Software

The factions of the mobile AR war

Mark Zuckerberg’s “We’re making the camera the first augmented reality platform” was the most important step so far toward mass market AR. Where Pokémon Go gave many consumers their first taste of mobile AR, and Google Tango ushered in the race towards high end mobile AR phones, Facebook’s AR Platform now democratizes mobile AR regardless of hardware. Apple launching an AR enabled iPhone this year or next year could combine with Facebook to kick-start the mobile AR market at scale, and also be the final step towards the next great platform war. Consumers will win as usual, but there will be blood (as we detailed in Digi-Capital’s new Mobile Augmented Reality Report).

The platform question

Hardware and software platforms are so intertwined that it can be hard to tell the difference, and this has played in Apple’s favor for the last decade. But Apple, Samsung and other phone makers have done such a great job with existing hardware, that this may backfire for mobile AR. Facebook’s AR Platform, for example, has shown exactly how the major social and messaging platforms can play the game using nothing more than a standard smartphone camera. So while device manufacturers roll out new hardware to build an installed base for AR phones, established and startup social/messaging platforms could build a mobile AR ecosystem and user base in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost. They’ll also be able to leverage this advantage as dedicated AR phones come to market.

What is mobile AR anyway?

At one end Pokémon Go is what some industry insiders call “the best worst example of AR”, because its ambient mobile AR is pretty basic. Lovely graphics positioned approximately against the real world on your phone screen, using basic computer vision and positional tracking. Nonetheless it’s introduced mass consumers to mobile AR, and they’ve loved playing with it.

At the other end of the spectrum is Google Tango, with hardware based immersive mobile AR driven by integrated hardware and software. Without diving into the technical weeds, Tango phones enable accurate motion tracking, area learning and depth perception in a device that looks much like any other smartphone. The difference comes from a motion tracking camera, a depth sensing camera, an infrared projector, computer vision and Simultaneous Localization And Mapping software. So virtual objects superimposed on the real world appear as you would expect them to if they were really there. But Tango’s time is yet to come in terms of consumer awareness and app ecosystem (though Google, Lenovo and Asus are trying).

Facebook and Snap’s software-based immersive mobile AR is a serious contender, as it combines the ubiquity of ambient mobile AR with some of the computer vision and SLAM that previously required dedicated hardware. While Google Tango’s sensors enable heavier duty mobile AR apps, that’s not the problem Facebook and Snap are solving. By plugging immersive software based mobile AR into the largest consumer platforms on the planet, they’re democratizing mobile AR for everyone for free. And free is a good price point. This hasn’t escaped the notice of Tencent in China either. Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Spiegel and Pony Ma didn’t get to where they are by being dummies, and so it is with software based mobile AR.

The cool kids

There’s another factor in the democratization of mobile AR that Pokémon Go highlighted – demographics. Sixty-eight percent of Pokémon Go users are between 13 and 29 years old. Even though that came from a very specific set of circumstances, it is the largest sample set of mobile AR mass adoption to date.

For comparison in terms of major consumer platforms: Eighty-eight percent of Americans from 18 to 29 use Facebook (two-thirds of them use Messenger), 76 percent of U.S. teens own an iPhone (81 percent want their next phone to be one), 75 percent of WeChat users are between 20 and 30, and 60 percent of Snapchat users are between 13 and 24. Spot the pattern?

Mobile AR will be adopted by the young. Platforms that can scale…

The GNU GPL Is An Enforceable Contract At Last

It would be difficult to imagine the technological enhancements to the world we live in today without open-source software. You will find it somewhere in most of your consumer electronics, in the unseen data centres of the cloud, in machines, gadgets, and tools, in fact almost anywhere a microcomputer is used in a product. The willingness of software developers to share their work freely under licences that guarantee its continued free propagation has been as large a contributor to the success of our tech economy as any hardware innovation.

