Archive | October, 2013

Motorola Launches ‘Have It Your Way’ Smartphone Project

31 Oct

Tinkerers and designers, rejoice. Motorola’s new open source Project Ara promises to let you play with the guts of your smartphone to your heart’s content. There are other potential advantages to the modular hardware concept. Since parts can be easily swapped out, fewer phones — which often contain toxic elements such as lead and mercury — may end up in landfills.

Motorola’s making a big splash with the launch of Project Ara, an ambitious, open source hardware initiative that allows consumers to customize their entire phone, down to the specific components and display.

Ara’s modular approach to phone design centers around an endoskeleton, or “endo,” that is the core frame holding the other components together. Consumers will be able to swap modules in and out however they like: an old processor ditched for a snappy new one; a large display excised for a smaller screen with a physical keyboard; an additional battery in place of a camera. They’ll also have the option of toying with the aesthetics through different-colored modules.

“We know there are a number of folks who like to tinker with their devices,” Ramon Lamas, research manager of mobile phones at IDC, told TechNewsWorld. “I think there’s going to be some interest out there, but you’re talking to a very select segment of the market as opposed to the mass market.”

Open Source Hardware Ecosystem

Motorola, which is a subsidiary of Google, thinks of Ara as Android for hardware. It plans to facilitate a thriving third-party ecosystem with developers and reduce time to market while ramping up the pace of innovation. It expects to release an alpha version of a Module Developer’s Kit this winter.

It’s not yet clear whether developers will flock to Ara — Motorola hasn’t hinted at much direct incentive beyond the suggestion of prizes or, perhaps more enticingly, the opportunity for a hardware developer to make a name for itself on a new platform.

“Based on my initial impressions, I think there’s going to be enough people with enough expertise to pull their resources together and create the pieces of the puzzle,” telecommunications analyst Jeff Kagan told TechNewsWorld. “Whether it’s going to be successful or not is the question.”

Motorola has teamed up with Dave Hakkens, designer of the Phonebloks concept. His vision was for a modular, open source phone that consumers could customize however they liked, which dovetailed neatly with Motorola’s vision for Ara, which it had been working on for more than a year.

Community Building

Motorola is cultivating the community Hakkens built after Phonebloks caught waves of press attention last month. It garnered more than 950,000 supporters after appearing on crowd-promoting site Thunderclap, and it will remain an independent organization. A successful open source project, Motorola has noted, requires both a robust platform and a thriving community.

There’s an environmental-awareness aspect to the project as well. Part of Hakkens’ impetus in creating his project was the fact that mobile phones — which often contain toxic elements such as lead and mercury — end up in landfills. Phonebloks and Ara aim to reduce waste and create an ecosystem of more sustainable hardware.

At this stage, it is not yet clear if or how consumers will adopt the concept. The enthusiasm and support for the Phonebloks concept certainly suggests there’s a market for simple phone hardware customization, yet the time, effort, and cost investment required in shaping an Ara device to personal preferences may prove too cumbersome for some customers.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to get a phone. It’s very easy to walk into AT&T and Verizon and walk out with a phone less than an hour later,” IDC’s Lamas said. “You’ve got to find those people who put that emphasis on design, who put that emphasis on customizability, and are willing to pay a little bit more for that capability.”

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Big Bird, Elmo to encourage kids to eat produce

30 Oct

FILE – This Sept. 18, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama speaking in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. A trip down the grocery store produce aisle could soon feel like a stroll down Sesame Street. Under an agreement being announced Wednesday at the White House, the nonprofit organization behind the popular children’s educational program will allow the produce industry to use Elmo, Big Bird and Sesame Street’s other furry characters to help market fruits and vegetables to kids. The first lady is leading a nationwide campaign to reduce childhood obesity in the U.S. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

FILE – This Sept. 18, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama speaking in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. A trip down the grocery store produce aisle could soon feel like a stroll down Sesame Street. Under an agreement being announced Wednesday at the White House, the nonprofit organization behind the popular children’s educational program will allow the produce industry to use Elmo, Big Bird and Sesame Street’s other furry characters to help market fruits and vegetables to kids. The first lady is leading a nationwide campaign to reduce childhood obesity in the U.S. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

(AP) — A trip down the grocery store produce aisle could soon feel like a stroll down “Sesame Street.”

