This light-powered 3D printer materializes objects all at once

3D printing has changed the way people approach hardware design, but most printers share a basic limitation: they essentially build objects layer by layer, generally from the bottom up. This new system from UC Berkeley, however, builds them all at once, more or less, by projecting a video through a jar of light-sensitive resin.

The device, which its creators call the replicator (but shouldn’t, because that’s a MakerBot trademark), is mechanically quite simple. It’s hard to explain it better than Berkeley’s Hayden Taylor, who led the research:

Basically, you’ve got an off-the-shelf video projector, which I literally brought in from home, and then you plug it into a laptop and use it to project a series of computed images, while a motor turns a cylinder that has a 3D-printing resin in it.

Obviously there are a lot of subtleties to it — how you formulate the resin, and, above all, how you compute the images that are going to be projected, but the barrier to creating a very simple version of this tool is not that high.

Using light to print isn’t new — many devices out there use lasers or other forms of emitted light to cause material to harden in desired patterns. But they still do things one thin layer at a time. Researchers did demonstrate a “holographic” printing method a bit like this using intersecting beams of light, but it’s much more complex. (In fact, Berkeley worked with Lawrence Livermore on this project.)

In Taylor’s device, the object to be recreated is scanned first in such a way that it can be divided into slices, a bit like a CT scanner — which is in fact the technology that sparked the team’s imagination in the first place.

By projecting light into the resin as it revolves, the material for the entire object is resolved more or less at once, or at least over a series of brief revolutions rather than hundreds or thousands of individual drawing movements.

This has a number of benefits besides speed. Objects come out smooth — if a bit crude in this prototype stage — and they can have features and cavities that other 3D printers struggle to create. The resin can even cure around an existing object, as they demonstrate by manifesting a handle around a screwdriver shaft.

Naturally, different materials and colors can be swapped in, and the uncured resin is totally reusable. It’ll be some time before it can be used at scale or at the level of precision traditional printers now achieve, but the advantages are compelling enough that it will almost certainly be pursued in parallel with other techniques.

The paper describing the new technique was published this week in the journal Science.

Let’s save the bees with machine learning

Machine learning and all its related forms of “AI” are being used to work on just about every problem under the sun, but even so, stemming the alarming decline of the bee population still seems out of left field. In fact it’s a great application for the technology and may help both bees and beekeepers keep hives healthy.

The latest threat to our precious honeybees is the Varroa mite, a parasite that infests hives and sucks the blood from both bees and their young. While it rarely kills a bee outright, it can weaken it and cause young to be born similarly weak or deformed. Over time this can lead to colony collapse.

The worst part is that unless you’re looking closely, you might not even see the mites — being mites, they’re tiny: a millimeter or so across. So infestations often go on for some time without being discovered.

Beekeepers, caring folk at heart obviously, want to avoid this. But the solution has been to put a flat surface beneath a hive and pull it out every few days, inspecting all the waste, dirt and other hive junk for the tiny bodies of the mites. It’s painstaking and time-consuming work, and of course if you miss a few, you might think the infestation is getting better instead of worse.

Machine learning to the rescue!

As I’ve had occasion to mention about a billion times before this, one of the things machine learning models are really good at is sorting through noisy data, like a surface covered in random tiny shapes, and finding targets, like the shape of a dead Varroa mite.

Students at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland created an image recognition agent called ApiZoom trained on images of mites that can sort through a photo and identify any visible mite bodies in seconds. All the beekeeper needs to do is take a regular smartphone photo and upload it to the EPFL system.

The project started back in 2017, and since then the model has been trained with tens of thousands of images and achieved a success rate of detection of about 90 percent, which the project’s Alain Bugnon told me is about at parity with humans. The plan now is to distribute the app as widely as possible.

“We envisage two phases: a web solution, then a smartphone solution. These two solutions allow to estimate the rate of infestation of a hive, but if the application is used on a large scale, of a region,” Bugnon said. “By collecting automatic and comprehensive data, it is not impossible to make new findings about a region or atypical practices of a beekeeper, and also possible mutations of the Varroa mites.”

