Apple’s Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock looks like it will stay true to the original series

Apple’s Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock looks like it will stay true to the original series

Apple released a new trailer for its upcoming Fraggle Rock Apple TV Plus reboot on Wednesday (officially titled Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock), and it seems like the new series will be bringing back all of the hallmarks of the original show. The new trailer features charming puppets, a catchy song, and a dumb joke to kick things off that I actually found kind of funny, and you can watch it all here. The 13-episode series debuts on January 21st.

Apple TV Plus has become something of a destination for Fraggle Rock. In April 2020, the company debuted the first in a series of shorts called Fraggle Rock: Rock On!, and in May 2020, it acquired past seasons of the original show. (Seems like someone over at Apple is a Fraggle Rock fan. Maybe Tim Cook?)

The new series joins Apple TV Plus’ growing lineup of original shows geared toward children, which also includes The Snoopy Show, Harriet the Spy, a Ghostwriter reboot, and Helpsters.

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Sundance Film Festival goes virtual, Grammys postponed over omicron concerns

Sundance Film Festival goes virtual, Grammys postponed over omicron concerns

Both the Grammy Awards and the Sundance Film Festival have changed their 2022 plans due to a rise in COVID-19 cases across the country (via CNBC and Indiewire). The Grammy Awards show has been postponed until further notice, and the Sundance Film Festival will go virtual, rather than risk an in-person event.

The 64th Grammy Awards ceremony was scheduled for January 31st, but as noted in a post on the Grammy Awards website, CBS and the Recording Academy have decided to push it back “after careful consideration and analysis with city and state officials, health and safety experts.” There isn’t mention of a rescheduled date, but CBS and the Recording Academy say that “will be announced soon.” The Grammy Awards was postponed last year because of the pandemic and was held in March without a live audience. Viewership for the 2021 Grammys broadcast reportedly hit a record low.

Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente and festival director Tabitha Jackson have announced modified plans for the Sundance Film Festival, with the Utah-based show airing solely online. It was initially supposed to be a hybrid event, but festival organizers decided to go all virtual, citing the high transmissibility of the omicron variant. The Sundance Film Festival will still begin on January 20th and will consist of 11 days of online programming, with some adjustments to the screening schedule. COVID-19 had an impact on the Sundance Film Festival last year as well — not only was the event held online, but the effects of the pandemic were artfully weaved into some of the featured films.

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Dead By Daylight drops Leatherface cosmetics after reports of harassment against Black players

Dead By Daylight drops Leatherface cosmetics after reports of harassment against Black players

Behaviour Interactive, developer of co-op survival horror game Dead By Daylight, has decided to remove certain cosmetics from the game after years of complaints that they were being used in racist harassment against Black players. Announced as part of a developer update, the cosmetics will be removed in a forthcoming patch, and players who have unlocked the cosmetics will be compensated with in-game currency. In its update, Behaviour Interactive wrote:

“Members of the community have shared their experiences with people targeting and harassing them while using some of these masks. These reports were disheartening to hear, and we absolutely condemn this behaviour. We are not comfortable having these masks in the game when they are used as a tool to spread hate. To that end, we will be removing The Cannibal’s unlockable faces in this upcoming Mid-Chapter.”

Introduced to the game several years ago, the cosmetics were special skins designed for the “The Cannibal” killer, also known as Leatherface from 1974’s horror movie classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The cosmetics allowed Leatherface to wear the faces of one of the four original survivor characters, one of whom is a Black woman named Claudette. Black players expressed unease about the Claudette version of the skin as it seemed like an instance of blackface. Blackface is a racist trope in media in which non-Black performers make themselves look like caricatures of Black people by darkening their skin, drawing on huge, exaggerated red lips, or wearing unkempt kinky-haired wigs.

MiladyConfetti is a Black streamer and a member of the Dead By Daylight partner program. She described the skin as “horrific” and originally thought the game was glitching as she didn’t believe a skin like that — one that involved a white man wearing the skin of a Black woman in a literal case of blackface — could exist.

In addition to the skin itself evoking the specter of blackface, the way the skin was used caused an even greater concern. Black Dead By Daylight streamers reported killers who would wear the Claudette version of the Leatherface skin — which they had taken to calling it “Blackface Leatherface” — and harass them.

“I was harassed by players who knew I was a streamer particularly with the Blackface Leatherface cosmetic,” MiladyConfetti told The Verge. “I knew it was the players because after being harassed in the game, they would come to my stream and call me slurs and acknowledge that they were the killer.”

MiladyConfetti and other Black Dead By Daylight players began a campaign advocating for the cosmetic’s removal citing its uncomfortable closeness to the racist act of blackface and its abuse by players targeting Black streamers.

