Monthly Archives: May 2015

DARPA to develop best practices for 3D printing

Just as steel’s physical properties change depending on how it’s produced, so too do 3D printed materials. However, unlike steel, we don’t yet fully understand how different these newfound techniques affect the resulting printed item. Sometimes a printed item — even if it’s made from something common like aluminum — ends up having a very different microstructure had it been created with traditional, subtractive methods. You can see an example of that below. Heck, even using the same material on different printer models can result items with wildly divergent properties. But DARPA is looking to change that. The DoD’s advanced research agency announced Friday that it is launching an Open Manufacturing program to create comprehensive reference documentation for 3D printing and usher in an era of productive predictability.

“The Open Manufacturing program is fundamentally about capturing and understanding the physics and process parameters of additive and other novel production concepts, so we can rapidly predict with high confidence how the finished part will perform,” said Mick Maher, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, said in a statement. Specifically DARPA will be focusing on a pair of metal additive processes (for nickel and titanium, respectively) as well bonded composite structures. DARPA is teaming with Penn State and the Army Research Lab for the program. These research institutes will act as both test centers for generating the reference materials as well as knowledge repositories once the program has concluded.

“Historically, U.S. military advantages were supplied by breakthroughs in materials and manufacturing,” Maher explained. “More recently, the risks that come along with new manufacturing have caused a lack of confidence that has stifled adoption. Through the Open Manufacturing program, DARPA is empowering the advanced manufacturing community by providing the knowledge, control, and confidence to use new technology.”

(engadget.com)

Pebble Time review: an underdog among smartwatches

For two years, Pebble was the smartwatch company to beat. In 2012, it raised over $10 million on Kickstarter for its simple, monochrome e-paper wristwatch, putting itself and the crowdfunding site on the map. But things move quickly in the technology world. Google has since come out with Android Wear, prompting a slew of smartphone companies to suddenly turn into watchmakers. Not to be outdone, Apple joined the fray as well, positing its own wearable as a timepiece premium enough for high-end boutiques. So when Pebble debuted the Time, its second-generation $199 smartwatch, on Kickstarter three months ago, it was facing much stiffer competition. Surprisingly, that too made crowdfunding history, raising more than $20 million in just over a month. Did 78,471 backers make the right decision? I attempt to find out.

   

PROS

  • Impressive battery life
  • Works on both Android and iOS
  • Always-on color e-paper display
  • Display looks great under direct sunlight
  • Large app library
  • Unique Timeline interface reduces app clutter
  • Voice replies
  • Potential for more features via smartstraps

CONS

  • iOS functionality is limited
  • Voice function doesn’t extend to Google Now or Siri
  • Can only choose one app for activity tracking
  • Pricey for what it offers
SUMMARY

 

Pebble needs to distinguish itself from its Android Wear and Apple rivals in order to stand out, and it does so with the Time. Its color e-paper technology results in an always-on display that looks great under bright sunlight, plus battery life that lasts up to seven days. It also boasts a brand-new Timeline interface that promises to reduce app clutter and make it that much easier to get at the information you really need. A mic adds the ability to offer quick voice replies and memos, although full voice-command capabilities are lacking. Sure, it doesn’t offer the same degree of sophisticated style and high-end features as the competition, but the ability to add more functionality over time with its smart accessory port might prove more useful in the end.

Hardware

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If you’re looking for a stylish fashion-forward smartwatch that can double as a luxury timepiece, look elsewhere. With its square display, polycarbonate shell and wide silicone bands, the Pebble Time is decidedly more geek than chic. Yet, the Time has a charm all its own, with a casual, sporty look that I rather like. Sure, it’ll probably look out of place at a fancy cocktail party, but for a simple everyday watch, I think it’s alright.

Additionally, while most smartwatches tend to be oversized and bulky for my slender wrists, the Time’s 40.5 x 37.5mm case isn’t too big or too small; it fits me just right. It’s a hair thinner than its predecessor at 9.5mm (the original Pebble was 11.5mm thick) and has a slight bend to better hug the curvature of the wrist. The stainless steel border surrounding the display also gives it a touch of class that I really appreciate — it’s certainly better than the original’s all-plastic styling.

The real differentiator between the Time and the original Pebble, however, is the display — it’s now in color. But instead of going with an OLED panel, Pebble opted for a color e-paper display. Yes, this means that the screen isn’t quite as bright and luminous as the Apple Watch and most Android Wear devices. The colors of e-paper are also a lot more muted than what you would see on an OLED display. But e-paper gives the Time a few significant advantages.

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For one thing, the display is on all the time; there’s no need to press a button or flick your wrist to see what time it is. The 2.5D Gorilla Glass display is also very readable even under really bright sunlight, which isn’t what we can say about some of the other smartwatches. If you do want the display to be brighter, there’s an LED backlight that you can turn on momentarily, but there’s unfortunately no backlight timer to make it last longer than a few seconds. The biggest advantage, though, is battery life. While the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices might manage a day or two on a charge, the Time is slated to last up to seven days before running out of juice.

Unfortunately, however, the Time has a very thick bezel, which is made even worse by the aforementioned stainless steel frame. As a result, the 1.25-inch e-paper display looks positively diminutive on the Time’s watch face. Most Pebble apps are made for that screen size, so I understand the rationale for it, but it just seems like a lot of wasted space.

As for the rest of the watch’s controls, they’re pretty similar to the original Pebble — that’s right, there’s no touchscreen interface. Look around and you’ll find a back button on the left, along with up, down and select buttons on the right. The up and down buttons lead to “Past” and “Future” spots in Pebble’s new timeline interface (more on this later), although you can also map them as quick-launch shortcuts to certain applications if you press and hold down on them. The buttons are raised above the surface and are really tactile; I could find them just by feeling around. It doesn’t seem like much, but I really appreciate that I could press a button to dismiss my alarm without even looking at the watch. As a bonus, they also have some nice “give” when pushed.

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Flip the watch around and you’ll notice a couple of metal pins that attach to a proprietary magnetic charging cable. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to use the charging cable from the original Pebble with the Time; you’ll simply have to use the new one. Aside from acting as charging pins, the magnetic dock will also work as a smart accessory port for upcoming “smartstraps” that add additional functionality to the watch. They’re not available just yet, but a few of the proposed ones add GPS, a heart rate monitor and NFC. While I wasn’t able to test these smartstraps, the idea itself is intriguing: Imagine a smartwatch that gets better over time as new smartstraps emerge. This could potentially make the Pebble Time the first-ever futureproof smartwatch.

Also on the rear of the watch are a couple of quick-release triggers so you can easily swap straps, which is a good thing because the Time has a standard 22mm lug that is compatible with a wide variety of third-party straps. Other notable hardware specs include an accelerometer (if you like, you can enable the backlight whenever you lift your wrist), a vibrating motor for alerts, a compass, a microphone for voice commands (more on this later) and an ambient light sensor that adjusts the brightness of the LED backlight depending on your surroundings. The Pebble Time is also water-resistant up to 30 meters. And, of course, it has Bluetooth 4.0 LE for connecting to your phone.

Software

Just like with the original Pebble, you’ll need to pair the watch with a phone in order for it to work. In order to do that, you’ll need to download the Pebble Time app, which is available on both Android and iOS. Once that’s done, simply go through the instructions of pairing your phone to the watch, and then you’re ready to start customizing. The software lets you add watch faces and a variety of apps, just like before. Indeed, the Pebble Time is backward-compatible with nearly 6,500 apps that are already in the Pebble app store.

But the similarities end there. Pebble didn’t just change up its hardware with the Time. Oh no, it actually created a whole new operating system for it as well. Simply called Timeline, Pebble’s new watch interface is based around the concept of, well, time. All your app notifications, reminders, events and news are now laid out in chronological order. Press the up button and you’ll see items like calendar events and sports scores from a couple hours ago. Press it again and you’ll see items from yesterday, like your total step count if you have a pedometer app installed. Inversely, pressing the down button will give you a peek at future events — say, an upcoming appointment or the weather forecast.

The idea behind this timeline metaphor is that you no longer need to launch an app to find out desired info. Simply go into the Pebble Time app on your phone and select the “Timeline pins” toggle to “pin” that particular app. So if you pinned the ESPN app, for example, you would see the scores of last night’s games if you scrolled into the “Past” (you’d need to select your favorite teams so that it knows which games to keep track of). You’d also see the time of tomorrow night’s games if you scrolled into the “Future.”

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But that doesn’t mean you won’t still have access to apps. Selecting the center button from the main watch screen opens up the App Menu, which essentially lists all of the apps that you’ve installed. The default apps include Notifications, Music, Alarms and Watchfaces. Notifications is simply a list of all of your recent phone notifications; Music is a remote control for the music player on your phone; Alarms lets you set a vibrating watch alarm (duh); and Watchfaces is simply a list of different watch faces that you’ve installed and can choose from. You can also access the settings menu from the app tray, which lets you set options like your time zone, choose which app you want to use for activity tracking (more on this later) and enable or disable vibrating alerts. I especially like the ability to set a Do Not Disturb time schedule so that your watch doesn’t go crazy with notifications in the middle of the night.

As far as the number of apps that you can install, well, that depends. According to Pebble, the Time is capable of storing more than 50 apps and watch faces — it depends on how large each app/watch face is. If you install more than the watch can hold, it’ll just offload the apps you don’t use as much. If you do want to call up those old apps, it will simply reload them over Bluetooth when requested. The idea is akin to storing your music on the cloud instead of on your device. That said, I probably wouldn’t install more than a dozen or so; scrolling down the long list of apps in the app tray gets tiresome.

Of course, you can get all kinds of apps in the appstore, from funny watch faces (my favorite is the Nyan Cat one that actually shows an animated, rainbow Pop Tart cat flying through space whenever the watch is activated) to activity trackers. There is one caveat, however: You can only really have one activity-tracking app at a time. This means that if you have three similar apps, you can only assign one of them to be the one that tracks your steps.

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As I alluded to earlier, there are a few big-name apps in the store already. My favorites include ESPN (so that I can keep track of how the San Francisco Giants are doing), an app called Transport that lets me hail an Uber from my wrist and FitCat, which is sort of aTamagotchi game and an activity tracker all-in-one (the more you walk, the happier the cat becomes).

Like other smartwatches, the Time also lets you receive text messages. As for what you can do with those, well, that depends on which OS you use. Due to iOS app restrictions, you can’t really do much with messages aside from dismissing them. If you’re on Android, however, you’re able to reply to a message in a number of ways — you can either choose from a list of canned responses, one of many emojis or decide to respond by voice. If you select voice, you can then simply speak your reply and the watch will translate your voice to text as best it can. I only tested this on a few occasions, but it was pretty accurate most of the time. According to a company rep, Pebble is working hard to enable voice replies (to email at least) and note-taking on iOS as well.

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About those voice commands — they’re really pretty limited to just replies and notes. You won’t be able to use them for Google Now queries or Siri commands. Pebble says that’s intentional, because it doesn’t believe those commands really work all that well. But it seems a bit like an oversight to us that you wouldn’t at least offer it as an option.

