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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

This robotic hose-dragon could jet its way into burning buildings

While hose-toting drones may be a fantasy, hose-powered robo-dragons (or robotic hose-dragons — however you like it) are very much a reality. This strange but potentially useful robot from Japanese researchers could snake into the windows of burning buildings, blasting everything around it with the powerful jets of water it uses to maneuver itself.

Yes, it’s a real thing: Created by Tohoku University and Hachinohe College, the DragonFireFighter was presented last month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

It works on the same principle your hose does when you turn it on and it starts flapping around everywhere. Essentially your hose is acting as a simple jet: the force of the water being blasted out pushes the hose itself in the opposite direction. So what if the hose had several nozzles, pointing in several directions, that could be opened and closed independently?

Well, you’d have a robotic hose-dragon. And we do.

The DragonFireFighter has a nozzle-covered sort of “head” and what can only be called a “neck.” The water pressure from the hose is diverted into numerous outlets on both in order to create a stable position that can be adjusted more or less at will.

It requires a bit of human intervention to go forwards, but, as you can see, several jets are pushing it that direction already, presumably at this point for stability and rigidity purposes. If the operators had a little more line to give it, it seems to me it could zoom out quite a bit farther than where it was permitted to in the video.

For now it may be more effective to just direct all that water pressure into the window, but one can certainly imagine situations where something like this would be useful.

DragonFireFighter was also displayed at the International Fire and Disaster Prevention Exhibition in Tokyo.

One last thing. I really have to give credit where credit’s due: I couldn’t possibly outdo IEEE Spectrum’s headline, “Firefighting Robot Snake Flies on Jets of Water.”

Source: TechCrunch

Online travel agency Exoticca bags $4.1M for market expansion

Barcelona-based online travel agency Exoticca — which sells “affordable luxury” holidays to popular destinations such as India, Kenya, Brazil, Thailand and South Africa — has closed a €3.5 million (~$4.1 million) Series A to expand into more markets.

The lead investor is early-stage Madrid-based VC K Fund, with existing investors Sabadell Venture Capital and Grupo Palau also participating, along with new investors Nero Ventures, Palladium Corporate Venture and Smartech Capital.

Exoticca was founded in 2013 and currently operates in three European markets: Spain, France and the U.K. The new funding will be put toward expanding that tally — with the German market next in line, and a launch into the U.S. and Canada also on the horizon. Funds will also be funneled into further developing the platform.

“The company spent the first couple of years developing the technological platform and sales have grown very rapidly since then (€4.4 million in 2016, €10.5 million in 2017 and a budget of more than €20 million for 2018),” says CEO Pere Valles, a recent recruit to the business and previously CEO of Scytl.

Valles argues that Exoticca’s progress to date proves both the profitability of its business model — noting that Spain was “the first market which Exoticca launched is already profitable” — and its replicability. “Last year we launched the U.K. and France and the U.K. is already bigger than Spain,” he says, adding: “In July, we are launching in Germany and we have plans to open in the U.S. and Canada in 2019.”

Valles says the market Exoticca is operating in is one of the few travel market segments that has not yet been digitized — with people still purchasing these types of trips in traditional “offline” travel agencies, owing to relative complexity, with the holidays typically having multiple legs and components, perhaps including international and domestic flights, land transportation, hotels in different locations, tour guides and so on.

Exoticca’s platform allows users to buy such trips online in a single visit, thanks to a proprietary booking engine that integrates with all the various providers — enabling real-time pricing for each component (so no need to phone up for an actual price before being able to book, for example).

“There is nobody else who provides real-time pricing for these types of trips through an online platform,” argues Valles. “Our competition uses internet only to generate leads and then close the sale either on the phone or in a store while we allow our customers to do the entire purchase process online in a single visit.”

There are some differences versus traditional bricks-and-mortar travel agents, though. Exoticca customers can’t spec out a very bespoke holiday in discussion with an agent, for example.

Rather it offers an inventory of around 50 trip packages in its permanent portfolio, covering what are described as “the most popular destinations” for its target travel category. (Though Valles points out it does offer a degree of light personalization — such as being able to pick a hotel category and optional excursions, for example.)

If you’re content to choose from the selection, Exoticca claims the trips are 30 percent cheaper on average versus “traditional providers” — as a consequence of the disintermediation process (i.e. it acting as both wholesaler and retailer).