In November 2021, SistaKaren, another Dead By Daylight partner creator, released a video breaking down the problem she and others have had with Blackface Leatherface.

The video contains numerous anecdotes of Black streamers being targeted by killers wearing the Claudette Leatherface skin. SistaKaren described how a Claudette Leatherface sent her messages saying, “I hate Black people,” and other messages that were ostensibly slurs but censored by chat filters. Another player recounted an incident in which a Claudette Leatherface would grief them, exclusively toying with or killing them while ignoring other survivors. The incidents of harassment got so bad that Black players, upon seeing a Leatherface wearing the Claudette skin, would immediately disconnect from the game as a protective measure, which, ironically, led to even more harassment. One Claudette Leatherface user incited a protracted harassment campaign against a streamer who disconnected upon seeing the skin, sending racist and toxic messages to the streamer’s Discord, Twitter, and Instagram profiles.

The Claudette Leatherface skin is another example of racist players using things designed to be representative for Black people as a tool of harassment. Twitch has long struggled with people spamming the Trihard emote, which features the face of Black streamer Trihex, to harass Black streamers. The same is true of the “cmonbruh” emote, prompting many streamers to ban the use of both emotes outright to prevent that kind of behavior. In Red Dead Redemption Online, players concocted elaborate racist roleplays in which they act as slave catchers to grief players with Black avatars.

“I feel good that [Claudette Leatherface] is removed,” MiladyConfetti said. “It was long overdue, especially because this conversation started years ago.”

Other players agreed, including the senior character artist at Behaviour Interactive who made the skins.

Other players on Dead By Daylight’s forums see this action as ineffective as it seemingly “punishes” people who worked to earn the skin while racist players will simply find other ways to be racist. They suggest improved reporting features as a better solution to the racism problem.

SistaKaren understands that Behaviour hasn’t magically solved the problem of player racism in Dead By Daylight.

“It won’t [solve the racism problem], especially considering how anti-Black hostility and outright racism continue to be prevalent and normalized in gaming,” she told The Verge.

“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also acknowledge the ongoing harm that Black players would experience,” she said. “While all of us have experienced racism in the game, the worst instances are always with someone wearing this cosmetic.”

Behaviour Interactive’s decision to remove the Claudette Leatherface acknowledges that even though something may have been conceived with benign intentions, its use causes harm and that harm will not be tolerated.

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Fossil promises Alexa is coming to its smartwatches ‘soon’

Fossil promises Alexa is coming to its smartwatches ‘soon’

Although Fossil launched two new smartwatches at CES today, there’s one big elephant in the room: the upgrade to Wear OS 3 won’t arrive for several months. To take the sting out of the wait, Fossil snuck in another new feature for its Gen 6 smartwatches: Amazon Alexa. As for when Alexa will arrive, you’ll have to settle for “coming soon.” Hopefully before Wear OS 3.

In a statement to 9to5Google, Fossil says the update will come in the first half of 2022. This tracks with what Fossil told The Verge in a CES briefing, in which spokesperson Robyn Sills said Alexa would come to the Gen 6 devices “early this year.” Fossil sent me both the Skagen Falster 6 and the Razer x Fossil Gen 6 smartwatch, and yup, there’s a widget just for Alexa. If you tap it, however, you won’t bring up the voice assistant. You’ll just see a “coming soon” message.

So, between “coming soon,” “early this year,” and “first half of this year,” it’s anyone’s guess. With features like this, it’s not uncommon to see companies hedge on timelines, lest they make like Douglas Adams and watch self-set deadlines whoosh by. Still, if all goes well, it appears likely that Alexa compatibility will arrive before Wear OS 3. As for when the Wear OS 3 upgrades will arrive, that’s up to Google. For now, both Google and Fossil haven’t budged from the equally vague mid-to-late 2022 timeline.

It might seem curious as to why Fossil would even tease Alexa if it’s not ready yet. The most likely reason is to give everyone something to look forward to while waiting for Wear OS 3, which could arrive in a few months or a whole year from now. In a briefing, Fossil told The Verge that this awkward timing did impact initial Gen 6 sales, though surprisingly, the Gen 5E sales seem to be going strong. Given all the uncertainty, it makes sense that Fossil would want to highlight Alexa compatibility.

For what it’s worth, it is (or will be) a win for Fossil. Voice assistants are increasingly common on smartwatches, but customers don’t really have a say in which assistant comes with their wearable. Wear OS watches are currently tied to Google Assistant and Apple Watches are Siri-only. Samsung has inflicted Bixby onto Galaxy Watch owners for years, and while Samsung said you’d be able to opt for Google Assistant on the new Galaxy Watch 4, it has yet to officially arrive. Some watches, like Garmin’s newly announced Venu 2 Plus, simply connect you to your phone’s assistant. Others hook you up with a proprietary assistant, and that’s rarely a good time.

