BeerBox is a vending machine that opens your beer for you

BeerBox is a vending machine that opens your beer for you
When you hear about beer vending machine BeerBox, you might wonder: Why don’t we have machines like this already?
Founder Robert Gaafar explained that there are actually several reasons why beer vending machines haven’t made sense in the past. For one thing, there’s the obvious legal necessity of ensuring that people are 21 years or older. For another, many venues won’t sell you a closed container of alcohol, because it can be used as a projectile (so you either get draft beer in a cup, or an already opened can or bottle). Plus, a normal vending machine might shake up the can too much, resulting in a foamy mess.
So BeerBox is a vending machine that opens the can for you. The company is part of the accelerator at ZX Ventures, the innovation arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Gaafar said that if all goes well, BeerBox could eventually spin out as a separate company.
He added that BeerBox is meant to address “a pain that we’ve all felt” at concerts or festivals or ball games — the long lines at the bar: “It’s like, do I really want a drink? I might miss the next quarter.”
“These venues would love to sell more beer at the end of the day but they’re limited with real estate,” Gaafar said. “They can’t build more bars in the arenas, nor do they necessarily want to hire more people to staff that.”
The machine was developed in partnership with Intelligent Product Solutions. Ralph Cassara, the company’s senior director of architecture and embedded software, explained that the can-opening functionality represents even more of a “unique technical challenge” than you might think.
One aspect was simply studying how your fingers open a can of beer and figuring out how to replicate that mechanically. But Cassara also noted that the cans can be loaded into BeerBox top-first or bottom-first, so the machine needs to detect the can’s orientation, and then locate the tab at the top of the can.
And where another beer vending startup called Civic is focused on using blockchain to solve the age verification issue, Gaafar said that’s addressable with human checks — just put the BeerBox (or, eventually, multiple BeerBoxes) in an area that’s only accessible to guests who’ve shown their ID.
The current BeerBox prototype can hold 150 25-ounce cans of beer (though Gaafar said that will end up going down to 110 cans as the machine is redesigned for airflow). Payments are cashless, but the company is also planning new models that support secure, offline payments. And while the prototype we saw only dispensed Bud Light, he said it eventually will include a touchscreen for ordering multiple types of beer.
In the meantime, you’ll be able to see the BeerBox at select concert and sports venues this summer.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is an inspiring example of inclusive design

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is an inspiring example of inclusive design
Every gamer with a disability faces a unique challenge for many reasons, one of which is the relative dearth of accessibility-focused peripherals for consoles. Microsoft is taking a big step toward fixing this with its Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device created to address the needs of gamers for whom ordinary gamepads aren’t an option.
The XAC, revealed officially at a recent event but also leaked a few days ago, is essentially a pair of gigantic programmable buttons and an oversized directional pad; 3.5mm ports on the back let a huge variety of assistive devices like blow tubes, pedals and Microsoft-made accessories plug in.
It’s not meant to be an all-in-one solution by any means, more like a hub that allows gamers with disabilities to easily make and adjust their own setups with a minimum of hassle. Whatever you’re capable of, whatever’s comfortable, whatever gear you already have, the XAC is meant to enable it.
I’d go into detail, but it would be impossible to do better than Microsoft’s extremely interesting and in-depth post introducing the XAC, which goes into the origins of the hardware, the personal stories of the testers and creators and much more. Absolutely worth taking the time to read.
I look forward to hearing more about the system and how its users put it to use, and I’m glad to see inclusivity and accessibility being pursued in such a practical and carefully researched manner.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Snapchat Spectacles tests non-circular landscape exports

