TIME Innovation

With Yamaha’s Electrified TransAcoustic, the Entire Piano Is the Speaker

Yamaha

It's a fully acoustic, optionally silent piano teamed with a pair of transducers and a digital sample set lifted from Yamaha's premium CFX concert grand, producing a piano sound you've never heard before.

Imagine, however improbable this sounds, an electrified piano that didn’t use speakers to send music vibrating through the air — a device that required electricity to trigger its sampled sounds, but that didn’t have two or four or however many discrete sound-generating cones planted somewhere beneath the skin of its frame to conjure audible vibrations.

What if instead, the entire device were the speaker? Just as a fully acoustic piano’s soundboard amplifies the sound generated by the piano’s hammers striking strings, the electrified device could channel its digital samples through that same resonant slab of wood, in turn projecting the samples through the body of the instrument, aping the acoustic hammer-string paradigm by making the entire piano the sound source. What sort of name would you give this bizarre-sounding electroacoustic contraption?

Yamaha, which makes just such a device, settled on the name “TransAcoustic,” or “beyond acoustic.” That’s because it’s an acoustic piano with strings, but also a digital piano that can trigger samples — and if you like, a third thing that combines both and produces sounds you’ve never heard before. Yamaha unveiled it at NAMM 2013, demoed it again at the winter show in 2014, and it’s just now shipping. I had a chance to finally play one at King’s Keyboard House in Ann Arbor, Michigan this week.

Before we delve into the TransAcoustic, a few words about my current instrument, Yamaha’s AvantGrand N2, which I’ve written about before here and here. It’s something Yamaha calls a hybrid piano because it employs a full grand acoustic action that lives in the body of a quasi-upright (it looks like a grand, only with the strings, soundboard, cast iron plate and rim lopped off). The action differs from a full acoustic in one way: Instead of felt hammers, each key’s action terminates in a tiny device that emits something an optical sensor can read to gauge its travel velocity, triggering sampled sounds stored in memory.

Yamaha calls this system a “hybrid” as opposed to a digital piano, because unlike even the best digitals, which make significant compromises in the synthetic action to remain portable, the AvantGrand’s action is taken from one of Yamaha’s acoustic pianos — the C1 Conservatory Classic Collection — and slipped into the frame of the hybrid, where it triggers samples of an actual Yamaha CFIIIS grand played back through multiple speaker points strategically situated around the frame and which then resonate through the body of the device.

But the AvantGrand’s samples have a realism ceiling, however piano-like they seem. If you’re a pianist who’s played on full acoustics all your life, it’s not hard to spot the AvantGrand’s deficiencies, which I’d sum up as a kind of diminished presence — a resonant edge and spatial ubiquity that’s missing from the sound, especially when you’re hammering away at its lower registers. I love my AvantGrand, but it’s still a compromise, at least if we’re assuming pianistic fidelity remains the holy grail.

Yamaha

The TransAcoustic, though technically classed as part of Yamaha’s silent piano lineup (it’s not the company’s followup to the AvantGrand, but a sidewise move), tries to address this deficiency along with others by throwing the notion of fixed speaker points out the window and instead uses a fully acoustic upright soundboard to route the piano’s digital samples through the same channel that un-electrified hammers-on-strings would go.

Power up the TransAcoustic, put it in digital mode, crank up the volume and start playing, and the sounds you’ll hear are coming through the soundboard, conveyed by a pair of transducers located along the base of the device. And where the AvantGrand’s samples come from Yamaha’s venerable CFIIIS grand, the TransAcoustic’s are lifted from the company’s newer CFX series, launched in 2010. During my demo, Yamaha told me the samples were created especially for the TransAcoustic, so this isn’t an off-the-shelf CFX sound.

But the TransAcoustic is also, and perhaps foremost, a full acoustic upright: Yamaha categorizes it as the U1TA, a vamp on the company’s U1 SH upright nomenclature. The frame and action and internal logistics are the same as the U1 SH’s, only with the TA’s electroacoustic bits and bobs. By shifting the sostenuto (middle) pedal left or right with your foot, you can turn the U1TA’s silent mode on or off. In acoustic mode, it’s just an acoustic U1 SH, the hammers positioned to strike the piano’s very real strings. In silent mode, the hammers are lifted back so that they strike nothing, allowing you to play the sampled sounds through the transducers and soundboard (with volume control), or quietly through a pair of headphones.

