Disney

Wreck-It Ralph is getting a warehouse-sized VR experience at Disney parks

Posted by | Disney, Gaming, TC, Virtual reality | No Comments

For the last year or so, Disney has been dabbling with massive virtual reality experiences that let players strap on a portable VR rig and run around in a warehouse-sized environment. In partnership with The VOID (part of Disney’s 2017 accelerator class) and Lucasfilm’s ILMxLab, it launched a Star Wars-themed experience, Secrets of the Empire, at both Downtown Disney (California) and Disney Springs (Florida) back in November of 2017.

The next Disney property getting the VR treatment? Wreck-It Ralph.

Here’s the trailer, released this morning:

Based on the upcoming movie sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” this one will be called, aptly, Ralph Breaks VR. Like Secrets before it, the Ralph experience will support four players running around a shared VR environment — but rather than dodging blaster fire and outsmarting stormtroopers, they’ll be having food fights with kittens and outrunning security drones.

While I’m mostly neutral on Ralph, I’m… pretty excited for this. Secrets of the Empire is one of the most ridiculous experiences I’ve ever had in virtual reality. It’s hard to say much without spoiling some of the moments, but my jaw was on the damned floor for half of the time. Alas, there wasn’t much time to speak of; the entire thing only lasts about 25 minutes — which, at $30 per person, felt way too short. Tickets for Ralph cost roughly the same; depending on location, it’ll be $30 or $33 per person.

A representative for Disney confirms that Secrets of the Empire is not going away. It’s an upside of taking place almost entirely in VR — retune the physical space to be a bit less Star Wars-y, schedule things just right, and you’re all set.

(Oh, and while details are light: after Ralph, they’re working on a Marvel-themed experience set to debut in 2019.)

Tickets for the Ralph experience are available starting next week. In addition to VOID’s Disneyland/Disneyworld locations, it’ll also be running at their Glendale, Calif. and Las Vegas spots.

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The ultimate guide to gifting STEM toys: tons of ideas for little builders

Posted by | adafruit industries, Anki, artificial intelligence, Asia, BBC Micro, Disney, Education, Europe, Gadgets, Gaming, Gift Guide 2018, hardware, Kano, littlebits, makeblock, mattel, robotics, TC | No Comments

The holiday season is here again, touting all sorts of kids’ toys that pledge to pack ‘STEM smarts’ in the box, not just the usual battery-based fun.

Educational playthings are nothing new, of course. But, in recent years, long time toymakers and a flurry of new market entrants have piggybacked on the popularity of smartphones and apps, building connected toys for even very young kids that seek to tap into a wider ‘learn to code’ movement which itself feeds off worries about the future employability of those lacking techie skills.

Whether the lofty educational claims being made for some of these STEM gizmos stands the test of time remains to be seen. Much of this sums to clever branding. Though there’s no doubt a lot of care and attention has gone into building this category out, you’ll also find equally eye-catching price-tags.

Whatever STEM toy you buy there’s a high chance it won’t survive the fickle attention spans of kids at rest and play. (Even as your children’s appetite to be schooled while having fun might dash your ‘engineer in training’ expectations.) Tearing impressionable eyeballs away from YouTube or mobile games might be your main parental challenge — and whether kids really need to start ‘learning to code’ aged just 4 or 5 seems questionable.

Buyers with high ‘outcome’ hopes for STEM toys should certainly go in with their eyes, rather than their wallets, wide open. The ‘STEM premium’ can be steep indeed, even as the capabilities and educational potential of the playthings themselves varies considerably.

At the cheaper end of the price spectrum, a ‘developmental toy’ might not really be so very different from a more basic or traditional building block type toy used in concert with a kid’s own imagination, for example.

While, at the premium end, there are a few devices in the market that are essentially fully fledged computers — but with a child-friendly layer applied to hand-hold and gamify STEM learning. An alternative investment in your child’s future might be to commit to advancing their learning opportunities yourself, using whatever computing devices you already have at home. (There are plenty of standalone apps offering guided coding lessons, for example. And tons and tons of open source resources.)

For a little DIY STEM learning inspiration read this wonderful childhood memoir by TechCrunch’s very own John Biggs — a self-confessed STEM toy sceptic.

It’s also worth noting that some startups in this still youthful category have already pivoted more toward selling wares direct to schools — aiming to plug learning gadgets into formal curricula, rather than risking the toys falling out of favor at home. Which does lend weight to the idea that standalone ‘play to learn’ toys don’t necessarily live up to the hype. And are getting tossed under the sofa after a few days’ use.

