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New self-driving features are about to make the road safer for terrible drivers

Let the car do the driving for you.
Let the car do the driving for you.
Image: veoneer

Distracted? Tired? Bad at staying in your lane? Just plain out of it? Don’t worry, your car’s got you.

While fully autonomous vehicles might not be here for awhile, new driver assistance systems are so advanced you’ll feel like you’re in a self-driving car. 

What’s coming down the pipeline makes Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system look positively polite and passive. Instead of quiet beeps urging you to put your hands back on the wheel or a light flashing when something’s in your blind spot, these features plan to give control over to the vehicle. 

Chipmaker Nvidia has dubbed these features “Level 2+.” Others call them driver-vehicle interactions or human-machine interactions (HMI). Whatever they’re called, they are coming to our cars — and fast. 

Self-driving features are already in a lot of newer cars. Heck, cruise control is considered part of Level 1 autonomy and has been around for years. Look at cars from BMW: heads-up displays, parking assistance, active cruise control, and more. This isn’t the future, it’s already here.

But the next level of autonomy is essentially Autopilot on steroids. Daimler showed this off at CES with its new trucks that can auto-brake, self-steer, turn on windshield wipers, and gradually bring the car to a complete stop — basically drive without you. But you can’t actually go anywhere. The system will warn you if your hands are off the wheel for too long. 

Those features will be available on its trucks starting in July. 

Nvidia says its advanced system, Drive AutoPilot, will be in cars starting in 2020. Another chipmaker, Qualcomm, unveiled its third-generation Snapdragon automotive cockpit platform at CES.  

The cockpit of the future.

The cockpit of the future.

Image: qualcomm

Nakul Duggal, Qualcomm’s SVP of product management, said in a phone call last month that components from the cockpit should be in cars by the middle of 2021. This includes new abilities like face detection, drowsiness detection, and heads-up display info. 

The car isn’t supposed to be driving itself, he explained, but sharing enough information to make the driver safer and better at driving.

The best example of this shared interaction was at a CES demo with Swedish mobility company Veoneer. On a course full of challenges like construction crews, distracting signs, errant shopping carts, and dark tunnels, we saw how the machine can take over in an instant. 

Here’s a quick clip of the car taking over in a situation that Veoneer calls “collaborative driving” when the driver was detected as distracted:

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The car can steer, brake, accelerate and navigate itself in many situations and Veoneer plans to bring the co-driving ability into cars by 2020.

The scenarios Veoneer is researching could easily come to life with Nuance’s emotional AI detector. From the MIT startup Affectiva, which Nuance acquired last year, the car evaluates your facial expressions and eye movement and then responds accordingly. 

If you repeatedly trigger the drowsiness detector, the car increasingly worries and frets over you, suggesting you pull over. It’ll even find you nearby gas stations and rest stops. Eventually the car could take over and make the executive decision that you can’t keep driving.

In a similar vein, B-Secur’s HeartKey EKG-measuring steering wheel opens the potential to alert the car when your heart rate is dangerously high or low. It even measures your stress levels and can alert you when you’re getting drowsy. It’s still in development but hopes to be in car steering systems in the next few years. Eventually it could be incorporated into a semi-autonomous system that pulls you over, or even calls medical services for you.

Your heart knows how to drive.

Your heart knows how to drive.

Image: sasha lekach / mashable

Other parts of driving lend itself well to the advanced self-driving features coming to cars. Parking or “valet” maneuvers are the perfect place to let the car do the work.

Continental — the German car parts maker — has various systems to give the car more responsibility. A new feature is its self-parking and obstacle detection system. The car isn’t just pulling into a parking spot but making complex turns and avoiding objects in its path. All while you just sit there. Yes, it’s driving at extremely slow speeds, but it’s doing it on its own and safely.

You may be in the driver’s seat, but soon you’ll barely be driving. 

