TIME innovations

Here’s Why a Lawnmower Roomba Wouldn’t Kill Anybody

iRobot Technology
Christian Science Monitor—Christian Science Monitor/Getty The features of the iRobot Roomba are demonstrated by an iRobot employee in a show room at the iRobot offices, on August 24, 2012 in Bedford, Massachusetts.

iRobot is designing it with safety as a top priority

iRobot, the Bedford, Mass.-based company famous for its Roomba vacuum-bot, has been floating the idea of an autonomous lawnmower device for years. But now the company is getting closer to bringing the idea to lawns across America, eliminating yet another tedious household chore.

Most automated lawnmowers available today typically require their owners to install cables underneath their yard to signal to the robots where to stop mowing, an expensive and time-consuming process. iRobot is going about it a different way. The company recently asked federal regulators for permission to use easier-to-install wireless beacons that could communicate with a robotic lawnmower, keeping it from going rogue and threatening your neighbor’s garden gnomes.

Still, lawnmowers are inherently more dangerous than vacuums. Roombas, after all, don’t have spinning death blades. How does iRobot plan on keeping the gardening gadget safe?

“Safety has to be a huge concern,” iRobot co-founder and CEO Colin Angle told TIME, highlighting safety features baked into the Roomba that keep it from falling down stairs. “In order for a lawnmower to be similarly safe, you have to take the same amount of care. So you probably don’t go with one giant spinning blade, you probably go and do other things. You can make blades which are centripetally [designed], they’re lightweight, they’ll move so that they’re enough to cut grass. But if you put a hand in there, it might draw a little blood, but it won’t chop off your finger.”

Roomba needs permission from the Federal Communications Commission to go ahead with its plans because the wireless frequencies its beacons would use are shared by star-hunting astronomers’ radio telescopes. Angle says the FCC process is “ongoing,” but he’s optimistic the agency will support the company’s position that their system would pose little risk to extra-terrestrial science.

“I think the FCC folks understand whether infinitesimal risk of something is real or not, and they’ll go through the process,” said Angle. “We’re hopeful they’ll come out with a positive outcome.”

TIME Security

Why Thieves Love the Apple Watch

Apple Watch Consumer Reports
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg Customers look at Apple Watches on display at an Apple Store in Palo Alto, Calif., on April 10, 2015.

A security feature that has caused major declines in smartphone theft is noticeably absent from the Apple Watch

Hackers have discovered a workaround on the Apple Watch lock screen that could enable thieves to wipe the device clean and pair it with a new iPhone.

A video posted to iDownload shows how a thief can bypass the lock screen in less than one minute by holding down the power button, selecting an option to “erase all content and settings,” and restoring the device to its factory settings.

“In other words, it’s totally feasible to steal an Apple Watch and set it up on a different device as if you just purchased it from an Apple Store,” wrote blogger Jeff Benjamin.

While the workaround poses no security threat to users’ personal data, it does highlight the notable absence of a “kill switch,” a security feature which became standard on iPhones with the release of iOS 7 in 2013. City officials have hailed the kill switch as a major deterrent for thieves, as they dramatically reduce the value of stolen phones.

 

TIME Media

There’s Finally a Cheaper Alternative to Spotify

Rdio Select will let you listen to a small number of songs on-demand every day

For years, $9.99 has been the standard price for ad-free, on-demand music streaming services like Spotify and Beats Music. But now it looks like companies are finally experimenting with new business models.

Rdio, a small but longstanding player in music streaming, announced Thursday a stripped-down version of its subscription service that costs just $3.99 per month. The new service, called Rdio Select, will allow users to select up to 25 songs per day out of Rdio’s library to listen to on demand as often as they like online or offline.

Users can also listen to ad-free streaming radio stations and skip past tracks on these stations whenever they want. The service will also feature curated playlists to help users find new songs to place in their rotating selection of 25 on-demand tunes.

Rdio Select is an interesting compromise between the free, ad-supported streaming tiers that struggle to make money for artists or the companies that run them and the $10-per-month plans that have so far appealed to only a small sliver of the music-listening public (Rdio still offers services in both those categories). The company points out that its new service costs less than $50 per year, which is around the price that the average music buyer spends on recorded music each year. Services like Spotify, Beats Music, and Rdio’s high-end tier are asking users to spend $120 per month on songs, more than double the consumer average.