“Each one of these trip packages is our ‘own’ product in the sense that we are the ones who ‘build’ it by engaging directly with the provider of each component,” says Valles, adding: “We also give our own personal touch to the tours in each one of these destinations.”

There’s a pretty striking branding style on show too — which features 1950s-esque graphics illustrating elements of the holiday packages and service…

Presumably the hope is the retro styling will resonate with the older adults who are the demographic most likely to be in the market for long-haul, luxury trips.

“We have customers in all age groups but those between 45 and 65 tend to be ‘overrepresented,’ ” agrees Valles.

He says the company is generally targeting a similar customer profile to that of GV-backed members-only travel club Secret Escapes.

Though they are not like-for-like competitors, with Exoticca’s product certainly having more of a focus on, well, exotic holidays — versus Secret Escapes offering hotel getaways to almost anywhere (so long as the hotel is up to snuff).

Other European online travel agency startups include the likes of Dreamlines, which is focused exclusively on cruise holidays to address a distinct market segment; and Evaneos, a marketplace for tailored travel experiences that connects travelers directly with a community of local travel agents — so is doing the lead generation Exoticca’s approach avoids.

Valles says the packages it sells are with “high-quality providers” (4- and 5-star hotels) but offered at “discounted prices” intended to appeal to a mass market of middle- and upper-class travelers.

The overall aim is to “democratize” this segment of the travel market. (“A great experience at a reasonable cost” is the pitch.) Though if they really succeed in widening the funnel they may end up undermining their luxury promise. But clearly that’s not something they have to worry about yet.

Funding wise, Valles says Exoticca previously raised €1 million in two seed rounds, one with F&F and another with Sabadell Venture Capital. The business is not breaking out any user or usage metrics at this stage, five years in.

Source: TechCrunch

Bitcoin está devorando la electricidad y los bosques de Quebec

Esta provincia canadiense se está convirtiendo en uno de los lugares del mundo donde más bitcoins se minan. La parte buena es que esta industria favorece la revitalización económica y social. La mala, es que consume enormes cantidades de energía hidroeléctrica que depende de enormes presas
Source: MIT

"Los cobots ayudan a las pequeñas empresas a ser más competitivas"

La directora de la iniciativa Work of the Future del MIT, Liz Reynolds, afirma que cada vez cuesta menos automatizar trabajos, lo que mejora la competitividad de las PYME. En su opinión, uno de los mayores retos está en la falta de diversidad de empleos de las ciudades rurales
Source: MIT

WWDC 2018: Apple Just Made Safari the Good Privacy Browser

The next version of Safari takes on ad-trackers more aggressively than ever.
Source: Wired

Egnyte releases one-step GDPR compliance solution

Egnyte has always had the goal of protecting data and files wherever they live, whether on-premises or in the cloud. Today, the company announced a new feature to help customers comply with GDPR privacy regulations that went into effect in Europe last week in a straight-forward fashion.

You can start by simply telling Egnyte that you want to turn on “Identify sensitive content.” You then select which sets of rules you want to check for compliance including GDPR. Once you do this, the system goes and scans all of your repositories to find content deemed sensitive under GDPR rules (or whichever other rules you have selected).

Photo: Egnyte

It then gives you a list of files and marks them with a risk factor from 1-9 with one being the lowest level of risk and 9 being the highest. You can configure the program to expose whichever files you wish based on your own level of compliance tolerance. So for instance, you could ask to see any files with a risk level of seven or higher.

“In essence, it’s a data security and governance solution for unstructured data, and we are approaching that at the repository levels. The goal is to provide visibility, control and protection of that information in any in any unstructured repository,” Jeff Sizemore, VP of governance for Egnyte Protect told TechCrunch.

Photo: Egnyte

Sizemore says that Egnyte weighs the sensitivity of the data against the danger it could be exposed and leave a customer in violation of GDPR rules. “We look at things like public links into groups, which is basically just governance of the data, making sure nothing is wide open from a file share perspective. We also look at how the information is being shared,” Sizemore said. A social security number being shared internally is a lot less risky than a thousand social security numbers being shared in a public link.

The service covers 28 nations and 24 languages and it’s pre-configured to understand what data is considered sensitive by country and language. “We already have all the mapping and all the languages sitting underneath these policies. We are literally going into the data and actually scanning through and looking for GDPR-relevant data that’s in the scope of Article 40.”

The new service is generally available on Tuesday morning. The company will be makign an announcement at the InfoSecurity Conference in London. It has had the service in Beta prior to this.

Source: TechCrunch

WWDC 2018: Everything Apple Announced at the June 4 WWDC Keynote

Apple’s yearly developer keynote was all about software.
Source: Wired

MacOS Mojave brings Dark Mode, stacking, and a redesigned App Store to Macs

MacOS Mojave was announced as the next release of the Mac operating system at WWDC today, and Apple revealed that along with a new Dark Mode, iOS apps will soon be able to run on your favorite Mac hardware along with security enhancements.

The post MacOS Mojave brings Dark Mode, stacking, and a redesigned App Store to Macs appeared first on Digital Trends.

Source: Digital trends

14 big announcements from Apple’s annual developer conference WWDC 2018

Apple’s annual developer conference, WWDC, started this afternoon down in San Jose — kicking off with a keynote as it does every year where it announced a bunch of updates to all of its major operating systems. We’ve wrapped up all the big announcements from its keynote below, and there will be plenty more information to come in over the next few days.

Apple introduces iOS 12

What Apple announced: Its next generation iPhone operating system. iOS 12 comes with a variety of new features, many of which we’ll dig into below, but it includes things like group FaceTime, new Animoji, some quality of live improvements to Siri, improvements in performance (especially for older devices) and updates to its push into augmented reality.

Why it matters: WWDC has always been the place where it’ll show off a slew of new features, which while very consumer-y in feel is typically pointed at developers to show all the tools they’ll soon get their hands on and all the reasons Apple will keep users on iPhones. The company is introducing its own file format for augmented reality, clearly signaling to developers that they should be flocking to iOS 12 if they want to go where the users are in the future.

Apple delivers big updates to its augmented reality platform

What Apple announced: Apple said it is rolling out ARKit 2.0, the next generation of its development software for augmented reality experiences on the iPhone. The new version showed improved face tracking, more realistic rendering, 3D object detection, persistent experiences and shared experiences (as well as a neat party trick when it comes to measurement). There’s also a multiplayer component the company will roll out with its new development tools.

Why it matters: Tim Cook has alluded to the importance of augmented reality for the iPhone multiple times over the years. While it was a sort of promise of the future for a while, the release of Pokémon Go and the phenomenon that followed demonstrated the potential of augmented reality to capture the hearts and minds of potential users. That was just one use case of what could be a massive potential app ecosystem, and Apple wants to get ahead of that with robust development kits that will keep users on iPhones with better augmented reality experiences.

With iOS 12, Apple focuses on performance

What Apple announced: Apple loves to talk about how its new OS generations, including iOS 11, have the highest adoption rate among smartphones — as well as show off a graphic that shows how bad Google is at that with Android. But it spent a lot of time today talking about how efficient its next OS, iOS 12, will be on older phones like the iPhone 6.

Why it matters: Apple can’t leave its older users in the dust. While it’s better that they upgrade to newer phones, some users are sitting on older devices like an iPhone 6S, and rolling out new operating systems with more robust and complex features might put a strain on those older devices. Apple got in trouble for not notifying users that it was slowing phones with older batteries down, and if it wants to keep people in the ecosystem — and eventually upgrade — it still has to keep those users with older phones excited about the Apple ecosystem amid a ton of competition.

Apple’s Memoji brings an animated you to your iPhone

What Apple announced: If you’ve ever used Bitmoji, you know exactly what to expect here. Apple is giving users a way to create a customized avatar for themselves that will behave exactly like an Animoji, its animated emoji that moves around as you move your head. Plus you can stick out your tongue and your Animoji will do the same, for some reason.

Why it matters: Snap spent more than $60 million on the makers of Bitmoji. Clearly this is a feature that users want, and it’s starting to show up in a lot of different ways as an attempt to differentiate a communications platform. Apple obviously needs iMessage to succeed because it continues to create iOS lock-in, and having these kinds of customized avatars can make the experience more robust.

Apple is adding group FaceTime video calls to iOS 12

What Apple announced: Apple is adding group FaceTime video calls to iOS 12, where you can chat with up to 32 people.

Why it matters: Apple is adding group FaceTime video calls to iOS 12, where you can chat with up to 32 people! This is an interesting and obvious move for Apple to port over the capabilities of Houseparty, an app that tapped a weird zeitgeist around multi-user video streaming. Managing that many streams is difficult and compute intensive, so it makes sense that Apple could absorb the shock of the challenges and bake that right into iOS.

Apple introduces watchOS 5

What Apple announced: Apple showed a bunch of new features that will show up in the next generation of the operating system for the Apple Watch. That includes new features like new workout types like yoga and hiking, challenges for friends, and automatic workout detection. There’s also Siri shortcuts and the walkie talkie, which we’ll get to below.

Why it matters: The most significant of these announcements focused in the health realm, which is where Apple is increasingly positioning itself with the Apple Watch. Originally seen as a sort of do-it-all accessory, it turns out the whole wearable category doesn’t really click for that, but it makes a lot of sense as a fitness tracker and a way to monitor health. It’s still an important part of Apple’s ecosystem, and creating better experiences around workouts can help the company position the Watch as the best fitness tracker on the market.

Apple unveils new screen time controls for children and a new set of ‘digital wellness’ features for better managing screen time

What Apple announced: Apple is adding some options in iOS to track usage of certain apps, as well as add time limits to flag users when they’re approaching the self-imposed boundaries within iOS. The updates also include more robust do-not-disturb modes. All this also extends to parental controls for children.

Why it matters: Apple is announcing this just after Google unveiled a slew of updates to its new Android operating system that were also focused on digital wellness. It’s become an increasing focus for the creators of the operating systems to try to discourage users from just tapping around and wasting time on some apps — and hopefully promote better behavior, which would make the whole experience nicer (and, of course, get them to buy new phones). The parental controls part is also significant given that investors questioned Apple when it came to screen time for children.

Apple gives users control of Siri with new Shortcuts tool

What Apple announced: Apple is giving its users the ability to create custom commands with Siri. The whole process involves chaining together a bunch of activities and queries within Siri that users can piece together to respond to a single voice command like “I’m headed to the gym.”

Why it matters: Siri is widely considered to be a much weaker service compared to Alexa or Google Assistant, and it certainly seems like something Apple is not ignoring. The company argues it works to protect privacy, but that comes at a cost, and Apple has to find a way to ensure that its voice assistant is competitive with other products out there.

The next version of macOS is macOS Mojave

What Apple announced: The company’s next version of its Mac operating system. Mojave, its latest update, brings in a ton of incremental updates for the service that include a “dark mode” that dims most of the elements on the screen. There are also a bunch of new tools to help users stay a little more organized, such as a new way of viewing files in Finder and stacking documents intelligently.

Why it matters: While the Mac operates a smaller niche inside Apple’s larger business — which, to be clear, is driven by phones — it has to keep those Mac users happy. They can be among Apple’s most avid fans, and the Mac serves as another piece of Apple’s overall ecosystem that sits alongside the phone and tablet. If Apple wants to pitch additional devices like the Watch or the HomePod, it has to convince users to stay within the Apple ecosystem. That means ensuring its laptop is up to date with new features every year.

Apple Watch gets Walkie-Talkie mode

What Apple announced: You can talk into your watch like a walkie talkie.

Why it matters: You can talk into your watch like a walkie talkie. Some people at TechCrunch care about that a lot for some reason. It’s another thing Apple Watch users have to play with that might get them to buy more watches. Or not.

Apple aims to simplify the Mac App Store with a redesign
What apple announced: Apple’s Mac App Store, it’s other App Store for its line of laptops and computers, is getting a complete overhaul. Everything is divvied up into tabs and more intelligent grouping, and Apple is making it easier for developers to prompt users to rate their apps.

Why it matters: Apple launched the Mac App Store years ago, but it hasn’t seen any major updates since Apple began making some significant changes to the Apple App Store. The company has taken more of an editorial bent for the App Store, looking to surface up the best apps in an era where the App Store is getting increasingly crowded. So it makes sense that the company would port over those learnings to the Mac App Store.

App Store hits 20M registered developers and $100B in revenues, 500M visitors per week

What Apple announced: The numbers above.

Why it matters: Apple loves to tout these numbers every year, but it’s also an important barometer for the success of the Apple App ecosystem. It’s kind of like looking at a stock chart — you might hear a company is doing well when you’re deciding whether or not to invest in something, but it’s good to have that nice round public-facing number.

