Apple Hires Top Virtual Reality Expert

Virtual reality is one of the big developments in recent years, with much hype surrounding Facebook’s soon-to-be-released Oculus Rift. Alongside this, other companies including Google, Sony and HTC developing their own VR offerings, while Apple seems conspicuously absent. This could be set to change soon, with their hiring of Doug Bowman, a leading expert in VR and 3D interface design.

Up until his recent sabbatical to join Apple, Bowman had held the post of Director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech for around five years. Bowman’s research focus has been “three-dimensional user interface design and the benefits of immersion in virtual environments,” with him authoring a book on the subject. He also has strong credentials in the VR field, being part of the development team of the Virginia Tech Cube, a 50 x 40-foot box used as both a theater and an environment for studying VR. Apple isn’t the only company to recognise Bowman’s work either, with Microsoft providing him with a $100,000 research grant and two Hololens devices in order to study “Collaborative analysis of large-scale mixed reality data.”

This is just the most recent of a series of VR related acquisitions made by Apple. The tech giant recently San-Diego startup Emotient as well as German AR startup Metaio last year and Kinect co-creators PrimeSense back in 2013. These acquisitions and more show that Apple already has a good grasp on technologies that could be put to use in VR and AR development, as well as the field experts who developed them.

With Goldman Sachs predicting that VR could be worth $80bn by 2025, it is unlikely that Apple will want to miss out on this opportunity. Though while many of the other companies that are currently developing their own VR offerings are open about them, Apple has maintained tight secrecy on the subject. I have no doubt that if they are developing a VR device like the Oculus Rift or an AR device similar to the Hololens, Apple would be able to make a strong entry into the market and could just be a product to look out for in the future.

See How This Robot Is Able to Improve Its ‘Mini-Robots’ with Each Generation

Researchers at the University of Cambridge seem to be studying how evolution took place and are apparently using a ‘mother’ robot for that. The robotic arm in question is able to build miniaturized robots from a selection of blocks equipped with small motors, check their progress on the table and make the necessary adjustments to improve and fix what went wrong in earlier generations.

This might sound quite scary, but it really is mind-blowing. The robotic arm is able to watch the progress of the robots while they move on the table with the help of a mounted web camera, while observing their speed and ‘imperfections’. Lead researcher, Dr. Fumiya Iida, explains that this might seem as a heartless evolutionary process, but don’t forget, this is done without the use of DNA. I mean, when you look at how evolution took place on Earth over millions of years, you kind of see a glimpse of it in the video below.

While we learn things in a similar way, evolution on a larger scale has different ways of ’embedding’ information into their ‘next generation’. Iida hopes that this experiment may shed some light on some unanswered questions about evolution, but in the meantime, he even has real-world applications for the project. Think about quality control and how these machines can spot imperfections or broken products on down the line. It is a start, but for those of you who are thinking about a Terminator scenario, we are still far away from something like that. At least with this particular project.

Thank you IFLScience for providing us with this information

Researchers Prove How They Can Stop a Corvette with a Simple Text Message

Since a couple of hackers found a way to remotely control a Crysler, we’ve heard a lot of similar successful attempts on other vehicles. The latest comes from researchers over at the University of California, who have taken an interest in third-party devices coupled to the TCUs.

The TCUs are directly linked to a vehicle’s Controller Area Network bus, who sends and receives messages from all systems. The thing is that TCUs also have a SIM card to send data back to the manufacturer or insurance companies. This is how the researchers were able to discover, target and compromise a Corvette’s systems with just a simple text message.

The researchers made a two-staged attack, first by updating the device’s software, then making use of funnel commands which could be sent directly to the CAN bus. They were able to prove on a Corvette that they can remotely start the windshield wipers and ally the breaks while the car was moving.

In the researchers’ paper, they state that finding mobile numbers for TCU SIMs is fairly easy, having assigned numbers that start with the 566 area code. They also said that the TCUs are not cryptographically signed, allowing them to install the malicious software update without the TCU knowing and that TCU NAND flash units share the same SSH key, allowing hackers to use it on other TCUs.

