide multiple resources in varying resolutions for a single image, in the hopes of speeding up page load times, reducing wasted bandwidth, and ending improperly formatted content. In short, support for responsive images means the browser picks the resource that matches the device’s capabilities, whether it’s a desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, or a TV.

Next, the new browser release comes with an unprefixed version of the Web Audio API, to bring Chrome’s implementation of Web Audio in alignment with the W3C draft specification. Google is asking developers to switch to the unprefixed versions as the prefixed versions have been deprecated and will be removed completely in a future release.

Here’s the Chrome 34 changelog provided by Google:

  • Responsive Images and Unprefixed Web Audio.
  • Import supervised users onto new computers.
  • A number of new apps/extension APIs.
  • A different look for Win8 Metro mode.
  • Lots of under the hood changes for stability and performance.

The second point is worth expanding on: you can now import supervised users, which were first added as a beta feature Chrome 32. Imported supervised users come with all their permissions, which will automatically sync across devices.

To import a supervised user, click the Chrome menu on the browser toolbar, select Settings, click “Add new user” in the Users section, click “Import an existing supervised user,” select the user in question, and click “Import supervised user.” As we noted for the beta, Google should probably cut down a few of those steps.

As in previous releases, Google also included the usual bug fixes, stability improvements, and so on in Chrome version 34.0.1847.116. For more details, you can check out the full SVN revision log.

The Next Web

A $300 3D Printer that’s big on features and light on the wallet

M3D 3D PrinterThis looks super cool and I wish I had joined the Kickstarter when I could have picked one up for $199, but honestly $299 isn’t bad either.  I personally haven’t gotten much experience with 3D printing, but it’s definitely one of those hobbies I wish I had time to get into.  I might need to do a little hobby pruning and see what is taking up my time and start to drop old things in favor of new hobbies.  I’ve had ideas for 3D printing for a while and I keep looking at the prices go down, but I also have a bunch of other things I’ve bought recently that are just sitting on my desk, so I don’t want to go too crazy.  But for $300, this is in a good sweet spot of being cheap enough that I wouldn’t feel bad if I didn’t use it, but useful enough that if I got into it, I would totally invest more into it.  I really wish it wasn’t a 6+ month wait to get one of these.  Hopefully this Kickstarter comes to fruition.  Happy 3D printing everyone :-)

-=-=-=-=-=-

M3D launched its Micro 3D printer project on Kickstarter today, and has already surpassed its $50,000 goal—and then some.

The numbers continue to tick up as more than 1,300 backers have already contributed almost $330,000 as of press time. And there are still 29 days to go.

Advertised as “the first truly consumer 3D printer,” the Micro is certainly more affordable than any of its big-business counterparts. The lightweight, USB-compatible desktop device, which can be used with any Windows, Mac, or Linux system, has sold out of $200 and $250 bundles, which include the Micro at a “very limited special price” (shipping not included), as well as one filament spool.

The still-available $300, $600-plus, and $900-plus reward packages also earn you a first-batch printer on the cheap. Comparatively, Brooklyn-based MakerBot is now taking pre-orders for its compact Replicator Mini, with a price tag of $1,375.

“We’ve built The Micro with reliability, consistency, and accessibility in mind,” the M3D team wrote on Kickstarter. Built for everyone from novice users to experts, the device include a sensor and feedback system for auto-leveling and calibration; you’ll never have to adjust the printer, even after building an entire scale model of the Death Star.

“Bring your ideas to life, turn them into businesses, educate, learn, personalize products, make toys, make jewelry, start a curriculum, run a modern workshop, and unleash your creativity,” the team said. “The power of creation is yours!”

The space-efficient, portable, quiet 3D printer comes in five colors—silver, black, blue, red/orange, and green—and promises the lowest power consumption of any 3D printer on the market. Already own a 3D printer, or just have spools of filament lying around? The Micro supports various materials, including ABS, PLA, and Nylon, among others. Likewise, M3D’s filament is compatible with other printers.

“We’re ready for production and really need your support to ramp up assembly to get printers to you as early as possible,” the Kickstarter page said.

The Maryland-based team has been prepping for more than a year, and now, by pre-ordering the Micro printer, “you’ll help us reach our last crucial milestone: purchasing the injection molds that will provide us with high-quality, high-volume 3D printer parts we need.”

Unless otherwise noted, all Micro 3D Printer rewards come with the M3D software, instruction manual, USB cable, country-specific power adapter, and one Micro filament spool.