Rdio isn’t the first company to try the straddle the line between a free service and full-on premium subscription. Rhapsody last year unveiled its unRadio service, which also allows users to listen to radio ad-free and download a select number of songs for $4.99 per month.

TIME Innovation

This Website Says It Can Identify Any Photo

See artificial intelligence in action

Computing company Wolfram Research released Thursday a “milestone” website that it says will identify any photo—though of course, it won’t always be perfect.

ImageIdentify.com lets you drag a photo or upload an image into the program, then a machine learning algorithm then returns an answer, like “cheetah,” “zamboni” or “fragrant water lily,” according to examples on Wolfram Research CEO Stephen Wolfram’s blog.

“‘What is this a picture of?’ Humans can usually answer such questions instantly, but in the past it’s always seemed out of reach for computers to do this,” Wolfram writes. “For nearly 40 years I’ve been sure computers would eventually get there—but I’ve wondered when.”

Read next: Find Out What Your Name Would Be If You Were Born Today

TIME Video Games

Your Next Game Boy Will Fit Into Your Wallet

Introducing Arduboy

Gaming handhelds are portable (awesome) but easy to forget behind when you’re on the go (less awesome). The Arduboy—a small arduino-based gaming handheld the size of a credit card—could solve that.

For Kickstarter backers, the unit only runs $29 and will be $39 once it’s available for the general public. The Arduboy will come with a slew of open source games based on some popular franchises including Ardumon (a take on Pokémon), Alien Attack (a version of Space Invaders), and Maruino, a take on Super Mario Bros.

In a bid to leverage the dedicated Arduino community to help keep Arduboy alive, the project is thoroughly open source. Given its size and price, it’s easy to see how the Arduboy could be used as an educational platform to encourage kids to code too.

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Dot.

TIME Companies

Facebook Is Wading Into the Minimum Wage Debate in a Huge Way

Facebook Inc. signage is displayed outside the company's campus in Menlo Park, Calif.
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Facebook Inc. signage is displayed outside the company's campus in Menlo Park, Calif.

The company is raising its contractors' minimum wage to $15/hour

The ongoing Fight for $15 has a new hero: Facebook.

The social network is requiring some of its vendors to increase their workers’ pay and benefits. Facebook’s new standard calls for contractors who do a substantial amount of work for the social network to pay their employees—janitors, security guards, food service staff—at least $15 per hour and receive at least 15 paid days off.

The rules went into effect at Facebook’s largest vendors on May 1.

It’s unclear how much this will raise the pay for specific workers at the company—Facebook did not immediately respond to a question about what these workers earned prior to this effort—but it’s certain that $15 per hour is well above the median hourly pay these occupations garner nationally.

Those wide discrepancies serve as testament to the power that private employers can exert over raising workers’ pay. Facebook’s move is aimed at trying to shrink the growing economic divide in Silicon Valley, but it’s similar to those made by other corporations, including Ikea, Gap, Wal-Mart, Target, and T.J. Maxx. These employers have given their hourly workers higher minimum wages amid pressure from labor advocates and in the absence of a boost to the federal minimum wage, which has stood at $7.25 since 2009. Facebook’s effort to secure paid time off for its vendors’ employees mimics Microsoft’s announcement in March that it would require some employees at its suppliers to have at least 15 days of paid time off.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME

Catching Criminals With the Cloud

Police database search illustration Harry Campbell Briefing Solutions
Harry Campbell For TIME

How better software can help the police

Scott Crouch doesn’t sugarcoat his feelings about the software that most of the country’s 700,000 or so cops use on a daily basis to log arrests, traffic stops and leads. “It looks like someone vomited a thousand bugs on a screen,” the 23-year-old says dismissively.

