Tech News Feed

Quest headset apps now support hand clapping and high-fives

Engadget - Tue, 2022-04-19 14:58

Meta's VR hand tracking has come a long way in two years. The company has upgraded its Presence Platform hand tracking support for Quest headset apps to allow considerably more natural gestures, particularly those involving hand-over-hand interactions. You can now clap your hands, provide a truer-to-life thumbs-up and deliver high-fives — you can show your appreciation without reaching for your controllers.

The update also provides more consistent tracking, including for fast movements like waving. Meta chalked up the improvements to new AI-based approaches, including deep learning that's better at understanding your hand poses when the cameras have only a limited view.

It will take a while before Quest apps can take full advantage of the improved hand tracking, although Meta is promising relatively little work. However, it's easy to see the practical improvements. Many VR apps ask you to avoid certain gestures. After this upgrade, though, you can use your hands more like you would in real life. Don't be surprised if you see more apps and games that let you go controller-free.

‘World of Warcraft’ expansion Dragonflight predictably lets you ride dragons

Engadget - Tue, 2022-04-19 14:24

Nearly two decades into the life of World of Warcraft, Blizzard has just announced the MMO’s ninth expansion. Dragonflight will allow players to explore the Dragon Isles, the ancestral home of Azeroth’s dragonflights. It’s been a while since WoW’s shapeshifting dragons have been the star of its narrative. A cinematic trailer the studio released today recounts the history of the continent.

Consisting of five new zones, the Dragon Isles will introduce the Dracthyr, a new playable race of dragons that can take on a humanoid form. Dracthyr characters can join either the Alliance or Horde, and they’re the only race that can access the expansion’s new Evoker class. As an Evoker, you can either specialize in healing your allies or fighting as a mid-range damage dealer.

Dragonflight will also introduce Dragonriding. While World of Warcraft has had flying mounts since 2007’s Burning Crusade, the new expansion looks to add more dynamism to the activity with special maneuvers drakes can execute while in the air. For instance, you can pull off a swooping divebomb to quickly descend down the edge of a cliff.

In addition to those features, Blizzard said the expansion will ship with quality of life improvements, including a redesigned user interface players can personalize to their liking. There’s also a new talent system for class customization and tweaks to the game’s crafting mechanics.

World of Warcraft Dragonflight does not have a release date yet but expect Blizzard to share more information about the expansion in the coming weeks and months. The studio announced today it also plans to rerelease 2008’s Wrath of the Lich King for World of Warcraft Classic.

MIT scientists reveal why it's hard to evenly split Oreo filling between two halves

Engadget - Tue, 2022-04-19 13:50

Researchers at MIT created a 3D-printed device to develop a better understanding of the science behind what happens to the cream filling when you split the two sides of an Oreo cookie. Their device, the Oreometer, uses rubber bands and coins to control the torque applied to each side as a cookie is twisted apart. Adding pennies to one side rotates one of the two chambers and separates the Oreo.

After testing various types of Oreos, the researchers added scientific weight to something that nearly every American over the age of three already knows: the cream filling usually sticks to one side, even with Double and Mega Stuf varieties. Twisting speed mattered, according to the team — if you try to do it quickly, it may take more strain and stress to split a cookie. Curiously, the scientists found that the cream only separated more evenly when testing older boxes of cookies. 

The researchers suspect the Oreo manufacturing process is one reason for the phenomenon. “Videos of the manufacturing process show that they put the first wafer down, then dispense a ball of cream onto that wafer before putting the second wafer on top,” Crystal Owens, an MIT mechanical engineering PhD candidate, said. “Apparently that little time delay may make the cream stick better to the first wafer.”

The team published a paper on their research in the journal Physics of Fluids. As Gizmodo notes, they conducted the experiment as an exercise in rheology, which is the study of how matter flows. 

The researchers determined that, based on how the filling responded to stress, it should be classified as "mushy" instead of brittle, tough or rubbery. They also found that the cream's failure stress — the force per area needed to deform the filling or make it flow — is around the same as mozzarella cheese and double that of peanut butter and cream cheese.

