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Coming to a Dashboard in Front of You – Spending a week with the tech in Toyota’s RAV 4 | Digital PULP

What an amazing time we live in right now. Car companies are looking to tech-people like myself for input on products. Awesome stuff.

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Toyota  

Toyota  

As a tech journalist I have had the privilege over the last few years to get access to various products, in a long list of different categories and tell the creators, along with the general public what I thought of those products. Sometimes the products were tremendous, other times the products were horrendous, and sometimes, I just can’t decide one way or another. 

The required Entune app running on a Nexus 4. In back you can see Pandora running on the RAV4’s Entune system. The app acts as a gateway, providing the data the Entune apps need.

The required Entune app running on a Nexus 4. In back you can see Pandora running on the RAV4’s Entune system. The app acts as a gateway, providing the data the Entune apps need.

Up until recently, getting a car as a review product was merely a dream; something I hoped I would one day achieve. But there’s a huge issue with this goal — I’m not a gear head. Heck, I couldn’t even change my own oil. Horrible, I know. I’m a tech head. Technology and the way it impacts our day-to-day life is what I am passionate about. (I am willing to trade troubleshooting your iPhone or Android device for an oil change, but I’ll save that for a different article). 

Well, as the saying goes, dreams do come true and Toyota reached out to me a few weeks back asking if I wanted to learn more about the technology built into its current product offering. (As a side note: what an amazing time we live in right now. Car companies are looking to tech-people like myself for input on products. Awesome stuff.) 

I didn’t hesitate, and asked to learn more about Toyota’s technology, and was offered a 2013 RAV4 to be my instructor. I spent right at a week with the RAV4, loaded with a touch-screen and Toyota’s Entune technology built into the dash. 

For those unfamiliar, the Entune system gives the vehicle’s owner to access to a total of five different apps, and five data services directly from the console of the car. Wait, did I just say a car has… apps? I did. I told you, we live in an amazing time right now. 

With Entune you’ll have access to Pandora, iHeartRadio, OpenTable, Bing, and MovieTickets. The data services include fuel prices, stocks, sports, traffic and weather. 

On top of the above listed apps and services, the model of RAV4 I test drove came with a built-in turn-by-turn voice guided navigation system, for those times when you get lost.

The RAV4’s steering wheel comes with controls to activate voice commands, as well as control music playback, regardless of the source.

The RAV4’s steering wheel comes with controls to activate voice commands, as well as control music playback, regardless of the source.

As with any apps you install on your smartphone, or home computer, there needs to be some sort of Internet connection for them to stay up to date and be used. The same applies to Entune, but instead of having to bring a data connection (be it cellular or otherwise) into the car, your smartphone is required for the connection.  

You’ll need to pair your Android or iOS device with your car using the built-in Bluetooth settings (the process is simple, with the entire time to pair a device taking less than two-minutes). Once paired, you can answer phone calls, place phone calls or stream music from your device through your car’s audio system. All of which are pretty standard features for most newer cars, so I’ll spare you from covering these features in depth.  

A free app is available for download from the Play Store or App Store, depending on your platform. The Entune app will need to be up and running on your device in order for the data connection to be present between your phone and car. 

Another benefit of pairing your device to your car is that it will provide Internet to the Entune apps and services, through the Entune app. For an iPhone, you’ll need to be sure to use a USB cable for full Internet connection through Entune, while Android users can use just the Bluetooth connection to provide a connection between the apps and services with the Internet. 

A closer image of the in-dash navigation system, complete with Entune technology in the RAV4.

A closer image of the in-dash navigation system, complete with Entune technology in the RAV4.

With relying on your smartphones data connection, Entune also falls victim to the limitations placed by carriers on data plans. If you’re on a tiered data plan, or a shared data plan with fellow family members, you’re going to have to monitor your usage closely. 

The good news is, during the week I was driving and testing the RAV4, with most of my data usage coming in the form of Pandora Radio, I used less than 40 MB of data (according to the data usage section of my Nexus 4). With the average data plan for an individual account starting with a 2 GB allotment, 40 MB of data per week isn’t worrisome in the least. 