So what happens if you leave the sampled sounds on while in acoustic mode? That’s where the TransAcoustic makes the strongest case for its existence. By themselves, the digital and acoustic modes are roughly on par with what you’d expect from a digital-only or acoustic-only device, and in that sense not as interesting. But pair the sampled sounds of the CFX grand with the U1TA in its acoustic hammers-on-strings mode — both sounds played simultaneously and intertwining through the piano soundboard and frame — and the result is something that sounds much more like a full grand than the AvantGrand’s samples-only approach.

Not precisely like a full grand, to be clear. It’s still an approximation, and there wasn’t a CFX nearby to fairly compare, so I was left approaching it from the perspective of an AvantGrand owner. The difference between what Yamaha’s doing with the AvantGrand and the TransAcoustic comes down to volume and sonic omni-directionality.

The TransAcoustic leverages its ability to jack up the CFX samples’ decibel levels against the fact that both the stringed and sampled sounds vibrate simultaneously through the same soundboard (Yamaha probably missed an opportunity to call this thing a TransFusion). I’d been expecting not to like the combined sound as much, or at least to prefer the acoustic-only one, but as I played the piano in TransAcoustic mode, turning the sample volume up or down to evaluate the CFX samples’ impact, I was surprised by just how much warmer and fuller the two together were. What’s more, my ability to control the sound, dynamically speaking, felt uncanny. I’m no great player, but shifting gears with the U1TA was almost too easy, and the dynamic palette felt broader than any upright I’ve played on before.

Okay, you’re saying, but what about tuning issues? What happens when the strings go off-pitch (as they invariably will) and you’re layering perfectly in-tune samples against out-of-tune acoustic sounds? I wasn’t able to test this, since the U1TA was in-tune, but Yamaha tells me it’s engineered a variety of ways to let you fiddle the samples so they’ll accommodate subtle frequency shifts in the acoustic’s temperament (you do this through the device’s console interface, which sits just below the key bed and to the left). And barring that, you can always put the piano in digital-only mode, playing the in-tune sampled sounds through the soundboard until you can get the device properly serviced.

Yamaha

What’s not entirely clear to me at this point is whom Yamaha intends the U1TA for. At $16,699 MSRP, it’s $2,000 more than the MSRP for the U1 SH (which already has the Silent Piano feature) and $1,700 more than my $14,999 AvantGrand N2 (note that no one pays MSRP or generally anywhere near those numbers after you’ve negotiated with a reasonable dealer, and I’m using them for comparison purposes only). The U1TA’s biggest advantage is its ability to project a very big, very realistic grand-esque sound from an upright’s body, true, but you’re restricted to an upright action, something that’s a deal-breaker for players like me who prefer a grand action’s responsiveness.

Yamaha says there’s a grand version of the TransAcoustic in the works for this fall, but we’re talking about a full-blown grand, thus I assume a significant price jump, and then there’s the question of why you’d need or want more projection from a piano intrinsically designed to produce enormous sounds on its own. A baby five-footer that can project like a concert nine-footer? We’ll see.

The argument, I suppose, is that the U1TA is now the most versatile of Yamaha’s digital/acoustic devices: It can be an unplugged upright acoustic. It can be a plugged-in silent piano (the binaural samples through headphones, by the way, have to be heard to be believed), a digital piano tapping a custom take on Yamaha’s high-end CFX grand — or any of its 19 other sounds, including electrics, organs, strings and so forth — routed through the acoustic’s soundboard, a hub you can route other sound sources into (say a smartphone), which then play through the transducers and soundboard as well. Or it can be this uncanny third thing; the confluence of acoustic and digital sounds, producing something new and resonant and surprisingly spacious when you consider it’s coming from the compact body of an upright, not a grand.

TIME Innovation

Screaming at Your Phone Might Charge It Someday

This experimental smartphone converts background noise to battery power.

Researchers at Nokia and Queen Mary University in London believe they have a novel solution to smartphone battery limitations: Instead of trying to improve the battery itself, they’ve figured out how to keep it charged through sound waves.

The key, according to Gizmag, is the use of zinc oxide, whose piezoelectric properties can generate an electrical current from mechanical stress. The researchers started by spraying zinc oxide onto a plastic sheet and heating it in a chemical mixture, creating an array of zinc oxide “nanorods.”

The nanorod sheet bends in response to sound waves, creating enough mechanical stress to generate electricity. Researchers then sandwiched the sheet between layers of aluminum foil to harvest the voltage.

On a prototype device roughly the size of Nokia’s Lumia 925, the researchers were able to generate up to five volts from background noise such as traffic, music and voices. They claim that’s enough help charge a phone, though it’s not clear to what extent.

It’s easy to get excited about these kinds of developments, but keep mind that success in a university lab is a poor indicator of future products. For years, we’ve been hearing about amazing battery research, from the ability to charge electronics with a heartbeat to instant charging technology to entirely new battery chemistry, but none of these advancements have appeared in actual phones that you can buy today. Many of them must address significant hurdles around design, cost, manufacturing and safety before they become practical for the market.

In other words, you’ll have many more realistic reasons to scream at your phone for the foreseeable future.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 14

1. Born of the war on terror, militarized civilian police forces have impacted civil rights and citizens’ lives.

By Alex Kane at BillMoyers.com

2. Turkey is finally in a position to carry some weight in Iraq – if President Erdogan keeps his promises.

By Josh Walker in War on the Rocks

3. A new bill forcing schools to collect and share hard data on sexual assault can reveal the scale and shed much-needed light on this epidemic.

By Anna Bahr in the Upshot

4. Summer jobs for American youth will soon be a thing of the past. So will the work ethic and skills training that summer jobs once ensured.

By Ben Cassleman in FiveThirtyEight

5. It may seem like the world is tearing itself apart, but when peacekeepers can be deployed to troublespots, their track record is very good.

By Roland Paris in Political Violence at a Glance

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Google

This Is What Google Learned from the Department of Defense

Robotics Competition Held In Florida
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

The famously innovative search company has taken a page from the Pentagon’s radical ideas factory

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Miguel Helft

Regina Dugan loves to tell the story of how she got her current job. It was a little over two years ago, and Dugan, a mechanical engineer by training and an expert in counterterrorism, was finishing a three-year stint as director of DARPA, the Defense Department’s prodigious technology research organization that gave birth to things like the global positioning system, the stealth fighter, and the Internet. During her tenure, she sharpened its focus in areas like cybersecurity and new forms of manufacturing and on delivering tangible results. “DARPA is a place of doing,” she told Congress in 2011. It’s an attitude that earned her praise among the tech elite—including veteran venture capitalist John Doerr, who sums her up in four words: “She’s an impressive leader.”

Among Dugan’s many fans was Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, who suggested she go on a two-day visit of the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif. The idea was to see if there might be a fit between Dugan and some project or other at the sprawling search and advertising giant. After making the rounds of various groups, Dugan sat down with Dennis Woodside, then the CEO of Google’s Motorola unit, who was charged with turning around a brand that was once synonymous with cellphone innovation but that had lost its way in the smartphone era. Woodside said that with a renewed focus on innovation, Motorola could leapfrog rivals like Apple and Samsung. His plan was to hire a mobile-industry veteran to lead an advanced-technology group that could deliver the inventions that would restore Motorola’s status as a pioneer.

What, he wondered, did Dugan—whose job had been to nurture DARPA’s decades-long streak of breakthroughs—think? “It’s a great strategy for not losing and a lousy strategy for winning,” she answered. A week later the Motorola innovation gig was hers.

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

9 Ways to Become More Creative in the Next 10 Minutes

Creativity is developed; it's not a birthright

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published atInc.com.

By Larry Kim

Modern culture often labels creativity as natural gift. Artists get showered with praise and proclamations of “you’re so talented,” but truthfully, talent has little to do with it.

Creativity is a skill to be learned, practiced, and developed, just like any other. Juggling takes practice, as does surfing, coding, and driving a car. Creativity is no different. The more you make creativity part of your daily life, the more it will grow.

So how do you make creativity part of your daily life? Here are 9 suggestions–and guess what? You can get started on them all in the next 10 minutes.

1. Doodle Something

Although we may have been reprimanded in school to “stop doodling and pay attention,” it’s time to bring back the doodle. Doodling, contrary to popular opinion, does not demonstrate a lack of focus. In fact, doodling can help you stay present and engaged during an activity in which you might otherwise find your mind drifting.

Suni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution, notes that some of the greatest thinkers–from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs–used doodling to jump-start creativity. Doodling can enhance recall and activate unique neurological pathways, leading to new insights and cognitive breakthroughs. Some companies even encourage doodling during meetings!

9 Ways to Become More Creative in the Next 10 Minutes

2. Sign Up for a Class in Something You’ve Never Done Before

Creativity flourishes when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone and learn something new. Many communities offer evening adult education classes. These classes are often very casual, with plenty of beginner offerings. Try painting, pottery, or woodworking. How about learning a new language, picking up a new instrument, or taking a cooking class?

3. Create the Right Environment

The truth is that every single individual (yes, even you) can be creative. You simply require the right environment, stimulus, and support. Kids are awash with creative energy in part because they have not yet learned to fear the criticism of their peers or experienced embarrassment from failure. This is now why failure is lauded in adults–it reflects creative, risk-taking endeavors. Though not all creative ventures will work out, ultimately some will (and be very, very successful).

This is why Google goes to great lengths to provide employees with fun perks such as beach volleyball courts and free beer, a setup almost resembling an adult playground. The goal is to create an environment that lets employees feel relaxed and comfortable with vocalizing creative, even wacky, ideas. Businesses that value creativity need to do their best to foster a creative, safe space where unusual ideas are celebrated and where creativity is nurtured.

4. Pause the Brainstorming and Move Your Body

Though old-school business practice dictates group brainstorming as a powerful way to generate creativity, modern research has found that the group collective isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

Instead, try new approaches to creative problem solving. Go for a walk. Physically move your body and consider your project problem from different locations. Physical movement has been shown to have a positive affect on creative thinking, just as theater pros suggest practicing lines in different poses and positions to generate new character approaches.

5. Start a Sketchbook

Sketching is a great way to preserve memories and make constructive use of time that might otherwise be spent fiddling on a phone. Buy a small, lightweight sketchbook that can easily fit in your bag. Start sketching whenever you have even a few spare minutes–draw the salt and pepper shaker on your table while waiting for your coffee, or the crumpled pile of newspaper on the subway.

Though you may be disappointed in your sketches at first, the more you draw, the better you’ll get. Don’t overanalyze your results–simply draw for the enjoyment of the process, not the end piece. Creativity seeps across activities, so sketching just a few minutes a day can result in a major boost of workplace creativity.

6. Keep Toys on Your Desk

Many creative design companies encourage employees to keep toys on their desks–from Legos and Lincoln Logs to Play-Doh and origami paper. Building something physically with your hands, as opposed to typing on a keyboard, can be just the creative jolt you need.

7. Engage in Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is a form of writing consisting of extremely short pieces. There are many flash fiction writing groups online in which members write 100-word stories based on a provided prompt. That’s right, just 100 words. No one can say that’s out of their league.

Have your own try at flash fiction writing. Join a community online, or start your own at work. No pressure, no need to share; it’s just a chance to get those creative juices flowing!

8. Try the 30 Circles Test

This great creative exercise comes from researcher Bob McKim, and is featured in Tim Brown’s TED talk Creativity and Play.

Take a piece of paper and draw 30 circles on the paper. Now, in one minute, adapt as many circles as you can into objects. For example, one circle could become a sun. Another could become a globe. How many can you do in a minute? (Take quantity over quality into consideration.)

The result: Most people have a hard time getting to 30, largely because we have a tendency as adults to self-edit. Kids are great at simply exploring possibilities without being self-critical, whereas adults have a harder time. Sometimes, even the desire to be original can be a form of self-editing. Don’t forget–good artists copy, great artists steal.

9. Role-play Away

Role-playing isn’t just for the geeks at Comic-Con (no judgment; we love you guys). Role-playing can help you develop new solutions to existing problems by putting yourself in the shoes of a client or customer.

Even if you’ve already made efforts to enter the client’s mindset, physically role-playing situations with co-workers can generate powerful revelations and project solutions. As children, role-playing is how our imaginations thrived, from baking mud pies and playing house to fighting off baddies and exploring the jungles in our own backyards. It’s time to bring back the power of play.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 13

1. True rehabilitation: We can reform prisons and reduce recidivism if we treat prison labor less like modern-day slavery and more like on-the-job training.

By Beth Schwartzapfel in American Prospect

2. Drones are a powerful military and civilian tool. Reforms are desperately needed if the U.S. wants to stay at the top of the drone food chain.

By Missy Cummings in Wired

3. Liberia’s fragile democracy may fall victim to the Ebola virus outbreak.

By Ashoka Mukpo in Al-Jazeera America

4. Mayors need the partnership and protection of a UN for big cities to test new solutions and spread innovation.

By Richard Florida in Citylab

5. The biggest barrier to nonprofit innovation isn’t the lack of money. It’s knowing the right way to scale up and spend big infusions of cash.

By Mathu Jeyaloganathan Ivey Business Review

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Origami-like Robot Folds Itself Into Shape and Walks Away

As a writer, the path of least resistance would be to frame this piece along the lines of small robots assembling themselves, then building bigger robots, then taking over the world. The old robot-overlord routine.