That kind of systematic data collection would be a major help for coordinating infestation response at a national level. ApiZoom is being spun out as a separate company by Bugnon; hopefully this will help get the software to beekeepers as soon as possible. The bees will thank them later.

Autonomous subs spend a year cruising under Antarctic ice

The freezing waters underneath Antarctic ice shelves and the underside of the ice itself are of great interest to scientists… but who wants to go down there? Leave it to the robots. They won’t complain! And indeed, a pair of autonomous subs have been nosing around the ice for a full year now, producing data unlike any other expedition ever has.

The mission began way back in 2017, with a grant from the late Paul Allen. With climate change affecting sea ice around the world, precise measurements and study of these frozen climes is more important than ever. And fortunately, robotic exploration technology had reached a point where long-term missions under and around ice shelves were possible.

The project would use a proven autonomous seagoing vehicle called the Seaglider, which has been around for some time but had been redesigned to perform long-term operations in these dark, sealed-over environments. ne of the craft’s co-creators, UW’s Chris Lee, said of the mission at the time: “This is a high-risk, proof-of-concept test of using robotic technology in a very risky marine environment.”

The risks seem to have paid off, as an update on the project shows. The modified craft have traveled hundreds of miles during a year straight of autonomous operation.

It’s not easy to stick around for a long time on the Antarctic coast for a lot of reasons. But leaving robots behind to work while you go relax elsewhere for a month or two is definitely doable.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to maintain a persistent presence over the span of an entire year,” Lee said in a UW news release today. “Gliders were able to navigate at will to survey the cavity interior… This is the first time any of the modern, long-endurance platforms have made sustained measurements under an ice shelf.”

You can see the paths of the robotic platforms below as they scout around near the edge of the ice and then dive under in trips of increasing length and complexity:

They navigate in the dark by monitoring their position with regard to a pair of underwater acoustic beacons fixed in place by cables. The blue dots are floats that go along with the natural currents to travel long distances on little or no power. Both are equipped with sensors to monitor the shape of the ice above, the temperature of the water, and other interesting data points.

It isn’t the first robotic expedition under the ice shelves by a long shot, but it’s definitely the longest term and potentially the most fruitful. The Seagliders are smaller, lighter, and better equipped for long-term missions. One went 87 miles in a single trip!

The mission continues, and two of the three initial Seagliders are still operational and ready to continue their work.

Samsung’s Space Monitor is practical and minimal

Samsung always has a huge presence at CES, but it isn’t the giant TVs and flashy next-generation gadgets that have my attention this year; it’s this simple, flexible monitor that looks like it would be right at home in any workspace. It’s called the Space Monitor, presumably because it gives you space, not because it’s meant for use in space. I don’t see why you couldn’t, though.

What the Space Monitor does is very simple: it clamps to your desk and sits straight up from the edge — up against the wall if there is one — and takes up about as little space as it’s possible for a display to.

When you want to bring something closer, or lower, or just need to adjust the angle or whatever, the neck of the monitor lets you bring it down all the way to the level of your desk and tilt it up or down as well (though not side to side). Cables go up through the stand so you won’t see them at all.

Combined with very thin bezels on the sides (there’s a thicker, but still very reasonable one on the bottom) this makes for quite a minimal presence, and it could allow someone (like me) to shrink their workspace in some dimension or other. I like my Dell Ultrasharps, but if I was putting together a new desk situation, I’d probably look very hard at these Samsungs.

Sure, you could do a wall mount, but this is much easier and you don’t have to fiddle around with tools or load calculations. Just clamp it on there.

There are two models, a 27-inch QHD (2560×1440) model and a 32-inch 4K one (3840×2160); the latter costs $500, so the former will probably be a bit less. They use VA panels, which hopefully will be about as good as IPS, though of course not quite so good as OLED (though for that tech you’d have to add another zero to the price).

Only downside: 60 Hz maximum refresh rate. That’s a possible dealbreaker for some. But the specs also list a 4 ms response time, without explaining further. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood, but I asked Samsung to explain the discrepancy. The specs for the 27-inch display could also differ.