A final note about software before I move into the next section: Though it’s not a specific feature, per se, I really enjoy the touches of animations and transitions that the new interface offers. Dismissing a notification reveals a puff of smoke as it disappears; removing a pinned timeline item shows a graphic of a skull before it’s gone; and adding a new watch face prompts an animated star. Each notification also has its own unique animation and art style as it pops up. Instagram has a camera icon; Gmail has an envelope; and so forth. There are probably more that I haven’t noticed yet. It might seem a little cartoony if you’re used to the finesse of Android or Apple’s Watch OS, but it’s these small bits of whimsy that I find endearing.

Performance and battery life

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The Pebble Time is a fairly basic smartwatch — it’s not trying to be a smartphone shoehorned into your wrist. As such, the performance is pretty snappy — a stark contrast to the Apple Watch, for example, which has been criticized for being a bit sluggish. There’s not much noticeable lag when shifting through menus and changing watch faces only takes a second or so. Whenever I altered some settings on the Pebble Time app, I saw those changes reflected almost immediately on the watch.

I only received the Pebble Time a few days ago, and the battery test is, well, it’s still ongoing. After about three days of constant use, it’s currently at 40 percent battery life. And that’s with all my notifications turned on — even email. I get literally hundreds of emails every day, so this is an impressive feat. I suspect that lighter use will make it last longer, but even so, the battery life is pretty impressive.

The competition

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Style-wise and feature-wise, the Pebble Time doesn’t quite compare to most modern smartwatches. It doesn’t have a touchscreen; it doesn’t have NFC support; it doesn’t have a heart rate monitor; and it doesn’t have GPS. Which is why the Pebble Time’s price is problematic — it retails for close to $200. For that same money, you can get a really niceASUS ZenWatch that’s high on style and function. For about $20 less, you can get the star of last year’s Google I/O, the Moto 360, which has seen a number of improvementssince its debut (and who knows, we might see a successor at this year’s I/O). And if you’re an Apple fan, well, you have the option of the Apple Watch, which will set you back a cool $349 just for the entry-level Sport model.

The big trump card that the Pebble Time has, then, is its battery life — most of these other watches last about a couple days at most — that always-on display, its compatibility with both Android and iOS, and its smart-strap potential. The ability to tack on additional hardware features as time goes by is pretty powerful stuff, and could be the ace up Pebble Time’s sleeve. And hey, if you’re looking for a sexier-looking watch instead, that higher-end Pebble Time Steel ($299) is just around the corner.

Wrap-up

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No, the Pebble Time won’t win any fashion contests with its toy-like design and cutesy animations. And no, it won’t win over those who yearn for tons of high-end features in their wearables. But if your idea of a smartwatch is that it should be more of a watch than a smartphone accessory, then the Pebble Time could be it. Its always-on display, long battery life and compatibility with both Android and iOS are attributes that most other smartwatches can’t match. The Timeline interface puts your events and app notifications in easy-to-access, chronological order, reducing the need to launch apps every time you want information. And the ability to swap out modular smartstraps means the Time could have far greater functionality than its rivals over the long term. The Pebble Time certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re tired of the hubbub over Android Wear and Apple Watch and want a decent alternative, then it could be well worth your time.

(engadget.com)

Uber will let drivers track your location, but only if you agree

Uber has rewritten its privacy policy to make it easier to grok and added some very important changes. According to the updated guidelines, the ride-sharing app will soon give drivers the power to track your location if you allow it to, so long as it remains running in the background. This, Uber claims, will allow them to pick you up a lot faster than just dropping a pin to signal where you’re waiting. Drivers will be able to meet you on the way, for instance, or right out the door you used to exit a large building. Also, the app will start asking for permission to access your contact list, so the service can send promotional materials to your friends and family.

This update comes after an external review of Uber’s privacy program, prompted by a series of issues and PR catastrophes involving customer privacy. If you recall, some Uber employees used the “God View” tracker embedded in the app to spy on the whereabouts of a Buzzfeed reporter and a high-profile venture capitalist last year. All its corporate employees (but not its drivers) reportedly had access to God View and could monitor a user’s activities. Let’s not forget the time an exec made a remark about hiring a team todig up personal dirt on journalists that criticize the service, as well.

In addition to the aforementioned changes, the new privacy policy lists what kind of data it collects from customers. It makes clear that Uber keeps a record of your transactions (amount, distance traveled, date and time, et cetera) and gathers info about your device (model, OS version, serial number, UDID, mobile network, preferred language and more). Uber can access any call and SMS details between the driver and yourself, as well as see your device’s IP address, browser, the website you visited before it, so on and so forth.

The new Privacy Statement will take effect on July 15th, so expect to see the app asking you for permission to switch on real-time tracking and to access your address book by then. If you’re not exactly fond of these changes, don’t worry: the company told TechCrunch that the app will work just fine even if you choose not to switch them on.

(engadget.com)

The producer of ‘Splatoon’ on how to make a Nintendo original

 

If you’re a fan of Nintendo, chances are you’re also a fan of Splatoon producer Hisashi Nogami, although you may not know it. Nogami joined the famed Japanese video game giant in 1994 and has been an essential member of EAD, the first-party development studio responsible for some of Nintendo’s most beloved games, ever since. Early in his career, Nogami worked primarily as an artist at Nintendo, designing some of the iconic imagery in games like Yoshi’s Island and Super Mario 64. But it wasn’t until 2001 that he got his big break with Animal Crossing, an N64 title he co-directed with Katsuya Eguchi.

In recent years, Nogami’s work has focused more on the quiet details that surround the Nintendo game experience, as he’s worked on both the Wii U’s menus and its Mii avatars. Splatoon, his first major AAA work since Animal Crossing: City Folk in 2008, hits Wii U this week with a splash of messy color and an online component. In advance of the game’s release, I spoke with Nogami over the phone (via translator) to discuss the makings of Nintendo’s next, breakout IP.

Callie and her sister Marie (get it?) remind you to keep your style fresh in Splatoon. 

In a recent Iwata Asks interview with the Splatoon team at Nintendo EAD, you explained that after finishing your work on the Wii U, you set out to make a game that didn’t fit into any established genre. You wanted to make something that wasn’t a Super Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda. What’s the biggest challenge in making something totally new at Nintendo?

Rather than setting out to make something that didn’t fit into any genre, I would say that we didn’t want to get caught up in the idea of genre. In making the game, we started out by reconsidering our experiences making and playing games as well as our experiences in life. The sort of things we enjoyed doing while growing up. We wanted to make something that captured those past experiences.

“In creating a game like Splatoon, we were basically starting from scratch.”

I think it’s true that, with Nintendo, in an established franchise like the Mario series, there are challenges and new things that need to be done with each new title. I think it’s really true that in creating a game like Splatoon, we were basically starting from scratch and there were many more fundamental ideas and decisions that we needed to set in place before we could get going with the rest of development. That was what I considered to be the largest challenge we faced.

You mentioned that your childhood experiences informed making the game. It’s difficult to take something as simple as a child’s game, that energy of a kid playing pretend or just running around and being crazy, and make that into something everyone of any age can play. How do you recognize an idea that can be translated into an all-ages video game? How do you refine that into something that everybody will enjoy?

We wanted to focus on the types of feelings and emotions we had as kids. What was fun in particular about the games and activities we did as children? We wanted to bring those same feelings into the game. So the process consisted of talking about things we enjoyed doing as kids and the feelings that were associated with those experiences, and then picking out the elements from that type of play that we could then carry over into the game.

It wasn’t so much the gameplay itself, but the emotional content the gameplay brought. When we looked back at our childhood we thought, “Wow, this thing really made me excited!” What from those experiences and what from the gameplay can we break down and bring into a game?

Four players laying down a whole lot of ink. 

Just the design of the Inklings has that spirit. The T-shirts, the hair, the fashion, the guns themselves; everything is playful. They’re very striking characters. The Inklings are also the very first original characters to come out of EAD since Pikminin 2001. What’s the secret to making a new Nintendo character?

We didn’t start [with] wanting to create new characters, but rather a new type of play experience. These new characters you see now followed naturally. I feel that no matter how interesting a character you create, if that character isn’t fitting within the context of the gameplay that you’re creating, it’s just not going to have that much lasting appeal.

We knew that we wanted to have gameplay that featured switching back and forth between two forms that have these very different abilities just like the squid and humanoid forms the Inklings have. Their look is more a product of us granting them those abilities and really cementing those things as part of the game that we wanted to create.

This goes back to the points you mentioned with the hair, and fashion, and weapons that the character has. In designing this game, we also knew it was going to be a game that people would play online. In playing games online, when you have a character representing you — and this applies most specifically to the humanoid form the characters have — we thought that players would grow a greater attachment to those characters being able to customize the way you look when you go to face other people in battle.

“When I think about making games and the enjoyable aspect of games, for me it’s really more about the journey than the destination. The interesting parts of a game are those parts in between.”

Something I love about Splatoon is how loud it is. The colors are loud; the music is loud; and everything is just so big and bombastic. Your work tends to be quiet. The Wii U menu you created is quiet. The Animal Crossing games are very quiet. How did it change your creative process to make a game that’s so noisy?

I’m actually someone who enjoys playing games myself! I play a wide variety of games including over-the-top action games. We started this process of making Splatoon from the point of having two teams with two different colors of ink and you need to capture turf with those colors. Once we knew that that two-color separation was our starting point, we thought, “Well, let’s emphasize this!” and really gave those colors that stand-out nature that you see.

To speak to my past experience in designing games that seemed more quiet, I think this returns to the point that when we design games, we start from: “What is the core gameplay element that we’re wanting to create?” So for games that I’ve been associated with in the past, such as Animal Crossing, this is a game in which the core design was to exist and live in a village and look at a variety of things as you experience life. So to achieve that gameplay, the game looks quieter and has a more subtle look.

Using Splatoon Amiibo with the game unlocks new gear in solo missions. 

Looking at your games like Animal Crossing and the online player-vs.-player modes in Splatoon, it seems that you tend to make games that can’t be finished in the traditional sense. There’s no final level, no boss. What appeals to you about games that are persistent, that you keep going back to, that you play again and again as opposed to something with a beginning, middle and end?

This may be my own personal taste, but when I think about making games and the enjoyable aspect of games, for me it’s really more about the journey than the destination. So the interesting parts of a game for me are those parts in between. The intermediate processes and things that you do on the way.

In speaking about the types of games we make, it depends largely on who’s going to be playing, and then the different things people of different ages bring to the game. For example, younger children may have difficulty finishing a long game or getting to the end, but it doesn’t matter if they are having fun. For example, someone who can’t finish aSuper Mario Bros. will enjoy playing that first level over and over again and getting it just right. But this also holds true for adults. You hear regularly that adults don’t often have time to sink into a game to master it and take it all the way to the end. But if you are able to create something people can enjoy even if they only have a short time, that is a really crucial element to include.

