Watch Boston Dynamics’ humanoid robot leap up massive steps like it’s nothing

Two years ago, Boston Dynamics’ humanoid robot ATLAS needed a big ol’ safety tether to shuffle its way down a flat hiking trail.

Now it’s casually leaping up and over obstacles that would leave many humans huffing and puffing.

The company demonstrated Atlas’ newly-found hops in a video published this morning:

It starts with a lil’ leap over a log before Atlas bounds its way right up a set of 40 cm (1.3ft) steps.

While just getting a massive, heavy robot to walk on two feet is a feat few companies have cracked, there’s a whole set of new challenges at play here. Getting Atlas’ limbs up and over the step, while appropriately shifting the weight and momentum onto one foot without the whole thing face planting… it’s a complicated set of mechanics. Notice the sideways leaps, and — particularly in the slow motion cut at the 9 second mark — the way the hips/feet seem to angle a bit to compensate.

(For the curious: Atlas weighs around 180 lbs, as of the last time Boston Dynamics disclosed the numbers)

At this point, we’ve gone from “Haha neat look at the funny robot running like a human” to “I’m pretty sure that robot could beat me up.”

Wondering what the company is up to here? We talked with Boston Dynamics’ founder Marc Raibert about the hows and whys a few months back at our robotics event in Berkeley. The video is below:

Banksy piece immediately shreds itself after being sold for $1.25M

In what might be the most ridiculous stunt ever pulled in the art world, a Banksy piece has, in a sense, self-destructed. Right in front of an audience of would-be buyers.

A framed canvas version of Banksy’s Girl with Balloon was set to be auctioned at Sothebys in London. As the auction came to a close with a final bid of £953,829 (a little over $1.25 million), the print’s frame began… beeping. Then, whirring. Seconds later, the canvas slid through the bottom of the frame, now almost entirely shredded.

The anonymous artist has long expressed a dislike of art galleries reselling their works, down to creating a piece featuring an audience of bidders battling over a print that reads, simply, “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit”. This seems to be Banksy’s latest way of expressing their discontent.

Of course, it’s easy to argue that the whole thing makes the piece even more desirable, because, well… art. If people with mountains of cash are buying art to have a ridiculously rare conversation piece that they hope others recognize, this one just rocketed up the list. It’s now that piece. Or technically those pieces, I guess.

Curiously, the canvas didn’t make it all the way through the shredder — did it jam, or was that intentional? By leaving about 1/3 of the print in the frame, the shredded bits are left attached and dangling… thus preventing them from splitting the pile of shreds into 50 more auctions with everyone vying for a slice.

So how did it all work? Writer Zoe Smith shared a video on Twitter this morning that she notes appeared briefly on Banksy’s Instagram before being pulled down (Update: it’s now back up! See below). It shows what looks to be the inside of the frame (which, in hindsight, seems comically large), shredder and all:

Update — here’s the video, as reposted by Banksy:

In the same video, it’s claimed that this was all put in process “a few years ago”. It appears that the “shredder” is a series of X-acto style blades which the canvas was raked over.

Meanwhile, a news post on Artsy suggests that the shred could’ve been triggered by someone in the audience with “a device in his hand”.

But what about power? In a video of the piece being removed post-shreddage, there doesn’t seem to be any wires behind the frame, nor anything plugged in. The piece itself is detailed as having been given to its previous owner by Banksy in 2006. Both the speakers in the frame and the motors of the shredder would require a power source. Keeping a battery ready and waiting for 12 years seems… unlikely.

The Sotheby’s listing for the piece notes that it was “Authenticated by Pest Control”. Pest Control is Banksy’s “handling service”, which will go out to verify supposed Banksy pieces to try to make sure no one drops a pile of cash on a one-of-a-kind Borksy. Perhaps part of the verification process involved double checking everything within the frame.

Some folks on Twitter, meanwhile, theorize that the original print could still be hidden within the frame, with what emerged having been shredded and rolled up in the frame long ago. That video Banksy posted showing the blades within the frame makes that seem unlikely… but could it be pranks all the way down?

Banksy posted a too-perfect still of the shred in process, with the caption “Going, going, gone…”

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Going, going, gone…

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(Top image left via Sothebys; Top image right via Banksy on Instagram)

Tesla cars are getting a big update today, but one feature got held back

After a few months of hype, version 9.0 of the software that runs on Teslas is rolling out starting today.

There’s a bit of a catch, though: one of the bigger expected features — one that would let Tesla’s autopilot handle passing cars and automatically make highway interchanges — is being delayed for now.

