Open-Source PHP Framework - Designed for rapid development of performance-oriented scalable applications

RSS Reader

$rss get::component('rss');
$articles $rss->getFeed('');
foreach (
$articles as $article) {
$html->h2($html->link($article['link'], $article['title']));

Live RSS feed output:

Ubisoft once again delays 'Skull and Bones,' a game which will surely come out eventually

Ubisoft has once again delayed its long, long-awaited pirate sim Skull and Bones. Last we heard, the game was scheduled to hit Xbox Series X and S, PlayStation 5, Steam, Epic Games Store, Google Stadia, Amazon Luna and Ubisoft Connect on November 8th. That's no longer the case, as the publisher has pushed back the release date to March 9th.

"We’re very eager for you all to get your hands on Skull and Bones and dive in headfirst to the dangerous and exciting world of building your own pirate empire," the company wrote in a blog post. "To give you the best possible experience we’ve decided to take a little more time to make sure we can deliver exactly that."

Skull and Bones was already four years behind schedule. We had our first hands on with it in 2017 and it was supposed to be out the following year. However, Ubisoft went back to the drawing board when the game was already deep into development to turn it into a more realistic pirating experience.

While the news of yet another delay will come as a disappointment to those who've already been waiting five years for the game, you still might be able to get your hands on it before March. Ubisoft is planning to run an open beta of Skull and Bones. It will share more details soon.

Google is making it easier to find search results from Reddit and other forums

Google is making it easier to find search results from Reddit and other forum sites. The search engine is adding a new module that will surface discussions happening on forums across the web for queries that may benefit from crowd-sourced answers.

The “discussions and forums” module will surface relevant posts from sites like Reddit and Quora alongside more traditional search results. It’s not clear exactly how Google is determining what types of searches are best suited to forum posts. The company says the new “forum” results will “appear when you search for something that might benefit from the diverse personal experiences found in online discussions.”

The feature is already rolling out for mobile searches in the United States. Google didn’t specify when it may be available more widely, but said they will consider updates in the future.

Google is also adding a new feature to news-related searches that will make it easier to browse international headlines that are published in languages other than English. With the change, news-related searches will also turn up relevant local coverage translated by Google.

Google is also making it easier to read international news.

The company uses the example of the recent earthquake in Mexico. With the update, search results will also show “news from Mexico,” which will highlight coverage from local outlets originally written in Spanish, but translated into English. Of course, Google Chrome and other browsers are already able to translate web pages. But Google says that by elevating stories from international outlets directly in search will help provide “new global perspectives” on important stories.

The feature, which is labeled as being in beta for now, is starting off with the ability to translate headlines and stories from Spanish, French and German into English, though the beta designation means Google is likely to add more languages over time.

Amazon's first QLED Fire TVs offer better picture quality and an ambient mode

When Amazon introduced its Fire TV Omni line last year, it mostly offered affordable sets oriented toward budget-conscious consumers. At its fall hardware event today, the company announced two new models with QLED panels. Priced at $800 and $1,100 for 65- and 75-inch 4K models, the Omni QLED TVs feature "up to" 96 local dimming zones, support for Dolby Vision IQ and HDR10 Plus Adaptive. Those are features that should significantly improve the picture quality the new sets can offer over their predecessors.

New presence and ambient light sensors also allow the Omni QLED TVs to offer a feature Amazon is calling "Ambient Experience." Taking a page from Samsung's Frame TVs, the Omni QLED TVs can display artwork when you're not watching a TV show or movie. At any time, you can ask Alexa to tell you more about the piece or the artist who created it. The Ambient Experience automatically turns on when you enter the room and off again when you leave. 

If you want something more practical, the TVs can also display Alexa widgets with information on the news, weather and more. You can disable the built-in far-field microphones at any point if you don't want Alexa listening, and it's even possible to use the TV to play music without keeping the display on. Preorders for the Fire TV Omni QLED series open today, with orders shipping in October.   

Follow all of the news from Amazon's event right here!

DALL-E's AI art generator is now (sort of) available to everyone

You no longer need to join a queue to try OpenAI's well-known image generator. The company has dropped the waiting list for the DALL-E beta, making the technology available to everyone. If you want to create art, you just have to sign up (if you can get past the authentication glitch that exists as we write this) and start describing the pieces you'd like to produce.

The wider release comes after OpenAI both expanded DALL-E's features (such as "Outpainting" to expand beyond original image borders) and, importantly, some crucial safeguards. The firm claims it has "more robust" abilities to filter out policy-violating content, including some depictions of sexuality and violence. A developer framework currently in testing should also bring the AI picture maker to third-party apps.

This public debut comes without answers to some key questions. It's not clear if AI-generated art is fair use or stolen, for instance — Getty Images and similar services have banned the material out of concern it might violate copyright. While this expansion will be welcome, it might test some legal limits.

How Google is working to help you find food and local businesses

At its Search On event today, Google unveiled several new ways to help people more easily find what they're looking for. Some things can be trickier to locate than most, like a particular style of clothing or a certain fragrance. But when it comes to food that makes your mouth and eyes water, Google thinks it can help. Engadget spoke with vice president and general manager of Local Search Yul Kwon to learn how the company believes it can bring people to the dishes they're craving.