Bing search, iHeartRadio, OpenTable and MovieTickets all provide common services you’ll need when traveling. You can make dinner reservations through OpenTable at popular local restaurants (except in Pueblo, where there are zero locations participating), or find a theater, movie times and purchase tickets using the MovieTickets app. Of course, Bing is a bit limited with Entune, only providing access to venues and points of interest, and not the vast knowledge available on the Internet. But Bing will be useful if you want to search for a type of restaurant, or a local business and place a call. 

The data services provide you with quick information at a glance. Traffic reports, stock updates, gas prices, weather and sports are all topics most people want to keep up on, especially when on the road. Instead of looking down to your smartphone, you’re able to look at a larger display in your dash. 

What I’m still trying to wrap my head around with apps in the car is — are they really necessary? I mean, we already carry smartphones, capable of using the same apps, and completing the same tasks. One could argue the apps built into the car making using them while driving safer; and I agree with the argument. A bigger touchscreen provides for bigger touch targets, which means your eyes stay on the road longer. 

You can access each app by selecting it from the list if entries within the “Apps” directory.

You can access each app by selecting it from the list if entries within the “Apps” directory.

But, in the end, if my smartphone is still required to run the apps in a car, and I can connect my phone via a 3.5mm plug or Bluetooth to achieve the same results, am I going to spend the extra money on a vehicle (which can be viewed as a rather expensive accessory for your smartphone at that point) just to have bigger touch targets? I’m not sure. 

Two years ago, when I first saw a demo of using the data service on your smartphone to bring apps and services into a a car, not only did it make sense, but it was during a time when unlimited data was the norm. Now, it still makes sense, but managing and worrying about data caps in a car isn’t something most people will want to mess with. 

I would love to see a solution where data service is included in the car, and included in the price of the car. No extra monthly fees, no smartphone required. Get in the car, turn it on and you have Internet. 

I feel Entune (actually, this applies to apps within any car, no matter the manufacturer) is a work in progress; a way of introducing services and technology typically reserved for the palm of your hand or on your desktop to the masses. Once the general public begins to accept this type of tech in a car, and car manufacturers learn how the technology is ultimately used, it can be expanded and built upon, to make it a convenient and cost affordable solution.

Right now, it feels like a product in its infancy, and while I have my personal reservations, I can’t wait to see what future updates (yes, the Entune setup can be improved and updated through software updates, without requiring you to purchase a new car when new tech is released) bring to the dash of cars around us. 

Exciting times we live in.

Jason Cipriani | @mrcippy

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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Arts & Culture

Mecheagle v. Rising Sun Robot

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USA Versus Japan

For American robotics company MegaBots and Japanese company Suidobashi it’s battle time. Punches will probably be thrown.   

In 2012, Suidobashi developed a giant robot called the Kuratas, which stands over 13 feet high and weighs just under 10,000 pounds. It can be manned by one person, and features a full heads-up display and an advanced targeting system, or can even be controlled remotely. Costing a bit over $1.35 million, the Kuratas was first revealed three years ago with no opposition in its field, making it the first ever robot of its kind.

Fast forward three years.

Only the most American of ideas conceivable would happen. MegaBots decided they would build their own giant robot, and challenge Suidobashi to a battle that was, until now, only a spark of imagination in our minds. The challenge went viral after being posted to YouTube and was soon seen by Suidobashi.

“We just finished tightening the bolts on the Mk. II, America’s first fully-functional, giant piloted robot,” the makers said in the video. “And because we’re American, we’ve added really big guns.”

After throwing in some details about the features of their robot, as well as details regarding the Kuratas, the team members did the inevitable.

“Suidobashi, we have a giant robot, you have a giant robot… You know what needs to happen,” after which the challenge was offered. America’s MegaBots picked a fight.

In Suidobashi’s response video, Kogoro Kurata, the company’s CEO, replied with several mocking retorts, such as “Come on guys, make it cooler. Just building something huge and sticking guns on it. It’s… Super American.”

Kurata goes on to say: “We can’t let another country win this. Giant robots are Japanese culture.”

