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Twill - DIY VR hardware, robotic natives, invisible trains, wi-fi geofencing, Pavlov 2.0, and some very cool robots.


Twill by yiibu

April 10 · Issue #9 · View online

An occasional dispatch on our evolving relationship with technology.

This week: DIY VR hardware, robotic natives, invisible trains, wi-fi geofencing, Pavlov 2.0, and some very cool robots.

yiibu news
A new conference announcement! Stephanie will present a talk on the Physical Web at the Coldfront conference in Copenhagen
We’ve also posted more information about Steph’s upcoming talk at Generate San Francisco: The Internet of Things is for People.
Also a reminder for those of you in Vancouver, we’ll be chatting about conversational UIs and the future of the web with Axiom Zen on Wednesday the 13th. Just a few tickets still available.
Of interest this week
0.0 Unlike mobile, which took 3-4 years post iPhone to reach the “commodity hardware” stage (i.e. cheap and cheerful Android devices for the masses), VR seems set to get there in about 6 months. Remains to be seen whether the software, content, and mental models will be able to keep up. 
A few interesting signals on the commodity hardware side…
  • A $20 Gear VR lookalike for sale on Alibaba…that’s only $5 more than Google Cardboard! (You can also buy Cardboard knock-offs on Alibaba for $5).
  • An article over at Make(zine) on the design of DIY VR paddles and controllers using 3-D printing and other types of rapid prototyping. Lack of standards and interoperability may hold this space back but as these are DIY, widely used near-mainstream “good enough” models could still emerge.
  • The Pockulus Getchip a bizarre but amazing contraption that consists of a vanilla display, mini-keyboard and enough of a ‘computer’ to run simple VR experiences. 3D print the ‘goggles’ and away you go! (So easy to also imagine a market for 3D printed or artisanal goggles).
1.0  To develop Echo, Amazon had people unknowingly talk to a human being.
To succeed, the Echo and its built-in Alexa virtual assistant would need to be very responsive and conversational. It really had to feel like talking to a human being. That’s where the Wizard of Oz experiment came in.
The test involved a human “wizard” sitting in a separate room and responding in real-time to any voice query a human testing subject would make to the Echo…The goal was to collect information on what types of responses worked and what didn’t work
2.0 A layman’s introduction to neuroplasticity and how to rewire your brain–all in one infographic. 
3.0 The Future of Machine Intelligence - a short and free downloadable book from O'Reilly that includes interviews with ten experts in the field. 
4.0 Regis McKenna’s 1976 notebooks and the invention of Apple computer - nice bit of storytelling from Fast Company including original magazine ads, photos, and candid notes on the potential of Apple and of the personal computing market itself.
5.0 Raising Robotic Natives explores interactions between children and the robots that could raise them. A great piece of critical design from Germany that includes mock artefacts from a childhood lived in the company of robots. Our personal favourite is the industrial robot dress-up dragon costume.
6.0 Also related to our relationship with robots (but in a vastly different way!) is this just released study that suggests touching various…hmm…parts of a robot, can be arousing to humans.
7.0 New technology from MIT that enables eerily accurate wi-fi geofencing and can help Wi-Fi signals locate you within “tens of centimeters.” 
8.0 What if Apple is wrong? Interesting analysis of the encryption question that brings up some rather unconventional arguments. What if years from now, we actually come to regret locking things down to such a degree? 
What if these new layers of secrecy undermine the justice system without ever increasing your privacy very much?
(As a reminder of where we regretably already are, here’s a list of the many ways that law enforcement and others can already track you).
9.0 This week in cool autonomous- or robotic-things news:
10.0 The rather aptly named Pavlok, is a wristband that can annoy you or cause pain each time you indulge in a bad habit. 
11.0 VR is isolating. Thoughts from Wired on how companies are already working to make it more social. Examples include products such as a headband that acts as a set of “virtual eyes that glow on the exterior screen to signal what mode the player is in”, but also emerging social conventions that help to frame the relationship between players and other ‘actors’…
We have a rule in the office. If the person in VR bumps somebody else, it’s the person who’s not in VR’s fault. That’s our etiquette–they always have to apologise.”
One of the concepts by Seattle studio Artefact
One of the concepts by Seattle studio Artefact
12.0 Another reminder of the need to socialise new technologies this week in the failure of an otherwise completely functional, efficient and cost-saving automated anaesthesiologist highlights something we all know, but sometimes for get - that great technology doesn’t always equal massive adoption. The problem with the A.I. industry at the moment is that too many people are focused on how to make their convolutional neural net 1% better, and few people are thinking about the nuanced issues around taking A.I. products to market.” (comments here from Rob May’s excellent newsletter)
Thing from the past. Thing from the future
From the past: A new computer arrives at the Norwich treasury in 1957 :-)
From the future: This new Japanese train is designed to be practically invisible (…and in the future, other assorted objects may be as well thanks to transparent wood “a stronger, more environmentally sustainable replacement for plastic or glass”).
A must-watch extra: A short and remarkably accurate video of Kurt Vonnegut explaining The shape of stories.
That is all...
Our best wishes for a productive week.
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