Under an agreement being announced Wednesday by Michelle Obama, the nonprofit organization behind the popular children’s educational program will allow the produce industry to use Elmo, Big Bird and Sesame Street’s other furry characters free of charge to help market fruits and veggies to kids.

The goal is to boost consumption of fruits and vegetables among children who often turn up their noses at them.

Sesame Workshop is waiving its licensing fee for two years under an arrangement with the Produce Marketing Association and the Partnership for a Healthier America, a nonprofit organization that supports the first lady’s nationwide “Let’s Move” campaign to reduce childhood obesity in the U.S.

Starting as early as next spring, eggplant could be brought to you by Elmo, Big Bird could be pushing the beets and the Cookie Monster could become the Celery Monster. The produce association will develop guidelines for how members should use the characters.

Shoppers and, any children who accompany them, can expect to see their favorite Sesame Street characters on bagged, boxed and individual pieces of produce.

“Just imagine what will happen when we take our kids to the grocery store, and they see Elmo and Rosita and the other Sesame Street Muppets they love up and down the produce aisle,” Mrs. Obama was to say. “Imagine what it will be like to have our kids begging us to buy them fruits and vegetables instead of cookies, candy and chips.”

The collaboration between Sesame Workshop and the produce association will show kids that “fruits and vegetables don’t just make us feel good, they taste good, too,” she said.

Sam Kass, the executive director of “Let’s Move,” applauded Sesame Workshop for agreeing to waive its licensing fee, which is a major source of income.

“For them to step in and do this is a really big thing,” said Kass, who also is an assistant White House chef.

Sherrie Westin, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sesame Workshop, said it was too early to say how much revenue would be lost. Westin said waiving the licensing fee is not normal practice, but that the deal gives the company another outlet to push the healthier-eating messages that appear on its program.

“It would be a shame not to use them to that end,” she said of the Sesame Street characters.

Larry Soler, president and chief executive of the partnership, said kids younger than 5 don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, and that it gets worse as children get older. He said the agreement hopefully will “drive excitement” and interest in fruits and vegetables that might not otherwise be there.

The announcement will be the first since a White House summit on food marketing to children that Mrs. Obama convened last month, where she urged a broad range of companies to do more to promote healthier foods to youngsters.

Sesame Street characters Elmo and Rosita were joining her for the announcement. Afterward, the first lady was taking them to her produce garden on the South Lawn for the annual fall harvest. They were to be helped by children who attend schools in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.


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Twitter puts photos “front and center” on mobile

30 Oct

Twitter timelines are pretty basic and heavy on the text. That changes now.

Twitter’s update for iOS emphasizes images.

The microblogging network updated its mobile site and iOS and Android apps on Tuesday so photos and videos are in your face—or at least in your timeline. Before the update, Twitter’s apps buried photos and videos behind a link in your stream, so you had to click through to play a Vine or see an image. (Though Instagram photos will probably still be buried.)

It’s a natural progression—Twitter was one of the few remaining major social networks not to emphasize visuals in its main stream, though the app’s Discover tab featured photos up front. It’s not exactly the major redesign that reports indicate is coming down the pipeline, but it is a glimpse of the company’s more visual next phase. If you hate the new look, don’t fret: You can turn off image previews in your app settings.

Twitter also tweaked your timeline so you can reply, retweet, or favorite a tweet within the stream, instead of clicking through to a tweet.

These small steps that indicate Twitter cares more about making the mobile experience a better one for users—and maybe those users will give up on third-party Twitter clients and return home to the nest.

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Historical Software Archive lets you use vintage software in your browser

29 Oct

The Internet Archive’s new Historical Software Archive brings old software to your browser through the magic of JSMESS emulation.

The Internet Archive has protected and preserved old software for a while now; archivist Jason Scott claimed back in April that the organization possessed the largest historical software collection in the world.