Kwon's lived many lives. You might remember him as the winner of Survivor: Cook Islands, but he's also been a management consultant, a law practitioner and the owner of several Red Mango franchise locations in California. "I lost about 20 pounds during the show and when I came back, I was so hungry," he said. "I basically just sat there and ate everything and anything I could get my hands on."

His ravenous spiral led to a "40-pound weight swing," which drove Kwon to find healthier alternatives to junk food and dessert. On a trip to Los Angeles, Kwon discovered frozen yogurt and was hooked. But the dearth of high quality frozen yogurt stores in the Bay Area at the time meant it was hard for him to find the tasty treat at home. Inspired, and driven by the desire to make an "unlimited supply of frozen yogurt for me to eat myself," Kwon opened stores in downtown Palo Alto, San Carlos and San Jose. 

Over time, competition in the froyo business grew intense, as more and more stores opened to cater to growing demand. "At some point everyone and their grandma was opening a frozen yogurt store," Kwon said. "A lot of the stores that opened were lower quality and lower cost and so they were not as healthy."

Yul Kwon (L), the winner of 'Survivor: Cook Islands', and host Jeff Probst pose for photographers after taping the show's season finale in Los Angeles December 17, 2006. REUTERS/Max Morse (UNITED STATES)
Max Morse / reuters

Kwon said that amid this spike, it not only became became tough to differentiate his business from the competition, but the tools to reach and engage with customers just weren't available. "It was harder to track new customers to get the word out, and we didn't really have great tools to drive word of mouth or use technology to drive awareness."

Eventually, the financial crisis of 2008 became the final straw and Kwon had to close his businesses. 

This is a story that's all too familiar. Small, local businesses lacking the tools to reach larger audiences eventually have to cave to competition and shutter. Though services like GrubHub and DoorDash have made it easier for people to discover restaurants to order food from, they often charge high fees and offer businesses little control over how they're presented. 

These days, companies turn to social media to reach would-be customers, and making an attractive profile can determine how successful you are. Skills that have little to do with running a restaurant, like photography and caption-writing, are now key to bringing in money. Though it's not technically social media, Google Maps and Search results also play crucial parts in whether a business thrives or fails. If a restaurant's Maps listing has a rating that's lower than four stars, or if it doesn't have a menu available for perusal, a potential diner can quickly be turned off. 

An animation showing a restaurant's Google Search listing, with a picture and review highlighted.

Updated digital menus and vibe checks

One of these potential roadblocks is fairly easy to solve. Not only does Google already provide a digital menu on most listings, it also groups user-submitted pictures of physical menus for easier reference. The company also announced today that it's expanding its coverage of digital menus, "making them more visually rich and reliable. 

"We combine menu information provided by people and merchants, and found on restaurant websites that use open standards for data sharing," Sophia Lin, the company's general manager of Food and Search, wrote in a blog post. Google also uses image and language understanding technologies like its Multitask Unified Model to scrape available data and produce these menus, which will also showcase most popular dishes and call out different dietary options (starting with just vegetarian and vegan).

Just like Neighborhood Vibe that Google just announced for Maps, a new feature is also coming to Search to help capture and relay to users what makes a restaurant stand out. "Star ratings are helpful, but they don't tell you everything about a restaurant," Lin wrote. In the coming months, listings will show pictures and reviews that the company's machine learning systems determined are representative of how a place feels. 

Identify and find specific dishes

Google also wants to help people find the exact food items they're craving. "Our research shows 40 percent of people already have a dish in mind when they search for food," Lin wrote. "So to help people find what they're looking for, in the coming months you'll be able to search for any dish and see the local places that offer it."

Lin gave the example of soup dumplings, which she said is a family favorite. The new multisearch near me tool can not only identify the type of xiao long bao (the Chinese name for soup dumplings, or XLB for the well-informed) in a picture, but can also tell you where you can buy it near you. You can also get more specific with your search. 

According to Lin, "In the past, searching for soup dumplings near me would show a list of related restaurants. With our revamped experience, we’ll now show you the exact dish results you’ve been looking for. You can even narrow your search down to spicy dishes if you want a bit of a kick"

Of course, these new tools alone won't help struggling small businesses thrive, but they do help users better understand what restaurants have to offer. 

When Kwon recounts his experiences running his Red Mango franchises, he feels on hindsight that "it was hard for people to really understand how we differed from other yogurt shops, It wasn't any like one place that could go to to really help them find what they're looking for."

Kwon said he learned from that ordeal how hard it was to be successful as a small business and wanted to do something to help people in similar situations. He believes that building a set of tools that help small businesses succeed is how he can make a difference.

"Ultimately, technology can be the great equalizer." he said. "It can be the thing that helps small businesses can change on an even playing field within the big guys." While today's announcements on their own don't seem to specifically target local businesses trying to reach customers in their community, Kwon says the updates "help people connect and find the types of foods that they're looking for," which he said is part of helping build relationships between people and their communities.

I want to see Google do more to help and empower small local businesses trying to engage with their communities and customers, and though I'm underwhelmed by today's announcements on that front, I am hopeful for more to come.  