Game players who are in junior high school, though, may have more time on their hands to really focus on taking a game all the way to the end. They want that sense of achievement they get from completing things and ticking off objectives. If we can think about the way to give that type of enjoyable experience to the widest variety of people possible, that’s our aim. I think the way we do that is by making those experiences, no matter what it is you’re doing in the game, so you feel like you’re enjoying yourself and feeling that sense of accomplishment.

So my very last question then is: When are we going to see Animal Crossing on Wii U?

Well, that’s difficult for me to answer at the moment! Yup. That’s pretty much all we can say.

What I will say is that you may have seen an announcement recently about an Animal Crossing product coming out on the 3DS… I can tack that on to the end of my response.

(engadget.com)

Panasonic’s Lumix G7 is a small camera with serious 4K chops

Panasonic has been a huge proponent of 4K-ready cameras, starting with the Lumix GH4and LX100. A few days ago, the Lumix G7 joined that group. The recently introduced Micro Four Thirds camera features a 16-megapixel Digital Live MOS sensor, an ISO range of up to 25,600 and a quad-core CPU for speedy image processing. But here’s the one thing it does best: 4K. More specifically, I’m talking about Panasonic’s 4K Photo feature, which lets you extract high-resolution pictures from 4K, 30 fps videos and save them at an 8-megapixel equivalent.

  

This is particularly useful when you shoot moving subjects, as you’re able to record a 4K video (roughly up to 30 minutes), choose whatever frame you want from it and save that to the camera’s SD card. Is it cheating? Perhaps, but it works perfectly.

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Another aspect that stood out to me was how light the G7 is. To give you an idea, my Canon 70D felt like an oversized monster after using Panasonic’s new shooter. (Yes, I know they’re in different categories.) It’s also made out of plastic, yet doesn’t feel cheaply made — and for a body that costs $800, I wouldn’t expect any less. All in all, though, the Lumix G7 met my expectations for a solid mirrorless camera: It’s compact, fast and takes great, ultra-high-res pictures and video. That’s everything most people could ask from a camera of its kind.

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(engadget.com)

 

 

Intel Compute Stick review: nothing more than a prototype for now

Intel’s new Compute Stick isn’t that hard to grasp: It’s a computer… on a stick! Using one of its Atom processors, Intel managed to cram everything a fully functional PC needs in something the size of a few packs of gum for just $150. All you need to get going is to plug it into a display with an HDMI port, connect it to power and attach your accessories. It heralds a new era of computing, one where you can turn any display into a pseudo-desktop in a few minutes. It could change the way IT workers manage computer labs, kiosks and digital signage forever. And it’s something you should avoid buying at all costs. While the Compute Stick gives us a glimpse at a tantalizing future, it’s basically a beta product. It’s only meant for the brave and geeky — not most consumers.

PROS

  • Inexpensive
  • Works well for light tasks
  • Very portable

CONS

  • Slows down quickly
  • Only one USB port
  • Less useful than inexpensive laptops

SUMMARY

The Compute Stick is proof that Intel can cram all the hardware you need for a PC into a portable stick, but it’s far too limited for most.

Hardware

Intel clearly didn’t spend much time on the Compute Stick’s design. It’s a plastic, rectangular black stick that’s simply boring. Aside from a plain, white Intel logo, the only bit of style its got are vents for some of the tiniest computer fans I’ve ever seen. Beyond that, you’ve got one full-sized USB port for your accessories (a USB hub is pretty much required); a micro-USB port that connects to the AC adapter; a micro SD card slot (for up to 128GB more storage); and a power button with a lone blue power LED. While it’s small, it’s not exactly svelte — it’s about the size of four typical USB sticks joined together. The Compute Stick is purely utilitarian, although its lack of flash probably won’t matter much since it’s mainly going to be stuck behind a TV or monitor. There might be some slight cosmetic changes once it hits retail, but I wouldn’t count on anything drastic.

For the most part, the Compute Stick is a device that proves it’s possible to build a tiny computer in stick form, but it leaves the door open for others to refine that concept. I’d imagine plenty of third-party computer makers would like to take a stab at making a more stylish version, perhaps one that’s thinner and made out of metal instead of plastic. It’s also a market that Google is getting into with its Chromebit, which is basically the Chrome OS version of the Compute Stick.

Aside from the device itself, Intel gives you a few accessories to get started: a short USB cable and AC adapter for power, a handful of plug attachments for the AC adapter and an HDMI extension cord (for when you can’t fit the Compute Stick directly into an HDMI port).

Setup and performance

If you’re paying close attention, you’d realize by now that there’s one major flaw with the Compute Stick’s design: It only has one USB port! Intel assumes you’ll plug in your own USB hub to get your keyboard, mouse and other accessories connected. But if you don’t have one handy, it can really throw a wrench into the entire setup process. Sure, if you’re buying the Compute Stick, you’ve probably got a hub around, but having a single USB port still isn’t very user-friendly.

I was able to get both my wireless keyboard and mouse connected to the Compute Stick with a single USB receiver, luckily enough. I also learned the hard way that you really need to connect the USB power cable to the AC adapter to properly boot the Compute Stick. I spent days trying to get it up and running by plugging it into one of my TV’s USB ports (though, oddly enough, some testers have managed to get it working on their USB ports).

Once you’ve sorted the power and input situation, using the Compute Stick is pretty much exactly the same as every other Windows 8 computer. If you’re connecting it to a monitor on your desk, you probably won’t be too wowed — it simply feels normal. The real magic behind the Compute Stick occurs when you connect it to other displays. I first tested it out on my HDTV, and it was a bit trippy navigating Windows on a 50-inch screen with a keyboard and mouse on my coffee table. (Yes, I know this is normal to you HTPC nerds out there.) The more displays I plugged the Compute Stick into, the more amorphous the very idea of a PC became — and really, that’s exactly what Intel wants.

PCMARK7 3DMARK06 3DMARK11 ATTO (TOP DISK SPEEDS)
Intel Compute Stick (1.3GHz Atom Z3735F, Intel HD Graphics) 2,320 1,544 E266 / P173 77 MB/s (reads); 175 MB/s (writes)
Microsoft Surface 3 (1.6GHz Atom x7-Z8700, Intel HD Graphics) 2,839 3,920 E941 / P552 163 MB/s (reads); 39.2 MB/s (writes)
HP Stream 11 (2.16Ghz Intel Celeron N2840, Intel HD Graphics) 2,607 N/A E374 168 MB/s (reads); 72 MB/s (writes)

Given the Compute Stick’s specs — a 1.3GHz Atom Z3735F (with burst speeds up to 1.8GHz), 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage — I didn’t really expect it to be a strong performer. And, sad to say, my testing pretty much confirmed that. It was fine for light web browsing and basic productivity tasks, but it slowed down quickly once I started piling on browser tabs and opening up multiple applications. I was constantly fighting with memory-hungry Chrome; all it took was one rogue video ad or Flash embed to bring things to a halt. It’s pretty much netbook-level performance — usable, but you have to be very careful about overloading it.

The Compute Stick handled my basic daily workflow — browsing the web, chatting with coworkers and friends on Slack and other IM clients and editing images occasionally — but everything felt too slow for comfort. This isn’t something that you can use as a secondary computer very easily. And you can forget about running games, as the benchmarks above make clear. 3DMark11, a five-year-old 3D benchmark, was pretty much a slideshow on the Compute Stick. It could barely even muster running Hotline Miami, a fairly simple 2D game.

But really, the Compute Stick isn’t truly meant for heavy usage, or for playing games. And that’s partially why I’m not recommending it for now. It’s a proof of concept through and through. And even when Intel and its partners deliver better versions, they’ll still have a very limited purpose. It’s a perfect form factor for computer labs and kiosks, since you can carry dozens of them in your pockets instead of lugging desktops around. But unless future Compute Sticks get a lot cheaper, you’ll probably be better off with a cheap laptop or tablet.

As disappointing as it is for most uses, the Compute Stick might be useful if you’re simply looking for a slim media computer for your living room. It can access network shares easily just like any PC, and it managed to play 1080p MKV files and YouTube streams easily (as long as you don’t have too many other things open). Still, you can probably find small home theater PCs for around $200 that can do a lot more.

Configuration options and the competition

In addition to the $150 Windows 8 Compute Stick is a $110 model with just 8GB of storage and 1GB RAM running Ubuntu Linux. That’s going to be less useful for most people, but the lower price makes it a much more palatable test device for some hardware geeks (though you won’t be installing Windows on 8GB of storage). Intel says it’s not publishing an official retail price for these devices, so there’s a good chance they’ll be available for much less over the next few months.

The Compute Stick has a few competitors like the MeeGoPad T01 and the (seemingly discontinued) FXI Cotton Candy stick, but in terms of hardware from companies you’d actually know, Google’s recently announced Chromebit is its main foe. That device costs only $100 and runs Chrome OS on a Rockchip CPU and 2GB of RAM. If you’re just looking for a simple web-browsing dongle, the Chromebit might just be enough. And since most people don’t expect Chrome OS to do everything a full Windows computer can, the fact that it’s relatively underpowered probably won’t be too noticeable. Google also put a lot more effort into the Chromebit’s design — it’s significantly thinner than Intel’s entry and it also swivels up around the HDMI part so it’s not a huge eyesore sticking out of your TV or monitor.

In this price range I’d also recommend looking at inexpensive Windows laptops like the $200 HP Stream . It can also connect to displays over HDMI, and — gasp! — it’s also a fully functional laptop.

Wrap-up

After testing out the Compute Stick for a few weeks, I was reminded of Intel’s first foray into mobile processors. For years it showed off ugly prototype phones at CES and other tech conventions that nobody in their right mind would buy. They were just meant to prove that Intel could actually make mobile processors. The Compute Stick shows that Intel can build an entirely new form of computing device, but it fails to prove why anyone would want one.

(engadget.com)

 

 

14 ingenious hacks for problems you didn’t know you had

People can be crazy, yo. But where there’s a will, there’s a way that can lead to all sorts of fantastic oddities in the gadget world. Today’s community of hackers, makers and DIY fanatics oftentimes work together to find solutions to problems we didn’t know we had. They develop innovative products (without all that Kickstarter/Indiegogo hoopla) and often provide open-source instructions for anyone with more can-do attitude than cash. In honor of these ambitious gadget hackers, we’ve highlighted a few of the more interesting projects from over the years, ranging from the practical to the party starter.

(engadget.com)

Google announces Ubiquitous Computing Summit

Google will hold a dedicated ubiquitous computing event this year, encouraging developers to make software that runs across phones, tablets, smart homes, and wearables. The Google Ubiquitous Computing Summit will take place this fall in San Francisco, the search company announced today at its annual developer event, and focus on blurring the boundaries between form-factors and locations, making better use of the context the user is in, and – perhaps most appealing to coders – reducing the amount of duplication across platforms.

According to Timothy Jordan, a developer advocate for Google, the goal of the Summit is to figure out best-practices for software and service design.

Speaking during a session on Ubiquitous Computing at Google I/O, Jordan highlighted some successful examples, such as WhatsApp which allows users to pick up conversations whether they’re on their Android phone, their Android Wear smartwatch, or through their Android Auto-compatible head unit in the car.

androidtv01

 

Rather than multiple separate apps, Jordan argued, to suit a wearable, a TV, a phone or tablet, the car, the desktop, and any other interface, the same software should be usable regardless of form-factor. Only the way it’s viewed and interacted with should change.