Right now, Fitbit is the only one that actually offers any sort of choice. Starting with the Fitbit Sense and Versa 3, you had the option between Alexa or Google Assistant. However, you could only do one or the other. As far as I can see on my review units, while there is an Alexa widget, that doesn’t stop you from using Google Assistant as well. Granted, there are few official details and Alexa on the wrist isn’t the best. However, Fossil offering a choice in assistants — or even the option to potentially use more than one — is a smart move. It’d just be smarter if it was here already.

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This Tablo ATSC 3.0 tuner is a DVR for the 4K over-the-air TV future

This Tablo ATSC 3.0 tuner is a DVR for the 4K over-the-air TV future

The new Tablo ATSC 3.0 Quad HDMI is a DVR meant for the next generation of broadcast TV — which, if all goes according to plan, will involve 4K HDR content being sent out over the airwaves for free. It can record up to four channels at once onto an external hard drive, letting you watch programs back on your schedule, not broadcasters’.

In the age of internet streaming, cable, and satellite, it can be hard to remember that there are still local TV stations broadcasting their programs over the airwaves, which anyone can watch for free if they have an antenna and receiver. But for some enthusiasts, viewing broadcast television is the new cord-cutting — and it’s those signals Tablos are made to record and playback.

Cordcutter-friendly DVRs are a pretty mature concept at this point, with companies including Tablo and HDHomeRun producing them steadily for years. ATSC 3.0 changes things, though — it’s the follow-up to the digital standard that replaced US analog TV broadcasts in 2009, and it supports plenty of upgrades, including support for 4K HDR broadcasts, high frame rate content, and more. While it’s currently not set to completely replace ATSC 1.0 anytime soon, some stations have started broadcasting content using both standards.

Last year, HDHomeRun launched a new lineup which packed in ATSC 3.0 but limited it to just two of four available tuners. The new Tablo supports four ATSC 3.0 tuners. The Tablo can record either type of signal, depending on the channel it’s set to.

You can read more on the history of how ATSC 3.0 came to be in our explainer, here.

Apart from the fact that it can record four ATSC 3.0 streams at once, the new Quad HDMI works a lot like Tablo’s other DVRs. It hooks up to an antenna, hard drive, and your TV, and you can use it to watch live TV, or programs that you’ve recorded. Tablo says the interface will tell you which channels are using ATSC 1.0 and which are using 3.0.

Tablo also offers a subscription-based TV guide service that unlocks additional filters and features.
Image: Tablo

Tablo does warn that the experience won’t be exactly what its longtime users are used to. It’s automatic ad-skipping feature will only be available for ATSC 1.0 recordings, not for ATSC 3.0 ones. Tablo says it “hope[s] to be able to support this popular feature on ATSC 3.0 recordings in the future,” but it’s always best practice to buy something for the features it ships with, not the ones it might have later. The new Quad HDMI box also won’t be able to stream recorded content to other devices in your house, a feature available on some of Tablo’s other boxes. It’ll only be able to playback video on the TV to which it’s physically connected.

The DVR will ship in “spring 2022,” for a cost of $300. That’s not inexpensive, especially after you factor in the added expense of an external hard drive, which is required if you want the digital video recorder to actually record. In its FAQ, Nuvyyo (the company behind Tablo) tries to justify the price — compared to other ATSC 3.0-capable DVRs, all four of its tuners can make use of the new standard, instead of others that only have one or two hybrid tuners. For comparison, the HDHomeRun Flex 4K ATSC 3.0 costs $200 and only supports the newer standard on two of its four tuners.

The extra NextGen tuners may not be that big of a deal now, since there aren’t tons of ATSC 3.0 broadcasts, but could become a boon in the future if the rollout expands and broadcasters start taking advantage of the ability to send 4K HDR content over the air.

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Drone carrying a defibrillator saves its first heart attack patient in Sweden

Drone carrying a defibrillator saves its first heart attack patient in Sweden

A man in Sweden is alive today thanks to — in part — a drone. The 71-year-old had a heart attack while shoveling snow in December and was resuscitated by a nearby doctor after a drone flew in a defibrillator, Everdrone reported Tuesday.

Someone having a heart attack needs help within 10 minutes in order to survive. Everdrone’s Emergency Medical Aerial Delivery (EMADE) service is designed to deliver help as quickly as possible — it allows emergency dispatchers to send a drone carrying the device to a caller’s home, kickstarting the lifesaving process before the ambulance arrives at their home. In this particular patient’s case, it took three minutes for the services to deliver the defibrillator to his home. A bystander, who happened to be a doctor on the way to his job, used the AED on the patient after providing CPR.

