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Hardware

Nintendo introduces a Switch model refresh with better battery life

Nintendo introduces a Switch model refresh with better battery life

July 17, 2019

Nintendo already announced an entirely new Switch console this month, the Switch Lite, and now it’s bumping some of the specs on the existing Switch with a slightly updated version, spotted by The Verge. This update improves the hardware right where it counts when it comes to Switch portable playing power.

The new model will provide between 4.5 and 9 hours of battery life, depending on use, which is a big bump from the 2.5 to 6.5 hour rating on the original hardware that’s been offered to date. This is likely an improvement derived from a change in the processor used in the console, as well as more power-efficient memory, both of which were detailed in an FCC filing from last week.

Nintendo’s official Switch comparison page lists the models with improved battery life as model number ‘HAC-001(-01), with the bracketed addition distinguishing it from the original. You can check the version based on the serial number, with XKW preceding the newer hardware, and XAW starting off serials for the older, less power efficient version. It should arrive sometime in the middle of August, so if you’re in the market it’s worth taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to ensure this battery boosted hardware is the one you get.

In all other respects the two Switch models appear to be similar, if not identical, so it’s probably not enough of a change to get anyone considering an upgrade, unless the battery life on your current version really seems to fall about two hours short of your ideal play session length on average.

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Voyant Photonics raises $4.3M to fit lidar on the head of a pin

Voyant Photonics raises $4.3M to fit lidar on the head of a pin

July 16, 2019

Lidar is a critical method by which robots and autonomous vehicles sense the world around them, but the lasers and sensors generally take up a considerable amount of space. Not so with Voyant Photonics, which has created a lidar system that you really could conceivably balance on the head of a pin.

Before getting into the science, it’s worth noting why this is important. Lidar is most often used as a way for a car to sense things at a medium distance — far away, radar can outperform it, and up close, ultrasonics and other methods are more compact. But from a few feet to a couple hundred feed out, lidar is very useful.

Unfortunately, even the most compact lidar solutions today are still, roughly, the size of a hand, and the ones ready for use in production vehicles are still larger. A very small lidar unit that could be hidden on every corner of a car, or even inside the cabin, could provide rich positional data about everything in and around the car with little power and no need to disrupt the existing lines and design. (And that’s not getting into the many, many other industries that could use this.)

Lidar began with the idea of, essentially, a single laser being swept across a scene multiple times per second, its reflection carefully measured to track the distances of objects. But mechanically steered lasers are bulky, slow and prone to failure, so newer companies are attempting other techniques, like illuminating the whole scene at once (flash lidar) or steering the beam with complex electronic surfaces (metamaterials) instead.

One discipline that seems primed to join in the fun is silicon photonics, which is essentially the manipulation of …

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Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick are again Prime Day’s best selling devices (so far!)

Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick are again Prime Day’s best selling devices (so far!)

July 16, 2019

Amazon Prime members again snapped up loss leaders like the Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick with Alexa Remote on the first day of Amazon Prime Day 2019, which has now been stretched out to a 48-hour sale. This is the third year in a row that the entry-level Alexa smart speaker, the Echo Dot, has been a Prime Day bestseller. The Fire TV Stick was a top seller last year, too, and sold well in years past — including in 2016, when it emerged as the overall best-selling device globally on Prime Day.

Amazon never provides hard numbers on Prime Day sales, but claims “millions” of these devices — the Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick combined — were sold on Monday to customers worldwide during the first day of Prime Day 2019.

Last year, Amazon claimed customers bought “millions” of Fire TV Stick devices alone, for comparison’s sake.

The retailer also said this morning that U.S. shoppers saved “millions” on Prime Day sales on Monday. This includes other bestsellers like the Instant Pot DUO Plus 60 6 Qt, LifeStraw Personal Water Filter and Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitening Strips. The Instant Pot and LifeStraw filter were also two of the non-Amazon top sellers last Prime Day, which says something about the consistency of this sales event as it enters its fifth year.

Though Amazon didn’t officially list the Echo Dot in its round-up of July 15 Prime Day sales, the smart speaker had already been discounted to its then lowest price ever of $24.99 (half off list) before Prime Day even started. As the event kicked off, it dropped again to $22.

Today, Amazon is keeping the Echo Dot at $22 but is sold out of Charcoal, leaving only the lighter sandstone color available …

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Arm’s new licensing option lets its partners experiment and test for free before they pay

Arm’s new licensing option lets its partners experiment and test for free before they pay

July 16, 2019

Arm today launched Flexible Access, a new licensing scheme in addition to its existing model, that will make it easier for startups to gain access to a wide range of Arm’s intellectual property (IP) without any upfront licensing costs.

Intellectual property licensing schemes for chips may not strike you as the most exciting thing. But as the number of companies that are building their own silicon, often for very specialized use cases, having access to the IP from companies like Arm is something that more companies than ever a looking to have. Until now, the only way to get access to Arm’s IP was to select the products you wanted to license upfront. That works for large companies that know exactly what they want, but for smaller companies, that’s a bit of a barrier, given that they are likely still trying to figure out what exactly they need.