The video ends with a message telling MegaBots to arrange the duel, and that Suidobashi will be there. But in order for it to be a real duel, the robots need to have some form of malee combat. The battle is expected to take place sometime in the summer or fall or 2016.

Now, while this may sound like an aggressively playful jab between giant robot companies, many predictions have begun circulating around regarding just what, exactly, this means for the future of giant fighting robots.

Until now, the only field in which robotic technology has received major attention has been in the medical field, which almost creates a comedic tone of irony. Medical robotics have been designed and intended to help people who are in the hospital, and now these two companies are in an arms race to design robots that could easily hospitalize people, in what has become one of the biggest public relations events in the history of robotic technology, especially considering how well-accepted and spread around it has been by social media.

MegaBots speculations suggest giant robots fighting could become the next huge worldwide sport, which, much like UFC or WWE, would be filled with an enthusiastic sense of danger and excitement, minus the actual injury of humans.

Giant robots would also have different limitations than what humans can, causing the style of the fights to be vastly different from traditional fighting-related sports. Robots can fire projectiles from their arms, withstand explosions, be loaded up with a wide array of equipment, and can be reassembled after being destroyed – or, at least, another one can be made to look like the first.

Much like Kurata said in Suidobashi’s response video, the fascination with giant robots fighting one another originated in Japanese culture, most noticeably in manga and anime. One of the most famous of all being the Gundam series, which is easily recognizable by anime fans worldwide for its giant robots (more commonly referred to as ‘mechs’) that fight each other with a mixture of sword fights and gun battles.

Some anime fans may remember a show from year back called IGPX, or, “Immortal Grand Prix” where giant mechs would race along long and convoluted tracks to a finish line, while fighting against an opposing team that would try and get there first.

Looking at the current models for the Mk. II and the Kuratas, both robots have armor, wheels and weaponry, meaning that to see them fighting and racing is, by no means, out of the questions. It goes without saying that, even if their dispute is only aimed at the purpose of entertainment, MegaBots and Suidobashi may be making history as the pioneers of what could be the next biggest sports in world history.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

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Watching people game: Twitch TV

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At first glance the name Twitch.tv comes across as more confusing than intuitive.  Something in the realm of a drug side effect than a popular video site. Honestly could you guess that everyday on average 4 million viewers watch over 2 hours of content from it? Content being basically live streams of someone else playing a video game? That’s more viewers per week than Breaking Bad, Preseason NFL, and tosh.0 combined. It’s pretty astonishing if you ask me.

In just a few years the live video streaming service has gone from an interesting niche idea to clogging the internet like a boss. It joins Netflix, Apple, and Google in peak internet traffic claiming 1.8% just above Hulu at 1.7%. There’s also the business aspect of streaming which isn’t just for the hobbyist. Professional streamer Jeffrey Shih told Forbes that the best streamers can bring home upwards of $100,000 on their streams alone. That’s some serious cash for just “sitting around playing games”.

What’s also serious is how Twtich.tv started. Twitch was origionally called Justin.tv and started as the personal site where Justin Kan would lifecast to the world. Lifecasting involved streaming events over the internet usually point of view style. It meant wearing head mounted cameras giving the viewer a very personal and entertaining experience. This concept transitioned over into Twtich.tv by allowing anyone with the right hardware to stream live gameplay over the interent. This last February Justin.tv was dropped in favor of building Twitch 100% and pushing it into the mainstream.

So when your internet speeds start to dip in the evenings after everyone gets home you’ll might be able to blame live streaming.

Strangely enough though this service isn’t exactly on the western radar yet being adopted more quickly by the European and Asian countries. It wasn’t until about six months ago when Google pondered the idea of buying Twitch that it started to really get noticed. Plot twist however Amazon just snagged it for a cool $970 million to add to it’s ever growing portfolio of world domination. It seems as if gaming as a spectator sport is coming to fruition and quickly thanks to huge investments of cash from the tech giant. If they are printing that kind of money you can bet they have a plan for the future, and hopefully it benefits all gamers whether professional, hobbyist, viewer or streamer.

The best streamers can bring home upwards of $100,000 on their streams alone.

