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These hyper-efficient solar panels could actually live on your roof soon – TechCrunch



The clean energy boffins in their labs are always upping the theoretical limit on how much power you can get out of sunshine, but us plebes actually installing solar cells are stuck with years-old tech that’s not half as good as what they’re seeing. This new design from Insolight could be the one that changes all that.

Insolight is a spinoff from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, where they’ve been working on this new approach for a few years — and it’s almost ready to hit your roof.

Usually solar cells collect sunlight on their entire surface, converting it to electricity at perhaps 15-19 percent efficiency — meaning about 85 percent of the energy is lost in the process. There are more efficient cells out there, but they’re generally expensive and special-purpose, or use some exotic material.

One place people tend to spare no expense, however, is in space. Solar cells on many satellites are more efficient but, predictably, not cheap. But that’s not a problem if you only use just a tiny amount of them and concentrate the sunlight on those; that’s the Insolight insight.

Small but very high-efficiency cells are laid down on a grid, and above that is placed a honeycomb-like lens array that takes light and bends it into a narrow beam concentrated only on the tiny cells. As the sun moves, the cell layer moves ever so slightly, keeping the beams on target. They’ve achieved as high as 37 percent efficiency in tests, and 30 percent in consumer-oriented designs. That means half again or twice the power from the same area as ordinary panels.

Certainly this adds a layer or two of complexity to the current mass-manufactured arrays that are “good enough” but far from state of the art. But the resulting panels aren’t much different in size or shape, and don’t require special placement or hardware, such as a concentrator or special platform. And a recently completed pilot test on an EPFL roof was passed with flying colors.

“Our panels were hooked up to the grid and monitored continually. They kept working without a hitch through heat waves, storms and winter weather,” said Mathiu Ackermann, the company’s CTO, in an EPFL news release. “This hybrid approach is particularly effective when it’s cloudy and the sunlight is less concentrated, since it can keep generating power even under diffuse light rays.”

The company is now in talks with solar panel manufacturers, whom they are no doubt trying to convince that it’s not that hard to integrate this tech with their existing manufacturing lines — “a few additional steps during the assembly stage,” said Ackermann. Expect Insolight panels to hit the market in 2022 — yeah, it’s still a ways off, but maybe by then we’ll all have electric cars too and this will seem like an even better deal.

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Google Search on mobile is about to get a big visual redesign



Google is about to roll out a redesigned Search on mobile, the company said in a blog post today, explaining the adjustments users can expect. Google describes the updated UI as a ‘major visual redesign,’ one that is intended to simplify things for users, bringing ‘information into focus,’ improving the readability of text, and more.

First things first, Google says the redesigned Search interface on mobile makes it easier for users to focus on the content, reducing some of the clutter from design elements. Beyond that, the redesign is also intended to make it easier for users to read content as they browse.

The text has been made bolder and larger, the result of which is easier scanning across search results for the content you want. Google has also added more of its own font into the mix, the one you see on Gmail and Android devices.

“Bringing consistency to when and how we use fonts in Search was important, too, which also helps people parse information more efficiently,” explained Google’s Aileen Cheng, who led the redesign. Beyond that, Google’s redesign uses color to highlight important things in search, emphasizing content first with colors used ‘more intentionally’ in places to guide the user’s eyes.

Shadow use has been minimized and results now span edge-to-edge, ultimately providing more ‘visual space,’ according to Aileen. Rounding it all out is the use of roundness in new places, something that better reflects the same roundness we see in the Google logo.

Google says the updated design will roll out on Search for mobile in coming days.

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Pinterest’s new AR feature lets you try on virtual eyeshadow



Shopping online is the primary way people get most of the items they want or need, but there are some downsides: you can’t try on clothes to make sure they’ll fit right and it’s not easy to determine whether a particular makeup color will look good on you. Pinterest has introduced another feature that addresses the latter problem, one that lets you virtually try-on eye shadow before buying it.

The feature is called ‘AR Try on,’ and it is now available for eyeshadows from a few brands: NYX Cosmetics, Urban Decay, Lancome, and YSL. Eyeshadow products listed on Pinterest that are included in this feature will show a small ‘Try on’ button in the bottom right corner of the image, as well as a camera icon.

