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Six months after their spectacular unveil, Google is about to send the first round of augmented reality Google Glass devices to developers. Developers will pay $1,500 for the privilege of receiving an early, prototype version of Google Glass, but the polished consumer version — due in 2014 — should be a lot cheaper.
As it stands, Google Glass is a browband — like a pair of spectacles, but without the lenses — with what basically amounts to small ARM computer running Android attached to the right side, by your temple, and a large battery behind your right ear. There’s all the usual hardware that you would find in an Android smartphone — a speaker (near your ear), a forward facing camera, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, a couple of microphones, and WiFi and Bluetooth aerials — but instead of a large touchscreen, there’s a tiny display placed near your right eye.
In theory, if you’ve seen the original Glass promotional video (embedded below), Google’s goggles are meant to finally usher in the era of wearable computing. In reality, Google Glass is currently just like having an Android smartphone strapped to your head.
Researchers at Northwestern and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created a stretchable, flexible lithium-ion battery that can be recharged wirelessly. This is big news for wearable computing, roll-up displays, and implantable devices — all of which have been desperately awaiting a flexible, stretchy power source.
Historically, batteries, with electrodes made out of large slabs of graphite and metal, are about as inflexible as it gets. Bend a laptop battery and, if you’re strong enough, it will break (and possibly explode, so please don’t try it at home). There’s also a toxic, liquid electrolyte in most batteries, which generally means you want a hard, rugged chassis to stop any leakages.
Faced with a lot of recent backlash for its wearable Glass headset, Google has published a list of dos and don’ts for its early Glass Explorers — aka, How To Not Be A Glasshole — and also set about debunking the top 10 Google Glass myths. Both lists highlight one of the biggest issues facing technology at the moment: A growing resistance from the non-technologist public, who are rightfully a bit scared about how hyper-advanced, almost magical technology will impact their society.
Ever since the first round of Glass headsets made their way to Explorers in June 2012, barely a week has gone by without the the press reporting on some kind of “Glasshole” story. These stories nearly always follow the same kind of pattern: Explorer wears Glass while going about his or her everyday life, and then gets into some kind of altercation by going somewhere or doing something that someone else finds objectionable. It’s usually pretty normal, obvious stuff: Wearing Glass while driving, wearing Glass in a locker room, wearing Glass in a counterculture punk bar, etc.
Like you and everyone else on the internet, I was dumbstruck when Facebook’s Zuckerberg announced that his company would be acquiring Oculus VR, the makers of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, for $2 billion. The two companies are so utterly different, with paths so magnificently divergent, that it’s hard to see the acquisition as anything more than the random whim of a CEO who was playing a billion-dollar game of Acquisitory Darts. Or perhaps Zuckerberg just enjoyed playing Doom as a child and thought, what’s the point in being one of the world’s richest people if you can’t acquire your childhood idol, John Carmack?
Anyway, instead of writing something reactionary and vitriolic like every other journalist, I decided to sleep on it. Now, after a night of vivid fever dreams (and more scenes involving a topless Zuckerberg than I initially anticipated), I can tell you that I’ve seen the future of Facebook, Oculus Rift, and virtual reality — and it’s pretty damn awesome.
First, it’s important to remember that, in the short term, the Oculus Rift is unlikely to be negatively affected by this acquisition. According to Oculus VR co-founder Palmer Luckey, thanks to Facebook’s additional resources, the Oculus Rift will come to market “with fewer compromises even faster than we anticipated.” Luckey also says there won’t be any weird Facebook tie-ins; if you want to use the Rift as a gaming headset, that option will still be available.
David Cardinal: Tablets are the future
Tablets are cool. They’re fun, portable, have long-lived batteries, and are increasingly useful. The immediacy of a touchscreen you can hold in your hand, coupled with a screen large enough to read a magazine make them the most exciting development in computers since the laptop. Currently the iPad is all the rage for tablets, even among those who already own an iPhone. Alan Kay — inventor of the Dynabook, the iPad’s 1968 virtual ancestor — explained why when he commented to Steve Jobs about the iPhone, “Make the screen at least 5″ x 8″ and you will rule the world.”
Smartphones, with their small screens, aren’t going to replace the trillion pages of books, notebooks, newspapers and magazines that the world has been consuming for the last 500 years. The tablet will. Already kids are feeling shortchanged when their books don’t come to life the way their electronic devices do.
For all their appeal, tablets have one life-threatening drawback. It is just plain hard to create content on them. They do have a huge advantage over smartphones, with the larger screens making possible a facsimile of a true keyboard — and more than one published author has written a book entirely on a tablet — but compared to a full-size keyboard they fall way short, if you are a touch typist at least. It is no wonder Apple plowed a few hundred million into Siri.
IBM cracks open a new era of computing with brain-like chip: 4096 cores, 1 million neurons, 5.4 billion transistors
Scientists at IBM Research have created by far the most advanced neuromorphic (brain-like) computer chip to date. The chip, called TrueNorth, consists of 1 million programmable neurons and 256 million programmable synapses across 4096 individual neurosynaptic cores. Built on Samsung’s 28nm process and with a monstrous transistor count of 5.4 billion, this is one of the largest and most advanced computer chips ever made. Perhaps most importantly, though, TrueNorth is incredibly efficient: The chip consumes just 72 milliwatts at max load, which equates to around 400 billion synaptic operations per second per watt — or about 176,000 times more efficient than a modern CPU running the same brain-like workload, or 769 times more efficient than other state-of-the-art neuromorphic approaches. Yes, IBM is now a big step closer to building a brain on a chip.
The animal brain (which includes the human brain, of course), as you may have heard before, is by far the most efficient computer in the known universe. As you can see in the graph below, the human brain has a “clock speed” (neuron firing speed) measured in tens of hertz, and a total power consumption of around 20 watts. A modern silicon chip, despite having features that are almost on the same tiny scale as biological neurons and synapses, can consume thousands or millions times more energy to perform the same task as a human brain. As we move towards more advanced areas of computing, such as artificial general intelligence and big data analysis — areas that IBM just happens to be deeply involved with — it would really help if we had a silicon chip that was capable of brain-like efficiency.
Apple gave us “one more thing” at its product announcement earlier this week, and just as expected, it was a smartwatch. The Apple Watch unveiling comes a few months afterAndroid Wear devices started hitting the market, and that might have contributed to the state of the presentation — the Apple Watch isn’t done yet. It won’t be on sale until next year, but Apple apparently felt it had to show us how it was approaching wrist computing, and it’s much different than Android Wear. Is either approach any better, though?
Both Google and Apple agree that smartwatches are not phones and should not be treated as such. However, they can take over from your phone in a few important ways. Probably the most common use for watches is as a notification center for your wrist. Apple Watch and Android Wear are able to automatically display the notifications that appear on your phone, which saves you from pulling the phone out of your pocket.