'Immersive View' in Google Maps expands to 250 landmarks globally

If you recently traveled to a new city, there’s a good chance you used Maps to plan your trip. Google wants to make that process easier. Over the next few months, you can expect Google to expand the availability of its 3D “Immersive View” feature. As of today, you can use Maps to see photorealistic aerial views of more than 250 global landmarks, including Tokyo Tower and the Acropolis of Athens.

In Los Angeles, London, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo, it’s also possible to see a preview of where Google plans to take the feature in the coming months and years. In those cities, Immersive View includes a timeline functionality, allowing you to see a simulation of how a popular landmark will look at a specific time of day. Additionally, Immersive View works in conjunction with Street View, so it’s possible to explore nearby restaurants and shops. The idea here is to take the guesswork out of planning to visit popular landmarks and tourist destinations.

Eco-friendly routing

Live View is also about to get an upgrade. In LA, New York, San Francisco, Paris and Tokyo, Google is adding search functionality to the augmented reality feature. Now, if you’re looking for an ATM, restroom or a place to sit down and grab a bite to eat, you can use Live View to point you in the right direction. Android and iOS users can expect the updated feature to arrive on their devices in the coming months. Last but not least, Google announced today it’s making its eco-friendly routing feature available to third-party developers. That should allow companies like Uber and Lyft to add the technology to their apps, helping their drivers create fewer emissions.

Google brings speed, deep dive and vertical video updates to search results

Google is shaking up Search in terms of both entering queries and how results are displayed, and you can expect to see the changes in the wild in the coming months. For instance, you may soon find it easier to get answers to questions before you finish writing them. When you start typing into the search box, Google will display badges with autocomplete suggestions, as well as related themes and categories. The goal, as ever, is to help you get to relevant results faster.

When it comes to search results, expect Google to place greater onus on videos, including more vertical clips. According to Google, this is in service of diversifying the types of content formats that users see in results. It builds on an approach centered around browsable, visual-first results and endless scrolling on mobile (where vertical videos thrive). You'll see related topics as you scroll too. When you look up a city, you might see photos of landmarks, directions to get there, the current weather and tips for travelers. In addition, the search results may include videos from creators who have visited the city.

It could be easier for you to go down the rabbit hole on something you're interested in too. Google detailed some "drill down" features that are based on a deep understanding of how people search. You'll be able to add and remove related topics to see more detail or focus on the things you care about. You may discover things you weren't aware of. Google used Oaxaca's beaches and musical traditions as examples. That could help you find inspiration for planning trips, for instance.

This seems like an evolution of related searches. It's described as a streamlined and unified approach to helping folks explore topics by organizing results in a more logical way. Ultimately, it's all about simplifying Search and getting you the information you need (or didn't know you need) more quickly.

Google Maps will help you discover a neighborhood's 'vibe'

Google may soon give you a feel for a city district before you've ever set foot in it. The company is introducing a "neighborhood vibe' feature for Maps on Android and iOS that will help you learn what's new and worth seeing in a particular area through info and imagery. You may discover a historic quarter full of landmarks and museums, or the hottest restaurants in the chic part of town.

The technology relies on a blend of AI with community contributions to Google Maps' landscape, such as photos and reviews. If all goes well, the feature will evolve in sync with the neighborhood itself.

The vibe check will roll out to Maps users worldwide in the "coming months." No, this won't make you as knowledgeable as a resident. However, it might help you plan a vacation or move — instead of searching blindly for things to do, you'll have a decent sense of what's popular with locals.

Google Lens image and text multisearch will soon be available in more languages

Multisearch, a Google Lens feature that can search images and text simultaneously, will soon be more broadly available after arriving in the US as a beta earlier this year. Google says multisearch will expand to more than 70 languages in the coming months. The company made the announcement at an event focused on Search.

In addition, the Near Me feature, which Google unveiled at I/O back in May, will land in the US in English sometime this fall. This ties into multisearch, with the idea of making it easier for folks to find out more details about local businesses. 

Multisearch is largely about enabling people to point their camera at something and ask about it while they're using the Google app. You could aim your phone at a store and request details about it, for instance, or ask about a screenshot of any unfamiliar item, like an item of clothing. You could also look up what a certain food item is called, like soup dumplings or laksa, and see what restaurants around you offer it.

Also on the Lens front, there will be some changes when it comes to augmented reality translations. Google is now employing the same artificial intelligence tech it uses for the Pixel 6's Magic Eraser feature to make it appear like it's replacing the original text, instead of superimposing the translation on top. The idea is to make translations look more seamless and natural.

Google is also adding shortcuts to the bottom of the search bar in its iOS app, so you'll more easily find features like translating text with your camera, hum to search and translating text in screenshots.

Here are the new features Amazon is adding to Alexa

While new gadgets tend to dominate Amazon's annual Devices and Services Event, the company still has a few upgrades planned for its ubiquitous digital assistant. So here are all the fresh features and skills Amazon is planning to add to Alexa. 

For people trying to shop for a new outfit, the Echo Show is getting an AI-based skill that allows it to more easily search for clothes using a customer's references or specific characteristics. For example, Amazon says you can ask things like "Alexa, show me the one-shoulder top." Amazon explained the skill was created using the Alexa Teacher Model, which was trained using images and captions sourced from the company's product database. 