Thank you PCWorld for providing us with this information

Stationary Electric Vehicle Batteries May Be Getting Much Cheaper Than Anticipated

Have you heard the big headline in the electric car market? No? Well, some of you might have heard that Tesla is now selling its own stationery storage batteries. But you might ask, how is it a big thing? Those types of batteries were around for years, but they have never been cost-effective. The thing is, they are becoming more cost-effective than ever before, according to another study.

It is said that the price for installing one of these batteries in a home would have cost more than $23,000 last year. In May, Tesla announced that the price of such a Li-ion battery would start at $3,500, with an installation price of just $500. Ok, so it’s cheaper than ever before to install a battery in your home, but how is that cost-effective when charging it? Well, times are changing and businesses are making a lot of progress too. Tesla announced that it is currently building a “gigafactory” near Reno, Nevada, having Panasonic making its Li-ion batteries.

The above example is just what we would expect in the near future. However, two researchers from Stockholm stated that the cost of battery packs has fallen drastically. From $1,000 per kWh in 2007, it plunged down to $300 per kWh. Due to this price drop, Tesla and similar electric car manufacturers are now refurbishing old electric vehicle batteries to sell for stationary storage. Also, Tesla said that it also takes feedback very seriously and is now looking into increasing the discharge rate of batteries during continuous use, from 2.2 kilowatts to 5 kilowatts.

This does not mean we will see electric cars being a solution and everyone dropping gas cars overnight. Researchers state that the cost of battery packs needs to fall below 150 per kWh before significant shifts towards electric vehicles take place. However, they estimate that a cost level of 200 – 250 kWh might hit before 2020, so we are just a few years away from potentially switching to electric vehicles.

Thank you Arstechnica for providing us with this information

FBI Claims Security Researcher Was Able to Issue Commands to Engines

Security on planes has always been an issue, be it from people leaving their electronic devices on during flights or people making threats via social media. So when the FBI received a message from a security researcher claiming to have hacked an in-flight plane you can see why they might be concerned.

Chris Roberts is an aviation computer security researcher, that is he attempts to access and assess the security regarding plane’s as to prevent people from doing the same for more malicious reasons than to get paid. Apparently in his message Roberts claimed to have accessed the in-flight entertainment system. He then was able to overwrite code on the airplane Thrust management system, allowing him to control the engines on the plane in question.

Using his new access Roberts claims to have given an engine a climb command, resulting in the plane going sideways while still in flight. This isn’t the first time he’s been in trouble with the FBI because of his actions though, in 2015 he was detained after tweeting a joke about sending EICAS messages and toggling the oxygen masks. This resulted in him getting his iPad, MacBook Pro and his electronic storage devices confiscated for fear he was going to misuse them.

To the best of our knowledge Roberts has yet to be arrested or charged with any crime for the most recent claims, luckily for him I guess. Given the nature of the claims it’s a serious issue if he did manage to command the in-flight engines, especially if he hasn’t alerted the Airplane company regarding the issue. Ethical hacking is a serious issue these days, with some people crossing the line between ethical hacking and hacking just to make a point in order to get a payday.

I’ve always been comfortable on flights but should I take a second guess about taking my phone or laptop out while in flight?

Thank you Arstechnica for providing us with this information.

Image Courtesy of Airlines

Astronauts Might Be Able to Play with Lasers from the International Space Station Soon

According to ScienceDirect, a few researchers have come up with a plan to turn the International Space Station into a defence system against asteroids or other ‘orbiting debris’.

How cool is that? Get a paid vacation in space… float around the room… and have some lasers to play around with! Of course, it is not that simple. However, the general idea sounds great. Look at what the researchers have highlighted in their paper:

  • A debris remediation system with a wide angle telescope and a laser transmitter.
  • A step-by-step approach using the International Space Station (ISS).
  • Proof of principle demonstration of the detection with an ISS based prototype.
  • Technical demonstrator with an EUSO telescope and a space CAN laser.
  • A free-flyer mission dedicated to debris remediation with the altitude ~800 km.

