World Tech Update - Windows 10, DARPA's Atlas robot, solar powered airplane

IDG News Service | Jan 21, 2015

Coming up on World Tech Update this week Windows 10 debuts as a free upgrade and HoloLens impresses, DARPA's updated Atlas robot still isn't perfect and a solar powered plane will fly around the globe.

Thanks for joining us here on World Tech Update. I'm Nick Barber. We'll start with Microsoft and its big announcements from its event in Redmond Wednesday. Windows 10 will be offered as a free upgrade to current users of Windows 8.1, Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 7 during its first year of availability. Windows 10 will ship commercially by mid 2015 and will be a consistent product across all computing devices including smartphones, tablets, wearables, TVs, PCs and the Xbox.


Cortana, Microsoft's voice activated digital assistant will come to Windows 10 PCs.


The coolest thing from Microsoft was HoloLens. It's a 3D imaging augmented reality system. The headset will be wireless with its own high-end CPU and GPU. It will also come with a new chip called a holographic processing unit, or HPU for short.

Alex Kipman
The HPU gives us the ability to understand where you’re looking at, to understand your voice.

Microsoft didn’t explain how HoloLens works, but it appears to be cameras projecting images on to pieces of clear glass that give the appearance of a hologram. Microsoft was vague about when HoloLens will come out, only saying it will be available in the Windows 10 timeframe. Microsoft’s entry into the 3D imaging space comes at a time when several companies have tried headset products, but so far none have proved a hit with consumers. Google recently said it would stop selling its first-generation Glass, Oculus remains a niche device and others like Sony are still working on products.

DARPA's new humanoid rescue robot Atlas got some big updates, but even with the changes, the machine has far to go to be useful in disaster zones. Atlas will be used by up to seven teams in the DARPA robotics challenge later this year. The competition is aimed at developing robots that can help humans respond to natural and man-made disasters. Among the upgrades is a variable pressure pump that will help the robot conserve energy and also make it a lot quieter. This bot can also work completely on battery, but for only about an hour. That's far from what would be required to tackle a real-world emergency where there are no means to recharge. The new bot has three computers for processing sensor input for task planning as well as wireless communication abilities. During the challenge it will face communication blackouts of up to one minute and it will need to operate autonomously. Three and a half million will be award to the top three finishers in the challenge.

Staying with robots, a pair of humanoids held their own press conference in Tokyo with almost no help from humans. Kodomoroid and Otonaroid have been working at the Miraikan museum since last year as guides. At their news conference, they introduced even more robots. The small, tabletop droids are named CommU and Sota. They’re designed to be communications robots for the household. The cartoonish Sota runs on an Intel Edison single-board computer and is capable of basic image and voice recognition. It’s scheduled to be released around April for under $850.

A few weeks ago we went hands on with Sony's new Walkman that supports high resolution audio. This week we take a look at Pono. Here's Zach Miners with more.

A plane is set to fly around the world without using a single drop of fuel. In late February or early March Solar Impulse 2 will begin a 5 month trip from the Middle East that will cross two oceans and four continents. From Abu Dhabi in the UAE it will make stops in India, Myanmar and China before crossing the Pacific Ocean through Hawaii. It will make a few stops in the US before crossing the Atlantic on its way home. The route will tally 35,000 kilometers or about 22,000 miles. The plane flies slowly, only about 50-100 kilometers an hour and that's a lot slower than the 800 kilometers an hour a traditional commercial airliner flies. Two pilots will switch off as there's only one seat in the Si2.

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