Day: September 11, 2019

Alexa Auto adds offline capabilities that work in tunnels and parking garages

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Amazon

Having an Alexa-enabled car is convenient if you want to make a call, check the weather or order groceries while you drive. But that convenience quickly disintegrates when you drive through tunnels, parking garages or remote areas and lose signal. Amazon wants to fix that. Today, it released version 2.0 of its Alexa Auto SDK, which now comes with a bunch of offline functions.

With the new SDK, users can ask Alexa to do things like turn on the AC, tune the radio or make a call — even when connectivity is intermittent or nonexistent. That’s thanks to a “Local Voice Control” extension that allows automakers to add a scaled-down version of Alexa’s cloud-based service to a vehicle’s infotainment system. It acts as a backup and is meant to increase the resiliency of Alexa’s cloud-based capabilities.

Amazon introduced the Alexa Auto SDK last year, making the tools accessible to all developers via GitHub. Audi, BMW and Toyota have all added Alexa capabilities to

Uber intends to treat drivers as contractors despite California bill

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JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images

California is likely on the cusp of making gig companies treat independent contractors as employees, but Uber doesn’t think the potential law will change its business. In an update, legal chief Tony West maintained that Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) would let the ridesharing company continue to classify drivers as contractors if and when it becomes law. Uber wouldn’t be exempt from AB5, the company claimed — rather, it expected to pass the test that determined drivers’ status, keeping them as contractors.

For a company to treat its workers as contractors, it has to prove that they’re free from the control of the hiring entity, perform work outside the typical range of that entity’s business and regularly engage in an “independently established” business similar to the work they perform. It’s that second requirement that’s the most contentious. West maintained that drivers’ work is outside of Uber’s usual business, which is to allegedly serve as a “technology platform” for digital marketplaces — it’s

The Pixel 4 XL is the worst-kept secret of 2019

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AnhEm TV

In what’s become a seemingly annual tradition for Google’s Pixel smartphones, the Pixel 4 has appeared in its first pre-release hands-on. And not one just but two. The first comes courtesy of Vietnamese YouTube channel AnhEm TV, and it corroborates a lot of the information that’s been floating about the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL in recent months.

To start, the video offers a detailed look at the white Pixel 4 XL. If you were a fan of the ‘panda’ model Pixel 2 XL, you’ll be happy to learn Google is bringing back the color variant. This version of the Pixel 4 XL features a white back contrasted by matte black front panel and sides. It even includes the accented orange power button of its predecessor. In a separate video posted by Rabbit TV, we also get a look at the black model and a third coral-colored variant.

Moving back to the AnhEm TV clip, we also get a

Inside Volkswagen's all-electric ID.3

While the exterior of a car is important (no one wants to drive an ugly car), the interior is where you spend most of your time. While the powertrain (electric) and design (a smoother Golf) of the ID.3 are what people initially think of when they see the car, that brand new infotainment system and layout are worth a look. So I went and looked at it.

Gallery: Volkswagen ID.3 infotainment system | 16 Photos 16 +12

It’s important to note (once again) that the ID.3 is not coming to the United States (boo). But, the layout we’re seeing in this car will more than likely end up in the ID.4. Or at least a very close variant of it will show up stateside. Either way, Volkswagen has produced a clean, easy to use and more importantly, easy to understand system that should offer up what people care about the most while driving.

When you sit down in the ID.3, its infotainment system exudes clean design. Most of that has to

Intel is hosting an Olympics-sanctioned esports tournament in 2020

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Ivan Abreu via Getty Images

Gamers will go for the gold next summer in Tokyo, but not in the Olympics. Intel has announced it will host an esports tournament in Tokyo during the lead-up to the 2020 Olympics. Players will compete in Street Fighter V and Rocket League for a price of $250,000 for each game. Online qualifiers will kick-off early next year, with a live qualifier event in Poland in June.

The final championship tournament — the Intel World Open — will be held on June 22-24th in Tokyo. Similar to the Olympics, players will play on teams that represent their nations. A total of 12 nations will be pre-selected to form national teams. Beginning in March, national qualifiers will determine the best four players of each nation, who will be selected to form that team. During the live qualifier in Poland, twenty teams will compete in a group stage qualifier to determine the strongest team in the Americas, EEMEA (Eastern Europe, the

These days, Apple is content to follow trends, not set them

Watching this week’s Apple event gave me a sense of deja vu. With every new feature the iPhone maker announced, I felt like shouting something along the lines of, “The Simpsons already did it!” It felt as if everything Apple was doing was a riff on something another company had tried and tested before. Sure, Apple might be taking what others did and (possibly) making it better (maybe). But the company is also letting others take risks and innovate in its place, particularly when it comes to photography — an area where it used to shine.

Take, for example, the new Deep Fusion computational photography feature that Phil Schiller described as “way cool.” It’s an image-processing system that taps the A13 Bionic’s neural engine and uses machine learning. According to Apple, this system will “do pixel-by-pixel processing of photos, optimizing for texture, details and noise in every part of the photo.” Deep Fusion will be available later this fall, so we don’t know yet how effective it might be. Apple did show sample shots of its Night Mode tool that will improve low-light photography, and those results looked impressive.

Things get weird when a neural net is trained on text adventure games

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Aaron Souppouris / Engadget

We’ve seen people turn neural networks to almost everything from drafting pickup lines to a new Harry Potter chapter, but it turns out classic text adventure games may be one of the best fits for AI yet. This latest glimpse into what artificial intelligence can do was created by a neuroscience student named Nathan. Nathan trained GPT-2, a neural net designed to create predictive text, on classic PC text adventure games. Inspired by the Mind Game in Ender’s Game, his goal was to create a game that would react to the player. Since he uploaded the resulting game to a Google Colab notebook, people like research scientist Janelle Shane have had fun seeing what a text adventure created by an AI looks like.

The answer is pretty weird. Shane aptly describes the experience as “dreamlike,” with the setting frequently, and seemingly without reason, changing from scene to scene. For example, in one playthrough, the AI opened the game with a

Amazon reportedly lists some toys before confirming they're safe

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Julie Clopper via Getty Images

Some toys may appear on Amazon without being vetted for safety. According to a CNBC report, multiple third-party sellers say they were only asked for proof of safety compliance weeks after their products were listed for sale. While the practice might help speed up the listing process, it could also lead to unsafe products being sold on Amazon.

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC that the company requests safety documentation “very shortly” after a product is listed by a third party seller. In an email statement, the company said it regularly contacts selling partners to request safety documentation. Sellers who do not provide the required documentation are removed immediately.

That practice leaves a window in which unsafe toys could potentially be sold to consumers. To make matters worse, Amazon recently came under fire for selling thousands of items that federal agencies had deemed unsafe. After a Wall Street Journal investigation discovered everything from unregistered pesticides to banned toys on the

'Control' DLC hints at an 'Alan Wake' tie-in

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Remedy/505 Games

Remedy’s game worlds might collide in a very conspicuous way. The studio has shared a roadmap for Control‘s downloadable content through 2020, and a second paid expansion (AWE) due in mid-2020 hints at a not-so-subtle crossover between Jesse’s adventures and those of Alan Wake. Officially, the company has only said the DLC will have Jesse exploring a new Investigations Sector of the Oldest House that explores Altered World Events (hence the title), but there are multiple hints of a connection. Be careful: spoilers are ahead.

To begin with, the roadmap’s teaser graphic includes a flashlight-wielding person in a forest. That by itself may harken back to Alan’s trouble in Bright Falls. There are also a number of Easter eggs in Control that make explicit references to the earlier game, including documents referencing the Bright Falls incident, an audio recording from key character Thomas Zane and a vision of Alan himself. While it’s not clear that you’ll run into the long-suffering writer, it’s

Scientists discover water vapor on an exoplanet with a rocky core

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Boris SV via Getty Images

Water vapor is common in gas giants; Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all have H2O floating around in their atmospheres. But water on a rocky planet is exceedingly rare, making the discovery of water vapor — and possibly even rain — on the exoplanet K2-18 b a surprising breakthrough.

A team at the Institute for Research on Exoplanets at the Université de Montréal published their findings yesterday. Led by Björn Benneke, their work (which has yet to be peer reviewed) points to the possibility that K2-18 b is habitable thanks to the presence of water and hydrogen, as well as the exoplanet’s location in the Goldilocks zone. The Goldilocks zone is a range relative to a star where the temperature is not too hot and not too cold to support life. But while the temperature range and presence of water are good signs, K2-18 b isn’t necessarily habitable. The exoplanet isn’t a gas giant, but it does have a

The Trump administration plans to ban flavored e-cigs to curb teen vaping

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AleksandrYu via Getty Images

The Trump administration announced today that it may ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes in an attempt to curb teen vaping, The New York Times reports. In a press release, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shared that the FDA plans to finalize a policy to remove most non-tobacco-flavored e-cigs from the market. The FDA is expected to share specifics on the plan in the coming weeks.

