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Robot Predicts Consumer Satisfaction Based on Beer Head

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Bartenders, beware: Researchers at the University of Melbourne are teaching machines to serve the perfect glass of beer.

With a focus on the drink’s frothy top, the team assessed consumer perceptions of 15 ales poured by mechanical tapster RoboBEER.

Tipplers tend to place a lot of importance on beer head—the foam produced by gaseous bubbles. Too much and it distracts from the drink; too little and the draft is incomplete.

Some connoisseurs, including the Melbourne research team, believe it influences other attributes, like aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel.

“Therefore, the visual assessment of beers is one of the most important quality traits,” according to a paper published last week in the journal Food Control, “since it creates the first impression of consumers in determining the willingness to taste the product and perceived quality.”

To test this theory, analysts employed their latest RoboBEER prototype (previously built of LEGO pieces) to decant beers from bottle to glass. They then showed videos of these automated actions to 30 study participants (University staff and students), who answered questions about their preferred foam height and stability.

The main goal, as described by Science magazine, was to forecast customer satisfaction without additional inquiries or even serving any actual beer.

Which the team did using a neural network and eye-tracking technology: Artificial intelligence analyzed videos to measure pupil dilation, heart rate, and emotional expression. An algorithm then compared that data with the person’s conscious ratings.

Ultimately, the system was able to predict whether someone liked a beer’s foam height with more than 81 percent accuracy.

The neural network model, researchers hope, could be put to use as a rapid tool for judging beers in more efficient ways.

“This study also potentially offers an opportunity for AI applications using robotics, computer vision, and machine learning algorithms for fast screening of carbonated brewages,” the paper said.

Beer head is good for more than determining palatableness: The Beer Ripples printer lets folks etch images directly onto a freshly poured cold one—a unique way to promote a business, or communicate with a lush.

For more, check out Geek’s look at The Best in Beer Tech.

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Pick: Disney+’s Streaming Content Is King

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I have some relatively small issues with Disney+, which I’ll talk about later, but my biggest problem with the newest high-profile contender in the streaming TV services wars is more ethical and philosophical. Amazon, Netflix, HBO, NBC. None of these massive corporations are your friends. They all just want money. But there’s just something about Disney’s expanding entertainment monopoly, and their skill at making it seem so friendly, that feels uniquely menacing.

With Disney+, the strength of that monopoly is on full display. So in a sense, I find the very existence of this service viscerally disturbing. And yet if you’re looking for an affordable treasure trove of great, recognizable, and sometimes legendary movies and TV shows you won’t find anywhere else, especially if you have a family and want to keep your kids from YouTube online right-wing grifters, I can’t help but recommend Disney+.

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After a week-long free trial, you can subscribe to Disney+ for $7 per month or $70 per year. Disney also offers a bundle with the other streaming services they own, Hulu and ESPN, for a discounted price of $13 per month. So Disney+ on its own compares favorably to niche streaming services. And the bundle is at that Netflix sweet spot (for now) while filling in some of the biggest gaps in the Disney+ library itself: sports and R-rated material.

As expected, the huge influx of ten million users meant Disney+ didn’t have an entirely smooth technical launch. But it didn’t take long for me to eventually easily access the service on my computer or through my iPhone. The interface is straightforward with rows of boxes and highlights for special collections like “Marvel” or “Pixar.” You can create your own watchlist and pick out a cute little Disney avatar for each profile. Sadly, there was no Emperor Sheev Palpatine icon.

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The video quality itself obviously depends on the source material. You’ll be looking at some grainy 4:3 goodness if you queue up some forgotten early 2000s Disney Channel sitcom like Phil of the Future. On the flipside the original Star Wars films (now with Maclunkey) are lavishly presented in 4K HDR. But the presentation quality isn’t consistent. Some episodes aren’t listed in order. And one of the more egregious examples going around is the awkward widescreen crop of The Simpsons cutting out certain visual jokes.

