Kevin Lo’s award-winning 3D printed car design.
The future of driving may not just be autonomous, it could be 3D printed.
This week, Local Motors, the company that brought you the world’s first 3D-printed car (the Strati), took another significant step forward on the road to highway-ready 3D printed vehicles: On Tuesday, it awarded 39-year-old Kevin Lo $7,500 for his 3D-printed car design.
SEE ALSO: I Drove a 3D Printed Car
Lo’s design, Reload Redacted — Swim Sport, took first place in Local Motors Project Redacted3D-printed car design competition. The goal of the competition, which Local Motors pitched to its design community in May, was to come up with a suitable, highway-ready design for the next generation of 3D-printed cars.
The winning design, which was selected by the Local Motors design community and a panel of judges that included former Tonight show TV host and car aficionado Jay Leno, will be the foundation of Local Motors’ first 3D-printed road-ready car. In a release, Leno said he chose Lo’sdesign because, “You need something that makes you go ‘What’s that?’”
With just three weeks to come up with a design, Lo, who works full-time at HP, spent nights and weekends working in PTC Creo Design software. He then exported the design to a CAD file and rendered the image you see above and throughout this story in Keyshot. Lo told me that for his design he intentionally chose form over function. “The idea behind my entry was you build that carbon-fiber tub [which would hold the batteries, motor, chassis and wheels] and you can put whatever body you want on it,” said Lo.
Kevin Lo designed the heart of his Reload Redacted 3D printed car to be a a simple tub.
According to Lo, his design has some clear benefits over Local Motors’ original 3D-printed car, the Strati. “If you look at Strati, it was meant to be a one-piece body — which is a beautiful idea — but the reality is if you take it to a highway level… you have to include safety,” said Lo, who explained that, in the event of a collision, any part could be easily removed and reprinted. In fact, Lo thinks drivers could even upgrade when they swap out damaged 3D printed parts.
Imagine you damage the front fender of your 3D-printed car. If the fender is Version One, you could swap out for Version Two or, Lo noted, Local Motors could use the information derived from the damaged part to improve the new part and actually increase its crash rating.
One of the requirements for the Local Motors competition is that the designers used off-the-shelf parts. As a result, the tail lights are from Mazda’s new Miata.
For now, the car, which bears the design influences of Astin Martin, Lotus, Jaguar, and Chevy’s Corvette, is still just in digital form. Local Motors will not necessarily print Lo’s exact design, but it will influence the company’s first low-speed electric vehicle, set to arrive early next year, and the highway-ready model that Local Motors expects to start printing and selling before 2017.
I asked Lo, who lives with his wife and two children just outside of Portland, Oregon, if he would drive his family in a 3D-printed car. “I would like to think, yes. In 10 years, everyone is going to be driving a car with 3D printing in it.”
Owners of iOS devices, rejoice: Sharing pins with your friends will now get a little easier. An update from Google Maps now allows you to share your location to more apps, including Facebook and its spun-off communications app Messenger.
The new feature, part of Google Maps version 4.8.0, will now make it much easier to send a pin to someone who is on their desktop computer, or who is just too lazy to switch between apps (we all know that person). Users can also broadcast their location to their friends, or target it to a specific group. It does not allow you to post pins directly in events, though, so you’ll still have to play the text game if your party has to switch locations.
The app update also includes improved transit directions, offering more route choices and real-time arrival information in certain areas to help commuters get to where they need to be on time. There is also a new image gallery for places — tap on a photo to get a grid view of all of the images helpful Googlers have posted to Maps.
Whether or not sharing your pins is a thing that you like to do, it’s cool to see how much Google is thinking about deep-linking within the iPhone. You now have another reason to never switch back to Apple Maps again.
➤ Google Maps [iTunes]
During a recent vacation, I had no fewer than three webcams watching my home. I can’t tell you how comforting it is to be able to open an app, access my Nest Cam (formerly Dropcam) to see my great room or open another app to see compressed versions of the activity in front of my house thanks to Flir FX. Added to that mix was Netatmo’s new face-finding Welcome smart home camera.
