DARPA wants your crazy robot pitches

DARPA is known for its amazing tech and scary robots. But it knows that somewhere out there, others are thinking of sweet automatons to help the Department of Defense. To that end, it has teamed up with Open Source Robotics Foundation for the Robotics Fast Track (RFT) program to give people outside the government the chance to pitch their robot idea. While it’s happy to accept pitches about land and air devices, what it’s really interested in is space and maritime hardware. According to DARPA program manager Mark Micire, building for both those environments is incredibly difficult. So, if you have a sweet submarine that can track other objects underwater without cracking under extreme pressure, you might want hit them up.

Micire noted that unlike other government proposal projects, the RFT folks will actually have a dialog with submitters to help guide them through the process. It will also tell you if your device has been passed over and way so you can tweak it or start again without wondering if you’re going down the wrong road. “You can even scribble something on the back of a napkin to see if it’s something that has a probability of getting through” Micire told a group of robot builders. If you have a napkin, or something a bit more thought out, you can check out the proposal guidelines and submit it on the Open Source Foundation’s site. If selected, a contract will be set up and funding will be given to bring the hardware to life.


Congress approves space mining, minus regulation

NASA's depiction of a spacecraft visiting an asteroid

American companies now have the all-clear to pursue their dreams of mining in space. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, a measure that lets US companies own any non-organic resources they harvest from asteroids and other space objects. This doesn’t give them sovereignty, but it does let them return to Earth without worrying that officials will confiscate their goods.

Not that any private space outfit will face much oversight if and when the President signs the bill into law, since the core of the Act shields commercial space companies from regulation for the next 8 years. This theoretically gives fledgling businesses like Blue Origin and SpaceX both more room to grow and more opportunities to attract those investors who’d be put off by red tape.

The soon-to-be-law might will be encouraging to businesses worried that they’ll be crushed by government restrictions, but it also raises questions. How does the US reconcile its space mining policies with those of other countries, especially those who’ve already called dibs on a space object? Are we looking at a rehash of the colonial days, when nations were in a mad rush to grab whatever they could? And is the anti-regulation approach wise given both the rash of recent accidents and the impending wave ofmanned private space capsules? While the Act will definitely pay off if it helps the US advance past the days of NASA-only space travel, it carries the real risk of creating political or technical chaos.

[Image credit: NASA]

First Trailer: “Now You See Me 2”

First Trailer: "Now You See Me 2"

Several years ago Summit’s modestly budgeted, magician-themed heist thriller “Now You See Me” surprised everyone with the film going on to gross $351 million worldwide. With the studio hungry for more franchises as their “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” cash cows meet their maker, it comes as little surprise that a follow-up was quickly greenlit.

Isla Fisher is out this time but pretty much everyone else – Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Dave Franco – are back and are joined by Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Radcliffe in new roles. Set a year after the events of the first film, The Four Horsemen now face off against a new adversary and become involved in an even bigger heist.

Jon M. Chu replaces Louis Letterier as director on the film which will open June 10th.

“Star Wars: Battlefront” Gets Sequels

"Star Wars: Battlefront" Gets SequelsIn perhaps the least surprising game news of the year, EA has announced plans to make more games in the “Star Wars: Battlefront” series according to Gamespot.

EA CFO Blake Jorgensen revealed the news at the UBS Global Technology Conference this week and spoke further about plans to make more “Star Wars” games across multiple platforms while their ten year publisher licensing deal with Disney remains in effect:

Our goal is to make future Battlefront games as well as other style games around the Star Wars franchise, both on mobile as well as console and PC. It’s a huge opportunity for us. We get access to all of the historical content as well as all the new content developed. The beauty of the Star Wars franchise is it’s almost unlimited in what you can do with it.”

He adds that EA does not intend to make games directly related to the upcoming movies, rather games set in that same universe.

The news comes as the game, one of the most anticipated of the Fall, proved a a bit of a dud with reviewers – earning a fairly ‘average’ score of 74/100 on Metacritic. That puts it behind pretty much ever other major release of the season like “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” (93/100), “Destiny: The Taken King” (90/100), “Fallout 4” (87/100), “Rise of the Tomb Raider (86/100), “Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection” (86/100), “Halo 5: Guardians” (84/100), “Call of Duty: Black Ops III” (81/100), “Until Dawn” (79/100) and “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate” (76/100). In fact it’s only really ahead of “Mad Max” (69/100) and “Need for Speed” (69/100).

The games visuals and style have been highly praised, but the gameplay, lack of maps and heroes, and lack of a single player campaign have been heavily criticised. Comparisons to “Titanfall” and “The Order 1886” have been frequent – hyped and good looking games that are just too thin in terms of content.