There could be some other practical benefits of the research. “My 3D printing fluids are in the same class of materials as Oreo cream,” Owens said. “So, this new understanding can help me better design ink when I’m trying to print flexible electronics from a slurry of carbon nanotubes, because they deform in almost exactly the same way.”

In addition, Owens suggested that if the inside of each Oreo half had more texture, it might have a better grip on the cream and the filling would be more even when a cookie's twisted apart “As they are now, we found there’s no trick to twisting that would split the cream evenly,” Owens added.

If you'd like to try the experiment yourself, you can download the 3D printer files. Just be sure to eat some of the separated Oreos afterward. For science.

Europa's resemblance to Greenland bodes well for possible life on Jupiter's moon

Engadget - Tue, 2022-04-19 13:04

Europa's potential to support life may have increased thanks to geographic observations. Reutersnotes researchers have discovered similarities between double ridges on the Jovian moon's surface and smaller-scale equivalents in Greenland. As the Greenland ridges were formed by subsurface water that refroze, this suggests Europa's counterparts formed the same way. That, in turn, would indicate large volumes of the liquid water necessary to support life similar to that on Earth.

The geographic features are not only common on Europa, but are large enough that the water pockets for these ridges would each be comparable in size to North America's Lake Erie. They'd also be relatively shallow (about 0.6 miles below the surface), putting them near other chemicals that could help form life.

There are still no direct signs of life on Europa, and there might not be for a long time. NASA is launching its Europa Clipper spacecraft in 2024, but it won't reach orbit until 2030. Even so, the Greenland comparison bolsters the case for investigating Jupiter's fourth-largest moon. It suggests that at least some conditions are well-suited to life, even if factors like the extreme cold (a maximum -260F at the equator) limit what's possible.

Amy Hennig's studio is making a Star Wars game

Engadget - Tue, 2022-04-19 12:43

Amy Hennig’s Skydance New Media studio is working on not one but two new games with Disney. Following last year’s Marvel announcement, Hennig and company revealed today they’re working on a AAA Star Wars game with Lucasfilm Games. And just like the studio’s Marvel collaboration, fans can expect a “narrative-driven, action-adventure” experience. Lucasfilm Games said the title would tell a new original story set within the Star Wars galaxy but offered few other details on the project, including a release date or target platforms.

Never tell me the odds.

— Amy Hennig (@amy_hennig) April 19, 2022

“I’ve often described how seeing Star Wars in 1977 essentially rewired my 12-year-old brain, shaping my creative life and future indelibly,” said Hennig, whose previous credits include the Uncharted series from Naughty Dog. “I’m elated to be working with Lucasfilm Games again to tell interactive stories in this galaxy that I love.”

For Hennig, Tuesday’s announcement marks a return to the Star Wars franchise. Before founding Skydance New Media, she worked at EA’s Visceral Games studio on a Star Wars game that was ultimately canceled by the publisher. Her game is one of a handful of new Star Wars titles currently in development. Respawn Entertainment is working on three new games, including a sequel to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Fans can also look forward to Star Wars: Eclipse from Detroit: Become Human developer Quantic Dream.

Instagram brings its fundraiser tool to Reels

Engadget - Tue, 2022-04-19 12:15

Instagram is rolling out the option to create and donate to fundraisers through Reels. Users in more than 30 countries can now add a link for people to donate to more than 1.5 million nonprofits. The fundraiser tool has been available in Stories and on livestreams for the past couple of years.

The feature was announced as part of Meta's Earth Day efforts. Meta says that more than 4 million people have donated over $150 million through Instagram and Facebook to support environmental protection and nonprofits fighting against climate change. The most popular environmental causes, based on the overall number of donors, are The Ocean Cleanup, World Wildlife Fund and (one that's close to my heart) Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Most donations made on Instagram last year were under $20. Meta covers the payment processing fees for charitable fundraisers, so every penny that users donate goes to nonprofits.

