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This autonomous spray-painting drone is a 21st-century tagger’s dream – TechCrunch

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Whenever I see an overpass or billboard that’s been tagged, I worry about the tagger and the danger they exposed themselves to in order to get that cherry spot. Perhaps this spray paint-toting drone developed by ETH Zurich and Disney Research will take some of the danger out of the hobby. It also could be used for murals and stuff, I guess.

Although it seems an obvious application in retrospect, there just isn’t a lot of drone-based painting being done out there. Consider: A company could shorten or skip the whole scaffolding phase of painting a building or advertisement, leaving the bulk of painting to a drone. Why not?

There just isn’t a lot of research into it yet, and like so many domain-specific applications, the problem is deceptively complex. This paper only establishes the rudiments of a system, but the potential is clearly there.

The drone used by the researchers is a DJI Matrice 1002, customized to have a sensing rig mounted on one side and a spraying assembly on the other, counterbalancing each other. The sprayer, notably, is not just a nozzle but a pan-and-tilt mechanism that allows details to be painted that the drone can’t be relied on to make itself. To be clear, we’re still talking broad strokes here, but accurate to an inch rather than three or four.

It’s also been modified to use wired power and a constant supply of paint, which simplifies the physics and also reduces limits on the size of the surface to be painted. A drone lugging its own paint can wouldn’t be able to fly far, and its thrust would have to be constantly adjusted to account for the lost weight of sprayed paint. See? Complex.

The first step is to 3D scan the surface to be painted; this can be done manually or via drone. The mesh is then compared to the design to be painted and a system creates a proposed path for the drone.

Lastly the drone is set free to do its thing. It doesn’t go super fast in this prototype form, nor should it, since even the best drones can’t stop on a dime, and tend to swing about when they reduce speed or change direction. Slow and steady is the word, following a general path to put the nozzle in range of where it needs to shoot. All the while it is checking its location against the known 3D map of the surface so it doesn’t get off track.

In case you’re struggling to see the “bear,” it’s standing up with its paws on a tree. That took me a long time to see, so I thought I’d spare you the trouble.

Let’s be honest: This thing isn’t going to do anything much more complicated than some line work or a fill. But for a lot of jobs that’s exactly what’s needed — and it’s often the type of work that’s the least suited to skilled humans, who would rather be doing stuff only they can do. A drone could fill in all the easy parts on a building and then the workers can do the painstaking work around the windows or add embellishments and details.

For now this is strictly foundational work — no one is going to hire this drone to draw a Matterhorn on their house — but there’s a lot of potential here if the engineering and control methods can be set down with confidence.

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Fitbits will soon lose the ability to sync with computers

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Enlarge / The Fitbit Ionic currently lets you download music to the device.

Valentina Palladino

Fitbit owners who like to sync their fitness tracker with a computer to enable offline listening of downloaded music without a monthly fee will soon need to change their approach.

As spotted by 9to5Google on Saturday, Fitbit will no longer allow users to sync their devices over a computer starting in October.

“On October 13, 2022, we’re removing the option to sync your Fitbit device with the Fitbit Connect app on your computer,” a Fitbit support page reads. “Download and use the Fitbit app on your phone to sync your device.”

The Fitbit Connect desktop software lets you transfer music from your computer to the wearable if you have a supporting watch. Newer devices, like the Fitbit Sense and Versa 3, cannot store downloaded music.

After October, owners of older Fitbits, like the Fitbit Versa and Versa 2, will also have to rely on subscriptions to not-so-popular services for offline music. “After the Fitbit Connect app on your computer is deactivated, you can continue to transfer music to your watch through the Deezer app. Customers in the United States can also use the Pandora app,” Fitbit’s support page says.

Deezer and Pandora both require monthly subscriptions for music downloading and offline listening, with fees starting at $10 per month after any eligible trial periods.

Remember, Fitbits still don’t let you add music you’ve downloaded through streaming services, though you can control music on your smartphone with a Fitbit.

The new limitation shouldn’t last forever. When Google acquired Fitbit in 2021, the fitness tracker company confirmed that Fitbits running Google’s Wear OS are on the way. Wear OS has offline support for subscribers to Spotify Premium and YouTube Music.

The death of the Fitbit Connect desktop app will mean that Fitbit wearers who have managed to avoid the brand’s mobile app have fewer options. An increasingly subscription-focused marketplace has been coming for a long time now. Fitbit Connect is still downloadable on Windows 10 and Mac OS X, but the company says the Fitbit app for iPhone and Android provides the “best experience.”

For now, you can still download and listen to music from your Fitbit; you just won’t be able to add more songs after October.

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Google hits back at Sonos with voice command patent lawsuit

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Enlarge / Sonos Beam soundbar.

