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#TechTuesday: Flying Taxis, The Rebirth of Google Earth, Snapchat/Facebook AR and other stories

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Google Earth Relaunches With Bold New Look

Google has relaunched its exploration platform Google Earth after a two-year redesign project. The new version was launched to coincide with World Earth Day and comprises a range of new features, including a three-dimensional button that allows the user to see locations including the Grand Canyon in the US and the Loire Valley in France from any angle. Google has collaborated with a number of charities, scientists and storytellers including David Attenborough for a new feature called Voyager, which has more than 50 immersive stories and interactive guided tours of different places. A new Knowledge Card feature, meanwhile, allows the user to learn about the history and see more pictures of different locations across the world, while “I’m feeling lucky” randomly transports them to one of 20,000 curated locations such as the Zao Hot Spring in Yamagata, Japan and the La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy. Users can also share a virtual Postcard of their view with their friends or family, featuring a link that takes them to the exact point that the user is virtually standing. The new version of Google Earth is now available on the web on Google Chrome, with other browsers to follow in the near future. Android mobile users can access it later this week. The desktop program Google Earth 7 is also now available to download.

 

Yves Behar Juicer Torn Apart by Social Media

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The Yves Behar-designed Juicero juicer has been given a damning review by social media, after it transpired that a pair of hands could do the same job as the $400 machine. Behar's studio Fuseproject partnered with San Francisco start-up Juicero to design the Nespresso-style countertop juicers, which use pre-packaged sachets of fruit and vegetables. The machine retails for around £310 and proprietary juice packs for £4-6 each. However, the derision of Twitter has descended on Juicero following the publication of a Bloomberg Business article that highlighted the juicer's limited functionality, complete with a video that shows its juice packets being squeezed by hand. Not a great start! High-profile investors in Juicero included Google parent company Alphabet. The start-up raised $120 million (£94 million) before launching the machine last year, initially with a higher price tag of $700 (£550). On Twitter, users interpreted the Juicero story as emblematic of the worst of Silicon Valley, which is sometimes criticised for being out of touch and blinded by its own hype. Fuseproject reportedly worked with Juicero for two years to design the machine, which was released in 2016. Packets of washed and chopped ingredients are loaded into the front of the juicer, through a door made of aircraft-grade aluminium. The sachets are recyclable and can also be returned to the company, aiming to avoid the sustainability criticisms that Nespresso has faced over its single-use coffee pods. Great folly or misunderstood genius?

 

Snapchat Doubles Down on Geofilters and 3D Tech

In the face of growing competition from Facebook and Instagram, Snapchat is stepping up its game with the introduction of World Lenses AR product. The feature allows users the chance to overlay pictures taken using the rear-facing camera with a series of 3D filters. Snapchat is billing the Lenses as a tool which can add a whimsical spin to real-world Snaps. The lenses can be placed in the camera view and it is possible to move and walk around them in three dimensions. As with Snapchat's selfie Lenses, the overlays will be updated daily, and while there's no word yet on whether brands will get the opportunity to purchase from the reel, it's understood that Snapchat is working on ways to develop the tech so the camera is able to understand what objects it is placing filters around or on top of.

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In more Snapchat news, the company is further opening up its API to allow its partners to buy and manage sponsored Geofilters (location-enabled overlays). The move means advertising partners in the UK, the US, Australia and Canada will be able to purchase and report on paid-for Geofilters, whereas previously they could only sell vertical Snap Ad units to brands. Sponsored Geofilters, meanwhile, were formerly limited to being purchased directly, and individually, through Snap's dedicated self-service platform which is still open for use. Snapchat works with a host of third-party providers including Amobee, TubeMogul and VaynerMedia, and as well as opening up its Geofilter capabilities to the chosen few it has developed a series of tools to make it easier for brands to purchase the ad units across multiple locations or for delivery on specific days and then track their progress with an analytics dashboard. Adidas is one of the more prolific brands to have embraced Geofilters. The sporting giant used the format as part of a campaign at Thorpe Park last year and has also experimenting with the overlays in-store. Snapchat will be hoping the move will streamline how advertisers use the platform and open up further revenue streams away from it's widely-used Filter format, which has been mimicked by both Facebook and Instagram.

 

Tumblr Launches Video Chat App Cabana

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Microblogging site Tumblr has launched a standalone chat app. A collaboration between the platform and incubator Polyvore Labs, both of which are owned by Yahoo, the premise of the product is simple; it lets up to six users video chat simultaneously and stream YouTube videos while they are talking. Tumblr is billing the app as a digital sofa that pulls together video chat and streaming content. The company has said the concept tested well with 13- to 18-year-olds, but has made it clear that it's not just for teens. The company has more than 340 million users, many of whom have anonymous accounts and interactions with other users. Cabana will be run as a completely separate app.

 

Mark Zuckerberg Predicts End of TV as AR Takes Over

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The growth of augmented reality will make most of the hardware we use today obsolete, according to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Speaking at Facebook's F8 annual developers conference last week, Zuckerberg signalled that the company would be putting increased emphasis on augmented reality (AR), as he launched a platform for developing the technology in closed beta. Zuckerberg identified augmented-reality glasses or contact lenses as the logical end goal for this AR technology. Once realised, he said, such gadgets would render televisions, smartphones and other current hardware useless. While glasses might be the future, Zuckerberg said that smartphone cameras had emerged as the first mainstream AR tool, thanks to the popularity of Pokémon GO and the face filters heavily associated with Snapchat. As such, one of the main announcements of F8 was a new camera-effects platform that will be open to all developers to build on. Zuckerberg said the beta tool would be developed in stages, and would cement the camera as the first mainstream AR platform.

