Bennett Haselton has in years previous made some canny suggestions for tech-oriented holiday gifts; you can look forward to another one. Today, though, Bennett writes about one cool toy in particular: a kit to make your own creepy robot: "For over 20 years, Dutch inventor Theo Jansen has been building truck-sized sculptures that crab-walk eerily across the beach, using only the power of the wind to turn fan blades that power the gears and crankshafts and enable the walking motion. This kit allows you to assemble your own working model that 'walks' sideways across your desktop." Read on for the rest.
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waderoush writes "Anki gained instant fame as the robot-car company that launched at Apple's WWDC in June. Its iPhone-controlled racing game hit Apple stores in October, and the company is hoping it will be a holiday hit. But while Anki Drive offers offers a novel physical/virtual entertainment experience for kids and their gadget-loving parents, being a toy company 'is not our vision,' says co-founder and CEO Boris Sofman in this combined company profile and product review from Xconomy. Anki Drive is planned as the first in a series of new consumer-robotics products that are intensively AI-driven, as compared to the mechanically sophisticated but relatively instinctual or behavioral robots exemplified by iRobot's Roomba (which is probably the most successful consumer robot to date). The common characteristics of Anki's coming products, in Sofman's mind: 'Relatively simple and elegant hardware; incredibly complicated software; and Web and wireless connectivity to be able to continually expand the experience over time.'"
Nerval's Lobster writes "During an executive Q&A at Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting on Sept. 19 (video), outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that Windows Phone had a minuscule share of the smartphone market, and expressed regret over his company's inability to capitalize on burgeoning interest in mobile devices. 'I regret that there was a period in the early 2000s when we were so focused on what we had to do around Windows that we weren't able to redeploy talent to the new device called the phone,' Ballmer told the audience of Wall Street analysts and investors. 'That is the thing I regret the most.' Back in 2007, Ballmer famously denigrated the first-generation iPhone as an expensive toy that would fail to gain significant market share. He was forced to eat his words after the iPhone became a bestseller and ignited a huge market for touch-screen smartphones. Google subsequently plunged into that smartphone arena with Android, which was soon adopted by a variety of hardware manufacturers. While the iPhone (running iOS) and Android carved up the new market between them, Microsoft tried to come up with its own mobile strategy. The result was Windows Phone, which (despite considerable investment on Microsoft's part) continues to lag well behind Android and iOS in the smartphone wars. Even as he focused on discussing Microsoft's financials, Ballmer also couldn't resist taking some swipes at Google, suggesting that the search-engine giant's practices are 'worthy of discussion with competition authority.' Given Microsoft's own rocky history with federal regulators, that's sort of like the pot calling the kettle black; but Ballmer's statement also hints at how, in this new tech environment, Microsoft is very much the underdog when it comes to some of the most popular and lucrative product segments."
mask.of.sanity writes "Cheap home alarms, door opening systems and wireless mains switches can be bypassed with low-cost and home-made devices that can replicate their infrared signals. Fixed-code radio frequency systems could be attacked using a $20 'toy', or using basic DIY componentry. Quoting: 'Criminals might be able to capture IR signals if they can get a line of sight to when the system is being armed or disarmed. If a criminal knows what type of alarm system you're using then they could do what we did here and reverse it for cloning a remote. A more likely scenario is just to buy a duplicate system and use that remote. Not all IR remotes can be switched from the same system. It depends on whether a code is being transmitted and how many variations of the code and remote exist. In the system described in this post, there is no code, just a carrier signal. If a code is being transmitted, then the Infrared toy can capture it and replay it. So that's your best bet for a criminal looking at a completely unknown remote.'"