Snapchat Spectacles tests non-circular landscape exports
The worst thing about Spectacles is how closely tied they are to Snapchat. The proprietary circular photo and video format looks great inside Snapchat where you can tip your phone around while always staying full screen, but it gets reduced to a small circle with a big white border when you export it to your phone for sharing elsewhere.
Luckily, Snapchat has started beta testing new export formats for Spectacles through the beta version of its app. This lets you choose a black border instead of a white one, but importantly, also a horizontal 16:9 rectangular format that would fit well on YouTube and other traditional video players. The test was first spotted by Erik Johnson, and, when asked, a Snapchat spokesperson told TechCrunch “I can confirm we’re testing it, yes.”
Allowing Spectacles to be more compatible with other services could make the v2 of its $150 photo and video-recording sunglasses much more convenient and popular. I actually ran into the Snapchat Spectacles team this weekend at the FORM Arcosanti music festival in Arizona where they were testing the new Specs and looking for ideas for their next camera. I suggested open sourcing the circular format or partnering so other apps could show it natively with the swivel effect, and Snap declined to comment about that. But now it looks like they’re embracing compatibility by just letting you ditch the proprietary format.
Breaking away from purely vertical or circular formats is also a bit of a coup for Snapchat, which has touted vertical as the media orientation of the future as that’s how we hold our phones. Many other apps, including Facebook’s Snapchat clones, adopted this idea. But with Snapchat’s growth slipping to its lowest rate ever, it may need to think about new ways to gain exposure elsewhere.

Seeing Spectacles content on other apps without ugly borders could draw attention back to Snapchat, or at least help Spectacles sell better than v1, which only sold 220,000 pairs and had to write-off hundreds of thousands more that were gathering dust in warehouses. While it makes sense why Snap might have wanted to keep the best Spectacles content viewing experience on its own app, without user growth, that’s proven a software limitation for what’s supposed to be a camera company.

Snapchat launches Spectacles V2, camera glasses you’ll actually wear

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

AT&T and Verizon will carry RED’s crazy ‘holographic’ handset

AT&T and Verizon will carry RED’s crazy ‘holographic’ handset

RED’s Hydrogen One handset is one of those devices we’ll believe when we actually see it. The company’s been promising up the $1,200 smartphone for a while now, only to be hit with delays and outright admitting, “We have no idea whatsoever what we are doing.”

Consider this some small vote of confidence, however. AT&T announced today that it will be carrying the 5.7-inch “holographic display device.” That, of course, shouldn’t be taken as a tacit approval of the device, so much as a confirmation of the fact that it does, in fact, exist.

Though in a press release tied to the announcement, a market SVP says, “This revolutionary smartphone will provide you with significant advancements in the way you create and view content on the leading network for entertainment.” So, take that as you will. Personally, I’m holding off any sort of judgement until I can hold the thing in my hands. 

The carrier mentions “later this summer” in the press release, which lines up with RED’s most recent mention of an August launch date. As for price, your guess is as good as ours. We reached out to AT&T to see whether the company will be subsidizing the product on contract, or simply offering up the $1,200 phone as is through its retail channel. The carrier won’t comment on that, yet, though its Next subsidy plan might make sense, cushioning the cost by stretching it out over a longer period.

The Hydrogen One is, by all accounts, about as far as you can get from a mainstream piece of mobile hardware. At the moment, it feels more like a fun consumer electronics thought experiment, but at least it’s one that’s real — and coming to the second largest mobile carrier in the U.S. at some point this summer. 

Update: Looks like Verizon will be getting the phone, as well. The carrier (which, disclosure, owns the company that owns TechCrunch) will be getting the phone in the even broader timeframe of “later this year.” No word on pricing there, either.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

I’m in love with Astell&Kern’s crooked, beautiful, ridiculously expensive MP3 player