So what’s new?

  • Newer Teslas (those built after August 2017) can now use the built-in forward-facing cameras as a Dash cam. If you need to save some footage of what’s going on in front of your car, a new dash cam icon will save the last 10 minutes of footage.
  • There’s a new UI on the center display across all of the vehicles, cleaning things up while making the user experience a good bit more consistent between the Model S/X and the 3.
  • The Model 3’s center display is getting a web browser (something the Model S and X have had for a while, but the 3 has been missing), along with a calendar and real-time energy-monitoring tool.
  • Turn-by-turn now shows more information (particularly about your next steps), and you can tell the car whether or not you’re currently allowed to use the carpool lane and it’ll factor that into its routing.
  • Autopilot will now disable full-speed acceleration when you’re at low speeds when there’s something in front of the car. If you’re parking in a parking garage, for example, Autopilot will try to stop you from rocketing into the wall if you mix up the accelerator/brake or mistakenly think you’re in reverse.
  • You can now push a navigation destination to the car via the Tesla mobile app, saving you the effort of punching it in once you’re in the driver’s seat.
  • Those Atari games Elon Musk said they’d sneak in as Easter eggs? They’re apparently in there now — “if you can find them.”
  • A new 360º visualization, built by tapping all eight external cameras into one big-meshed image, shows a bird’s-eye view of your car and vehicles around you.

Musk had previously said to expect Navigate on Autopilot to go live in this build, greatly improving Autopilot’s abilities on freeways. You’ll still have to keep your hands on the wheel, but it’ll suggest lane changes, handle freeway interchanges and take freeway exits for you.

So why the delay? It’s not quite ready yet, says Musk:

With today’s rollout, Navigate on Autopilot will be running in “Shadow Mode.” In other words, all of the new logic and calculations will be running silently in the background, but Autopilot won’t actually be utilizing it — it’s just crunching the numbers and double checking that everything Navigate on Autopilot would do is safe.

Given that just means it’ll (hopefully) be that much safer when it does go live, I’m all for it. When we’re talking about a 5,000+ pound metal box cruising itself around at 70+ MPH, shipping early and crossing your fingers isn’t an option.

Jon Favreau’s new Star Wars streaming series will be called “The Mandalorian”

We’ve known for a few months now that Jon Favreau was working on a live-action Star Wars series for Disney’s upcoming (but as of yet unnamed) streaming service. But that’s about all we knew.

Until now! Favreau just dropped a few huge details out of nowhere.

In a surprise Instagram post, Favreau mentioned:

  • It’s at least tentatively called “The Mandalorian”. For the unfamiliar, Mandalorians are a group of warriors in the Star Wars universe. The most famous Mandalorians are Jango and Boba Fett, though Favreau notes that this series will focus on “another warrior.”
  • It’ll take place “after the fall of the Empire” but before the First Order shows up; in other words, after Return of the Jedi but before Force Awakens.

Alas, that’s it for now. No word on casting, or new characters, or even any concept art to be seen. Will the new series tap much of the existing universe, or will it intentionally be set far enough away so as to be mostly self contained? This new warrior — are they a bounty hunter, the gig their fellow Mandalorians are best known for? Will it finally answer, once and for all, whether Boba Fett survived the sarlacc pit in Disney’s hacked-and-slashed version of the canon? We’ll have to wait to find out.

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Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime is stepping down

Blizzard — the company behind massive game titles like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Hearthstone — is getting new leadership.

After 27 years, Blizzard President Mike Morhaime is stepping down from the company he co-founded back in 1991 (back when it was known as Silicon and Synapse.)

J. Allen Brack, previously Senior Vice President and Executive Producer on WoW, will now lead the company. Brack has been with Blizzard since 2006.

In a letter about the transition, Brack also mentions that Blizzard co-founder (and the original lead designer of WoW) Allen Adham will be joining the company’s executive team to “oversee development of several new games.” Adham left Blizzard in 2004 shortly before WoW went live, which he later called his “biggest mistake.”

Morhaime doesn’t say much about his reason for departure, besides that he’s “decided it’s time for someone else to lead Blizzard Entertainment.” He’ll stay on with the company as a strategic advisor.

There’s a secret text adventure game hidden inside Google — here’s how to play it

Google loves a good Easter egg. There are dozens upon dozens of different eggs hidden across Google’s product portfolio, from using Google Search to flip a coin to exploring the Doctor’s TARDIS in Google Maps.

Think you’ve seen them all? A seemingly new egg has just been discovered: a playable text adventure game, hidden right within Google Search.

