The pocket radar: Get ready for phones that can look through walls

April 21st, 2016

How the $149 Walabot is already sparking the interest of developers, who plan to use it for everything from collision detection in cars to honing their martial arts skills

walabot-pocket-radar-image www.freepnonelink.net

The Walabot Pro.
Image: Vayyar Imaging

Fancy looking through walls using your phone? Well soon it will be possible using a handheld radar.

The Walabot is a radar unit that attaches to smartphones and can be used to scan the world around you.

While radar-imaging technology typically costs at least thousands of dollars, the cheapest Walabot will cost $149, thanks to Vayyar Imaging shrinking the necessary technology down to a phone-sized system on a chip.

As proof of what the Walabot can do, the Pro version of the device will come with an Android app that can peer through walls — allowing the user to find pipes and wires, for instance.

“Since Walabot can sense minute changes and very small movement, you’ll be able to see when pipes are dripping and other problems,” said Raviv Melamed, CEO and co-founder of Vayyar Imaging.

The device can see through about 7cm to 10cm of concrete, enough to allow it to look through a typical wall and can penetrate more deeply through less-dense obstacles, such as drywall. Melamed says Walabot can see through almost any material other than metal, which Melamed describes as the Walabot’s kryptonite.

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An Android app uses the Walabot’s radar to see pipes through a section of wall.
Image: Nick Heath / TechRepublic

But the uses of the technology go far beyond locating a leaking pipe, Melamed foresees a host of applications being developed for the device after it launches at the end of April. These apps will not only take advantage of Walabot’s ability to “see” through solid objects, but to track people and objects in 3D space.

For instance, collision detection and avoidance in vehicles — with a Walabot-connected app letting you know when you get too close to the car in front.

“You could put this on the dashboard connected to your phone and get an alert.”

Smart homes could be another potential use, with the Walabot providing the imaging for an app that watches over people and things. The Walabot attaches to the back of the phone via magnets but it could be attached to any metallic surface in a home, such as a fridge or air-conditioning unit, and paired with a small computer such as the Raspberry Pi. Melamed gives the example of how the technology could help an app spot when an elderly person had had a fall and was unable to move.

“People fall in their bedroom or in the shower and these are places where you cannot put cameras. For example, I would love to have something that tracked my mother or father without compromising their privacy.”

If the Walabot is pointing at a person the device is sensitive enough that it can track a person’s breathing, for instance, letting you know if someone is in a particular room. That person’s breathing is detected by measuring the movement of the person’s chest, which the Walabot captures by detecting radio waves that it bounces off the person’s body. When used in open space, the Walabot can detect people and things over a range of about four to five metres.

The device is even sensitive enough to measure a person’s heartbeat, said Melamed, by detecting blood vessels pulsing under the surface of the skin.

Intelligent cities are at the forefront of the next wave of the Internet of Things. The goals are to streamline communication and improve the lives of citizens. And save a little money along the way.

These are some of the obvious uses for Walabot, but Melamed says “there are so many things you can do with this technology”, which Vayyar Imaging hopes will emerge once developers get their hands on the device.

“You could do a lot of things with Walabot and there are a lot of smart people out there who should come up with some crazy ideas to play around with.”

Developers are already coming up with ideas Vayyar Imaging would never have thought of – for example, someone from Norway plans to use it to check which logs will burn best in their fireplace by scanning them to detect differing moisture levels. Another developer wants to use Walabot to measure the speed of his kicks when he practices martial arts.

“You can just go wild with it,” said Melamed.

One of the most difficult things to see through is human skin, according to Vayyar Imaging. Even though the technology Walabot relies on was originally developed to detect breast cancer, Walabot’s makers don’t recommend using the device to carry out medical examinations.

“Walabot is not a medical tool, it’s mainly for makers to play around with.”

When it comes to safety, the electromagnetic frequency of Walabot’s radar is “close to that” typically used by wi-fi, said Melamed, but “we are sending signals using more than 1,000-times less power than your wi-fi”.

What is the Walabot?