EA has announced that the game’s Season Pass will include four new playable hero characters, four new game modes and sixteen additional multiplayer maps which will be released in four separate expansion packs starting early next year.

The company has estimated it plans to rack up sales of around 13 million copies of the game by March.

Poster: Sit On The Lap Of “Deadpool”

Like that dime store Santa or an overly friendly uncle, Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool character would make anyone a little nervous about sitting on his lap. Nevertheless that’s what the Merc with a Mouth is asking you to do in the latest one-sheet for Fox and Marvel’s R-rated and darkly comedic superhero film which you can see below. “Deadpool” itself opens February 12th.

The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Surviving A Tech Bubble

There’s a general sense in Silicon Valley that many unicorn companies will not live up to their billion dollar status. According to Morrison & Foerster, more than half of the highly valued startups will still be private in 2016, while 7 percent of those will fail. According to bubble spotter Vikram Mansharamani, the Salesforce Tower and other skyscraper construction sites in San Francisco are indicative that we are in a bubble.

What is really happening and should entrepreneurs be worried in this environment? On a recent Ventured podcast, I spoke with KPCB general partner Randy Komisar about whether or not there’s a tech bubble and the consequences of raising too much capital. Below is a summary of our conversation.

In A Cycle, Not A Bubble

We’re in a cycle — I don’t believe in the questions about the bubble. I think cycles come and get a little overheated. It’s more like a deflation: How much air comes out of the balloon versus the balloon actually popping?

While the market is never in equilibrium, the public and private markets have different variables driving their valuations. Once companies go public, there is a change in how people value them. Pre-IPO, they are judged by their potential and then post, they are judged by their performance. Unfortunately, the performance of those companies don’t always back up their valuations. Today, public markets are demanding sustainable business models before allowing companies to go public, while in the past companies often went public without the need to prove their model out. What’s happening today will not affect Main street the way the market correction in 2000 did, but many venture capitalists will fall short of the returns they are accustomed to.

Billion Dollar Startups: The Math And The Madness

Nearly 150 private companies are valued at $1 billion dollars or more. However, only a few of the companies went public at a price greater than $1 billion dollars. At this rate, investors won’t make money. Many investors that put in money in later rounds aren’t the typical Sand Hill Road venture capitalists, but are large hedge funds and private equity investors who have a bigger appetite for risk. With these larger financing rounds, entrepreneurs have more time to run companies with losing financials.

The Problem With Raising Too Much Capital

The unicorn is more like an albatross. Entrepreneurs have to live up to the valuation and ultimately raising too much money can limit their business opportunity. While the entrepreneur may have raised money and minimized dilution, the large valuation makes it even harder to become a public company or become acquired. Acquirers, especially public companies, must behave rationally.

It’s a red flag when entrepreneurs delay launching their product or are not hitting revenue goals, but boast about their hiring growth. It is satisfying when companies reach cash flow neutral. The end game has to be creating real value in the business.

Never Use Debt To Run Operations

When entrepreneurs can’t pay back debt, the debt holders have rights and can control their company. Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking taking on debt is cheaper than equity and that it prevents more dilution. But operations should be run from equity holdings or, better yet, from revenue generated from the business.

The Secret Is To Save Money When You Have Money

Here is a budgeting secret: Assume that the money raised today is all the money that will be needed to build a business that will scale (even in times when capital isn’t available). It’s good to drill a sense of fiscal discipline and challenge assumptions about spending on aspects such as sales, marketing, and engineers.

Peters On “X-Men: Apocalypse” Quicksilver Scene

Peters On "X-Men: Apocalypse" Quicksilver SceneOne of the reasons Evan Peters’ Quicksilver was such a scene stealer in “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” is that the character didn’t overstay his welcome. Limited in screentime, the role mostly revolved around the key sequence in which his character helped break a young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of a holding cell in the basement of the Pentagon.

When Peters was confirmed to return for the upcoming “X-Men: Apocalypse,” we knew his role would be expanded for the next film. By how much was the question, and in a new interview with Collider he reveals that his part once again includes a key sequence – albeit one both larger in scale and ambition:

“Yeah, Quicksilver does his thing again, in the new film. It’s bigger, longer and more detailed. I think it’s an amazing sequence that they’ve put together. Just filming it, I was like, ‘Oh, my god!’ I think we shot for 22 days of second unit, working on the sequence, which is amazing.

It’s so cool to take that much time to make something like that really pop and really work. Knock on wood, I think it’s going to be a fun and enjoyable sequence for people to watch, with Quicksilver running around and doing his thing in slow-mo time. I hope people like it.”

