The UK’s Department of Transport has announced that it’s moving to conditionally legalize self-driving cars in which the driver doesn’t have to pay attention to the road or keep their hands on the wheel, in a move that it expects will save lives.
This is a distinction from what’s currently legal – level two driver assistance in which drivers are expected to keep their eyes on the road even while the car is driving itself. The new laws, set to come in by the end of the year, will bring the UK into line with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) policies being enacted across the EU and parts of Asia, enabling hands-off, eyes-off, level-three driving up to speeds of 60 km/h (27 mph), and only on motorways where pedestrians and cyclists aren’t allowed.
Drivers will still need to be ready to take over; when the system requests a driver takeover, you’ll have 10 seconds to get your act together, work out what’s going on around you and take the wheel, or else the vehicle will put its hazard lights on, then slow to a halt.
It’s a conservative step forward, with a speed limit well below what you’d expect on a motorway, and the initial laws won’t allow the car to change lanes by itself. Essentially, in its current form, it’ll be a traffic jam handler. Cars will need to achieve GB type approval for ALKS technology, and there will have to be “no evidence to challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive.”
It’s unclear at this stage what liberties drivers will be able to take once they hand over control. In a report commissioned by the DoT, it was found that 80 percent of drivers would like to use their smartphones while the car was self-driving – a figure that would come as no surprise to anyone that’s looked sideways in traffic lately. But it was also found that highly visually engaging activities like smartphone use had a high impact on both the time it took for drivers to take over the wheel when requested, and the number of times the takeover event caused them to swerve out of their lane.
“Automated driving systems could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next decade,” says SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes, “through their ability to reduce the single largest cause of road accidents – human error. Technologies such as Automated Lane Keeping Systems will pave the way for higher levels of automation in future.”
Source: UK Government
Asus reveals flagship compact Zenfone 8 and cam-twisting Zenfone 8 Flip
Asus might be better known for its laptops, but it has two new smartphones to show off – and they both offer something a little different from the norm. The Zenfone 8 packs flagship specs in a compact package, while the Zenfone 8 Flip sports the same nifty double-duty camera of the Zenfone 7.
The Zenfone 8 looks fairly standard as phones go, but it sports a 5.9-in, 2,400 x 1,800-pixel AMOLED screen, which is one of the smallest on the market at the moment. It beats the 5.4-in display of the iPhone 12 mini, but it’s more compact than most of the competition. Asus says it was aiming for “perfect pocketability”, and if you’ve been bemoaning the lack of choice when it comes to smaller Android phones, this should be a welcome arrival.
Other than the size, the Zenfone 8 is very much a flagship: it’s powered by the Snapdragon 888, the top-tier processor for Android phones this year, and that comes along with up to 16 GB of RAM and up to 256 GB of internal storage. There’s 5G support, and a 4,000-mAh capacity battery packed inside.
The rear camera on the Zenfone 8 is a dual-lens 64-MP + 12-MP snapper with an ultrawide mode but no telephoto zoom, and you get a single-lens 12-MP selfie camera around the front, housed in a punch hole notch. There are a few missing features compared with the very best handsets on the market, however, including wireless charging and waterproofing.
Also making its debut today is the Asus Zenfone 8 Flip, which is likely to attract most of the attention: it features the same flip camera that its Zenfone 7 predecessor had, so the rear camera flips up above the phone to act as a selfie camera when necessary. It’s a neat trick, and it means no need for a notch on the front display.
That display is a 6.67-in, 2,400 x 1,800-pixel AMOLED panel, so it’s substantially bigger than the one on the standard Zenfone 8. On the Flip handset there’s an extra 8-MP camera lens offering 3x optical zoom, which means quite a step up in terms of photo and video capabilities as well.
Rounding out the rest of the specs on the Zenfone 8 Flip, we’ve got a Snapdragon 888 processor, 8 GB of RAM, up to 256 GB of internal storage, and a battery with a 5,000-mAh capacity (which should help with that extra screen size). As on the standard model, you don’t get an IP rating for water protection or wireless charging.
Price-wise, these phones fit in the gap between the mid-range and the really high-end flagships – an increasingly crowded space. The Zenfone 8 costs €599 (about US$725) and up, while the ZenFone 8 Flip will set you back from €799 (about $965). At the moment, Asus says only the compact Zenfone 8 is going to be officially available in the US.
Amazon upgrades its Echo Show 5 and Echo Show 8 smart displays
Having recently upgraded its Echo Show 10 smart display to add a rotating screen, now Amazon has refreshed its smaller Echo Show 8 and Echo Show 5 devices, giving you plenty of choice for your next smart display. A special Kids Edition of the smallest model has also been introduced.
If you’re new to the series, those numbers refer to the screen sizes (diagonally, in inches), and these are the latest devices from a range that Amazon launched in 2017. You get all the Alexa-powered goodness of an Echo smart speaker, with an added screen for viewing photos, videos, calendar events, weather forecasts, sports scores and more.
This 2021 refresh of the 8-inch and 5.5-inch models doesn’t bring with it a host of new features, with the main upgrades reserved for the forward-facing cameras: the Echo Show 8 gets a 13-MP camera while the Echo Show 5 is fitted with a 2-MP camera that apparently has double the pixels of the previous model.
Both displays borrow a feature from the new Amazon Echo Show 10 – the ability to look in on your home while you’re away through the built-in cameras, effectively turning your smart displays into simple security cameras. If all this sounds a little invasive, there are physical privacy shutters in front of the lenses if needed.
