Walls with digital interfaces, voice-controlled machinery – that’s the future that Microsoft has envisioned. With the company's latest boost to the Kinect, it may actually be possible.
This week, Microsoft debuted new research into what the Kinect hardware is capable of. The research allows for gesture controls like pinch-to-zoom and swiping as a way to control a PC.
The Kinect was originally released for the Xbox 360, Microsoft’s gaming console. The Kinect, an add-on device, hooks up to the Xbox 360 and allows users to control their Xbox without a controller. This means that people can use gestures and voice commands to control their Xbox experience.
Microsoft soon capitalized on what became the world’s fastest-selling gadget. Do-it-yourselfers quickly began taking advantage of the Kinect, creating code and using the motion-sensor device for much more than controlling video games. The vast array of uses that hackers created for the Kinect led Microsoft to release a Windows software development kit (SDK).
In a video on the Engadget website, Cem Keskin, a researcher at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England, demonstrates the way the enhanced Kinect works. The Kinect now sees hands as hands, as opposed to seeing them as a single point in space. Technically, the hands are seen in “hand states” meaning they are either opened or closed.
“Since we have these two hand states we can simulate hand grip and therefore, we can inject touch events to drive Windows applications,” says Mr. Keskin in the video.
Keskin goes on to open up the Fresh Paint application. It appears as if he seamlessly connects with the device, allowing him to draw a rather crude house. However, his artwork is not the focus of the video, it is the Kinect’s ability to respond to hand motions accurately and at a timely fashion.
Engadget reports that there is no certainty on just how Microsoft will bring the gesture controller to its audience. Whether it will be a simple SDK, a hardware update, or even the rumored all-new Kinect (to go along with the rumored all-new Xbox).
The Kinect is just a part of how Microsoft sees the future.
“We want to excite customers about the direction we're heading in and show that we are constantly thinking about new scenarios based on trends and real work in Microsoft Research and the business groups,” says Microsoft’s director of strategic prototyping, Jonathan Cluts, in an interview with EWeek. “These scenarios are based on reality, not science fiction.”
So far, this version of the Kinect will only be available for PCs. Microsoft has not announced any plans to bring the gesture controller to its video games.
2013 is turning out to be a big year for gesture controllers. The Leap Motion Controller, due out in May, adds hand gestures to Macs and PCs. Microsoft has not yet released a timeline or launch date for the enhanced Kinect.
[Editor's note: This article has been changed from its original form to better reflect that this Kinect research is still experimental.]
If you’ve got an Amazon Prime account, you know there’s a lot that $79 a year gets you. Access to a library of stream movies and TV shows, e-books that can be downloaded to your Kindle, and free two-day shipping on a hefty portion of the stuff Amazon sells. Now, according to a new rumor, Google is planning to launch a competing service that’ll cost a little less money -- maybe just $64 a year.
TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis reports that “Google Shopping Express” is in development, and is being built to serve as a “focal point” for the company’s existing Google Wallet and Google Shopping services. Put simply, Google is already the first place many people go when they’re researching a product -- and Google Shopping Express could be a way for the company to get a piece of the action when people do decide to buy. TechCrunch also notes that the service would do Amazon Prime one better in an important regard: it would offer same-day delivery from big retailers such as Target, Safeway, and Walmart.
This rumor should be taken with a grain of salt, of course, but it’s not far-fetched to imagine that Google would want to increase its e-commerce presence. And the rumor is reasonably detailed: TechCrunch says Tom Fallows, one of Google’s e-commerce managers, is heading up the project and that Google employees are already “dogfooding” the service (testing it by using it for their own needs).
It’s also worth mentioning that Google recently acquired two e-commerce companies: Bufferbox, a package-delivery service, and Channel Intelligence, a product-referral business. Bufferbox, which is based in Ontario, Canada, bills itself as a kind of parcel delivery alternative. Since lots of people aren’t home to sign for packages, the company says, they can ship them to nearby pickup stations instead. The acquisition certainly gives Google the beginnings of a service that can ship things quickly, although BufferBox is geographically limited right now.
Channel Intelligence, on the other hand, is focused on the online side of things -- providing e-commerce software and services to make it easier for merchants to sell their products online. This includes a “where-to-buy” feature that lets online shoppers know whether a brick-and-mortar store has the product they’re looking for in stock.