We certainly don’t suggest there are any shortcuts to turn kids into coders in the gift ideas presented here. It’s through proper guidance — plus the power of their imagination — that the vast majority of children learn. And of course kids are individuals, with their own ideas about what they want to do and become.

The increasingly commercialized rush towards STEM toys, with hundreds of millions of investor dollars being poured into the category, might also be a cause for parental caution. There’s a risk of barriers being thrown up to more freeform learning — if companies start pushing harder to hold onto kids’ attention in a more and more competitive market. Barriers that could end up dampening creative thinking.

At the same time (adult) consumers are becoming concerned about how much time they spend online and on screens. So pushing kids to get plugged in from a very early age might not feel like the right thing to do. Your parental priorities might be more focused on making sure they develop into well rounded human beings — by playing with other kids and/or non-digital toys that help them get to know and understand the world around them, and encourage using more of their own imagination.

But for those fixed on buying into the STEM toy craze this holiday season, we’ve compiled a list of some of the main players, presented in alphabetical order, rounding up a selection of what they’re offering for 2018, hitting a variety of price-points, product types and age ranges, to present a market overview — and with the hope that a well chosen gift might at least spark a few bright ideas…


Adafruit Kits

Product: Metro 328 Starter Pack 
Price: $45
Description: Not a typical STEM toy but a starter kit from maker-focused and electronics hobbyist brand Adafruit. The kit is intended to get the user learning about electronics and Arduino microcontrollers to set them on a path to being a maker. Adafruit says the kit is designed for “everyone, even people with little or no electronics and programming experience”. Though parental supervision is a must unless you’re buying for a teenager or mature older child. Computer access is also required for programming the Arduino.

Be sure to check out Adafruit’s Young Engineers Category for a wider range of hardware hacking gift ideas too, from $10 for a Bare Conductive Paint Pen, to $25 for the Drawdio fun pack, to $35 for this Konstruktor DIY Film Camera Kit or $75 for the Snap Circuits Green kit — where budding makers can learn about renewable energy sources by building a range of solar and kinetic energy powered projects. Adafruit also sells a selection of STEM focused children’s books too, such as Python for Kids ($35)
Age: Teenagers, or younger children with parental supervision


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Anki

Product: Cozmo
Price: $180
Description: The animation loving Anki team added a learn-to-code layer to their cute, desktop-mapping bot last year — called Cozmo Code Lab, which was delivered via free update — so the cartoonesque, programmable truck is not new on the scene for 2018 but has been gaining fresh powers over the years.

This year the company has turned its attention to adults, launching a new but almost identical-looking assistant-style bot, called Vector, that’s not really aimed at kids. That more pricey ($250) robot is slated to be getting access to its code lab in future, so it should have some DIY programming potential too.
Age: 8+


Dash Robotics

Product: Kamigami Jurassic World Robot
Price: ~$60
Description: Hobbyist robotics startup Dash Robotics has been collaborating with toymaker Mattel on the Kamigami line of biologically inspired robots for over a year now. The USB-charged bots arrive at kids’ homes in build-it-yourself form before coming to programmable, biomimetic life via the use of a simple, icon-based coding interface in the companion app.

The latest addition to the range is dinosaur bot series Jurassic World, currently comprised of a pair of pretty similar looking raptor dinosaurs, each with light up eyes and appropriate sound effects. Using the app kids can complete challenges to unlock new abilities and sounds. And if you have more than one dinosaur in the same house they can react to each other to make things even more lively.
Age: 8+


Kano

Product: Harry Potter Coding Kit
Price: $100
Description: British learn-to-code startup Kano has expanded its line this year with a co-branded, build-it-yourself wand linked to the fictional Harry Potter wizard series. The motion-sensitive e-product features a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer and Bluetooth wireless so kids can use it to interact with coding content on-screen. The company offers 70-plus challenges for children to play wizard with, using wand gestures to manipulate digital content. Like many STEM toys it requires a tablet or desktop computer to work its digital magic (iOS and Android tablets are supported, as well as desktop PCs including Kano’s Computer Kit Touch, below)
Age: 6+