In the car, Alexa is also getting a new Roadside Assistance feature that will connect you with an agent in case you need do something like calling a tow truck or get help changing a flat tire. On top of that, BMW is expanding its partnership with Amazon, with BMW announcing plans to build its next-generation voice assistant using the Alexa Custom Assistant solution. BMW's goal is to support more natural language controls that are easy to use while driving. 

Alexa is also getting integration with the new Halo Rise, allowing it to do things like automatically turn off your lights when you get in bed or play your favorite song to help you wake up in the morning. Amazon will also be adding the Fire TV experience to the Echo Show 15, so users will be able to watch all their favorite shows or purchased content on a smaller screen. There's also a new Alexa Voice Remote Pro for Fire TVs, that allows you to more easily switch between various inputs, control routines and use your voice to find the remote if you lose it thanks to the controller's built-in speaker. 

Meanwhile for Disney fans, Amazon is adding a new "Hey Disney" command that gives anyone with a Kids+ subscription access to immersive entertainment experiences featuring big-name Disney characters. 

Follow all of the news from Amazon's event right here!

Amazon's new Fire TV Cube can control your cable box

Amazon's Fire TV Cube has always been a bit of a curiosity. Clearly, the company wanted to combine an Echo Dot with a Fire TV streaming player, but it took a few tries before we genuinely liked it. Now with the third-generation Fire TV Cube, Amazon is giving it a more premium sheen with a cloth-covered design, a more powerful 2GHz octa-core processor, and an HDMI input connection for plugging in your cable box. Doing so will let you tune the Fire TV Cube to specific channels with voice commands—you know, for those of you who can't let your local sports go.

Given that new hardware, Amazon says the Fire TV Cube will feel much faster than before. It's also the first streamer on the market to include support for WiFi 6E, which should help when you're dealing with huge 4K streams. When it comes to older content, Amazon has also included Super Resolution support for upscaling HD video into 4K. It's unclear if that will actually help older content look better, but we're looking forward to testing it out.

In addition to the $140 Fire TV Cube, Amazon also announced the $35 Alexa Voice Remote Pro, which is unfortunately sold separately. It features a backlight and programmable buttons for launching your favorite streaming apps. Perhaps most useful though? There's a Remote Finder feature, which allows you to ask Alexa to trigger a noise in case the Remote Pro gets stuck in your couch. That's one big advantage it has over Apple's easy-to-lose Apple TV remote.

Amazon Alexa Voice Remote Pro

Follow all of the news from Amazon's event right here!

Amazon is turning the Echo Show 15 into a Fire TV

It's Amazon's turn to host a major fall hardware event, and the company took the opportunity to announce some news for the Echo Show 15. It will bring the Fire TV experience to the smart display for both new and existing owners of the device as a free update.

The move makes a lot of sense when you consider that over 70 percent of Echo Show 15 users watched videos on the device last month, according to Amazon. The company says users will be able to start playing shows, movies and live TV with Alexa voice commands, as well as through touch control. You'll have the option of pairing the third-gen Fire TV Alexa Voice Remote to Echo Show 15 too. A new Fire TV widget will include shortcuts to recently used streaming apps, content you watched lately and your watchlist.

Follow all of the news from Amazon's event right here!

Amazon is expanding the Astro's abilities for both home and business

While Amazon is widely known for its Ring brand of doorbell camera home security systems, the company last year introduced a more mobile, and way more adorable, monitoring platform: Astro. The $1,500 automaton (which is currently on sale for $999) essentially serves as an Alexa on wheels, trundling about your home like an AIBO that also manages your calendar and doubles as a guard dog. On Wednesday, Amazon unveiled a slew of new features for Astro, including one that can now detect the presence of your real cat or dog. 

The new feature, which will be available later this year, will trigger while the Astro is "on patrol" around your home. When it encounters your pet, Astro will capture a short video clip of them and share it with you via Live View (part of the Alexa Together system). 

"You can use Live View to tell your dog to get off the couch, or you can take a picture of what they’re doing to add to your pet scrapbook," Ken Washington, vice president of Consumer Robotics, said during the event. "We think this feature will be especially useful by providing a live connection to your pets so that you have peace of mind about them, no matter where you are."

Astro is also gaining some added situational awareness. The robot can already map out its patrol routes through your home but, with a new multimodal AI capability, Astro will actively pay attention to "things in your home that you want it to learn about—and better notify you if something isn’t right," Washington said. Basically, Astro will learn by looking at an object (say, a door) and listening to you speak about it ("that door should always be closed"), then incorporate that information into its monitoring duties. If it detects an issue, the Astro will snap a picture of it and send it to you with a request for further instructions.

For those of you itching to add bespoke features to your own Astro, Amazon is also releasing a new SDK. There's no word yet on when it will be made publicly available. Washington noted that "to start, we’ll begin working with three of the world’s leading robotics schools later this year—the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Maryland, and the University of Michigan—to put an early form of the SDK into their students’ hands." More official Astro features are in the pipe, Washington assured, and once they're ready, they'll be made available as OTA software updates.

Follow all of the news from Amazon's event right here!

Amazon's Blink adds its first wired floodlight camera

Blink, Amazon’s other home security company, primarily focuses on small, affordable and mostly battery-powered devices. Today, however, it’s launching a Floodlight Camera that, unlike the existing model, can be wired in to your home’s external power supply. The Blink Wired Floodlight Camera offers a beefy 2600-lumen LED light, a 1080p live view and two-way audio, as well as enhanced motion detection. That latter feature is aided by Amazon’s AZ2 Neural Edge Processor, which enables the processing to be handled locally, rather than in the cloud.