This may be a side project, of course -- there’s no guarantee Google will unveil Shopping Express anytime soon (or even at all). But taken together, the rumor and the company’s recent acquisitions seem to suggest that Google is looking at ways to step up its commerce game.
Readers, what’s your take? Does the idea of Google getting into the retail business seem far-fetched? Would you use Shopping Express? Let us know in the comments section below.
Facebook has a mountain of data on its users’ activities, locations, and other data -- which allows it to serve up advertisements that are pretty narrowly tailored to individual tastes. Now that ad-focusing ability could get even better.
On Thursday, the company announced it will buy Microsoft’s “Atlas,” an business that helps companies buy, manage, and track ads.
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What will Atlas do for Facebook? Neither company has laid out specific plans yet, but the first part of the theory is that better data will lead to more advertising dollars. Facebook has been working for a while to increase its ad revenue -- especially on tablets and phones -- and Atlas brings some powerful data tracking features to the table, which would allow Facebook to better measure how effective its ads are.
This is important to Facebook, because Atlas is a direct competitor to Google’s ad service -- and right now, Google is eating Facebook’s lunch. DoubleClick can better quantify the success of its ads, and because of this, lots of companies choose to advertise with Google (which means the company can charge more for ads). Atlas could give Facebook the same kind of leverage.
Atlas brings another strength to Facebook: It lets advertisers target ads even more closely, based on the social habits of Facebook users. In other words, advertisers will be better able to understand the relationship between the things you do (as captured by Facebook) and the things you buy, and can capitalize on this information. Eventually, this could lead to Facebook developing an ad network and selling ads outside of its own site. And because the company has such a vast amount of data on what things people are sharing and “liking,” a Facebook-driven social ad network would likely be pretty effective.
Atlas has been around for awhile. Microsoft acquired the company in 2007 when it bought the advertising firm aQuantive for $6 billion. That purchase proved to be ill-fated: Microsoft ultimately wrote off most of the acquisition cost, and has apparently been trying to sell Atlas for some time. In October, Jason del Rey reported in AdAge that Microsoft was working to sell it to New York ad company AppNexus.
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Every year, it seems that technology is inching humanity closer to a world like that of the Jetsons. Just today, Leap Motion announced a launch date for its long-awaited motion controller. The tiny gadget hooks up to computers (Macs or PCs) and enables the user to control the computer using only hands gestures. The tiny device will set consumers back $80.
According to the company’s blog, the Leap Motion Controller is no bigger than your iPod and 200 times more accurate than any other gesture controller currently on the market. TGDaily reports that this means the Leap Motion Controller, due out in May, will be able to capture gestures as small as 1/100 of a millimeter at 290 frames per second.
The inspiration for the Leap Motion Controller came from the founders’ frustration with 3-D modeling.
“Molding clay took 10 seconds in real life but 30 minutes with a computer. The mouse and keyboard were simply getting in the way,” says the company blog. "Since available technology couldn't solve our problems, we created the Leap Motion controller.”
When the Leap Motion Controller is plugged into a USB port, the user can perform a variety of hand signals. Swipe to flip a page, pinch-to-zoom, and even use their hands to play games.
Leap Motion also announced an application market that will offer apps specifically designed for the Leap Motion Controller. Autodesk, Corel Painter, Cut the Rope, and a Wreck-it Ralph racing game will already be available for purchase from the store.
However, as with any new technology, developers must be on board in order to make the hardware and the software work. Airspace won’t have nearly as many apps as the Apple App Store or the Google Play marketplace, at least not for now.
“I've played with a Leap system and I found it fun and interesting. I'm not sure it will replace your touchscreen or laptop input devices, but at $79, it seems worth trying out,” writes Mr. Madrigal.
The Leap Motion Controller will be available to users through BestBuy. Last month, CNET reported that BestBuy had acquired the exclusive launch rights to the Leap Motion Controller. Those who pre-ordered the gadget before today will receive it for the original asking price of $70 and they will be receiving it on May 13.
BestBuy.com and BestBuy stores will begin to sell the Leap Motion Controller on May 18 and 19, respectively.
The "Copyright Alert System," a six-part warning scheme aimed at curbing illegal downloads of music and movies, rolled out this week with the support of the "big five" American Internet providers -- AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, and Cablevision. The system is designed to gradually warn, and eventually penalize, those suspected of pirating content over peer-to-peer networks.