The drone was developed with the Center for Resuscitation Science at Karolinska Institutet, SOS Alarm, and Region Västra Götaland.

Image: Everdrone

“This is an excellent real-world example of how Everdrone’s cutting edge drone technology, fully integrated with emergency dispatch, can minimize the time for access to live-saving AED equipment,” Everdrone CEO Mats Sällström said.

In a four-month pilot study testing the EMADE program, the service got 14 heart attack alerts that would be eligible for drones. Drones took off in 12 of those cases, and 11 successfully delivered the defibrillators. Seven of those defibrillators were delivered before the ambulance arrived.

In Europe, about 275,000 patients suffer from cardiac arrest annually with approximately 70 percent of those arrests occurring in a private home without a defibrillator on site, according to Everdrone. The survival rate is around 10 percent.

Currently, the EMADE service can reach 200,000 Swedish residents. The company said it plans to expand to more locations in Europe this year.

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Walmart is expanding its direct-to-your-refrigerator deliveries

Walmart is expanding its direct-to-your-refrigerator deliveries

Walmart plans to expand InHome, its delivery service that brings groceries (and other items) directly to your fridge or countertop, to 30 million US households by the end of this year. As a part of the expansion, the retail giant says it will hire 3,000 delivery drivers and establish an all-electric fleet of delivery vehicles, thousands of which it has just ordered from the General Motors-backed electric vehicle company BrightDrop.

The InHome delivery service requires you to pay a $19.95 / month subscription fee, along with an optional $49.95 fee for a smart lock (if you don’t already have a garage keypad or a smart lock already) that grants bodycam-wearing Walmart associates access to your home — and your fridge. When the service first launched in 2019, it only serviced one million customers in select locations. The expansion will bring the service to more places across the US, but Walmart doesn’t make it clear where exactly it will be available.

Walmart’s service competes directly with Amazon Key, a similar program launched in 2017 that lets couriers inside your front door to drop off packages. But apparently, some people don’t feel comfortable letting complete strangers into their house, which is why Amazon later decided to add in-garage and in-gate deliveries as alternatives. No matter what service you choose, though, you’ll need to make some extra purchases, including an Amazon Key front door lock and Cloud Cam, a myQ-compatible garage door opener, or a professional installation of the Ring Access Pro for your gate.

Unlike Amazon, however, Walmart won’t be contracting out some of its drivers to third parties (and hopefully won’t subject them to weird standards like how clean their fingernails are or what their breath smells like). Delivery drivers will be employed full-time by the company, allowing them to take advantage of health benefits, paid time off, 401(k) matching, and a $1.50 pay increase from standard store positions. Walmart also plans on filling these roles using some of its existing associates rather than hiring all new employees.

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BMW debuts its new color-changing paint technology at CES: E Ink

BMW debuts its new color-changing paint technology at CES: E Ink

If you’ve ever felt indecisive about what color vehicle to buy, BMW may have the car for you. The German automaker showed off its new color-changing paint technology at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that shares more in common with a Kindle than you’d think at first glance.

Relying on E Ink, the electronic paper technology used in e-readers, and the old Pebble watch, the color-changing paint technology is making its debut on a concept version of the BMW iX that is being presented at CES.

The surface coating of the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink contains many millions of microcapsules, with a diameter equivalent to the thickness of a human hair. Each of these microcapsules contains negatively charged white pigments and positively charged black pigments. Depending on the chosen setting, stimulation by means of an electrical field causes either the white or the black pigments to collect at the surface of the microcapsule, giving the car body the desired shade.

Just don’t expect to see this at your local BMW dealership anytime soon: the automaker says this is just an “advanced research and design project.”

The innovative paint scheme can be triggered at the touch of a button. Right now, the colors are limited to white, black, and grey. But despite the constrained palette, BMW says it could have implications for the efficiency of its electric vehicles.

“A white surface reflects a lot more sunlight than a black one,” the company says. “By implication, heating of the vehicle and passenger compartment as a result of strong sunlight and high outside temperatures can be reduced by changing the exterior to a light color.” In cooler weather, darker tones will help the vehicle to absorb more warmth from the sun.

The concept of “personalization” is very popular right now in the auto industry. But while most of the efforts are focused on the interior, tweaking the software to remember the driver’s preferred vehicle settings, BMW is bringing the concept of personalization to the exterior of the vehicle.

How durable this high-tech paint is and whether it can withstand extreme weather is anyone’s guess. I can’t imagine this would handle well in a hail storm, for example. But don’t listen to me. Color-changing car!!

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New Instagram test brings back the chronological feed

New Instagram test brings back the chronological feed

Instagram head Adam Mosseri says the company has started testing two new feed settings, including the much-requested chronological option.

