On Sept. 5 in the U.S., Nissan Motor Co. will pull the cover off the 2018 Leaf, its first production vehicle that will steer and stop by itself—at least every once in a while.
This week, Nissan loaded its version of this hot tech onto some of its SUVs and brought them to New York for a test drive, the perfect place to put a new phase of autonomous technology through its paces. Driving in Manhattan requires a modicum of Zen, something most New Yorkers don’t have—at least not when they’re in a car. Anything to help commuters tune out a little, to tick up the chill a few notches, is helpful for everyone traveling along the city’s congested arteries. That’s precisely what Nissan’s new system, dubbed ProPilot Assist, is supposed to do.
When activated by the push of a button and the setting of cruise-control speed, it keeps the car in the center of a lane, steering through corners. At the same time, it maintains a safe distance to the vehicle ahead and will brake all the way to a stop, the default state of most Big Apple drives. It even resumes driving without a prompt, provided that the automobile has only been still for less than three seconds. “Basically, we’re focused on fatigue reduction,” explained Andy Christensen, senior manager of Nissan’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Research.
This suite of robot pilots is not, Christensen insisted, a self-driving system. The steering wheel senses feedback (not touch); if there isn’t evidence of any physical tug, ProPilot escalates a series of warnings, including audio chimes and brake checks. Eventually, the vehicle will turn on its hazard lights and come to a stop midlane. Given that humans are now able to land space-scraping rockets back on the ground as if they were lawn darts, the new Leaf isn’t exactly vanguard stuff. Plenty of vehicles on the market do what Nissan’s new system offers—if you can afford them, that is. The Leaf, however, is intended to fill the autonomous-capabilities gap that exists for machines that cost less than $40,000 or so. What Nissan’s driving robots deliver is a passable impression of a Mercedes-Benz (or an Audi, Tesla, or Volvo).
“Passable,” though, is the key word: Nissan’s package isn’t infallible. For one thing, it requires clear lane markers on each side to steer properly. On our 40-minute jaunt from Midtown Manhattan to its northern peak, painted lines were sporadic and the system often simply shut off, signaling its snooze with a chime. Meanwhile, it’s designed to steer only up to a certain level of aggressiveness (the parameters set by forces of gravity). Coming into a series of twists a little bit hot, the robots couldn’t keep us centered, even though the car was still plenty capable. “We’re trying to make it accessible and attainable.”
The problem is that the sensors and cameras that allow for a more seamless autonomous drive tend to be expensive, and thus remain squarely in the realm of luxury cars. Nissan’s ProPilot uses just one camera to read the lane margins and one radar unit to measure distance to the vehicle in front. “We’re trying to make it accessible and attainable,” said Brittany Tessmer, senior engineer on the project.
In the gray area between analog driving and full autonomy, Nissan’s new system represents a very light shade, which to me is the biggest drawback for it and all the other systems like it. It’s only a mild iteration beyond adaptive cruise control, which comes standard on 25 percent of current vehicles, and lane departure warnings, which are available in one-third, according to Edmunds.com.
When the driver is alert, the nanny steering and braking can be annoying, particularly if one likes to drift toward the inside of sweeping highway curves. If the driver isn’t alert, it’s even more grating. To be sure, that needling is necessary, but I’ve found myself wondering more than once: Is this an autonomous step too small to be worth taking? Why not just wait to roll out something more fully cooked?
“There are always going to be people who just want to get in and wake up in their driveway,” Tessmer said of the desire for full autonomy. “Until the technology gets there, they don’t want it.” What the ProPilot seems suited for, most directly, is the smartphone. With one hand on the wheel, a driver can easily toggle through emails or watch Fast & Furious flicks. The system may not be self-driving, but in that case the driver certainly won’t be, either.
Oculus Rift S VR Headset With Higher-Resolution Display and Built-In Tracking Announced
Oculus VR has launched its next-generation Rift virtual reality headset. The new Oculus Rift S features an inside-out tracking which eliminates the need for any external sensors. The Rift S also offers a higher-resolution screen compared to its predecessor. Oculus has announced that the Rift S head-mounted display will ship this Spring at a price of $399 (roughly Rs. 27,300). The company hasn’t revealed an exact launch date yet.
Oculus says it has collaborated with electronics giant Lenovo to develop the Oculus Rift S. The Rift S isn’t quite a major upgrade over the previous headset but aims to offer a higher quality VR experience and better ergonomics.
The Oculus Rift S and its predecessor still share the same core platform, which means users can access VR content created for either of the headsets. Oculus has also maintained the same PC requirements for the new Rift S as the original Rift.