So what we know so far is that they are looking to build an ‘orbital debris remediation system’ as they call it, which is made out of a super-wide field-of-view telescope named ‘EUSO’ and a novel high-efficiency fibre-based laser system called ‘CAN’.

The telescope features a 2.5 meter optics and a FOV of ±30 degrees. Together with the CAN laser, the project hopes to blow up stuff at a range of 100 km. Not bad at all! It shows a lot of potential, but let’s not get too excited.

Though the idea is filed, there is still the building part that usually kills and keeps ideas on paper. I mean, a project such as this requires a LOT of money and manpower.

Until more information on who is going to build it and how (or if we’ll ever see it in action at all) surfaces, what do you think? Are you feeling a bit more relieved that you won’t get hit by an asteroid in the future?

Image courtesy of Deagle

Researcher Found Flaw Which Could Have Been Used to Erase Every Video on YouTube

Software developer Kamil Hismatullin has discovered a security flaw in YouTube that apparently granted him the power to delete any video he wanted. This means that he had the power to delete each and every video on the website, but don’t be alarmed, he had no desire to do so.

The developer reported the flaw to Google and apparently collected $5000 through the company’s Vulnerability Research Grants that launched back in January. For those unaware, the program offers anyone who finds significant vulnerabilities in specific applications a reward as an incentive for researchers to find and reports bugs and security flaws, having Google quickly swiping in and fixing them.

Hismatullin is said to have been offered $1337 back in February to dig into YouTube Creator Studio and after just six or seven hours, he found “a logical bug that let me delete any video on YouTube with just one following request.”

“Although it was an early Saturday’s morning in SF when I reported issue, Google sec team replied very fast, since this vuln could create utter havoc in a matter of minutes in the bad hands who can used this vulnerability to extort people or simply disrupt YouTube by deleting massive amounts of videos in a very short period of time,” he wrote. “It was fixed in several hours, Google rewarded me $5k and luckily no Bieber videos were harmed :D”

A Google representative has confirmed what Hismatullin reported, having the exploit be one of or even the most destructive one found so far on the streaming giant’s website. Can you imagine a world where you go to YouTube and all of a sudden you are greeted with 0 videos on the entire webpage?

Thank you PCGamer for providing us with this information

Internet Access Makes You Think You Are Smarter than You Actually Are

Yale University has made a study regarding the psychological impact of searching for answers on the internet, having some interesting results regarding people and how well prepared they believe to be.

“The internet is such a powerful environment, where you can enter any question, and you basically have access to the world’s knowledge at your fingertip,” lead researcher Matthew Fisher told the Telegraph. “It becomes easier to confuse your own knowledge with this external source. When people are truly on their own, they may be wildly inaccurate about how much they know and how dependent they are on the internet.”

For the study, 1000 students were split into two groups and were asked how a zipper works, having the first group given the information on the internet and the second was given a printout of the same information. Both groups have then been asked to explain how cloudy nights are warmer, but none of the participants were given the answer this time around.

When asked about their confidence in knowing the answer, the group who previously researched the answer on the internet appeared to be more confident and more knowledgeable compared to the others. Researches said the study showed that the cognitive effects of using search engines are so powerful that people still feel smarter even when they haven’t had access to the internet.

“In cases where decisions have big consequences, it could be important for people to distinguish their own knowledge and not assume they know something when they actually don’t,” Fisher said.”The internet is an enormous benefit in countless ways, but there may be some trade-offs that aren’t immediately obvious and this may be one of them. Accurate personal knowledge is difficult to achieve, and the internet may be making that task even harder.”

People believe they are smarter if they research the answer on the internet and this proves to be a worrying fact that we depend more and more on a piece of technology for information instead of having the confidence of going out there and finding the answer for ourselves.