Like the Nest Cam and Flir FX, Welcome plugs into a wall outlet and then connects to your network via Wi-Fi. Unlike those devices, it includes facial recognition. As a result, it can alert you when your child arrives home and when an unknown face appears in its 130-degree field of vision.
Netatmo’s Welcome starts off strong with one of the cleverest app setups on the market. You just download the free app (iOS 8.3 and above and Android 4.3 and above), plug in the device and then follow the onscreen instructions.
It starts by asking you to turn the 6-inch-tall cylindrical device upside-down. Then you search for an available Welcome device in the app, hit connect and it’s connected to your phone. The last step is letting your phone share your current Wi-Fi settings. The entire process takes about two minutes.
Spec-wise, Welcome more or less matches many of the other home security cams on the market. It offers 1080p video, a microphone, night vision and a wide field of view that it programmatically corrects to remove distortion. Like a traditional web-connected security camera, you can open the Welcome app and see exactly what the camera sees (the delay is 10 seconds or so).But the real magic happens when you let Welcome detect motion and identify faces.
Netatmo, which charges $199 for Welcome but nothing for the service, doesn’t attempt to store all its captured video in the cloud. Instead, the device watches for motion and captures video of the activity, including what happened six seconds before anything moved in front of the Welcome camera, which it’s able to do because it’s always caching video in RAM.
It stores that video on its included 8GB microSD card and discards the oldest video when it runs out of space. You can play back videos from the app. The only content stored in Netatmo’s cloud are snapshots and face captures. One other notable difference is that Welcome has a built-in Ethernet port — useful if you have a network cable port near wherever you plan on placing the device.
The back of the Netatmo Welcome reveals (from top to bottom) a micro-SD card slot, a micro USB charging port and an Ethernet port.
The Welcome app (there’s also an Apple Watch app, but more on that later) offers a live view and a full log of activity, viewable when you drag up on the screen; it logs every motion, face and system activity. The main screen front-loads thumbnail-sized face captures. When you start using Welcome, they’ll each have a question mark on top of them to indicate the faces are unidentified. Tap on one and the app takes you to the exact moment when it saw the face.
If you hold down on the face, you get the option of identifying it, forgetting it or telling Welcome that it’s not a face. In my time with Welcome, it never identified, say, a chair as a face. You can also identify a face as yourself. Once Welcome knows your face, it can tell when you’ve left your home. You can also use the app to set notifications of arrival home for each identified person. You can even ask Welcome to record video when they arrive on a per-person basis, though I think that sounds kind of creepy.
On the other hand, it takes some time and patience to get Welcome to learn all the faces in your home. Even though it saw me, my wife and two teenage children a dozen times after I had named and identified our faces, it still couldn’t accurately say, “Oh, that’s Lance, Oh, that’s Linda.”
Netatmo Welcome sees faces (far left) and lets you ID them (middle), but it will struggle if you point it toward a door with too much back light (right).
One possible reason is where I placed the camera. I wanted it watching the front door so that every time someone came in, Welcome would see and identify them. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of backlight streaming in every time someone opens the door. Netatmo does warn that the camera could have trouble seeing faces in too much backlight, but, seriously,what use is Welcome if it can’t reliably watch my busiest entrance?
During the two weeks I used Welcome, I got a lot of notifications. How did I know? Because every single one of them popped up on my Apple Watch. Netatmo came up with a great glanceable interface for the wearable device. It’s basically a list of the thumbnail face notifications. When I tap on the face I get a snapshot of the moment Welcome saw the person. I still have to go into the iPhone app to identify people, though. The notifications also became so numerous, that I finally shut them down.
Netatmo Welcome comes with a great Apple Watch companion app that offers excellent (if too frequent) notifications.