In a video shared today, Mosseri demonstrated a new menu with three options for how Instagram’s feed will display posts. The “Home” setting is what users are familiar with — a feed Instagram creates based on what it thinks will interest each user, ranked using an algorithm. A new “Favorites” feed will be populated with content from a subset of accounts a user chooses (Mosseri says he uses it for siblings, certain creators, and friends). And finally, a “Following” feed will return what many users have been asking for: a chronological stream of posts from accounts you follow.

Mosseri promised the chronological feed would make a comeback during a Senate subcommittee hearing in December. During a Q&A last month, he also said Instagram was “already testing the favorites idea.”

Instagram’s algorithmically sorted feed has been criticized by users since it was first introduced in 2016. Users have complained about going long periods of time without seeing posts from accounts they follow or having older posts at the top of their feeds. Creators have speculated about how algorithms decide which content to push to the top, and Mosseri has written blogs explaining some of the methods used.

Some users have already noticed the new options in the Instagram app. The company didn’t immediately respond to questions about when it expects the change to become available to all users.

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Volvo confident it can get its ‘unsupervised’ highway driving mode approved in California

Volvo confident it can get its ‘unsupervised’ highway driving mode approved in California

Volvo announced a new advanced driver assist system called Ride Pilot system, in which its vehicles drive themselves on certain highways without any human supervision. Ride Pilot will be available as a subscription service to customers in California, the company announced at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show.

It’s an ambitious plan that carries its own risks and sets Volvo apart from its competitors, many of which are planning to launch self-driving technology as part of a robotaxi service rather than production cars for personal ownership. But Volvo believes that by limiting the operational domain — or conditions under which the car can drive autonomously — to just highways, it is creating vehicle technology that is not only safer but less costly as well.

“We will not require hands on the steering wheel and we will not require eyes on the road,” Henrik Green, the automaker’s chief technology officer, said in an interview with The Verge. But when asked whether drivers will be able to take a nap in the car with Ride Pilot active, Green demurred.

“We’re still being very purposely non-distinct in the wake-up time that we require,” he said. “Taking a nap requires a wake-up time, so let’s see how far and when we can get there. You need to be able to assume control in a certain time and take back the driving responsibility.”

Pending regulatory approval, the new feature will only be available to customers in California at first. Green described the state as a “good geographic location in terms of weather conditions: it’s sunny, it’s got good road conditions.”

Volvo’s forthcoming (and unnamed) electric SUV, which will be announced later this year, will be the first vehicle to feature Ride Pilot. Volvo’s Concept Recharge, which was revealed last summer, is meant to preview that SUV, as well as how the new driver assist system will be presented with a fully integrated roof lidar from supplier Luminar. The design of the Concept Recharge will likely be similar to that of the electric XC90 successor due to arrive later this year.

In addition to Luminar’s lidar, Volvo’s Ride Pilot system will be powered by software developed by Zenseact, a subsidiary of Volvo which worked alongside the automaker’s own team of engineers. Luminar, which is based in Florida, has worked closely with Zenseact’s team in Sweden on a full-stack autonomous driving software for series production vehicles.

Volvo’s Concept Recharge electric SUV, first revealed in the summer of 2021.
Image: Volvo

Green wouldn’t say when it plans on officially activating Ride Pilot, but he noted that it will almost certainly be sometime after 2022. “What is still not super clear is obviously the timeline both from our confidence and our validation that we are good to go, and [the regulations] need to be in place,” Green said.

Ride Pilot is what the Society of Automotive Engineers would define as a Level 3 autonomous system, in which the driver’s supervision is not required in a highly controlled setting, like on certain mapped highways. But in Level 3 systems, the driver still needs to be ready to take control at a moment’s notice, leaving it somewhat in a nebulous zone between Level 2 advanced driver assist systems, like Tesla’s Autopilot, and fully driverless vehicles, like Waymo’s autonomous taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona.

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles oversees the largest autonomous vehicle testing program in the country, with over 60 companies permitted to operate test vehicles on public roads. Only a handful are approved to operate fully autonomous vehicles without safety drivers at the wheel, and even fewer have been approved to deploy vehicles for commercial purposes.

But what Volvo is seeking to do is a bit different. The automaker is applying for a permit to test autonomous vehicles on public roads through the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Rather than deploy its vehicles as part of a taxi or delivery fleet, Volvo wants California’s approval to offer its Level 3 autonomous system to customers as a part of a subscription service — something the state has yet to do for any company.


According to the DMV, a company wishing to deploy Level 3 capable vehicles on public roads must obtain authorization from the state before making their technology available to customers. Volvo has not applied for a deployment permit yet, a spokesperson for the agency said in an email.

Offering Ride Pilot as a subscription presents a lower hurdle to consumers, Green said, given the large percentages of people who lease their vehicles rather than own them. “Not everybody sits on a big amount of cash available,” he said. “Subscription is a very low hurdle you can try out.”