Oculus will also enable cross-buy and cross-play features, enabling users to upgrade their hardware and still have their library accessible as it is.
Oculus Rift S virtual reality headset features a new high-resolution display with improved Fresnel lenses. The display panel offers a resolution of 2560×1440 (1280×1440 per eye) with a refresh rate of 80Hz. For audio, the Rift S includes a headphone jack and near-ear speakers.
The Rift S comes with an inside-out tracking system called Oculus Insight, confirming previous reports. This removes the need to have external cameras for a full-body movement. Oculus Insight will also be included in the company’s upcoming Quest virtual reality headset.
Oculus is also bringing a new feature called Passthrough Plus to the Rift S platform. The feature will enable users to view real-world surroundings as they set up their virtual reality space using the Oculus Guardian tool. Users will be able to switch between the Home Launcher and a real-world feed of their surroundings quickly, thanks to the new inside-out tracking system.
Due to the collaboration, the Oculus Rift S will feature both Oculus and Lenovo branding. It will also ship with a new halo strap. While the company hasn’t specified an exact release date yet, Oculus could launch the Rift S along with the Quest during Facebook’s F8 developer conference which is scheduled for April 30 this year.
Google Stadia Game Streaming Platform, Stadia Controller Announced
At GDC 2019, Google announced Stadia, its game streaming platform. Stadia will work across devices from smartphones, tablets, TVs, laptops, and PCs via Chrome. It integrates YouTube as well, allowing developers to add a Play button to game video on YouTube and lets users immediately play the game on Chrome. Stadia will leverage Google’s data centres that are present in 200 plus countries and territories. Google’s Phil Harrison took to stage to show off Assassin’s Creed Odyssey working across a Chromebook, Pixel 3, and TV via Chromecast in a seamless fashion. Furthermore, you can use your own controllers or keyboard and mouse on Stadia on your PC or laptop.
In addition to this, Google revealed the Stadia controller. It links to data centres directly via WiFi. It features two new buttons — a Capture button that allows players to share to friends, themselves or the world via YouTube. There’s also a Google Assistant button to assist players in-game.
Stadia’s architecture has been built on Google’s data centre tech which also powers its search results. It’s been infused with gaming-focussed hardware to keep up with the task of streaming heavy games. Powering the data centres is the Stadia GPU from AMD which is at 10.7 teraflops. This is nearly double of what the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro has, making it possible to play games like Doom Eternal running at 4K 60fps in HDR on Stadia.
The company claims that it has been testing Stadia’s tech internally for years and plans to allow for 4K 60fps gameplay with HDR in surround sound when it’s available for all. Eventually Stadia will also scale up to 8K too. Users will also be given the option to share Stadia gameplay footage to YouTube at 4K 60fps as well. Developers can create multiple points of purchase and play for games on Stadia through Gmail, YouTube, and search, going as far as to let players click a link on a game trailer and get right into a game. YouTubers could use it to send custom challenges to their fans and players can even create and share their own links to let others get in a game at the exact location they’re in.
However Stadia won’t be restricted to single-player games. Google confirmed that multiplayer games will be supported as well. These would include battle royale and couch-based co-op experiences.
And in a refreshing move, Harrison confirmed that Stadia will support cross-platform play as well. A concrete release date and price point hasn’t been confirmed yet and we don’t know what Internet connection would be needed for it, though Harrison said Stadia will launch in the US, UK, Canada, and Europe later this year.
Nubia Red Magic 3 will be powered by Snapdragon 855 processor, confirms company
Nubia has apparently started working on its third iteration of its gaming smartphone, dubbed Nubia Red Magic 3. Nubia’s general manager, Ni Fei, has made a post on Weibo confirming six key features of the upcoming Nubia Red Magic 3.
To recall, Nubia recently launched its Red Magic in India at Rs 29,999 and is yet to launch its successor, the Nubia Red Magic Mars in India. Currently, only a handful of smartphone manufacturers like Asus, Black Shark and Razer offer consumers dedicated gaming smartphones.
In the Weibo post, Ni Fei confirmed that the device will be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor paired with an Adreno 640 GPU. It will come with 12GB of RAM and will have a comparatively higher display refresh rate than most gaming PCs.
The device will come packing a 3,800mAh non-removable battery with support for fast charging. It will also come with a liquid and air dual cooling system paired with a new 4D shock vibration motor and DTS 7.1 3D Surround Sound for a better gaming experience.
According to a recent report, the company will soon be launching its Red Magic Mars in India to compete with brands like OnePlus and Asus ROG, followed by its recently announced Nubia Alpha foldable smartphone. The report also mentioned that both the devices will be priced between Rs 40,000 to Rs 30,000.
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