While I waited for Welcome to start recognizing my family’s faces, I started seeing a bunch of other unknown face notifications. At first, I could not figure out who any of these people were, especially because none of them were in the house when Welcome said they were. Then I took a closer look at the faces and realized that I did recognize all of them: They were characters from the Seinfeld TV show.
It turned out that my TV was within Welcome’s super-wide field of view and it was picking up on every face in every TV show and commercials. I tried angling Welcome away from the TV set, but it still managed to see it. It was funny, but not super helpful.
Try to avoid setting up Netatmo Welcome in the same room as your TV. I did and it picked up actors in Seinfeld (left), commercials (middle) and The Big bang theory (right).
Toward the end of my trial run, I accidentally knocked the Welcome device off its perch atop a pair of baskets (I generally tried to steer clear of the device because it gets very hot). It fell roughly a foot and a half onto my hardwood floor. The Welcome’s white bottom popped off, revealing a coil and a wire. I realized that these must have something to do with the upside-down setup routine. In any case, that little accident reset my Welcome.
I took the Welcome back to the office and set it up as a new device. The really good news is that my account still had my face information in it and, thanks to the better lighting in my office, it finally recognized my face. It also picked up on all my other office visitors.
It’s nice to know that, in the right conditions, Welcome can work, but I still think the device itself could use a bit more work.
While it had a great field of view, Welcome’s all-in-one cylindrical body lacks the adjustability of the Nest Cam. Facial recognition is a great, differentiating feature, but, based on my experience, the algorithm needs a little tweaking. Lastly, I think Netatmo will want to work on a Welcome Version 2 that can’t be defeated by a strong backlight.
Can the search giant change the wireless business like it’s changed high-speed Internet?
For millions of us, Google is the backbone of our digital lives. So it’s a little incongruous that to get to its many services, we generally go through carriers such as Comcast, Verizon or AT&T. In a few towns across America, Google has eliminated the middleman and started providing broadband service. Now it’s taking on wireless with Project Fi.
An affordable alternative to many mainstream and discount carriers, Project Fi routes calls and data through Wi-Fi whenever possible (hence the name). It roams on T-Mobile and Sprint networks when no Wi-Fi can be found. Dead simple to set up and use, its rates start at $30 a month. It could save you some money if you accept some big limitations.
It only works with one phone, for starters. The Nexus 6, built byMotorola in collaboration with Google, is a speedy smartphone with a gorgeous display and the best, most unaltered version of Android you can find. But it has a middling camera and its 6-inch display makes it massive to hold. If Project Fi’s SIM cards worked in phones from Samsung, HTC—dare I say, Apple?—it’d be easier to recommend.
Service is also limited to invites right now. You put in your request for service at fi.google.com, leaving your Gmail address and ZIP Code. Then you wait. Weeks or perhaps months later, you’ll receive an email saying you qualify.
At that point, you have to buy an unlocked Nexus 6 for $500 (assuming you don’t have one already), then sign up for the only plan Google offers: $20 a month for your line plus a “data budget” in $10-per-gigabyte tiers.
Though you must sign up for at least 1 GB, the cost of the data you don’t use is credited to your next bill. Likewise, if you go over by a fraction of a gigabyte, you only owe a fraction of the extra $10. It’s like a taxi meter that just keeps running, and it’s a refreshing change from current carrier billing models, which typically make you pay for more than you use. (Google charges standard taxes and government fees, which will add an extra 10% to 20% to your bill.)
When the phone and SIM card arrive in the mail, you also get a colorful welcome kit, which includes earbuds, an external battery pack and a phone case.
You set up the phone by downloading the Project Fi app, logging into your Google account and inserting the SIM. After that, the service feels like any other.
Google gives you unlimited domestic talk and texts, with a competitive international roaming plan. Any data usage that happens over a Wi-Fi network is free; any usage that happens on a cellular network—in the U.S. or over 120 supported countries—eats into your data budget at the fixed rate.