Crouch is the CEO of Mark43, a New York City–based startup that claims it has developed a better system for getting police records–currently a patchwork of isolated paper and digital files–into a single searchable body in the cloud. The software can display relevant information that’s as readable as the feeds on LinkedIn or Twitter. Crouch says this new way of visualizing suspects’ data–sketching out a web of phone calls or following a gang’s movements across a map, for example–could help investigators identify key players in a crime ring or exonerate the usual suspects much faster.

The deluge of so-called Big Data is overwhelming law enforcement as much as it is any company in the private sector. Detectives, for instance, often have access to more information than ever before, but pinpointing key facts, like a suspect’s activity in neighboring precincts, involves frustrating manual searches. In other words, connecting the dots is much harder than it looks on television.

Not that there’s a shortage of companies trying to change that. IBM’s Watson supercomputer, best known for its victory on Jeopardy! in 2011, is now fielding so-called natural-language questions in a trial run with police officers in Tucson, Ariz. Data-analytics giants SAS, Oracle and Microsoft provide software that can present existing law-enforcement reports in more easily readable formats. Nobody tracks exactly how much American police departments spend on such software, but overall IT spending in the criminal-justice system in the U.S. totaled $3.5 billion in 2014, according to researcher IDC Government Insights.

Mark43–the name is a nod to the Iron Man suit–began as a school project Crouch worked on as a Harvard junior. Shadowing Massachusetts state-police troopers to measure the effectiveness of police tactics, he found his attention repeatedly drawn to the way the police fumbled with their software. “You’d have to hit TAB five times, hit six buttons, open up three new boxes to actually search for a report, and even then it wouldn’t really work,” he recalls. By 2013, Crouch and two of his fellow engineering students had secured $2 million in a seed-funding round led by Spark Capital, an early investor in Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare.

Since then, Mark43’s software has expanded to walk officers through the scut work of filing a police report. Regulations stipulate every question along the way. Recovering a weapon, for instance, triggers a cascade: Was the owner notified? Where notified? Date notified? Storage facility? Location of storage facility? Mark43 expands and contracts the decision tree, automatically filling in fields when possible. Police can search for a suspect by name, alias or keyword. Clicking on a suspect’s page pulls up a mug shot and, beneath it, mug shots of associates, much the way Facebook displays friends of friends. The page also loads live tweets pulled from the suspect’s Twitter feed, assuming he or she has one that’s public. (Crouch says a surprising number of suspects have active social-media accounts.)

This year, Mark43 secured a contract with one of the nation’s largest metropolitan police departments, which will replace its current record-keeping system with Mark43 software. Police chiefs will be watching closely. In recent years, massive new technology deployments haven’t always gone smoothly: New York’s $88 million 911 dispatch system has suffered a string of outages, and a glitch in Dallas’ $4 million record-keeping system resulted in the early release of 20 inmates. As Los Angeles’ former chief technology officer Randi Levin put it to trade publication Government Technology: “The criminal justice requirements were never written with cloud computing in mind.” Mark43 hopes to prove otherwise.


This appears in the May 25, 2015 issue of TIME.
TIME Smartphones

15 Tricks For Getting Way Better Smartphone Battery Life

There's no reason your charge should run out before bedtime again

In theory, modern smartphones can last hundreds of hours on a single charge.

Hundreds of hours, that is, until you actually start using the things. In practice, today’s top phones will squeeze out about 20 hours at best. In the chart below, note the more realistic estimates for battery life in popular phones.

While “Talk Time” traditionally means “number of hours you can chat on your phone on a single charge,” the figure doubles as a rough approximation for “any active use,” such as texting and web browsing.

But even these numbers are inflated. Manufacturers love to use pristine laboratory conditions in order to advertise great numbers, most of which won’t match real-world use. This is why your brand new Samsung Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6 might still be running low an hour or two before dinner.

With that in mind, we rounded up research across the web and tested both Android and iOS phones to pin down battery saving tricks that actually work. Along the way, we’ll point out a few myths about smartphone batteries, from ideal charging cycles to the truth about closing apps.

Notes: this list will cover battery saving techniques for both iOS and Android (sorry, Windows Phone). In a few cases, we’ll mark a tip as specific to either iOS and Android, but most apply on both platforms.

This guide is current as of Android Lollipop and iOS 8. If you’re using a previous version of either OS, the menus and options may be a bit different.