[ Find out the latest craziness in the world of technology: Read InfoWorld’s Notes from the Field blog or newsletter by our man on the street, Robert X. Cringely. ]

Software is so transient, though. It’s sometimes hard to get a program from 2003 to run on a modern machine, let alone a program from 1983. For most people it wouldn’t be worth the trouble to, as the Internet Archive puts it, “track down the hardware and media to run [old software], or download and install emulators and acquire/install cartridge or floppy images as you boot up the separate emulator program, outside of the browser.”

An easier way
The Historical Software Archive, announced Friday, changes that. There’s no need to fuss with stand-alone emulators. Instead, the Internet Archive runs MESS (short for Multi Emulator Super System) with Javascript in Chrome, Firefox, Safari — any modern browser.

“Turning computer history into a one-click experience bridges the gap between understanding these older programs and making them available in a universal fashion,” says the Internet Archive’s announcement. “Acquisition, for a library, is not enough — accessibility is where knowledge and lives change for the better.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time someone has emulated old software in a browser. Look around the Internet, and you’ll find plenty of sites that allow you to play Gameboy and SNES games.

The difference, presumably, is twofold. One is that the Historical Software Archive is for all types of software — not just games. Go ahead and check out Apple Presents the IIc, a series of instructional guides that introduced users to their new computer. Then make a spreadsheet in VisiCalc, the 1979 Apple II program that pioneered the computer spreadsheet.

The second difference is legality. The Internet Archive is a reputable organization with a clean website and a name you can trust. That site where you found all those Nintendo ROMs? Yeah, not so much.

The unfortunate problem with legality, however, is it limits your scope. Hopefully more developers will open up their software for emulation through the archive, as it has the potential to make preservation more than an academic exercise. The full list is only 28 programs for now, but expect that number to grow soon.

For now you can always play E.T., the Atari game that reputedly caused the video game industry to crash and burn in 1983 — and you can understand why E.T. caused the video game industry to crash. Spoiler: it’s abysmal.

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3-D printing adds new dimension to business innovation

28 Oct

3-D printing may have an image problem. It’s sometimes seen as a hobbyist pursuit — a fun way to build knickknacks from your living room desktop — but a growing number of companies are giving serious thought to the technology to help get new ideas off the ground.

That’s literally off the ground in aircraft maker Boeing’s case. Thirty thousand feet in the air, some planes made by Boeing are outfitted with air duct components, wiring covers and other small, general parts that have been made via 3-D printing, or, as the process is known in industrial applications, additive manufacturing. The company also uses additive manufacturing with metal to produce prototype parts for form, fit and function tests.

Whether it’s the living room or a corporate factory, the underlying principle of 3-D printing — additive manufacturing — is the same. It’s different from traditional manufacturing techniques such as subtractive or formative manufacturing, which mainly rely on removing material through molding, drilling or grinding. Additive manufacturing instead starts from scratch and binds layers of material sequentially in extremely thin sheets, into a shape designed with 3-D modeling software.

Boeing has been conducting research and development in the area of additive manufacturing since 1997, but the company wants to scale up its processes in the years ahead so it can use the technology to build larger, structural components that can be widely incorporated into military and commercial aircraft.

For these larger titanium structures that constitute the backbone of aircraft, “they generally fall outside of the capacity of additive manufacturing in its current state because they’re larger than the equipment that can make them,” said David Dietrich, lead engineer for additive manufacturing in metals at Boeing.

“That’s our goal through aggressive new machine designs — to scale to larger applications,” he said.

Boeing’s use of 3-D printing may seem unconventional because of the growing attention on the technology’s consumer applications for things like toys, figurines and sculptures. But it’s not.

In industry, “we don’t like to refer to it as ‘3-D printing’ because the term additive manufacturing has been around longer and is more accepted,” Dietrich said.

For consumers, some of the more prominent 3-D printer makers include MakerBot, MakieLab and RepRap; industrial-grade makers include 3D Systems, which also makes lower-cost models, Stratasys, ExOne and EOS.