The entertainment industry has been grappling with the question of how to curb illegal downloads for years now -- since the days of the Napster downloading proto-service, in fact. The "six strikes" policy is the result of cooperation between film and recording industry representatives and American ISPs, and is designed to educate downloaders about copyright infringement, rather than suing or fining suspected pirates.
Here's how the system operates: when a content owner -- say, a movie studio -- detects that its work is being shared on a peer-to-peer network, it makes a note of the IP address that's sharing the file and contacts the ISP that services that address. The ISP then notifies the user with that IP address about the apparent copyright infringement. "Initial alerts are merely educational, letting the user know that unauthorized content sharing was detected on their Internet account," explains the Center for Copyright Information in a video.
Repeated infringement, though, will cause you to run afoul of two "additional alert levels." The first, the CCI says, is "acknowledgement": a user has to fill out a form stating that they've received repeated notices of copyright infringement. The second step is the ominously-named "mitigation," in which the user's ISP reduces the account's connection speed or takes other slightly-punitive measures. (Strangely, the CCI offers "watch[ing] an educational video" as an appropriate alternative to performing both steps.) Customers who have been wrongly accused can appeal the mitigation step, though submitting an appeal costs $35.
The mitigation measures are left up to ISPs, who have been largely mum on the Copyright Alert System so far. Only Verizon has mentioned the program on its website, and it says that while it won't terminate the service of users who received six strikes, it will reduce access speed to something "a little faster than typical dial-up speed" for two to three days. Dara Kerr, writing for CNET, notes that termination of service isn't part of the "mitigation" step, although the other four ISPs haven't made clear statements to that effect yet. And although the program withholds personal information from content owners, it doesn't shield users from legal action -- meaning you could still be sued for downloading copyrighted material.
The Copyright Alert System has been planned since 2011 and was supposed to take effect at the end of 2012, but a series of hurdles -- including Hurricane Sandy -- delayed its implementation until this week.
What's your take on this system? Does it seem like a fair way for content owners to protect their copyrights, or does the alert system punish downloaders too harshly? Let us know in the comments section below.
On Feb. 26, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) heard arguments in Google's latest case. Spain's Data Protection Agency has ruled that Google breached individuals’ right to be forgotten. As a result, the search engine giant was ordered to take down links or information that can be deemed as harmful to an individual. Google, stating that such an action would set a precedent, has taken the trial to the CJEU.
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“There are clear societal reasons why this kind of information should be publicly available. People shouldn't be prevented from learning that a politician was convicted of taking a bribe, or that a doctor was convicted of malpractice,” writes William Echikson, Google’s head of Free Expression for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, on an official Google blog. “The substantive question before the Court today is whether search engines should be obliged to remove links to valid legal material that still exists online.”
It all began when a Spanish man performed a vanity search, Googling his own name to see what popped up. To the man’s surprise, he found a link to an article from several years ago. The article detailed that a property he owned was up for auction since he had not paid his social security contributions. Now, this is just one of roughly 180 cases that Google has going on in Spain.
Mr. Echikson also writes in the company blog that Google already removes information that is found to be “incorrect, defamatory or otherwise illegal.” It’s important to note that an algorithm decides Google’s search results. Since the search engine giant does not monitor the algorithm beyond looking for information that is “incorrect, defamatory or otherwise illegal,” Google has no editorial position. As a result, Google cannot be hit with a libel lawsuit. This was the case argued in 2012 when Germany’s former first lady, Bettina Wulff, sued the Internet search giant.
The DailyTech writes that this will be the CJEU’s opportunity to find out if Google should be held responsible for its actions, as a “controller” of information, or whether it was merely acting as a host of information.
Another question that the CJEU will have to solve is whether or not Google is in its jurisdiction. Google, based in the US, might not be subject to European privacy laws.
If Google is found to be outside of the EU’s jurisdiction, than the many cases it faces could go away.
The CJEU is expected to reach a conclusion by the end of the year.
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Edward Gorey was an American writer and illustrator known for his unique style, love of cats, and the playful, Victorian-style characters in his work. He was born on February 22, 1925 and would have celebrated his 88th birthday on Friday. Google is celebrating the artist with a collection of Gorey drawings gracing the search engines homepage today.
Gorey lived in Chicago as a child and he claims to be mostly a self-taught artist, he spent only one semester at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1943. He later attended Harvard University from 1946 to 1950, where he joined ranks with other Harvard alumni and founded the Poets' Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.