Thank you News.com.au for providing us with this information

Scientists Come up with Perfume That Smells Better the More You Sweat

Scientist at Queen’s University Belfast have apparently developed the first-ever perfume delivery system which ensures that the more a person sweats, the better they will smell. It is said that the perfume releases more of its aroma when it comes into contact with moisture, leading to the person smelling nicer when they sweat.

The perfume uses a raw fragrance on an ionic liquid, which is basically salt in the form of liquid, which releases its aroma when it comes into contact with water. In addition, the perfume also has the ability to remove bad odours that come from sweat by attaching themselves to the ionic liquid and losing their potency.

“This is an exciting breakthrough that uses newly discovered ionic liquid systems to release material in a controlled manner. Not only does it have great commercial potential, and could be used in perfumes and cosmetic creams, but it could also be used in others area of science, such as the slow release of certain substances of interest.” stated Dr Nimal Gunaratne, the project lead. “This innovative development demonstrates the drive of researchers at Queen’s to advancing knowledge and achieving excellence for the benefit of society as a whole.”

The university is currently in talks with a perfume development company to identify a number of products ideas that could be sold in shops, but given its effects, it is bound to have a lot of marketing potential in the sportswear market.

Thank you Psy.org for providing us with this information

Researchers Say Facebook Tracking Violates European Union Privacy Law

Facebook had a lot of privacy concerns in the past, and it looks like they just keep on coming. Researchers from the Belgium data protection agency have also determined that Facebook’s latest web tracking policy violates the European Union privacy law.

What Facebook does is it uses cookies to track web visitors without permissions, whether they log in or take advantage of the EU’s proposed opt-out laws. Cookies themselves are only supposed to be used when the user is signed in and only for things users agree to. Facebook’s cookies however break that law by adding tracking cookies on the system in the EU, having the company tracking what users do regardless if they have opted out from tracking or not.

Facebook seems to be tackling these accusations with certain ‘issues’ it found, stating that the study has ‘factual issues’ and has offered resolve its problems with the Belgian government. Officials are said to have turned down requests so far, putting Facebook in a very tight spot should the company be forced to defend itself against the serious EU allegations in the near future.

Thank you Endgadget for providing us with this information

Hacker Diverts Traffic from 19 ISPs to Steal a Large Sum of Bitcoins

It is said that researchers over at Dell’s SecureWorks security division have uncovered a series of hacking attempts in which a bitcoin thief redirected a portion of online traffic from 19 ISPs, including data from Amazon, DigitalOcean and OVH, in order to steam digital currency from a group of bitcoin users.

The hijack said to have lasted just 30 seconds, but the hacking attempt is said to have been performed 22 times. On each attempt, the hacker gained control of the processing power of a group of bitcoin miners, redirecting their mining activity towards his private pool. Security researchers say that the hacker was able to pocket a flow of bitcoins and other digital currencies worth roughly $9,000 through the hijacking.

“With this kind of hijacking, you can quite easily grab a large collection of clients,” said Pat Litke, one of the Dell researchers. “It takes less than a minute, and you end up with a lot of mining traffic under your control.”

A technique called BGP is said to have been used, exploiting the border gateway protocol. The hacker took advantage of a staff user account at a Canadian ISP to periodically broadcast a spoofed command that redirected traffic from other ISPs from February throughout May this year. The command, along with miners not checking their rigs to notice the ‘new’ settings, led to the hacker pocketing $83,000 worth of cryptocurrency.

“Some people are more attentive to their mining rigs than others,” said Joe Stewart, a Dell researcher whose own computers were caught up in one victimized mining pool. “Many users didn’t check their setups for weeks, and they were doing all this work on behalf of the hijacker.”

The BGP hijacking method has been discussed as a potential threat to the internet security since 1998. Back then, a group of hackers known as L0pht stated that they could use the attack to take down the entire Internet in 30 minutes. The discussion was followed at the DefCon security conference in 2008 and was later used in 2013 to temporarily redirect a portion of US internet traffic to Iceland and Belarus.