The cost of a 3-D printer varies widely. 3D Systems’ Cube, which is designed for home users and hobbyists, starts at around US$1,300. But machines built for industrial-grade manufacturing in industries like aerospace, automotive and medical, such as those made by ExOne, can fetch prices as high as $1 million.

The average selling price for an industrial-grade 3-D printer is about $75,000, according to market research compiled by Terry Wohlers, an analyst who studies trends in 3-D printing. Most consumer printers go for between $1,500 and $3,000, he said.

3-D printing or additive manufacturing offers several advantages over traditional subtractive processes. The biggest benefit, some businesses say, is that the technology allows for speedier, one-off production of products in-house.

At Boeing, the team handling additive manufacturing in plastics has cut down its processing time dramatically. While it might take up to a year to make some small parts using conventional tools, 3-D printing can lessen the processing time to a week, said Michael Hayes, lead engineer for additive manufacturing in plastics at the company.

The company can also more easily tweak its products using the technology, he said. “You can fail early,” Hayes said. “You can make the first part very quickly, make changes, and get to a high-quality part faster.”

NASA is another organization that is using 3-D printers to experiment. The space agency has been looking at the technology for years, but over the past six months, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been using the technology more frequently to test new concepts for parts that may soon find their way into spacecraft.

Located in Pasadena, California, the lab has a dozen 3-D printers including consumer models made by companies such as MakerBot, Stratasys and 3D Systems.

Previously, 3-D printers were too expensive, but the revolution now is their affordability, said Tom Soderstrom, chief technology officer at the lab. JPL uses the printers as a brainstorming tool as part of what Soderstrom calls their “IT petting zoo.”

So far, the program’s results have been good. This past summer, mechanical engineers used the printers to create concepts for simple items like table trays. But an actual stand for a webcam was produced too, to be used for conference calls. And engineers realized, using the 3-D printers, they could incorporate the same swivel mechanism that was used for the stand into their design for a new spacecraft part for deploying parachutes.

“That was the ‘aha’ moment,” Soderstrom said, that the printers could be used to conceive and print parts for actual spacecraft. The swivel part, which has been designed but not manufactured yet, would provide wiggle room to the parachute to reduce the torque or rotational impact when it deploys.

Another advantage of having a 3-D printer in-house is that it can give a company an easier way to fine-tune designs for new products, Soderstrom said. “It can take you 20 times to get an idea right,” he said.

Soderstrom hopes that eventually entire spacecraft could be printed using the technology. The spacecraft would be unmanned, and small, perhaps a flat panel the size of an art book. “Not all spacecraft need to look like the Voyager,” Soderstrom said.

For consumer-level 3-D printers, the technology is still developing. Depending on the machine, the printed objects are not always polished, and the software to make the designs can be buggy and difficult to learn, Soderstrom said. Software for generating designs for 3-D printing can be supplied by the printer vendor, take the form of computer-aided design programs such as Autodesk, or come from large engineering companies like Siemens.

Still, Soderstrom recommends that CIOs make the investment in 3-D printing and purchase or otherwise obtain several machines on loan. They don’t have to be the most expensive models, he said, but companies should try to identify which business units might see the most benefit from the machines. Companies should try to find somebody who can act as the “IT concierge” — a person with knowledge of the technology who can advise the company how best to use it.

“Producing a high-fidelity part on some of the cheaper 3-D printers can be hard,” Soderstrom said. “This concierge could help with that.” Certain skills this person may need could include knowing how to work with multiple different materials within a single object, he said.

Companies don’t have to be as large as Boeing or NASA to get some use out of 3-D printers. The technology is also an option for small-business owners and entrepreneurs looking to make customized designs for prototypes and then print them in small-scale runs.

One company making strategic use of 3-D printing is shipping and logistics giant UPS. The company, which also makes its services available to smaller customers via storefront operations, has responded to the growing interest in the technology with a program designed to help small businesses and startups that may not have the funds to purchase their own 3-D printer.

A poll of small-business owners conducted by UPS showed high interest in trying out the technology, particularly among those wanting to create prototypes, artistic renderings or promotional materials. So, in July the company announced the start of a program that UPS said makes it the first nationwide retailer to test 3-D printing services in-store.