Most AV companies, including Waymo and Cruise, have said they are skipping Level 3 and working exclusively on Level 4 technology. The reason is that Level 3 is seen as being potentially dangerous, given the likelihood that drivers will be confused about when they need to takeover control of the vehicle.

Other automakers have been tripped up by the promise of Level 3 driving. In 2018, Audi said its A8 sedan would come with a feature called Traffic Jam Assist that, when active, would relieve human drivers of the need to pay attention during stop-and-go traffic. But the feature was contingent on approval from local authorities, and Traffic Jam Assist remains dormant in most markets around the world. Audi has no plans to activate the feature, and Level 3 automation remains a morass of legal, regulatory, and business-related challenges.

Another potential hurdle is the potential for misuse by customers. A good example is Tesla’s Level 2 “Full Self-Driving” beta software that, despite its misleading name, still requires drivers to be vigilant while in use. Tesla’s customers often ignore the company’s warnings and misuse Autopilot to record themselves performing dangerous stunts. This type of rule-breaking is to be expected, especially in a society where clout-chasing has become a way of life for many people.

Green says it’s a communications and a technology challenge for Volvo to ensure its customers know when they need to take over and when they are misusing the system.

“It needs to be clear in the communication to the consumer,” he said. “It needs to be clear inside the vehicle while you are operating it. So a very important area.”

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Razer’s new app will put Chroma RGB throughout your home

Razer’s new app will put Chroma RGB throughout your home

Most of Razer’s products live in the entertainment center, or near the PC, but it wants to expand its reach to every corner of your home — or at least, everywhere you use smart lights. At CES 2022, the company announced that it intends to launch a Razer Smart Home app for mobile, which it says is a “simple, yet powerful tool that puts complete, unified control into the user’s hands.” With it, Razer plans to make it easier to set up, customize, and sync all of your lights, regardless of the manufacturer. It plans to share more details at this link.

Razer has been toying with this idea of tapping into other smart lights before. Currently, gamers who have Razer’s Synapse PC software can sync a Philips Hue Bridge (and the lights connected to it) to mimic the same lighting settings as the LEDs packed into countless Razer gaming peripherals. But a mobile app, in theory, seems like an easier way to quickly broaden its partners since many lights support both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.

Razer’s using the CES 2022 stage to send an open invite to any company that’s interested in joining its Razer Chrome Smart Home Program. Brands like Nanoleaf, LIFX, Yeelight, Monster, and Twinkly are already in the fold, and Razer says it has more partners coming soon (hopefully Signify’s Philips Hue).

Razer Chrome RGB app

A screenshot of the landing page in Razer’s upcoming app.
Image: Razer

Razer shared a lone screenshot of what its smart home app will look like, showing a simple layout that seems to make it easy to switch lights on and off in rooms, as well as change their color. Razer’s app will offer customizable routines, too. The company hasn’t shared what the setup process for each light will look like or what other settings there are.

There are other crucial details that Razer hasn’t touched on, like whether it intends to branch out beyond lights and into other smart home categories. We also don’t know if its app can handle necessary firmware updates for various smart lights, or if you’ll still need each of your smart bulbs’ original apps installed to handle that. It also hasn’t shared whether the app will be free to use — and remain free to use — and if it intends to allow any automation beyond scheduling routines. We’ve reached out to Razer for clarification on these details.

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Google will spend 2022 trying to match Apple’s ecosystem integrations

Google will spend 2022 trying to match Apple’s ecosystem integrations

Google is announcing no fewer than 13 different new software features at CES 2022, ranging from AirPods-like fast switching to promised software that will mirror your Android text apps on a Chromebook. It’s part of an initiative that Google calls “Better Together” but that the rest of the industry is more likely to refer to as “catching up to Apple’s ecosystem.”

The biggest updates come to Google’s “Fast Pair” framework, an Android UI designed to make pairing Bluetooth headphones easier. This year, Google will extend it to support auto-switching between devices, faster pairing to Android TV and Google TV, and more. It will also adopt the Fast Pair framework for installing new smart home devices using the upcoming Matter standard, which should mean that getting a new smart lightbulb or door lock going will be a lot easier.

Google will also enable smartwatches running Wear OS 3 to unlock paired Android phones or Chromebooks, much in the same way an Apple Watch can unlock an iPhone. That feature will arrive “in the coming months,” and hopefully, there will be more Wear OS 3 watches available when it launches. Right now, the only major smartwatch running the new OS is Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4.

Wear OS 3 will have on-wrist detection, so if the watch is unlocked it can be used to unlock an Android phone.

Wear OS 3 will have on-wrist detection, so if the watch is unlocked, it can be used to unlock an Android phone.

