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Debris from a satellite shot down by the Russians appears to threaten the ISS

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The space station is being threatened by an unexpected cloud of debris.

The space station is being threatened by an unexpected cloud of debris. (credit: NASA)

The seven astronauts and cosmonauts onboard the International Space Station sheltered inside their respective spacecraft, a Crew Dragon and Soyuz, on Monday morning as the orbiting laboratory passed through an unexpected debris field.

This was not a pre-planned collision avoidance maneuver in low Earth orbit, in which the station would use onboard propulsion to move away. Rather, the situation required the astronauts to quickly take shelter.

Had there been a collision during the conjunction, the two spacecraft would have been able to detach from the space station and make an emergency return to Earth. Ultimately that was not necessary, and the astronauts reemerged into the space station later Monday. However, as the crew on board the station prepared for their sleep schedule, Mission Control in Houston asked them to keep as many of the hatches on board the space station closed for the time being, in case of an unexpected collision during subsequent orbits.

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zipcube
15 days ago
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Dallas, Texas
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TD Pilot will let people with disabilities control iPads with their eyes

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There's plenty new in iPadOS 15, but it also features an under-sung accessibility upgrade: support for third-party eye-tracking devices. That'll allow people with disabilities to use iPad apps and speech generation software simply through eye movements — no touchscreen interaction required. Tobii Dynavox, the assistive tech division of the eye-tracking company Tobii, worked with Apple for years to help make that happen. And now, the firm is ready to announce TD Pilot, a device that aims to bring the iPad experience to the estimated 50 million people globally who need communication assistance.

The TD Pilot is basically a super-powered frame for Apple's tablets: It can fit in something as big as the iPad Pro 12.9-inch, and it also packs in large speakers, an extended battery and a wheelchair mount. It's thankfully water and dust-resistant, so it'll survive time in a rainstorm or even a user's shower. There's also a secondary "Partner Window" on the back that spells out what a TD Pilot user is saying, which aims to make conversation feel more natural. Most importantly, though, it features Tobii Dynavox's latest eye-tracking sensor, which is powerful enough to work in bright sunlight.

This isn't exactly new territory for the company: It's been producing popular Windows-powered assistive devices for years. But, as CEO Fredrik Ruben tells Engadget, TD Pilot gives users with disabilities the same sort of flexibility that the non-disabled have. Some may not need the full power of a Windows PC, or maybe they'd just rather deal with the simpler interface on an iPad. TD Pilot users will also be able use eye tracking to play some iPadOS games—so long as they don't require extremely rapid movement.

While Tobii Dynavox is the current market leader in eye-tracking solutions, a smaller company ended up delivering iPad support first. Inclusive Technology's Skyle launched last year, and it allows for gaze control by tapping into the iPad's Assistive Touch feature. That was originally meant for mice and other input devices. Consequently, Ruben claims that technique is more like emulated tracking, since it involves staring at a cursor to move it around. Still, a short review from the YouTube channel Products for pALS was pretty favorable (and also had some less kind things to say about Tobii Dynavox's dated software).

Skyle's $2,995 price may also be another advantage if your insurance doesn't cover TD Pilot. Ruben tells us that Tobii Dynavox has around 400 insurance contracts already, and its devices are already covered by Medicare and Medicaid. Without insurance, though, the total cost of the TD Pilot could run up to $10,000, not including the cost of the iPad. Part of that cost would also go towards getting the device set up, as well as paying for Tobii Dynavox's software.

A screen showing the TD Pilot iPad software
Tobii Dynavox

When I tried out Tobii's eye-tracking technology in VR a few years ago, it felt like a superpower. I could hit a far-off target with a rock simply by focusing on it. It's not hard to see how useful that technology could be with an iPad for users with disabilities. Last year, we said that assistive technology still had a long way to go, despite a bit of progress from companies like Microsoft and Google. So, at the least, it's heartening to see another solution pop up—especially one that forced Apple to open up its restrictive ecosystem in the name of accessibility.





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Ford is already sold out of its electric crate motor but won’t say how many

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Days after Ford started selling its first-ever electric crate motor, it already sold out (via Ford Authority). Ford just isn’t saying how many were sold.

Ford caught the attention of EV and Ford enthusiasts alike when it showcased the Eluminator in an all-electric 1978 F-100. The $3,900 crate motor is the same one that powers the Mustang Mach-E GT, sporting 480 horsepower with 634 pound-feet of torque. Batteries and other components aren’t included with the motor, although Ford plans on making those parts available individually.