I’m in love with Astell&Kern’s crooked, beautiful, ridiculously expensive MP3 player
It may be old-fashioned, but I find dedicated MP3 players wonderful little devices. I’ve used tons over the years (the Zune HD is still the best) and I’m glad to see they live on in some fashion, even if it’s as an objet d’art jammed with audiophile knick-knacks and a $700 price tag: Astell&Kern’s A&norma SR15.
Look at that thing! The ground of the tech world is littered with anonymous-looking lozenges made to appeal to as many people as possible. Then you have this thing.
What a design choice, to tilt the screen like that and form the rest of the device from prism-like complementary rectangles! The site even has a “design concept” page, on which it points out that this isn’t a purely aesthetic choice:
The slight angle and precise, mindful alignment show the empty space and tones that fills the space.
From any angle, or either hand you hold your device, it does not hinder the display screen and offers the best grip.
Isn’t that wonderful? And it’s even kind of true! Those areas we so carefully avoid with our fingers or thumbs are now grippable.
Meanwhile, the tilted screen also makes room for the knurled volume knob, while simultaneously protecting it from unwanted touches. And the angle of the screen makes for a visual hint for the power button.
I just love how risky this design is, how eye-catching, how simultaneously practical and impractical. We need much more of that in tech. This device has more personality than every iPhone since the 6 — combined.
Inside is the usual blast of audio jargon: Cirrus Logic Dual DAC, native direct stream digital, 24-bit 192KHz playback, balanced 2.5mm headphone out and a quad-core CPU to support it all. Do you need any of that? Probably not, but a few people might, and at least you’ll be sure this thing will play pretty much anything you throw at it and sound great doing so.
I’ve used a few of A&K’s previous products, and can testify that they’re extremely well-built and feel great to use, though the screens are a bit low-resolution and the UI can be lacking. The 3.3-inch screen isn’t going to blow anyone away with its 800×480 resolution, but it should be sharp enough, and the UI got a redo between the devices I’ve used and the SR15. I’m eager to see if it’s more fun to use now.
The A&norma SR15 is available now for anyone with a pocket full of money to burn.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

How ZTE became the focal point of US/China relations

How ZTE became the focal point of US/China relations

Here in the States, ZTE has been content with a kind of quiet success. The Chinese smartphone maker has landed in the top five quarter after quarter (sometimes breaking the top three, according to some analysts), behind household names like Apple, Samsung and LG. Suddenly, however, the company is on everyone’s lips, from cable news to the president’s Twitter account.

It’s the kind of publicity money can’t buy — but it’s happening for one of the worst reasons imaginable. ZTE suddenly finds itself in the eye of a looming trade war between superpowers. Iranian sanctions were violated, fines levied and seven-year international bans were instated.

It’s like a story ripped from the pages of some Cold War thriller, though instead of Jason Bourne, it’s that one budget smartphone company that you’ve maybe heard of, who maybe makes that weird Android phone with two screens.

So, how did we get here?

ZTE began U.S. operations in 1998, a little over a decade after forming in Shenzhen (and a year after going public in China) as Zhongxing Semiconductor Co., Ltd. The change of name to Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment reflects the newfound focus for the company, which employees around 75,000 and operates in 160 countries.

While ZTE has flirted with premium and sometimes bizarre devices, in the smartphone world, the company is primarily known for its budget hardware. It’s no coincidence that the company was tapped by google to be the first to run Android Oreo Go Edition (nee Android Go). The manufacturer has found particular success in the developing world, while making significant gains in the U.S. by releasing dozens of low-cost devices targeted at prepaid users.

In recent years, however, the company has come under increased scrutiny on two fronts. First, there’s the issue of the company’s perceived ties to the Chinese government. It’s the same thing that’s tripped up fellow Chinese handset manufacturer Huawei in its pursuit of the U.S. market.

In Huawei’s case, multiple warnings from top U.S. security agencies has severely hobbled any chance of making significant headway in this country. The company kicked off the year with the one-two punch of having AT&T pull out of a deal last minute, only to have Best Buy stop restocking its product on store shelves. ZTE, on the other hand, has run into less headwind there.

In February, top officials at the FBI, CIA and NSA all warned against buying product from both companies over remote surveillance concerns and later ending their sale at military bases. But after making significant inroads through non-contract carriers like Boost, Cricket and Metro PCS, the warnings appear to have had little impact on the company.

The same, however, can’t be said of a seven-year ban.

In 2016, the U.S. Commerce Department found the company guilty of violating U.S. sanctions. The department disclosed internal documents from the company naming “ongoing projects in all five major embargoed countries — Iran, Sudan, North Korea, Syria and Cuba.” That’s a big issue when selling a product that contains, by some estimates, a quarter of components created by U.S. companies — not to mention all of the Google software.