An anonymous reader sends this news from the Wall Street Journal: "A 19-year-old model helicopter enthusiast was killed Thursday when a toy helicopter he was flying struck him in the head, a law-enforcement official said. Victim Roman Pirozek 'was known to be aggressive in his flying and often executed tricks. He was executing a trick when he was struck,' the official said. Mr. Pirozek – depicted in [this YouTube video] he posted in July — was flying a remote-controlled helicopter worth about $2,000 when it struck him, cutting off the top of his head, the official said. The Woodhaven, Queens, resident was pronounced dead at the scene. His father was with him at the time of the accident, the official said."
usacoder writes with news of Craig Zucker, former CEO of the company behind Buckyballs, the popular neodymium magnet toys that were banned by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in July 2012. Zucker ran a brief campaign to drum up opposition to the government's ban, but it didn't turn out to be enough. Unfortunately for Zucker, the story didn't end there. Despite the magnets being labeled as not for kids, the Commission filed a motion to find him personally liable for the costs of a product recall, estimated at around $57 million. "Given the fact that Buckyballs have now long been off the market, the attempt to go after Mr. Zucker personally raises the question of retaliation for his public campaign against the commission. Mr. Zucker won't speculate about the commission's motives. 'It's very selective and very aggressive,' he says. ... Mr. Zucker says his treatment at the hands of the commission should alarm fellow entrepreneurs: 'This is the beginning. It starts with this case. If you play out what happens to me, then the next thing you'll have is personal-injury lawyers saying "you conducted the actions of the company, you were the company."'"
cartechboy writes "As Nissan develops autonomous cars for its 2020 target date, the company's engineers are modeling the tech after behaviors seen in bumblebees and fish. Nissan actually tests self-navigation algorithms in seven small toy-looking robots called EPORO. The robots have 180-degree vision (modeled after bees) and monitor each others' positions, travel nose to nose and avoid collisions--just like a school of fish. Getting small robots to zip around without bumping into things might be the first step in getting cars to do the same."
Via Engadget comes the news that Google's latest (and quickly sold-out) toy, the Chromecast, may soon be hacked out of one-trick-pony status; just a few days after it came out, the folks at GTV Hacker have successfully turned their attention to the Chromecast, and managed to exploit the device's bootloader and spawn a root shell. Some interesting findings, as explained in their blog post: "[I]t’s actually a modified Google TV release, but with all of the Bionic / Dalvik stripped out and replaced with a single binary for Chromecast. Since the Marvell DE3005 SOC running this is a single core variant of the 88DE3100, most of the Google TV code was reused. So, although it’s not going to let you install an APK or anything, its origins: the bootloader, kernel, init scripts, binaries, are all from the Google TV. We are not ruling out the ability for this to become a Google TV 'stick.'"
GenieGenieGenie writes "After all the talk of printed guns and the problems they pose to traditional methods of perimeter security, we get a live demo courtesy of some rather brave journalists from Israel's Channel 10, who took the plastic weapon known as the Liberator past security into the Israeli parliament, and held it within meters of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I say brave because had they been caught pulling this stunt, which involved taking their toy out of the bag while sitting in the audience of a speech by the prime minister, they would have faced some real steel. Haaretz has the video (sorry, Hebrew only at the moment) [Google-translated version of the article -- Ed.] where you can follow the breach (from ~6:30) and see them pass the metal detector and the moment when the gun comes out. The movie also shows some testing of the gun in a police-supervised weapons range. Parliament security officials said that 'this is a new phenomenon and they are checking the subject to give it a professional solution as quickly as possible.' I hope this doesn't mean we will now officially face an era of ever more intruding security checks at entrances to events like this." Would-be Liberator printers, take note: the testing shows the barrel violently separating from the rest of the gun.
First time accepted submitter Vicsun writes "It won't be smashing hadrons at speeds that are fractions of the speed of light, but it will still be a hell of a lot of fun, and could be in your hands soon. A post-doc at the Niels Bohr Institute, in Copenhagen, has recreated the ATLAS detector in Lego bricks, and is now trying to transform his design into an official LEGO product."
coondoggie writes "NASA today said it would team up with Lego to offer a competition to see who can build the coolest models of future airplanes and spacecraft. The 'NASA's Missions: Imagine and Build' competition is open now with an entry deadline of July 31. Winners in each category will be selected by a panel of NASA and LEGO officials and announced Sept. 1."
ananyo writes "A toy quadcopter can be steered through an obstacle course by thought alone. The aircraft's pilot operates it remotely using a cap of electrodes to detect brainwaves that are translated into commands. Ultimately, the developers of the mind-controlled copter hope to adapt their technology for directing artificial robotic limbs and other medical devices." From the paper (PDF) abstract: "... we report a novel experiment of BCI controlling a robotic quadcopter in three-dimensional (3D) physical space using noninvasive scalp electroencephalogram (EEG) in human subjects. We then quantify the performance of this system using metrics suitable for asynchronous BCI. Lastly, we examine the impact that the operation of a real world device has on subjects’ control in comparison to a 2D virtual cursor task. Approach. ... Individual subjects were able to accurately acquire up to 90.5% of all valid targets presented while traveling at an average straight-line speed of 0.69 m s^(1)." This also appears to be the first time a Brain-Computer Interface was used to operate a flying device in 3D space. Also, there are several additional videos showing people operating the quadcopter.
