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Skype to Create the 3-D Remote Meeting?

Skype is about to take your remote meetings 3-D.

The Microsoft-owned company is working on 3-D video calling technology that will probably be released in the next few years. We’re guessing it will be especially attractive to larger companies that need to be able to realistically network and meet with remote employees and customers.

A Microsoft rep told BBC that the high availability and lower price tags of consumer-level 3-D projectors and screens have made 3-D video calls feasible for the first time. The difficulty will lie in capturing the 3-D image, since multiple cameras will need to be pointed at the client’s computer, all at precisely the right angle.

If it sounds like a lot of work, we agree. It’s possible that 3-D video conferencing won’t catch on until the set-up and use are as easy as the original Skype.


A Drone for Everyone?

These days, drones seem to be everywhere, delivering all kinds of things (like pizzas, beer, or bombs). But no one has manufactured a GPS-guided UAV that the average consumer would want to operate (and could afford to purchase). That is, until now.

3D Robotics is hoping their new drone will be simple enough for mass consumption, especially since it supports easy-to-use GPS controls through any computer, tablet or smartphone.

3D Robotics' 3DR Iris UAV costs just $729 and includes everything you need to actually utlize it: a trasmitter, battery pack, extra propellers and legs, and, of course, the unit itself. Not a bad price for a fully-functioning, ready-to-fly autonomous aerial vehicle. According to the company, the drone enables "point-and-click mission planning" using more than 100 configurable waypoints. These guide the device from take-off to landing, using a web-enabled device. It can even be easily outfitted with an on-board camera for your most important surveillance missions.

Of course, we wonder what "missions" the average consumer will get up to with a $700 drone in their hands. And yet, at the same time, we really don't want to know.


Will Robots of the Future Be Flexible?

This short, simple video is much more than it seems. It demonstrates new material created by U.S. researchers that moves in response to light. Soft and flexible, the stuff could be used one day to manufacture robots.

Today's robots are limited by their stiff, heavy components. They certainly don't move "naturally," and sometimes their range of motions and portability is limited. And, so far, they also require an onboard energy source, which adds even more weight.

So, a team at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio has created a series of cantilevers made from azobenzene liquid crystal polymer networks that can twist and coil -- and is powered only by a change in the polarity and intensity of an external light source -- all in an effort to rethink the movement of robots and make them more lifelike. One day, they may even be able to mimic animal movements, thanks to the flexible materials.

The next step for the researchers is to create more complex material that can move better and be used in larger-scale applications. Stay tuned for more.


App That 'Gamifies' Your Relationship Proves We're Too Dependent On Technology

Relationships take work.

Technology is meant to make our lives easier.

So, it was only a matter of time before someone made an app to make maintaining our relationships "easier" than ever.

Kahnoodle is "the couple's app" that's designed to spice up your love life, keep you connected to your Sig O and -- somewhat creepily -- track how loving you've been lately. Check it out:

Using gamification, Kahnoodle wants to make maintaining your relationship automatic and easy—as easy as tapping a button. Its options include sending push notifications to initiate sex; “Koupons” that entitle the bearer to redeemable movie nights and kinky sex; and, of course, the love tank, which fills or empties depending on how many acts of love you’ve logged.

Now, this isn't your run-of-the mill $1.99 app. Kahnoodle members pay a monthly subscription rate that runs anywhere from $20 to $60 a month, depending in part on the number of surprise dates and events you want the service to plan. The company says the special date and event pricing they provide greatly offsets the membership costs, and the website describes some pretty ritzy-sounding dates: learn to sail while watching the sunset, skydive over your city, enjoy a gourmet meal at a cliff-side restaurant. (Follow that up with a surprise "initiate sex" push notification, and you're in for one romantic, not at all disingenuous evening.)

Something tells me this might be more likely to work if it were less expensive, more tongue-in-cheek. Kahnoodle seems to be targeting slightly older, married couples who need help carving out time for themselves. I give it a month before those events and notifications start getting ignored. Thoughts?


Computer Vision Meets American Sign Language 

For millions of people worldwide, sign language is their primary method of communicating with other people. And now, thanks to Microsoft Kinect, they'll also be able to 'talk' to computers.

Researchers from Microsoft Research Asia are collaborating with colleagues from the Institute of Computing Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences to explore how Kinect’s body-tracking abilities can be used to recognize sign language. Results have been encouraging in enabling people who use sign language as their primary language to interact more naturally with their computers, in much the same way that speech recognition does, according to the Microsoft Research blog. (To see the research in action, check out the video.)

Kinect's 3-D trajectory matching capabilitieshave made it possible to translate sign language into text or speech and to guide communications between a hearing person and a deaf or hard-of-hearing person by use of an avatar.

Guided by text input from a keyboard, the avatar can display the corresponding sign-language sentence. The deaf or hard-of-hearing person responds using sign language, and the system converts that answer into text.


“We believe that IT should be used to improve daily life for all persons,”  says Guobin Wu, a research program manager from Microsoft Research Asia. “While it is still a research project, we ultimately hope this work can provide a daily interaction tool to bridge the gap between the hearing and the deaf and hard of hearing in the near future.”

So far, the technology only supports American sign language, but it will be expanded in the future as research continues.

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