It feels nice to have a reason to visit the actual CES main halls this year. And of course, for the maximalists out there, I’ll also be sure to check out the mammoth new ultrawide:

This drone shrinks to fit

Researchers at the University of Zurich and EPFL have created a robot that shrinks to fit through gaps, a feature that could make it perfect for search and rescue missions. The researchers initially created a drone that could assess man-made gaps and squeeze through in seconds using only one camera. This extra feature — a scissor-like system to shrink the drone in flight — makes it even more versatile and allows these drones to react to larger or smaller gaps in nature.

“The idea came up after we worked on quadrotor flight through narrow gaps,” said PhD candidate Davide Falanga. “The goal of our lab is to develop drones which can be in the future used in the aftermath of a disaster, as for example an earthquake, in order to enter building through small cracks or apertures in a collapsed building to look for survivors. Our previous approach required a very aggressive maneuver, therefore we looked into alternative solutions to accomplish a task as passing through a very narrow gap without having to fly at high speed. The solution we came up with is the foldable drone, a quadrotor which can change its shape to adapt to the task.”

The system measures the gap and changes its shape without outside processing, a feat that is quite exciting. All of the processing is done on board and it could be turned into an autonomous system if necessary. The team built the drone with off the shelf and 3D-printed parts.

“The main difference between conventional drones and our foldable drone is in the way the arms are connected to the body: each arm is connected through a servo motor, which can change the relative position between the main body and the arm. This allows the robot to literally fold the arms around the body, which means that potentially any morphology can be obtained. An adaptive controller is aware of the drone’s morphology and adapts to it in order to guarantee stable flight at all times, independently of the configuration,” said Falanga.

The team published a report on their findings in Robotics and Automation Letters. As IEEE notes, this is no flying drone dragon, but it is a far simpler, cooler and more effective product.

Facebook Portal adds games and web browser amidst mediocre Amazon reviews

After receiving a flogging from privacy critics, Facebook is scrambling to make its smart display video chat screen Portal more attractive to buyers. Today Facebook is announcing the addition of a web browser, plus some of Messenger’s Instant Games like Battleship, Draw Something, Sudoku and Words With Friends. ABC News and CNN are adding content to Portal, which now also has a manual zoom mode for its auto-zooming smart camera so you can zero in on a particular thing in view. Facebook has also added new augmented reality Story Time tales, seasonal AR masks, in-call music sharing through iHeartRadio beyond Spotify and Pandora that already offer it and nickname calling so you can say “Hey Portal, call Mom.”

But the question remains who’s buying? Facebook is already discounting the 10-inch-screen Portal and 15-inch Portal+. Formerly $100 off if you buy two, Facebook is still offering $50 off just one until Christmas Eve as part of a suspiciously long Black Friday Sale. That doesn’t signal this thing is flying off the shelves. We don’t have sales figures, but Portal has a 3.4 rating on Amazon, while Portal+ has a 3.6 — both trailing the 4.2 rating of Amazon’s own Echo Show’s 2. Users are griping about the lack of Amazon Video support for Ring doorbells, not receiving calls and, of course, the privacy implications.

Personally, I’ve found Portal+ to be competent in the five weeks since launch. The big screen is great as a smart photo frame and video calls look great. But Alexa and Facebook’s own voice assistant have a tough time dividing up functionality, and sometimes I can’t get either to play a specific song on Spotify, pause or change volume or other activities my Google Home has no trouble with. Facebook said it was hoping to add Google Assistant to Portal, but there’s no progress on that front yet.

The browser will be a welcome addition, and allow Facebook to sidestep some of the issues around its thin app platform. While it recently added a Smart TV version of YouTube, now users can access lots of services without those developers having to commit to building something for Portal given its uncertain future.

The hope seems to be that mainstream users who aren’t glued to the tech press where Facebook is constantly skewered might be drawn in by these device’s flashy screens and the admittedly impressive auto-zooming camera. But to overcome the brand tax levied by all of Facebook’s privacy scandals, Portal must be near perfect. Without the native apps for popular video providers like Netflix and Hulu, consistent voice recognition and more unique features missing from competing smart displays, the fear of Facebook’s surveillance may be outweighing people’s love for shiny new gadgets.