Sonos

Google and Sonos are headed back to court. After Google lost an earlier patent case over speaker volume controls, Google is now suing Sonos over voice control technology. Google confirmed the lawsuit to The Verge this morning, with the company saying it wants to “defend our technology and challenge Sonos’s clear, continued infringement of our patents.” Google alleges infringement of seven patents related to voice input, including hot-word detection and a system that determines which speaker in a group should respond to voice commands.

Sonos has typically supported the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa for voice control, but Google and Amazon are also Sonos’s biggest speaker competitors. So Sonos launched its own voice assistant feature in May, opening it up to this new pile of Google patents. (For now, Sonos supports all three options.)

Google rarely uses patents offensively, but this is part of a multi-lawsuit battle that has sent the company’s smart speaker line reeling after Google lost a previous ruling in January. Rather than pay royalties to Sonos, Google decided to reach into customers’ homes and start breaking devices they had already bought. Google stripped Nest Audio and Google Home speakers of the ability to control volume for a speaker group, turning what was an effortless and common-sense task into an ordeal requiring a screen full of individual sliders. It’s hard to overstate how annoying this is for consumers, as volume control is a primary function of any speaker.

Sonos originated the connected speaker concept, but it has been facing competition from Big Tech giants in recent years. Sonos says it gave Google an inside look at its operations in 2013 while Sonos was asking for Google Play Music support and that Google used that access to “blatantly and knowingly copy” Sonos’s technology. Google’s first smart speaker launched three years later.

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Rumors, delays, and early testing suggest Intel’s Arc GPUs are on shaky ground

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Enlarge / Arc is Intel’s attempt to shake up the GPU market.

Almost a year ago, Intel made a big announcement about its push into the dedicated graphics business. Intel Arc would be the brand name for a new batch of gaming GPUs, pushing far beyond the company’s previous efforts and competing directly with Nvidia’s GeForce and AMD’s Radeon GPUs.

Arc is the culmination of years of work, going back to at least 2017, when Intel poached AMD GPU architect Raja Koduri to run its own graphics division. And while Intel would be trying to break into an established and fiercely competitive market, it would benefit from the experience and gigantic install base that the company had cultivated with its integrated GPUs.

Intel sought to prove its commitment to Arc by showing off a years-long road map, with four separate named GPU architectures already in the pipeline. Sure, the GPUs wouldn’t compete with top-tier GeForce and Radeon cards, but they would address the crucial mainstream GPU market, and high-end cards would follow once the brand was more established.

All of that makes Arc a lot more serious than Larrabee, Intel’s last effort to break into the dedicated graphics market. Larrabee was canceled late in its development because of delays and disappointing performance, and Arc GPUs are actual things that you can buy (if only in a limited way, for now). But the challenges of entering the GPU market haven’t changed since the late 2000s. Breaking into a mature market is difficult, and experience with integrated GPUs isn’t always applicable to dedicated GPUs with more complex hardware and their own pool of memory.

Regardless of the company’s plans for future architectures, Arc’s launch has been messy. And while the company is making some efforts to own those problems, a combination of performance issues, timing, and financial pressures could threaten Arc’s future.

Early turbulence

A year after its announcement, it seems that Arc is already on shaky ground. Intel has proven characteristically incapable of meeting its initial launch estimates, just barely managing to pull off a paper launch of two low-end laptop GPUs in Q1 (the original launch window) and failing to follow up with widely available desktop cards in Q2. The company has been very public about its driver struggles with drivers, which are hurting the cards’ performance in older but still widely played games. And the graphics division is losing money at a time when revenue is tumbling across the company.

And that’s just what is happening in public. A report from the German-language Igor’s Lab claims that Intel’s board partners (the ones who would be putting the Arc GPU dies on boards, packaging them, and shipping them out) and the OEMs who would be putting Arc GPUs into their prebuilt computers are getting frustrated with the delays and lack of communication.

A long, conspiratorial video from YouTuber Moore’s Law is Dead goes even farther, suggesting (using a combination of “internal sources” and speculation) that people in Intel’s graphics division are “lying” to consumers and others in the company about the state of the GPUs, that the first-generation Alchemist architecture has fundamental performance-limiting flaws, and that Intel is having internal discussions about discontinuing Arc GPUs after the second-generation “Battlemage” architecture.

We’ve contacted Intel and several GPU manufacturers to see if they had anything to share on the matter; the short version is no—Intel has no news on release dates. Asus says it “[doesn’t] currently have anything in the pipeline for Intel Arc on the North America side,” and other companies haven’t responded yet. For his part, Intel graphics VP Raja Koduri has said publicly that “we are very much committed to our roadmap” and that there will be “more updates from us this quarter” and “four new product lines by the end of the year.”

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