The following year, the company pleaded guilt and agreed to a $1.19 billion fine, along with the stipulation that it would punish senior management for the transgression. Last month, however, the DOC said ZTE failed to live up to the latter part of the deal, issuing an even steeper fine as a result.

“ZTE misled the Department of Commerce,” the department said in a statement to TechCrunch at the time. “Instead of reprimanding ZTE staff and senior management, ZTE rewarded them. This egregious behavior cannot be ignored.”

The new punishment bans U.S. component manufacturers from selling to ZTE for seven years. A few days later, the company told TechCrunch that the export ban would “severely impact” its chances of survival. And then, last week, the company ceased major operating activities.

“As a result of the Denial Order, the major operating activities of the company have ceased,” it wrote in an exchange filing. “As of now, the company maintains sufficient cash and strictly adheres to its commercial obligations subject in compliance with laws and regulations.”

In the meantime, the company was reportedly meeting with companies like Google in hopes of figuring out a workaround, while China was said to be meeting with U.S. officials to discuss the steep ban. For some, the ZTE ban was seen as a political move amidst a potential trade war, and a major roadblock toward negotiations.

That leads us to Sunday, when Trump tweeted, “President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!”

Job loss in China seems like an odd motivator for any U.S. president, let along Trump, but things make significantly more sense when you consider the sheer size of a company like ZTE. If a U.S. trade ban caused the company to fold, it’s easy to see how that could severely impact already tenuous relations between the two countries.

“The Chinese have suggested that ZTE was a show-stopper,” international studies expert Scott Kennedy succinctly told NPR, “if you kill this company, we’re not going to be able to cooperate with you on anything.”

And that brings us to this morning — and other Trump tweet. “The Washington Post and CNN have typically written false stories about our trade negotiations with China,” Trump writes. “Nothing has happened with ZTE except as it pertains to the larger trade deal. Our country has been losing hundreds of billions of dollars a year with China[…]…haven’t even started yet! The U.S. has very little to give, because it has given so much over the years. China has much to give!”

Those tweets, it should be noted, were most likely posted in reaction to bipartisan concern about Trump’s focus. “#China intends to dominate the key industries of the 21st Century not through out innovating us, but by stealing our intellectual property & exploiting our open economy while keeping their own closed,” Marco Rubio tweeted earlier this week. “Why are we helping them achieve this by making a terrible deal on ZTE?”

So things are weird. And it’s 2018, so expect that it will only get weirder from here.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Yes, HTC is working on a ‘blockchain phone’

Yes, HTC is working on a ‘blockchain phone’

A few weeks ahead of its latest flagship announcement, HTC just revealed another piece of hardware. While the Taiwanese company has consolidated much of its mobile offerings in recent years, it announced today at the Consensus 2018 blockchain conference in New York that its upcoming Exodus handset is embracing everyone’s favorite tech buzzword.

So, what makes a phone a blockchain phone, exactly? Security and cryptocurrency support, mostly. According to HTC’s Exodus landing page, “Our vision is to expand the blockchain ecosystem by creating the world’s first phone dedicated to decentralized applications and security. With the release of the HTC Exodus we can now make this a reality.”

The Exodus will support Bitcoin and Ethereum, among others, courtesy of a universal wallet, secure hardware and decentralized apps. According to The Next Web, HTC has also outlined plans to create a native blockchain network, whereby cryptocurrency can be traded amongst Exodus users. Naturally, users will also be able to purchase the phone itself using cryptocurrency. That price and the release date, however, have yet to be revealed.