Gift Guide: 16 fantastic computer bags

Give the gift of organization this year. Bags are often ignored but are a critical part of anyone’s mobile gear. They’re the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions. Here’s a collection of bags TechCrunch reviewed over the last year. You’ll find waxed canvas bags, camera backpacks, trail-ready commuter bags and bags designed with women in mind.

WP Standard built the leather messenger bag you want

At $295 the bag is priced accordingly for the fantastic material and build. It’s a great bag to carry a few things and it will always be noticed. I have yet to see a bag as beautiful as the Vintage Leather Messenger Bag. If more space is needed, WP Standard now has a larger option that looks equally as good in the $310 Large Messenger Bag though I haven’t seen the bag in person yet.

Read the full review here.



Pad & Quill Heritage Satchel is a modern leather classic

This is a solid bag that I completely recommend. It’s a great size, able to hold most everything I threw at it while not being too big to carry even when lightly packed. After a few months with the bag, it’s aged nicely and is starting to feel like a well-worn pair of denim jeans. The leather is still delicious and seems durable enough to withstand a person’s daily grind.

Read the full review here.

The Bitcoin Genesis Block backpack will centralize your belongings

Unlike the blockchain, this backpack will centralize your stuff in a fairly large, fairly standard backpack. There is little unique about the backpack itself – it’s a solid piece made of 100% polyester and includes ergonomically designed straps and a secret pocket – but it is printed with the Bitcoin Genesis Block including a headline about UK bank bailouts. In short, it’s Merkle tree-riffic.

Read the full review here.

Chrome’s Vega Transit Brief makes your work vibe less uncool

The Vega isn’t Chrome’s most inspired design ever, but it isn’t supposed to be. If you want to show up to a meeting looking pro but still cool, like yeah you looked over the slides from the call but you drink shitty beer after work because you’re legit not because you can’t afford some triple-hopped bullshit, the Vega is probably for you. For anyone looking for a well-made bag that’s not too loud to carry to and from work meetings that happens to turn into a damn backpack, Chrome’s Vega Transit Brief is a great fit.

Read the full review here.

Chrome’s BLCKCHRM Bravo 2.0 backpack is a burly, stylish beast

It’s hard to overstate how good-looking this bag is. Like quality leather, the Hypalon breaks in with wear, picking up surface marks that fade into a kind of weathered patina over time. Between that material, the all-black mini Chrome buckle chest strap and central black leather panel, it’s a very sleek, sexy looking bag. Still, for anyone who digs the Bravo 2.0’s vibe but is wary of its heavy construction, the regular edition Bravo 2.0 might be a better choice. But if you like your packs fancy, serious and black on black on black, well, you know what to do.

Read the full review here.



Filson 24-Hour Tin Briefcase

This bag has a large main compartment with a padded laptop area that will hold a 15-incher easily, and a couple of pockets on the inside to isolate toothbrushes and pens and the like. On the outside is a pair of good-sized zippered pockets that open wide to allow access from either the top or side; inside those are organizer strips and sub-pockets for pens and so on.

Read the full review here.

Croots England Vintage Canvas Laptop

There isn’t a heck of a lot of room in there but this is definitely meant to be a daily driver briefcase and not an overnight bag — a “personal item” on the plane perhaps but I would take the Filson or ONA over it for space reasons. However as a bag to take to work the cafe, or the bookstore it’s a great option and a striking one. The Flight Bag is a slightly more expansive and unique option.

Read the full review here.

S-Zone $30 waxed canvas bag

To balance out the admittedly very expensive bags in this review I decided to grab a cheap one off Amazon as well. As I expected, it isn’t up to the quality level of the others, but for $30 it’s a bargain. If you want to experience how waxed canvas evolves and wears, an inexpensive bag like this is a great way to try it out.

Read the full review here.

WP Standard’s Rucksack goes the distance

This bag assumes that you’re OK with thick, heavy leather and that you’re willing to forgo a lot of the bells and whistles you get with more modern styles. That said, it has a great classic look and it’s very usable. I suspect this bag would last decades longer than anything you could buy at Office Depot and it would look good doing it. At $275 it’s a bit steep but you’re paying for years – if not decades – of regular use and abuse. It’s worth the investment.

Read the full review here.