It’s not a new conversation for the tech world. Microsoft has been pushing the idea of app ubiquity hard over the past months, as it ramps up for the release of Windows 10.

That will run not only on PCs and tablets but on smartphones, while apps written for the OS will eventually also work on Xbox One. The underlying code will be the same, but the interface will adjust depending on things like screen size and input options.

Even HoloLens, Microsoft’s ambitious augmented reality headset, will be compatible with the same universal applications as Windows 10 notebooks.

Interestingly, although Jordan was deeply involved in Google’s Glass project, no mention of the controversial gadget was made during his presentation today. In fact, head-worn wearables were conspicuous by their absence in his gamut of form-factors, though plenty of I/O attendees in the crowd were wearing the voice-controlled computer.

(slashgear.com)

Google I/O 2015 Wrap-Up: Bangs and Whimpers

It’s tough to stand out when you’re still in the shadow of a skydiving co-founder, and Google I/O 2015 ended with many still holding their breath for the big bang. Even with Android M on the agenda, what we got instead was a more rounded view of how Google sees computing evolving, not only in near-saturated markets like the US and Europe, but for the “next billion” whose first taste of the internet will most likely come through an affordable smartphone. It was a lot to fit into even an extended keynote, at times feeling like Google was rushing to name-check projects without giving them the context they perhaps needed. In fact, most of the really cool stuff didn’t even get a spot on the big stage.

We’d expected Android M to be the star of the show, and sure enough it got a fair share of stage time. Developers got a taste of it too, in far-from-final form, though the visible changes are minimal.

Android Pay was another anticipated announcement, taking mobile payment features that had already been available for the most part in Google Wallet and breaking them out in a more user-friendly way.

In fact, making services that already existed to some extent more accessible was a repeated theme: Google Photos’ big driver, the unlimited free image and video storage, will undoubtedly bring new users in, but its media editing tools that automatically make content more interesting had already been offered for the most part in Google+.

What was new was the incredibly clever photo search, which can use landmarks and facial-recognition to make sifting through thousands of pictures easy. It’s a visible part of Google’s machine-learning advances, which also powers the much-improved Google Now on TapAndroid assistant.

nowin

 

Sometimes, it felt like we only had time to graze the surface of each announcement. Weave and Brillo mark Google’s play for the Internet of Things, a common language for web-connected devices to speak and the Android-based OS for them to run. We were left with more questions than answers about them both, however, much as with Google Jump, the YouTube enhancement for virtual reality video.

At least it gave GoPro the opportunity to show off an impressive 16-camera rig at the show, and Cardboard made its second-gen appearance with simpler construction and support for larger phones.

Cardboard v2

 

Nonetheless, several things many had hoped we’d hear about failed to materialize. Google stuck to its under-the-radar guns when it came to the successor to Google Glass, with nary a mention of the wearable project.

There were no new Nexus devices – which had been highly unlikely anyway – and the whispers of Android and Chrome coming together were met with stony silence.

Google ATAP

 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was left to the Google ATAP team to deliver some of that old razzle-dazzle. From just about anyone else, its mantra of “make epic shit” would feel grossly forced; out of the mouth of Regina Dugan, ATAP chief and former DARPA superstar, you honestly believe it.

ATAP tried and failed to squeeze all of its awesomeness into a single 1hr 15 session, opting to push previous headline-grabbers like Project ARA to the barely-mentioned sidelines and focus instead on what was new.

 

So, instead we saw touch-sensitive fabrics in the shape of Project Jacquard, and the first radar sensor for motion-tracking wearables in Project Soli.

ATAP gave us personal data security masquerading as a humble microSD card in Project Vault, and even a way to kill the password by assigning trust based on device usage styles rather than PINs or fingerprints.

Best of all, this doesn’t feel like R&D for its own sake. Google is working with Levi’s on Jacquard clothes, while Soli sensor dev kits are headed out later this year (and it took a mere 10 months to shrink the hardware down to smartwatch scale).

Hundreds of Vault cards are going into trials within Google, with the expectation that where enterprise goes, consumers will eventually follow. Even the authentication system could, ATAP pointed out, be delivered as a software upgrade to hundreds of thousands of Android devices already in the wild.

Google Project Jacquard

 

It’s just the sort of excitement that we usually expect from Google, and probably explains why Photos was met with such interest. Many of the other projects, like Android M and Android Pay, feel like works-in-progress with no clear date when we might get to play with them. Interesting, certainly, but in a more nuanced way than has been the case at past I/O’s.

Next up, of course, is Apple’s WWDC 2015 in a little over a week’s time. There, we’re expecting to hear about iOS 9, the next version of OS X, and of Apple’s play for the smart home with a new version of Apple TV and the launch-proper of HomeKit.

(slashgear.com)

Windows 10 OEM Pricing and Release date spotted on NewEgg

While users of Windows 7 and Windows 8 will be getting free upgrade to Windows 10, many DIY builders will have to buy licenses at retail. Online retailer NewEgg is now taking pre-orders for Windows 10 OEM. Although Microsoft has not officially announce the shipping date of Windows 10 yet, NewEgg has posted a shipping date of August 31st.

As for pricing – Windows 10 Professional OEM goes for $149.99 while Windows 10 Home OEM will cost $109.99. These prices are quite close to Windows 8.1 licenses. There is a chance NewEgg listed these pricing and release dates by accident and while you can successfully proceed to pre-order on the retailer’s site, pricing and release dates could still change.

Windows 10 is deemed to be a growing pain fixes for Windows 8sore points. The capability of switching between tablet and PC mode without much UI alteration made Windows 10 a truly hybrid PC/Tablet OS.

Many entry-level Windows Tablets are only equipped with 32GB of storage – The slimmed down Windows 10 will be a welcome change as it takes 6.6GB less storage space than its predecessor. I for once am looking forward to the final release after experiencing a very positive experience on Windows 10 Technical Preview.

(slashgear.com)

3D printed iconic Shelby Cobra is all electric under the hood

3D printed iconic Shelby Cobra is all electric under the hood

 

We’ve seen some 3D-printed cars evolve from rough, inexpensive designs to dreamy, printed concept cars. In honor of the iconic Shelby Cobra’s 50th anniversary, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory 3D-printed an electric Shelby Cobra. The vehicle’s whole body and chassis, even interior details like the headrests, were 3D-printed from lightweight, reinforced ABS. To give the cobra a modern twist, they gave the car a non-printed, electric engine. The DoE created the car, from design inception to final production, in six weeks.

According to designer Lonnie Love, PhD, “It’s not going to look like a printed vehicle. It’s going to look like a real car.” I’ve got to admit, he is right on that point. Its beautifully slick finish is enviable. One would never guess the body was made using single layer-by-layer printing.

The 3d-printed auto parts weren’t ready directly from the printer, they had to be sanded down and shaped, giving them the smoothness of a retail-manufactured car. The innovators developed a new paints to chemically bond with the printed surface, giving the Cobra its shimmering finish.

The printed Cobra uses an 100-kilowatt engine that can take the car from 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds. The team actually quantified how much energy was spent manufacturing the car, and came to the conclusion that its 3d-printing method is one of the most efficient processes around.

Take a look at this behind the scenes video from the 3D printing of the iconic car.

 

 

(slashgear.com)

2016 Honda HR-V first-drive – The crossover that would be king

2016 Honda HR-V first-drive – The crossover that would be king

Small cars are big money to Honda, and none might demonstrate that so well as the new 2016 Honda HR-V. Launching the brand right into the midst of the flourishing subcompact crossover segment, Honda isn’t playing it safe with its ambitions, targeting 70,000 sales in the first year. With prices kicking off at under $20k, there’s a tricky balancing act involved to achieve the winning mix of styling, performance, equipment, and safety, however. More importantly, does the HR-V do enough to differentiate itself from its own more affordable Fit stablemate, or are you simply paying for a loftier seat?

We’re big fans of the Honda Fit, its perky styling and not only capacious but cleverly-organized interior making it one of our top picks in the compact line-up. Turns out we’re not the only people Honda has convinced, with Fit sales flourishing.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

Given that demand, it’s hardly a surprise that the Fit has gained a chunkier sibling. Honda is hitting all the typical subcompact crossover keywords for its target demographic, even going so far as to describe the car as having “coupe allure with minivan practicality”, but at its core it’s that appealing mixture of elevated driving position, practical space, and more striking styling that has been in demand ever since SUVs first made their way onto town and city streets.

If the Fit is a cutesy urban runabout, then the HR-V is a mini spaceship. It takes more than hiding the rear door handles in the C-pillar to give the impression of a coupe, but even discounting the hyperbole it’s an altogether more dynamic-looking car.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

Angular headlights and a deeply dipping grille give the HR-V’s face some personality, and Honda’s love of sharp cut-lines is in evidence too, both in the hood creases and the sweeping line that runs from the front wheel up to the rear doors. There’s a noticeable taper in the stance, too, which leaves the car looking solid; the built-up arches help there, too.

From the rear, the Honda family resemblance gets a little clearer, and there’s something of the Odyssey minivan about the glass. Oversized lamps and some meaty bumpers give a little visual flourish, but the HR-V is definitely a car that looks more interesting from the front three-quarter angle than the back.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

Happily – and sensibly – Honda hasn’t allowed the whims of the designers to undermine what many HR-V buyers are going to be most interested in: practical internal space. In fact, though the crossover is around 10-inches shorter overall than its CR-V big brother, its 102.8-inch wheelbase is less than half an inch shorter.

It pays dividends once you get inside. The HR-V’s headline stowage feature is the “Magic Seat” Honda debuted on the 2015 Fit, with the rear seats not only folding down but also hinging up so as to allow a tall object to fill from footwell to headliner. This “tall mode” has become one of the hallmarks of Honda’s smaller cars, and it works just as well as you’d expect in the crossover, too.

 

2016 Honda HR-V "Magic Seat"

 

With the 60/40 split rear seats in place, you get up to 24.3 cu. ft. of space, but that grows to as much as 58.8 cu. ft. with the seats folded flat. The front passenger seat can similarly collapse down, allowing for long objects to run the full length of the interior.

Even better, actually adjusting all those seats is straightforward. The trunk opening is broad and tall, while the seats drop down easily. Latching the Magic Seat into place is a simple case of pulling on the cushion and then flipping up the support leg underneath.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

The interior in general is a step-up over the Fit, with altogether more grown-up switchgear and layout than the somewhat plasticky city car. Soft touch plastic is found in most of the places that matter – though you can still reach out and find the harder stuff without much searching – and the sweep of the dashboard is more cohesive than that of the Fit.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

It’s also more functional. The climate controls now get a touch-button panel – it looks suitably futuristic, though you have to look down at it to make sure exactly what it is you’re tapping – and there’s an electronic parking brake as standard. A row of vents run all the way across the passenger-side of the dash, too, for what Honda says is swifter cooling or heating when you first get into the car. Sure enough, it’s straightforward to establish a mini-gale to subdue the person sat alongside you.