The more powerful camera on the Echo Show 8 has another trick: it can digitally pan and zoom around the room (within certain limits) to make sure faces are always in view and centered during video calls, even if multiple people are in the frame. We saw something similar recently from Apple, with the Center Stage feature on the new iPad Pros.
Considering the global events of the past year, it’s no surprise that Amazon is focusing on video calling improvements with the new Echo Show devices – your family and friends should be able to see you in even better resolution with the updated cameras. The Echo Show 8 also gets a faster internal processor and upgraded audio, while the Echo Show 5 is now available in a new Deep Sea Blue color besides the usual black and white.
There’s also the Echo Show 5 Kids Edition, which goes for a more vibrant color scheme, and limits the sort of content that can be viewed and listened to on the device. There’s a special customizable interface that youngsters can make their own, too.
Preorders are open for all these new smart displays now, with shipping scheduled for sometime next month. The Echo Show 8 will set you back US$129.99, the Echo Show 5 costs $84.99, and the Echo Show 5 Kids Edition goes for $94.99, with a free year of the Amazon Kids+ content bundle included (it’s $2.99 a year after that, if you’re a Prime member).
BCI lets paralyzed users quickly type text, by imagining writing it
When someone is paralyzed from the neck down, it goes without saying that they can no longer write words out by hand. They can still think about doing so, though, and those thoughts could allow them to type out messages via a new brain-computer interface (BCI).
Developed by a Stanford University-led team of scientists, the setup incorporates two implanted arrays of electrodes. These monitor the electrical activity of approximately 200 neurons in the brain’s motor cortex, which controls hand movement. Even when a patient can’t move their limbs due to a damaged spinal cord, that region of the brain is still capable of producing the same signals that it did before.
The system was tested on a 65 year-old quadriplegic male volunteer who had previously suffered a spinal cord injury, and who had received the electrode implants. For the study, he was asked to imagine writing all 26 letters of the alphabet in lower case – with a pen and paper – as each one was displayed on a computer screen. Along with the letters, the participant also thought about writing the punctuation symbols > and ~ which represented a space and a period, respectively.
As he did so, a machine learning algorithm on the linked computer established which patterns of neural activity corresponded to which letter or symbol. When the volunteer subsequently thought about writing that character, the computer was thus able to identify it, and responded by displaying it on the screen.
In this way, the man was able to type out complete sentences one letter at a time. Importantly, he was able to do so at a typing speed of about 90 characters per minute, which is approximately the rate at which someone his age could compose a text message on a smartphone. By contrast, on existing BCIs that require paralyzed users to mentally move an onscreen cursor to compose messages, a top speed of only about 40 characters per minute is possible.
The scientists now plan on testing the technology with a volunteer who is not only paralyzed, but has also lost the ability to speak. They are also looking into adding more characters to the system, such as capital letters and numerals. In the meantime, you can see the existing version of the system in use, in the video below.
A paper on the research – which is being led by Stanford’s professors Jaimie Henderson and Krishna Shenoy, and is part of the larger Brown University-affiliated BrainGate consortium – was recently published in the journal Nature.
Brain Computer Interface Turns Mental Handwriting into Text on Screen
Bose launches SoundControl prescription-free hearing aids
Audio gear titan Bose has embarked on its first foray into the hearing aid space, and made quite an entrance with the first direct-to-customer model for adults to be cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“In the United States alone, approximately 48 million people suffer from some degree of hearing loss that interferes with their life,” said the company’s Brian Maguire. “But the cost and complexity of treatment have become major barriers to getting help. The Bose Hear app lets owners set up and customize their SoundControl Hearing Aids from home – in less than an hour – to reconnect with the moments that matter. That’s an amazing advancement the industry has been missing and nothing short of a breakthrough.”
The FDA has given the green light for Bose to supply its hearing aid system direct to adults with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss, meaning that users don’t need to book an appointment at the doctor’s office, take a hearing test, or present a prescription in order to take advantage of the tech. And the company is promising audiologist-quality results, too.
The hardware shapes up as two SoundControl Hearing Aids, each weighing just 3 g (0.1 oz), with the main unit fitted behind a user’s ear and the earpiece plugged into the canal. Each unit is water-resistant and hosts two microphones, a single speaker and a 312 zinc-air battery. Customers are provided with eight batteries in the box, with each lasting up to four days when used for 14 hours per day.
The hearing aids are paired with a smartphone running the Bose Hear iOS/Android app over Bluetooth. This app comes with the company’s CustomTune technology, which allows users to personalize settings in as little as half an hour, with hundreds of options available via two onscreen sliders within the app.
To the left is the World Volume control, which can amplify quieter sounds while tuning out louder ones, and then there’s the Treble/Bass control to the right that can tweak vocal frequencies – bass dialing in richness and depth, and treble used to make what’s heard crisper and brighter.
There’s a Focus feature included too, where users can zero in on conversations close by or opt to broaden the listening zone to take in the world around them. And users can also save presets for quick recall. And a World Volume button can be found on the hearing aid unit itself, so users don’t necessarily need to whip out their smartphones to make quick settings adjustments.
If users find the whole thing too complicated, a free one-on-one video chat can be arranged with a Bose expert to guide them through setup and personalization processes and help them get the best from the SoundControl experience.
The hearing aid system comes with a carry case, open and closed dome eartips in three sizes for a secure, comfortable fit, and benefits from a 90-day risk-free trial. It’s available direct from Bose for US$849.95, starting with Massachusetts, Montana, North and South Carolina, and Texas from May 18, followed by a national rollout.
Product page: SoundControl Hearing Aids
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