But this is still the streaming platform with all of The Simpsons! Even though it’s been infuriating garbage for twenty years, I absolutely adore the first ten years of that perfect show with all of my comedy-loving self. It’s a part of my identity. I think it’s criminal that Disney can just buy Fox and pretend that Homer Simpson is and has always been one of their beloved mascots. But the appeal of streaming Simpsons is too powerful to resist.

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And leveraging, even exploiting, that fundamental connection with the material is how it is for almost everything on Disney+. For nearly a century Disney entertainment has colonized you so completely that you can’t help but see something here you’ve loved since you can remember being alive. It could be a classic cartoon like Aladdin or Steamboat Willie. It could be a bizarre live-action movie like The Shaggy Dog or Halloweentown. Every Pixar movie is here. Every Star Wars movie is here. The service is chock full of Marvel cartoons. Gargoyles!

It’s not 100 percent comprehensive. There are MCU gaps left to fill. I was surprised by the lack of ABC programming. And the Fox acquisitions aside from The Simpsons and Avatar feels incredibly spotty. If Disney wants to freeze out classic Fox movies from indie theaters the least they can do if offer them here. But overall the sheer nostalgic gravitational pull of a fully opened Disney vault is positively frightening.

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Even the original content, which is pretty limited at the moment, is playing this same iconic game. Disney’s power is just so well-suited to shows and movies that feel grown in a lab for mass mainstream appeal. Imagineering meets the algorithm. Anyone who saw Thor: Ragnarok is going to be down for a Jeff Goldblum National Geographic show. I don’t care about Anna Kendrick as Santa Claus’s daughter but surely someone does. And you can read our full review of The Mandalorian, which does successfully bring Star Wars to live-action TV at last.

If you’re a childless adult who truly doesn’t care about any of these properties, not only do I recommend you not buy Disney+, I envy you. For the rest of us poor saps though, subscribing to Disney+ feels like an enjoyable, if existentially entropic, inevitability.


Netflix / Hulu / HBO Go Accounts

So many streaming TV services to choose from. Where do you start?


Netflix is still arguably the biggest name in streaming TV.


Hulu trial screen

Although it no longer has a free option, Hulu is a great streaming TV service that is worth paying for.


From buying to renting to subscribing to individual channels, Amazon offers a bevy of streaming TV options.


YouTube Red subscribers can watch original shows from streaming stars, but YouTube TV lets you watch actual live TV.


Hook up a Slingbox and watch the cable and live TV you’re already paying for anywhere.


You have to buy channels in bulk and still deal with commercials, but with DirecTV Now you get the real live TV experience delivered through streaming.


Crunchyroll is the best anime streaming service if you’re all about subtitles.


If dubs are more your thing, Funimation Now is the anime streaming service for you.


If you want to stream shows and documentaries that actually teach you something, go with CuriosityStream.


AMC Premiere just focuses on current AMC shows, but for Walking Dead super fans that might be enough.


With Boomerang, tons of retro cartoons, from Looney Tunes to Scooby-Doo, can all come back to you


FuboTV may be the escape from cable that sports fans are looking for. It’s pricey, but being able to easily stream live sports and more from dozens of channels with only one subscription might very well be worth it.


Brown Sugar has all of the classic Blaxploitation movies you could want and then some. It’s niche, but it’s one of the most impressive niche libraries we’ve seen.


For the true cinephile, FilmStruck has a large collection of classic films from all eras and countries, including movies from the Criterion Collection.


CollegeHumor’s Dropout provides premium streaming online laughs.


DC Universe offers live-action adaptations of less familiar superheroes, like Doom Patrol.


Shudder Is the Horror Streaming Service Fans Were Waiting For


Along with presenting streaming services like Netflix and Sling through one box, Dish AirTV also lets you watch local over-the-air channels with an additional installation.


Get a streaming media device to enjoy these services on your TV. Our favorite is the Amazon Fire Stick.