 

2016-honda-hr-v-first-drive-sg-6

 

Honda has lifted the center console, integrating a sliding arm-rest for the driver’s elbow, and leaving space for a “Console Pocket” cubby under the gearstick. It’s not just a place to drop your phone, either, with up to two USB ports, an HDMI input, and a 12V power outlet. That’s an unusual degree of connectivity for a car in this segment, but the positioning leaves something to be desired: actually figuring out where to plug in your phone charger behind each of the covered outlets is trickier than it needs to be.

As for infotainment, Honda has a basic AM/FM/CD system for the entry-level LX, but things get more interesting on the EX and EX-L Navi, which have the Honda 7-inch Display Audio and 7-inch Display Audio Navigation systems respectively.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

Just as in the Fit, you can get a mixture of standalone functionality and smartphone connectivity with the Display Audio systems. In the EX, that means AM/FM/CD playback built-in and, if you hook up your iPhone or Android device, streaming Pandora and other Honda apps running on your phone. Thanks to the HDMI input, you can mirror the display of your phone on the dashboard, though to be frank I’d still prefer to see CarPlay and/or Android Auto, neither of which are on offer.

 

2016-honda-hr-v-first-drive-sg-4

 

Still, you can give voice command instructions, and read and respond to text messages received on a connected phone. Step up to the EX-L Navi, and you add satellite navigation, SiriusXM and HD Radio, and Honda’s traffic updates.

While the Fit’s infotainment was ambitious, I found I struggled with the at-times sluggish interface and easily-defeated voice navigation. Things have taken a turn for the better in the HR-V, and while the UI still inexplicably ignores most colors beyond shades of blue, at least it navigates more smoothly on the new crossover.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

The HR-V LX comes with 17-inch alloys as standard, plus a rearview camera, cruise control, Bluetooth, two 12V outlets, power windows and locks, and rear seat vents. Brake Assist and Hill Start Assist are fitted to every car, too, plus electronic stability control and a tire pressure monitoring system.

 

2016-honda-hr-v-first-drive-sg-9

 

EX cars and above add moving guidelines to the rearview camera, to show where the car will end up as you maneuver, together with keyless entry, heated front seats, climate control, and automatic headlamps. They also throw in Honda LaneWatch, which flashes a view of the lane to the right onto the dashboard display whenever you indicate in that direction, or when you hit the button on the end of the stalk. Step up to the EX-L Navi and you get leather-trimmed seats, wheel, and gear shifter, plus an auto-adjusting rearview mirror.

 

2016-honda-hr-v-first-drive-sg-5

 

Engine options are even simpler. In fact, Honda will only offer a single powerplant, at least initially: a 1.8-liter SOHC i-VTEC 4-cylinder, good for 141 HP and 127 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive cars will get a choice of a CVT transmission or a 6-speed manual; the all-wheel drive HR-V will only be offered as a CVT.

It’s a decent engine, though most of the time you hardly hear it running. Honda has put extra sound insulation into the structure, including around the fenders front and rear, and a sound-absorbing underbody cover. The result is a noticeable reduction in road noise.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

Pushed, the 4-cylinder has some poke to it for the city, but it’s never the most sonorous of engines. The 2WD car should manage up to 28/35/31 mpg in the city/highway/combined, while the AWD should dip slightly under those numbers, at 27/32/29 mpg. There’s no sign as yet of a hybrid version, though I imagine Honda will be watching closely to see how much demand there is for that powertrain.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

City cars should be nippy and direct, and happily the HR-V’s steering and suspension do a solid job there. Honda says it took pains to keep the center of gravity low, and there’s certainly little wallow; meanwhile, a special twin-piston system in the suspension can deliver both firmer damping for when the car is being driven more aggressively, and softer dampening for handling potholes and untidy roads. The HR-V probably won’t ever make it offroad, even in AWD form, but the ride stayed smooth even when the surface got rough.

Honda isn’t saying what sort of percentage of HR-V buyers are expected to opt for the 6-speed manual, but I can’t imagine it will be many. It’s a reasonable gearbox but not an outstanding one; shifts are a little long for sporty changes, though they do feel firm and reliable.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

For most drivers, then, the new CVT makes more sense. It offers three different modes of operation, including mimicking seven manual gears with paddles behind the steering wheel, and it matches the HR-V’s point-and-go attitude nicely. After experimenting with the paddle shifters, it seemed easier just to leave the CTV to its own devices, particularly around town, though being able to force the transmission down a few virtual gears with a few swift taps did come in useful on more twisty routes.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

Honda is expecting big things from the HR-V in safety, and though the crossover is yet to go in for its NHTSA and IIHS testing, the prediction is a 5-Star score and Top Safety Pick rating respectively. That includes a “good” rating on the IIHS’ brutal small-overlap frontal collision test, something likely to reassure safety-conscious Honda fans.

They’ll get some toys to help them around the city and in traffic, too. Auto Brake Hold takes a little getting used to, for instance, but soon you start to wonder why all cars don’t automatically hold the car in place after you’ve braked but before you’ve hit the gas again, even if your feet aren’t touching any of the pedals.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

The 2016 HR-V is competitively priced. Things kick off with the LX 2WD six-speeder, at $19,115, with the CVT an $800 step up; the LX AWD CTV is $21,165, the same price as the EX 2WD manual. An AWD EX comes in at $23,215, while the top-spec EX-L Navi is $24,590 and $25,840 for the 2WD or AWD respectively.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

While the subcompact crossover space may be relatively sparsely-populated, Honda does still face some competition. Mazda’s handsome little CX-3 will launch as a 2016 car this summer, with pricing yet to be confirmed; it’s likely to be more powerful courtesy of a 2.0-liter engine, too, though the HR-V’s interior looks to be more flexible.

Meanwhile, Fiat’s new 500X is a striking alternative, though it’s more expensive from $20k and nowhere near as practical inside, with just 18.5 cu.ft. of trunk space or 50.8 with the rear seats down.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

 

In short, I can’t dismiss Honda’s ambitious sales goals as just wishful thinking. The 2016 HR-V certainly ticks all the worthy boxes – interior space, economy, and quiet ride – that typical Honda customers are interested in, but it also does it with a greater-than-usual splash of style and a fair number of toys.

If the Fit has shown us anything, it’s that clever packaging and a few simple choices are in demand. The 2016 Honda HR-V builds on that with fashionable styling alongside the reassurance of a familiar name badge, and it’s hard to imagine it not coming to rule the subcompact crossover segment.

(slashgear.com)

Tesla begins selling used cars at discount prices

Tesla begins selling used cars at discount prices

 

While news on Tesla has been dominated by their new Powerwall home battery system this last week, the company made a small change to its primary business of automobiles. If you find yourself in the market for one of Tesla’s flagship electric cars, you will now find the option to purchase a used model when shopping on their website. This marks the first time the company has given customers the chance to buy a pre-owned Tesla, and prices can be several thousands less than brand-new models, despite the used ones being no more than 2 and half years old.

All of Tesla’s pre-owned Model S’s come with a 4 year/50,000 mile limited warranty. The cheapest one can be found for around $63,000 with just over 13,000 miles on the odometer, making it about $12,000 cheaper than the most affordable new model (not including discounts like tax credits and purchase incentives). While at the upper end is a performance model with nearly 20,000 miles, going for $91,500.

The 2 and a half year age limit on pre-owned means potential buyers could be getting cars from when the Model S was first introduced in 2012. Just don’t count on finding one with all-wheel drive, as that feature was only recently introduced.

While Tesla’s method of direct sales has been ruffling feathersamong car dealership associations in some states, the move to selling used cars will be a strong chance to generate revenue. The steeply discounted prices are likely due to Tesla not having to use auto dealers for used models, meaning there’s no one to share a cut with.

(slashgear.com)

Talking Ford GT and self-driving cars with CEO Mark Fields

Talking Ford GT and self-driving cars with CEO Mark Fields

 

Ford CEO Mark Fields is on a mission, and while aluminum, rubber, and steel might be the most obvious part of that – whether a truck like the F-150 or a legitimate supercar like the GT – the blue oval boss wants to make sure technology gets its dues. I revisited Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California to talk about autonomous vehicles and how they can co-exist with super-niche metal like the GT, why the rule book for selling trucks can be the blueprint for the connected car, and just how Ford is going about being good geek neighbors.

With just a few months under its collective belt, and around 40 on the staff, the R&D outpost is already punching above its weight. “The team has delivered twice the rate of invention disclosures for a team this size in the industry,” Fields said at the start of the day, already responsible for around 30 new technologies and components across wearables, sensors, and more. It’s the team Ford turned to to cook up an Apple Watch version of the MyFord mobile app, turned around in a week, for instance.

 

Ford driving simulator

 

However, it’s not all been secretive research. Ford didn’t just want a fancy Palo Alto ZIP code; it wanted to tap into the Silicon Valley brain pool just as Tesla and others have. That’s meant weekly open technical seminars and several hackathons run on-site, in the hope of demonstrating to potential new hires that a job with big auto needn’t mean a big yawn.

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“All these things are important for us as a company because we don’t want to be viewed as a transactional company,” Fields argued. “We don’t want to be viewed as flying in from Dearborn and saying ‘we want one of those’ and then flying back. We want to be part of the community.”

With the center just a few months old, and Fields himself only a year or so behind the Chief Exec’s desk – albeit a 26 year veteran of the company – it’s hardly been a slow start for either.

 

Ford GT

 

Chris Davies: I was here at the launch back when you opened in January and it’s interesting to see how you’ve developed. I wanted to talk about the pipeline, how you saw that working. You talked about wearable technology today, that sort of thing. We haven’t seen a huge amount of actual products; the other car companies have been pushing ahed in that, or talking about it more. i wondered what was behind that reticence to talk about components but not the actual end product?

Mark Fields: Part of it is because we’re on this journey, of innovation and using innovation to drive very compelling experiences for customers. Clearly we didn’t just start innovating here in Palo Alto, we do it in a lot of different places. But, part of being here allows us to be “jacked into” this community of not only innovation that’s happening, and products that are happening today, but things that are gonna happen one, two, three, four years out.

That’s why we talked about some of the things we’re doing by being part of the community and access, not only to some of the products that people are thinking about, but the ideas, and then kicking around those ideas and asking ourselves, maybe working with other industries that are out here, saying “Hey, can we make 1+1 equal 2, and come up with something we haven’t thought about before, and might be applicable to one industry that [also] applies to the car business?”

So part of it is we’re talking about just getting started on this journey here in Palo Alto, and I think we’re off to a good start.

 

Lincoln Continental Concept

 

Do you have any specific examples maybe of a time you’ve talked to people in other industries and how that’s shaped some of your thinking, or where you see the roadmap going?

A great example is the Lincoln Continental Concept, which we introduced in New York. It has what we call a 30-way seat – we haven’t named it yet, but I’m sure we’ll come up with some spiffy name! – and it actually came out of work and study that our team did on the seating business and the furniture business.