There’s not really a lot of information beyond that and the above drawing, but HTC is clearly gunning to make a splash as its numbers have shrunk in overall proportion to a declining smartphone market. Even with rapidly increasing awareness and interest in the cryptocurrency space, however, it’s hard to imagine Exodus making much of a splash.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Lynq is a dead-simple gadget for finding your friends outdoors

Lynq is a dead-simple gadget for finding your friends outdoors
If you’ve ever been hiking or skiing, or gone to a music festival or state fair, you know how easy it is to lose track of your friends, and the usually ridiculous exchange of “I’m by the big thing”-type messages. Lynq is a gadget that fixes this problem with an ultra-simple premise: it simply tells you how far and in what direction your friends are, no data connection required.
Apart from a couple of extra little features, that’s really all it does, and I love it. I got a chance to play with a prototype at CES and it worked like a charm.
The peanut-shaped devices use a combination of GPS and kinetic positioning to tell where you are and where any linked Lynqs are, and on the screen all you see is: Ben, 240 feet that way.
Or Ellie.
No pins on a map, no coordinates, no turn-by-turn directions. Just a vector accurate to within a couple of feet that works anywhere outdoors. The little blob that points in their direction moves around as quick as a compass, and gets smaller as they get farther away, broadening out to a full circle as you get within a few feet.
Up to 12 can link up, and they should work up to three miles from each other (more under some circumstances). The single button switches between people you’re tracking and activates the device’s few features. You can create a “home” location that linked devices can point toward, and also set a safe zone (a radius from your device) that warns you if the other one leaves it. And you can send basic preset messages like “meet up” or “help.”
It’s great for outdoors activities with friends, but think about how helpful it could be for tracking kids or pets, for rescue workers, for making sure dementia sufferers don’t wander too far.

The military seems to have liked it as well; U.S. Pacific Command did some testing with the Thai Ministry of Defence and found that it helped soldiers find each other much faster while radio silent, and also helped them get into formation for a search mission quicker. All the officers involved were impressed.
Having played with one for half an hour or so, I can say with confidence that it’s a dandy little device, super intuitive to operate, and was totally accurate and responsive. It’s clear the team put a lot of effort into making it simple but effective — there’s been a lot of work behind the scenes.
Because the devices send their GPS coordinates directly to each other, the team created a special compression algorithm just for that data — because if you want fine GPS, that’s actually quite a few digits that need to be sent along. But after compression it’s just a couple of bytes, making it possible to send it more frequently and reliably than if you’d just blasted out the original data.
The display turns off automatically when you let it go to hang by its little clip, saving battery, but it’s always receiving the data, so there’s no lag when you flip it up — the screen comes on and boom, there’s Betty, 450 feet thataway.
The only real issue I had is that the single-button interface, while great for normal usage, is pretty annoying for stuff like entering names and navigating menus. I understand why they kept it simple, and usually it won’t be a problem, but there you go.
Lynq is doing a pre-order campaign on Indiegogo, which I tend to avoid, but I can tell you for sure that this is a real, working thing that anyone who spends much time with friends outdoors will find extremely useful. They’re selling for $154 per pair, which is pretty reasonable, and since that price will probably jump significantly later, I’d say go for it now.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

First launch of SpaceX’s revamped Falcon 9 carries Bangladesh’s space ambitions

First launch of SpaceX’s revamped Falcon 9 carries Bangladesh’s space ambitions
Today brings historic firsts for both SpaceX and Bangladesh: the former is sending up the final, highly updated revision of its Falcon 9 rocket for the first time, and the latter is launching its first satellite. It’s a preview of the democratized space economy to come this century.
Update: Success! The Falcon 9 first stage, after delivering the second stage to the border of space, has successfully landed on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, and Bangabandhu has been delivered to its target orbit.
You can watch the launch below:

