Pixel Press. Draw and play your own game

The players just need to draw on paper what they want and the software automatically transforms the sketches in levels for a video game. That’s the principle at the very base of Pixel Press, a new application for which Roundthird, a software house from Missouri, is demanding 100.000$ on Kickstarter to bring to life.

Pixel Press can be possible thanks to OCR system, using the camera of the phone or the tablet to digitalize the sketches which must be drawn on a downloadable premade grind. After having taken the picture, the map, the traps and obstacles are immediately transposed inside the video game.The gameplay is simple: the virtual character must climb five floors inside a room in order to reach the exit and win the level.The users can test the levels and furtherly personalise them modyfing the skin. Once created the users can share them in order to get an evaluation and improvement suggestions from other players.

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The author of Pixel Press, Robin Rath, says that he has been inspired by the video games of his enfantry like Super Mario or Metroid and it’s easy to see these references in Pixel Press. At the moment it is just a prototype. Rath and his developpement team launched a campaign on Kickstarter in order to rise the money for perfectioning the OCR system and finalize the game.

I personally believe that this application is not just a nostalgic tool for people born in the 80s but also a perfect way to stimulate creativity on kids whom are exposed to more and more complicated games. Having the possibility to manage the movements and to draw a level helps everyone to really understand from a young age logics that normally are reserved to programmers.

So, if the project if fully endorsed and the 100k gathered, future player could find it in the appstore (and, if they reach 350k, in Google play) at Q4 of this year.

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Diff display helps you to optimize your attention

Diff display is a research project which helps the user to focus on the screen (or part of) on which he is actually paying attention. This program, using a eye-tracking software, responds to user’s inattention reducing clutters and highlighting the information his eyes are processing.

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Diff Display is inspired by the spreading of multiscreen displays at workstations and the need of attention on the modern multitasking environments. Since it’s harder and harder to wholly concentrate on data and graphs while writing and thinking, a group of researchers at the University of St.Andrews thought about creating a software which could facilitate and speed everyone’s work.

These researchers implemented four different subtle visualisations techniques which are clearly explained in the downloadable research paper: Freezeframe, PixMap, WindowMap and Aura.

The first one, Freezeframe hides visual changes on the unused part of the display until the user’s visual focus shifts towards that part.This is the simpliest technique. When the user switches the focus on one screen or another, the unattended display freezes and switches to black and white. Then, when the users attends the previous screen, the b&w frozen frame dissolves.

The second and third techniques use a temporal heatmap visualisation showing the user the changes occurred in the screen while the attention was focused on the other screen. In the PixMap technique, a difference in pixel values of the last captured frames is computed and the changes are visible on the attended display. In WindowMap the changes are not visible at the pixel level but at the application-window one.

Finally the Aura technique shows the last changes on the unattended display. Firstly Aura darkens the first display, then it captures the last frames of the unattended display which are enhanced and the changes are visualised as a thin rectangle around each visible window one the unattended display.

This type of program could be used for specialized workers that needs to maintain focus and awareness of many things at once (the researchers suggest air-traffic controllers and financial analysts). But that’s not all. It can be useful also for people who have a couple of displays at work in order to  not strain the sight and not to get the user’s eyes tired after an entire day of data processing.

I’m actively waiting for this program to be integrated in all the operative systems. At the moment, we can all download and set our own Diff Display clicking here. Enjoy the increased attention.

Couch Cachet helps you to fake your social life

We all know that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and, especially, Foursquare exist for showing the other how cool your life is. What’s more, your earn badges showing it. And what’s more frustating than knowing that our life is as cool as our friends’ one?

But there is a solution to FOMO? I present you Couchcachet! Fear Of Missing Out is one the worst enemies and state-of-mind of everyone. Living in Paris I noticed that most of the peope use Foursquare not for gaming purposes but just for showing off how cool they appear checking in fashion places and restaurant of the Ville Lumiere. But there is a big problem in Paris: life is frustrating, expensive (especially cool places) and the most of the times we just don’t have time to go out. Couch Cachet is what lazy asses (like me sometimes) need in a big city.