Thank you Wired for providing us with this information

Yahoo Starting to Add User Encryption to Its Email Service

Yahoo has announced that it will offer end-to-end encryption for its email services. The recent change seems to have been triggered by Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, more specifically the revelation and extent to which hackers exploit weak security in companies.

Back in April, Yahoo has hired Alex Stamos, a respected security researchers, to help with improving the company’s security measures. Since then, Stamos has made some tweaks to ensure that the NSA or other intelligence agencies won’t be able to easily crack its emails. Now, Stamos is said to have revealed a new security addition to the Yahoo email service at Black Hat in Las Vegas.

It is said that Stamos plans to enhance the company’s email security service with an end-to-end encryption, which will be rolled out this fall. Yahoo plans to tweak the end-to-end encryption plugin that Google has developed, having hired privacy engineer, Yah Zhu, to help with its development.

“If an activist in Sudan wants to email a human rights organization’s gmail address and they have encryption set up for it, it will automatically detect that and offer them the option to encrypt,” said Stamos

Zhu has attended a mathematics conference this year in order to get cryptologists and mathematicians to consider the civil liberties debate around the NSA and dissuade them from joining the agency.

In terms of the actual security measure, it is said that the subject line won’t be encrypted, but the content of the message will. Neither Yahoo nor others can view the message if intercepted during transit.

“Privacy is much more effective as a selling point than it used to be,” said Stamos. “It’s still not a great selling point but it’s getting better.”

Thank you Forbes for providing us with this information

Nvidia Researcher Discovers a Way to Quadruple Future VR Headset Resolution

A researcher from NVIDIA has apparently discovered a new manufacturing technique which could quadruple the perceived resolution of virtual reality gear in the future. The technique in question is called ‘display cascading’ and uses cascade displays (of course).

Nvidia is said to already have produced a prototype of a headset using the above mentioned technique. A report from MIT is said that the new technique improves the perceived resolution of virtual reality displays. Senior director of research in visual computing at NVIDIA, David Luebke, is said to be the man behind the new technology. He has been stated to use a cascaded display system made up of two modified ‘off-the-shelf’ liquid crystal display panels.

A layer of tiny shutters (one per pixel) which can block off or allow light through, called the spatial light modulation panel, is said to be removed from one LCD and placed over a second panel, offset from its own. This method is said to split each pixels into four individually addressed areas, thus quadrupling the effective resolution at a cost of a decrease in brightness.

Luebke states that along with some driver optimizations, a cascade display should provide both improved resolution and a double perceived framerate, achievable by having both panels run in perfect synchronization. Also, the NVIDIA researcher stated he will unveil the manufacturing technique at a conference in August. For those interested, the research is currently available over at NVIDIA’s website.

Thank you Bit-Tech for providing us with this information

Revolutionary Chemical Iris Could Bring Smaller Cameras to Smartphones

A normal iris has physical blades which move in order to change the amount of light entering the lens. More light enters when wider and less when closing down. The same principle is applied to cameras found in some smartphones nowadays too. A new chemical iris however tends to change the way our cameras on smartphones work. It is said that the new iris drops the need for physical blades and in turn reduces the overall size of a camera module. The miniaturization of bladed cameras is really quite tricky, since the module still requires the need of a actuator to move the blades.

Researchers in Germany have apparently solved the problem of creating miniaturized cameras with the help of a new iris which uses transparent chemical rings, giving it the ability to become opaque when a voltage is applied to it. The iris is said to measure in at just 55 micrometers thick, granting smartphones the ability to house much smaller and thinner camera modules. The design is said to feature two glass substrates pressed together with an iridium tin oxide layer on each side. A thin layer of electrochromic polymer is also said to be present on both glass substrates, formed into rings that create the chemical iris.