The decision comes amid outcry over the increase in teen vaping. According to preliminary findings from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than a quarter of high school students were current e-cig users in 2019, and the majority of youth e-cig users prefer fruit and mint flavored products. “The Trump Administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

HomePod radio streaming arrives on September 30th

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

Apple didn’t really discuss the HomePod at its iPhone 11 event, but there was still some news that (almost) slipped under the radar. The tech firm quietly updated the HomePod’s product page to reveal that the vaunted radio streaming feature will reach the smart speaker on September 30th. TuneIn, iHeartRadio and Radio.com will offer 100,000 global radio stations just by asking Siri. Given that this is considered a staple of other smart speakers, it’ll be both welcome and overdue. For other features, though, you’ll have to sit tight.

The same page also noted that multi-user support and music handoffs are coming “later this fall.” There’s also a new-to-HomePod Ambient Sounds feature that will play birdsong, rain and other relaxing recordings without resorting to apps, but it too will have to wait until later in the season. Apple’s speaker should represent a better value in the future — just not as soon as many would have liked.

'Sayonara Wild Hearts' hits PS4 and Switch the same day as Apple Arcade

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Annapurna Interactive/Simogo

During Tuesday’s big iPhone event, one of the Apple Arcade games that got some stage time was Sayonara Wild Hearts. It’s a launch title for the game subscription service, but that’s not the only place you’ll be able to play the “pop album video game” from September 19th.

When the first Sayonara Wild Hearts trailer debuted during The Game Awards in December, it was billed as a Switch game. It’ll arrive on Nintendo’s hybrid console next week, as well as PS4. Publisher Annapurna Interactive hinted a PC version of Simogo’s colorful indie is in the works — an ESRB rating suggests a Mac port is in the pipeline too.

Sayonara Wild Hearts by @simogo is coming to Nintendo Switch, PS4, and @applearcade on September 19. LET’S POP! https://t.co/XACFMybKtK pic.twitter.com/2GtBUj41jx

— Annapurna Interactive (@A_i) September 11, 2019 Via: PlayStation Blog Source: Annapurna Interactive (Twitter) In this article: apple, apple arcade, applearcade, art, av,

New 'Final Fantasy VII Remake' trailer shows familiar faces

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Square Enix

It’s taken the better part of five years, but Square Enix is finally offering fans an extended glimpse at Final Fantasy VII Remake. On Wednesday, the company released a new trailer for the upcoming remaster at the Tokyo Game Show. Over the course of a dense two-and-a-half minutes, the trailer shows scenes from outside the start of the game, which is something we hadn’t seen before today. Among other things, we see familiar faces like Don Corneo and the Turks, a reworked version of the gym mini-game and two of the game’s battle summons. It also provides a glimpse at some of the new things Square Enix has added to the remake, including a boss fight with Reno, a brand new SOLIDER member and more.

In June, Mat Smith, Engadget’s resident Final Fantasy VII expert, played the game’s E3 demo and came away mostly reassured that Square Enix could deliver on its ambitions for the remaster. The company will release

Intel will use multi-camera, 3D athlete tracking in the 2020 Olympics

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HAYKIRDI via Getty Images

Intel plans to bring 3D athlete tracking (3DAT) to the 2020 Olympics. Today, the company announced that its 3DAT system will use four cameras to film athletes in the 100-meter and other sprinting events. Algorithms will then analyze the biomechanics of the athletes’ movements and broadcast those as visual overlays available during replays.

Intel has already made big promises for the 2020 Olympics. It previously announced that it’s working on a 5G network for the games, and there’s a good chance we’ll see another drone-based light show. Today, Intel also shared that it’s working with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to bring VR training to summer games staff. That system will create VR models of competition venues. And Intel’s Core i5 processor chips will be used in a facial recognition system, “NeoFace,” that will be used to identify over 300,000 people at the games — including athletes, volunteers, media and staff.

Of course, Intel has used VR to enhance the