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MSI's Latest Laptops Are Smaller, Sturdier, and Some Even Vibrate

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

When MSI released the GS65 last year, it took a risk. Instead of making something massively powerful like the GT75, MSI swapped out its typical red-and-black color scheme and focused on a thin-and-light to create a more portable, but still fast all-rounder. And as a result, the GS65 became the company’s best selling laptop of 2018. But for 2019, MSI is leaning heavily on a refreshingly old school information source to help improve its systems: feedback from users…and feedback in the laptops themselves.

That’s because as much as I liked the GS65, I had a few issues with the system’s overall build that made it feel slightly less substantial than you’d like on a $1,800 laptop. So on the GS75— the GS65’s new 17-inch sibling—MSI specifically redesigned the new GS75’s keyboard deck to have less flex, while also installing new hinges with increased stability, and cutting down the bezels on the GS75’s full HD 144Hz G-sync screen.

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But that’s not all, because based on customer feedback about the GS65’s touchpad, MSI upgraded to a new module that features a much nicer glazed coating on top, along with significantly more accurate touch recognition. Then, after all that was done, MSI did its usual spec tuning with components that can go up to an 8th-gen Core i9 CPU, Nvidia RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU, and three SSDs.

MSI’s response to feedback isn’t just limited to its gaming machines either. That’s because, for the sort of people who appreciated the company’s blend of specs and design, but aren’t super into the whole gamer aesthetic, MSI created the new PS63.

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Billed as a machine for content creators, MSI’s new mainstream 15-inch laptop is looking to take down big-name competitors like Dell’s XPS 15. MSI even made sure that at 3.5 pounds and 0.62-inches thick, the PS63 is just a tiny bit thinner and lighter than Dell’s top-selling machine while still packing up an Nvidia 1050 graphics card.

Now at this point, some of you may be asking “Don’t all companies listen to feedback?” Well, not exactly. All you have to do is look at Apple to see a company that very rarely responses to granular critique, and instead tries to out think users or possibly look past feedback to see if it’s possible to address a deeper underlying cause. To Apple’s credit, that formula is often successful, though as time goes on, a lot of people might argue that some of Apple’s recent features like butterfly keyboards and Touch Bar are often seen as superfluous extras, or in some cases straight downgrades from their previous iterations. Meanwhile, certain features like the awkward chin-mounted webcams featured on previous XPS 13 models were sore spots for years, with Dell only just now addressing the issue.

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That’s what makes the relative speed with which MSI made these changes noteworthy. It took less than a year and just one generation for MSI to address the biggest shortcomings on its more popular laptop. On top of that, it also shows that MSI is willing, or at least trying to learn about how best to cater to its customers. And now that MSI is venturing outside of the gaming niche it knows so well and into the world of mainstream computing, the company’s ability to make quick, decisive improvements should be extremely valuable. If MSI truly hopes to compete with the biggest laptop makers, it’s going to have to do both: listen to feedback and anticipate new things people might want.

So to help balance the “new feature” side of the equation, MSI is testing out a neat haptic feedback system on the new GE75 Raider that uses a motor installed beneath the left palm rest so you can really feel things like gunshots and explosions. It’s basically the laptop equivalent of controller rumble on consoles, and while I admit it does sound a bit gimmicky, it’s actually a nice way to add some extra spice to FPS titles that I can see expanding to more systems down the road.

The new haptic feedback is a feature I can see making its way to a lot more MSI gaming laptops in the future.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

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Elsewhere, while the GS65 isn’t getting any major hardware changes aside from refreshed components, MSI is testing the use of new built-in Alexa controls that let you do things like turn the monitor on or off or adjust the keyboard backlighting using your voice. Voice integration is something I’m slightly less enthusiastic about as it’s sort of a given nowadays, and thankfully, MSI only has plans to test these new features on the GE75 and GS65 for now, as the company is waiting for feedback before bringing these features to other systems.

Sadly, no specific pricing or release dates for these systems are available just yet. However, MSI says the GS75, PS63, and GE75 should all be available relatively soon, possibly as early as late winter or early spring.

