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Fitbit Data Helps California Police Catch Killer

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Never underestimate the power of technology: A slain California woman’s Fitbit data helped local police catch her 90-year-old killer.

Tony Aiello was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of murdering his 67-year-old stepdaughter, Karen Navarra, on Sept. 8, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Navarra, a pharmacy technician described by family as a “recluse,” was discovered by a coworker five days later, after she failed to show up for work.

As reported by the Chronicle, police found Navarra “slumped over in a chair, clutching a large kitchen knife with a ‘gaping’ slit to her neck.” The scene appeared to be staged to look like a suicide, the paper said.

A subsequent autopsy, however, revealed “multiple deep and intrusive wounds” to the woman’s head and face. The lacerations were likely inflicted by a small hatchet or ax—and not something Navarra could have delivered to herself.

Aiello, married to Navarra’s 92-year-old mother, initially told police he brought his stepdaughter pizza on Saturday, Sept. 8; he also claimed to have seen her later drive by his own house with someone in the passenger seat.

But that’s not what the surveillance footage says: Cameras captured Aiello’s car at Navarra’s home for at least 21 minutes—between 3:13 and 3:33 p.m. And there is no sign of her car leaving in the direction he claimed.

Here’s where the story really gets good.

Navarra’s Fitbit wristband, which counts steps and monitors heart rate, recorded a spike in her pulse at 3:20 p.m. Sept. 8, then a rapid decline. The device stopped registering a heartbeat at 3:28 p.m.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Aiello, who claimed someone else must have been in Navarra’s house because “she walked him to the door,” was caught with blood-splattered clothes in his hamper (the result, he said, of an old man frequently cutting himself).

Aiello is being held without bail and is due in court today, the Chronicle reported.

This isn’t the first time fitness trackers have guided a homicide investigation.

As The New York Times pointed out, Fitbit location data supported a 2014 personal injury case in Canada and a 2015 sexual assault case in Pennsylvania, and a Garmin Vivosmart GPS recorded a woman’s struggle with her attacker in Seattle in 2017. Police also used a Connecticut woman’s Fitbit data to charge her husband with murder.

In Wisconsin, a man’s wearable became an alibi, corroborating his story during the time police said his live-in girlfriend’s body was being dumped in a field.

If this isn’t a perfect ad campaign for wearables, I don’t know what is.

The latest-generation Apple Watch is also marketed as a lifesaver.

Its new fall detection feature helps the wearable figure out if you’ve taken a tumble. And, if you remain unmoving for more than a minute, it automatically calls 911, or a predetermined emergency contact.

Fitbit last year launched its first smartwatch, the Ionic. It also joined Apple and Samsung in the FDA’s pilot program to reform digital health regulation. Check out Geek Pick: Fitbit Versa, and stay up to date on all things wearable here.

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‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Taps Performance Capture Tech to Elevate Effects

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Alita: Battle Angel is a thrilling mix of powerful cyborgs, post-apocalyptic cities, and gory fights. The sci-fi movie’s action sequences are courtesy of an advanced innovation: performance capture technology.

The futuristic flick, which hits theaters on Feb. 14, follows Alita (Rosa Salazar), an abandoned cyborg who becomes a fierce warrior to fight corrupt forces. This plot would be hard to accomplish with basic animation, however, performance capture technology enabled the movie’s team to generate lifelike special effects, PCMag reported.

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“This is the tech we’ve been developing. In an earlier test shoot, for [a movie that never got made, based on the novel] Brother Termite, when aliens were arriving, we had an actor perform with an umbrella rig around his head—12 cameras—everywhere,” Jon Landau, the producer of the film, told PCMag. “We saw a future where we would use that facial performance capture to drive performance rather than animating it.”

To make this digital vision possible, Alita: Battle Angel’s team partnered with Weta Digital, a visual effects company based in New Zealand. Unlike other animation systems, this performance capture technology doesn’t interfere with actors’ performances.