Here’s how to play it:

  1. Open Google.com in Chrome. (It might work in other browsers, but it was a bit glitchy when I tried it elsewhere.)
  2. Search for “text adventure” without the quotes.
  3. Open the JavaScript developer console by pushing Command+Option+J on a Mac, or Ctrl+Shift+J on Windows.
  4. You should see a prompt asking if you “Would like to play a game?” Type yes and push enter, and the game will start!

From here, you’ll be playing as the “big blue G” of the Google logo, searching for your fellow alphabetical pals one command at a time. Don’t expect to dump days into this one — it’s no Zork. But for a lil’ gag that managed to stay hidden for who-knows-how-long within one of the world’s most trafficked websites, it’s pretty neat.

(Shout out to redditor attempt_number_1 for being the first to spot this.)

LEGO built a life size, drivable Bugatti from over a million Technic pieces

In what just might be the wildest thing anyone has ever built with Lego, the company behind the bricks has built a full-size, driveable model of the Bugatti Chiron supercar.

Seriously.

Built partly as a passion project amongst Lego’s creative team and partly as a promo to show off at the Italian Grand Prix, the model’s final piece count clocks in at over one million Technic pieces.

(Technic, for the unfamiliar, is Lego’s line of interconnecting rods, gears, axles, motors, and other parts a bit more complex than the bricks and blocks the company is best known for.)

Lego says that all in all, the build process took just shy of 13,500 hours. They started brainstorming back in June of last year, with actual construction beginning in March of 2018.

When LEGO first sent over the video above, my first thought was that there was some CG trickery going on. They responded with a few hundred photos of it being assembled, some of which I’ve embedded below.

[gallery ids="1701418,1701415,1701414,1701417,1701416,1701412,1701413"]

To be clear, it’s not entirely Lego – there are some components that just can’t be replicated in plastic when dealing with something that all together weighs over 1.5 tons. For example, there’s a steel frame (pictured below), a pair of batteries, some 3d printed gears, and the whole thing sits on top of actual Bugatti wheels. (Related fun fact: Lego is technically the world’s biggest producer of tires. Just… you know, tiny ones.)

Wilder yet, this thing moves. It’s not going to keep up with an actual Chiron with its 250+ mph top speeds, obviously – but the company says it got the model up to around 13 miles per hour for the video above, and says that it theoretically tops out at around 19 miles per hour. Not bad for a car made out of toy parts and powered by a bunch of plastic motors.

Speaking of which, this thing has over two thousand Lego Power Function motors in a massive array, giving it a total theoretical horsepower of 5.3. 24 motor “packs”, each made up of 96 individual Lego motors, hook into a steel chain that drives the wheels.

It’s got a bunch of other fun tricks for good measure:

  • A detachable steering wheel
  • Doors that actually open and close
  • A spoiler that lifts and lowers at the push of a button, with a control panel to toggle all the lights and electronics
  • A functional speedometer, also built out of Technic pieces

Is it silly? Perhaps. Is it kind of amazing? Absolutely. Alas, for anyone thinking of doing something like this without the practically-unlimited Lego armory this team has access to: at a retail price of around $30 each, the motors alone would cost you over $70,000.

Lego will be showing the model off in person at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.

Pokémon GO is getting a big new ‘Special Research’ quest next week

Just a few months back, Niantic added its first “Special Research” to Pokémon GO. Sort of like an in-game quest, the research had players complete a series of tasks (often over a number of days) to unlock an otherwise unobtainable Pokémon.

Now they’re back with another one.

The company will be adding a second Special Research quest to the game on August 20th. Whereas the last set unlocked Mew from the first generation of Pokémon games, this one brings out Gen II’s Celebi.

This technically isn’t the first time Celebi has appeared in GO — attendees of GO Fest back in July got an early crack at a Special Research quest specifically tailored to the event, with the final reward being the opportunity to catch Celebi a solid month before anyone else.

Though a bummer to anyone who couldn’t make it to Chicago, it was a fitting way to debut Celebi. Celebi has almost always been an “event” Pokemon in the original series, meaning you had to do something special to encounter one. Depending on the game, sometimes that meant going to a physical, real-world event; sometimes it just meant having the right pre-order disc.

Those who already did the GO Fest research will also be able to do this public run of the Special Research, earning a bit more candy for the Celebi they’ve already caught.

And if you haven’t finished the first (Mew) Special Research yet? That’s okay — they can run in parallel.