And that’s just one example where looking at an other industry inspires you, either from a design or a functionality standpoint to say “what does that mean for us?”

Another thing you’re working on here is autonomous, self-driving technology. It almost seems like the car industry is splitting in two different ways: on the one hand you havesomething like the GT, which is designed for the performance enthusiast driver, and on the other hand you have the increasingly autonomous technology where you don’t really need to care about driving. You get in, you press a button. Is that where you see the end-point being, where you have these two completely separate streams? Or is there still room in the middle somewhere, and how long for?

I think there’s always going to be a spectrum. I would summarize it, as company, we’re focusing on “fun to drive, and fun to ride.” There’s gonna be a spectrum of folks who love to own a vehicle, drive a vehicle, enjoy the driving dynamics of that fun-to-drive [car], all that kind of stuff.

 

Ford autonomous vehicle

 

And then there’s gonna be, on the other end of the spectrum, a population of folks that want access versus ownership. In that case, that may mean an autonomous vehicle, where they don’t really care about the driving dynamics, they want to get from point A to point B.

So we don’t view driving and autonomy as mutually-exclusive. We want to make sure that we continue to push forward on both those things. And I think there’s going to be a spectrum in the middle of folks that want semi-autonomous features. There’ll be folks, we talk about the connected car, which we’re very excited about. There’re going to be some customers who say “You know what? I want a disconnected car!” But that’s okay, we want to be there for them with that power of choice.

Who are these people?

Which ones?

Disconnected car people

Well, y’know…

I don’t trust those people at all

[Laughs]

 

Ford F-150

 

I drove the F-150 recently…

What did you think?

I obviously grew up in a place where trucks are far less common. I’ve lived in apartments that are smaller than that truck! But I was incredibly impressed. One of the interesting things around it has been the idea that you’d have to communicate the message around aluminum to dyed-in-the-wool truck enthusiasts. That maybe gives Ford an interesting perspective on the conversation you’re going to have to have about some of these next-generation technologies. Communicating with people, well, this is why you might want a car that can drive itself, or drive itself sometimes, or this is why you might want a connected car experience. How do you see that conversation taking place? How do you not just give people the technology, but give it to them in such a way that makes them realize they want it?

It’s a very interesting question, and our learnings are making sure that, y’know, technology should be an enabler to make customers’ lives easier, or better, or however you want to term it. So we have to speak from a customer-in standpoint, as opposed to a company-out.

In the case of the F-150, we didn’t go out and say “oh, the F-150 is all-aluminum, so that’s why you should buy it.” The way we approached it, and the research we did, was that customers told us they want better capability – they want more payload, they want more towing capability – and oh, by the way, we want really good fuel economy also.

 

Ford GT

 

So our team went off and said, okay, what are the enablers that allow that. And that’s when they came back and said, hmm, we can go the traditional route and not deliver that, or we can go the route where we have a high-strength steel frame and an all-aluminum body, and deliver that.

So as we went to market, our marketing approach was more capability, more than any other truck, and you get great fuel-economy. That’s resonating with people. As we fast forward, with autonomous vehicles down the road, think about some of the use-cases. Let’s say an elderly person, or an elderly couple… an autonomous vehicle may not be “oh, look, it’s an autonomous vehicle,” it may mean freedom to them. Because they can’t drive any more, or their kids had to take away their keys because they weren’t safe drivers any more.

Think about the dual-income couple who have to get their kids to soccer practice. Dad has to work late, mom is busy with one of the other kids. That’s convenience.

So those are the ways we’re thinking through these things.

 

How far out do you think all this is?

 

Autonomous vehicles? First off, I think the term “autonomous vehicles” is being thrown about pretty liberally these days, because there’s different levels of autonomous vehicles, and I think the day of just… Where are you based out of?

 

San Francisco

 

Okay, let’s say you’re in your garage in San Francisco, you hit the button, you go to sleep and you wake up at grandma’s house in Haywood. I think those days are still a long way away. But, I think there will be some level of full autonomy in terms of defined… y’know, on the highway if you can change lanes and things of that nature, or in predefined geo-fenced areas that have been mapped, 3D mapped. Maybe in some urban areas, I think that’s absolutely capable in that time-frame.

 

Ford autonomous driving research

 

What’s the one technology that you would like to see available in the car next… become the next “big thing”? What are you pushing for?

 

I think, overall, when you’re looking at the technology holistically under this Ford Smart Mobility banner – and it runs the gamut of connected cars to mobility to autonomous vehicles to how we’re using technology to not only enhance and revolutionize the retail experience but the ownership experience – so in each one of those things we’re thinking really hard, and again viewing it from a consumer standpoint, an experience standpoint, how do we deliver that?

 

Ford GT

 

Because I want our marketers, and our engineers, to be thinking about experiences, and then how does technology enable those experiences? So that’s what we’re thinking… we’re thinking about experiences, and not necessarily “here’s the next great technology?”

 

So what’s the experience that you personally are looking for?

 

I think when you look at the purchase and the ownership experience, how do we make that as seamless and enjoyable for the customer as possible? And the sky’s the limit with how you think about that.

2016 Chevrolet Volt now has a price tag

2016 Chevrolet Volt now has a price tag

It seems that Chevrolet is going full steam ahead with the 2016 model of its hybrid electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt. Now it has a price tag in the US, and an even sweeter deal for those in California. But while it’s mentioned to be cheaper than the current Volt model, it is only slightly so. The 2016 Volt carries an MSRP of $33,995. And in $825 for destination fees, which doesn’t include tax, title, license and dealer fees, and you’re just $1,200 shy of the current Volt titleholder.

The new Volt was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show early this year. For this model, GM concentrated on what it said was what Volt owners clamored for. Based on their studies, drivers rarely resorted to the range extender, its term for the gas-powered engine of the Volt. And so they upped the mileage of the electric engine, now boasting a good 50 miles, a 12 mile increase from its predecessor. Chevrolet claims that this means 90 percent of trips will be powered solely by electricity.

After a full federal tax of $7,500, the highest amount the range can go, the 2016 Chevrolet Volt will have a price tag of of $26,495. But that’s only the starting price, as configuration options will, of course, add up. California, touted to be the Volt’s largest market, enjoys the singular privilege of slightly lower prices. The 2016 Volt there will start at $24,995 instead.

Chevrolet seems quite confident about the prospective success of its 2016 Volt, this despite the looming suspension of the production of the current Volt. Partly to give way to the production of the 2016 model, the production is also being halted due to the slow sales of the Volts. Chevy claims, however, that the Volt has the highest number of trade-ins for any Chevy nameplate, with 70 percent of Volt owners trading in a non-GM vehicle.

The 2016 Volt might be facing a bit of competition, if not confusion, from its own ranks. Quite strangely, GM decided to name its full electric vehicle as the Chevrolet Bolt EV. GM actually thinks this potentially confusing naming might be to the Bolt’s advantage. That is, of course, if the 2016 Chevy Volt becomes the success that it expects. Details on the Bolt EV are thin at this point, without a production date yet but already with an expected MSRP of around $30,000.

(slashgear.com)

2016 Bugatti Chiron to have 288 MPH top speed

2016 Bugatti Chiron to have 288 MPH top speed

The successor to the Bugatti Veyron, the 2016 Bugatti Chiron, isn’t yet upon us, but some of its specifications are, at least if sources that have cropped up are correct. By all accounts, the Chiron will be a beast to be reckoned with, bringing with it a top speed of 288 MPH and the sleek, mean design enthusiasts expect. An actual official image of the car hasn’t yet surfaced, but a detailed artist’s impression has, and joining it are several of the details we hope pan out as true.

The details and artist’s rendition, shown above, come from CAR Magazine, which managed to get some details on the upcoming hypercar. The full exclusive is revealed in the magazine this month, but there are some pertinent details that stick out: a top speed of 288 MPH, 1,500bhp maximum horsepower, and a 0 to 62 MPH time of exactly 2 seconds.

The new car will prove faster and more tech-heavy than the Veyron, and will reportedly feature 16 cylinders in a W formation, with sources claiming that Bugatti also considered using a 14 cylinder engine instead. The result are stats that blow many big-name cars out of the water

That’s the extent of the details available at this point, though no doubt we’ll be hearing more about it in the future. Until then, be sure to check out the SlashGear Cars Hub for more automotive news and first drives!

(slashgear.com)

Toyota’s fuel-cell Mirai hits (very few) US dealers in October

Toyota’s fuel-cell Mirai hits (very few) US dealers in October

 

Toyota’s fuel-cell drive will begin in earnest in the US come October, with the hydrogen-powered Mirai appearing in a small handful of dealerships. The 2016 Mirai, Toyota’s first consumer-ready fuel-cell car which emits only pure water rather than CO2, is only expected to account for a tiny fraction of the models the Japanese company sells in the US, not least because of the comparatively tiny launch footprint that will initially see it limited to patches of California with the necessary infrastructure.

 

That infrastructure consists both of dealerships capable of explaining, servicing, and maintaining a fuel-cell powered model, and of course the hydrogen refueling points themselves.

Initially, only eight dealerships will have Mirai. In Northern California, that will include San Francisco Toyota, Roseville Toyota, Stevens Creek Toyota, and Toyota of Sunnyvale.

In Southern California, meanwhile, it will consist of Longo Toyota, Toyota Santa Monica, Toyota of Orange, and Tustin Toyota.

As for places to fill up the pressurized hydrogen tank – which Toyota tested by firing high-caliber weapons at – while Mirai will lack the expansive Supercharger network Tesla drivers get to enjoy, there’ll be a number of locations and, initially, the gas is expected to be free.

 

2016 Toyota Mirai

 

Research suggests the actual number of stations is surprisingly conservative, though whether that will satisfy range anxiety remains to be seen.

Toyota’s goals are accordingly humble, then, targeting just 3,000 cars in the US in 2017. Priced at $57,500 – though likely to drop considerably after federal and state credits – it’s not a cheap way to drive in an environmentally-friendly way, but it’s worth noting that in Japan, where sales began some months ago, Toyota blasted through its yearly target in the first month.

Production of the car, meanwhile, is limited, and Toyota says it will be taking pre-reservations this summer.

There’s more on the 2016 Mirai in our full first-drive.

(slashgear.com)

Bentley Bentayga render hints at still large but chrome-laden SUV

Bentley Bentayga render hints at still large but chrome-laden SUV

Nearly 3 years since the EXP 9 F SUV concept was first shown to the public, Bentley is getting close to making it a reality. Now known as the Bentayga, the company’s first ever SUV, is slated to be shown off at the Frankfurt auto show in September. But while waiting for four months for that to happen, Car and Driver has produced renders on what it thinks the Bentley Bentayga might look and feel like. And it seems it might not be to everyone’s tastes.

The design concept car in 2012 was already divisive, causing to Bentley to back down a bit and emphasize that what was shown was nothing more than a proof of concept. Indeed, the final product might be just as chrome covered than any SUV.