I’ve had a solid signal around most of San Francisco, where I live, and I had lousy connectivity with lots of dead zones around Lake Tahoe, where I spent the weekend. Phones running on AT&T and Verizon networks experienced roughly the same network performance during my tests in the city and country.
In dead zones like the one in Tahoe, the ability to make and receive phone calls over Wi-Fi came in handy. This isn’t unique to Project Fi, however. Sprint and T-Mobile allow for Wi-Fi calling on iPhones built in the last two years. And discount carriers such as Republic Wireless, Scratch Wireless and FreedomPop also are using the Wi-Fi angle to differentiate themselves from the big players. (In fact, Republic Wireless announced a Project Fi-like pricing plan on Tuesday.)
Google’s real secret is in the handoff from Wi-Fi to cellular or vice versa. When I made a call on my home Wi-Fi, then kept talking as I walked out into the streets of San Francisco, the transition was seamless. But Google also allows for a seamless handoff between the T-Mobile and Sprint networks without you noticing. That’s magic.
While anyone with a Gmail account can request an invite, it’s important to realize that Project Fi is, at this stage, an experiment. When announcing the mobile phone service, Google senior vice president of products Sundar Pichai said the company doesn’t intend to upend major carriers. The point of Project Fi is to show what is technically possible and to push major carriers to adopt Google’s ideas.
If Google can convince carriers to let us pay only for the data we use, and if Wi-Fi calling becomes standard across all phones and carriers, that would be a win for consumers (and Google’s own services, of course).
Can Google make it happen? Just look at Google’s Fiber broadband project in places like Kansas City, Mo., to gauge the company’s influence over the Internet’s gatekeepers. Google has helped push broadband providers to lower prices and increase speeds. The company wields influence, and Project Fi is an obvious attempt to nudge the wireless industry.
Google could also get something else out of this experiment: even more information about you. Google told the Journal that it’s collecting all the same data that mobile carriers typically collect on subscribers. Though with all the data it gathers already, that may not amount to much.
“Carriers usually track things like location, who you’re communicating with and when, what websites you visit, what apps are asking for data, things like that,” says Jeremy Gillula, a technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit with a stated mission of defending civil liberties in the digital world. “If you’re someone who’s logged into Chrome, using Google Maps, Google Voice and Gmail, they’re already getting most of this information.”
PHOTO:WILSON ROTHMAN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Swiss postal service says tests will run until the end of July although the widespread use of drones is not likely to kick in for another five years
Switzerland’s postal service said on Tuesday it had begun testing parcel deliveries by unmanned drones, although widespread use of the flying postmen is not likely to kick in for another five years.
Postal service executives showed off the drones for the first time on Tuesday and said initial tests of the machines’ post-delivery abilities would run until the end of July.
The snow-white drones consist of four branches with propellers on the end extending from a hollow ring the size of a toilet seat. A yellow box, bearing the postal service logo, is lodged in the middle.
“The drone has an extremely light construction and is capable of transporting loads of up to one kilo over more than 10 kilometres with a single battery charge,” Swiss Post said in a statement.
The drone “flies autonomously, following clearly defined, secure flight paths, which are drawn up by cloud software developed by Matternet (the drone’s US manufacturer)”, Swiss Post added.
Swiss Post, which is cooperating on the project with Swiss WorldCargo – the air freight division of Swiss International Air Lines – stressed the drones would be thoroughly tested before being put to wide-scale use.
“Until the time of their realistic commercial use in around five years, there are various requirements which need to be clarified,” the company said.
This includes exploring the regulatory framework that would apply when sending the unmanned aircraft out across the Alpine country, which is dotted with numerous remote and isolated villages where drone deliveries could be useful.
Swiss Post also said extensive tests would be carried out to explore the technical restrictions of the drones, including limited battery life.
For now, Swiss Post said it expected to mainly use the drones in emergency situations, which could “involve bringing supplies to an area that has been cut off from the outside world following a storm.”