Though open-source licences have been with us for decades now, there have been relatively few moments in which they have been truly tested in a court. There have been frequent licence violations in which closed-source products have been found to contain open-source software, but they have more often resulted in out-of-court settlement than lengthy public legal fights. Sometimes the open-source community has gained previously closed-source projects, as their licence violations have involved software whose licence terms included a requirement for a whole project in which it is included to have the same licence. These terms are sometimes referred to as viral clauses by open-source detractors, and the most famous such licence is the GNU GPL, or General Public…

Review: Voltera V-One Makes Custom Homemade PCBs with Less Mess

Read articles from the magazine right here on

Making quality printed circuit boards (PCBs) at home has yielded many solutions through the years with varying degrees of hassle, special equipment, and mess. The most popular DIY systems usually involve the use of acids to etch circuit traces from copper-coated fiberglass boards. For $3,499, the Voltera V-One minimizes the mess and makes DIY PCB production more accurate and automated.

Instructions Built In

The Voltera V-One uses a gantry system, similar to a 3D printer or CNC mill, to move accurately in the X, Y, and Z dimensions. Rather than having a single fixed print head, the V-One has three tool heads that attach magnetically: a probe to measure the blank PCB and feature locations, a conductive ink dispenser that draws the circuit traces and part pads, and a solder paste dispenser that applies solder to pads for surface-mount devices (SMD). The base of the V-One also heats up like a skillet to bake the conductive ink into place and reflow SMD parts.

The Voltera team has done an incredible job of guiding the user through the process of making a PCB on the V-One, with the software shepherding you through each step. After uploading a Gerber file, you mount the blank PCB, measure its location, print the design, and let it bake to set the conductive ink in place.

The V-One drawing traces on a blank PCB with silver ink.

From there, you drill through-holes and vias manually (using more conductive ink to connect the two sides of the PCB). The machine applies the solder paste, but you have to mount the SMD parts by hand. The V-One then runs the board through a proper reflow temperature profile for the supplied solder paste. Once cooled, you have a complete PCB without any chemicals or milling mess.

The V-One is not without its…

In Ransomware Attack, Where Does Microsoft’s Responsibility Lie?

SEATTLE — When malicious software first became a serious problem on the internet about 15 years ago, most people agreed that the biggest villain, after the authors of the damaging code, was Microsoft.

As a new cyberattack continues to sweep across the globe, the company is once again at the center of the debate over who is to blame for a vicious strain of malware demanding ransom from victims in exchange for the unlocking of their digital files.

This time, though, Microsoft believes others should share responsibility for the attack, an assault that targeted flaws in the Windows operating system.

On Sunday, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, wrote a blog post describing the company’s efforts to stop the ransomware’s spread, including an unusual step it took to release a security update for versions of Windows that Microsoft no longer supports. Mr. Smith wrote, “As a technology company, we at Microsoft have the first responsibility to address these issues.”

He went on, though, to emphasize that the attack had demonstrated the “degree to which cybersecurity has become a shared responsibility between tech companies and customers,” the latter of whom must update their systems if they want to be protected. He also pointed his finger at intelligence services, since the latest vulnerability appeared to have been leaked from the National Security Agency.

On Monday, a Microsoft spokesman declined to comment beyond Mr. Smith’s post.

To prepare for fallout with customers, Judson Althoff, a Microsoft executive vice president, sent an email to the company’s field sales team on Sunday encouraging them to be supportive of businesses targeted by the attack, or even those who were simply aware of it.

“Our key direction to you is to remember that we are in this with our customers — we are trusted advisers, counselors, and suppliers to them,” he wrote. “More than technical guidance, I want you to make sure you are spending the time needed to understand the concerns they have and that they know we…

How the auto industry is about to get personal

Image Credit: Lexus

As technology advancements have completely revolutionized the driving experience, car interiors have become seamlessly integrated with the outside world.

Sensors and software make it possible for vehicles to interact with your home or office, allowing you to stay connected while on the move. While autonomous vehicles are likely years away from becoming mainstream, connected cars are here and now. Those working in the automotive industry realize that as artificial intelligence solutions continue to advance the level of connectivity between the outside world and the inside of a vehicle, personalization is becoming one of the key elements of connected vehicles.