Product: Computer Kit Touch
Price: $280
Description: The latest version of Kano’s build-it-yourself Pi-powered kids’ computer. This year’s computer kit includes the familiar bright orange physical keyboard but now paired with a touchscreen. Kano reckons touch is a natural aid to the drag-and-drop, block-based learn-to-code systems it’s putting under kids’ fingertips here. Although its KanoOS Pi skin does support text-based coding too, and can run a wide range of other apps and programs — making this STEM device a fully fledged computer in its own right
Age: 6-13



Lego

Product: Boost Creative Toolbox
Price: $160
Description: Boost is Lego’s relatively recent foray into offering a simpler robotics and programming system aimed at younger kids vs its more sophisticated and expensive veteran Mindstorms creator platform (for 10+ year olds). The Boost Creative Toolbox is an entry point to Lego + robotics, letting kids build a range of different brick-based bots — all of which can be controlled and programmed via the companion app which offers an icon-based coding system.

Boost components can also be combined with other Lego kits to bring other not-electronic kits to life — such as its Stormbringer Ninjago Dragon kit (sold separately for $40). Ninjago + Boost means = a dragon that can walk and turn its head as if it’s about to breathe fire
Age: 7-12


littleBits

Product: Avengers Hero Inventor Kit
Price: $150
Description: This Disney co-branded wearable in kit form from the hardware hackers over at littleBits lets superhero-inspired kids snap together all sorts of electronic and plastic bits to make their own gauntlet from the Avengers movie franchise. The gizmo features an LED matrix panel, based on Tony Stark’s palm Repulsor Beam, they can control via companion app. There are 18 in-app activities for them to explore, assuming kids don’t just use amuse themselves acting out their Marvel superhero fantasies
Age: 8+

It’s worth noting that littleBits has lots more to offer — so if bringing yet more Disney-branded merch into your home really isn’t your thing, check out its wide range of DIY electronics kits, which cater to various price points, such as this Crawly Creature Kit ($40) or an Electronic Music Inventor Kit ($100), and much more… No major movie franchises necessary


Makeblock

Product: Codey Rocky
Price: $100
Description: Shenzhen-based STEM kit maker Makeblock crowdfunded this emotive, programmable bot geared towards younger kids on Kickstarter. There’s no assembly required, though the bot itself can transform into a wearable or handheld device for game playing, as Codey (the head) detaches from Rocky (the wheeled body).

Despite the young target age, the toy is packed with sophisticated tech — making use of deep learning algorithms, for example. While the company’s visual programming system, mBlock, also supports Python text coding, and allows kids to code bot movements and visual effects on the display, tapping into the 10 programmable modules on this sensor-heavy bot. Makeblock says kids can program Codey to create dot matrix animations, design games and even build AI and IoT applications, thanks to baked in support for voice, image and even face recognition… The bot has also been designed to be compatible with Lego bricks so kids can design and build physical add-ons too
Age: 6+

Product: Airblock
Price: $100
Description: Another programmable gizmo from Makeblock’s range. Airblock is a modular and programmable drone/hovercraft so this is a STEM device that can fly. Magnetic connectors are used for easy assembly of the soft foam pieces. Several different assembly configurations are possible. The companion app’s block-based coding interface is used for programming and controlling your Airblock creations
Age: 8+



Ozobot

Product: Evo
Price: $100
Description: This programmable robot has a twist as it can be controlled without a child always having to be stuck to a screen. The Evo’s sensing system can detect and respond to marks made by marker pens and stickers in the accompanying Experience Pack — so this is coding via paper plus visual cues.

There is also a digital, block-based coding interface for controlling Evo, called OzoBlockly (based on Google’s Blockly system). This has a five-level coding system to support a range of ages, from pre-readers (using just icon-based blocks), up to a ‘Master mode’ which Ozobot says includes extensive low-level control and advanced programming features
Age: 9+


Pi-top


Product: Modular Laptop
Price: $320 (with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+), $285 without
Description: This snazzy 14-inch modular laptop, powered by Raspberry Pi, has a special focus on teaching coding and electronics. Slide the laptop’s keyboard forward and it reveals a built in rail for hardware hacking. Guided projects designed for kids include building a music maker and a smart robot. The laptop runs pi-top’s learn-to-code oriented OS — which supports block-based coding programs like Scratch and kid-friendly wares like Minecraft Pi edition, as well as its homebrew CEEDUniverse: A Civilization style game that bakes in visual programming puzzles to teach basic coding concepts. The pi-top also comes with a full software suite of more standard computing apps (including apps from Google and Microsoft). So this is no simple toy. Not a new model for this year — but still a compelling STEM machine
Age: 8+


