TIME Innovation

Skype Translator Will Be Able to Interpret Calls in Real Time

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been showing off a development version of the software, translating between German and English. Windows 8 users will be able to try a beta version by year's end

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella showed off Skype Translator on Tuesday, an upcoming feature aiming at real-time interpretation of voice calls within two years.

The development version of the software was demonstrated at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., where it interpreted between German and English in a conversation, Verge reports. There are plans to add several languages, including Chinese.

Windows 8 users will be able to use a beta version of Skype Translator by the end of the year, said Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft’s vice president of Skype and Lync.

Microsoft has been working on machine translation for more than a decade, but doing so with Skype only seemed like a possibility very recently, the company said on the Microsoft Research site.

Unlike Skype, the Skype Translator feature is not expected to be free.

[Verge]

TIME Innovation

Google’s New Car Doesn’t Have a Steering Wheel

Instead of relying on modified versions of existing marques, Google unveils its own prototype of a car that lacks brakes, pedals and steering wheel

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Google popped the hood on what its much anticipated driverless car might look like on Tuesday, unveiling a prototype and taking volunteers for a ride in a vehicle without brakes, pedals — or a steering wheel.

The two-seat prototype was built with the assistance of car-parts suppliers from across the globe, and around a hundred will be manufactured. The speed of the vehicle is capped at 25 m.p.h. (40 km/h), and the spartan interior simply features seats, seatbelts, a screen to show the route and stop and start buttons. Onboard sensors can detect objects in any direction at a distance of more than two football fields away.

“Just imagine: you can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking,” writes Chris Urmson, director of the Self-Driving Car Project, on Google’s official blog. “Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History.”

Urmson said Google plans to run a pilot program in California within the next two years, if these prototypes perform well.

Google has been extensively testing autonomous vehicles in recent years, using modified Audi, Toyota Prius and Lexus models. In April, it announced that its autonomous vehicles had clocked up almost 700,000 miles (1.1 million km) in tests.

MORE: How Does Google’s Driverless Cars Work?

TIME Innovation

TIME/Qualcomm Panel Discussion: The Future of Invention from Singapore

Jeffrey Kluger, Editor-at-Large, TIME (l) and Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore Chrisppics+

TIME’s Global Invention Poll, in cooperation with Qualcomm, surveyed 10,197 people in 17 countries around the world about the subject of Invention. The poll, which accompanied TIME’s annual list of the 25 Best Inventions, revealed a wide range of opinions about the subject of inventiveness. In the poll, and in the article “The Spark of Invention” by Jeffrey Kluger, TIME explored the questions sparked by the subject: who are inventors, how do they do their work, and what is the relationship between countries, culture and inventiveness?

TIME continued the conversation with a special panel discussion, The Future of Invention, on 28 May, 2014 at the Studio Theatre, School of the Arts, Singapore. Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore sat down with TIME Editor-at-Large Jeffrey Kluger to discuss the inter-connectedness of Inventing Globally. Hannah Beech, East Asia Correspondent and China Bureau Chief moderated a session, Inventing By Design which explored the lessons and ingredients which influence success in the inventing process with leading inventors and thought leaders from around Asia, including Susmita Mohanty, CEO-India of Earth2Orbit; Raj Thampuran, Managing Director, A*STAR and Wong Meng Weng, Co-Founder and Chairman, JFDI.Asia. Kluger then sat down with Edward Jung, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Intellectual Ventures to explore the idea of Inventing Ecosystems and the best-in-class models that fuel invention and offer insights into where those ecosystems could lead the future of invention.

Watch highlights from the panel discussions below.

TIME Innovation

Why Your Phone Is Suddenly Making Clearer Calls

VoLTE may be coming to a market near you soon. Here's an explainer to help you make sense of what it means, as well as what it doesn't.