“Another realistic possibility is the urgent transport of consignments with the highest priority, such as laboratory tests,” it added.
Switzerland is not the only place where package-delivering drones could soon appear. Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, announced in late 2013 a plan to airlift small parcels to customers by drone in select markets, less than 30 minutes after an order is received.
But the company warned last month that proposed US rules regulating the use of civilian drones could block it from launching the service, and called for them to be overhauled.
The ubiquitous search box widget at the top of your Android mobile device is getting some new tricks. Chris Lacy, creator of the Action Launcher app, announced the release of Action Launcher 3.5 on Tuesday. The new version builds on AL 3.0, which allowed users to match the widget’s color to their background theme (as well as the app drawer) or scroll through an alphabetical app list accessible from the home screen. The app also features slick shortcuts for both folders and widgets called covers and shutters, respectively. And with the release of AL 3.5, users can fully customize the search box by incorporating apps, shortcuts and even menu groups directly into the bar itself.
“I’m very happy with how the Quickbar has turned out,” Lacy wrote on a Google+ post. “It may not look like it, but this feature was an absolutely mammoth design and engineering undertaking.” And from the looks of this update, why stick with Google’s stock launcher?
GoPro is turning its lens toward beefing up original content with its latest hire.
The maker of cameras for adventure enthusiasts has hired Charlotte Koh, the former head of Hulu’s original-content initiatives, to fill a newly created position as head of features and series, according to a Variety report. Koh will be responsible for forming partnerships with Hollywood creatives, studios and networks to develop original content using GoPro’s action cameras.
“It’s really about creating a GoPro content banner on top of the technology,” Koh told the entertainment-business newspaper.
Koh had been at streaming-video company Hulu for three years before her departure in April 2014. Her initial focus at GoPro will be on unscripted and documentary content, Variety reports, but scripted content is not out of the question.
GoPro’s interest underscores the greater attention original content is getting of late. New challenges to Amazon, Netflix and Vevo, among many others, are coming from the likes of PlayStation Network, which launched its first original show in March, and even Snapchat, the messaging service that recentlyhired a former Onion executive to lead its original-content effort.
Koh’s hiring also spotlights GoPro’s efforts to move beyond its roots of selling video cameras to skiers, race drivers and other sports-adventure enthusiasts. The San Mateo, Calif.-based company said in May that it plans to enter the virtual-reality market later this year with a six-camera array capable of capturing high-resolution images and video from different angles that can then be stitched together to create a 360-degree virtual reality environment.
GoPro is also getting into another burgeoning technology by building a quadcopter, or drone. The company’s cameras are frequently attached to drones to record landscapes for real estate companies and film movie sequences, making GoPro’s interest in producing original content a natural expansion for the camera maker.
GoPro representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The company’s shares finished at $52.25 on Tuesday, up $1.31, or 2.6 percent.
Tinder, the dating app owned by IAC, has just rolled out verified profiles for celebrities and other notable figures. Just as you see on Twitter, verified users will be marked with a little blue check mark by their name.
Rumors have been swirling the past few months that various celebrities, includingLeonardo DiCaprio and Hilary Duff, had started using the dating platform.
At TechCrunch Disrupt NY in May, cofounder and President Sean Rad wouldn’t comment on whether or not those rumors are true. But based on today’s rollout, it would appear that there are at least a few big names swiping left and right out there.
Tinder also revealed that the app is seeing 26 million matches per day.
Airliners have become steadily bigger in an effort to take fit in more passengers and drive down the cost of tickets. Could a new outsize design change the way we fly?
Spotting an Airbus A380 at an airport can still create great excitement. The giant, double-decker plane can seat between 500 and 850 people, depending on how much space is given to space-saving economy class, and how much goes to higher-paying passengers with all that extra leg room. It’s an aviation giant, the biggest passenger-carrying aircraft ever to fly the skies.