It is said that the iris needs only 1.5V to turn opaque, an ideally low voltage for smartphones and other mobile devices. A research paper states that a 1,200 mAh battery grants enough power to maintain the iris-state for about 60,000 hours. Having the aperture a perfect circle rather than shaped by overlapping blades will also give a more pleasing effect on the shallow depth of field effect and deliver smoother bokeh.

The new iris is said to still be in its early stages, but the researchers stated to help develop it even further since the new technology could deliver more flexibility and also bring the full manual controls seen on professional camera to mobile photography.

Thank you Cnet for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of Cnet

Forget the T-800, MIT and Google’s Boston Dynamics Are Said To Work on T-1000 Robots

There have been talk of future robots resembling the T-800 model from the Terminator series for some time now. Yet, no company has even arrived close to a design, yet alone a prototype of such a robot. While we won’t see any T-800’s running around anytime soon, we might see some versions similar to the T-1000. At least that is what MIT and Google’s Boston Dynamics are aiming to build.

Reports say that a team at MIT has discovered how to make a phase-changing material composed out of a mixture of wax and foam, having it change states from hard to soft at any given time. The researchers even state that thanks to the cheap materials and easy-to-make mixture, it can be used in a variety of robotics, spanning from common autonomous vacuum cleaners to high-tech advanced and complex robots.

The material has been stated to be the work of Anette Hosoi, a mechanical engineer and applied mathematics professor. She and her team, including her former graduate student Nadia Cheng, stated that the material could be used in a variety of fields, such as medical robots that can deform and change shape in order to navigate internal organs and vessels to perform delicate surgery. Other uses include rescue robots, having to navigate through collapsed structures in order to find and rescue survivors.

While the MIT has developed the material, it is said that Boston Dynamics is in charge of making the entire project, having it initially designed to contribute to Darpa’s Chemical Robots program aimed at developing robots with octopus-like abilities that are able to squeeze into small spaces. Therefore, the engineering team came up with the wax and foam idea, having the wax heated up with current running through a wire in the structure in order to make it malleable. A bonus to this technique is the material’s ability to ‘repair’ itself.

Having the wax material heated up, all deformations suffered while in the hardened state are said to repair themselves when in the soft state, just like the T-1000 robot from the Terminator movies, having the material recover from surface and even deeper damage. The researchers are said to now focus on finding a new material to replace the wax, having solder as a strong candidate. If the latter will prove to be true, then T-1000 models are not far away.

Thank you TechCrunch for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of TechCrunch

Walking Bio-Bots Powered By Muscles Becoming a Reality

First of all, a ‘bio-bot’ is a machine which uses synthetic 3D-printed material with biological muscle tissue. Having stated the latter, researchers from the University of Illinois have apparently developed the so-called bio-bots in question, taking us one step further into the future of technological advancements.

Some might wonder how the bio-bots work and what is so special about them. The answer lies in the muscle fibers, having them spiked with electricity in order to contract. The muscles are attached to flexible 3D-printed skeleton frameworks, resulting in bending the skeleton when the muscles contract and reverting back to its original state when they relax. This in the end produces movement, combining biological and synthetic material to achieve such an action, thus the name ‘bio-bot’.

It is said that researchers have been working on similar projects since 2012. At that time, a walking bio-bot prototype used rat heart cells in order to provide motion. However, the researchers found out that the rat cells were not responding well to the induced electricity and couldn’t control when they fired. However, it appears that the ‘new version’ has solved this problem.

“Skeletal muscles cells are very attractive because you can pace them using external signals,” head researcher Rashid Bashir said. “We want to have different options that could be used by engineers to design these things.”

The group of researchers from Illinois sees bio-bots potentially useful for surgical aids and drug delivery vehicles. The group also emphasized that, having their own neurons, they could even recognize and respond to light and chemical stimuli. The group has apparently published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which is a good place to get more details about the bio-bots in question.

Thank you Mashable for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of The University of Illinois and Nature World News