All of the features Google is announcing today are planned to arrive later this year, in timespans ranging from “in the coming weeks” to “in the coming months” to “later this year.” They will hit Android phones via software updates (that may not require full OS updates), Chromebooks, Android TV, Bluetooth headphones, and even some Windows laptops from Acer and HP.

That last detail may turn out to be one of the more important announcements from Google: HP, Acer, and Intel are partnering with Google to support some of its Better Together features on their laptops. Users will be able to use Fast Pair, sync text messages, and use Android’s Nearby Share feature to share files to their upcoming Windows PCs. Alongside Google’s announced plans to bring Google Play games to Windows, it’s another sign that the company won’t cede Android integrations on Windows entirely to Microsoft’s software and partnerships.

The Windows integrations are notable, but there are, of course, more planned features for Chromebooks beyond Fast Pair. Google says it will create a system so that any messaging app on your phone can be mirrored on a Chromebook, allowing users to directly use their messaging apps. It will also add a feature called “Camera Roll on Phone Hub” that will make it easier to move photos from your phone to your Chromebook.

Chromebooks will also be getting a new setup flow if you have an Android phone — pair them during setup, and some settings and account information will be transferred over automatically. They’ll also be unlockable via Wear OS watches.

Android will use Google’s Fast Pair UI to speed up smart home gadget setup.

Android will use Google’s Fast Pair UI to speed up smart home gadget setup.

Finally, there are a few smaller announcements. On the audio side, Bose speakers and soundbars will begin supporting Chromecast in the coming weeks, and spatial audio with head tracking is coming for Android.

Google is also still working on adding support for unlocking cars via UWB (currently available on Samsung phones and the Pixel 6 Pro), and as always with these car locking announcements, the first partner will be BMW. Volvo, which uses Android Auto as its native system for running the dashboard computer, will integrate with the Google Assistant so you can use your smart speaker for functions like remote start.

Stepping back and looking at the features as a whole, it’s difficult not to draw nearly one-to-one parallels to Apple ecosystem features. Headphones are extending Bluetooth to support auto-switching and head-tracking spatial audio, just like AirPods. iPhone users with Mac have long had their default texting experience fully synced. Nearby Share is very similar to AirDrop. Unlocking with a smartwatch is also a big Apple ecosystem benefit.

Normally at CES, Google has emphasized the power of the Google Assistant. This year, it’s hoping to get you to believe that Android can work better with your other devices. The challenge for Google is to actually get lots of different devices and manufacturers to support all of these features. That will be no easy task — and it’s likely one of the main reasons there are no firm dates or even specific hardware products attached to any of these announcements.

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Android will get AirPod-style auto-switching and spatial audio in 2022

Android will get AirPod-style auto-switching and spatial audio in 2022

Google plans to spend the next few months beefing up the Bluetooth headphone capabilities on Android phones. It plans to update its Fast Pair technology to include features that iPhone and AirPod users have long enjoyed. With supported headphones (which presumably are forthcoming in 2022 but have not yet been announced), audio sources including Android phones, Chromebooks, Android TV, and select Windows PCs will be auto-switching.

Google will also begin supporting full head tracking for spatial audio on Android, adapting sound based on your head movements. It already supports basic spatial audio for a few music services right now. Unfortunately, that’s all the detail the company is providing on spatial audio right now — which means details ranging from supported music streaming services, supported headphones, and supported versions of Android are still unknown.

Auto-switching and spatial audio are just two of many Fast Pair features set to arrive “in the coming months” and, in a few cases, “in the coming weeks.” Fast Pair is Google’s system for more seamlessly pairing Bluetooth devices together, using a little pop-up window instead of requiring users to go spelunking in the system settings.

As with Apple’s system, it’s also meant to pair your headphones to multiple devices attached to your account. Unlike Apple’s system, Google’s Fast Pair feature set is still unfinished and a little confounding. In both cases, however, the core idea is to build a system on top of regular Bluetooth to make it easier for users to manage their devices — and perhaps to create a little lock-in as a result.

Samsung has a lock-in ecosystem of its own with Samsung devices and Samsung headphones, supporting some of the features that Google is hoping to roll out more generally this year. Google’s Fast Pair, however, are open to more manufacturers.

Auto-switching Bluetooth headphones from an Android tablet to an Android phone when a call comes in

Auto-switching Bluetooth headphones from an Android tablet to an Android phone when a call comes in

Alongside those two marquee Fast Pair features, a smattering of others are coming in 2022. Google will enable Fast Pairing on Google TV and “other Android TV OS” devices as well as Chromebooks. More interestingly, Google is partnering with Acer and HP to begin bringing some of its Fast Pair technologies to Windows PCs, as well as bringing support for Nearby Share and text message sync.