Deep inside, the Bentayga is, of course, built to be rough and powerful. So powerful that Bentley claims it will be the fastest SUV next year when it goes to market. Amusingly, that is putting it at odds with other members of its larger Volkswagen Group family, like Porsche, which is claiming that title for its own Cayenne Turbo S. Bentley is aiming for a 200 mph record for the most powerful configuration it will offer.

That said, Bentley’s and Porsche’s Cayenne will actually run on the same MLB platform from VW, along with the Audi Q7 and the Lamborghini Urus, should the latter make it to production status. The Bentayga is expected to be offered in V-8 and V-12 configurations with the V-8 probably offering the promised plug-in hybrid feature that is estimated to last for 30 miles on electricity alone.

 

bentley-bentayga-2
bentley-bentayga-3

 

The Bentley Bentayga should be ready by early 2016, with an estimated price tag of around $215,000. Bentley fans might not be too enthused about an SUV, but the car maker believes that it could increase its sales by as much as 50 percent by appealing to an audience that requires more off-road performance than most luxury nameplates can offer.

(slashgear.com)

Peugeot Vision Gran Turismo rolls into the game with 875hp

Peugeot Vision Gran Turismo rolls into the game with 875hp

For fans of driving games and simulators, one of the best out there is Gran Turismo 6 on the PlayStation. The coolest part about the latest version of the game is that there are plenty of cars for you to drive around the virtual track and new cars are always being made.

GT6’s Kazunori Yamauchi issued a challenge last year to automakers to make wild concept cars that can be raced on the virtual tracks of the game and a bunch of automakers stepped up. The latest car from a real automaker to roll into the virtual showroom of the game comes from Peugeot and it is called the Peugeot Vision GT.

The car’s specifications include a mid-mounted 3.2L turbo V6 that produces 875hp. The transmission is a 6-speed manual and the car puts power to all four wheels. Interestingly those are the same specs that Sebastien Loeb boasted on his 208 T16 Pike Peak racecar that could reach 62mph from a standstill in 1.8 seconds.

The Peugeot Vision GT promises to do the same feat in 1.73 seconds. The best part about the virtual racer is that it has been suggested by factory race driver Gregory Gilvert that this virtual car might show up at a real racetrack. Check out the video below to see more about the virtual racer.

 

(slashgear.com)

Google threat may drive Mercedes, BMW and Audi to buy HERE

Google threat may drive Mercedes, BMW and Audi to buy HERE

Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi have forged a rare partnership and are joining forces to acquire Nokia’s HERE mapping business, insiders suggest, hoping to cut reliance on Google. Rumors that HERE – which includes 3D mapping of road data, along with high-resolution scanning suitable for the next generation of self-driving cars – was up for sale broke in April, with potential suitors tipped to include both Amazon and Alibaba. Now, there are some big names in automotive said to be weighing in with a bid.

According to the WSJ’s sources, the three huge German automakers are temporarily putting aside their differences and teaming up against a potentially far more disruptive foe: Google.

The concern, it’s said, is that the search giant will not only continue its work on autonomous cars but take a similar approach to Android.

 

HERE-Automated-Driving-Framework

 

“The greatest threat to the automobile industry would be if Google developed an operating system for self-driving cars and made it available free to everyone,” a close source explained to the newspaper.

Owning a majority share in HERE that would value the company at more than $2bn – leaving Baidu and an unknown investor also involved, together with Nokia, holding minority stakes – would give BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz the keys to the so-called HD Map technology and data that the Nokia division has been focusing on for several years.

Although it’s applications like the recently released HERE for iPhone that users are most familiar with, in fact a large portion of Nokia’s mapping efforts go into creating, maintaining, and licensing out the behind-the-scenes data.

The company – which acquired Navteq in 2007, eventually integrating it into the HERE division a few years later – already provides maps to a number of companies, including around 80-percent of the factory-fit navigation systems in a wide range of cars.

Autonomous vehicles require more than just street names, however, with a practically exponential degree greater of information demanded if they’re to safely navigate. As we found when we took a tour last year of the HERE HD Map project, that data goes down to the level of individual lane markings and curb heights.

 

It wouldn’t be the first cozying between a big German automaker and Nokia, either. Mercedes used HERE mapping to successfully pilot one of its prototype self-driving cars across the country back in 2013

Baidu would be permitted to use the HERE technology in China but not elsewhere in the world, sources say of the supposed terms of the deal.

Google has always been relatively coy on its commercialization expectations for its self-driving vehicle development, though various rumors at different times have suggested both partnerships with traditional auto firms and independent production of cars are under consideration.

(slashgear.com)

HERE’s why everyone wants Nokia’s maps business

HERE’s why everyone wants Nokia’s maps business

The war over knowing exactly where we are is going to be expensive. Interest in Nokia’s HERE division from big German car makers, Uber, and others is tipped to have driven the potential purchase price to $3bn or even higher, as old automotive faces off against new tech darlings. Turns out, the value of accurate maps is about more than just knowing which junction to take to get to the Ikea parking lot.

Mutterings of a potential sale began in April, with Nokia said to be willing to split off the mapping business as it focused instead on networks and its Alcatel-Lucent acquisition.

The chatter was quickly followed by possible suitors, first Alibaba and Amazon, and then a consortium led by Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW. Not typically bedfellows, the group was said to have been motivated by a fear of seeing HERE fall into Google’s hands, giving the search giant a huge advantage.

 

Mercedes self-driving car

 

Their interest is hardly altruistic, however. According to one source, the concern was that Google would borrow the Android release model for a new operating system for autonomous cars, offering it freely to anybody who wanted to make vehicles capable of driving themselves.

The group – along with Baidu and others – are said to have been willing to pay as much as $2bn for HERE.

Most recently, startup success Uber is believed to have raised the stakes even higher, the cash-rich on-demand car service said to be willing to pay as much as $3 billion to bring HERE’s tech in-house.

At stake is more than just maps. Although HERE already provides navigation data to around 80-percent of the factory-fit mapping-capable dashboards in the auto industry, not to mention licensing it to standalone PND manufacturers and more, most recently it has been working on what it refers to as HD Maps.

 

HERE-Automated-Driving-Framework

 

On the one hand, these super-high-resolution maps are perfect for self-driving vehicles. HERE dispatches a squad of camera carswhich use lasers and more to accurately map intersections, individual lanes, and even curb heights, furnishing autonomous systems with all the information they might need to safely navigate cities.

However, that’s not where HERE’s research ends. The company has also been building out its predictive systems, ranging from ways for smart cities to intelligently route and monitor road use, through to HERE Traffic which monitors thousands of roadways in real-time.

 

HERE Traffic

 

One project, for instance, is capable of predicting the “next big venue” simply by observing patterns of traffic flow around points on the map. That could be used to shape points-of-interest recommendations on “what’s hot” lists and such.

Meanwhile Nokia has also been acquiring startups working in that space, such as context-savvy navigation firm Medio anddestination-predicting specialist Desto last year.

Together, HERE has been piecing together not only an understanding of the roads and routes people take, but the reasons they might be taking them. It’s that all-important context that makes the company important.

 

HERE Traffic

Exactly what each firm said to be involved in negotiations would do with the various parts of HERE’s business is likely to vary. For Uber, it might be a way to better predict car demand and, by offering to open the platform to taxi companies, potentially even bridge the rift between the old cab firms and its on-demand alternative.

For Mercedes, Audi, and BMW, meanwhile, HERE might be a gateway to cars that not only can drive themselves, but figure out where you want to go before you even know it yourself. Question is, are the generally conservative companies willing to pay what HERE might end up commanding?

“We do care who ends up owning this business,” one auto industry source told Reuters, with an amusing degree of what’s presumably understatement.

Still, it’s worth remembering that back when Nokia acquired Navteq, the mapping company that went on to be a key part in HERE, it spent $8.1bn to do so.

(slashgear.com)

2016 Dodge Viper ACR is a street-racer legend reborn

2016 Dodge Viper ACR is a street-racer legend reborn

The regular Dodge Viper may be no tame snake, but that isn’t stopping them from cooking up an even fiercer model, the Viper ACR. Taking the regular 645 HP model – with its 8.4-liter engine mustering a rampant 600 lb-ft of torque – the 2016 Dodge Viper American Club Racer turns it into the “ultimate street-legal race car” the company claims, with a carbon-fiber rich ACR Extreme Aero Package delivering almost of a ton of downforce, not to mention looking decidedly striking.

Deeming the engine to be more than sufficient – though the ACR does get special exhaust tips – Dodge turned instead to suspension, aerodynamics, and brakes to make the Viper ACR more potent.

 

2016 Dodge Viper ACR

 

On the body kit side, there’s a dual-element carbon fiber rear wing that can be adjusted, along with a carbon fiber diffuser at the back, a unique SRT hood with removable louvers at the front, a detachable extension for the front splitter, and finally additional dive planes.

Altogether, Dodge says, they’re good for three times the downforce that the Viper TA (Time Attack) 2.0 package can deliver. The company’s engineers measured almost a ton of extra force, in fact, at the Viper ACR’s 177 mph top speed.

 

2016 Dodge Viper ACR

 

Happily there are brakes with enough power to haul the car to a stop too, with Dodge pairing a new Brembo Carbon Ceramic Matrix system with the Kumho Ecsta V720 high-performance tires. Detachable front brake ducts can be used during race days to boost cooling, and there’s special tuning for the ABS and five-mode Electronic Stability Control (Full-on, Sport, Track, Rain, Full-off).

 

2016 Dodge Viper ACR

 

That works with the new aluminum bodied, double-adjustable coil-over Bilstein race shocks, each having more than three inches of ride adjustment. Each of the four shocks supports independent 10-way rebound and compression, and altogether they’re more than twice as stiff as the Viper TA.

Inside, there’s a grippier Alcantara wheel, and matching trim across the various dashboard surfaces. Silver or red stitching is available, including across the seats which are also selected for their extra-grip.

 

2016 Dodge Viper ACR

 

Pricing for the 2016 Viper ACR hasn’t been confirmed, but orders for the hand-built American racer will kick off in Q3 2015.

(slashgear.com)

 

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Audi’s TT clubsport turbo is a 600HP monster

Audi’s TT clubsport turbo is a 600HP monster

Audi sure knows how to tease us, and a 600 HP version of the new Audi TT with an outlandishly entertaining rear wing and a clever electric biturbo fits the bill. The Audi TT clubsport turbo concept debuts an electrically powered compressor, fitted alongside the more conventional turbocharger, with the e-turbo taking charge of low-end boost without the traditional turbo-lag. That’s enough for a 3.6 second 0-60 mph time, Audi claims.

Normally, turbochargers are powered by exhaust gases from the engine itself. That can deliver a potent thrust once the powertrain has spooled up to a certain point, but below that threshold there’s a wait for the peak power to kick in.

 

Audi TT clubsport turbo concept

 

The TT clubsport turbo’s electric compressor fills that wait. Powered by a dedicated 48‑volt electrical sub-system using a li-ion battery in the trunk, it spins up almost instantaneously when the driver stamps on the gas pedal.

As a result, Audi has been able to tune the regular turbocharger more to the engine speeds it’s most effective at, and so altogether you get almost 480 lb-ft of torque across 3,000 to 7,000 rpm.