But the A380 could be become small fry if another, even more outsize design takes to the skies.
The AWWA Sky Whale is a concept aircraft from Spanish designer Oscar Vinals. With three decks for passengers, it looks like a cross between a tropical fish and a sci-fi space shuttle. Does this huge design herald the future of air travel?
Bigger means better in the world of airliners; the dawn of the jet age brought in the likes of the Boeing 707, an aircraft capable of carrying more passengers quicker and faster than any propeller-driven design. In the ensuing decades, airliners have grown larger and larger. The advent of “jumbo” designs, characterised by Boeing’s 747, meant more passengers per flight, and therefore cheaper seats.
“Travelling in the Sky Whale could be like a travelling in your private ‘theatre seat’, enjoying what happens around you; hearing some air flow noise, but feeling safe inside a big and intelligent structure,” Vinals says.
The design would use advanced technologies such as self-repairing wings, swiveling engines to enable a near vertical take-off, and hybrid propulsion.
“The engines and batteries are fed by a turbine inside the wings, like a high-speed and powerful dynamo,” says Vinals.
The design also calls for a system to redirect air flow to intake engines and to control laminar flow – in other words, to reduce turbulence around the plane and reduce drag.
None of these technologies are feasible on a large scale at the moment, but all are possible, says Vinals.
“I did this because I am an aerospace and aviation enthusiast – the technology, development and evolution,” he explains. “I would like to contribute, with my vision, about these.”
Perhaps that vision from someone outside the aerospace industry, without preconceptions, is what is needed to revolutionise plane design. Vinals told me he did “years” and “terabytes” of research. It’s an approach that some in the field appreciate.
“I think that’s where these concepts come in,” says Dr Michael Jump, lecturer in aerospace engineering at the University of Liverpool. “It’s people challenging through their imaginations. It’s the engineering community’s opportunity to either say ‘that’s a good idea, let’s try and make it happen’, or ‘it’s less of a good idea, and this is the reason why’”.
He says there are three factors to consider when evaluating the design of an aircraft, collectively known as the Breguet Range equation. This can be used as an estimate of efficiency.
They are: propulsive efficiency (how efficient are your engines?); aerodynamic efficiency (is lift maximised and drag minimised?); and structural efficiency (how much payload can you carry?).
Generally airlines want to fly as far as possible, with the biggest load (or largest combined weight of passengers) possible, while using as little fuel as possible. If you can maximise all three, you technically have a better aircraft design. The major airliner manufacturers have made tweaks to this equation, but have largely stayed faithful to a tried-and-trusted design.
“The likes of Boeing and Airbus have a lot of experience of building aircraft that look like a tube and two wings,” says Jump.
“When it comes to a new airframe that they want to design, it makes sense to evolve rather than revolutionise.”
A cylinder is also a structurally efficient way to contain pressure, which aircraft must do to maintain the right air pressure for passengers when flying at high altitude.
Mark Drela, professor in the department of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, agrees. “The airplane fuselage is a pressure vessel,” he says. “It really needs a circular cross section for that. You don’t see scuba diving tanks that are rectangular. If it’s round, then it’s light.” On a plane, of course, weight is everything.
“Airplanes look the way they do, not because of some stylistic decision, but almost entirely for technical reasons,” he says. “Form follows function.”
For that reason, Drela doubts the usefulness of design exercises like this one. “It’s more of a stylistic concept,” he says.
What’s more, for a manufacturer to be able to sell a new aircraft, it has to demonstrate that it is safe. The safety regulations have evolved over a century of manned flight, but with a radical design it would be much harder to demonstrate safety.
“The optimised airplane is like a grand set of compromises, and it’s a colossal exercise to balance everything,” says Drela.
“Airbus went with the huge A380, Boeing put its money on the smaller airplane with 787. And it is not obvious which is the better approach yet.”
But, Vinals says, Albert Einstein might have the last word on this: “Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions”.