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Updated: 57 min 15 sec ago

The Amazon Fire’s Fanciest Features Fail to Impress

Tue, 08/05/2014 - 00:00

The Amazon Fire Phone tries hard to impress, but often ends up just being annoying.

The Amazon Fire is a good smartphone, but not because of all the high-tech new features Amazon is touting. In fact, some of those features are more wearying than truly useful.

A Room Where Executives Go to Get Help from IBM’s Watson

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 00:00

Researchers at IBM are testing a version of Watson designed to listen and contribute to business meetings.

Photocopiers, PCs, and video conferencing rooms all rose from being technological novelties to standard tools of corporate life. Researchers at IBM are experimenting with an idea for another: a room where executives can go to talk over business problems with a version of Watson, the computer system that defeated two Jeopardy! champions on TV in 2012.

Using Your Ear to Track Your Heart

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 00:00

Although smart watches and fitness bands are proliferating on wrists, there could be an even better spot on the body for wearable tech.

If you’re going to choose a place on the body to measure physical signals, Steven LeBoeuf says two places are far and away the best: the ear or the rear.

Chinese GMO Research Outpaces Approvals

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 00:00

The fact that China hasn’t approved of any commercial GMO planting since 2009 reflects public fears.

Despite recent research advances, such as a new strain of wheat that resists destructive mildew (see “Chinese Researchers Stop Wheat Disease with Gene Editing”), commercial planting of genetically modified food crops has stalled in China, the world’s most populous nation and one with a fast-tightening food supply.

Adaptive Material Could Cut the Cost of Solar in Half

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 00:00

A new material, combined with a cheap tracking system, could unleash the promise of concentrated solar power.

A material with optical properties that change to help it capture more incoming sunlight could cut the cost of solar power in half, according to Glint Photonics, a startup recently funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E).

Startup Wants You to Capture the World in 3-D

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 00:00

Mantis Vision is developing 3-D scanning technology that could end up in lots of tablets.

Gur Bittan envisions a future where you’re not just capturing a regular video of a child’s first steps with a smartphone; you’re doing it in 3-D, and sharing it with friends who can manipulate the video to watch it from different perspectives—even the kid’s point of view, providing you’ve scanned the scene from enough angles.

LCD Hacking Trick Could Make Virtual Reality More Real

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 00:00

Stacking components from two LCD panels more than doubles the pixel density of a video display.

Donning a pair of virtual reality goggles like the Oculus Rift can instantly transport you into another place. But being able to see the pixels that make up that computerized world can be a niggling reminder that your brain is being tricked by an LCD panel strapped to your face.

A Q&A with Gene Wolfe

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 12:00

A Twelve Tomorrows exclusive: Science fiction legend Gene Wolfe looks back on his career.

Gene Wolfe was born in New York City in 1931 and spent his early childhood in Peoria, Illinois, where he lived near his future wife, Rosemary. He moved to Houston with his parents at the age of six, attended Lamar High School, and enrolled at Texas A&M. But when Wolfe dropped out of college, he was drafted into the Army, and fought in Korea as a combat engineer. He returned home, by his own account, “a mess”: “I’d hit the floor at the slightest noise.” Rosemary, whom he met again shortly after he was discharged, he says simply, “saved me.”

Urban Jungle a Tough Challenge for Google’s Autonomous Cars

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 14:06

It may be decades before autonomous vehicles can reliably handle the real world, experts say.

After catching the world and the auto industry by surprise with its progress with self-driving cars, Google has begun the latest, most difficult phase of its project – making the vehicles smart enough to handle the chaos of city streets.

Prototype Display Lets You Say Goodbye to Reading Glasses

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 16:10

Researchers are developing technology that can adjust an image on a display so you can see it clearly without corrective lenses.

Those of us who need glasses to see a TV or laptop screen clearly could ditch the eyewear thanks to a display technology that corrects vision problems.

No Man’s Sky: A Vast Game Crafted by Algorithms

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:50

A new computer game, No Man’s Sky, demonstrates a new way to build computer games filled with diverse flora and fauna.

Sean Murray, one of the creators of the computer game No Man’s Sky, can’t guarantee that the virtual universe he is building is infinite, but he’s certain that, if it isn’t, nobody will ever find out. “If you were to visit one virtual planet every second,” he says, “then our own sun will have died before you’d have seen them all.”

Can Technology Fix Medicine?

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 12:00

Medical data is a hot spot for venture investing and product innovation. The payoff could be better care.

After decades as a technological laggard, medicine has entered its data age. Mobile technologies, sensors, genome sequencing, and advances in analytic software now make it possible to capture vast amounts of information about our individual makeup and the environment around us. The sum of this information could transform medicine, turning a field aimed at treating the average patient into one that’s customized to each person while shifting more control and responsibility from doctors to patients.

Data-Driven Health Care

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 12:00

Chinese Researchers Stop Wheat Disease with Gene Editing

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 11:45

Researchers have created wheat that is resistant to a common disease, using advanced gene editing methods.

Advanced genome-editing techniques have been used to create a strain of wheat resistant to a destructive fungal pathogen—called powdery mildew—that is a major bane to the world’s top food source, according to scientists at one of China’s leading centers for agricultural research.

Flexible, Printed Batteries for Wearable Devices

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 09:32

Imprint Energy is developing a long-lasting, bendable, and rechargeable battery.

A California startup is developing flexible, rechargeable batteries that can be printed cheaply on commonly used industrial screen printers. Imprint Energy, of Alameda, California, has been testing its ultrathin zinc-polymer batteries in wrist-worn devices and hopes to sell them to manufacturers of wearable electronics, medical devices, smart labels, and environmental sensors.

Travel App Can Recommend Places by Looking at Them

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 00:00

Software that counts dogs, martini glasses, and mustaches in Instagram photos provides a novel way to rate businesses.

A travel app called Jetpac hopes to tackle two of the most pressing questions of our time: how can machines reliably extract information from images, and what exactly is the definition of a hipster?

Israeli Rocket Defense System Is Failing at Crucial Task, Expert Analysts Say

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 17:04

Although it appears to hit incoming Hamas rockets, Israel’s system could be falling short of detonating the rockets’ warheads.

Even though Israel’s U.S.-funded “Iron Dome” rocket-defense interceptors appear to be hitting Hamas rockets in recent days, they are almost certainly failing in the crucial job of detonating those rockets’ shrapnel-packed explosive warheads, expert analysts say.

Israeli Rocket Defense System Is Failing, Expert Analysts Say

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 17:04

Although it appears to hit incoming Hamas rockets, Israel’s system could be falling short of detonating the rockets’ warheads.

Even though Israel’s U.S.-funded “Iron Dome” rocket-defense interceptors appear to be hitting Hamas rockets in recent days, they are almost certainly failing in the crucial job of detonating those rockets’ shrapnel-packed explosive warheads, expert analysts say.

A Laboratory for Rare Cells Sheds Light on Cancer

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 14:45

A way of capturing cancer cells from the bloodstream opens a new front in personal cancer treatment.

In 1869, the Australian physician Thomas Ashworth put the blood of woman who had died of breast cancer under a microscope. Peering through it, he spotted “cells identical with those of the cancer itself.”

Low-Power, Color Displays

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 15:04

Oxford University researchers demonstrate that materials used in DVDs could make color displays that don’t sap power.

Researchers at Oxford University have used a type of phase-change material to make devices whose color changes instantly in response to a small jolt of power.  The materials, which are used in some types of DVDs, could lead to ultra-low-power, full-color displays, according to an article describing the work in the journal Nature.

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