Staples claims to be the first retailer to stock 3-D printers for consumers, but UPS says its program makes it the first to offer 3-D printing services like computer-aided design consultations in addition to the printing itself.

Currently, there are six independently owned UPS store locations offering Stratasys’ uPrint SE Plus printer, an industrial-grade machine. A store in San Diego was the first to get it, followed by locations in Washington, D.C.; Chicago; New York; and outside Dallas. In September, the printer was installed at a location in Menlo Park, California, just off Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley, a street known for its concentration of venture capital companies backing tech startups.

The UPS Store will gather feedback from store owners and customers over the next 12 months and then will decide whether to add printers in additional stores if the test is successful.

So far at the San Diego store, costs to the customer have ranged from $10, for lifelike knuckles printed by a medical device developer, to $500 for a prototype printed by a prosthetics company. The biggest factor in determining price is the complexity of the design.

The customer brings in a digital file in the STL format to the store. The store then checks to make sure the file is print-ready by running it through a software program. If it is, the customer gets a quote for the printing and labor costs.

Sometimes the digital file needs to be reworked or created from scratch. In such cases, the customer can work with a contracted 3-D printing designer to iron out the design. Depending on how this meeting goes, it can be a several-step process before a file is ready for printing, said Daniel Remba, the UPS Store’s small-business technology leader, who leads the company’s 3-D printing project.

So far at the San Diego store, there have been several different types of customers coming in to use the printer, said store owner Burke Jones. They have ranged from small startups to engineers from larger companies, government contractors and other people who just have an interesting idea, he said.

One customer wanted a physical 3-D replica of his own head, Jones said. There was also a scuba diver who printed a light filter for an underwater lamp and a mountain biker who printed a mount for a camera.

For early stage companies, Jones estimates that the store has printed roughly a couple dozen product prototypes. In total, the store has done probably as many as 50 printing jobs for various types of customers, he said, producing 200 different parts.

In Menlo Park, the store has completed about 10 jobs with the printer, with at least 25 other inquiries pending.

There are other online companies that offer 3-D printing services. Two sites are Shapeways and Quickparts, which take files uploaded by the customer and then print the object for them. But the UPS Store project is different because it’s more personal, Jones said.

“We get to know the people, and their vision,” he said.

3D Hubs is another company betting that there are people who are interested in 3-D printers but don’t own one. The site operates like an Airbnb for 3-D printers, by helping people find 3-D printers that are owned by other people or businesses nearby.

3-D printing is already a crucial element in some large companies’ manufacturing processes. But for smaller companies, the technology’s biggest obstacle may be a lack of awareness about when it’s right to use it, said Pete Brasiliere, an industry analyst with Gartner.

Though the desktop machines may not be as advanced, their popularity within the “maker” culture could provide that knowledge to the business world. “The hype around the consumer market has made senior management aware,” Brasiliere said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach’s e-mail address is

Zach Miners, IDG News Service , IDG News Service

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service
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These Gargantuan Gates Keep Europe’s Largest Port from Drowning

27 Oct

These Gargantuan Gates Keep Europe's Largest Port from Drowning

Spanning more than 25 miles of shoreline and covering 41 square miles, the Port of Rotterdam is largest shipping berth in all of Europe, the fifth-busiest in the world, and a major interchange for the region’s energy supplies. But keeping the North Sea’s fury in check is no easy feat. So to keep the port open for business, the Netherlands has installed two monumentally mammoth surge barriers. Huge doesn’t even begin to cover it.

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UFC Fight Night 30 Preliminary Card Starts at 12PM ET

26 Oct

Watch 6 live prelims for free on Saturday at 12PM ET/9 AM PT – Al Iaquinta vs Piotr Hallmann, Luke Barnatt vs Andrew Craig, Rosi Sexton vs Jessica Andrade, Andy Ogle vs Cole Miller, Jimy Hettes vs Rob Whiteford, and Brad Scott vs Michael Kuiper.

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