Still unclaimed, M3D’s big-spender rewards include a signed sketch of the original design ($2,000+), a custom-colored printer ($5,000+), and a tour of the M3D offices and lunch with the team ($10,000+). The Kickstarter project closes on May 7.

PCMag.com

 

3D-printed modules for Google’s Ara phone coming early next year

AraI can’t wait to be able to build my own phone like I used to build my own PC.  The same way I used to pick out what monitor, cpu, video card, sound card, case – I’ll get to pick out what case, screen, processor, camera for my new phone.  And then maybe instead of buying a whole new phone a year later, I can just replace the screen or camera or maybe just get a new case for all the internals and make it look like a new phone.  This also speaks to my love for legos and building things.  And things get really interesting when you have custom mods and you have to choose between a better battery or a better camera or maybe something crazy like a built-in projector or maybe a light saber.  All I can say is bring it on :-)

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Lego-like parts that will form the building blocks for Google’s Project Ara will be produced on 3D printers and ship in time for the customizable smartphone’s release early next year.

With Project Ara, Google is looking to provide a configurable smartphone in which users can add desired hardware features by attaching modular parts. Buyers will get an empty phone frame and insert the hardware components they choose into the back of it. For example, they could swap a camera for an extra battery for longer run time.

3D Systems will manufacture the plastic parts, including the circuitry inside, President and CEO Avi Reichental said during a keynote Thursday at the Inside 3D Printing conference in New York. The company will also be able to print custom designs on the surfaces of the blocks to give buyers the look they want, he said.

Google is working with another company on an app customers will be able to use to design artwork for their phone, according to a Google video shown during Reichental’s keynote. The video also showed Google experimenting with a version of Android for the Ara phone. Members of the Ara team were testing Android apps and drivers for the phone, which was attached to a development board that had an application processor.

3D printers have been used to make products as simple as toys and as complex as parts used in aircraft engines. But adding thin layers of metal, which would be necessary to produce the electronics inside the phone parts, has been a challenge. Only a handful of expensive 3D printers can combine plastic and micron-sized metals in the printing process.

Reichental said his company’s work with Google will help to overcome the challenges in this type of printing.

“We see it all as very surmountable. The feasibility is very good,” Reichental said.

Some of the initial Project Ara blocks will have circuitry that’s basic to a phone, Reichental said in an interview. He gave an example of a detachable module with a wireless antenna.

“Some of the circuitry in the first generation will be very traditional,” he said.

Google reached its Ara manufacturing deal with 3D Systems in November. The printing company has expanded its manufacturing capacity in recent years, and Reichental is confident it will be able to meet the demand for Project Ara parts. 3D Systems will also ship the Project Ara enclosures to customers.

Project Ara won’t be a replacement for current smartphones but represents a good opportunity for 3D printing, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

The do-it-yourself smartphone will be good for prototyping and designing future mobile products, and for demonstrating the capabilities of 3D printing, he said.

“For the maker community, for the artist community, for niche applications, it’s going to be huge,” McGregor said.

Modern smartphones are highly integrated, with network equipment, cameras, batteries and other components built in, making it hard for 3D printers to produce them, McGregor said. In addition, the wireless parts used in smartphones need government approval, and that takes time and money.

“Will Project Ara catch on? No,” McGregor predicted. But it will lay the groundwork for future 3D printing projects involving conductive material.

3D printing is the “factory of the future,” 3D Systems’ Reichental said, helping companies prototype, manufacture and deliver products faster. The technology also promises manufacturing that is cheaper and more sustainable, he said.

PCWorld

Microsoft announces Cortana smartphone voice search

CortanaFans of the Halo video game franchise will recognize the voice of Windows Phone 8.1′s new Cortana voice assistant: It’s voice actress Jen Taylor, who voiced the character in the video game.

The beta version of Cortana that will launch in coming months actually uses more than one source, including synthesized voices. But over time, the feature’s voice will become more and more centered on Taylor, Microsoft’s Greg Sullivan told USA TODAY.

“Cortana from Halo embodies what we are trying to achieve here,” he says.

In the Halo series, Cortana is an artificial intelligence guide who is the right hand to series hero Master Chief. As in the game franchise, there is an evolution in the relationship that deepens over time — as the smartphone voice assistant gathers more information on how you use the phone, he says.

For now, Taylor’s voice is behind many of the “chit-chat” exchanges on the phone.

In a demonstration Wednesday, Sullivan asked Cortana “who is your father?”

Her response: “Technically speaking, that’d be Bill Gates. No big deal.”

Cortana is powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine and essentially replaces the search function on a Windows Phone smartphone. You can use it to make phone calls, send texts, take a note or give you a reminder.