However, up until now, true personalization hasn’t been available for vehicles, despite the amount of time drivers spend on the road and the range of ways vehicles are used. Instead, vehicle personalization has been limited to accessories — more specifically, stylistic and functional accessories. Think of new rims as an example of a style accessory, and a tow hitch as an example of a functional accessory.

Today, thanks to AI and other smart technologies, vehicle personalization is no longer restricted to these types of features. Cars can not only reflect your personality, they adapt to it. In-car features use data from other smart devices, transforming the vehicle’s interior to reflect the preferences of the driver and creating an in-car experience that is as unique as a fingerprint.

While OEMs continue to focus on these interior aspects of personalization, technology innovators are delivering personalization on another level, through technology that changes not only the way a vehicle looks, but also the way it performs. When a vehicle comes off the production line, it’s a one-size-fits-all solution, regardless of the end use case. In an ideal…

AR/VR Weekly: Don’t doubt virtual reality

Virtual reality is here to stay — shove your doubts aside.

Last year, we saw a couple of mood shifts on the VR scene. It was up — meteoric, really — as consumer solutions rolled out from HTC, Oculus, and Sony. Games and other entertainment experiences came out on a steady drumbeat, and some like Owlchemy Labs’ Job Simulator found fame and fortune.

But VR entered a “trough of disillusionment” hit at the end of the year, spilling over into early 2017. How’s it going now? GamesBeat turned to Dennis Scimecca, who’s been covering the emerging VR game industry, to dive deep into the scene at the recent Game Developers Conference. In his interviews and reports from numerous sessions, we find an industry that’s looking ahead and, instead of trying to find where it fits, it’s looking for how to grow into its own thing — and this, it appears, will rest on the people making games and experiences for VR.

One of my favorite parts of this how even the best designers are still learning how to move VR development forward. Carrie Witt of Owlchemy said that “Believability is more important than fidelity,” while others talked about how they’re moving forward on, well, movement.

The VR scene remains vibrant. And now, the people making games are full of confidence. And so are we.

–Jason Wilson, GamesBeat managing editor

P.S. Last week’s discussion at GamesBeat Summit about the future of augmented reality.

From GamesBeat

Uncorporeal Systems, a maker of virtual and augmented reality software, and Radiant Images, a digital cinema innovator and rental house, have partnered to enable Hollywood companies to create VR and AR experiences. Radiant Images will provide studio services and production support that’s paired with Uncorporeal’s cloud software. The partnership will initially focus on deploying Uncorporeal’s […]

Nvidia is expanding the capabilities of its VRworks toolkit to streamline the development process. The tech company revealed its new VRWorks audio and 360-degree video software development kits today. As part of the company’s presence at the GPU Technology Conference in San Jose, Nvidia showed off how the VRWorks Audio SDK can do real-time calculations […]

Nvidia CEO: ‘AI is going to infuse all of software’

Jen-Hsun Huang is a big fan of artificial intelligence, as it helps his company Nvidia sell a lot more AI chips.

In an earnings call yesterday, the CEO responded to a question by saying, “AI is going to infuse all of software.” He’ll talk more about this topic today at the Nvidia GPU Tech conference in San Jose, Calif., where he is delivering a keynote speech. The event draws about 7,000 people, many for talks on AI. Nvidia also said yesterday it plans to train 100,000 developers this year on deep learning technology, which is one form of AI that is delivering rapid advances across a variety of industries.

Huang wasn’t the only one singing AI’s praises during the call.

“AI has quickly emerged as the single most powerful source of technology,” said Colette Kress, chief financial officer at Nvidia, during the call. “And at the center of AI are Nvidia GPUs.”

Above: Nvidia Metropolis will use video analytics to monitor public safety.

Image Credit: Nvidia

Here’s what Huang had to say during the conference call.