 

Audi TT clubsport turbo concept

 

The 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine is paired with a six speed manual transmission,
and pushed out through an all-wheel-drive system to the distinctive gloss/matte 20-inch wheels. Not only is there electronic stabilization, but the TT can automatically adjust ride height to get around city curbs and speed bumps.

That’s important, since Audi hasn’t stinted on the body kit. 5.5-inches wider than the regular TT it’s based on, the clubsport turbo gets flared and vented fenders, a vast manually adjustable rear wing, and new air inlets and a front splitter, all made of carbon-fiber reinforced polymer (CFRF) to keep curb weight down.

 

Audi TT clubsport turbo concept

 

Inside, there’s a titanium roll cage, bucket seats with four-point harnesses, and lashings of Alcantara and CFRF. Audi has carried over the virtual cockpit system with its high-resolution driver display from the production car.

Technically, the TT clubsport turbo is a concept, designed to show off the potential of the e-turbo. Practically, though, Audi says it’s “technology close to production readiness,” which does leave us hopeful that there could be a niche for a very extreme TT in the line-up sometime soon.

(slashgear.com)

EO Smart Connecting Car 2 can drive sideways and shrink

EO Smart Connecting Car 2 can drive sideways and shrink

Urban life comes with unique demands, and appropriate transportation is a big one. There’s increasingly less space on the road and finding parking on a Friday night can be near impossible in some cities. Smaller cars are the solution for many, being able to squeeze into smaller spaces and allowing for more cars to be in any given area at a time. Presently the Smart Car and similar vehicles are the only option, but some companies have envisioned better things — cars able to morph when need, able to maneuver in ways that present vehicles can’t. The EO Smart Connecting Car 2 is one such vehicle.

The EO Smart Connecting Car 2 is the brainchild of DFKI Robotics Innovation Center, and it is designated as a “micro car”. The micro car has been in different stages of development for the last three or so years, and it first made its public debut back in 2012 (though that was an earlier iteration of the car).

 

 

The car drives like a regular vehicle, but has the sideways-driving capabilities of NASA’s recently detailed vehicle, with each wheel having its own motor. With this functionality, the car can be more easily parked in tight spots in urban environments, such as a tiny space on the side of the road.

The car in its current iteration is able to go to speeds up to 40mph with a range of up to 44 miles on a charge. There are two seats, and if needed the car can shrink itself up to 1.5 meters. The latter functionality comes by way of partially folding, with the rear axle sliding toward the front while the interior moves upward. The team plans to introduced a street legal version in the future.

 

 

(slashgear.com)

Tesla aiming for $35k Model 3 unveiling in March 2016

Tesla aiming for $35k Model 3 unveiling in March 2016

While Tesla and its all-electric Model S seem to be getting lots of attention within the auto industry these days, the cars are not easily affordable, starting around $75,000 before rebates and tax credits. That’s about double the $33,500 that Kelley Blue Book says is the average price of a new car in the U.S. But that doesn’t mean Tesla and founder Elon Musk aren’t planning to go head-to-head price-wise with Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys, in fact the company stated earlier this week that they are targeting a March 2016 unveiling for their next vehicle, the Model 3.

We haven’t been given any hints of what the Model 3 will look like, so at this point the most significant thing about the new Tesla vehicle is that the company is planning a price in the $35,000 area, while still remaining all-electric. Just don’t expect to be able to purchase one shortly after that March 2016 debut, as a recent SEC filing revealed manufacturing limits will prevent the Model 3 from making the 2017 model year.

But how appealing will a $35,000 Tesla be when electric rivals like the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV can be bought for even less? Well, that’s a bit like comparing a Toyota Camry with a Mercedes C-class. Tesla is a premium brand, and you can bet that more expensive price will come with features like over-the-air updates to the car’s high-tech operating system, a charging network far more advanced than rivals, and a buying/ownership experiences thatcompletely cuts out a dealership.

The downside to a much more affordable Tesla is it will surely be missing the truly amazing, flagship features from its Model S sibling, like an autonomous driving mode and a range of 270 miles. Still, Musk has previously stated they are trying to achieve a 200-mile range with the Model 3, far more than what you’d get with the Leaf or other electric rivals. We’ll just have to wait until March of next year to find out for sure, assuming Tesla doesn’t stick to its reputation of delayed release dates.

(slashgear.com)

AeroMobil 3.0 flying car prototype forced to parachute to the ground

AeroMobil 3.0 flying car prototype forced to parachute to the ground

One dream for many people for decades has been to own a car that can fly to get you out of the long traffic jams that we all hate. A company called AeroMobil has been working on just that and rolled out the first prototype of its AeroMobil 3.0 flying car back in October of 2014. Late last week during a test flight of that prototype aircraft, something went wrong.

During a test flight in Slovakia the flying car entered into a tailspin that the pilot was unable to recover from. Had the flying car not been equipped with an advanced ballistic parachute system, the pilot and inventor of the AeroMobil 3.0 aircraft, Stefan Klein, may have died.

The advanced ballistic recovery parachute is a system that attaches a large parachute to an entire airplane and when activated gently lowers both the pilot and the aircraft to the ground. These systems have been in use in general aviation for a very long time.

Klein suffered only minor injuries in the accident and so far, there has been no word on exactly what caused the aircraft to enter into a tailspin that proved unrecoverable. The parachute system was activated at an altitude of about 900 feet according to a statement from AeroMobil. AeroMobil says that the data for the flight will be analyzed and used to improve the prototype.

(slashgear.com)

Fiat CEO says Apple to continue its ‘intervention in the car’

Fiat CEO says Apple to continue its ‘intervention in the car’

A new report from Reuters on Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne’s recent trip to California has provided evidence that Apple has serious plans for technologies related to automobiles. It seems the purpose of Marchionne’s visit was to experience the intersection of Silicon Valley technology and the car industry. The FCA CEO was treated to a ride in Google’s self-driving car and met with Tesla founder Elon Musk, as well as sitting down and talking to Apple’s Tim Cook.

Marchionne offered up few details about his meetings with the tech companies, but did reveal one interesting tidbit about Apple. It wasn’t made clear exactly what their intentions are when it comes to the auto market, but he did say that Cook is “interested in Apple’s intervention in the car, that’s his role.”

Apple’s only direct involvement with cars at this point is the CarPlayinfotainment system, which connects the iPhone’s communication, entertainment, and navigation services to a vehicle’s built-in system. Cook stated earlier this year that all of the world’s major car manufacturers have pledged support for CarPlay. With FCA’s large number of subsidiary brands, including Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and Ferrari, the manufacturer makes up over 20% of Apple’s CarPlay partners.

It seems most likely at this point that Apple’s plans focus on advancing CarPlay’s integration with a large number of vehicles, but the company could have much more ambitious plans. Earlier this year, several unmarked vans belonging to Apple loaded with cameras and advanced sensors kicked off rumors about an all-electric “Apple Car.” It is believed the cars are part of a secret project going by the codename “Titan,” but little else has been revealed.

(slashgear.com)

Driverless cars in California rack up four accidents since September

Driverless cars in California rack up four accidents since September

One goal of driverless cars is make the roads safer by eliminating human error as a cause for accidents. Unfortunately, for the supporters of driverless cars cruising the streets of California, four of the 50 driverless cars licensed to operate on the streets of the state have been in accidents since September. California started issuing permits for testing self-driving cars in September of 2014.

The driverless cars weren’t at fault on two of the four accidents that have occurred, in those incidents the driver, who is required to be behind the wheel at all times, was at fault in the accidents. However, in the other two accidents, the cars were in control at the time of the accident.

Three of the driverless car accidents involved Lexus SUVs that had been outfitted by Google with sensors and other gear needed to create autonomous cars. Some of the tech inside these Google cars is made by other suppliers. One of those suppliers, Delphi Automotive, owned the fourth driverless vehicle that was involved in one of the accidents.

Details on the circumstances of the accidents are unknown at this time thanks to a California law that says collision reports are confidential. One person claiming to be familiar with the reports says that in all four accidents speeds were under 10mph.

(slashgear.com)

2016 Mustang gets hood vent turn signals and new option packs

2016 Mustang gets hood vent turn signals and new option packs

The 2015 year model marked an all-new Mustang that received independent rear suspension and a complete redesign inside and out. You might expect that with the car only having been on the market for a single year model, the 2016 model would be identical.Ford has announced that it is making some changes to the 2016 version of the Mustang in the form of new option packs.

One of the new features that the 2016 model will get is a throwback to the 1967 Mustang, and that feature is turn signals in the hood vents. Hood vent turn signals will be standard for all 2016 Mustangs. Ford has also announced the return of the California Special package for the Mustang GT Premium.

The GT/CS will return to the streets this fall and will include 19-inch ebony painted machined aluminum wheels, ebony leather/Miko suede seat inserts with red contrast stitching and an embossed logo. GT/CS cars will also get special door panel inserts, carpet with red stitching, aluminum dash finish with a California Special badge, hood stripes, and a black pedestal spoiler. The strut tower brace also gets a California Special Logo and buyers get dark tail lamp accents, black painted mirrors, and hood vents.

Rounding out the package is a performance front splitter and a unique grille. Buyers of the Mustang GT convertible will also be able to buy the Performance Package if they opt or a manual transmission car. Other new options include new stripe packages, a black roof option, and a black accent package. The latter gives black wheels, black rear spoiler, dark taillight trim, and black emblems around the car.

(slashgear.com)

Chevrolet in full tease mode ahead of 2016 Camaro reveal

Chevrolet in full tease mode ahead of 2016 Camaro reveal

There’s a whole lot riding on the 2016 Camaro, and Chevrolet is leaving little to chance, kicking off a teaser campaign for the upcoming coupe ahead of its big reveal on Saturday. Unofficially dubbed “Camaro Six”, as it’s the sixth-generation of car to wear the now-iconic nameplate, the 2016 car promises to be more aerodynamically slippery than ever before. In fact, Chevrolet has turned to some extreme aero refinements in order to keep the car planted on the asphalt.

That’s required 350 hours in the wind tunnel, Chevrolet says, with the engineers sometimes testing the new Camaro’s airflow around the clock.

 

2016 Chevrolet Camaro

 

While they’re not ready to show us the full results of that testing, there are nonetheless some tidbits suitable for public consumption.

Instead of a front air dam, the 2016 car has a belly pan stretching from the grille to the center of the car. Working in tandem with spats ahead of the front wheels, lift has been cut by 30-percent, while drag has also been trimmed.

The lower grille, meanwhile, has been tilted from a 20-degree angle as per the original design to 13-degrees instead.

 

2016 Chevrolet Camaro

 

That might seem like an inconsequential change, but according to Chevy results in an increase in engine-cooling airflow by 1-percent.

In fact, tiny changes have been implemented all around, all in the name of making the Camaro grippier and thus faster – on the track and on the road – without having to resort to expensive and complicated active aero hardware. It should pay dividends if Chevrolet sees sense and green-lights a sixth-gen Camaro Z/28, too.