Under the Flexible Access terms, partners get access to the IP and only pay a per-unit royalty fee once they go into production. Under the existing scheme, license fees were due before partners could access the IP.

“The reason we’re doing this is because we see that the industry is evolving quite significantly — lots of transformation that’s happening, new companies coming into doing custom silicon,” Dipti Vachani, Arm’s SVP and GM of  its automotive and IoT business, told me. “We believe that enabling this is easy access to IP and experimentation allows for the growth and the usage of our IP across the trillion connected devices.”

Vachani stressed that the company believes that this move will allow a whole range of new companies to use Arm’s IP portfolio since it significantly lowers the barrier of entry.

“This allows for a  lower barrier to entry for for anyone. It’s very straightforward. …

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Dish’s AirTV launches an $80 streaming stick for accessing Sling TV, Netflix & broadcast channels

Dish’s AirTV launches an $80 streaming stick for accessing Sling TV, Netflix & broadcast channels

July 15, 2019

Dish is expanding its hardware lineup today with the launch of a new 4K streaming stick, the AirTV Mini, designed to make it easier for cord cutters to access from one user interface its live TV service Sling TV, plus Netflix and over-the-air channels. The Android TV-powered device is meant to complement an existing setup that already includes an OTA digital antenna and an AirTV Wi-Fi-enabled network tuner, the company says.

For a limited time, new and existing Sling TV customers can get the latter two items for free — an AirTV Wi-Fi-enabled network tuner and an indoor antenna — by prepaying for three months of Sling TV’s service.

In addition, the AirTV Mini also includes support for 2×2 802.11AC Wi-Fi, a lost remote finder feature, support for Google Assistant and Google Play, as well as support for VP94K decoding, which allows you to watch YouTube or Netflix content in 4K.

The company has been offering streaming devices for a couple of years. Dish first unveiled its AirTV Player, a 4K media streamer set-top box, at CES 2017. In 2018, it expanded its hardware lineup to include a new device, just called the AirTV, a networked TV tuner that streams local programming via Wi-Fi.

Despite the new AirTV Mini’s streaming stick form factor, it’s not meant to compete with rival streaming sticks like the low-cost Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku streaming stick or Chromecast in terms of price. Instead, it’s a $79.99 alternative to the $119.99 AirTV Player bundle — perhaps for someone who doesn’t care for the sort of Playskool-inspired design of the original streaming box, but still wants over-the-air channels, 4K support and easy access to Sling TV and Netflix.

The remote for the Mini is improved as well, in a more typical shade of black instead …

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Petcube’s Bites 2 and Play 2 amuse pets and humans alike with Alexa built-in

Petcube’s Bites 2 and Play 2 amuse pets and humans alike with Alexa built-in

July 15, 2019

Petcube’s original Bites smart treat dispenser and Play pet camera with a built-in laser pointer were great for pet parents who couldn’t always be around to hang out with their furry charges, but the new Bites 2 and Play 2 come with one big new upgrade that make them far more versatile than the original: They both double as Alexa-powered smart speaker devices.

Both the Bites 2 and Play 2 can hear and respond to Alexa requests, with a four-microphone array that in my limited testing actually outperforms the Alexa mics built into my Sonos One and Sonos Beam speakers, which is pretty impressive for devices whose main features are serving up treats and keeping an eye on your pets. That’s on top of the Bites 2 being able to remotely dispense treats for your pet, and the Play 2 providing playtime away from home with a built-in laser pointer you can direct from your phone.

The Bites 2 and Play 2 also feature other improvements, including new wider angle lenses that offer full 180-degree views of your home for more likelihood you’ll spot your pets wandering around, and better Wi-Fi connectivity support with additional 5GHz networking, plus night vision and full HD video. Currently, the field of view is limited to 160-degrees, with an update to follow that will unlock the full 180; for most users, the 160 FOV is going to show you an entire room and then some.

With the Bites 2, you can also initiate video calls and chat with your pet, though my dog Chelsea basically is just confused by this. It is handy if I need to ask my partner if there’s anything else I’m forgetting to pick up from the store, however. And the treat-flinging feature definitely does appeal to Chelsea, especially now …

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The Dreamlight Zen uses lights and music to help wearers relax

The Dreamlight Zen uses lights and music to help wearers relax

July 15, 2019

Every time I’m back in Asia, it seems like I’m meeting with another sleep mask company. And every time, I wonder aloud about how the technology might ease the soul grinding 16 hour flight home. Last year, Brinc-backed Silentmode lent me a unit for the long flight along with a final night in Hong Kong’s notorious Chung King Mansions hostel (long, unfortunate Booking.com story on that one). I liked the idea, but ultimately found he product cumbersome — a particularly egregious issue for some who already finds its impossible to sleep on planes for longer than a 20 minute stretch.

Straightaway, it’s clear that Dreamlight has a leg up on Silentmode as far as design is concerned. It’s thinner, more streamlined and, for those concerned about such things, just better looking. Though I’m not sure how much that last bit matters to most as you’re doing your damnedest to get comfortable on a long international flight.

