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Tag Archives: physics

Plexus gloves bring VR sensations to your fingertips

Bringing a user’s hands into VR has been a pretty logical move for ambitious companies in the space. The mouse and keyboard just don’t make sense, and while more conventional physical controllers make sense for games like first-person shooters, gloves bring a lot to use cases that require a bit more finesse. We’ve seen glimpses into some of the work that Oculus is doing on VR gloves, and hand-tracking tech has been pursued by quite a few other startups, as well. Plexus is launching out of Y Combinator’s latest class of startups with ambitions to bring a low-cost solution that puts a flexible glove onto users’ hands that will deliver feedback for AR and VR without leaving them confused and their hands super sweaty. The Plexus glove relies on the existing tracking systems of HTC and Oculus headsets, though they’re also working on their own more svelte solution based on licensed SteamVR tracking tech. Basically, the tracking sensors grab the position of where the hands are in space via the magnetically attached tracker and, after calibrating a resting state of the user’s fingers, individual sensors communicate their position to the game engine. The silicone glove is a pretty effective design. Velcro straps secure the glove at your palm and the individual finger controls hook onto the end of your fingertips with motors that offer tactile feedback to users. I had a chance at a demo and the design makes navigation pretty effortless with most of the weight placed on the back of the wrist. After strapping on a pair of gloves, I was able to hold virtual items in my cupped hands and manipulate the position of objects. There is clearly still some work to be done on the software end in regards to motion latency. Plexus is shipping the gloves with toolkits for Unity and Unreal game engines. It’s clear, though, that a lot of the hardest work to tackle with gloves fall on the software design and the interaction engine that allow the physics of your real-world hand movements to do what you want in VR. Plexus is first approaching users on the enterprise side.

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Chan Zuckerberg Initiative hires to donate tech, not just money

A cell atlas. AI that reads science papers. Personalized learning software. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s $45 billion philanthropy organization wants to build technology that can do good at scale rather than just trying to drown problems in cash. Now 2.5 years after its launch, CZI has finally filled out its tech leadership team. Today CZI announced the hire of Jonathan Goldman as its head of Data. He was formerly the Director of Data Science and Analytics at Intuit after selling it his startup Level Up Analytics. Before that he picked up a PhD in Physics at Stanford, and he’s on the Khan Academy board. Phil Smoot has been named CZI’s head of engineering. He was the VP of eng for Microsoft OneDrive and SharePoint, and previously worked on Hotmail and Outlook. Together with CZI’s head of product Sandra Liu Huang who’d been acting as its interim head of technology, they’ll be tackling massive technology products that could improve medicine, research, and education. Critics have asked whether the Zuckerberg family philanthropy has brought its money to issues that might be more complex than just needing funding. But tech is what Zuckerberg does, and Chan’s experience as a doctor and teacher could focus their impact where its most needed. When asked about the challenges Goodman and Smoot would tackle, a CZI spokesperson told me “Figuring out how to create a strong technical culture within philanthropy, which hasn’t really been done before

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Photos on social media can predict the health of neighborhoods

The images that appear on social media – happy people eating, cultural happenings, and smiling dogs – can actually predict the likelihood that a neighborhood is “healthy” as well as its level of gentrification. From the report : So says a groundbreaking study published in Frontiers in Physics, in which researchers used social media images of cultural events in London and New York City to create a model that can predict neighborhoods where residents enjoy a high level of wellbeing — and even anticipate gentrification by 5 years. With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, the model could help policymakers ensure human wellbeing in dense urban settings. The idea is based on the concept of “cultural capital” – the more there is, the better the neighborhood becomes. For example, if there are many pictures of fun events in a certain spot you can expect a higher level of well-being in that area’s denizens. The research also suggests that investing in arts and culture will actively improve a neighborhood. “Culture has many benefits to an individual: it opens our minds to new emotional experiences and enriches our lives,” said Dr. Daniele Quercia. “We’ve known for decades that this ‘cultural capital’ plays a huge role in a person’s success. Our new model shows the same correlation for neighborhoods and cities, with those neighborhoods experiencing the greatest growth having high cultural capital. So, for every city or school district debating whether to invest in arts programs or technology centers, the answer should be a resounding ‘Yes!'” The Cambridge-based team looked at “millions of Flickr images” taken at cultural events in New York and London and overlaid them on maps of these cities

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Roblox follows Minecraft into the education market

Roblox , the massively multiplayer online game favored by the under 13 crowd, is following in  Minecraft’s footsteps with a move into the education market. The company this morning announced a new education initiative, Roblox Education, that will offer a free curriculum to educators, along with international summer coding camps, and a free online “Creator Challenge” in partnership with Universal Brand Development, which will see kids building Roblox games inspired by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  The gaming company has been around for many years, but only recently reached a critical mass where it was ready to talk about its numbers. Today, Roblox sees over 60 million monthly active users, and its creator community building new worlds for kids to explore has doubled to 2 million this year from the year prior, it said earlier this year. Roblox gets kids coding by hooking them on the game itself when they’re young – around elementary school age. By middle school, users are downloading Roblox Studio to build their own games and experiences. And by high school, they’ve learned to code to customize their games even further. And the kids aren’t just building for fun – there’s money to be made, too. The top creators make two to three million a year, the company claims. The games are free, but creators monetize through the sale of virtual goods. Roblox says it paid out $30 million to its creator community last year, and is now cash-flow positive . With Roblox Education, the aim is to get more kids coding by working with educators directly. The new curriculum offers teachers 12 hours of step-by-step tutorials, handouts, technical setup guides, outlines, lesson guides, and more. It’s shared freely under a Creative Commons license so teachers can use or modify it as they see fit. In the future, the curriculum will be expanded to include other subjects, as well, like Physics and Design, the company says. In addition, teaching kids how to use Roblox Studio will be the main focus of more than 500 coding camps and online programs this summer in the U.S., U.K. Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Spain, Brazil, and Portugal.

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Researchers create a real cloaking device

Researcher Amanda D. Hanford at Pennsylvania State University has created a real cloaking device that can route sound waves around an object, making it invisible to some sensing techniques. From the report : Hanford and her team set out to engineer a metamaterial that can allow the sound waves to bend around the object as if it were not there. Metamaterials commonly exhibit extraordinary properties not found in nature, like negative density. To work, the unit cell — the smallest component of the metamaterial — must be smaller than the acoustic wavelength in the study. Hanford created an acoustic metamaterial that deflected sound waves under water, a difficult feat. In testing she and the team were able to place the material in water and measure sound waves pointed at it. The resulting echoes in the water suggested that the sound waves did not bounce off or around the material. This means the new material would be invisible to sonar. Obviously this technology is still in its early stages and the material does not make the objects invisible but just very hard to detect in underwater situations. However, the fact ship captains could soon yell “Activate the cloaking device” as evil, laser-toting dolphins appear on the horizon should give everyone a bit of cheer.

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Programming as craft

 Can programming be a craft? I was thinking about this as I was reading Matthew Crawford’s excellent book The World Beyond Your Head. Much like Crawford’s earlier work Shop Class as Soulcraft, he argues that craftsmanship is an activity that doesn’t just provide us with satisfaction, but also makes us fundamentally human by enchanting us with the world right around us. He… Read More

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World’s coolest chip runs at near absolute zero

How do you find out what happens to physics near absolute zero (aka 0 kelvin), the temperature where particle motion virtually stops? Scientists at the University of Basel might have just the device to do it. They've developed a nanoelectronics chi...

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