 

David Adjaye Creates Concrete Speaker with for Master & Dynamic

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Architect David Adjaye used a concrete composite material to create the sculptural form of this wireless speaker, which he designed for New York brand Master & Dynamic. Through his design for the MA770, Adjaye wanted to create a form that would redefine the home speaker. To do this, he used a concrete composite material developed by Master & Dynamic, which he said allowed him to create a sculptural shape that forgoes the traditional box-shaped speaker. The new concrete material also provides a number of acoustic benefits, while also being strong and durable to increase the speaker's longevity. According to Master & Dynamic, the concrete's dampening properties (which prevent it from vibrating) are five times better than wood and ten times better than plastic. Premium materials are used throughout the rest of the design, with anodised aluminium forming the controls and stainless steel for the magnetic grille on the speaker's front. The MA770 can be used as a single stereo unit or paired with another speaker via Wi-Fi. It also utilises Google's digital media streaming software Chromecast – making it the first ever speaker to feature this technology for stereo pairing. The speaker will retail for £1,600.

 

Electric Flying Taxi Successfully Completes its First Voyage

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The world's first electric jet plane capable of taking off and landing vertically has successfully completed test flights in Germany. The two-seater prototype aircraft is designed by Munich start-up Lilium as an airborne alternative to on-demand ride-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft. During the test flights, which took place on April 21, the vehicle took off like a helicopter before flying like a regular aeroplane. Although the plane was piloted remotely for its first voyages, Lilium hopes to test a manned flight in the near future. It also plans to launch a five-seater version of the same craft. The craft features rows of electric jet engines mounted on the front and rear wings tilt to switch between vertical and horizontal flight. There are 36 engines in total. According to the company, the craft is the only electric aircraft capable of vertical take-off and landing and the company believes the craft could one day rival road-based taxi services in urban areas.

 

Driverless Cars Using Grand Theft Auto as Training Tool

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Driverless cars are being trained to navigate real world environments by setting the software loose on the streets of Los Santos, the fictional city setting of Grand Theft Auto V. Whilst it is better known for its car jackings, crashes and police chases the computer environment is considered ideal by the likes of Ford and Google to train up their own offerings while they are still limited from running real world road trials. The computer environment sprawls over a landscape that is close to a fifth the size of the actual metro area of Los Angeles, incorporating a variety of 14 weather conditions, 262 vehicle types and a cast of over 1,000 AI-controlled pedestrians and animals. Interest in the game has been rekindled courtesy of work by Darmstadt University of Technology and Intel Labs to strip back the game to its barest driving mechanics within which developers can unleash their software. This work will augment more traditional forms of research involving the use of traffic cameras and limited real-world road testing.

 

Cyber Security Centre of Excellence to Open at Cardiff University

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A new research centre set up to provide world-leading research into the ever-growing problem of cyber security has today been launched by Cardiff University and Airbus. The Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Analytics will be located at Cardiff University’s School of Computer Science and Informatics and will be the first centre of its kind in Europe. Together with experts from Airbus, researchers will carry out world-leading studies into machine learning, data analytics, and artificial intelligence for cyber-attack detection. This research will aim to protect corporate IT networks, intellectual property, and critical national infrastructure. The centre, which forms part of a strategic Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties, will also develop industry-relevant academic programmes in cyber security at the University, in an attempt to fill the skills gap that currently exists in the field. The agreement will also support knowledge sharing between Airbus and Cardiff University, with the potential for secondments and industrial placements to be made available for researchers and students. In tandem with the launch of the Centre of Excellence, Cardiff University has recently been awarded almost £2 million in external funding from a range of sources, including UK research councils, industry and government, to launch major new programmes over the next 3 years, aimed at developing cutting-edge machine learning algorithms to detect cyber threats targeting various internet-enabled environments, including online social media to control systems in critical national infrastructure.

 

Lazada, Uber and Netflix Forge Alliance Against Amazon in Southeast Asia

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Lazada, Uber and Netflix have joined forces in the fight against Amazon with a membership that mimics Amazon Prime called LiveUp. For a yearly membership fee of S$28, Live Up subscribers get access to a range of deals across the companies, including Lazada and Taobao, as well as RedMart, the online grocery service. The membership also includes a free six-month subscription to Netflix and discounts on Uber rides and UberEats deliveries. The alliance is one of the first major signs that the ecommerce battle is about to become very competitive in Southeast Asia, with Singapore as one of the key markets. Last year Chinese ecommece giant Alibaba bought Lazada, which in turn bought online grocery brand Redmart. The service is available now in Singapore, but there are plans to expand to other countries in Southeast Asia and pick up more partners along the way. Outside of helping Lazada cement its holdings in Southeast Asia, the program will help Netflix in building up its customer base in a region where many still hesitate on paying for content. LiveUp also helps Uber in its fight with Southeast Asian rival Grab which recently launched a membership program of its own.

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