Quicksilver is also expected to score a deeper character arc in the new film as he searches for his father. “X-Men: Apocalypse” hits cinemas May 27th.

Brickyard VFX Expands Boston Studio with New Digs

BOSTON, MABrickyard VFX Boston has moved into a new 8,000-square foot studio near downtown Boston in the Leather District. The new home is in a 100-year old factory that was stripped to the studs and retrofitted with Brickyard’s collection of vintage doors, furniture, walls, windows, and floors, including an 1890s carved oak bar and glass studded sidewalk from an old industrial neighborhood in Fitchburg, Mass. Brickyard was founded in 1999, and this marks the company’s third location, moving from its previous Newbury Street home.

The space houses seven Flame bays, multiple CG workstations, a four-wall edit room, expanded production offices, and a screening room to facilitate virtual grading sessions with Company 3 colorists in Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta. Each of the new Flame bays also has stations for assistants, giving them exposure to clients aligning with Brickyard’s model of growing talent from within. The new secure server room boasts advanced technology infrastructure and an eco-friendly cooling system that coexist seamlessly with Brickyard’s highly curated vintage aesthetic.

“We finally have the elbow room we always wanted,” said Executive Producer Kirsten Andersen. “We love the neighborhood, it’s right on the edge of downtown and most of our Boston-based clients are within walking distance!”

“We loved this building and were able to restore the old character, from the paint and exposed brick to the original factory floors and beams. We designed the layout of this new space from scratch, custom tailored to meet the needs of our artists, staff and clients, and to accommodate some of our crazy vintage pieces as well. Every single nut and bolt and antique door was moved over from our prior space, with many fantastic new additions to boot,” said Brickyard VFX co-founder, Dave Waller.

Source: Brickyard VFX

Virtual Reality Is Coming and It Will Change The World In 2016

Person testing virtual reality
Photo credit: Flickr

Ever wanted to visit Tokyo? How about the moon? Still too close? What about Mars? Pilot an F-15, ride on roller coasters that literally defy the law of gravity, or watch movies on a 300 foot screen. With new virtual reality (VR) technology, all of these experiences will soon become possibilities. And while virtual reality has previously been somewhat of a pipe dream still reserved to video-game developers and members of some R&D departments, 2016 will be the year when virtual reality actually becomes a reality for the average consumer. If virtual reality takes off, everything, from gaming to video entertainment to commerce, will change.

An Overnight Success 10 years In The Making

Virtual reality has been an idea in developers and people’s minds for a while. I mean, who hasn’t fantasized at least once about diving into a completely new world by “jumping into” your TV screen and becoming a part of your movie or video game’s world? Well, with VR you won’t quite be diving into the TV screen, but rather strapping it onto your head, or kind of: VR hardware mostly works through a headset and accompanying earphones and hand controllers. However, what this technology will be able to do is to is to completely submerge you in the world shown on its screen.

Now, some forms of the technology already exist. Google Cardboard, for example, is literally a cardboard cutout that folds into a headset and uses your cellphone as a screen.

Photo credit: Flickr

It’s compatible with most Android phones, and Google is encouraging developers to release apps using the technology. Google 360 allows viewers to have a VR experience of Google Maps, and a good number of VR video games, like Insurgent VR and Zombie Shooter VR are already on the market. In a somewhat controversial move, New York Times subscribers in the US recently received a Google Cardboard cutout with their Sunday paper, as well as directions to watch a 3D VR video through the NYT website, announcing that the future of journalism will likely also involve VR. But Google Cardboard is just the beginning.

Photo credit: Flickr

There’s at least three VR devices in the making that are due to come out in 2016, and whose VR experience promises to run laps around anything you can achieve with your phone and a cardboard cutout.

2016: The Year Of Virtual Reality

The Facebook-owned venture, Oculus Rift, probably represents the most anticipated device for VR enthusiasts. After much speculation and waiting, Facebook finally announced this summer that the X-Box-compatible headset will come out during the first quarter of 2016.

Photo credit: Flickr (Older version of Oculus Rift shown)

Oculus Rift will come with a pair of integrated headphones designed to maximize the VR experience, and it will come with an X-Box controller, although Oculus is also designing its own handset to be fully integrated with the technology. Oculus has also announced a partnership with Microsoft, and the two companies promise that streaming and gaming will be seamlessly available on the Rift through an X-Box or Windows 10 platform. Many think both console and PC gaming will be revolutionized by the technology.