Ultimately, what’s more interesting to me is the direction the company’s going in here. Silentmode is very explicitly not designed for meditation. There’s certainly something to be said for focus on doing one thing (sleep) well, but meditation really seems like a no brainer for these sorts of products. Its founder also mentioned to me that the company didn’t include lights in the device, because who needs to stare at another screen. Again, fair enough, I suppose, but if done well, light therapy is a pretty compelling addition.

All of those things are baked into Dreamlight’s latest product, the Zen, which, as its name implies, is really focused on the meditation crowd. Here the system pulses orange light along with synchronized audio through the embedded headphones. The startup’s got a handful of first party content preloaded on the device, or your can connect it …

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Sutro’s smart pool monitoring device arrives next month

Sutro’s smart pool monitoring device arrives next month

July 15, 2019

Sutro’s device has changed a lot since the company appeared as a contestant in our Hardware Battlefield way back in 2015. But who hasn’t, really? The startup happened to be in town as TechCrunch paid a visit to SSV’s Shenzhen headquarters. Turns out it’s a good place to be six weeks ahead of your product’s commercial launch. There are always plenty of kinks to be ironed out ahead of product, after all.

The heart of the product is the same, of course: a floating connected device that can continually measure the chlorine, pH and other levels of a pool’s content. The final version of the device, however, is cylindrical, with, thankfully, fewer wires hanging out than the previous version. Honestly, it looks a bit like a floating travel mug.

With a new production partner announced way back at CES in January, the company says it’s now six weeks away from shipping the product for those who purchase it directly through the startup’s site. Some point soon, it will also make the device available through pool stores and other online channels. For now, however, it’s direct purchase only.

At $699, the device isn’t cheap. Though the Bay Area-based startup believes that the nuisance of regularly monitoring pools will be enough to convince those with deep pockets to take the plunge, sop to speak. And the company’s already seen a fair amount of interest from potential customers since it started talking up the product nearly half a decade back.

A planned second version of the device will make things even more convenient, with plans to add a system for releasing chemicals into the water in order to automatically regulate the water’s make up. That bit certainly sounds appealing if a ways off.

Hardware is just the first step for the company, though. …

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Cambridge Uni graphene spin-out bags $16M to get its first product to market

Cambridge Uni graphene spin-out bags $16M to get its first product to market

July 15, 2019

Cambridge, UK based graphene startup, Paragraf, has closed a £12.8 million (~$16M) Series A round of funding led by early stage VC  Parkwalk. Also investing this round: IQ Capital Partners, Amadeus Capital Partners and Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, plus several unnamed angel investors. 

The funding will be used to bring the 2015-founded Cambridge University spin out’s first graphene-based electronics products to market — transitioning the startup into a commercial, revenue-generating phase.

When we covered Paragraf’s $3.9M seed raise just over a year ago CEO and co-founder Dr Simon Thomas told us it was looking to raise a Series A ahead of Q3 2019 so the business looks to be right on track at this stage.

During the seed phase Paragraf says it was able to deliver a manufacturing facility, graphene layer production and first device prototypes “significantly” ahead of plan.

It’s now switching focus to products — with strategic volume device production partners, and commercialisation of its first device: A super-high sensitivity magnetic field detector which it says operates over temperature, field and power ranges “that no other device can currently achieve”.

Commenting in a statement, Thomas added: “I am extremely proud of the young team at Paragraf who have collectively delivered the early strategy milestones with great skill. This next phase will allow Paragraf to make these truly game-changing technologies a reality. Paragraf is continually seeking like-minded collaborative development, production and commercial partners to accelerate the delivery of the many exciting electronics technology opportunities graphene has to offer.”

In terms of the touted benefits of graphene, the atom-layer-thick 2D material has long been exciting scientists as a potential replacement for silicon in computer chips — thanks to a raft of key properties including high conductivity, strength and flexibility and thermal

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Kibus is like a Keurig for your pet

Kibus is like a Keurig for your pet

July 14, 2019

In a pitch during a recent meeting at Brinc’s Hong Kong headquarters, the Barcelona-based team behind Kibus Petcare was quick to point out that most millennials consider pets “a member of the family.” That sort of statement manifests itself in various ways, of course, but for many, that means preparing home cooked meals for their dogs and cats.

As a rabbit owner myself, that fortunately mostly just means rinsing off some arugula in the sink once a day. For those other pet owners, however, the prospect is a fair bit more complex, putting the same or even more work into prepping meals for their furry companions.

The pitch behind Kibus is an attempt to split the difference. The company’s appliance is designed to offer something like a home cooked meal for a dog or cat with a fraction of the required effort. The system accepts plastic cartons filled with freeze dried pet food. Pour in some water and the system will heat it up, cooking the foodstuffs in the process.

The company is going to be launching a Kickstarter campaign to sell the product, which is currently in prototype form. At launch, it will run around €199. That initial version will include user refillable pods, but in the future, they company plans to limit these to the pre-made variety, clearly going after a kind of ink cartridge approach to monetizing the system.

The pods will work out to around €1 a day, with the machine rationing out food to pets one to five times a day. Each should last about a week for an average pet, or somewhere in the neighborhood of three days for the largest dog. To start, the company is offering up five different food options (two for cats, three for dogs), with more coming down the …

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