The numbers are there and the cash is flowing in, but the biggest question most ask is “why should I care”?

Why indeed. The idea of watching someone else’s game seems pointless. With today’s hardware being so affordable and customizable why on earth would you waste your time watching someone else? Shouldn’t you be playing yourself?

Interestingly enough this is where Twitch really shines. It’s not just about the content but also the micro communities. Built in chat, custom emoticons, giveaways, and other channel specific benefits give viewers a reason to come back daily. That and the content is always new, even if it’s just picking up from the save game the day before.

Steamers can have real time interaction with just a handful of viewers up to hundreds of thousands. The audience can interact and change what they are watching by just commenting. Giving a community aspect above and beyond traditional television or other video sites like YouTube. Gamers have even quit their full-time jobs where they try to make it off revenue from YouTube and Twitch

Over the next few years, with the help of eSports and gaming colleges, you will probably see the entire gaming sector sky rocket. Gaming talk shows, professional tournaments, and overall quality of content is growing by leaps and bounds every month.

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Twitch much like Vine, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networks doesn’t make sense to outsiders. However gaming, like every other social medium thrives off personal interaction and just moved to the digital realm. Watching others play games may sound boring, but when you think about it, isn’t that was we did as kids? In our parent’s basement watching our friend make an incredible run on Sonic the Hedgehog. All that’s really changed is now your couch can seat thousands of friends from all around the world.

It’s a good time to be a gamer.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

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The $299 NVIDIA Shield Tablet: not just for Gamers

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You can think of the Shield Tablet as a technological utility knife. Not one of those cheap chinese knock offs you’d get at a flea market, but something from the future with lasers and maybe a chainsaw option. Something that would make Dr. Who or maybe even Tony Stark envious. Alright maybe not quite that awesome but it’s still pretty sweet. All jokes aside it’s able to run high end mobile games, stream PC games, connect to your HDTV, watch movies, listen to music, browse the internet, stream to Twitch.tv, make video calls, take notes, draw works of art, hack your neighbors WiFi, post social updates, and more… much much more.

All of these features are thanks to the great specs inside. Now I’m going to have to get nerdy for a bit so brace yourselves (feel free to glaze over this part if specs aren’t your thing). It has 2GB of system memory, 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, a microSD slot supporting up to 128GB, mini HDMI out for console mode supporting up to 4K, an 8in full 1080p HD display (275ppi), a 3.5mm headphone jack, a 5-megapixel front camera and 5-megapixel rear camera, a built in stylus for drawing and note taking, built in 802.11n 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi, a quadcore 2.2GHz ARM A15 CPU, and of course the main feature of the tablet the 192 core Kepler GPU. Not bad for only being 9.2mm thick and 390 grams.

“If some of that went over your head it’s ok, just imagine something along the lines of an overclocked PS3 flattened to a pancake and shoved under an 8in screen.”

“Our three-person startup has grown to 8,000 staff across 40-plus sites.” – Nvidia Blog

Now before I get into the main details of the tablet let me explain a bit about Nvidia as a company itself. Over the last 20+ years they have influenced our daily lives by: continually evolving the GPU, helping Holywood make awesome movies, powering the world’s fastest supercomputers, creating proprietary console GPUs, powering smart gadgets and vehicles, and even helping save lives through GPU based medical advancements. I’d venture a guess that everyone in the last year alone has watched at least one movie or played a game that was powered by Nvidia tech. At it’s core Nvidia is a gaming company though, and no matter how many ventures they expand into gaming will always be a primary focus for them. Hence the move to making an Android based gaming tablet. Nvidia wanted something to upset the balance of mobile gaming and show that console quality games can be played on the go.

Android Gaming: This is where the tablet really shines. I loaded up some of the newest mobile games like: Modern Combat 5, Asphalt 8, Trine 2, Rochard, Dead Trigger 2, Defenders, Bounty Arms, Half-Life 2, Portal, Deus Ex: The Fall, and Dungeon Defenders just to name a few. Needless to say everything ran great. Fast fluid framerates, faster than normal load times, and the ability to run everything on max settings makes for a great experience. Touch screen games look and play awesome on the 8in screen. However the tablets best experience can be had through it’s library of controller supported games.