Blink Mini Pan Tilt
Blink / Amazon

At the same time, Blink is also trotting out a pan-and-tilt mount to its indoor Mini security camera. The Blink Mini Pan Tilt (the lack of an and in that name should bother you as much as it bothers me) attaches to the base of your mini to offer 360-degree coverage of a room. You can also attach it to a tripod or, for an extra fee, a wall mount if your needs are more specific. In terms of pricing, the Floodlight Camera will arrive shortly for $100 while the Pan Tilt (yup, still bothers me) is up for pre-order today for $30, or bundled with a Mini camera for $60.

Follow all of the news from Amazon's event right here!

Ring brings radar detection to its Spotlight Cam Pro

We've already seen Ring add Bird's Eye View — its fancy 3D motion detection — to its flagship security camera and its flagship outdoor light camera. Consequently, you get no prizes for guessing that the feature is now coming to the new Ring Spotlight Cam Pro. The new Pro Spotlight Cam is joined by a Spotlight Cam Plus, which offers a slightly nicer design than its predecessor.

For the uninitiated, Birds Eye View is a system that offers users a top-down map of their area, showing the path a person took to your front door. It’s designed to let you know if someone’s been peering into your windows, or anywhere else, while on your porch.

Both of Ring’s Spotlight Cams will be available in Battery, Plug-In, Solar and Wired variations, although not all of them are ready right now. The Spotlight Cam Pro Battery and Plug-In can be bought for $230, while the Solar model will set you back $250. The Plus, meanwhile, is available for pre-order today, with prices starting at $200.

Image of Astro and Ring Protect
Ring / Amazon

At the same time, Ring is also launching a more business-focused way of using Amazon’s Astro, its (terrifying) home security robot as a security guard. Astro can already patrol the ground floor of your home at night, and new buyers get a free six-month trial of Ring Protect Pro thrown in for good measure. Now, however, the company is integrating Virtual Security Guard to Astro for small businesses who don’t need (or can't afford the cost of) a living and breathing security patrol.

Much like the home-friendly version, Astro will patrol your office (or other stair-free facility) keeping watch. Should the Ring Alarm or one of the sensors spot a disturbance, the system will connect to a local monitoring and security company. From there, an operator can take control of Astro and go investigate if there’s something worrying going on in the back office.

Like many of Ring’s newest products, this will be first tested by a small group of business customers in the following months.

Follow all of the news from Amazon's event right here!

Amazon built Eero WiFi extenders into its latest Echo Dot speakers

Amazon isn't done updating its Eero router lineup this year, if not quite in the way you'd expect. To start, the brand's new Echo Dot speakers will now double as Eero WiFi extenders. Plug one in and you'll get as much as 1,000 square feet of additional network coverage. That speaker on your nightstand could improve the internet connection in your office, in other words.

The base Echo Dot is available for pre-order today at $50, while the Echo Dot with Clock and colorful Echo Dot Kids will sell for $60. Given that an Eero 6 Extender costs $79, this is an easy choice if you use one of Amazon's routers — you can pay less to bolster your WiFi network while adding speaker functionality.

There's also a meaningful update to existing routers. The Eero team is prepping an Internet Backup feature that will automatically switch to an alternate connection if there's an outage, and switch back when things return to normal. You can lean on your phone's hotspot while your cable service is down, for instance. The technology will be available in the "coming months," although you'll need either a $99 per year Eero Plus subscription (formerly Eero Secure+) or service from a supporting internet provider.

Eero PoE 6 power over Ethernet WiFi router

You can expect new dedicated Eero hardware as well, although this time it's aimed at sophisticated home networks and businesses. As the name suggests, the Eero PoE 6 router (shown above) takes power over Ethernet and is thus easier to mount on the ceiling or wall. The dual-band device tops out at 1.5Gbps and a maximum 2,000 square feet of coverage. It will be available in the US and Canada this October for $300 alongside an Eero PoE Gateway ($650) that can share up to a 10Gbps internet link through two 10Gbps Ethernet jacks and eight PoE-capable 2.5Gbps jacks.

There are services to match: Anyone who buys Eero PoE hardware will get five years of access to a Pro Installers software suite to help technicians optimize networks for customers. Companies, meanwhile, will have the option of a $299 yearly Eero for Business plan that offers hardware and software for outfits with little to no IT infrastructure of their own. It arrives in early 2023 in the US and UK.

Follow all of the news from Amazon's event right here!

BMW's next in-vehicle voice assistant will be built from Amazon Alexa

BMW began incorporating smart voice features into its infotainment systems using Amazon's Alexa in 2018. In the intervening years, the number of models sporting the digital assistant have only increased. At Amazon's 2022 Devices & Services Event on Wednesday, the two companies announced a deepening of their partnership: BMW's next-generation of infotainment systems will feature an Alexa-based assistant specifically developed with the driver in mind.