He lived most of his later years in his home on Cape Cod.
Gorey has said that he got his talent from his maternal great-grandmother, Helen St. John Garvey, who was a popular 19th century greeting card writer and artist.
Gorey wrote more than 100 books and illustrated reprints of books such as “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, “The War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells, and a collection of whimsical poems titled “Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot.
He classifies his own gothic pen and ink style as “literary nonsense.”
Gorey’s “wicked and whimsical” animations were used to introduce the PBS’ series “Mystery!," since the series began in 1980.
“When I was first writing ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events,’ I was wandering around everywhere saying, ‘I am a complete rip-off of Edward Gorey,’ and everyone said, ‘Who’s that?’ Now, everyone says, ‘That’s right, you are a complete rip-off of Edward Gorey.’ ”
But Gorey wouldn't want readers to dig into his books or his style too deeply. The New York Times article quotes Gorey’s favorite saying: “When people are finding meaning in things — beware.”
This is Google’s latest attempt to make Chrome OS takeoff. The Pixel brings Chromebooks up a level with new hardware and takes aim “power users," says senior vice president for Chrome Sundar Pichai.
“Touch is here to stay and is the future,” says Mr. Pichai, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “We wanted to design something which was very high end and premium for power users -- people who are very, very demanding of their laptops.”
The Pixel has an Intel Core i5 processor and limited internal storage. The idea behind Chromebooks is that consumers will use Google's online products and live entirely in a cloud-based system. Essentially, Chromebooks come with a Web browser and that’s about it. Instead of Microsoft Office or Outlook, Chromebook users will use Google Docs and Gmail.
The high price of the Pixel is also due to specs outside of the processor. The Pixel has 4.3 millions pixels – more than double the pixels on a 1080p HD TV. According to Time, Pichai says that this will cause consumers to “never, ever see another pixel.” The 12.85-inch screen has an aspect ratio of 3:2 (rather tall for a laptop) and it’s made of glass. Oh, did we mention it’s a touchscreen?
For all those who fear that they will never be able to open a Word document again, Google plans to provide a new version of Quickoffice. Google bought Quickoffice last year as a way to ensure Google files are compatible with everyone’s beloved Microsoft Office.
Topped off with an aluminum casing, three microphones, hidden screws and vents, the Pixel doesn’t seem all that bad. Oh, and Google is giving each Pixel user 1TB of space free of charge for the first three years.
Nonetheless, many critics have come out in full force against the Pixel. Zdnet’s Howard Lo congratulates Google on “out-Appling Apple ... long famous for charging a premium for a product with less features.” If you, dear reader, are interested in a personalize preview of the Pixel, Mr. Lo suggests that you take a normal laptop, open Chrome, and restrict access to everything else on the computer. (Lo is clearly not a fan.)
Beginning today, the Wi-Fi-only model will be available for purchase at BestBuy.com and on Google. It costs $1,300. An LTE version will be available by April for $1,450.
E is for Edward whose heart gave away. That’s Edward Gorey we’re talking about. The American writer and illustrator would have turned 88 today. Google is honoring Mr. Gorey with a doodle featuring the writer and some of his famed artworks.
Gorey’s first book, The Unstrung Harp, was published in 1953. The novel, like the near 70 books that followed, is dark and funny, with a side of morbid whimsy.
For an artist, he claimed to have very little training. Gorey studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1943 but left after one semester. Nevertheless, he proved to be a talented artist in his own right. Gorey’s ink drawings and all their intricacies would go on to influence artists, musicians, and even subcultures.
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One subculture that particularly admires Gorey’s work is the gothic community. Goths have a distaste for society's mainstream culture, often opting for what others view as peculiar and underground. Gorey’s surrealist art and ghoulish stories sparked the interests of goths.
Ironically enough, Gorey, who is still greatly revered by goths, reveled in the mainstream. He taped and studied commercials. He watched soap operas and sitcoms. He was anything but goth.
“He was fascinated with the stories of soap operas. I could never understand it,” said Alexander Theroux, Gorey’s long-time friend and author of The Strange Case of Edward Gorey, during a 2011 interview with comicsreporter.com.
In fact, Gorey responded to the notion that he was gothic on more than one occasion.
In a 1992 interview with The New Yorker, Gorey said, “If you're doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there'd be no point.”