Elsewhere, Meta announced that it's adding more features to its Climate Science Center. It will highlight actions people can take in their day-to-day lives to combat climate change. The center will also shine a spotlight on data visualizations showing country-level emissions. The Climate Science Center is now available in 150 countries.

Across Instagram, Facebook and Messenger, Meta has released stickers and profile frames to help people show their support for environmental causes. In addition, the company revealed the nine organizations that will receive funding from a $1 million grant program to help them fight climate misinformation. Meta also announced the Sustainability Media Academy, a project to help Asia-based journalists build expertise and develop authority on sustainability issues.

Apple workers at New York store call for minimum wage of $30 per hour

Engadget - Tue, 2022-04-19 12:06

Apple Store employees attempting to form a union at the company’s flagship Grand Central Terminal location in New York City want the tech giant to pay workers at least $30 per hour. According to CNBC, the group leading the effort, Fruit Stand Workers United, made the request on Monday in an update posted to its website.

“For pay, we seek a minimum $30 for all workers, built up on a matrix based on role, tenure and performance,” the group said. “For benefits, we seek more robust changes, like increased tuition reimbursement, faster accrued and more vacation time, and better retirement options, including higher match rates for 401(k) and enrollment into pension plans.”

According to TheWashington Post, the first outlet to report on the Grand Central Terminal unionization effort, Apple pays retail employees between $17 and up to $30 per hour, depending on their role, experience and location. “We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” the company said. “We are pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits for full time and part time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and many other benefits.”

Organizers with Fruit Stand Workers United recently began collecting signatures from their co-workers. If at least 30 percent of the approximately 270 eligible employees at the store express interest in forming a union, the group can file with the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election. At least three other stores are attempting to form a union, according to The Post.

At the start of the year, Apple announced it would offer additional benefits to all of its US retail employees. As of April 4th, the company’s expanded benefits include increased vacation and sick days, paid parental leave and more. Like many other retailers throughout the pandemic, Apple has had a time tough hiring and retaining frontline workers. Over that same period, the company’s retail employees have complained of difficult working conditions, including issues with low pay, stressful workloads due to staffing shortages and poor morale.

Uber and Lyft drop mask requirements for US drivers and passengers

Engadget - Tue, 2022-04-19 11:39

You no longer need to wear a mask to ride with Uber or Lyft n the US. Uber has dropped mask requirements for US drivers and passengers as of today (April 19th). Lyft, meanwhile, announced that mask wearing is now optional in the country. Both ridesharing firms now let you sit in the front passenger seat, although Uber said this should only be done if a party is too large to fit exclusively in the back.

Uber stressed that the CDC still recommends masks for people who either have some "risk factors" for COVID-19 or live in areas where there are high virus transmission levels. Lyft also noted that some local governments might still require masks, but it no longer accepts health safety as a reason for cancelling a trip.

The decisions aren't voluntary. A federal judge in Florida overturned a federal mandate for masks aboard public transportation on Monday, leading major airlines and Amtrak to drop their requirements. Some public transit systems (such as those in New Jersey and Washington, DC) have also lifted their demands. Uber and Lyft are just following suit, in other words. It's not yet clear if the federal government will challenge the ruling.

The move won't be welcome by everyone. The pandemic is still ongoing, and people who are immunocompromised or otherwise at high risk may be particularly reluctant to avoid cars with maskless drivers. These travellers now have fewer options for getting around, and may have to rely on friends or family to minimize the chances of an infection.

The lickable-TV guy created electric chopsticks to make food taste saltier

Engadget - Tue, 2022-04-19 11:14

Researchers in Japan have developed a set of electric chopsticks they claim can enhance the taste of salt. The device is attached to a wristband computer. It uses electrical stimulation to transmit sodium ions from food to the eater's mouth, according to Meiji University professor Homei Miyashita, who developed the chopsticks with food and drink maker Kirin.

Miyashita is also the person behind the lickable TV that was announced a few months ago. The idea behind that not-at-all gross device is that people would be able to taste whatever they see on screen.