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Exploiting the Mashery API, this application hacks the social networks discovering good and trending spots near your position and check you in. In order to make everything more realistic, it shares instagrams pictures and tweets concerning these cool activities.

The interesting point is that you can choose the kind of activity selecting your target and your social life. This app is at the embrional state and has a clear joking purpose but, I believe is one of the funniest and most interesting foursquare apps. And maybe it will partially resolve the FOMO problem. Maybe…

uBiome. Crowdsourcing science

For $79 uBiome will tell you the flora and fauna composition within your body. This company is looking, thanks to a crowsourcing campaign on IndieGogo, at the the human microbiome, so the bacteria that lives within us. Studying the bacteria let us analyze our allergies, our strenght against antibiotics, dietary composition, obesity and..bacterial vaginosis (if you are a man they will discover if you are active carrier).

But why they should crowdsource the study on the sequencing of the human microbiome instead of relying on public or private fundings?  In the launch press release, Jessica Richman, uBiome CEO and vice-President, says that her company believes that biological information will follow the same evolution as internet did. Citizens,  thanks to health companies allowing the widespread of informations and machineries, will be empowered to explore their own genes at home and will be more and more conscious of the possibilities of the science and of what they could do alone.

The concept of citizen science is really interesting also from a statistical point of view. In fact the more poeple join the community, the more statistically powerful and relevant will be the project. If everyone  sends their microbiome data, uBiome will dispose of many data which will be used to answer questions and investigate about illness and diseases.

At the moment the pledge has been extremly successfull (the company reached $270k, $170k more than the pledged chifer). Will other companies follow uBiome and start to crowdfund their studies and projects or will this innovative company be the only one in following this path? Just time will tell us. For the moment, let’s have a check about our microbiome.

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Mars One. Colonize Mars thanks to a reality show

Some months ago the dutch engineer Bas Lansdorp announced the creation of Mars One, a project that plans to launch six groups of people (at the moment they announced that the crews will be composed by 4 people each). These groups will land every two years in order to be the first colonizers of the red planet. Suicide or vangardist mission? Just the time will tell us.

This project, opposed by the national space agencies will cost $6 billions (just 2 and a half times more than the Curiosity Rover project) and will be sponsored by a reality show which will permit the funding and the formation of the astronauts.

NASA, some years ago, planned a round-trip around Mars with the possibility to return to the Green Planet. Instead, Mars One offers a one-way-ticket to Mars. Yes, that’s it. The selected astronauts will stay permanently in the Red Planet without any possibility to go back to their mother planet. This possibility opens the possibility to study how the human mind reacts to the idea of never going back home (so the possibility to know if they’ll kill everyone and then suicide themselves or if they will be able to have a social behaviour that contradicts every other sociological study). Some scientists explains that this journey is comparable to Cristoforo Colombo’s one (the original name of the venetian whom discovered the Americas, after the Vikings) but I totally disagree. I believe that the Spanish or Portugueses that left for the American continent were moved from the desire to discover gold and silver with the recondite hope to go back to their households rich and wealthy. At the contrary, the crew travelling to Mars won’t come back and their just reason to leave eath is the discovery and the exploration of a new planet (with the future possibility to take possession of the entire planet and to divide the territories in feuds with martial slaves. Booyaka!).

The mission is structured in 4 steps. In 2016 they will launch supplies and a communication satellite. Then, in 2018, after the satellite scouts for a suitable site, settlements components will be launched. The further step will be the cast of additional supplies and two rovers which will prepare the settlement for the landing of the first human in 2023 (the fourth and “final” step).

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But how Mars One will be able to pay for all this. There are two ways for financing the mission. Firstly they will get financements from corporate sponsorships but the big news is that they will organize a Big Brother-like reality show in order to select the astronauts. This reality show will have two main puroposes. The first one, clear at everyon’s eyes is to obtain funding. The second one will be to test the future voyagers to a life under the cameras (yes, they will be guinea pigs in socialogical terms). This mission will be a space Edtv organized in a way that won’t allow the protagonists to leave the main stage.

