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New HTC Vive Headsets Argue Virtual Reality Is Still A Thing

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I have no clue what actual real people think about virtual reality. Aside from the odd VR attraction at movie theater lobbies, VR to me has exclusively been something I’ve seen and tried out at events I go to as a games/tech journalist. And even within that savvy sphere folks seemed mixed on whether or not strapping a headset to your face to enter new worlds through the power of technology is a concept that’s ready for primetime.

However, out of all the VR headsets, the HTC Vive has also seemed the most promising. It provides the clearest, most comfortable images powered by beefy PCs. It’s a hardware initiative from Valve that didn’t immediately fizzle out. And it wasn’t developed by a fascist like former Oculus Rift beach boy Palmer Luckey. Now, new details at CES 2019 about a pair of upcoming Vive headsets make me even more confident that this is the VR hardware to get behind.

The Vive always seemed to position itself as the VR headset for peak performance, and that’s an important category. But if VR is going to become a true consumer technology it needs to be viable for all kinds of people at all kinds of price points for all kinds of uses. The Vive Cosmos looks like that more mainstream kind of headset.

This teaser video is brief, and HTC hasn’t put out that many more details, but the Vive Cosmos seems to be a much more streamlined VR headset. You don’t need to set up cumbersome tracking equipment in your room, just use the sleek hand controllers. You can flip up the visor perhaps for augmented reality features while seeing the real world, or maybe just for walking safely. Initially, you still need to somehow connect to a computer, as the device still demands a lot of graphical gaming power. But the promise of future smartphone connection teases a truly mobile headset, one that also takes advantage of the new Vive Reality System hub interface.

If you want the most advanced VR headset possible though, look toward the new Vive Pro Eye. The Vive Pro was already a technological leap over the original Vive. And the Vive Pro Eye adds a crucial new bit of functionality to upgrade the headset, and the concept of VR in general, even further. The Vive Pro Eye features eye-tracking, so the headset can tell what you’re looking at in virtual space.

So why is eye-tracking so useful? From a user standpoint, games and apps could use your vision to make menus more intuitive. Just look at the button you want to press. Maybe a survival horror game could hide a monster just outside of your peripheral vision? From a development standpoint though the big advantage is that you can spend more hardware resources rendering whatever the user is looking at, making that priority look as good as possible while blurring out the less necessary background. It’s a smarter use of technology, like when video games make faraway areas less detailed until you go to them, and could make the Vive Pro Eye seem even more powerful than it actually is.

Development kits for Vive Cosmos ship in early 2019 while the Vive Pro Eye ships in Q2. We wonder how well they’ll play with Valve’s own independent new Half-Life VR plans.

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Jeff Bezos Shows Off ‘Nerdy’ Innovations at Annual Mars Conference

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Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, is hosting his annual Mars Conference again, an invite-only event that showcases many “nerdy” innovations, including flying robots, electric multicopters, and rocket engines.

The conference, which is taking place in Palm Springs, California this week, celebrates quirky technology in the sectors of machine learning, automation, robotics, and space (MARS), CNBC reported. The aim of the Mars Conference is to advance new technology ideas, enable attendees to engage with high-tech gadgets, and discuss how these four fields will impact the future.

This year, Bezos opened the Mars Conference by taking “my new dog,” Boston Dynamics’ latest electric quadruped SpotMini robot dog, out for a quick stroll on the grounds, TechCrunch noted.

However, this wasn’t all: The Mars Conference, which doesn’t allow press in, only gives fans a sneak peek of what’s happening via tweets. Attendees shared some cool insights from the invite-only event on Twitter.

Star Wars actor Mark Hamill discussed robot sidekicks.

Bezos went for a ride in Hexa’s electric, single-passenger multicoptor.

Attendees experienced an “out of this world” feeling with NASA’s Orion spacecraft simulator.

Meet Centauro, the robot that can be your next yoga buddy.

Blue Origin’s massive rocket engine was on display outside.

Even though the “secret” Mars Conference is in session, it will be interesting to see which “geeky” devices will be advancing machine learning, automation, robotics, and space in coming years.

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World’s First 5G-Powered Remote Brain Surgery Performed in China

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A surgeon in China has performed the world’s first remote brain surgery using 5G technology while the patient was more than 1,800 miles away, according to local media.

The patient, who has Parkinson’s disease, received a deep brain stimulation (DBD) implant in Beijing on Saturday during a procedure that last three hours, Chinese state-run CGTN reported.

The surgeon, Dr. Ling Zhipei, manipulated the instruments in Beijing from Sanya City, in Hainan, located about 1,864 miles (3,000 kilometers) away, with a computer using a 5G network powered by China Mobile and Huawei.

“I take turns working in Beijing and Hainan, and the operation took place during my Hainan rotation. A patient with Parkinson’s in Beijing needed surgery and couldn’t fly to Hainan,” Ling told CGTN. “The 5G network has solved problems like video lag and remote control delay experienced under the 4G network, ensuring a nearly real-time operation. And you barely feel that the patient is 3,000 kilometers away.”

The patient is reportedly “feeling good.”

The landmark surgery is a big step toward surgeons from premier hospitals conducting more remote surgeries on patients located in far-flung areas or in disaster situations, and completing operations which were previously difficult to finish at the grassroots-level hospitals, said Ling.

In January, China also performed the first 5G remote surgery. It was, however, on a laboratory animal, and involved removing the animal’s liver, which was completed successfully.

The big advantage of using a 5G network for remote surgery is the reduced latency it offers, according to PCMag. The lower the latency, the more responsive the surgery robot will be to the surgeon’s actions tens or hundreds of miles away.

It then reduces the chances of mistakes being made and allows the surgeon to work as if they are actually present in the same room — or as Ling described “barely feel that the patient is 3,000 kilometers away.”

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World’s First Genderless Voice Assistant Needs Your Help

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Voice assistants have a gender problem.

Whether Siri is reciting a recipe, Alexa is describing the weather, or Cortana is outlining your schedule, artificial intelligence is everyone’s Girl Friday.

But that may soon change.

Meet Q, the world’s first genderless voice assistant.

“Think of me like Siri or Alexa, but neither male nor female,” the disembodied voice said.

Developed to end gender bias in AI assistants, Q was recorded by non-binary people, then altered to fall into the gender neutral sound parameters of 145 Hz to 175 Hz—a range defined by audio researchers.

“I’m created for a future where we are no longer defined by gender, but rather how we define ourselves,” according to Q.

[embedded content]

It’s no coincidence that most voice assistants are given female names and inflections. Several studies suggest that while folks favor a man’s voice when the situation calls for authority, they prefer a female voice when in need of assistance.

“Technology companies often choose to gender technology, believing it will make people more comfortable adopting it,” the Q website said. “Unfortunately, this reinforces a binary perception of gender, and perpetuates stereotypes that many have fought hard to progress.

“As society continues to break down the gender binary, recognizing those who neither identify as male nor female, the technology we create should follow,” it continued, citing Q as an “example of what we hope the future holds.”

“A future of ideas, inclusion, positions, and diverse representation in technology,” the makers wrote.

Before we can celebrate that future, though, Q needs your help in the present.

“For me to become a third option for voice assistants,” the online recording said, “I need [you to] share my voice with Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. And together we can ensure that technology recognizes us all.”

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