The chopsticks seem far more practical, especially if they can help people reduce their salt intake. The researchers say the chopsticks can enhance the perceived saltiness of low-sodium foods by around 1.5 times.

An employee of Kirin Holdings demonstrates chopsticks that can enhance food taste using an electrical stimulation waveform that was jointly developed by the company and Meiji University's School of Science and Technology Professor Homei Miyashita, in Tokyo, Japan April 15, 2022. Picture taken April 15, 2022. REUTERS/Issei KatoIssei Kato / reuters

As Reuters notes, the traditional Japanese diet skews toward salty flavors. A typical Japanese adult consumes around 10 grams of salt per day, twice the level that the World Health Organization recommends. High sodium intake is linked to increased risk of stroke, high blood pressure and other conditions.

Artificially enhancing the saltiness of dishes could make it easier for people to opt for low-sodium options without having to skimp on flavor. Miyashita and Kirin have also discussed using the tech in spoons and tea bowls. They're refining the prototype of the chopsticks and aim to start selling the product as soon as 2023.

The Ninja Foodi 10-in-1 multicooker is $70 off right now

Engadget - Tue, 2022-04-19 10:48

The Instant Pot may be the most popular and ubiquitous multicooker, but it's certainly not the only option. Companies like Ninja now make their own multicookers that can hold their own against the various Instant Pot models out there, and now you can pick up one of Ninja's most capable machines at a near record-low price. The Ninja Foodi 10-in-1 multicooker is on sale for $130, or $70 off its normal price and only $10 more than its all-time low that we saw at the end of last year.

Buy Ninja 10-in-1 multicooker at Amazon - $130

As the name suggests, this model supports 10 cooking modes, including pressure cook, slow cook, steam, dehydrates and more. Among those is an air-fry mode, which isn't something all multicookers have, and the machine uses Ninja's "TenderCrisp Technology" to lock in juices using pressure cooking and then crisp the outside just before finishing. This multicooker has a 6.5-quart capacity, which is big enough to make a whole meal for a mid- to large-sized family, and it can fit a whole, five-pound chicken or a six-pound roast easily.

Generally, you'll find the best deals on these devices during the holiday shopping period, but this discount is a good one if you want to add a device like this to your kitchen immediately. And if you're totally new to the world of multicookers, you can check out our Instant Pot guide for handy tips, tricks and recipe sources since most of them can be applied to this Ninja device, too.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

Apple products were made with 50 percent more recycled material last year

Engadget - Tue, 2022-04-19 10:30

Apple is boasting of its environmental initiatives ahead of Earth Day, and it's shedding new light on its devices in the process. As part of its 2022 Environmental Progress Report, the company has revealed that 18 percent of the material in its fiscal 2021 products was recycled or renewed, the "highest-ever" ratio at the iPhone maker and a 50 percent jump from last year's 12 percent. There were eight new products including at least 20 percent recycled material. This included the company's first use of certified recycled gold (in the mainboards and camera arrays of the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro), while reuses of cobalt, rare earth elements and tungsten "more than doubled" over the year.

The tech firm also said it had cut nearly all use of plastics in its packaging. The material represented just 4 percent of packaging in 2021, and the new iPhones were the company's first handsets without any plastic packing material. Apple hopes to eliminate all use of plastic in its packaging by 2025.

The report not-so-subtly advertised Apple's response to repairability concerns. The company noted that its its products have become increasingly easier to fix at repair centers, and use more durable designs. It mentioned the announcement of the Self Service Repair program, although it wasn't more specific about the 2022 launch window.

Apple has been eager to share its eco-friendly goals in the past, including plans to make both its products and the supply chain carbon neutral by 2030. Critics have argued that highly publicized efforts like these sometimes represent "greenwashing" that masks the overall environmental harm of their products (such as shipping hundreds of millions of devices per year). However, it's still good to know that the hardware you buy won't deal quite as severe a blow as it would have in the past.