Robo Wunderkind


Product: Starter Kit
Price: $200 
Description: Programmable robotics blocks for even very young inventors. The blocks snap together and are color-coded based on function so as to minimize instruction for the target age group. Kids can program their creations to do stuff like drive, play music, detect obstacles and more via a drag-and-drop coding interface in the companion Robo Code app. Another app — Robo Live — lets them control what they’ve built in real time. The physical blocks can also support Lego-based add-ons for more imaginative designs
Age: 5+


Root Robotics

Product: Root
Price: $200
Description: A robot that can sense and draw, thanks to a variety of on board sensors, battery-powered kinetic energy and its central feature: A built-in pen holder. Root uses spirographs as the medium for teaching STEM as kids get to code what the bot draws. They can also create musical compositions with a scan and play mode that turns Root into a music maker. The companion app offers three levels of coding interfaces to support different learning abilities and ages. At the top end it supports programming in Swift (with Python and JavaScript slated as coming soon). An optional subscription service offers access to additional learning materials and projects to expand Root’s educational value
Age: 4+



Sphero


Product: Bolt
Price: $150
Description: The app-enabled robot ball maker’s latest STEM gizmo. It’s still a transparent sphere but now has an 8×8 LED matrix lodged inside to expand the programmable elements. This colorful matrix can be programmed to display words, show data in real-time and offer game design opportunities. Bolt also includes an ambient light sensor, and speed and direction sensors, giving it an additional power up over earlier models. The Sphero Edu companion app supports drawing, Scratch-style block-based and JavaScript text programming options to suit different ages
Age: 8+


Tech Will Save Us

Product: Range of coding, electronics and craft kits
Price: From ~$30 up to $150
Description: A delightful range of electronic toys and coding kits, hitting various age and price-points, and often making use of traditional craft materials (which of course kids love). Examples include a solar powered moisture sensor kit ($40) to alert when a pot plant needs water; electronic dough ($35); a micro:bot add-on kit ($35) that makes use of the BBC micro:bit device (sold separately); and the creative coder kit ($70), which pairs block-based coding with a wearable that lets kids see their code in action (and reacting to their actions)
Age: 4+, 8+, 11+ depending on kit


UBTech Robotics

Product: JIMU Robot BuilderBots Series: Overdrive Kit
Price: $120
Description: More snap-together, codable robot trucks that kids get to build and control. These can be programmed either via posing and recording, or using Ubtech’s drag-and-drop, block-based Blockly coding program. The Shenzhen-based company, which has been in the STEM game for several years, offers a range of other kits in the same Jimu kit series — such as this similarly priced UnicornBot and its classic MeeBot Kit, which can be expanded via the newer Animal Add-on Kit
Age: 8+


Wonder Workshop

Product: Dot Creativity Kit 
Price: $80
Description: San Francisco-based Wonder Workshop offers a kid-friendly blend of controllable robotics and DIY craft-style projects in this entry-level Dot Creativity Kit. Younger kids can play around and personalize the talkative connected device. But the startup sells a trio of chatty robots all aimed at encouraging children to get into coding. Next in line there’s Dash ($150), also for 6+ year olds. Then Cue ($200) for 11+. The startup also has a growing range of accessories to expand the bots’ (programmable) functionality — such as this Sketch Kit ($40) which adds a few arty smarts to Dash or Cue.

With Dot, younger kids play around using a suite of creative apps to control and customize their robot and tap more deeply into its capabilities, with the apps supporting a range of projects and puzzles designed to both entertain them and introduce basic coding concepts.
Age: 6+


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Netflix is falling off a cliff

Posted by | Apps, Comcast, Disney, Mobile, Netflix | No Comments

Netflix didn’t add as many subscribers as expected by a bunch of people on Wall Street who, on a quarterly basis, govern whether or not it’ll be more valuable than Comcast — and that is probably a bad thing, as it’s one of the primary indicators of its future potential for said finance folk.

While it’s still adding subscribers (a lot of them), it fell below the forecasts it set for itself during the second quarter. That’s shaved off more than $10 billion in its market capitalization this afternoon. This comes amid a spending spree by the company, which is looking to create a ton of original content in order to attract a wider audience and lock them into that Netflix ecosystem. That could include shows like GLOWJessica Jones3% or even feature films. But it’s still a tricky situation because it needs to be able to convert shows from that kind of crazy spend schedule into actual subscribers.