The as-of-yet unnamed BMW assistant will be constructed from an Alexa Custom Assistant, "a comprehensive solution that makes it easy for BMW and other brands and device makers to create their own custom intelligent assistant tailored to their brand personality and customer needs." Those capabilities might include a proactive notification from the vehicle's assistant alerting the driver that the battery charge is low while automatically reserving a charging slot at the next off-ramp or preemptively scheduling regular service with the local dealership, and "will enable an even more natural dialogue between driver and vehicle," per a Wednesday BMW press release.

Amazon's redesigned Echo Auto will better integrate with your vehicle

Building off of its success convincing the public to outfit their homes and offices with various Alexa-enabled Echo devices, Amazon introduced the very first Echo Auto in 2018. More than a million pre-orders and four years later, the Echo Auto is getting an upgrade, Amazon announced Wednesday at its 2022 Device and Services event.

The new unit will be slimmer than its predecessor and will include a mounting plate that adheres more securely than the last version — so make sure you really like where it's positioned before taking off the backing film. The unit still leverages five separate mics to pick up commands over road noise so you'll still have a good amount of flexibility in where you can place it. Once installed, it does what every Alexa does: respond to voice commands. It handles the standard fare of playing music — including a "follow me" function that allows you to switch audio from your home stereo to the vehicle as you get in — as well as navigation and hands-free calls. 

“Ambient technology is at its best in environments where people are focused on other tasks, and nowhere is that more important than in the car,” Heather Zorn, Amazon’s vice president for Alexa said during the event. “Voice can minimize distractions and help you keep your eyes on the road so you can focus on the fun of driving.”

What's more, with help from Amazon's cloud the $55 Echo Auto will also be able to alert the driver when their pre-ordered Whole Foods grocery order is ready for pickup will also summon a tow truck if you run out of gas. Simply say, “Alexa, call Roadside Assistance.”

Amazon announces Echo Studio and Echo Dot speakers with improved audio

Amazon has revealed new Echo speakers, although they don't look much different on the outside. Once the centerpiece of the company's Alexa lineup, Amazon didn't debut a new "regular" model last year. In 2020, it unveiled a completely redesigned Echo with a spherical shape instead of its previous cylindrical construction. The "regular" Echo isn't getting a tune-up this time around either. Instead, the company says it has improved the audio performance of both the high-end Echo Studio and the compact Echo Dot while keeping the same overall design for both.

The retooled Echo Studio comes with new spatial audio processing that improves on Amazon's previous 3D sound technology. The company says we can expect better stereo sound with "greater, width, clarity and presence." The frequency range also got an update with increased mid-range clarity and deeper bass. The company's high-end speaker now comes in a white color option and the updated version will ship next month for $200

Echo Dot

For the Echo Dot, which Amazon says is the world's bestselling smart speaker, the company has improved the audio as well. Amazon explains that it redesigned the interior to fit a larger speaker while keeping the device the same size as the previous model. The new driver offers twice the bass and clearer vocals over the last Echo Dot, according to the company. Amazon has also updated the Echo Dot with Clock so that the display can show information like artists, song titles and snooze timers. New accelerometers and sensors should improve touch controls as well — on both models. The Echo Dot will be available for $50 while the clock version is $60, and both are available for pre-order today. There are also two new options for Echo Dot Kids — dragon and owl — that will be available for $60 when they ship next month. 

Amazon also announced today that it has packed Eero mesh WiFi tech in its speakers. This means that compatible Echo models can serve as range extenders, adding up to 1,000 square feet of internet coverage per device.

Follow all of the news from Amazon's event right here!

Amazon's Halo Rise is a $140 bedside sleep tracker that works by sensing you breathe

Amazon wants to help you get better understanding of your sleep, but knows that many of us hate wearing something to bed just to track our rest. That's why it made the Halo Rise — a bedside lamp and sleep tracker that works without a camera or microphone to track the person resting closest to it. It'll also use machine learning to detect what sleep zones you're in and will cost $140 when it's available later this year.

It uses a "no-contact, low-energy sensor" to sense movement and respiratory patterns. Together with machine learning, Amazon can tell from the rising and falling or expanding and contracting of your body to determine your sleep stages throughout the night. Amazon says it "trained and validated the device's sleep algorithm against the clinical gold standard for sleep analysis called... overnight polysomnography."

If there's another person or animal sharing your bed, Amazon said its algorithm can detect and exclude their activity and only include your data in your sleep summary, which you'll see every day. The company will then offer you tips on how to sleep better, including suggestions on how to optimize your environment.

The Rise also has sensors to gauge the temperature, humidity and brightness of your room, and is also a lamp. It'll glow in accordance with sunrise times so you can wake up to a gradually brightening grow instead of having your retinas scorched off when you open your curtains. You can also set a smart alarm that will monitor your sleep stages and wake you at an ideal time instead of disrupting you in the middle of deep sleep. 

The Rise will also work with Alexa and you can set a compatible Alexa device to start playing your favorite song as you're waking up, based on the Rise's insights. If you have personalized sleep routines, the Rise can also trigger them when you get in bed, turning off your lights and other devices for you. 

Those concerned about privacy can turn off the sleep-tracking sensor whenever they want, and Amazon said that all Halo health data is encrypted in transit and at rest in the cloud. You'll also be able to download your health data, limit access to it or delete it altogether.