1. Start by deleting apps you haven’t used in months

Closing apps

Closing apps on iOS and Android

As we’ll see later on this list, pesky apps that run in the background, track your location or send you push notifications can end up being a big drain on your battery. Each of those problems can be addressed individually, but why not just delete those dozen apps you used once in 2013 and haven’t touched since? It’ll save you a lot of trouble as we move along this list.

On Android, go to Settings —>Apps. Select the app you want to disable, and tap Uninstall.

On iOS, tap and hold any app, then tap the X in the top left corner. (Note that you can’t delete several of the standard, Apple-made apps in iOS.)

2. Disable background app data for all non-essential apps

Background data settings

Background data settings for Android and iOS

Many apps run in the background, even when you’re not using them. This makes sense for things like email and social media, where you might want to know the minute you get a new message or comment, but do you really need your games, notes, and music players gobbling up battery resources 24/7?

With iOS, you can turn off background data on an app-by-app basis. Go to Settings—>General—>Background App Refresh, and select apps to turn off.

With Android, you can “restrict background data” for each app. Go to Settings—>Data usage. Tap on your app of choice, then scroll to the bottom to restrict background data on cellular networks. (Note that this setting can also save you from accidentally going over your data plan threshold.)

3. Don’t obsessively close apps

Don't close apps

Closing apps on Android and iOS

For years, “close all your apps” was the most popular battery saving tip in the world of smartphones. Ironically, it can actually make your battery life worse. When you leave an app open in the background, then access it a little later, your phone is smart enough to let you pick up where you left off, with minimal harm to battery life. However, if you keep closing and re-opening the same apps all day, you end up taxing your phone a whole lot more than necessary. It’s a little like turning off and starting up your car every time you hit a stoplight.

In theory, quitting an app you use only once per week can save you a very small amount of battery. For the dozen apps you use on a near-daily basis, however, you’re only hurting yourself. So don’t worry about it. Your phone will worry about it for you.

4. Disable notifications for most apps

App notifications

Disabling notifications on iOS and Android

Many apps will automatically send you “push notifications,” so-called because the app will notify you of things throughout the day, unsolicited.

It’s time to stop the madness. On iOS, visit Settings—>Notifications, and turn off notifications for all but your most important apps. Sure, you want your text messages to come through on your lock screen, but do you really need every MLB score from across the league? You can even customize your notifications down to where they appear, from banners to sound alerts to the lock screen. The fewer, the better.

On Android, go to Settings—>Sound & notification—>App notifications. From here you can block notifications for individual apps entirely, or set priority filters for receiving fewer notifications overall. Add it all up, and you’ll get more battery life with fewer disturbances.

5. Tell your phone to check for new email less frequently (iOS)

Email fetching on iOS

Email fetching on iOS

One big battery life offender could be email. In the past, email was a real drain, when your phone would have to check to see if you had new mail constantly throughout the day. Fortunately, most modern email clients push messages to your phone, meaning that your device must only expend power when you actually get a new message.

That said, if your email is blowing up throughout the day, or if you’re using a non-standard email service that doesn’t support push email, your phone could still be losing power to a barrage of incoming messages.

The first solution is to tell your phone to check email less frequently—say, only once every 30 minutes. The second solution is to go full manual, only allowing your phone to check for new mail when you manually open the app. Either option can be accessed within the same menu.

On iOS, go to Settings—>Mail, Contacts, Calendars—>Fetch New Data. Turn off “Push” and select your preferred frequency at the bottom of the menu. (Remember, if you don’t get that much email as it stands, it’s probably best just to leave “Push” on.)

6. Turn off location services / reporting

Location services

Location settings on Android and iOS

Like background data and push notifications, location services can be a quiet killer, draining your smartphone battery behind the scenes. You’ve probably already realized that GPS navigation sucks the juice right out of your device, but this makes sense: after all, your phone is working constantly to track your spot on the map.

Less obvious are location services in apps like Facebook and Instagram. These social media apps keep your exact position in mind so they can tag every post, status or photo with the corresponding city or neighborhood. If you value battery life more than geo-tagged posts (or better yet, if you find geo-tagged posts a little creepy), turn off location services.