Here’s the main chart for its subscription growth.:

So it’s basically down across the board compared to what it set for itself. And here’s the stock chart:

CEOs and executives will normally say they’re focused on delivering long-term value to shareholders, or some variation of that wording, but Netflix is a company that’s been on an absolute tear over the course of the past year. It’s more than doubled in value, overtaking said previously mentioned cable company and signaling that it, too, could be a media consumption empire that will take a decade to unseat like its predecessor. (Though, to be sure, Comcast is going to bundle in Netflix, so this whole situation is kind of weird.)

Of course, all of this is certainly not great for the company. The obvious case is that Netflix has to attract a good amount of talent, and that means offering generous compensation packages — which can include a lot of stock as part of it. But Netflix is also a company that looks to raise a lot of debt to fund the aforementioned spending spree in order to pick up additional subscribers. That’s going to require some assurance that it’ll be a pretty valuable company in the future (and still around, of course), so it may make those negotiations a little more difficult.

Everything else was pretty much in-line, but in the end, it’s that subscriber number that didn’t go as well as planned.

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Bag Week 2018: Why I still love the Peak Design Everyday Backpack

Posted by | bag week, Bag Week 2018, bags, Culture, Disney, equipment, Gadgets, luggage, metal, Peak Design, TC, technology | No Comments

Welcome to Bag Week 2018. Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions.

A few months back I declared the Peak Design Everyday Backpack the best thing at CES 2018. It was a silly comment since the bag was released a couple of years back but it was new to me. I had purchased the bag from Best Buy a few days prior and was in love with the bag and had to tell the world. I’m happy to report that after carrying the bag around several more conferences and a family trip to Disney World, I’m comfortable declaring it the best backpack I’ve ever used.

The company recently released a black version and sent me one to test. It looks mean. It’s the backpack Darth Vader would carry if he needed to tout around a full frame DSLR, a couple of lenses and a MacBook Pro.

The bag’s main clasp is wonderful. It’s designed in such a way that the wearer can quickly open and securely close it. Just pull down and away to open the bag. To close it, pull down so the top is tight, place the clasp next to the metal rungs and let go. Magnets hold the clasp next to the bag and the tension on the top causes the clasp to find the next available rung. Try it and you’ll love it. I do.

Peak Design equipped the bag with solid hardware. All the clasps are metal and the zippers are durable. I don’t think there’s plastic anywhere on the bag.

Like I said several months ago, the bag is best described as smart and solid. It’s a confident design with just enough pockets and storage options. The bag features one, large pocket that makes up most of the bag. Foldable dividers allow the wearer to customize the bag as needed. And quickly, too. These dividers fold in several ways, allowing the bag to hold, say, a large telephoto lens or several smaller lens.

The bag is packed full of surprises, too. Straps are hidden throughout allowing it to hold a surprising amount of items even a drone.

Small packing cubes make the Peak Design Everyday Backpack a storage cabinet. This is my bag while traveling overseas.

Peak Design positions this bag as a camera bag, but it can be so much more with some little bags. I use these and they fit perfectly in both the 20L and 30L bag. It lets me keep things organized and separated in a way that I’ve haven’t found possible in other bags. Peak Design should look at making a series of these bags. I would be all over them if they did.

The bag I bought back before CES was the 20L. It’s the smallest option though far from small. My 15-inch MacBook Pro squeezes into the laptop compartment and the bag has yet to feel too small even when it’s holding a camera, a couple of books and a travel pillow.

The new black bag looks amazing but it seems to show scuffs and dirt more than my grey one. That’s a shame, too. I throw my bags around and expect a lot out of them. This black bag looks more dirty after one oversea trip than my grey one does after six months of use.

Just like I said back at CES, I’m not going to run through all the details of this bag. A few more are worth calling out: The sternum strap is fantastic. It uses clips without moving parts so it should last a lifetime. The shoulder straps are attached to the bag with a rivet that allows the straps to swivel as needed — it’s a smart advancement in the design of a backpack. And inside the laptop sleeve is a small pocket that is absolutely perfect to hold a Traveler’s Notebook and a pen.

As backpacks go, the Peak Design Everyday Backpack costs more than most. The smaller 20L is $260 and the 30L is $290. To me, the higher price is justified and if there’s a backpack worth the extra cost, it’s this one. I highly recommend this bag.