What Gorey meant by "nonsense" was his style of writing. Literary nonsense is literature that utilizes different elements in order to break conventional language or logical reasoning.
Goths, perhaps, are also attracted to Gorey’s defiance of language, such as in this line: "It was seemingly deaf to whatever they said, So at last they stopped screaming, and went off to bed. It joined them at breakfast and presently ate All the syrup and toast and a part of a plate."
However, they would be in shock to find out that the writer shamelessly enjoyed watching Cheers and Petticoat Junction.
In the Guardian’s obituary to the writer, they mention his belief that he was not as morbid as he seemed. Once again, Gorey did not see himself as dismal and removed.
“I see no disparity between my books and everyday life... I write about everyday life,” said Gorey, according to The Guardian
And according to Mr. Theroux, Gorey lived his everyday life just the way he wanted.
“He was one of the few people I've ever known that did exactly what he wanted. Just don't get in his way. He was always heading somewhere. To a movie. He had to have that cultural water floating along all the time,” said Theroux in the same interview. “He thought Golden Girls was hilarious.”
Gorey, in living his life as he wanted, perplexed scholars. This man who was happy, who was peculiar, could write some of the darkest pieces of literature. When he died, he continued to confuse them. His Cape Cod house had several cats, items from yard sales, and 45,000 books.
Gorey’s dark themes appeal to the adults, to goths, to anyone who enjoys a thorough brain scrubbing. And yet, the lightness of his work allows children to enjoy the books as well. The novels are complex, simple, lively, and humorous. Edward Gorey disproved stereotypes, influenced people, made the world a little brighter and a littler darker with each stroke of his pen.
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Sony’s had a rough few years. The company has lost money across several industries; PlayStation lost many American gamers to the Xbox. But as of last night, Sony is attempting to get it all back. In a New York debut, Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4. Well, some of it.
In what turned out to be a rather curious night for tech fans and journalists, Sony announced the PS4 but never actually showed the console. It instead focused on the newest additions to the console, the re-vamped controller, and the games.
“Today we will give you a glimpse into the future of play,” Sony Computer Entertainment head Andrew House told the crowd Wednesday night.
Sony’s announcement of the PS4 comes months before the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the spring electronics show where the computer and video game industry shows off its upcoming products. Yet, Sony maintained some secrecy.
Sony kept mum on the console’s looks, the price tag, and a specific release date – mentioning a holiday-season release. According to CNET, this is an unprecedented move. Typically consoles are first exhibited at E3, with an almost-finished version seen the next year, which is then followed by the actual release.
So what is the PS4?
“It’s like a PC in many ways, but supercharged, “ says Mark Cerny, PS4’s lead architect and famed game designer. “The processing power of the system is an exponential leap over its predecessors.”
Mr. Cerny says that Sony's new hardware and software will allow gamers to begin playing downloadable games before the download is even complete. The PS4 will also attempt to learn a person's taste in games, reaching the point where the console will pre-download games according to the consumer’s preference. If the machine guesses correctly, then you can start playing immediately. The goal, according to Cerny, is to bring download times to an absolute zero.
A 3-D camera will work in tandem with a light bar on the controller, allowing for easier wireless and motion connectivity. The new controller also has a touch-pad as opposed to the traditional “start” and “select” buttons. Sony added a “share” button to the controller that offers feature beyond chatting and uploading clips. PS4 gamers will be able to share games with friends and have the ability to switch between the console and the Vita.
Critics of the PS4 are not necessarily happy about the new controller. Comments left on the gaming blog Kotaku revealed some disdain. “Share Button? Can I take a selfy with it?" writes user Police Prayer.
Another Kotaku member commented that the touch-pad is “unnecessary gimmickry.” And Lovelypinksock says, “You're making a game controller. It should be as easy to use as possible, but seems they've kinda gone overboard with the looks and forgotten about the practicality.”
The conference last night didn’t stop at just the controller and new specs; Sony announced a list of games specifically for the PS4. And before you get excited, it appears that the PS4 will not be able to play PS3 game. However, Sony says that it plans on creating an online catalog that will allow PS3 games to be played on any of their devices via streaming.
Gamers also need not fret that Sony will make used games obsolete. According to Engadget, Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida put the rumors to rest that the PS4 will block used games. Mr. Yoshida told Eurogamer that the PS4 will, in fact, play used games. Gamestops everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief.