Category Archives: Computers, Science & Technology

Leonard Nimoy

Leonard NimoyI was saddened today, to learn that Leonard Nimoy has passed away. I was a fan of his work on Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, Fringe, and many other roles. He will, of course, best be remembered as Mr. Spock, a role in which he caught the imagination of a several generations of Star Trek fans. I got to meet him, personally, while I was working with the Science Fiction Fantasy Federation group while attending UNC-G.

We will miss you… Mr. Spock.

VLC Player to Support Google Chromecast!

Now, this rocks! You will be able to play any video or audio format and “cast” it to your TV via the Google Chromecast!

VLC update to bring Chromecast streaming support

Trusted Reviews – By: Sean Keach – “VideoLAN has confirmed that the next update to its VLC media player will bring support for Google’s Chromecast.

This means users will be able to stream video and audio content directly from VLC to their television, via Chromecast.

Chromecast launched less than two years ago, but has seen widespread usage as more people want to bridge the gap between their TV and other devices.

Of course, Chromecast depends largely on other support from third-party sources, so VLC joining its compatibility roster is a huge win for Google.

It’s also worth mentioning that VLC is adding Chromecast support not just to its desktop software, but to its iOS and Android apps too.

VLC was tipped to be offering Chromecast support earlier this week, after a changelog revealed the upcoming update.

It’s not yet clear when VLC will send its next major update live, but we do know that the software version will be VLC 3.0.

Considering the recent changelog leak however, it’s like that VideoLAN is very nearly ready to push out the update.”

An Apple Car? Really?

OK, so the buzz is that Apple is hiring away Tesla workers with a plan to build an Apple car. If it is an electric car, will the battery be permanently built in and you have to throw away the car if it goes bad?

I just don’t know if I see Apple building a car. Oh, sure, it would probably look very cool, and, I am sure, it would be very expensive… but they have no experience in the car business. It seems to me that they would have to “come up to speed” fast in an arena that has 100 plus years of development and technology that is very different than their core products.

But, that’s just my two cents… I probably won’t buy a version 1.0 Apple car… if I could even afford it!

Raspberry Pi 2 in an Open Source Robot


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It seems the new Raspberry Pi 2 is inspiring many!

Open source robot kit taps Raspberry Pi 2

LinuxGizmos – By: Eric Brown – “On Indiegogo, CoroWare launched a 4WD ‘CoroBot Spark,’ open robot platform for STEM education, based on a Raspberry Pi SBC and a CoroWare controller board.

CoroWare Robotics Solutions’s CoroBot Spark is the latest of several open source robot kits that have used the Raspberry Pi single board computer. Recent examples include iRobot’s Create 2, a hackable version of its Roomba robot, as well as Frindo.org’s RPi-ready Frindo robot. Other Linux-based robot controller boards designed to integrate the Raspberry Pi include the Roboteq RIO, Mikronaut’s RoboPi, and the Calao Systems’s PinBall SBC.

The open source CoroBot Spark differs from the Create 2 or Frindo in that it’s a larger four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle. Like the Create 2, the Spark is designed for middle school and high school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, as well as university research and education.

CoroWare’s Indiegogo campaign offers Corobot Spark early adopter kits for $275, and many more kits at $350, with shipments due in May. A $400 Educational/Developer package adds an Xbox controller, a USB flash drive, additional drivers, and premium tech support.

The kits include a Raspberry Pi board with camera, along with the chassis, motors, wheels, battery, sensors, and CoroWare’s CoroBot Pi Hat controller board. The Pi Hat supports peripherals including variable speed motors, and sensors for touch, ultrasonic, infrared, sound, and more.

The Indiegogo page mentions availability of both the older ARM11-based Raspberry Pi Model B+ and the new quad Cortex-A7-based Raspberry Pi 2 Model B. With the latter, it says, you can run either Debian Linux or the upcoming Windows 10, which to the surprise of many, landed on the RPI 2’s list of supported OSes along with Ubuntu.

CoroWare has long offered a line of four-wheeled, x86-based robots with Windows and Ubuntu support. Rolling robots such as the Ubuntu ready CoroWare Explorer EX-L added Robot Operating System (ROS) middleware extensions. The company’s last major Ubuntu/ROS model was the CoroBot Pro, a $9,000 robot development platform announced in 2013, which is currently in the process of being updated to a v2 model (see farther below).

The CoroBot Spark’s software stack, including its cross platform GUI, was written entirely in Python. The stack will include open and cross-platform APIs, says CoroWare. Each Debian image will come preloaded with Anaconda, SciPy, iPython Notebook, and other tools.

‘The CoroBot Spark platform is especially attractive because the chassis design, software and APIs will all be available through open source channels such as GitHub,’ stated Lloyd Spencer, CEO of CoroWare.

The CoroBot Spark can be assembled in less than 30 minutes with the included screwdriver in a process does not require breadboards or jumper wires, claims CoroWare. The entire kit, excluding the Pi Hat, ‘is designed to be made at a local makerspace using 3D printing and laser cutting,’ says the company.

The Pi Hat board is touted for its inclusion of Cypress’s PSoC 5LP system-on-chip, as well as two lesser powered PSoC 4 (4200 Series) chips. Built around an ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller, the PSoC 5LP offers digitally reprogrammable logic, which is somewhat like an FPGA, but easier to use, says CoroWare. As a result, ‘you can customize which pins do what on the fly,’ says the company.

The CoroBot Spark ships with a USB WiFi dongle for the Raspberry Pi, and does not require tethered operation to navigate. A desktop control application that supports Linux, Mac, or Windows, offers basic user input, sensor information, and a Python console for basic scripted commands. The Pi Hat board, meanwhile, is ‘preloaded with basic control blocks and will have many more freely available online that can be uploaded via PSoC creator,’ says CoroWare.

Basic specs for the CoroBot Spark kit include:

  • Raspberry Pi Model B+ or 2nd Gen (RPi 2) Model B
  • RPi camera with pan/tilt mount
  • 3x ultrasonic sensors (2x front-facing)
  • Rear-facing ultrasonic sensor
  • Front-facing IR sensor
  • Audio sensor
  • Pi Hat controller board:
    • 67MHz Cypress PSoC 5LP SoC with multilevel DMA controller, 64KB SRAM, 256KB flash, 26x configurable blocks
    • 2x PSoC 4 chips
    • 7.4v 2200mAh LiPO battery with recharging
    • Motor controller IC (48MHz ARM Cortex-M0)
    • Encoder connectors
    • Servo headers for camera
    • GPIO
    • USB interface
  • 4x wheels
  • 4x discrete multi-gear DC motors and drivers (supports replacement with omni-directional wheels)
  • Frame made of laser-cut birch plywood

CoroWare promises to donate 15 percent of all Indiegogo contributions to fund program proposals submitted by schools, universities and non-profit organizations. If the ‘flexible funding’ project surpasses the $45,000 Indiegogo goal, CoroWare will donate 30 percent of all contributions made above that, says the company.

The water resistant CoroBot Pro can be fitted with one of several robot arms, one of which offers up to 5 degrees of freedom (DoF) and can lift up to 800 grams, says CoroWare. Specific options include the Point Grey Bumblebee stereo vision camera, the Microsoft Kinect, and a variety of HD webcams.
CoroWare had few details on the upcoming Corobot Pro v2, which appears to be close to completion. The new robot will add special mounting hardware that ‘allows for easy integration of additional sensors and payload,’ says CoroWare. The company also hints that it’s a more rugged platform for outdoors use, presumably with greater extended temperature support.

CoroWare also says that long-range communications (perhaps cellular data support) will be standard. As a result of these and other improvements, the v2 version will start at $20,000, more than double the price of the current model.

Further information

The CoroBot Spark is available on Indiegogo through April 5 starting at $275 and $350, with shipments due in May. Developer kits and classroom bundles are also available. Full specs for the CoroBot Spark may be found at the CoroWare website.

More on the Corobot Pro and upcoming v2 version may be found here. The first generation CoroBot Pro starts at $8,995 at The Robot Marketplace, which has additional specs.”

New Drone Rules Released

DronesLooks like I can still fly my new toy drone that I got for Christmas! Whew!

FAA Proposes Rules To Open The Sky To Some Commercial Drones, But Delivery Drones Remain Grounded

Techcrunch – By: Frederic Lardinois – “After a number of delays, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today officially announced its proposed rules for small commercial drones. Most of the proposed rules already leaked earlier this weekend. Overall, the proposed rules are pretty straightforward and more lenient than expected, but while they open up a number of use cases, they are still strict enough to make it impractical to operate the kind of delivery drones Amazon and others have envisioned.

Here are the basics of the rules, which will apply to drones weighing fewer than 55 pounds: pilots will have to pass a knowledge test (but not a practical test) to get a newly developed drone operator license and will have to be vetted by the TSA. They will have to take a recurrent test every 24 months and be at least 17 years old. Pilots will only be allowed to fly during daytime hours and must be able to see the drone at all times (though they can also use a second operator as an observer). Once an operator has this license, it will apply to all small drones.

Thankfully, it turns out that the FAA will not require drone pilots to get a private or commercial pilots license, and operators will not have to pass a medical exam.

As expected, commercial drones will only be allowed to fly under 500 feet and no faster than 100 mph. Drones will have to be registered with the FAA. Flights over people are prohibited and visibility has to be over 3 miles. Drones can fly autonomously, but all of the other regulations (line of sight, maximum height, etc.) still apply and the pilot has to be able to take manual control at all times.

The FAA is also considering to create a separate category for very small drones under 4.4 pounds that may allow operators to fly over people.

You can find a more detailed summary of the proposed rules here and our analysis of the leaked document — which turned out to be correct — is here.

It’s worth noting that these rules do not apply to hobbyists and model airplanes.

‘We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,’ said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in today’s announcement. ‘We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.’ As Huerta also noted in a press conference this morning, drones have the potential to ‘greatly change how we use our airspace,’ but the FAA is obviously also interested in ensuring the safety of the existing users.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the proposed rules — at least for many drone startups — is that only line-of-sight flights are allowed. While you can obviously use a camera on the drone, you have to be able to see it at all times (and binoculars are not allowed). This mostly restricts commercial drone usage to use cases like photography, power line inspections, search and rescue, and crop monitoring. As Jesse Kallman, the director of regulatory affairs at commercial drone startup Airware notes in a statement today, ‘this is not unexpected. They [the FAA] state the technology is not available, but indeed it is, and is being used safely in Europe today.’

Amazon Prime Air Remains Grounded In The U.S.

It’ll be almost impossible to operate any delivery drones like the ones Amazon has proposed under these rules.

As Amazon’s vice president of Global Public Policy told us in an emailed statement this morning, ‘the FAA’s proposed rules for small UAS could take one or two years to be adopted and, based on the proposal, even then those rules wouldn’t allow Prime Air to operate in the United States. The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers. We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need.’ Chances are then, that Prime Air will first launch outside the U.S.
prime-air_high-resolution01As the FAA however also noted in today’s press conference, this is only a first step. The administration continues to evaluate technologies that will allow drones to go beyond line of sight and will continue to allow for exemptions. For now, though, delivery drones remain grounded.

For the most part, the new rules follow common sense and are a good first step, even though they still prohibit some use cases. Brian Wynne, the president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International echoed this sentiment. ‘This is a good first step in an evolutionary process that brings us closer to realizing the many societal and economic benefits of UAS technology,’ he writes in a statement today.

It will still be a while before today’s proposed rules become reality — and they could still change before they do. The FAA is now asking for comments on a number of aspects of these rules. It will likely still take a while (possibly more than a year or two) before these rules can take effect. Until then, commercial operators will still have to apply for exemptions with the FAA.”

Get Chromecast Rewards!

Google ChromecastDo you own a Chromecast? Well, Google wants to reward you for buying their $39.00 device! You can go to this link and, if you have your Chromecast hooked up to your TV, and click the link, you will get free offers, including a $6.00 credit for a movie! Pretty cool! Thanks, Google!

By the way, here’s the offers I got when I did it… your mileage may vary!

  • Enjoy a Valentine’s Day movie rental with a $6 Google Play credit
  • EPIX Presents: Road to the NHL Winter Classic. Watch new series with EPIX Free Trial!
  • See where it all started. Get the first X-Men, courtesy of Google Play.
  • Get 3 free months of DramaFever Premium. Terms Apply
  • Get 90 days of unlimited music FREE from Google Play

Twitter Will Soon Be Searchable in Google

Is that a good thing? Probably!

Twitter Reaches Deal to Show Tweets in Google Search Results

Bloomberg) By: Sarah Frier – “Twitter Inc. has struck a deal with Google Inc. to make its 140-character updates more searchable online.

In the first half of this year, tweets will start to be visible in Google’s search results as soon as they’re posted, thanks to a deal giving the Web company access to Twitter’s firehose, the stream of data generated by the microblogging service’s 284 million users, people with knowledge of the matter said Wednesday. Google previously had to crawl Twitter’s site for the information, which will now be visible automatically.

The agreement underscores the progress that Twitter Chief Executive Officer Dick Costolo is making in getting tweets seen by more non-users and generating more advertising revenue from a larger audience. Twitter, which also provides data to Microsoft Corp.’s Bing search service and Yahoo! Inc., is aiming to draw more people to its site as user growth slows. Twitter this week announced deals to show advertising in Flipboard Inc.’s mobile application and with Yahoo Japan Corp.

Twitter shares rose 1.3 percent to $41.26 at the close in New York. The stock has advanced 15 percent this year. Google rose less than 1 percent to $529.83.
Engineers from Twitter and Google are already working on the arrangement, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deal isn’t public. The two companies had a similar deal from 2009 to 2011. Ali Rowghani, Twitter’s former chief operating officer, had been against renewing the agreement to keep more control over Twitter’s content and it lapsed, the people said.

Mutually Beneficial

The renewed relationship benefits both companies, said Doug Anmuth, an analyst at JPMorgan, in a note to investors.

The deal means ‘more opportunities for Twitter to convert, and possibly monetize, logged-out users,’ he said. It will also increase the frequency that people with Twitter accounts check the site, he added.

‘For Google, we believe search results will be enhanced by access to real-time tweets and a much broader amount of content,’ Anmuth wrote.

Will Stickney, a spokesman for San Francisco-based Twitter, declined to comment. Jason Freidenfelds, a spokesman for Mountain View, California-based Google, didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

There’s no advertising revenue involved in the deal between Twitter and Google, one of the people said. That suggests Twitter will receive data-licensing revenue, which was $41 million in the third quarter, up from $16 million a year earlier.

Anthony Noto, Twitter’s chief financial officer, said at the company’s analyst meeting in November that it had been working to make tweets easier to find through search engines, and that negotiating with search providers could be a ‘unique opportunity’ to distribute tweets to more people.”

Kano – A Great Raspberry Pi Based Kit Computer!

Kano Computer KitI wish I had this growing up… in fact, I wish I had this when my son, Ben was much younger! This is an awesome kit, with everything that you need to get young minds thinking in terms of computing! The manual is like a story book, that they follow along with, as they build their computer! How cool is this?!?

Kano Computer Kit

“Kano is a computer you build and code yourself. Lego simple, Raspberry Pi powerful, and hugely fun.

What’s inside? The Raspberry Pi, Model B, is the lightweight, powerful brain behind thousands of Kano creations. Its system-on-a-chip packs an ARM 700MHz CPU and 512MB RAM.

Manuals are boring. Kano is a story. With illustrated ideas and simple steps, build a computer, make stuff, and explore a new world. Meet cool characters and level up.

Power up your personal computer with a speaker. Snap together the system, draw power from two secret ports (choose carefully).
Then – raise the roof.

Keyboard: Your magic wand. Type overhand or hold it game controller style.
Navigate nimbly with an integrated touchpad, and independent click buttons. Wireless, two ways – USB RF for your Kano, and Bluetooth for the World

Kano OS. An open-source OS for exploration, creation, and play. Code mountains in Minecraft and powerups in Pong. Synth music and stream video. Dive into the command line. Invent something new.

An SD Card. Pre-loaded with OS: Sandisk Ultra, 8GB, Class 10 micro SD card and SD card adapter.

A Case. Transparent and easy-clipping, with cool customizations.
Build your own style, switch out case cards, print new covers.

Stickers. Decorate your kit, your house, your parents while they’re asleep.

Cables. Connect a screen with HDMI, power up with mini-USB.
Ships with a global plug.

WiFi. Get connected with a dongle that configures seamlessly,
with simple setup.

Ships free to most countries, for only $149.99.”

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