Bag design with Peak Design

Folks, it’s Bag Week! Tito Hamze visits Peak Design’s HQ in San Francisco to learn about the company and how they create their bags. From humble beginnings starting with a clip to hold your camera to a full-fledged accessory company, this outfit is growing and creating quality products — all while never having taken any traditional VC funding.

bag week 2018

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Samsung adds ‘The Incredibles’ to its AR Emojis

Posted by | Disney, Mobile, Pixar, Samsung, the incredibles | No Comments

Samsung’s AR Emojis were met with a…lukewarm reception when they launched alongside the Galaxy S9. The augmented reality avatars were regarded as a me-too response to Apple’s Animojis — and more to the point, were downright creepy.

But at launch, the company brought one key element to the offering that Apple hasn’t: a content partnership. And not just any content partnership, mind. A Disney content partnership. So far, it’s rolled out the iconic likes of Mickey, Minnie and Donald, and now, just in time for the latest Pixar sequel, it’s offering up the cast of The Incredibles 2.

Starting today, Galaxy S9 and S9+ owners can download  Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet, Dash, Jack-Jack and new character Frozone, for all of their AR Emoji-related needs. So users can send a birthday greeting, reach out to a loved one or break up with an ex as their favorite super baby.

The new content pack is available directly through the camera software’s built-in AR Emoji mode. The tech uses in excess of 100 facial features to map the user’s movements.

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This soft robotic arm is straight out of Big Hero 6 (it’s even from Disney)

Posted by | Disney, disney research, Gadgets, hardware, robotics, science, Soft Robotics, TC | No Comments

The charming robot at the heart of Disney’s Big Hero 6, Baymax, isn’t exactly realistic, but its puffy bod is an (admittedly aspirational) example of the growing field of soft robotics. And now Disney itself has produced a soft robot arm that seems like it could be a prototype from the movie.

Created by Disney Research roboticists, the arm seems clearly inspired by Baymax, from the overstuffed style and delicate sausage fingers to the internal projector that can show status or information to nearby people.

“Where physical human-robot interaction is expected, robots should be compliant and reactive to avoid human injury and hardware damage,” the researchers write in the paper describing the system. “Our goal is the realization of a robot arm and hand system which can physically interact with humans and gently manipulate objects.”

The mechanical parts of the arm are ordinary enough — it has an elbow and wrist and can move around the way many other robot arms do, using the same servos and such.

But around the joints are what look like big pillows, which the researchers call “force sensing modules.” They’re filled with air and can detect pressure on them. This has the dual effect of protecting the servos from humans and vice versa, while also allowing natural tactile interactions.

“Distributing individual modules over the various links of a robot provides contact force sensing over a large area of the robot and allows for the implementation of spatially aware, engaging physical human-robot interactions,” they write. “The independent sensing areas also allow a human to communicate with the robot or guide its motions through touch.”

Like hugging, as one of the researchers demonstrates:

Presumably in this case the robot (also presuming the rest of the robot) would understand that it is being hugged, and reciprocate or otherwise respond.

The fingers are also soft and filled with air; they’re created in a 3D printer that can lay down both rigid and flexible materials. Pressure sensors within each inflatable finger let the robot know whether, for example, one fingertip is pressing too hard or bearing all the weight, signaling it to adjust its grip.

This is still very much a prototype; the sensors can’t detect the direction of a force yet, and the materials and construction aren’t airtight by design, meaning they have to be continuously pumped full. But it still shows what they want it to show: that a traditional “hard” robot can be retrofitted into a soft one with a bit of ingenuity. We’re still a long way from Baymax, but it’s more science than fiction now.

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Review: 2018 Lincoln Navigator

Posted by | Android, Ann Arbor, Apple, applink, automotive, automotive industry, detroit, Disney, Ford, land rover, Lincoln Navigator, michigan, navigator, radio disney, smartphone, TC, Uber, waze | No Comments

Michigan saw a historic amount of snowfall in 2018. And it’s not done. It’s snowing as I write this and it snowed nearly every day since I took delivery of this burgundy 2018 Lincoln Navigator. Excuse the dirty car shown in the photos. That’s life in the Midwest: half the year it’s impossible to keep cars clean of salt and grime and, to me, that’s the best time to review a vehicle. I’m happy to report the new Navigator is a comfortable refuge from the snowy winter.