These audio features are part of Google’s larger set of CES 2022 announcements — all of which are also set to arrive sometime in 2022. Google’s “Better Together” branding is extending to include text message sync for any app with Chromebooks, using the Fast Pair UI to set up smart home gadgets, building Chromecast into Bose speakers and soundbars, and even unlocking Android phones with Wear OS 3 smartwatches.

In all, these announcements are Google’s attempt to bring Android users many of the ecosystem benefits that Apple users enjoy. But since it’s Google and Android, expect the rollout to take some time and be a little haphazard. Google does say that many of these features won’t require a full Android OS update, at least.

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HTC is launching a VR wrist tracker for its Vive Focus 3 headset

HTC is launching a VR wrist tracker for its Vive Focus 3 headset

HTC is announcing a new wrist-based controller for its Vive Focus 3 virtual reality headset. The wireless Vive Wrist Tracker fits like a watch around a user’s arm, tracking the orientation and position from hand to elbow. It’s designed to complement the business-focused headset’s existing controllers, particularly for simulation and training experiences where body position is important. It’s also part of a larger suite of new features HTC revealed at CES, including a 5G-powered VR experience.

The Wrist Tracker looks a lot like a small, light, and specialized version of the Vive Tracker device HTC debuted in 2017. It includes a strap and a toggle indicating whether the tracker should be on a left or right arm, but unlike the multi-buttoned Vive Focus 3 controllers, it’s designed to basically connect to the headset wirelessly and transmit movement data, without the need for the headset’s cameras to see it. (You can also attach it to inanimate objects.) The VR training company Flaim describes using it to ensure that people were holding a virtual fire extinguisher in the correct position — something you couldn’t necessarily determine with a handheld controller alone — and Taser maker Axon will apparently integrate it into the company’s VR training system.

The Vive Focus 3 Wrist Tracker

While HTC didn’t list a price for the tracker, it will launch in the first quarter of 2022. Like the Vive Tracker and the $1,300 Vive Focus 3, it’s not designed for consumers, and it will be most valuable with experiences that are designed specifically to take advantage of it. But it’s also one of the less exotic accessories HTC has developed — a category that includes a sophisticated lip tracking device.

HTC likewise announced the launch of what it’s calling a “portable, private 5G experience” in partnership with Lumen Technologies. It’s an application that’s run on the Vive Focus 3 but offloads most of the actual data processing to a remote computer and streams it through a private 5G system via Lumen. Mobile VR is a long-standing potential use case for 5G networks since experiences can require a lot of computational power delivered with low latency to headsets — although, so far, it hasn’t been transformational in the space.

At CES, the company also announced a charging case and an accessory for charging multiple batteries at a time, aimed at location-based entertainment providers like arcades that want to quickly swap out batteries for multiple headsets. Location-based entertainment providers have used wired HTC headsets for some time, but the Vive Focus 3 promises to be more convenient, particularly after a series of software updates last year.

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Google is buying a company for half a billion dollars to boost cloud security

Google is buying a company for half a billion dollars to boost cloud security

Google’s $500 million acquisition of Israel-based startup Siemplify is supposed to help the company bolster its own cloud security initiative, Chronicle, according to a report from Reuters. In a blog post announcing the deal, Google describes Siemplify as a security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) organization and plans to integrate its capabilities into Chronicle.

“Siemplify is an intuitive workbench that enables security teams to both manage risk better and reduce the cost of addressing threats,” Sunil Potti, the vice president of Google Cloud Security, states in the blog post. “Siemplify allows Security Operation Center analysts to manage their operations from end-to-end, respond to cyber threats with speed and precision, and get smarter with every analyst interaction.”

Siemplify got its start in 2015, and as Reuters notes, it has raised a total of $58 million from investors to date. A source close to the situation told Reuters that the Alphabet-owned Google became interested in purchasing the startup after it heard Siemplify was gearing up for another round of funding. Siemplify will now join Chronicle under the Google Cloud umbrella.

Chronicle was first launched in 2018 after spinning off of X Development (formerly Google X), Alphabet’s “moonshot factory,” and is supposed to help large enterprises detect, analyze, and store security-related information. According to Vice, security experts were excited about the up-and-coming company when it first launched, as it was supposed to use innovative machine-learning technology and telemetry data to boost companies’ cybersecurity. But after becoming an arm of Google Cloud in 2019, Vice reports that some employees quit — including co-founder Mike Wiacek — as a result of feeling that the company lost its original purpose.

Google’s acquisition of Siemplify doesn’t come long after the tech giant promised to spend over $10 billion over the next five years to help improve US cybersecurity. In May, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to help strengthen national cybersecurity in light of the major attacks on the Colonial Pipeline and Microsoft Exchange Server.

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