VoLTE: It sounds like “volt,” and it stands for “Voice over LTE.” T-Mobile just announced it was rolling out VoLTE technology out in Seattle, and AT&T’s set to follow with a similar rollout today for areas in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Verizon’s due to roll the technology out “later this year.” And MetroPCS launched the technology way back in 2012.

But what exactly is VoLTE?

Today’s LTE networks use something called packet-switching, as opposed to the circuit-switching used by older, slower networks. Think of circuit-switching as a highway reserved for a single vehicle from start to endpoint, whereas packet-switching’s more like a giant highway shared by all kinds of vehicles. Without getting into the weeds, LTE networks can’t do voice and data simultaneously: LTE conveys data no problem, but your voice calls actually have to run over the old circuit-switched technology.

VoLTE is thus about bringing voice and data together on the same radio stratum. That’s important for several reasons, one of the most important being the ability, belatedly, for LTE users to do voice and data transactions simultaneously. If you’re an LTE user and you’ve ever tried to talk to someone while sending or receiving emails (technically impossible, unless the data portion’s being sent over Wi-Fi), or you finished a lengthy call only to find dozens of emails simultaneously attacking your mailbox, this probably matters to you.

But VoLTE’s being touted above all else for its ability to enhance the quality of voice calls with what the marketing departments have dubbed “HD Voice.” That’s in part because it’s similar to another acronym you’ve probably heard for years: VoIP, or “voice over IP.” VoIP is what you’re using when you make Skype or FaceTime calls. If you’ve ever made a Skype or FaceTime call and wondered why — when the connection’s solid on both ends, anyway — the audio quality’s so much more nuanced than in a regular voice call, you already have a sense for what’s coming with VoLTE.

The difference between VoLTE and VoIP is that VoLTE employs newer technology designed to guarantee if not infallible voice service, at least better voice service than any we’ve experienced to date.

The hangup — and this is true anytime you’re facing a costly technology overhaul that involves upgrades to your core infrastructure as well as the devices that access it — is that it’s going to take a while before we’re all enjoying VoLTE’s benefits, because older devices aren’t compatible with it. At launch, only T-Mobile users with LG’s G Flex, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 or Samsung’s Galaxy Light can access the service (after a software update). On AT&T’s side of the fence, only users with Samsung’s Galaxy S4 mini will enjoy VoLTE for now.

Furthermore, hypothetical VoLTE benefits, like video calls, voicemails and language translation in real-time, are likely a ways down the road. For all the buzz around VoLTE, and I agree wholeheartedly with FierceWireless’ Mike Dano here, it’s more in these initial stages about the carriers playing catchup (while, of course, trying to pass off what they’re doing as more than that) than revolutionizing voice-data tech.

Don’t confuse VoLTE with XLTE, by the way, another term that’s making headlines. XLTE is just the marketing buzz-cronym for a speed upgrade Verizon rolled out a few days ago to several hundred congested markets that lets newer devices hop between spectrums. The new spectrum’s like a brand new highway for those new devices. Devices that can’t use the new highway, meanwhile, enjoy faster speeds by virtue of all those newer devices being redirected to another road.

TIME Video Games

Samsung Reportedly Making Its Own Virtual Reality Headset

Samsung Electronics may reveal its 'gear glass' — a competitor to Google glasses.
Kim Hong-Ji—Reuters

The Samsung headset would join the race to mass produce virtual reality headsets and immerse millions of gamers in incredible worlds

Samsung is reportedly set to announce a virtual reality headset later this year that would compete with the forthcoming Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus.

The Korean consumer electronics giant has already developed early versions of the headset, which wraps around users’ faces, giving users peripheral and forward views, anonymous sources told Engadget. The virtual reality headset would be compatible with Android games.

The finished product is intended to target a lower price, undercutting potential competitors, and could be the first mass market virtual reality headset released. Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 billion earlier this year and Sony is working on its own Morpheus virtual reality headset, but those devices won’t become available for at least another year.

Samsung did not immediately respond to requests for confirmation..