Tapping this will pull up your phone’s camera in the app, where you’ll be able to scroll through different eyeshadow color options and see them realistically overlaid on your eyelids. The feature is powered by Pinterest’s Lens feature and is available on both iOS and Android.

The platform includes options for filtering the results to specific brands, price ranges, and color, as well as seeing similar products and saving items to a board. The new feature joins Pinterest’s Try on feature for lipstick, which works in the same way and currently includes more than 4,000 lipstick shades.

Users who decide to purchase a product they try on will be directed to the retailer’s website for the transaction, Pinterest notes. This is the latest expansion of the company’s augmented reality features, the most notable being its Lens tool. With this, users can point their phone’s camera at an object, then browse through results featuring similar content.

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If Apple lets me trash this dongle I’ll be overjoyed



I’m a Mac user, and a macOS fan, and I like Apple’s industrial design, but the chatter of a return of the SD card slot to upcoming MacBook Pro laptops has me muttering a silent prayer of thanks. It feels like we’ve been languishing in dongle hell for many years now, and while Apple wasn’t alone in betting on a tech future dominated by a single port, it’s certainly been the most stubborn about that.

For a connector type absent from its notebooks for about five years at this point, the fact that Apple took away the SD card slot still rankles so many users is impressive. When the fourth generation MacBook Pro was announced in 2016, it wasn’t only the memory card reader that Apple removed, however.

Gone, in fact, was every port beyond the 3.5mm headphone jack. In their place, users got either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports, which doubled as USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 and DisplayPort 1.2 connectors.

It was an aggressive move, that spoke of Apple’s commitment to the USB Type-C future, but it also arguably became overshadowed by other changes the MacBook Pro introduced. The Touch Bar – the company’s implementation of a touchscreen interface – proved more controversial still, as did the butterfly keyboard. One of those issues has been settled, with the new Magic Keyboard arriving in late 2019 on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, but if the rumors are to be believed it’ll likely be this year that the Touch Bar and USB-C get their comeuppance.

It seems fair to say that the USB-C transition hasn’t gone entirely as many expected it would. When Thunderbolt 3 adopted the same USB Type-C connector, it seemed reasonable to assume that peripherals would go the same way. Certainly, there are more USB Type-C compatible devices and accessories out there than, say, Thunderbolt 2 managed to get onboard.

At the same time, though, it’s also no exaggeration to say that the USB situation is beyond confusing. Different versions provide different speeds and capabilities despite all looking, outwardly, the same. You might not notice that if you’re simple plugging in a thumb-drive or a scanner, but if you’re trying to troubleshoot why your monitor isn’t working – or delivering the maximum resolution it’s meant to be capable of – then that’s a whole other story.

Some things, meanwhile, just haven’t made that transition, and look unlike to ever do so. We’re seeing more new cameras with USB-C connectors now, for example, but that hasn’t stopped content creators wanting to simply pull out an SD card and slot it into the side of their notebook. The USB-C to SD Card Reader Apple still sells for $39 has been a permanent occupant of my work kit since I switched to the 12-inch Retina MacBook all those years ago, and it’s kept me company since then.

Honestly, out of the things that Apple has (in many cases rightly) been lambasted for in Macs over the last few years, the removal of the SD card slot has had the most impact on my life. I don’t hate the Touch Bar, especially since I loaded it up with some of my most commonly-used Automator shortcuts, and I was one of the oddball people who actually enjoyed typing on the butterfly keyboard. Having to always double-check I have the SD card adapter – and canvassing the room to see if someone has one with them, on the few times I forgot it – has been a chore for so long, it’s basically become muscle-memory.

I doubt I’m alone in that and, while I may not be a programming power-user, or someone making complex 3D graphics, I don’t think my use-case when it comes to content creation fails to qualify as the “professional” that the Pro in MacBook Pro is meant to refer to. The big experiment of doing away with ports has had long enough to run, and the results sure seem to indicate that no, you can’t comfortably and seamlessly replace an SD card reader with a USB-C port.

I can’t help but feel that there’s a sense of new liberation among Apple’s Mac team as it heads into 2021. Jony Ive – a brilliant designer but also an uncompromising one, and someone who cast a significant shadow over Apple’s hardware decisions – is gone, and the transition to Apple Silicon opens the door for many of the old-normals to be cast out in favor of new thinking. If that means getting back some familiar ports, I’m 100-percent for it.

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