#1. The Technology News You May Have Missed in May
In this digest, you will learn about new trends in wearables, Volvo self-driving cars, how Facebook’s VR has benefited from the pandemic, and meet Google product managers. We hope you enjoy.
1. Wearables: future Apple smart rings may implement a UWB technology
The tech giant plans to add a smart ring to its wearables lineup which will function as a tiny replica of a smartwatch. Besides featuring NFC communications, a recent patent update implies it might adopt gesture control when the user connects a ring with a particular device by pointing at it. The release date of the smart ring remains unclear though.
It doesn’t require a big stretch of the imagination to suggest that Apple plans to utilize its U1 chip with Ultra-Wind Band technology (UWB) for that. Introduced last September through the iPhone 11 series, the chip helps to identify the precise location of other U1 devices. This way the users can adjust the volume on their Apple HomePod or Apple TV by a gesture.
Another use case is AirTags, tracking tags that can be attached to keys, wallets and other objects. The technology will likely pair up with AR when a user scans the surrounding environment and an air-tagged object pops up on the screen.
This device may be useful if you enjoy Apple’s smart home ecosystem. But we need to wait for some demos, describing use-cases. It may be more convenient, than speech commands, because there is no need to use keywords like “Hey, Siri” etc. Also, gestures will reduce time-to-market for Apple smart devices in non-English speaking countries. But if you just need a device for contactless payments, you can buy one of the batteryless solutions, such as Infineon’s battery-free ring.
Wired: How Apple’s U1 chip could change the iPhone forever
Techquikie YouTube video explaining U1 chips, Air Tags and AR
Wearable: Best smart rings: Put a ring on it in 2020
Apple Insider: Smart gloves with motion and touch detection could control your future Mac
2. VR: Facebook takes another leap
You can’t really wear modern VR headsets all day. Even the best VR headset on the market, Oculus Quest, weighs around 570 grams. According to leaked information, Facebook plans to ease the problem and release a lighter Oculus model by 2021. A new generation device, it will have a faster image refresh rate and other features not yet revealed.
But it’s unlikely that the device will feature eye-tracking as many hope. Mark Zuckerberg once noted this functionality would make the headset bulkier and eat more energy. Since the headset targets the mid-price segment, you wouldn’t expect such a move anyway. HTC Vive with built-in eye-tracking costs $1599 VS $399 for the original Quest model.
By the way, the revenue of Facebook VR headsets in Q1 2020 achieved $297m. One of the boosters was the March release of the most anticipated VR game — Half-Life: Alyx from Valve. While Valve Index was out of stock, Facebook was harvesting gamers’ cash as you can play Alyx with Quest through Oculus Link. Now Valve is collaborating on a new headset with HP and Microsoft — the Reverb G2. Who knows if the game’s fans will decide to switch to a more Half-Life-friendly headset afterward and thus threaten Facebook’s rising VR dominance, 28% of the global VR market share to be exact.
The consumer success of Oculus Quest devices has made a massive contribution to the adoption of VR. Quest made VR truly wearable (without wearable PCs like the HP VR Backpack). The new Quest version will definitely be lighter, more powerful and help Oculus to compete with Sony and HTC. The Oculus Link system was a bold move to gain more popularity. But the industry is still waiting for Microsoft. They are keeping silent about VR support for Xbox consoles. Reverb G2 is just a first step, and we will probably see more solid Microsoft VR products in the next few years (for Xbox Series X or the next generation).
Forbes: Seven Reasons Why Eye-tracking Will Fundamentally Change VR
Engineering: HP Is Working on a New VR Headset with Valve and Microsoft
VentureBeat: VR researchers show string haptic wearable that lets you feel objects
Bloomberg: Apple Acquires Startup NextVR that Broadcasts VR Content
TechCrunch: Why did Apple buy NextVR?
3. Sensors, AI and self-driving cars
Even though we’ve heard the news that self-driving car companies are temporarily pivoting to the delivery of groceries and medicine, mostly for free, self-driving car development goes through hard times. Currently, big automakers are calculating whether they can afford to maintain their ongoing projects and at what expense.
At the end of April, Volvo announced that 1300 white-collar employees in Sweden will be laid off. Yet the company continues to support and fund projects in the electrification and autonomous drive fields.
The Swedish automaker plans to use lidar sensors from Luminar Technologies, the San-Francisco based startup, in its self-driving cars starting from 2022. Luminar diversified its services by developing perception software and its innovations have helped Volvo who largely invested in Luminar to pursue pose estimation — the estimation of pedestrians’ body language and intentions. The prediction of pedestrians’ behavior still remains a major problem for autonomous prediction systems.
VentureBeat: Luminar unveils Hydra, a lidar sensor sold on subscription.
It’s always a great piece of news, when technologies which used to have somewhat limited adoption due to prohibitively high cost (chicken and egg problem, if you will), are becoming more and more affordable. We are yet to see Iris (which is a model for series-production) live performance, but it’s specs do look promising: be it the latest and greatest scanner and receiver modules, camera-like resolution (usually, LIDARS tend to have much lower res, compared to CMOS cameras) or 500m max range. Another interesting fact about Luminar is its “LIDAR as a service” approach, which includes not only hardware but a full-stack solution with OTA-updatable functionality. It doesn’t mean that there’s a winner in the battle between the camera-based computer vision approach VS lidar approach in the automotive field, however, having LIDAR in serial mid-range cars would definitely give a good boost to the whole industry.
4. Meet the new Google Pixel Buds
You probably heard about the recent release of Google Pixel Buds 2! Let’s show you its super enthusiastic introduction from the members of the product team. They are talking about their design and how the earbuds were created.
Headphone design shows us the now-well-known physical embodiment of Google’s material design. It fits quite elegantly into its line of other pebble looking devices, like the 2019 Nest Mini or Nest WiFi Router, a design language that the company has developed over recent years.