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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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You May Soon Be Able to Fly Drones Over a Crowd, At Night

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The U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday announced new rules that would allow drones to fly over crowds of people and at night without waivers.

Current Federal Aviation Administration regulations do not permit small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to fly after dark without official authorization.

The program, detailed this week by DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, allows drones to fly at night. But only if the operator has received appropriate training and completed approved testing, and the drone is equipped with anti-collision lighting.

Public feedback is welcome once the proposal is published in the Federal Register; the comment period will remain open for 60 days.

“The Department is keenly aware that there are legitimate public concerns about drones, concerning safety, security, and privacy,” according to Chao. “Recent events overseas have underscored concerns about the potential for drones to disrupt aviation and the national airspace.”

(Remember the days-long shutdown of the UK’s second-busiest airport following sightings of unmanned aerial vehicles?)

“So along with this new proposed rule, the Department is finishing up two other proposals to address drone safety and national security,” she added.

The UAS Safe and Secure ANPRM (advanced notice of proposed rulemaking) identifies major drone safety and security concerns, and will also be published in the Federal Register “as soon as possible,” with 60 days for public comment.

In her final announcement, Chao revealed three commercial partners—Nevada UAS Test Site Smart Silver State, Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site, and Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership—that will develop technology to manage airspace for the DOT’s drone pilot programs.

“Together, these three initiatives will be a major step forward in enabling the safe development, testing, and deployment of drones in our country,” she said.

Well ahead of other autonomous technologies (i.e. self-driving cars), UAVs are already widely used by hobbyists and first responders, for rescue and recovery efforts and to inspect infrastructure.

As of Dec. 14, 2018, there were nearly 1.3 million registered drones in the US, according to DOT, and more than 116,000 registered drone operators.

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Study: Majority of Facebook Users Don’t Understand Targeted Ads

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A surprising number of Facebook users remain clueless about how their personal information is used for targeted advertising.

A Pew Research Center survey found that 74 percent of U.S. adult Facebook users were unaware the site maintains a list of interest and traits.

While most websites and apps track how consumers use digital services and turn that data into targeted advertisements, their proprietary algorithms are usually kept under lock and key.

As part of its “transparency” narrative, however, Facebook allows users to view at least some of how it classifies them—based on engagement with content on the site—via the “Your ad preferences” page.

Unique to each user, the dossier displays various pieces of personal information, including a list of purported interests.

When directed to the page, 59 percent of Pew survey participants said the generated categories do reflect their real-life interests; another 27 percent claim they are not very, or not at all, accurate.

I can see where they’re coming from.

While I do enjoy photography, Star Wars, and IKEA, I have no idea how or why Facebook decided drag racing, towels, veganism, and Jesus are some of my personal passions. (They’re not.)

So whether you like it or not, ads for horror fiction, YouTube, women’s rights, and nail polish will probably appear on your Facebook feed.

But even if Facebook were spot-on with its assessments of user interests, targeted ads still feel, for many, like an invasion of privacy.

According to Pew, about half of those surveyed (51 percent) are not comfortable with Facebook creating lists about their hobbies and traits. Conversely, a handful of folks (5 percent) are “very comfortable” with their leisure pursuits being aired for the world to see.

“We want people to understand how our ad settings and controls work. That means better ads for people,” Facebook said in a statement to The Verge.

“While we and the rest of the online ad industry need to do more to educate people on how interest-based advertising works and how we protect people’s information,” it continued, “we welcome conversations about transparency and control.”

The social network did not immediately respond to Geek’s request for comment.

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Pandora Launches Voice-Enabled Smart Assistant For Easier Streaming

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Streaming music provider Pandora is taking on Amazon, Google, and Spotify with a native smart assistant.

New “Voice Mode” allows listeners to control Pandora’s mobile app and discover music simply by asking.

Use the wake phrase “Hey Pandora,” followed by a request, to hear a specific artist, song, station, podcast, or playlist. The platform can also deliver personalized tunes based on tastes, moods, and activities (i.e. “play something for my workout” or “play music for relaxing”).

“With Voice Mode, we are introducing an even more natural and conversational way for listeners to discover new music and enhance their experience directly in the Pandora mobile app, like getting recommendations from a friend who really knows you,” Chief Product Officer Chris Phillips said in a statement.

The new feature relies on advanced natural language understanding and music recommendation technology to provide a hands-free experience tailored to individual users.

Change stations, control volume, skip or pause music, and conduct other basic navigation commands with a few words.

Don’t like what you’re hearing? Tell Pandora to “play something different.” Stumble upon a fresh new beat you’d like to listen to again? Direct the app to “add this song to my party playlist” or give it a thumbs up by saying “I like this.”

Beta access new Voice Mode is available now for iOS and Android owners.

This is the latest addition to the US-only streaming service (I’m dying for access in the UK!), which rolled out personalized podcast recommendations in November.

The Podcast Genome Project—a cataloging system and discovery algorithm that combines technology and human curation to deliver new content, based on 1,500-plus attributes. Users signal their enjoyment (or lack thereof) via thumbs, skips, and replays.

At the heart of Pandora is the Music Genome Project, described by the firm as “the most sophisticated taxonomy of music information ever collected.”

Each song in the system is analyzed using up to 400 distinct musical characteristics; Pandora recognizes and responds to individual tastes, giving users a personalized radio experience.

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