The Nomadic NF-02 keeps everything in its right place

Nomadic is a solid backpack. It’s small, light, and still holds up to abuse. I’m a big fan of the entire Nomadic line and it’s great to see this piece available in the US. It’s well worth a look if you’re looking for a compact carrier for your laptop, accessories, and notebooks.

Read the full review here.

Chrome’s Yalta 2.0 is a roomy rolltop that keeps up

Compared to some of Chrome’s more heavy-duty bags and other less-technical packs, the Yalta is a likable middle ground. The pack isn’t as rain resistant as a bag made out of fully waterproof material and the laptop sleeve could use some structure, but it carries a fair amount and it’s got a nice slender profile that looks and feels good. The Yalta doesn’t really have any quirks or tricks beyond the strange side-zip compartment, and that makes it a good fit for anyone who needs a good-looking, weather resistant mid-sized rolltop backpack for work and what comes before and after.

Read the full review here.

Mission Workshop’s Radian rolltop starts simple but grows piece by piece

In the end I think the Radian is the best option for anyone looking at Mission Workshop bags who wants a modular option, but unless you plan on swapping out pieces a lot, I’m not personally convinced that it’s better than their all-in-one bags like the Rambler and Vandal. By all means take a look at putting a Radian system together, but don’t neglect to check if any of the pre-built ones fit your needs as well.

Read the full review here.

Why I still love the Peak Design Everyday Backpack

Like I said several months ago, the bag is best described as smart and solid. It’s a confident design with just enough pockets and storage options. The bag features one, large pocket that makes up most of the bag. Foldable dividers allow the wearer to customize the bag as needed. And quickly, too. These dividers fold in several ways, allowing the bag to hold, say, a large telephoto lens or several smaller lens.

Read the full review here.



P.MAI’s women’s leather laptop bag is luxury packed with utility

By designing a bag for women that blends a luxury aesthetic with comfortable utility, the P.MAI bag quickly rose to the the “Most Wished for” laptop backpack on Amazon last holiday season. Premium materials and quality design don’t come cheap. Still, the $450 price-tag may keep this one on the wish-list for now.

Read the full review here.

Timbuk2’s Launch featherweight daypack is tough and tiny

If you’re a longtime Timbuk2 fan know that the pack both looks and feels different from most of Timbuk2’s classic designs, and unfortunately doesn’t come in the bright, playful tri-color look that some of its classic messengers do. Still, if you’re into more natural, subdued tones and really don’t want your day-to-day pack to weigh you down unnecessarily, Timbuk2’s Launch is totally worth a look.

Read the full review here.

Osprey Momentum 32 is ready for muddy trails

The Osprey Momentum 32 impresses. I used it during a muddy week at Beaumont Scout Reservation and it performed flawlessly as a rugged, bike-ready backpack. It stood tall in the miserable rain and insufferable heat that engulfed northern Ohio during the camping trip. If it can withstand these conditions, it can withstand an urban commute.

Read the full review here.

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Mozilla ranks dozens of popular ‘smart’ gift ideas on creepiness and security

If you’re planning on picking up some cool new smart device for a loved one this holiday season, it might be worth your while to check whether it’s one of the good ones or not. Not just in the quality of the camera or step tracking, but the security and privacy practices of the companies that will collect (and sell) the data it produces. Mozilla has produced a handy resource ranking 70 of the latest items, from Amazon Echos to smart teddy bears.

Each of the dozens of toys and devices is graded on a number of measures: what data does it collect? Is that data encrypted when it is transmitted? Who is it shared with? Are you required to change the default password? And what’s the worst case scenario if something went wrong?

Some of the security risks are inherent to the product — for example, security cameras can potentially see things you’d rather they didn’t — but others are oversights on the part of the company. Security practices like respecting account deletion, not sharing data with third parties, and so on.

At the top of the list are items getting most of it right — this Mycroft smart speaker, for instance, uses open source software and the company that makes it makes all the right choices. Their privacy policy is even easy to read! Lots of gadgets seem just fine, really. This list doesn’t just trash everything.

