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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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Google TV takes a baby step toward multi-user support with “kids profiles”

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It sure sounds like Google is re-committing to the TV space with Google TV—a renamed, revamped version of Android TV. In addition to the new content-centric (instead of app-centric) home screen, watch list, and an upcoming “dumb TV” mode, Google is now revamping parental control support.

The new “kids profiles” will turn on a fun, kid-friendly UI with themes like “dinosaurs,” “space,” and “under the sea.” The big, new feature of Google TV—content-centric recommendations—will kick over into a kids-friendly mode, too, pushing educational content to the home screen.

Parental control functionality looks pretty much the same as in Android TV, with parents able to set limitations on total screen time, bedtime, and individual apps. The big difference is the interface, which has a friendlier UI that doesn’t look like a system administrator panel anymore. The controls are also compatible with Google’s Family Link app, which allows for remote administration and tracking.

Kids mode looks like a baby step toward solving Google TV’s biggest problem right now: the lack of support for multiple profiles. The flagship feature of Google TV is the home screen content recommendation engine, but there’s no differentiation between users, so it’s going to mash up the entire household’s viewing habits. Google lightly copped to this deficiency in the blog post, saying, “I personally want to be able to find my shows and movies, without being overwhelmed by my kids’ content.”

Kids mode will let you quarantine Sesame Street from your recommendations, but there’s still no way to separate the viewing habits between adults. Hopefully, kids mode is the beginning of full-blown profile support with personalized recommendations and watchlists, but Google hasn’t come out and said that.

Google TV is currently very rare, available mainly (only?) on the new “Google Chromecast with Google TV” that launched in September. It’s also headed to Sony’s entire Bravia XR 2021 lineup and select TCL TVs coming out later this year. Google’s decision to change the name of its TV product from Android TV to Google TV makes everything unnecessarily confusing, but it’s all the same code base. Google’s TV OSes based on Android 9 and lower are called “Android TV,” and the new versions, based on Android 10 and up, are “Google TV.” In theory, some Android TV set-top boxes and smart TVs can be upgraded to Google TV, since it’s just the next version. Your device manufacturer would need to actually ship an update, though, and a lot of smart TV manufacturers don’t.

Google says that support for kids profiles on Google TV will roll out “in the US starting this month and globally over the next few months.”

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The iMac Pro has been discontinued

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Apple will no longer sell the iMac Pro after current supplies run out, the company has confirmed.

In the past few days, online Apple Store customers noticed that the iMac Pro’s usual plethora of configuration options had been significantly stripped down. The online store also stated that the iMac Pro as offered would be available “while supplies last.” This led to suspicions that the product was not long for this world.

Shortly afterward, various outlets including TechCrunch received confirmation from Apple that these changes do indeed indicate that the product has been discontinued.

The 27-inch iMac Pro had not been updated in a significant way since it was first introduced back in 2017. And since then, the priciest configurations of the normal 27-inch iMac have given the iMac Pro a run for its money in terms of performance and features.

To that point, Apple says that the non-Pro 27-inch iMac is the most popular iMac, and the expensive but powerful Mac Pro is available for those who need more powerful hardware for certain use cases.

Apple updated the 27-inch iMac last summer, shortly after announcing that the entire Mac product line would transition from Intel CPUs to Apple’s own custom-designed silicon.

Bloomberg and others have cited people familiar with Apple’s plans to report that the company expects to update the iMac with a new design and Apple Silicon processors later this year, along with similar updates to the MacBook Pro and a newly redesigned MacBook Air.

The Mac Pro is not expected to get an Apple Silicon version until sometime next year, and some reports have indicated that a smaller Apple Silicon Mac Pro may for at least a while coexist with the larger Intel-based tower PC.

Listing image by Samuel Axon

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The new Google Pay repeats all the same mistakes of Google Allo

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The new Google Pay app came out of beta this week, and it marks the first step in a major upheaval in the Google Pay service. Existing Google Pay users are about to go through a transition reminiscent of the recent move from Google Music to YouTube Music: Google is killing one perfectly fine service and replacing it with a worse, less functional service. The fun, confusing wrinkle here is that the new and old services are both called “Google Pay.”

Allow us to explain.

The old Google Pay service that has been around for years is dying. The app will be shut down in the US on April 5, and if you want to continue using New Google Pay, you’ll have to go find and download a totally new app. NFC tap-and-pay functionality won’t really change once you set up the new app, but the New Google Pay app won’t use your Google account for P2P payments anymore. You’ll be required to make a new account. You won’t be able to send any money to your new contacts until they download the new app and make a new account, too. On top of all that, the Google Pay website will be stripped of all payment functionality in the US on April 5, and New Google Pay won’t support doing anything from the web. You won’t be able to transfer money, view payment activity, or see your balance from a browser.