These Special Research quests are a clever way for Niantic to keep things interesting. It turns the process of catching one particularly worthwhile Pokémon from something that might take 10 seconds into something that might spread into hours or days (depending on how intense you get about it). I just wish there were more of them, even if they were only for big lumps of XP. Though it’s smart for Niantic to keep them rare and special, these multi-stage tasks are a bit more rewarding than the one-off quick tasks you get anytime you spin a Pokéstop.

Patrick Stewart is returning to the role of Jean-Luc Picard for a new Star Trek series

Did you ever think Patrick Stewart would return to the role of Jean-Luc Picard? Neither did he.

But he will! Sir Pat Stew himself just announced the news on Instagram, timed to line up with an on-stage announcement at the Star Trek Las Vegas 2018 convention:

I will always be very proud to have been a part of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but when we wrapped that final movie in the spring of 2002, I truly felt my time with Star Trek had run its natural course. It is, therefore, an unexpected but delightful surprise to find myself excited and invigorated to be returning to Jean-Luc Picard and to explore new dimensions within him. Seeking out new life for him, when I thought that life was over.

During these past years, it has been humbling to hear stories about how The Next Generation brought people comfort, saw them through difficult periods in their lives or how the example of Jean-Luc inspired so many to follow in his footsteps, pursuing science, exploration and leadership. I feel I’m ready to return to him for the same reason – to research and experience what comforting and reforming light he might shine on these often very dark times. I look forward to working with our brilliant creative team as we endeavor to bring a fresh, unexpected and pertinent story to life once more.

The official account for the new (but separate) Star Trek Discovery series sheds light on a few more details: the story will focus on the “next chapter” of Picard’s life (after Next Generation, presumably), and will be made available on CBS’ online subscription/original content service, CBS All Access.

Stewart shared a few more details at the Las Vegas convention, noting that it was still early days and they’re still working out what it’ll all look like:

He may not… be a captain anymore. He may not be the Jean-Luc that you recognize and know so well. It may be a very different individual; someone who has been changed by his experiences. Twenty years will have passed — more or less exactly the time between the last movie (Nemesis) and today.

We have no scripts, as yet. We’re just talking, talking, talking storylines.

It will be, I promise, I guarantee, something very, very different. But it will come to you with the same passion, and determination, and love of the material, and love of our followers and fans… exactly as we had it before.

Alas, just about everything else about the show is still a mystery for now, presumably because it’s not all totally finalized yet. Name? Unknown. How many episodes? Who knows!

Maybe what the world needs right now is some Star Trek. Not the flashy, snappy JJ Abrams Trek — just good ol’ Picard out there getting his Prime Directive on.

Here’s Patrick Stewart’s surprise Star Trek convention visit in full, as uploaded by Jaime Bastidas (the announcement comes in at 9:20):

Tesla is building its own AI chips for self-driving cars

“We’ve been in semi-stealth mode on this basically for the last 2-3 years,” said Elon Musk on an earnings call today. “I think it’s probably time to let the cat out of the bag…”

The cat in question: the Tesla computer. Otherwise known as “Hardware 3”, it’s a Tesla-built piece of hardware meant to be swapped into the Model S, X, and 3 to do all the number crunching required to advance those cars’ self-driving capabilities.

Tesla has thus far relied on Nvidia’s Drive platform. So why switch now?

By building things in-house, Tesla say it’s able to focus on its own needs for the sake of efficiency.

“We had the benefit […] of knowing what our neural networks look like, and what they’ll look like in the future,” said Pete Bannon, director of the Hardware 3 project. Bannon also noted that the hardware upgrade should start rolling out next year.

“The key,” adds Elon “is to be able to run the neural network at a fundamental, bare metal level. You have to do these calculations in the circuit itself, not in some sort of emulation mode, which is how a GPU or CPU would operate. You want to do a massive amount of [calculations] with the memory right there.”

The final outcome, according to Elon, is pretty dramatic: he says that whereas Tesla’s computer vision software running on Nvidia’s hardware was handling about 200 frames per second, its specialized chip is able to do crunch out 2000 frames per second “with full redundancy and failover”.

Plus, as AI analyst James Wang points out, it gives Tesla more control over its own future:

By having its own silicone, Tesla can build for its own needs at its own pace. If they suddenly recognize something the hardware is lacking, they’re not waiting on someone else to build it. It’s by no means a trivial task — but if they can pull it off without breaking the bank (and Elon says it costs them “the same as the current hardware”), it could end up being a significant strength.

As for how they’ll get the chips into existing Teslas, Elon says: “We made it easy to switch out the computer, and that’s all that needs to be done. You take out one computer, and plug in the next. All the connectors are compatible.”