Though Amazon describes this as a "first of its kind bedside sleep tracker," Google already introduced something similar last year with the second-generation Nest Hub. That device uses the company's Soli radar sensor to monitor your breathing and is designed to be used by your bed, too. It doesn't offer the alarm and lights that the Halo Rise does, but is based on the same principle. Google's version didn't work perfectly — it was tricky to set up and didn't always know when I'd awoken. We'll have to wait till we can test the Halo Rise for ourselves to see how well Amazon's tracking works, but for now, it's an intriguing device, especially for those of us keen on getting sleep insights without having to wear a gadget to bed.

Follow all of the news from Amazon's event right here!

Amazon's Kindle Scribe is a $339 e-reader you can write on

Nearly 15 years after introducing the first Kindle, Amazon is finally adding a stylus to one of its e-readers. At its fall hardware event, the company introduced the Kindle Scribe. The device features a 10.2-inch, 300ppi display with an adjustable front light and a stylus that magnetically attaches to it. According to Amazon, you don't need to charge or sync the Scribe's stylus, and you can use it for jotting down notes, journaling and making annotations in books you're reading. Starting next year, it will also be possible to send Microsoft Word documents to Kindle Scribe.

Kindle Scribe will start at $339 when it arrives later this year. In addition to different storage options, Amazon will let you choose between a "basic" and "premium" pen. The latter includes a customizable shortcut button and a dedicated eraser on the top. In the US, the e-reader will come with a complimentary four-month trial to Kindle Unlimited. 

Follow all of the news from Amazon's event right here!

Valve ditches Steam's Lunar New Year sale in favor of a spring edition

Over the last year, Valve has been more forthcoming about plans for its biggest Steam sales, including by revealing the dates well ahead of time. The company says the cadence will change starting in 2023. It will replace the Lunar New Year sale (which debuted in 2016) with the spring sale, which will run from March 16th to 23rd.

Valve said a spring sale was a popular request from developers and publishers, many of whom believed that the Lunar New Year edition (which typically took place in late January or early February) ran too close to the December holiday sale. "It will allow us to create more space between our four major seasonal sales and provide more opportunities throughout the year for developers to expand and execute their discounting calendar," Valve added in a blog post. "We think many publishers will still opt to discount games around the Lunar New Year holiday, using the custom discount tools. But we suspect customers will be better served by a little bit more time between the big Steam-wide seasonal sales."

This makes sense, as the winter sale is arguably one of Steam's two biggest events of the year, alongside the summer one. Spacing things out more could be helpful for developers and publishers (that said, there's not much time between the autumn and winter editions). Moreover, this move will shorten what was a lengthy gap between the Lunar New Year and summer sales, which could be handy for those who receive a Steam Deck and don't want to wait too long to pick up a ton of discounted games for it.

Meanwhile, Valve reiterated the dates for the next two major sales. The autumn edition will run from November 22nd to 29th, while the blockbuster winter sale will take place between December 22nd and January 5th.

'Wild Hearts' is EA's answer to Monster Hunter

You'll soon have an alternative if the Monster Hunter games are feeling a bit stale. EA and Dynasty Warriors creator Omega Force have introducedWild Hearts, a feudal Japan-inspired twist on the beast slaying formula. You (and your friends, in co-op) take on giant creatures using not just the usual bows and swords, but gadgets you build on the spot. You can craft giant mines that explode when a monster draws near, or harpoons that hold these enemies in place.

Omega Force isn't a stranger to the concept. It developed the monster-slaying Toukiden franchise in the 2010s. In that sense, the team is mainly refining an experience it has been developing for years.

Wild Hearts will arrive on February 17th, 2023 for PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC (via Epic Games Store, Origin and Steam). You'll learn more about the gameplay in an "extended" debut on October 5th. It's too soon to say if the game will be derivative or a fresh take, but it could serve as a welcome fix for Monster Hunter fans who've exhausted the most recent titles and are looking for more.

NYU is building an ultrasonic flood sensor network in New York's Gowanus neighborhood

People made some 760 million trips aboard New York’s subway system last year. Granted, that’s down from around 1.7 trillion trips, pre-pandemic, but still far outpaced the next two largest transit systems — DC’s Metro and the Chicago Transit Authority — combined. So when major storms, like last year’s remnants of Hurricane Ida, nor'easters, heavy downpours or swelling tides swamp New York’s low lying coastal areas and infrastructure, it’s a big deal.

Subway service notice is seen at the 63rd St. and Lexington Avenue early afternoon in Manhattan after remnants of Hurricane Ida caused serious flooding in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, in New York, U.S., September 2, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Oatis
Jonathan Oatis / reuters

And it’s a deal that’s only getting bigger thanks to climate change. Sea levels around the city have already risen a foot in the last century with another 8- to 30-inch increase expected by mid century, and up to 75 additional inches by 2100, according to the New York City Panel on Climate Change. To help city planners, emergency responders and everyday citizens alike better prepare for 100-year storms that are increasingly happening every couple, researchers from NYU’s Urban Flooding Group have developed a street-level sensor system that can track rising street tides in real time.