While Walabot’s imaging capabilities may sound similar to those of Microsoft Kinect, the technology works in a fundamentally different way. While the Kinect uses infra-red scanning to map 3D spaces, the Walabot uses radar to detect people and objects. This contrasting approach means the devices have differing strengths. Whereas the Walabot has a higher detection range and can penetrate solid objects, said Melamed, the Kinect can map 3D objects in finer detail, as the resolution of the captured image is higher.

“When you go further away from the Kinect the resolution gets worse. Where Kinect ends, this starts. So these are very complementary.”

To get the Walabot’s radar technology into a low-cost device the size of a smartphone, Vayyar Imaging developed a “very complex” system-on-a-chip for collecting and handling the radar data. This is paired with a set of algorithms that analyse and make sense of the radar data and also compensate for the distortion caused by Walabot’s casing.

Walabot will cost between $149 and $599, depending on the model. The three models differ in the number of antennas and the range of data they make available to developers via an API. Walabot’s four APIs will expose various data derived from the radar signals, such as 2D range and direction tracking and movement sensing, as well as, for the top-end model, offering access to the raw radar data and spatial sensing in 3D.

“We’re trying to provide a full breadth [of data] so people at all levels can play with it,” said Melamed.

The $599 Pro version is aimed at high-end users, such as businesses or research institutions. “Basically it’s like a lab that lets you do whatever you want,” said Melamed, recommending this model for uses such as collision avoidance, robotic guidance and 3D tracking.

The Walabot will last one to two hours on a single charge and the company are also planning to release a version with an attached battery.

When used with its demo apps, the Walabot can be set up quickly, for example, the Android wall scanning app that comes with the Pro version takes about four seconds to be ready to use.

However, despite shipping with this sample app, the Walabot is primarily aimed at developers who want to build their own applications around it. The Walabot connects to computers and phones via a Micro-USB cable. Various SDKs will be available, initially an Android SDK for the C++/Java programming languages, followed by a C#/VB/C++ SDK for Windows and a C++ SDK for Linux.

The first Walabot devices will ship to Europe from the end of April and the documentation for the API launches today. The Walabot is expected to be available in the US from about mid-May, as the Walabot, while having passed FCC tests, is waiting for official certification.

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Henry Sapiecha

I switched from Android to iPhone for two months. Here’s what I learned

January 30th, 2016

Commentary: This Google fanboy lived with an iPhone for two months. What made him go back to Android?

motorola-moto-x-pure-edition-0012-008 image www.freephonelink.net

Android users are embracing the iPhone. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, 30 percent of new iPhone buyers had switched from an Android device in the July-to-September 2015 quarter. And this week, Cook reiterated that the trend is accelerating, saying: “We were blown away by the level of Android switchers that we had last quarter [October through December]. It was the highest ever by far.”

As an avid Android user, I had never thought of switching, but was curious why others were jumping ship at higher rates. Was it the larger screens that debuted with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, finally bringing the iPhone to parity with Android phablets? Perhaps frustration over the lack of Android software updates?

I decided it was time to try iOS for myself. I removed the SIM card from my Moto X Pure and popped it into a brand-new iPhone 6S. I’ve used an iPhone on a few occasions for work purposes, but this would be the first time I was using an iPhone (albeit a temporary loaner) as my personal phone. That means not carrying my Android device with me for two months, which included a hectic week in Las Vegas for the CES trade show.

I switched from the Moto X Pure to the iPhone 6S for two months. Josh Miller/CNET

I’ll state one obvious thing right up front: both Android and iOS, at this point, are very mature operating systems. They’re also, at this point, more similar than different from each other. And while I was moving from one high-end phone to another, I was focusing on software differences, not so much hardware ones, although I’ve included some below.

That said, here were the things that I noticed most when I went from Android to iOS.

Where Apple wins

Timely software updates

I started using the iPhone in early December and since then received two software updates (iOS 9.2 and iOS 9.2.1) with a third set to arrive shortly (iOS 9.3). And these software updates are available around the world, simultaneously, to all supported iPhones regardless of wireless carrier. As a result, iOS 9 is running on more than 75 percent of all iOS devices, which includes iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches, according to Apple’s App Store Distribution page. Even more impressive, the company is still updating the iPhone 4S, which was released back in 2011.