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OrCam’s MyMe uses facial recognition to remember everyone you meet

Meet the Orcam MyMe, a tiny device that you clip on your T-shirt to help you remember faces. The OrCam MyMe features a small smartphone-like camera and a proprietary facial-recognition algorithm so that you can associate names with faces. It can be a useful device at business conferences, or to learn more about how you spend a typical day.

This isn’t OrCam’s first device. The company has been selling the MyEye for a few years. It’s a wearable device for visually impaired people that you clip to your glasses. Thanks to its camera and speaker, you can point your finger at some text and get some audio version of the test near your ear. It can also tell you if there’s somebody familiar in front of you.

OrCam is expanding beyond this market with a mass market product. It features the same technological foundation, but with a different use case. OrCam’s secret sauce is that it can handle face recognition and optical character recognition on a tiny device with a small battery — images are not processed in the cloud.

It’s also important to note that the OrCam MyMe doesn’t record video or audio. When the device detects a face, it creates a signature and tries to match it with existing signatures. While it’s not a spy camera, it still feels a bit awkward when you realize that there’s a camera pointed at you.

When there’s someone in front of you, the device sends a notification to your phone and smart watch. You can then enter the name of this person on your phone so that the next notification shows the name of the person you’re talking with.

If somebody gives you a business card, you can also hold it in front of you. The device then automatically matches the face with the information on the business card.

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After that, you can tag people in different categories. For instance, you can create a tag for family members, another one for colleagues and another one for friends.

The app shows you insightful graphs representing your work-life balance over the past few weeks and months. If you want to quantify everything in your life, this could be an effective way of knowing that you should spend more time with your family for instance.

While the device isn’t available just yet, the company already sold hundreds of early units on Kickstarter. Eventually, OrCam wants to create a community of enthusiasts and figure out new use cases.

I saw the device at CES last week and it’s much smaller than you’d think based on photos. You don’t notice it unless you’re looking for the device. It’s not as intrusive as Google Glass for instance. You can optionally use a magnet if the clip doesn’t work with what you’re wearing.

OrCam expects to ship the MyMe in January 2020 for $399. It’s an impressive little device, but the company also faces one challenge — I’m not sure everyone feels comfortable about always-on facial recognition just yet.

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Skin Care Tech Is Already Having a Big Year

Photo: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)

Las Vegas might not be the first place you think of when it comes to the future of skin care—it’s in the desert after all. But at this year’s CES, skin care tech was at the show in full force.

Some tech we saw was borderline magical. Opté’s spot-erasing wand had us doing double takes as it erased age spots and discoloration in real time before our eyes. Likewise, L’Oreal’s My Skin Track pH impressed with its flexible, but chic sensor prototype that can measure your skin’s pH levels based on your sweat. Olay even convinced us that maybe daily moisturizing regimens should be a thing with a handy AR app that predicts how you’ll look in the future based on your skincare habits.

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But where there is good tech, there is also bad tech. Like the Clartici. It’s a scanner that supposedly measures the health of multiple layers of skin with a complicated metaphor. In the app, your skin health is visualized as layers of soil and described in unhelpful terms. Like, your left cheek area’s “soil color” might be “medium as ginger.” Ultimately, it’s supposed to tell you how best to moisturize with its proprietary lotions and costs a whopping $2,500 retail. (Somehow, it was on sale at CES for just $200. Still.) And while we were fans of Olay’s Future You Simulator and Keurig-esque Moments pod, its FaceNavi Wand sort of fell flat as a massager with a tacked-on AR component. There were also plenty of dubious light therapy and sonic massage wands. These devices are meant to cure everything from acne, blackheads, wrinkles, and reduce under-eye puffiness, but translate to little more than either giving your face a sonic massage or waving multi-colored LED lights in front of your face.

In any case, it’s encouraging to see tech companies try to make viable solutions for everyday problems. Most of these products won’t be coming to market until the end of the year at least, but it’s nice that for once, beauty tech at CES didn’t feel like a total joke.

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