In addition to less convenient access and forcing users to remake their accounts, New Google Pay is also enticing users to switch with new fees for transfers to debit cards. Old Google Pay did this for free, but New Google Pay now has “a fee of 1.5% or $.31 (whichever is higher), when you transfer out money with a debit card.”

Google is currently sending out emails to existing users detailing all this. There’s also a support page link and a notice at the top of pay.google.com. On the Play Store, Google has already started hiding the old Google Pay app from search results, renamed it “Google Pay (old app),” and updated the app home screen with a message to sign up for the new app.

New Google Pay’s Internet-hostile design

We’ve spent some time with the new Google Pay app now that it’s out of beta, and Google looks like it is repeating all the same mistakes it made with Google Allo, one of Google’s biggest messaging-app flops. Google Allo was the messaging app that was released in 2016, a few years after Google Hangouts. The service represented Google’s attempt to clone WhatsApp after losing an acquisition bidding war with Facebook two years earlier. Like New Google Pay, Allo debuted in India and was laser-targeted at the country before being forced on the rest of us for some reason. Allo was thoroughly rejected by consumers and was dead in the water after four months of availability. It was shut down after about two years.

In Google land, targeting an app at India means building an Internet-hostile design that ignores existing Google infrastructure, data, and contacts, and building something powered entirely by the carriers’ SMS system. New Google Pay, like Allo, doesn’t use your Google account (at least, not for payments). Instead, you have to sign up for the new Google Pay using your carrier’s phone number. None of your existing Google Pay contacts will carry over, and they’ll all have to sign up for new accounts with their carrier phone numbers, too. Making payments entirely SMS-driven theoretically makes signing up for the service easier in India, but in the rest of the world—where people interested in a Google service generally have a Google account and multiple devices—it’s more inconvenient compared to rival services.

Just like with Google Allo, SMS-based authentication means there’s no desktop support at all. The Google Pay website is being stripped of all its useful functionality because a browser does not have a carrier SIM card and therefore can’t be authenticated by the SMS-reliant system. Google Allo eventually copied WhatsApp and came up with a clunky, QR-code-driven browser login process that forwarded your phone access to the browser (and didn’t work if your phone was off/dead/missing). Google Pay could eventually cook up something like that, but that seems like a heap of work for what should be (and used to be) a quick money transaction.

SMS-based apps like Google Pay only support one device at a time.
Enlarge / SMS-based apps like Google Pay only support one device at a time.

Ron Amadeo

The other SMS-based limitation of Google Pay is that you can only be logged in on one device at a time, just like Allo. This is less of an issue for a payment app, but the old version of Google Pay worked on smart watches, too. If Google ever wants to revive its wearables segment, this seems like a bad limitation.

Basically, everyone is being kicked off the old Google Pay service, and you’ll all have to join and reconnect on this new thing. Like with YouTube Music, this is a great chance for Google to lose users as they are forced to re-evaluate their app choices and set up something new. There’s a possibility that users move to a different, more stable, more respectful platform. This move also kills the synergy between NFC tap-and-pay Google Pay and Send-money-to-people Google Pay. The two services, both in a single app, now use completely different log-in methods: Google Pay NFC on the new app still uses your Google account and will carry over your credit cards.

SMS identity is not a completely unworkable solution, but it’s definitely not the future we should be pushing for, when regular account systems are free, more accessible, and much more stable. I know you technically don’t own anything on any company cloud service, but a phone number, which is tied to a bill and your ability to pay, feels a lot more temporary than something like an email address. I am sure there are people who have had the same phone number for many years, but that only happens if you constantly pay the bill, every single month, for years. You’re also trusting the notoriously bad billing and customer service departments of your local cell phone carrier to do the right thing and screw you out of your phone number for some dumb reason, which has definitely happened before. You might even have a moral argument that tying identity to your ability to pay a bill is wrong.

The other problem with SMS is that it’s considerably easier to get Internet service than it is cell service. In a Venn diagram of Internet access, cell phone service is a smaller circle inside a bigger “Internet” circle, which also has options for wired Internet from your local ISP. For instance, my parents live in a cottage in the woods and don’t get cell phone service, which has never been a big deal thanks to wired services. But they would have to leave the house to set up Google Pay. We’ll probably switch to something else.

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