Cortana has a “notebook” where you can store your interests, places you frequent, calendar, relationships with friends, family and colleagues and your “quiet hours.” So for instance, during your quiet hours you can let only certain calls come through.

The more you use the search function the more Cortana learns about you, by asking you if you want her to store it.The Windows Phone 8.1 update starts rolling out to consumers who currently own Windows Phones in the next few months.

The new feature adds functionality to Windows Phones that Apple and Google’s Android customers have come to know through Siri (Apple) and Google Now (Android).

USAToday

 

iOS vs. Android: iOS Apps Crash More Often

AndroidAndroid app users deal with less crashes than their Apple counterparts, according to a new study by Crittercism.

Unsurprisingly, the data also showed that users of the latest updates, Android KitKat (4.4) and iOS 7.1, experience the least amount of crashes, while the older versions tend to crash more often.

Android KitKat, Jelly Bean (4.3) and Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) feature a 0.7 percent crash rate, while Gingerbread (2.3) apps crash at a 1.7 percent clip.

As for iOS, the app crashes come in at 2.5 percent of the time for iOS 7, 2.1 percent for iOS 7 and 1.6 percent for the recently-released iOS 7.1.

The device you use also makes a difference. Apple iPhone 5 users reported the least amount of crashes (1.7 percent) for iOS, while the Samsung Galaxy S4 offered users an outstanding 0.9 percent rate.

Tablets, meanwhile, are less stable than smartphones, but Crittercism sees that leveling out over time.

“As tablet adoption grows, expect developers to focus on optimizing performance for tablets, thereby bringing crash rates to be on par with smartphones,” the report said.

The iOS-Android war doesn’t end there, though.

Apple device users have a healthy appetite for iOS 7, but their Android counterparts do not have the sweet teeth for Android 4.4 KitKat, according to new data from mobile analytics firm Mixpanel.

Mixpanel reported that iOS 7 adoption has hit 85 percent, while just 8 percent of Android devices are running 4.4 or higher. As TechCrunch reports, the real-time stats are even higher for iOS 7, at about 90 percent. The high iOS 7 adoption is also noteworthy considering some users have complained about an increase in battery drain and that the interface is too bright, while some have even reported motion sickness from the mobile OS’s parallax effect.

However, the majority of Apple users are quick to update their devices, which, in turn, gives Apple an efficiency advantage over Android for software development purposes.

Design & Trend

What’s the yield keyword in Javascript?

Javascript

function *fib() {
  var i = 0, j = 1;
  while (true) {
    yield i;
    var t = i;
    i = j;
    j += t;
  }
}

var g = fib();
for (var i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
  console.log(g.next().value);
}

The function containing the yield keyword is a generator. When you call it, its formal parameters are bound to actual arguments, but its body isn’t actually evaluated. Instead, a generator-iterator is returned. Each call to the generator-iterator’s next() method performs another pass through the iterative algorithm. Each step’s value is the value specified by the yield keyword. Think of yield as the generator-iterator version of return, indicating the boundary between each iteration of the algorithm. Each time you call next(), the generator code resumes from the statement following the yield.

MDN

Facebook to Acquire Oculus

Facebook OculusFacebook today announced that it has reached a definitive agreement to acquire Oculus VR, Inc., the leader in immersive virtual reality technology, for a total of approximately $2 billion. This includes $400 million in cash and 23.1 million shares of Facebook common stock (valued at $1.6 billion based on the average closing price of the 20 trading days preceding March 21, 2014 of $69.35 per share).  The agreement also provides for an additional $300 million earn-out in cash and stock based on the achievement of certain milestones.

Oculus is the leader in immersive virtual reality technology and has already built strong interest among developers, having received more than 75,000 orders for development kits for the company’s virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift. While the applications for virtual reality technology beyond gaming are in their nascent stages, several industries are already experimenting with the technology, and Facebook plans to extend Oculus’ existing advantage in gaming to new verticals, including communications, media and entertainment, education and other areas.  Given these broad potential applications, virtual reality technology is a strong candidate to emerge as the next social and communications platform.

“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow,” said Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”

“We are excited to work with Mark and the Facebook team to deliver the very best virtual reality platform in the world,” said Brendan Iribe, co-founder and CEO of Oculus VR. “We believe virtual reality will be heavily defined by social experiences that connect people in magical, new ways. It is a transformative and disruptive technology, that enables the world to experience the impossible, and it’s only just the beginning.”

Oculus will maintain its headquarters in Irvine, CA, and will continue development of the Oculus Rift, its ground-breaking virtual reality platform.

The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2014.

PRNewswire