Although Bangabandhu-1 is definitely important, especially to the nation launching it, it is not necessarily in itself a highly notable satellite. It’s to be a geostationary communications hub that serves the whole country and region with standard C-band and Ku-band connectivity for all kinds of purposes.
Currently the country spends some $14 million per year renting satellite time from other countries, something they determined to stop doing as a matter of national pride and independence.
“A sovereign country, in a pursuit of sustainable development, needs its own satellite in order to reduce its dependency on other nations,” reads the project description at the country’s Telecommunications Regulation Commission, which has been pursuing the idea for nearly a decade.
It contracted with Thales Alenia Space to produce and test the satellite, which cost about $250 million and is expected to last at least 15 years. In addition to letting the country avoid paying satellite rent, it could generate revenue by selling its services to private companies and nearby nations.
Bangabandhu-1 in a Thales test chamber.
“This satellite, which carries the symbolic name of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu, is a major step forward for telecommunications in Bangladesh, and a fantastic driver of economic development and heightened recognition across Asia,” said the company’s CEO, Jean-Loïc Galle, in a recent blog post about the project.
Bangabandhu-1 will be launching atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but this one is different from all the others that have flown in the past. Designed with crewed missions in mind, it could be thought of as the production version of the rocket, endowed with all the refinements of years of real-world tests.
Most often referred to as Block 5, this is (supposedly) the final revision of the Falcon 9 hardware, safer and more reusable than previous versions. The goal is for a Block 5 first stage to launch a hundred times before being retired, far more than the handful of times existing Falcon 9s have been reused.
There are lots of improvements over the previous rockets, though many are small or highly technical in nature. The most important, however, are easy to enumerate.
The engines themselves have been improved and strengthened to allow not only greater thrust (reportedly about a 7-8 percent improvement) but improved control and efficiency, especially during landing. They also have a new dedicated heat shield for descent. They’re rated to fly 10 times without being substantially refurbished, but are also bolted on rather than welded, further reducing turnaround time.
The legs on which the rocket lands are also fully retractable, meaning they don’t have to be removed before transport. If you want to launch the same rocket within days, every minute counts.
Instead of white paint, the first stage will have a thermal coating (also white) that helps keep it relatively cool during descent.
To further reduce heat damage, the rocket’s “grid fins,” the waffle-iron-like flaps that pop out to control its descent, are now made of a single piece of titanium. They won’t catch fire or melt during reentry like the previous aluminum ones sometimes did, and as such are now permanently attached features of the rocket.
(SpaceX founder Elon Musk is particularly proud of these fins, which flew on the Falcon Heavy side boosters; in the briefing afterwards, he said: “I’m actually glad we got the side boosters back, because they had the titanium fins. If I had to pick something to get back, it’d be those.”)
Lastly (for our purposes anyway) the fuel tank has been reinforced out of concerns some had about the loading of supercooled fuel while the payload — soon to be humans, if all goes well — is attached to the rocket. This system failed before, causing a catastrophic explosion in 2016, but the fault has been addressed and the reinforcement should help further mitigate risk. (The emergency abort rockets should also keep astronauts safe should something go wrong during launch.)
The changes, though they contribute directly to reuse and cost reductions, are also aimed at satisfying the requirements of NASA’s commercial crew missions. SpaceX is in competition to provide both launch and crew capsule services for missions to the ISS, scheduled for as early as late 2018. The company needs to launch the Block 5 version of Falcon 9 (not necessarily the same exact rocket) at least 7 times before any astronauts can climb aboard.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Android P leverages DeepMind for new Adaptive Battery feature

Android P leverages DeepMind for new Adaptive Battery feature

No surprise here, Android P was the highlight of today’s Google I/O keynote. The new version of the company’s mobile operating system still doesn’t have a name (at least not as of this writing), but the company’s already highlighted a number of key new features, including, notable, Adaptive Battery.

Aimed at taking on basically everyone’s biggest complaints about their handset, the new feature is designed to make more efficient use of on-board hard. Google’s own DeepMind is doing much of the heavy lifting here, relying on user habits to determine what apps they use, when, and delegating power accordingly.

According to the company, the new feature is capable of “anticipating actions,” resulting in 30-percent fewer CPU wakeups. Google has promised more information on the feature in the upcoming developer keynote. Combined with larger on-board batteries and faster charging in recent handsets, the new tech could go a long ways toward changing the way users interact with their devices, shift the all night charge model to quick charging bursts — meaning, for better or worse, you can sleep with your handset nearby without having to worry about keeping it plugged in. 

Source: Mobile – Techcruch