I spent a week in the 2018 Navigator running from Flint, Michigan to Ann Arbor to Detroit. I filled up the 23-gallon tank enough to know to take it easy on the lively 3.5L EcoBoost V6. The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is luxurious and confident — but thirsty.

This is a luxury SUV. It’s not a sport truck and it’s not high-tech paradise, though it can play the part of both. The new Navigator was clearly built to be as comfortable as possible, and along the way Lincoln constructed one of the best luxury SUVs on the market.

Review

Winter hit Michigan hard this year and I found the ditch in my 2012 Dodge Durango R/T several times. It started snowing in December and didn’t stop until halfway through March. I grew up in Michigan and still live in the state. Driving in snow doesn’t bother me, though jumping into an unfamiliar vehicle and navigating snow-covered roads can be challenging. But not in this Navigator. I found it handles snow and slush and ice without an issue.

The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is a full-size SUV. It sits as high as a Ford F-150 and tends to lumber about as such. The ride is confident and stable. There’s little sway on tight expressway ramps and the automatic four-wheel drive quickly activates when a tire starts to spin.

This Navigator isn’t a sport truck, but it gets up and goes thanks to Ford’s fantastic 3.5L EcoBoost V6. This six-cylinder twin-turbo kit has found its way into nearly every full-size platform Ford offers. The Navigator is gifted with an updated version of the engine and it offers ample power across its range. The 3.5L surprises in this massive luxury SUV. It’s lively and powerful and more than enough to make the ride comfortable. During my time with the truck, I never felt at a loss of power, though I tried.

The engine is key to the Navigator’s appeal on several levels. First, 3.5L V6 offers decent fuel economy if driven conservatively while offering a decent bit of excitement if driven with that intent. Second, it allows Lincoln to say the Navigator is able to tow 600 lbs more than the Cadillac Escalade, which features a massive 6.2L V8. While both vehicles can ably pull a pontoon, the Lincoln does so with 510 lb.-ft of torque over Cadillac’s 460 — though without a boat of my own, I’m unable to confirm if the difference is felt in the real world.

The steering is light and responsive, though it’s impossible to forget this is a massive vehicle. It drives like a truck — though not your grandfather’s work truck. The driver sits in a commanding position that makes for good visibility. The vehicle’s suspension lets it cruise over rough roads and most bumps are absorbed. It’s a big SUV and there’s a fair amount of body roll on on-ramps. Parking isn’t an issue. There are plenty of cameras positioned around the vehicle to help maneuver this land yacht.

The interior of the new Navigator stuns. Wood, leather and chrome adorn the surfaces and walks close to the line of bling. It begs the confirmation that it ultimately comes from an American automaker. Take the badging off the interior and it could easily be mistaken as a luxury European SUV — though this Navigator is bigger than anything offered across the pond.

It’s roomy inside. Storage is abundant but cleverly hidden so as not to look like a minivan. There’s plenty of leg room for second-row passengers while the third row is surprisingly roomy.

The seats are something special. Sure, they’re comfortable and supportive like any found in high-end SUVs. It’s their design that sets them apart. The cushions jet out from a large back support making them look more like an Eames lounger than an overstuffed leather recliner. The design is a stark departure from most automotive seats, and I’m a fan.

The back seats are not nearly as comfortable. They’re supportive and offer several seating positions. In this tester, the rear seat is equipped with a center console that sports a small LCD screen that displays the media currently playing. The kids love it and I’m sure Uber passengers would too. As a parent to two kids, I found it annoying to cede control of the radio to the backseat. Thankfully there’s a button above the climate controls that disables the backseat controls, because I can only listen to Radio Disney for so long.

Tech

There’s an LCD screen mounted in the center of the dash. It’s large enough to be usable though not distracting. The best part? The screen doesn’t show fingerprints. There’s clearly a coating over the screen that somehow, magically, makes fingerprints invisible. Glare doesn’t seem to be an issue, though, as previously mentioned, it’s been snowing for a week and I haven’t seen the sun at all during my testing.

The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is equipped with a Lincoln-badged version of the Ford Sync 3 infotainment system. The automaker rolled out this system with 2016 models and it’s a massive improvement over previous Sync versions. It’s not the best infotainment system available, but it’s good enough. Vehicle functions and controls are in logical places and Ford’s AppLink system offers support for some third-party apps now, including Waze .

Android Auto and CarPlay are also available when used with compatible devices. I’ve grown to avoid these systems and prefer to stick with most systems developed by automakers. I was initially a fan of CarPlay, but Apple has yet to advance the platform, and now several years after its launch, it feels dated and unusable.

