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The Latest Highlights in Tech

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Apple file a patent for the Smart Ring

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In a week that saw the iPhone 6S sell 13 million units in just three days during its launch weekend (compared to 10 million for the iPhone 6 last year), Apple has also filed a patent for a “Smart ring” that appears to have similar functionality to the Apple Watch, but is small enough to fit on your finger! The company has put in a patent application for a ring computing device, which comprises a finger-ring mounted touchscreen that will be used to control an external electronic device. As well as the touchscreen, the ring will also reportedly feature a computer processor, wireless transceiver and rechargeable power source. Apple says it could also be fitted with a microphone to enable voice control, and could also alert its users to updates or events using haptic notifications. In its application, Apple said: “The use of touch-sensitive surfaces as input devices for computers and other electronic computing devices has increased significantly in recent years. Use of existing touch-pads and touch-screens, however, may be cumbersome, inconvenient or inefficient for certain tasks or applications. A user’s hands may be preoccupied with another task, for example, or the user’s hands and arms may become fatigued after holding the device in a viewing position for extended periods of time.”

The Smart ring appears to have similar functionality to the Apple Watch, but is small enough to fit on your finger

Apple added: “A ring computing device is more portable than a mouse, doesn’t require a computer, doesn’t require eye-contact with a touchscreen, allows the user not to be tied to a computer, cellular device or tablet to control certain electronic devices (such as televisions), reduces the inefficiencies of mode-switching by not requiring a user to move his or her hand off a keyboard to move a mouse or touchpad and is smaller, more portable and less obtrusive than existing devices. The ring computing device can be carried unobtrusively for periods of time by the user and used when the user requires (to, for example, control light of a room as the user enters the room or to control devices at work or in a car).”

Tesla announce Model S follow-up

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Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk officially revealed the company's long-awaited Model S (the company's premium electric car) follow-up, the rather ambitiously named the “Model X,” (why is it always X?) at an event in Fremont, California last week, and it kind of looks like a DeLorean. In a presentation that lasted about 30 minutes, Musk hailed the car's new features, which include automatic front doors that open for you and close for you when the car senses you're near, a tinted windshield, record-breaking crash-test and safety results, and a pair of industry leading HEPA cabin air filters that reportedly make the car's cabin air as clean as that of a “Hospital operating room,” which is much sexier than it sounds. The falcon wing doors, meanwhile, are the first to be included on a mass-production car since one of the aforementioned DeLorean, and lend the vehicle an undeniable retro charm. I think it looks amazing, but something tells me the internet at large might prove less kind.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has officially revealed the company's long-awaited Model S follow-up, the rather ambitiously named the “Model X”

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Musk parked a minivan and SUV next to the Model X to demonstrate how the second hinge on the falcon wings allows them to go almost straight up before spreading out to fully open if necessary. Sensors inside the doors will also detect if there's enough vertical clearance to fully open the doors and stop them accordingly if need be. The falcon wings are not just there for their nifty looks either, as they actually allow for step-in access to the third row even if the second row is occupied. The X also boasts not only a cavernous rear cargo area, but foldable seats that create enough room to comfortably hold a child's stroller (as Musk took great pleasure in showing off). Official pricing for Model X has yet to be announced, though it's expected to ship around the tail end of 2016. Musk has said that the X will cost about $5,000 more than a similarly equipped Model S due to the added size and complexity of the new SUV, and will have a driving range of between 250 and 270 miles. So enough juice to get you from Birmingham to London and back again (just about).

Nintendo partners to unleash driverless taxis on Japan next year

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In semi-related news (Elon Musk also stated this week that all Tesla vehicles will be fully automated within another three years) that should surprise nobody with even a passing interest in the land of the rising sun, it would appear that Japan will be one of the first nations to experiment with driverless taxis, with the Japanese government and Robot Taxi Inc announcing this week that they will begin testing autonomous taxis with passengers on city roads next year. The trial robot taxi service will first be offered to fifty residents in Fujisawa to run simple errands, at first running no more than 2 miles along major city roads. The taxis will also be accompanied by a crew in case something goes wrong.

The Japanese government and Robot Taxi Inc announced this week that they will begin testing autonomous taxis with passengers on city roads next year

The robot taxis will be retrofitted Toyota Estima hybrid minivans from Robot Taxi, a venture between Sony-owned ZMP and DeNA Co, the same company that is helping develop Nintendo IP-based smartphone games. Japan hopes to commercialise the driverless taxi service in time for the 2020 Olympics. Many other companies are developing self-driving vehicles. For instance, Google Inc. began testing driverless cars in July and General Motors announced today that employees will have access to autonomous vehicles to use around its campus in Michigan late next year.

Nest Labs announce first Yale collaboration; the Smart lock

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Google's Nest Labs, has not only opened up its Nest Weave platform to external brands and developers, but has already announced its first collaboration. The platform had previously only been used in Nest products, but this move will allow other brands and developers to integrate their own products into the Nest app, which means the user can centrally control them all. Brands including Philips Hue, SkyBell and GE Branded Lighting Controls have already committed to using Nest Weave in future products.

Nest has opened up its Nest Weave platform and teamed up with Yale to launch a smart lock

The first product to come out of this move is a collaboration with Yale Locks & Hardware known colloquially as the smart lock, which is exactly what it sounds like.  The “Linus” lock has been designed so that people can use their Nest app to check if their door is open or closed, set up pass-codes to provide access for family members or guests and see whether they arrived or left. Jason Williams, general manager for Yale, said: “Named after our founder Linus Yale, who invented the original cylinder pin-tumbler lock in 1843, the Linus lock was created with the Nest home in mind. By working with Nest and taking advantage of Nest Weave, Nest cloud services and the Nest app, we were able to build the most thoughtful, innovative connected lock on the market.”

Mercedes team up with The Foundry to revolutionise the design process

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Mercedes-Benz has collaborated with software design consultancy The Foundry in order to make the design to prototyping process for their vehicle interfaces almost instantaneous. The partnership came to fruition because Mercedes initially sought to produce an advanced dashboard design for its latest concept car, the Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile, which can change shape at high speed (yes, you read that right). The design of the IAA means that as the car hits high speeds a tail emerges, fins flare and the grill changes shape. This can be replicated on the interface inside the car. “Project Dash” connects a true UI/UX designer's tool directly to the in-car experience, so that what the designer works with in the design studio is identical to what the customer ends up with. In addition to this seamless, real-time delivery, the solution frees engineering teams to focus their efforts on performance and accessibility.

Mercedes-Benz has collaborated with The Foundry in order to make the design to prototyping process for their vehicle interfaces almost instantaneous

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The Foundry, which develops creative software for VFX, games and design artists, has a long history of partnering with companies to develop solutions for complex digital visualisation challenges. Project Dash leverages this knowledge and applies it to address Mercedes' specific design challenge - to achieve high-quality, real-time renderings in the in-vehicle UI/UX. Project Dash also addresses universal design challenges by removing technology barriers and substantially reducing the time and cost associated with design iteration. It also allows companies to continually enhance and seamlessly deliver the highest quality UI/UX design to consumers. Bill Collis, CEO of The Foundry, said: “Mercedes-Benz has a heritage of ground-breaking innovations that have dramatically influenced the automotive industry. Our partnership continues this innovation, creating this new way of enabling UX/UI design. This makes it possible for Mercedes designers to be more creative and responsive to consumer's needs, which in turn, provides the driver with an ever more beautiful, relevant and engaging in-car experience.”

Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK.

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