On iOS, go to Settings—>Privacy—>Location Services. You can either turn them all off at once, or turn them off individually. For instance, you might only leave location services on for utility apps like Maps, Passbook and Weather.

On Android, go to Settings—>General–>Location. Then use the big switch to turn location reporting off. (Just keep in mind that Maps will have to ask you permission to temporarily turn Location Reporting back on whenever you use navigation features.)

7. Turn off auto brightness and dim the screen

Brightness settings

Brightness settings on Android and iOS

If the first six steps haven’t solved your battery issue, it’s time to get a little more serious. You might like to view your 5.5-inch, multi-million-pixel display at full brightness, but that’s a guaranteed recipe for draining your battery fast. Even your phone’s auto-brightness feature will sometimes overdo it on luminance, meaning you could be losing precious hours of battery life.

Try dimming your display just a bit and living with the change for an hour. You’ll be surprised how quickly your eyes adjust.

On iOS, go to Settings—>Display & Brightness. Turn off Auto-Brightness, and then dim the display using the slider.

On Android, go to Setting—>Display, and turn off Adaptive Brightness. Then tap on Brightness level and adjust to your preference.

8. Turn off vibrations

Vibration settings

Vibration settings on Android and iOS

We tend to think of a vibrating phone as a low-key alternative to a noisy ring, but when it comes to battery life, ringing is a lot less taxing than rumbling. If you want to squeeze out a bit more battery life, consider turning off vibrations entirely.

On iOS, go to Settings—>Sounds, and then switch off the two vibrate toggles at the top of the menu.

On Android, use the volume toggle to turn down the ringer, and you’ll see a menu pop up at the top of your screen. Here, you can either turn off all notifications for a custom period of time, or only receive “priority notifications,” based on your personal preferences. Either one will end up having a positive effect on battery.

9. Turn down sleep / auto-lock duration

Sleep settings

Sleep and auto-lock settings on Android and iOS

Your phone’s single biggest battery drain is the display. Ideally, you want your display off whenever you’re not looking at the screen. The problem is that we often leave our phones’ displays on accidentally, in little moments throughout the day, even when we’re done using them. No matter how conscientious we are with your sleep/wake button, we’re going to forget from time to time.

The solution is a low screen timeout. Set your device to turn off its display after just one minute (or on Android, 30 seconds) and you can save a whole hour of wasted screen time per day.

On iOS, go to Settings—>General—>Auto-Lock.

On Android, go to Settings—>Display—>Sleep.

10. Turn off Bluetooth

Bluetooth settings

Bluetooth settings on Android and iOS

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology that allows your smartphone to connect with other devices. It’s great for quickly sending files (ex: Apple’s AirDrop), connecting to your car’s sound system, or other close-range applications (ex: using your smartphone as a remote for a TV). While Bluetooth isn’t quite the battery hog today that it was two years ago, it’s still a drain on juice.

If you’re not using your smartphone for sending files, connecting to your car, or interacting with other devices, consider flipping Bluetooth off. There’s a good chance you’re hardly ever using it anyway.

On iOS, swipe up from the bottom of your screen and tap the Bluetooth icon in the middle.

On Android, go to Settings—>Bluetooth and toggle it off.

11. Use dark backgrounds on Samsung or Motorola phones (Android)

If your phone has an AMOLED display, using primarily black backgrounds can save you a solid hour of battery life per day. Instead of rendering black pixels, AMOLED displays are smart enough to simply leave black pixels off altogether, meaning that your phone’s display must power fewer pixels throughout a day of use.

Most of Samsung and Motorola’s most popular phones use AMOLED displays, while most other manufacturers do not.

12. Don’t worry so much about fully charging and fully depleting your battery

Empty battery

Empty battery symbol

You’ve probably heard the classic advice about charging batteries: let your battery drain all the way, then charge to 100%, and repeat. The idea is that you are teaching your battery to ‘remember’ its full charge capacity, rather than confusing it with periodic, inconsistent charges.