The Navigator’s smartphone app is clever. Need to put in navigation info? With the Lincoln Way app, drivers can input a destination on their smartphone app before they get into the vehicle and send those directions to the Navigator. It’s much easier than entering the destination through the in-vehicle system. The app also lets drivers start the car, order roadside assistance or service and locate the car.

Competition

This new Navigator is in a class of its own. The Cadillac Escalade’s interior is vastly inferior, the Mercedes-Benz GLS is dated and much less roomy. The Lexus LX and Toyota Land Cruiser have better off-road chops, but the platform is over 10 years old and it shows. Land Rover’s SUVs are more expensive and its three-row models are much smaller and less powerful than the Navigator, though new models are coming out soon.

There simply isn’t a more luxurious, roomy six- or seven-passenger vehicle available than the new Navigator.

I’m in the market for a new vehicle and recently test drove several used 2017 Lincoln Navigators. It’s a nice truck, but lacks the wow factor of the 2018 Navigator. Where past models were clearly a rebadged Ford, complete with similar plastic trim and equipment, the new Navigator is a fresh departure from its Ford counterpart, the Expedition. Similarities between the two models still exist, though they’re less pronounced, with the Lincoln clearly getting the nod toward luxury.

The Navigator of today is much better than the Navigator of yesterday. Lincoln improved the Navigator in nearly every way. The ride, the comfort, the technology. Everything is better, and that’s impressive and must be noted.

The Navigator is 25 years old this year. It was one of the first American-made luxury SUVs, but it has nearly always been overshadowed by the Escalade — and for good reason. The Escalade has always offered more everything than the Navigator. But not anymore.

The new Navigator sets the bar. It’s luxurious. It’s powerful. The Navigator is wonderful.

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Samsung’s Galaxy S9 gets Disney AR Emojis at launch

Posted by | Disney, Mobile, Samsung, samsung galaxy s9 | No Comments

I wasn’t alone in suggesting that Samsung’s Animoji competitors were, well, creepy. AR Emojis sit firmly in the uncanny valley between face scans and cartoon characters — generally lacking the adorableness of Apple’s offering. They have, however, had one saving grace: Disney, the entertainment company that essentially owns all of your best childhood memories. 

Samsung teased the partnership this month at Mobile World Congress, during the big Galaxy S9 launch, but didn’t offer much in the way of specifics. There is, however, some good news on the front. Disney’s AR Emojis will be available at launch for the S9 and S9+ — which, as it so happens, is today.

Right now, only Mickey and Minnie are available, accessible to phone buyers as a free download.  More character offerings from such blockbuster films as The Incredibles, Zootopia and Frozen will be made available before the end of the year.

The decision to go with Samsung is no doubt a sore spot for Apple, which has had a tight partnership with Disney for decades, including numerous product crossovers and shared board members. But the entertainment giant is no doubt looking to spread the love. The company also recently licensed Star Wars characters for some very Porg-y Pixel 2 AR stickers.

“By extending our characters and stories to new digital platforms,” Disney VP John Love said in a release tied to the announcement, “we are creating daily Disney experiences everywhere our audience goes, and we are able to draw in new generations of fans.”

The S9 hits the market today, priced starting at $720.

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Madden NFL 18 esports are coming to Disney XD and ESPN

Posted by | Disney, disney xd, Electronic Arts, espn, esports, Football, Gaming, madden nfl, madden nfl 18, Media, TC | No Comments

 With the Super Bowl just a few weeks away, the world of football has some relatively unexpected news. Madden NFL, one of the most popular gaming titles in the world, is going even more mainstream. ESPN2 and Disney XD will broadcast Madden e-sports tournaments thanks to a new deal inked by EA, Disney, and the NFL. Madden NFL 18 is one of the top ten best-selling games in the last 12 months, and… Read More

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ESPN launches a short-form version of SportsCenter on Snapchat

Posted by | Disney, espn, Media, Mobile, Snap, Snapchat, Sports | No Comments

 ESPN today announced it’s launching a short-form version of its SportsCenter show on Snapchat, which will kick off today at 5 PM ET. The show will then begin to release new episodes on a twice-daily basis, at 5 AM and 5 PM on weekdays and once, at 5 AM, on weekends. The launch will make SportsCenter the first-ever daily sports show on Snapchat’s platform. The move comes at a time… Read More

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