First of all, AI…

Adobe brings AI-powered Virtual Analyst to Analytics Cloud

Adobe will today announce the introduction of Virtual Analyst, powered by its Sensei AI.

The analyst runs 24/7 in the background to monitor data and detect and find the root cause of anomalies in online activity. This replaces the painstaking process of an engineer or data team manually searching analytics reports for insights, which can diminish in value over time.

“Insights we do believe have a shelf life and to have a system be automated and can handle these on its own is really key, I think,” Adobe marketing manager Nate Smith told VentureBeat in a phone interview.

Sensei was first introduced last fall as an artificial intelligence service trained by massive amounts of data gathered from Adobe Creative, Marketing, and Analytics cloud software.

Sensei can do things like auto-caption images, deliver data insights, or talk people through how to use Adobe software. Adobe ultimately wants the AI to also train novice creatives how to…

Edible Innovations: Common Garden Develops Open Source Farming Techniques

From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Food Innovation Program — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.

Whether it is a balcony garden or an expansive farm, managing the many components of a garden can often be quite difficult. Agriculture is one of the few industries left that stubbornly refuses to upgrade their old systems and practices to incorporate 21st century technology and information. Jake Hartnell (@JakeHartnell) did not like that, so he decided to make a solution. Hartnell’s company, Common Garden (@Common_Garden), uses advanced technology to help farmers and growers alike get the perfect crop, every time.

So, who is the man behind the machine and its intricate software? Jake Hartnell is a designer and engineer from UC Berkeley and an affiliate with Berkeley’s Swarm Lab. He believes in developing technology that can be distributed and shared in a communal way. He is also a publisher who has written a science fiction novel and worked at hypothes.is.

All of these experiences would shape Hartnell’s future work at Common Garden. The environmental concerns that inspired future events in his novel needed to be addressed and his work at Berkeley taught him the importance of open source technology.

Both the…

How to Make Linux and macOS Virtual Machines for Free with Parallels Lite

Parallels is easily the best virtualization software on the Mac, and earlier this year, they quietly added a new app called Parallels Desktop Lite to the Mac App Store—and unlike its cousin, it’s free to download. The catch: if you want to use Windows virtual machines, you’re going to have to pay for a $60 a year for a subscription.

But the program itself is completely free otherwise, meaning if you want to create Linux, Chromium OS, or even macOS virtual machines, you don’t need to pay a dime.

Should I Use Parallels Lite, or the “Full” Version of Parallels?

So how it Parallels Desktop Lite different than Parallels Desktop? Parallels outlines all of the differences here, if you’re curious—there are a few limitations related to Mac App Store sandboxing. Other than that, the main difference is that Lite is free for anything except Windows virtual machines. If you want to run a Windows virtual machine, you’ll need to pony up $60 annually.

How does that compare to Parallels Desktop for Mac, the “full” version of this software? Well that product currently costs $70, and is yours as long as you can keep it running. Parallels versions typically stop running every couple of macOS releases, after which you’ll need to either stick to an older host operating system or pony up $50 for an upgrade license. Assuming you need to upgrade every two years, which is roughly consistent with our experience, the two pricing plans are about that same.

But that’s only if you want to run Windows. If your interest in virtual machines lies entirely on the Linux and macOS side of things, Lite is without question the better deal, because you can’t beat free.

Getting Started With Parallels Desktop Lite

Start up Parallels Lite for the first time and you’ll see the Parallels Wizard, which makes setting up or adding virtual machines simple.

There are three main options here. The most prominent points you to download Windows 10 from Microsoft, which will cost you around $120 for Windows itself on top of the Parallels subscription. To the right, you’ll find the option to browse your computer for any installation images on your computer. Below these two prominent options, you’ll see quick tools for downloading several other operating systems, including:

  • Chromium OS (the open source version of Chrome OS)
  • Ubuntu 16.04
  • Fedora 23
  • CentOS 7
  • Debian 8

Let’s get started with setting up a couple of these installers, then move on to setting up macOS in a virtual…