Shield Controller: This truly is a game changer for the mobile market. The controller feels good in the hands and sports some neat extras like android navigation buttons, a touch pad, volume rocker, built-in microphone, rechargeable battery, and 3.5mm jack for a headset. The analog sticks and D-Pad are what you would expect from a gaming controller and leagues ahead of any bluetooth options on the market. The addition of native android buttons are a nice touch and help more than you would think. The touchpad is a neat option allowing you to navigate non-controller supported screens more easily. The built in microphone is great for giving voice commands or recording over gameplay while streaming. Lastly the headset port on the top allows you to plug in a headset and not only hear all the audio from the tablet but stream voice back if you prefer a higher quality mic than the built in one. It will cost you an extra $60 so it’s not for everyone, but I recommend it if you want the full gaming experience. It’s money well spent, and I’m debating on buying more for multiplayer games.

Gamestream: This is actually a really neat feature that most will probably never use. Basically you can stream your PC games to the Shield Tablet anywhere you have a fast/stable connection. It requires a GTX600 or higher equipped PC and that can cost you almost as much as the tablet itself if not more. If you meet the requirements it’s a great add-on and being able to access your library of games from anywhere is a lot of fun.

GRID: Simply put this is like having a gaming PC in the cloud. Nvidia setup a huge server cluster in California that streams a select library of PC games to your device. It’s still a beta feature currently so it’s free for every tablet user but is limited to only the games they have loaded. From my tests it runs great and almost better than local Gamestreaming even though I’m in Colorado. There’s not a roadmap for the GRID service but I’d like to see them add support for Steam so I can load up my games and saves. I’d gladly pay $10-15/month to have my own personal gaming rig in the cloud. Paired with 4G LTE this could be a game changer but right now it’s just a neat feature to try.

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Shadowplay: This is Nvidia’s fancy name for local recording. You can record anything you do on your tablet and stream it straight to Twitch.tv or save it for editing later. I’ve been putting this to the test by recording lots of gameplay videos which you can view on my youtube gaming channel. It has multiple options for quality that goes all the way up to 1080p. Thats right you can record 1080p games right on the tablet. If you’re into adding your voice and face while you play you can do that too. The interface is simple and quickly accessible from the controller or settings dropdown.

Direct Stylus 2: You read that right this tablet is sporting v2 of the direct stylus tech! Although it’s ok if you didn’t know there was a v1. Basically Nvidia managed to tack on a sensitive and low latency stylus thanks to the power of the Tegra GPU. The built in apps like Dabbler really show off the power of it, but you can use your favorite apps that you would say on a Galaxy Note 3. It works well for taking notes and drawing but isn’t going to replace your Wacom or pen and paper anytime soon.

Pros:

  • Fast…. really fast. Currently unmatched in the mobile realm.
  • It’s a full featured tablet running stock android.
  • HD Screen! Slightly larger than 1080p.
  • Plays every game thrown at it and has K1 exclusives.
  • Can stream full PC games from GTX enabled machines.
  • Comes with a stylus for drawing and note taking.
  • Doesn’t cost an arm and a leg like most of Nvidias new tech.
  • Console grade low latency wireless controller (supports up to 4).
  • Micro SD storage expansion up to 128GB.
  • Built in mini HDMI out for a true console experience.
  • Twitch.tv streaming right from the tablet.

Cons:

  • “Squishy” (hard to use) power and volume buttons.
  • Controller must be purchased separately.
  • Can’t turn on/off tablet from the controller while sitting on the couch (might be fixed through software)
  • Desktop class GPU means lower than average battery life when running high end games.
  • Swiss army knife of tablets (might be too many options for normal consumers)
  • Bugs… too many options means lots of bugs.
  • Quite a few of the first batches have heating defects.
  • Below average WiFi range (this is a bummer).
  • It doesn’t have a “lower case I” or an apple on it.

All in all I’m extremely happy with this tablet. After just a few weeks of daily use I still reach for this over any other device. If you consider yourself a gamer this is an obvious purchase and if not for $299 what are you going to find that’s better?

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

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