The city of New York is set atop a series of low lying islands and has been subject to the furies of mid-Atlantic hurricanes throughout its history. In 1821, a hurricane reportedly hit directly over the city, flooding streets and wharves with 13-foot swells rising over the course of just one hour; a subsequent Cat I storm in 1893 then scoured all signs of civilization from Hog Island, and a Cat III passed over Long Island, killing 200 and causing major flooding. Things did not improve with the advent of a storm naming convention. Carol in 1954 also caused citywide floods, Donna in ‘60 brought an 11-foot storm surge with her, and Ida in 2021 saw an unprecedented amount of rainfall and subsequent flooding in the region, killing more than 100 people and causing nearly a billion dollars in damages.

NYC floodplains

As the NYC Planning Department explains, when it comes to setting building codes, zoning and planning, the city works off of FEMA’s Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (PFIRMs) to calculate an area’s flood risk. PFIRMs cover the areas where, “flood waters are expected to rise during a flood event that has a 1 percent annual chance of occurring,” sometimes called the 100-year floodplain. As of 2016, some 52 million square feet of NYC coastline falls within that categorization, impacting 400,000 residents — more than than the entire populations of Cleveland, Tampa, or St. Louis. By 2050, that area of effect is expected to double and the probability of 100-year floods occuring could triple, meaning the chances that your home will face significant flooding over the course of a 30-year mortgage would jump from around 26 percent today to nearly 80 percent by mid-century.

NYC 500 year floodplain

As such, responding to today’s floods while preparing for worsening events in the future is a critical task for NYC’s administration, requiring coordination between governmental and NGOs at the local, state and federal levels. FloodNet, a program launched first by NYU and expanded with help from CUNY, operates on the hyperlocal level to provide a street-by-street look at flooding throughout a given neighborhood. The program began with NYU’s Urban Flooding Group.

“We are essentially designing, building and deploying low cost sensors to measure street level flooding,” Dr. Andrea Silverman, environmental engineer and Associate Professor at NYU’s Department of Civil and Urban Engineering, told Engadget. “The idea is that it can provide badly needed quantitative data. Before FloodNet, there was no quantitative data on street level flooding, so people didn't really have a full sense of how often certain locations were flooding — the duration of the floods, the depth, rates of onset and drainage, for example.”

FloodNet inner workings
Urban Flooding Group, NYU

“And these are all pieces of information that are helpful for infrastructure planning, for one, but also for emergency management,” she continued. “So we do have our data available, they send alerts to see folks that are interested, like the National Weather Service and emergency management, to help inform their response.”

FloodNet is currently in early development with just 23 sensor units erected on 8-foot tall posts throughout the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, though the team hopes to expand that network to more than 500 units citywide within the next half decade. Each FloodNet sensor is a self-contained, solar-powered system that uses ultrasound as an invisible rangefinder — as flood waters rise, the distance between the street surface and the sensor shrinks, calculating the difference between that and baseline readings shows how much the water level has risen. The NYU team opted for an ultrasound-based solution rather than, say LiDAR or RADAR, due to ultrasound tech being slightly less expensive and providing more focused return data, as well as being more accurate and requiring less maintenance than a basic contact water sensor.

The data each sensor produces is transmitted wirelessly using a LoRa transceiver to a gateway hub, which can pull from any sensor within a one-mile radius and push it through the internet to the FloodNet servers. The data is then displayed in real-time on the FloodNet homepage.

Floodnet map of NYC
URban Flooding Group, NYU

”The city has invested a lot in predictive models [estimating] where it would flood with a certain amount of rain, or increase in tide,” Silverman said. Sensors won’t have to be installed on every corner to be most effective, she pointed out. There are “certain locations that are more likely to be flood prone because of topology or because of the sewer network or because of proximity to the coast, for example. And so we use those models to try to get a sense of locations where it may be most flood-prone,” as well as reach out to local residents with first-hand knowledge of likely flood areas.

In order to further roll out the program, the sensors will need to undergo a slight redesign, Silverman noted. “The next version of the sensor, we're taking what we've learned from our current version and making it a bit more manufacturable,” she said. “We're in the process of testing that and then we're hoping to start our first manufacturing round, and that's what's going to allow us to expand out”.

FloodNet is an open-source venture, so all of the sensor schematics, firmware, maintenance guides and data are freely available on the team’s GitHub page. “Obviously you need to have some sort of technical know-how to be able to build them — it may not be right now where just anyone could go build a sensor, deploy it and be online immediately, in terms of being able to just generate the data, but we're trying to get there,” Silverman conceded. “Eventually we'd love to get to a place where we can have the designs written up in a way that anyone can approach it.”

Amazon’s 2022 hardware event liveblog: Kindle Scribe, Halo Rise, Echo and Fire TV devices, and more

Amazon is holding its annual fall showcase of new devices on September 28 at 9AM PT/12PM ET and as usual for an Amazon event, we expect things to get a little chaotic. Amazon's stream is not open to the public, or even to all members of the press. Meanwhile, and during the one-hour-or-so presentation, we expect the company to unleash a firehose of new products ahead of the holiday season, from Fire TV devices to Echo speakers and displays to who knows what else. (Remember that time Amazon surprised us with an Alexa-powered microwave?) 

Fortunately, Team Engadget are among the media outlets that can view the livestream, and we'll be liveblogging everything that comes out of the event. Bookmark this page and tune in below to our liveblog, kicking off around the same time the event does, at noon ET on Wednesday.