On the other hand, you have something like this Dobby drone. They don’t seem to even have a privacy policy — bad news when you’re installing an app that records your location, HD footage, and other stuff! Similarly, this Fredi baby monitor comes with a bad password you don’t have to change, and has no automatic security updates. Are you kidding me? Stay far, far away.

All together 33 of the products met Mozilla’s recently proposed “minimum security standards” for smart devices (and got a nice badge); 7 failed, and the rest fell somewhere in between. In addition to these official measures there’s a crowd-sourced (hopefully not to be gamed) “creep-o-meter” where prospective buyers can indicate how creepy they find a device. But why is BB-8 creepy? I’d take that particular metric with a grain of salt.

Self-flying camera drone Hover 2 hits Kickstarter

Two years after launching the original Hover, Zero Zero Robotics has returned for the sequel. In spite of landing a $25 million Series A back in 2016, the startup is going to the crowdfunding well on this one, launching a $100K Kickstarter campaign to launch the latest version of the self-flying drone.

Hover 2, which the company expects to arrive in April 2019, will feature updated obstacle avoidance, improved visual tracking and some updated internals, including a new Snapdragon processor on-board.

There’s a two-axis gimbal with electronic image stabilization for smoother shots that houses a camera capable of capturing 4K video and 12-megapixel photos. There are a number of different shot models on-board as well, including movie-inspired filters and music and a battery that’s capable of going 23 minutes on a charge.

Of course, Hover’s chief competition, the DJI Mavic line, has made some pretty massive leaps and bounds in practically all of those categories since launching the first Pro back in 2016, so the company’s got some stiff competition. Even Parrot has gotten more serious about their videography-focused Anafi line.

At $399 for early-bird pledgers, the Hover 2 is priced around the same as the handheld DJI Spark. That price includes a small handheld remote.

Google Assistant picks up a few new tricks

Google Assistant, the voice-driven AI that sits inside Google Home (plus Android phones, newer Nest cameras and a bunch of other devices) and awaits your “Hey, Google” commands, is already pretty clever. That doesn’t mean it can’t learn a few new tricks.

In a quick press briefing this week, Google told us a couple of new abilities Assistant will pick up in the coming weeks.

First, and perhaps most interestingly: routines can now be set to trigger the moment you dismiss an alarm on your phone. Routines are basically Google Assistant combo moves; you build them to trigger multiple actions at once. You can build a “Hey Google, I’m going to bed” command, for example, that turns off your smart lights, shuts down the TV and locks your smart locks. For a while now, you’ve been able to have routines triggered at specific times; now you can have them triggered by alarm dismissal.

The difference? If you snooze the alarm on your phone, the routine won’t go off just yet. So you can build a routine, for example, that turns on the lights and starts reading the news — but now it can go off when you’re really getting out of bed, roughly two snooze-buttons after when you probably should’ve gotten up. You’ll find this one hiding in Android’s Clock app.

Another feature, meanwhile, is getting an upgrade: broadcasts. If you’ve got multiple Google Home devices around your house, you can already “broadcast” to all of them to make house-wide announcements like “Dinner’s ready!” or “help I need toilet paper downstairs” (THE FUTURE!). Now you can broadcast messages back to your home while out and about via Google Assistant on your phone, and people inside the home can respond. You can say, “Hey Google, broadcast ‘Do we need milk?’” and anyone inside your house can say “Hey Google, reply ‘no but please get eggnog, come on, please, it’s basically December, you said we could get eggnog in December.’ ”

Broadcast replies will be sent back to your phone as a voice message and a transcription.

Google is also starting to introduce “character alarms” — which are, as the name implies, alarms voiced by popular characters. Right now they’re adding the heroes in a half shell from Nickelodeon’s “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and a bunch of LEGO animated series characters (alas, no LEGO Batman.) They’ll presumably expand this with more licenses if it proves popular.

And if you listen to podcasts or audiobooks on your Google Assistant devices, you can now adjust the playback speed by saying “Hey Google, play at 1.5x” or “1.8x” or whatever you want up to twice the speed. “Play faster” or “Play slower” also works if you’re not feeling specific.

Oh, and for good measure: Google Assistant can now silence all the phones in your house (or, at least, the Android phones tied to your Google account) with a quick “Hey Google, silence the phones” command.