The expectations are big and the endorsers are science-starts (the theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Gerard ‘t Hooft is extremely enthusiast about it). The big question is:  will this dream become reality and the people able to create a real facility like the one created by Paul Verhoven in Total Recall or Mars One will result a complete failure in which the astronauts will abandon their rationality leaving the place to desesperation and madness?

Asteroid Mining. Sci-fi or Reality?

In these days I noticed that this infographic regarding asteroid mining was buzzing in every website and, completely ignorant on the argument, I decided to gather data. What I found out is that this business has a huge potential in terms of revenues and technological improvements.

Firstly, why is it so interesting in terms of business? Asteroids, classified  in three types (Carbonaceous, Silaceous, Metallic), contain a huge quantity of resources, including precious and rare metals such as platinum, gold, iron and silver. There are more than 10.000 asteroids travelling in orbits close to the Earth. What’s more, being much smaller than the moon, they have a much lower gravitational force and the resources are much more concentrated.

Then, which asteroids can be “easily” exploited? The majority of the asteroids can be found between Mars and Jupiter in a particular zone called Asteroid Belt. They are sized from 600m to 1000 km in diameter, so if we put together all the known asteroids together, their mass is less than the 5% of the moon. But they are not all eligible for the exploitation. Thanks to the gravitational influence of Jupiter some of them have orbits which allow them to pass close to the Earth and are called Near Earth Asteroids. These are the ones that we need to hive off.

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But this project won’t admit any fail and will be carried on in three main stages. The first one is the creation and the launch of the “Arkid Series 100” mostly knows as “Leo Space Telescope”. It has to be launched within 2 years and will determine the position of minable asteroids. Leo, thanks to spectroscopy and radar technologies will be used to define the chemical composition, metal concentration, position and orbit of the asteroids. The second stage will be the creation of an interceptor called Arkid Series 200 and a prospector called Arkid Series 300. These satellite will analyse asteroids closer and provide high-resolution data in the most efficient way. The final stage will be carried on by governmental and private companies which will create asteoid mining droid (the technology to build these droids doesn’t exist but, considering the evolution of space technologies, they will probably be developed if the business model is considered remunerative).

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If we look back in history, we can easily notice that the human kind always looked far for resources (considering the evolution of transportations). This new challenge, carried on by the company Planetary Resources Inc. is just another step in this quest and, within some years, it will be considered as important as solar energy for the developpement of humanity.

MEV. The space-cleaner droids.

When communication satellites or other orbiting spacecrafts run out of fuel, their destiny is marked. They are either de-orbited to destruct in the atmosphere, or they are positioned in a parking orbits, or, the worst fate, they are left in the outer space as dangerous space junk. The most of the times, they are still functioning.

This means a huge loss for the companies which sent them in orbit and the need for a real solution to this waste represents a huge commercial opportunity. For this reason Vivisat, a young spacecraft company, in partnership with ATK (an historical company that built solid rocket motors for NASA), is building a droid that will serve as repair droid and orbital gas station for vehicles which need to be fixed or refueled.

This droid will be called MEV (Mission Extension Vehicle) and, as the name suggests, its job will be to dock with commercial satelites to extend their life spawn. Its support could extend the operativity of the vehicles up to 10 years with an average of 3 to 5 years. With future improvements, the droid could also reposition spacecraft in new orbits.

I actually believe that this system is extremely forward-thinking and economically sustainable. Not only it permits to create a new space business which will bring future improvements but also help out resolving the problem of space debris (including all the rocket stages and the dead satellites which risk to collide with working ones). Furthermore, It will allow the deployment of more funds in research (not thinking about commercial satellites) and an important improvement in the space industry.

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The company hasn’t announced yet the launch of its fleet (initially composed of 2 MEV, with other 8 planned in the further future) but the chief operating office Brian McGuirk, during SATCON 2012 Satellite & Content Delivery Conference & Expo, said that they are having a lot of conversations with potential customers.

We just wait and see if this business will work, hoping that it will also start a more important conversation about space junk and a motivation to create vehicles with long lasting lives.