Apple TV gets Dolby Atmos and streamlined sign-ons for channels and services
What Apple announced: The company is making it easier to sign on and also introducing Dolby Atmos audio, two quality-of-life improvements for Apple TV owners. The latter of which is a nice way to keep the experience clean, but the former makes the Apple TV the only streaming device to be both Dolby Atmos and Vision certified.

Why it matters: Apple insists that the TV is not a hobby, so it keeps bringing these updates to its living room device. While it really hasn’t gotten there yet, owning the living room is a tantalizing piece of the home puzzle that would help Apple not only sell more devices, but keep people locked into its ecosystem. That’ll be especially true as more and more internet-connected devices end up in the home, all of which needing some kind of hub — which could be the Apple TV.

Apple says CarPlay will now support third party navigation and mapping apps

What Apple announced: CarPlay, the company’s car-focused operating system, will support third-party apps like Google Maps and Waze.

Why it’s important: This is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a nice quality of life improvement that might make users a little more interested in using CarPlay. Apple doesn’t have a true car play yet, so to speak, but this is one way to start getting users accustomed to iOS in the car.

Source: TechCrunch

Apple’s Create ML is a nice feature with an unclear purpose

Apple announced a new feature for developers today called Create ML. Since machine learning is a commonly used tool in the developer kit these days, it makes sense that Apple would want to improve the process. But what it has here, essentially local training, doesn’t seem particularly useful.

The most important step in the creation of an machine learning model, like one that detects faces or turns speech into text, is the “training.” That’s when the computer is chugging through reams of data like photos or audio and establishing correlations between the input (a voice) and the desired output (distinct words).

This part of the process is extremely CPU-intensive, though. It generally requires orders of magnitude more computing power (and often storage) than you have sitting on your desk. Think of it like the difference between rendering a 3D game like Overwatch and rendering a Pixar film. You could do it on your laptop, but it would take hours or days for your measly four-core Intel processor and onboard GPU to handle.

That’s why training is usually done “in the cloud,” which is to say, on other people’s computers set up specifically for the task, equipped with banks of GPUs and special AI-inclined hardware.

Create ML is all about doing it on your own PC, though: as briefly shown on stage, you drag your data onto the interface, tweak some stuff, and you can have a model ready to go in as little as 20 minutes if you’re on a maxed-out iMac Pro. It also compresses the model so you can more easily include it in apps (a feature already included in Apple ML tools, if I remember correctly). This is mainly possible because it’s applying Apple’s own vision and language models, not building new ones from scratch.

I’m trying to figure out who this is for. It’s almost like they introduced iPhoto for ML training, but since it’s targeted at professional developers, they all already have the equivalent of Photoshop. Cloud-based tools are standard and relatively mature, and like other virtualized processing services they’re quite cheap as well. Not as cheap as free, naturally, but they’re also almost certainly better.

The quality of a model depends in great part on the nature, arrangement, and precision of the “layers” of the training network, and how long it’s been given to cook. Given an hour of real time, a model trained on a MacBook Pro will have, let’s just make up a number, 10 teraflop-hours of training done. If you send that data to the cloud, you could choose to either have those 10 teraflop-hours split between 10 computers and have the same results in 6 minutes, or after an hour it could have 100 teraflop-hours of training, almost certainly resulting in a better model.

That kind of flexibility is one of the core conveniences of computing as a service, and why so much of the world runs on cloud platforms like AWS and Azure, and soon dedicated AI processing services like Lobe.

My colleagues suggested that people who are dealing with sensitive data in their models, for example medical history or x-rays, wouldn’t want to put that data in the cloud. But I don’t think that single developers with little or no access to cloud training services are the kind that are likely, or even allowed, to have access to privileged data like that. If you have a hard drive loaded with the PET scans of 500,000 people, that seems like a catastrophic failure waiting to happen. So access control is the name of the game, and private data is stored centrally.

Research organizations, hospitals, and universities have partnerships with cloud services and perhaps even their own dedicated computing clusters for things like this. After all they also need to collaborate, be audited, and so on. Their requirements are also almost certainly different and more demanding than Apple’s off the shelf stuff.

I guess I sound like I’m ragging for no reason on a tool that some will find useful. But the way Apple framed it made it sound like anyone can just switch over from a major training service to their own laptop easily and get the same results. That’s just not true. Even for prototyping and rapid turnaround work it doesn’t seem likely that a locally trained model will often be an option. Perhaps as the platform diversifies developers will find ways to make it useful, but for now it feels like a feature without a purpose.

Source: TechCrunch