[Engadget]

TIME Environment

How I Almost Got to Decide the Next XPRIZE

XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis
XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis takes the stage at Visioneering Donald Norris for XPRIZE

Some of the smartest and most influential people gathered in outside L.A. this weekend to brainstorm the next great innovation contest

Pro-tip: if you’re trying to pitch a winning concept for an XPRIZE contest, get NY1 news anchor Pat Kiernan on your team. I’m pretty sure Kiernan’s presence — and his smooth, TV-honed baritone on stage — was the main reason why the idea designed by Pat, myself and TIME’s Siobhan O’Connor made it to the finals here at XPRIZE Visioneering. We didn’t win — in what I would describe as grand larceny, we lost out to a contest focused around developing forbidden sources of energy. But for three journalists with pretty much zero experience in the digital innovation field, I’d say we did pretty well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was in sunny Palos Verdes in southern California for XPRIZE Visioneering. It’s a now annual summit that brings together some of the smartest and most influential people in the world — and a few journalists like myself — to brainstorm what could become the next multi-million dollar XPRIZE concept. XPRIZE was founded in 1995 by the engineer, entrepreneur and relentlessly positive futurist Peter Diamandis, to incubate prize-driven contests meant to inspire innovation. The first XPRIZE is still the most famous — the Ansari XPRIZE, which offered $10 million to the first privately-financed team that could build and fly a three-passenger vehicle 62 miles (100 km) into space twice within two weeks.

It took 26 teams investing more than $100 million dollars for eight years before the prize was won by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, which completed their flights in the custom-built SpaceShipOne. Private space travel was a dream before Diamandis established the XPRIZE — today, the industry is worth more than $2 billion, as entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and his SpaceX company successfully put satellites in orbit without NASA’s help. “It used to be only governments and big companies that could play on a scale like this,” Diamandis has told me before. “But times have changed and accelerated in the direction where agents of change are small entrepreneurs who are enabled by new technologies to do extraordinary things.”

As you might be able to tell from the buzzwords, XPRIZE is extremely Silicon Valley. The contests the foundation has formulated unleash digitally-empowered entrepreneurs on some of the very problems where the government has failed, like ocean health and oil spills. Diamandis himself isn’t shy about the scale of his ambitions. “This is where we imagine the future and create the future,” he told the audience at the opening of the Visioneering conference. “We’re living in a world where you can solve ideas and not just complain about them.” It’s a vision where doing good also means doing well, where an intractable problem like child poverty isn’t a failure of global will, but a market failure. Those who can innovate successful solutions won’t just help the world, they’ll be helping themselves — starting with the multi-million dollar checks that come with an XPRIZE win.

But such contests actually aren’t new. Before centralized government and corporate R&D boomed in the post-WWII era, one of the best ways to encourage innovation was through a prize contest. Some group or person — the government or an individual tycoon — would set out a challenge with a cash reward. The British government did this back in 1714 with the Longitude Prize, to be awarded to the first person who could develop a way for a seagoing ship to measure longitude. The prize was won not by a navigator or ship’s captain — the class of experts who had been trying and failing to discover a solution — but by a clock maker named John Harrison. The 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927 in order to win a contest established by a hotelier named Raymond Orteig. (It was the Orteig Prize that directly inspired the Ansari XPRIZE for space travel.) Lindbergh took home the $25,o00 winnings — and everlasting global fame — but more importantly, the prize kicked off global air travel, seeding an industry of vastly greater value. “Within 18 months of the contest, air passenger traffic had gone up 30 times,” says Chris Frangione, the vice president of prize development at XPRIZE. “This is why prizes are so powerful — they leverage resources.”