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Apple is still updating the iPhone 4S, which was released back in 2011. James Martin/CNET

For Google’s operating system, the situation couldn’t be more different. The latest operating system, Android 6.0 Marshmallow, was released in late September and is found on less than 1 percent of Android devices. (You can thank the large number of Android hardware partners — and their insistence on customizing the OS — for that, but it’s still frustrating for the user.) Bottom line: Unless you are on one of Google’s Nexus devices, you rarely receive software updates on Android.

That’s not the case for Apple.

Apps still come to iOS first

It’s not nearly as bad as it used to be, but developers still tend to develop apps for iOS first. The live-streaming app Periscope was available on iOS two months before Android. Facebook’s Paper app and new Sports Stadium are only available for the iPhone, as is the the NYT Now app. Periscope’s new GoPro compatibility can only broadcast from iPhones for now as well. And the list goes on.

Touch ID is incredibly fast

I’ve used fingerprint sensors before, but Touch ID feels faster than the rest. I rarely saw the lock screen. A simple press on the home button would turn my screen on and unlock it within seconds. I also found Touch ID to be more reliable than others I have used, such as the one of the Nexus 6P and Samsung Galaxy S6.

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Where Android still wins

Fast charging

I had to charge the iPhone at least once, sometimes twice during the work day. I’ve come to expect this with many smartphones, but charging the iPhone can be a real pain. It takes over 2 1/2 hours to go from zero to full.

A majority of recent high-end Android devices include a quick-charging feature. I could get about 8 hours of power from a 15-minute charge on my Moto X Pure. The huge market for iPhone battery packs and charging accessories shows that battery life remains a challenge for iPhone users.

Many recent high-end Android smartphones include a fast-charge feature. Josh Miller/CNET

Front-facing speakers

The Moto X Pure is one of a handful of Android devices that include front-facing speakers — a feature I desperately missed. The iPhone speakers sound clear, but they just don’t seem to get loud enough. I like to listen to music when I take showers. The speakers on the Moto X were able to get loud enough to overcome the sound of the water, but this wasn’t the case for the iPhone. I ended up having to pair it to a Bluetooth speaker to get my morning music fix.

OS-level Google integration

It’s scary how much I rely on Google for both work and personal use. While the search giant has all of its essential services on iOS, I miss how everything was integrated with Android. The Google Now home screen on my Moto X Pure provided me with all the essential information I needed — traffic information for my commute home, package tracking, stock information, suggested articles based on my interest, and more.

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Freedom, efficiency and customization

Android gives users freedom over almost every part of the operating system. You can change texting apps, the look of icons, the default Web browser, and more. While iOS lets you choose from a variety of third-party keyboards, you can’t set any apps to be used by default.

I also noticed that actions on iOS tended to require extra steps. For example, on Android I can choose to connect to a specific Wi-Fi network in the notifications pull-down. While iOS will let you toggle Wi-Fi on and off through the Control Center (the menu that appears when you swipe up on the home screen), you have to go into the Settings app and click Wi-Fi to choose a specific network.

The upcoming iOS 9.3 update will let you 3D Touch the Settings app to jump directly into the Wi-Fi settings, but it’s still not as quick as pulling down the notifications menu.

And the winner is…ANDROID

Overall my experience was enjoyable. The iPhone 6S is a great phone, and I recommend it to almost everyone. The camera is top-notch, the phone runs smoothly and the operating system is easy to navigate.

But in the end I won’t be sticking with it. Android is more of a natural fit for me. I’m more efficient on my Android device and I love the deep Google integration. I also like that I can make my device look and feel unique with custom icons, launchers, widgets and home screens.

At least, that’s the case for now. Let’s see what Google and Apple have on deck for 2016.

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Henry Sapiecha

 

Are Unlimited Data Cellphone Plans On Their Way Back?