Rosa Salazar as Alita in ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ (Photo Credit: PCMag)

“The giant system [we have today], when it loses a data point, it’s still able to solve for the skeleton and what the muscles do,” Landau added. “[In our partnership with] Weta Digital … we’re now [able] to create Salazar’s performance from the inside, driving the performance from a muscle base—not putting a mask on the actor through animation—to make sure we are living up to the performance that Salazar is giving us.”

According to Weta Digital, performance capture technology notes details of an actor’s face performance, analyzes how their muscles move, and then maps these motions onto a virtual character. (For example, see Salazar above with dots on her face during the filming process.) What makes this technology cool is that it provides animated figures with human-like reactions, so directors can keep a good shooting flow without stopping to map every facial movement.

“I’m pretty technically proficient and I usually do my own visual effects supervisor role, but now I get to geek out with [Weta Digital],” Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel’s director, told PCMag. “We can take it to another level having them and their knowledge.”

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General Motors Starts Taking Orders for Its First Electric Bike

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General Motors is reimagining future transportation with its first ARĪV electric bike brand.

In November 2018, General Motors held a global crowdfunding campaign for its new eBike brand. After fans submitted potential names, General Motors decided to call the brand ARĪV, which is pronounced like “arrive.”

The brand includes two connected eBikes: the Meld compact eBike and the Merge folding eBike, which will each retail between $3,106 and $3,782 in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. General Motors, which is taking preorders for the eBikes now via BikeExchange.com, said it will start shipping orders in a few months.

General Motors didn’t provide too many details on the eBikes, however, it said that the eBikes’ motors can reach speeds up to 15.5 mph and contain four levels of pedal-assisted power. There are also key safety features, including a rechargeable front, rear LED lights, and oversized break rotors. Plus, the eBikes’ batteries can be charged in approximately 3.5 hours and receive up to 40 miles of ride time on a single charge.

ARĪV Merge Electric Bike (Photo Credit: General Motors)

Connectivity is another key feature for both eBikes: They can connect to an app that provides users with key riding metrics, including distance, motor assist level, remaining battery level, and speed. Each eBike comes with a Quad Lock mount as well, so users can safely secure a smartphone to the handlebars during rides. General Motors also said it’s working on additional app features, including, “a mode that will use a proprietary algorithm to help riders arrive at their destination sweat-free.”

General Motors did not disclose if its new eBikes will be available in the U.S. and other countries, however, more details on specs and pricing are available on Bike Exchange’s website.

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NYC Author Ditches Smartphone for a Year to Enter $100,000 Vitaminwater Contest

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A New York-based millennial is giving up her smartphone for a year to try to win $100,000 from Vitaminwater.

In December, Vitaminwater introduced its phone-free challenge on Instagram and Twitter, which asked the social media community if they would ditch their smartphones for 12 months in exchange for the ultimate reward: $100,000 in cash.

On Friday, Vitaminwater, which sorted through more than 100,000 entries submitted on Instagram and Twitter, named its chosen candidate: Elana Mugdan, a 30-year-old filmmaker and young adult fantasy writer who lives in the New York City area, CNBC reported. Mugdan, who submitted an informercial-style video on Twitter, impressed judges with her humorous perspective on smartphone addiction.

Mugdan will trade her iPhone 5S for a throwback cellular device from Vitaminwater: A Kyocera flip phone without modern smartphone amenities like social media apps, direct messaging, and photo editing. For the next year, she won’t be allowed to use any smartphones or tablets, however, she can use desktop computers and laptops.

If she wins the challenge, Mugdan plans to donate some of her funds to charities and financially support her writing career. With the challenge, she aims to show other millennials that it’s possible to enjoy living in the moment without having a smartphone.

“I have this fantastic once a lifetime opportunity. You know you only get one chance, right?” Mugdan told CNBC. “So I want to use it for something good — I want to make a difference, make an impact, and get people talking about important things.”

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