The point of the Visioneering conference was to brainstorm the next contest. No one thought small. Bill Gross, the CEO of Idealab, urged the audience to try to solve Beijing’s killer air pollution problem. Shaifali Puri, the executive director for global innovation at Nike, told us to aim for a “moon shot for girls,” to find a way to ensure that tens of millions of girls around the world received the education and protection they needed to flourish. Ratan Tata, one of India’s richest men, said we should focus on the malnutrition and housing woes that still hold back the developing world. “It’s not just tech and it’s not just start-up companies,” he said. “It’s making a difference for disadvantaged people.”

To do that, we needed ideas, and we slotted ourselves into different tracks for brainstorm sessions. I took the future of cities on the first day, where New York University’s Paul Romer, who told us that “cities are where the action is.” We were broken into groups and asked to devise, bit by bit, a new contest that could produce an innovation that would improve life in cities, for the poor and for the rich. Once we’d completed that task — a process that used a lot of Post-It notes and whiteboard space — we pitched our ideas to the larger group, and voted on which one would move to the next stage. I should have known that my group’s idea — loosely centered around finding a way to provide infinite water to urban households — might be in trouble when we began debating whether to play Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” during the pitch. (Our title: “What a Watterful World.” I know.) We did not advance.

But that experience was useful for the next day’s session, on disaster prediction and response. The seismologist Lucy Jones — whom Los Angeles residents know as the “Earthquake Lady” for her ubiquity on TV every time a temblor strikes Southern California — told us the unsettling fact that the next big quake that strikes the San Andreas Fault could essentially cut off water to L.A. for months. We were broken into groups again, and tasked with designing a contest that would help cities prepare and bounce back from the next big natural disaster.

I roped in Siobhan, who had come to Visioneering as my guest, and NY1’s Kiernan, who had also come as a guest and who had only landed in L.A. that morning. None of us were disaster experts, unless you can count living through Superstorm Sandy in New York City. But between the three of us — though sleep-deprived and inexperienced — we managed to come up with a pretty decent idea. We’d called it Web in a Box: to win our proposed contest, a team would have to design a piece of technology capable of providing backup internet service on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis in the event of a sustained blackout following a disaster. Our rationale was that the Internet is now the most important communication hub we have, as vital a resource in the aftermath of disaster as food and water — and not just because you can’t tweet about a disaster if you can’t get online.

We honed our pitch and made it through the initial stages, where the entire Visioneering conference is brought together to vote on different ideas. We were even one of the five pitches that went up against each other in the finals on Saturday night—but no fault of Pat’s, we eventually went down in defeat, as the entire conference cast their votes in what felt a bit like a high school election contested by very rich and powerful people. The winner was a contest that offered $20 million to anyone who could prove an effective, entirely new form of energy. Ambitious, but I still say we were robbed. (We also came out behind a contest that offered prize money to develop a water cleaning system capable of filtering out the microscopic amounts of prescription drugs that are now found in our drinking water. This pitch memorably featured the actress Patricia Arquette asking the audience if they’d taken Viagra that day.)

The winning Visioneering idea won’t automatically become the subject of the next contest, but it will get automatic consideration by the foundation’s board as they decide the subject of the next XPRIZE. The winners also received a trophy created by a 3D printer, which might be the most XPRIZE thing that happened all weekend. We live in a strange age where we seem beset by enormous problems that seem to have no realistic solution: climate change, global inequality, the Alzheimer’s epidemic. As a society, we seem helpless in the face of those ills, gridlocked before looming catastrophe. Sometimes it’s hard to share Diamandis’s relentless optimism. And yet, he’s not wrong: the spread of information technology and education has made it possible as never before for anyone to put forward their solutions — and to be heard. “There is no problem that can’t be solved,” Diamandis said at the close of the conference. “We are heading towards an extraordinary world.” That’s a prize we can all share.

TIME Innovation

U.N. Report: 40% of the World Will Be Online by the End of 2014

An estimated 3 billion people – or 40% of the world population – will have access to the Internet by the end of 2014, a United Nations International Telecommunications Union report reveals.