January 13th, 2016

AT T Unlimited Data_Plan image www.freephonelink.net

In this Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014, photo, people pass an AT&T store on New York’s Madison Avenue. AT&T is once again experimenting with offering unlimited data plans to smartphone customers while promoting its DirecTV service, signaling a potential reversal of industry trends toward data caps and charges for big video watchers. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

AT&T is once again experimenting with offering unlimited data plans to smartphone customers while promoting its DirecTV service, signaling a potential reversal of industry trends toward data caps and charges for big video watchers.

AT&T is trying to capitalize on its $48.5 billion purchase of DirecTV last year. On Monday, it’s announcing an unlimited data plan for cellphones, if you also get DirecTV or AT&T’s home-TV service, U-verse.

The unlimited data deal may be cheaper than AT&T’s limited-data plan if you have a family that watches a lot of video and want cable; if it’s one person, sticking with the existing plan is likely a better value, especially if you don’t want cable. It’s a limited-time offer but AT&T won’t say when the promotion would end. People who sign up can keep their plans when or if the promotion ends.

While AT&T killed its unlimited data plan in 2010 for new customers, followed by Verizon in 2012, unlimited plans — with qualifiers — do still exist. Both the biggest wireless carriers let their existing customers keep unlimited plans, although the price has gone up recently. Late last year, they announced price increases — Verizon charging an extra $20 per line, AT&T another $5.

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Henry Sapiecha

Ending text messages with a full stop is not the done thing, report shows

December 10th, 2015

man texting image www.freephonelink.net

Ending a sentence with a period may be grammatically correct, but it can make you seem less sincere in text messages. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Ending your texts with a full stop is truly monstrous. We all know this. Grammar be darned, it just doesn’t look friendly.

Now a study has confirmed it. Researchers led by Binghamton University’s Celia Klin report that text messages ending with a full stop are perceived as being less sincere, probably because the people sending them are heartless.
Ending texts with a full stop just looks rude.

Screen-Shot-txting & full stops screen shot image www.freephonelink.net

Monster. Photo: Rachel Feltman / The Washington Post

“Text messaging is one of the most frequently used computer-mediated communication (CMC) methods. The rapid pace of texting mimics face-to-face communication, leading to the question of whether the critical non-verbal aspects of conversation, such as tone, are expressed in CMC,” the researchers write in the study, which was published recently in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
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To test whether the full stop had become a social cue within the context of CMC, the researchers presented a small group (126 undergraduates — admittedly not representative of the entire global population, but at least fairly representative of the most prolific texters) with a series of exchanges framed as either text messages or handwritten notes.

As in the example above (which I harassed a friend into making with me, lest you worry that I’m having drinks with a robot that doesn’t understand how to love), the experimental messages featured an invitation followed by a brief reply. When that reply was followed by a full stop, subjects rated the response as less sincere than when no punctuation was used. The effect wasn’t present in handwritten notes.

According to Klin and her fellow researchers, that’s an indication that the text message full stop has taken on a life of its own. It is no longer just the correct way to end a sentence. It’s an act of psychological warfare against your friends. In follow-up research that hasn’t yet been published, they saw signs that exclamation points — once a rather uncouth punctuation mark — may make your messages seem more sincere than no punctuation at all.

“Texting is lacking many of the social cues used in actual face-to-face conversations. When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and so on,” Klin said in a statement. “People obviously can’t use these mechanisms when they are texting. Thus, it makes sense that texters rely on what they have available to them — emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and, according to our data, punctuation.”

It’s no surprise that language is evolving in weird and potentially scary ways, because language has always done that. Just chalk this one up to human ingenuity — even when we can’t talk face to face, we’ll always find ways to be jerks to one another.

So take heed, members of pre-CMC generations: If you insist on grammatical correctness, you may suffer consequences.

The Washington Post

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Henry Sapiecha

Read more: http://www.watoday.com.au/technology/web-culture/ending-texts-with-a-full-stop-is-terrible-study-confirms-20151208-glivyb.html#ixzz3ttv7NXLV
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Henry Sapiecha

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Henry Sapiecha

 

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Henry Sapiecha