First time accepted submitter awaissoft writes "There's big, then there's really big, and then there's colossal, which might be a good word to use when describing a near 46,000-pound Lego X-Wing that made a triumphant debut Thursday in New York's Times Square. The full-size replica, about 42 times the size of the Lego Star Wars X-Wing set available on store shelves, celebrates the debut of Cartoon Network's The Yoda Chronicles, which premieres on May 29 at 8 p.m. It took a small army of 32 Lego master builders, housed in a facility in the Czech Republic, to build the 45,980-pound, or 23-ton, Lego ship. It stands 11 feet high and 43 feet long, and contains more than 5 million Lego pieces."
thereitis writes "The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in cooperation with six retailers, is announcing the voluntary recall of all Buckyballs and Buckycubes high-powered magnet sets due to ingestion hazard. CPSC continues to warn that these products contain defects in the design, warnings and instructions, which pose a substantial risk of injury and death to children and teenagers. An administrative complaint has been filed which is rare, as CPSC has filed only four administrative complaints in the past 11 years." This follows last year's ban on buckyballs.
coondoggie writes "As of April 25th the Transportation Security Administration will let a bunch of previously prohibited items such as small pocket knives and what it calls 'novelty' or toy bats to be taken on aircraft as carry-ons. The idea the agency said was to let Transportation Security Officers better focus their efforts on spotting higher-threat items such as explosives and guns."
Hugh Pickens writes writes "The first dogs descended from wolves about 14,000 years ago but according to Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods humans didn't domesticate dogs — dogs sought out humans and domesticated us. Humans have a long history of eradicating wolves, rather than trying to adopt them which raises the question: How was the wolf tolerated by humans long enough to evolve into the domestic dog? 'The short version is that we often think of evolution as being the survival of the fittest, where the strong and the dominant survive and the soft and weak perish. But essentially, far from the survival of the leanest and meanest, the success of dogs comes down to survival of the friendliest.' Most likely, it was wolves that approached us, not the other way around, probably while they were scavenging around garbage dumps on the edge of human settlements. The wolves that were bold but aggressive would have been killed by humans, and so only the ones that were bold and friendly would have been tolerated. In a few generations, these friendly wolves became distinctive from their more aggressive relatives with splotchy coats, floppy ears, wagging tails. But the changes did not just affect their looks but their psychology. Protodogs evolved the ability to read human gestures. 'As dog owners, we take for granted that we can point to a ball or toy and our dog will bound off to get it,' write Hare and Woods. 'But the ability of dogs to read human gestures is remarkable. Even our closest relatives — chimpanzees and bonobos — can't read our gestures as readily as dogs can. 'With this new ability, these protodogs were worth knowing. People who had dogs during a hunt would likely have had an advantage over those who didn't. Finally when times were tough, dogs could have served as an emergency food supply and once humans realized the usefulness of keeping dogs as emergency food, it was not a huge jump to realize plants could be used in a similar way.' This is the secret to the genius of dogs: It's when dogs join forces with us that they become special," conclude Hare and Woods. 'Dogs may even have been the catalyst for our civilization.'"
parallel_prankster writes "Amazon users are addressing the drone controversy with sarcasm. Maisto International Inc.'s model Predator drones are selling out on Amazon.com Inc.'s website as parody reviews highlight how the toys can help children hone killing skills, mocking a controversial U.S. practice. The toy is a replica of the RQ-1 Predator, an unmanned aircraft that the U.S. Air Force has used in combat over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq and Yemen, according to the product description on Amazon. Only one of the $49.99 military-style toy jets is available for purchase on Amazon's site, which is brimming with assessments laced with dark humor. 'You can't spell slaughter without laughter,' one pithy joker wrote."