“Demand has exceeded expectations,” a Ford spokesperson told The Verge. At this point, it remains unclear how e-crate motors were sold or if those numbers surpassed the typical sales for Ford’s gasoline-powered crate motors.

If you were hoping to get your hands on the Eluminator, whether to throw it in an existing build or to start a custom project, Ford notes that it will be back in stock soon. The Ford spokesperson told us that “interested customers can sign up online to be notified when they are available again to order” by entering an email or phone number on the Eluminator’s product page.

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Not just RavPower — Amazon has yanked Vava and TaoTronics, too

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

In 2017, The New York Times profiled Sunvalley, a Chinese electronics manufacturer that obsessively monitored Amazon to build and maintain US-facing brands with a reputation for quality. They include phone charging specialist RavPower, home office and dash cam supplier Vava, and headphones and home appliance purveyor TaoTronics. Now, all three of them have disappeared from Amazon, seemingly for ignoring the platform’s rules.

On Wednesday, Amazon confirmed to The Verge that it had removed RavPower. (Amazon tells us it’s checking on Sunvalley’s other brands). But it’s clear from their empty Amazon storefronts that something’s going on — and the Chinese company has already issued a statement, spotted by The Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Ngyuen, confirming that Amazon suspended them on June 16th.

When Nguyen bought a new charger from RavPower, she received an offer for a $35 gift card in exchange for an Amazon review. That kind of manipulation has been against Amazon’s rules since 2016, and Sunvalley’s statement suggests that’s also the reason why these brands were suspended.

Still, there’s something weird about the situation. Sunvalley’s brands stood out among the throngs of fly-by-night electronics vendors on Amazon with their word-jumble names. Also, the products were often good! RavPower made our favorite wireless charger, and we recommended the Vava Laser TV as “the projector with the best image quality.” Wirecutter called a Vava hub the best USB-C hub, and we recommended a HooToo USB-C hub in 2018.

Interestingly, Amazon hasn’t yet removed HooToo, a fourth Sunvalley brand — it still has at least three USB-C hubs on sale. Another brand, USpicy, seems to still be selling a pack of makeup brushes, and aromatherapy brand Anjou still has a line of essential oil diffusers, bath bombs, and the like.

Sunvalley said in the statement that Amazon counts for 31 percent of its revenue, which is a lot, but the impact may not stop there. Some of the company’s products have also been fulfilled by Amazon, even if you were to buy them at a website like ravpower.com, for example. When I tried to purchase a RavPower charger yesterday, I received an email saying that my order couldn’t be completed. It’s possible that they just sold out, though.

RavPower didn’t respond to a request for comment, and I spent about 10 minutes on hold with Sunvalley US before being told they’d get back to me sometime in the next two days.

Something that may or may not be relevant: Allen Fung, Sunvalley US’s longtime general manager, who takes credit for building these brands and running the Amazon business over the past ten years, left the company in January 2021, according to his LinkedIn page.

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Google's Firmina subsea cable will connect the US to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay

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Google is making a big push to improve connectivity in South America with its new Firmina subsea cable. It'll run from the US East Coast to Las Toninas, Argentina, with additional connections in Punda del Este, Uruguay and Praia Grande, Brazil.
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Your dog’s desire to communicate with you just might be in the genes

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Gimme five! New University of Arizona study finds puppies are wired to communicate with people. "There's definitely a strong genetic component, and they're definitely doing it from the get-go."

Enlarge / Gimme five! New University of Arizona study finds puppies are wired to communicate with people. "There's definitely a strong genetic component, and they're definitely doing it from the get-go." (credit: Anita Kot/Getty Images)

That special social bond between dogs and humans might be a genetic trait that evolved as dogs became domesticated and diverged from wolves, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology, looking at the cognitive and behavioral social skills of hundreds of adorable puppies.

"People have been interested in dogs' abilities to do these kinds of things for a long time, but there's always been debate about to what extent is this really in the biology of dogs, versus something they learn by palling around with humans," said co-author Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "We found that there's definitely a strong genetic component, and they're definitely doing it from the get-go."

His co-author, Emily Bray, an anthropology postdoc at the university, has spent the last ten years studying how dogs think and solve problems, in conjunction with Canine Companions, a California-based service dog organization catering to people with disabilities. It's known that human children can reason about the physical world, and have sufficient social cognitive skills for cooperative communication by the age of two-and-a-half years. But according to the authors, there is also a growing body of research showing evidence that domesticated dogs share similar social cognitive skills, although possible biological bases for those abilities had not been tested.

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