According to the U.N. data, Europe has the highest rate of Internet proliferation at 75 percent, while only two-thirds of those living in the Americas have Internet access. The report does not specify the percentage of U.S. households that have Internet, though a 2012 report by the U.S. Census puts the rate at 74.8%.

The biggest strides in connectivity have been happening in Africa. In 2010, only 2% of Africa was connected to the Internet. That number is expected to reach 20% by the end of the year. Much of that growth is owed to mobile devices, which have become critical communication tools on the continent.

The U.N. study also reveals that world mobile broadband penetration has reached 32%, with nearly 2.3 billion subscriptions globally.

For more on the U.N. report, visit the UN News Centre.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Innovation

Fly like an Eagle with Oculus Rift and This Funky Contraption

'Birdy' bills itself as an attempt to fly using virtual reality and a weird-looking table

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Want to play a virtual reality version of Flappy Bird? This bizarre-looking Oculus Rift meets massage table meets Rube Goldberg mashup won’t do that yet, but it probably could — and while you’re waiting, it’ll let you fly like an actual bird by flapping your arms and sticking your face in front of a fan.

The table thing is something called Birdly, which describes itself as “an attempt to fly.” Like a bird, that is, not Superman: specifically the Red Kite, a bird of prey in the same class as eagles and hawks. The folks behind Birdly devised a platform on which you lay flat, stomach down, your arms resting on movable panel sections and your hands slipped beneath straps that let you raise and lower the panels like a pair of wings, rolling, nicking or heaving as you go.

Strap on Oculus VR’s Rift virtual reality headset and you’re transported to a virtual landscape (or rather, suspended above it), enjoying a bird’s perspective on the world. And in addition to the fan (which provides wind feedback that changes based on your speed in the simulation), Birdly provides smells and sounds, so if you’re flapping through a forest, you’ll also be able to smell the trees, or the dirt.

[Engadget]

TIME Innovation

Finally, ATMs That Can Spit Hot Acid When Thieves Attack

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Getty Images

Researchers have come up with a chemical cocktail they say could be implemented in ATMs to defend against would-be robbers -- but there's no word on whether you'll get charged an extra fee for that

Want a splash of steaming acid to the face next time you try to jack an ATM? Researchers at ETH Zurich University may have you covered. Almost.

They claim to have come up with a chemical cocktail they say could be used in ATMs or to protect money being transported, by soaking money stashed in ATMS and targeted by miscreants with a kind of hot foam. So no, not a gruesome face-melting experience like in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but a destructive enough one to deter would-be thieves. And it’s all thanks to a tiny-winged orange and black insect known as the bombardier beetle.

The bombardier beetle defends itself by spraying perceived threats with a nasty chemical concoction, storing hydroquinone (a type of phenol sometimes used in skin-lightening procedures) and hydrogen peroxide in separate repositories within its abdomen. If it’s threatened, it injects those into a third chamber, where they mix with water and enzymes that catalyze the brew into a boiling fluid that comes shooting out of a swiveling gland at near-boiling temperatures.

The beetle’s sophisticated defense mechanism inspired the Zurich research team to posit anti-theft technology that works much the same. Their solution, Gizmodo reports, involves filling two honeycomb-like compartments—one with hydrogen peroxide, the other with manganese dioxide (a synthetic compound used in batteries)—separated by an easily breakable layer. If the compartments get jostled, the layer breaks, the chemicals combine, and the reaction produces superheated foam. Drop that into an ATM with and you’ve got a contraption that’s like an ink-spewing clothing store tag.

The material could include a marking dye as well as DNA nanoparticles, which the researchers say could be used to sabotage the physical bills themselves and render them traceable. “Since the responsive materials presented here do not depend on electricity, they may provide a cost-effective alternative to currently used safety systems in the public domain, automatic teller machines and protection of money transport systems,” the researchers write in their paper, published in Journal of Materials Chemistry.

[Gizmodo]

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