But these MIT- and Harvard-developed self-folding robots — cool as they are — don’t look all that menacing quite yet. For starters, one of the key ingredients is polystyrene, which is the same stuff used in Shrinky Dinks. That’s adorable. Second, it takes around four minutes for the things to assemble and start walking away. And third, the assembly has to be pre-programmed, so there’s still some human intervention.

Thirty years from now? That might be a different story. I’ll be retired (or homeless) on a beach somewhere, though, so I’ll just head for the water if these things start getting uppity. They can’t swim, can they? Can they?!!

In the interim, the researchers envision self-assembling structures that could be used in dangerous places like space or battlefields.

[ExtremeTech]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 12

1. Forty lost years: the case for one six-year term for U.S. presidents.

By Lawrence Summers in the Financial Times

2. Hashtag activism may not change the world, but #Iftheygunnedmedown highlights its power as media criticism.

By James Poniewozik in Time

3. Decoding the malaria parasite – at the genetic level – could give us a shot at beating the disease.

By Anne Trafton at MIT News Service

4. Trade short-haul air for high-speed rail and help the climate.

By Jacob Anbinder and Neil Bhatiya in the Fiscal Times

5. We must deepen our investment in development and diplomacy to address the roots of the crisis at our border.

By Lt. Gen. Norman R. Seip (Ret.) in the Tennessean

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Ultra High-Resolution Satellite to Snap Better Photos for Maps

worldview-3 satellite sensor
The WorldView-3 satellite sensor will launch August 13 to capture high-resolution photos DigitalGlobe

The sensor can capture features as small as roughly a foot in size

One of my favorite features of Google Maps (aside from the killer turn-by-turn directions with lane assist) are the included satellite images. It’s both fun and useful to see the world from a bird’s eye view. The only downside: old government restrictions on just how good those satellite photos could be added unnecessary pixelation and blurring.

But as technology has changed and improved, so too have the rules. In June, the feds updated their satellite privacy requirements to allow for far more detailed aerial photos. On August 13, DigitalGlobe will launch its WorldView-3 Satellite Sensor to take full advantage, allowing the company to capture features as small as 31 centimeters (just over 12 inches).

The new satellite will be capable of collecting “key features such as manholes and mailboxes,” the company explains.

The WorldView-3 will bring higher resolution satellite photos to Google and Microsoft, both of whom rely on DigitalGlobe for images. Best of all, it shouldn’t take long to see those new images – according to DigitalGlobe, the new satellite is capable of capturing 680,000 square kilometers of photos per day. That would allow the satellite to capture detailed shots of the entire United States in just over two weeks.

To learn more about the next-gen WorldView-3 satellite and the technology behind it, you can visit the Satellite Image Corporation website.

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

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TIME Innovation

Microsoft Fixes Shaky Time-lapse Videos with Hyperlapse Technology

Not unlike the elderly, time-lapse videos can be boring and shaky.

Microsoft has cobbled together technology that can smooth out the jittery, choppy first-person video footage you’d normally see captured and sped up from the likes of a wearable GoPro camera.

The feature is called Hyperlapse and it’s being demonstrated at the SIGGRAPH media conference in Vancouver on Tuesday. I could sit here and try to explain in words how it all works and how the end result looks, but you and I both know that I’m going to drop a video into the middle of this post riiight… abooout… here:

Couple thoughts: A) It looks pretty great and B) I need to do more outdoor activities. These guys are rock climbing and riding bikes in their spare time. I just binge-watched a bunch of Love It or List It Too episodes that I’ve already seen before.

There’s a great money-quote from Microsoft’s blog post on the project as well:

Standard video stabilization crops out the pixels on the periphery to create consistent frame-to-frame smoothness. But when applied to greatly sped up video, it fails to compensate for the wildly shaking motion.

Hyperlapse reconstructs how a camera moves throughout a video, as well as its distance and angle in relation to what’s happening in each frame. Then it plots out a smoother camera path and stitches pixels from multiple video frames to rebuild the scene and expand the field of view.

Put another way, it’s akin to the human brain’s ability to fill in blind spots by “hallucinating” on the person’s behalf.

See? You learn about the technology and then you’re rewarded with some hallucination.

As for when people like you and me might be able to get our hands on this Hyperlapse technology in order to cut together our own sweet time-lapse videos — imagine watching me watch 10 hours of Love It or List It Too in amazing Hyperlapse — the researchers say they’ve managed to streamline the rendering process so that it can be done on a single computer. There’s no hard-and-fast timeframe for its release, though the researchers say the goal is to “eventually” release it to the public.

[TechCrunch]

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