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Stingray-Inspired Spacecraft Could Explore ‘Dark Side’ of Venus

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Venus lies within Earth’s orbit, but little is known about our neighboring planet—especially its “dark side.”

University at Buffalo researchers want to change that, though, with their unique spacecraft.

The Bio-inspired Ray for Extreme Environments and Zonal Explorations (BREEZE)* project is one of 12 concepts selected by NASA for its Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

Proposed by the university’s Crashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH)* Laboratory, researchers envision a stingray-esque morphing spacecraft, with wings that flap like pectoral fins.

“By taking our cues from nature, specifically sea rays, we’re looking to maximize flight efficiency,” according to project lead Javid Bayandor, associate professor in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The design, he explained, could make use of high winds in the planet’s upper atmosphere, while still allowing scientists control over the vehicle—which would circumnavigate Venus every four to six days.

Add to that solar-powered instruments (charged every few days when the planet is illuminated by the sun) that take atmospheric samples, track weather patterns, monitor volcanic activity, and gather other data.

Perhaps most importantly, though, BREEZE’s “distinct versatility” could help scientists study the mysterious dark side of Venus.

Did you know that it takes Venus longer to rotate on its axis (243 days) than it does to orbit the sun (225 days), making a day on the planet longer than a year?

Because of these irregular cycles, large portions of the planet are shrouded in darkness for sustained periods of time, leaving them considerably different from the sunny side.

The technology behind BREEZE—including its morphing wings—could potentially be used to explore other parts of the solar system, as well as underwater environments on Earth, Bayandor said.

* They really love an acronym in upstate New York

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Finally, Smell a Movie With FeelReal Virtual Reality

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Four years ago we let you get a first whiff of FeelReal, an experimental virtual reality accessory that let you smell and feel your content along with just looking at it through your existing headset. Since then, VR experiences engaging sight and sound and motion have become pretty standard. But there is still so much uncomfortable room left to explore when it comes to your other senses. Fortunately, this year FeelReal reemerged to deliver on its smelly promises.

Connect the wireless vibrating mask to your Rift or Vive or other headset, load it up with hundreds of different scent cartridges, and at last enter a level of entertainment not seen since gimmicky theme park theaters. Water and wind shoot in your face. Try out pre-made scent profiles for various movies and aroma therapy programs, or create your own interpretation of Thanos’ genocidal musk. Finally, the perfect device for playing Earthbound’s failed smell-based promotional campaign. Only thing missing is a some kind of tasting tube.

Watch the full FeelReal explanation below, and if your interested snag one for yourself on the IndieGogo page starting at $300 for delivery this month.

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It took a few false starts, but between the Oculus Rift, HoloLens, Project Morpheus, and Vive, it seems like virtual reality is finally ready to become the next big technological leap. So that means it’s time to look forward to what comes next. Well since fancy headsets only stimulate two of your senses, sight and sound, why not strap another device to your face to recreate feelings and smells? Enter FeelReal.

If the moody teaser above wasn’t clear enough, FeelReal is a new VR accessory designed to simulate different scents and sensations. Users put on the oddly anthropomorphic vibrating mask, load the cartridges, and let the immersive feelings wash over them through the water mist port, odor generator, and hot air blower. Feel hot! Feel wet! Feeling anything besides the real world around you! The seven different smellscapes include fire, ocean, jungle, grass, flowers, metal, and a mysterious “powder” scent cartridge.


Fortunately, FeelReal isn’t a wholly separate new virtual reality product. It actually pairs with existing goggles like Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR via Bluetooth to sync up what you see with what you smell. Granted, it makes the VR experience look even more like a computer is eating your face, but at least you won’t have to spend more cash on a proprietary new headset.

So if you desperately want to experience “the smell of the wind” in the comfort of your own, non-windy home, you can pre-order FeelReal for $249 along with a handful of free cartridges. All that’s left now is virtual reality taste. It could really bring Cooking Mama to a whole new level.


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