There was some truth to this…in 2007. In 2015, most smartphone battery technology is advanced enough not to need special treatment. So instead of running out the door with 50% juice, consider plugging in for 15 minutes before you leave. We promise your battery won’t forget what a full charge is.

13. Pay attention to signal strength

Signal strength

iPhone searching for a signal

When you have a strong LTE connection or (especially) a great Wi-Fi connection, your phone will cruise along as it was intended to—without straining the battery. On the other hand, if you’ve got a single bar, weak 4G and no Wi-Fi in range, your phone will expend tons of juice simply trying to connect with a weak signal.

So if you notice your phone is barely holding on, consider moving (physically) to get closer to a source, or if nothing else, just turn on Airplane Mode. Give your phone a break.

14. Use battery saver (Android)

Battery saver

Battery saver on Android

Most of the recent Android flagship phones—like the Galaxy S6, Nexus 6 and HTC One M9—have battery saving modes that can extend the life of your device by another dozen hours, even if you’re already under 20%.

Go to Settings—>Battery and click on the three dots in the upper right corner.

Battery saver performs several of the earlier tips on this list all at once, by limiting vibrations, location services and background data. Email and other apps will also sync less frequently.

Airplane mode

Airplane Mode on Android and iOS

15. Airplane mode

If all else fails, there’s still good old Airplane Mode. It might render all your phone’s best features useless, but it’s guaranteed to stop the bleeding. After all, a smartphone gone dumb is still better than a smartphone gone dead.

Read next: 3 Things You Really Should Know About Mobile Payments

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TIME apps

Google Is Finally Making Apps for the Apple Watch

Apple Debuts New Watch
Stephen Lam—Getty Images The new Apple Watch is seen on display after an Apple special event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 9, 2015 in San Francisco, California.

A news app shows the company won't ignore Apple's device completely

The Apple Watch has added a big new addition to its app developer ranks.

Google released its first app for Apple’s new wearable on Tuesday. Google News & Weather, which was previously available for smartphones, will now allow users to get a quick summary of news headlines from the Apple Watch screen. According a TechCrunch hands-on, the app presents about a dozen headlines with an accompanying photo for each, organized around topics like sports and fashion.

However, users can’t click through to read the entire or article or easily send the content to their phones. There’s also no weather functionality as of yet.

Despite the barebones approach, the app is a signal that Google may eventually roll out some of its more robust apps on Apple’s new device. Google has its own smartwatch platform, Android Wear, that predates Apple Watch. But with the Apple Watch having sold more units on its first day available for pre-order than Android Wear watches sold in all of 2014, according to one estimate, Google may be willing to go where the users are, even if it’s not their own device.

The search giant implements a similar strategy in areas like phones and set-top boxes, where it has well-supported apps for the iPhone and Apple TV.

TIME apps

How to Make Your Instagram Followers Jealous of Your Sweet Feed

TIME.com stock photos Social Apps iPhone Instagram
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

3 photo editing apps that will make your Instagram snaps really pop

If your Instagram feed is starting to feel dull, maybe that’s because it is. After years of seeing photos in the same layout and with the same filters, everything can begin to look the same — even your own photos start to look like everyone else’s.

While Instagram adds new filters once in a while, you can also look to other apps to liven up your snaps.

One of the most popular options is Hipstamatic. The app lets you choose between a variety of lenses, film types, and flashes, which means you can stack filter upon filter and then tinker with the lighting to create an almost endless combination of image styles. That means Hipstamatic gives you a little more creative freedom. Hipstamatic also released a TinType app, which mimics old film stock to make your images look like Civil War mugshots.

Another popular camera app is VSCO Cam, which gives you even more control over your images. VSCO allows you to edit photos until you find a setting you like, and then save it to a preset that can be applied to multiple photos. VSCO also offers its own constantly growing line of filters, many of which are far better than Instagram’s stock offerings.

But for those who like complete image editing freedom, there’s yet another app called Shift designed specifically for engineering and saving filters that you can apply to any number of photos. Shift allows you to choose the color hue of your filter, the texture of the image, and then adjust the strength of your color gradients, light, brightness, contrast and saturation. You can also choose any of Shift’s presets to edit to your liking.

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