But X-Box will not be the only gaming platform offering VR in the near future. Sony is developing its own VR headset, formerly known only as Project Morpheus, and recently revealed under the name PS VR. The headset will be compatible with Play Station, and is also due to be released in the first half of 2016. With high definition graphics, ultra-sensitive motion detectors, and integrated sound systems, the technology will likely also usher in its own set of dedicated 3D VR games.

Photo credit: Flickr

A third VR headset due to come out really soon is HTC’s Vive. According to some sources, HTC Vive may come out as early as this December, although it will probably won’t be widely available until early 2016. Built with a gyrosensor and accelerometer, the HTC-Vibe differs from the Oculus Rift in that it uses laser sensors to track your motion instead of a camera on the headset. It also will come with its own wireless hand controllers.

Photo credit: Flickr

Challenges Ahead

Although VR will inevitably face some challenges next year, not least of which is its high projected price, the fact is that important changes are coming for VR. With three high-power headsets developed by leaders in the industry coming to the market early next year, there is sure to be a boom of new dedicated applications, from gaming to 3D movies. And who’s to say that only entertainment will be reached by the virtual reality revolution?

Photo credit: Flickr

The possible applications are truly diverse: As alternate universes become available inside the world of a VR headset, the travel industry may be profoundly changed, offering voyages to distant parts of the world by just downloading an application – you’ll be there much faster than if you take a 20 hour flight to New Delhi, say. And the best part of it all is that there’s no jet-lag. In a completely different field, NPR has reported how nuclear scientists use virtual reality technology to train for emergency scenarios that would be difficult or impossible to reproduce otherwise.

The future is here

To give just one more example, real estate developers might soon be using VR technology to make tours easier and more efficient. As the technology improves, so too will its applications. Uses of VR are endless and easy to imagine: education in virtual environments, defense training, engineering virtual factories, healthcare, communications, you name it. All that’s really missing is for the technology to be widely available, and that’s just around the corner.

Luxion Releases KeyShot 6

Advanced rendering and lighting technology developer Luxion, maker of KeyShot, the first real-time ray tracing and global illumination application, has announced the release of KeyShot 6. KeyShot 6 introduces powerful new features and faster workflow capabilities in the most groundbreaking 3D rendering and animation solution.

KeyShot 6 refines the rendering workflow with reduced complexity and advanced features for ease in creating the highest quality visuals. Additionally, KeyShot 6 is now optimized for interior renderings, including complex interiors with indirect lighting, with an all new material graph that allows complex material creation, including roughness mapping for weathered materials and material animation.

With the widest support for the most popular 3D file formats and expanding software integration, designers, engineers, marketing specialists and 3D artists rely on KeyShot to fit seamlessly into their workflow, reduce setup and rendering times, and allow deeper focus on creating amazing visuals. Luxion’s focus on speed, accuracy and simplicity in KeyShot 6 deliver time-saving enhancements in existing KeyShot functionality and news tools to provide greater material control, optimized lighting and more camera options to KeyShot users across all industries around the world.

“With KeyShot 6, we have raised the bar on the image quality that modern rendering tools can provide. The new interior lighting mode and the material graph combine the fastest, full global illumination solution with a powerful material creation too,” said Claus Wann Jensen, Co-founder and CEO, Luxion. “We have worked closely with KeyShot users to ensure this is our best release of KeyShot yet, and we are comfortable saying that this is the most efficient tool available for all your rendering needs.”

“For anyone who overlooked KeyShot thinking it’s only for quick visual renderings, they will want to look again,” adds Tim Feher, Auto Industry CG Lead. “With Keyshot 6, Luxion not only shows how fast rendering can be, they make a home at the top of the list for best rendering solution.”

Designer Martin Spencer-Ford commented, “KeyShot 6 is coming of age with this release. The all new Material Graph allows you to create complex materials. You can also apply materials or textures to labels for a new level of realism. It does it all quickly, easily and above all efficiently. This, combined with the new Geometry Editor and the Interior Lighting preset, put it above the competition.”

KeyShot 6 Overview

KeyShot 6 includes more flexible import options, new interior lighting mode and additional lighting presets, real-time region rendering and multi-layer PSD output to improve workflow efficiency. Material capabilities are expanded with the new Material Graph, materials on labels and material animation options. The ability to create, save and share scripts, edit geometry and quickly shift camera verticals eliminates workflow bottlenecks and allows for a greater level of control. Animation features now include path, DOF and panorama animations while KeyShotVR is now optimized for interior KeyShotVRs and responsive website layouts.

KeyShot 6 Feature highlights

The entire list of features in KeyShot 6 and information on how each feature works is available in the KeyShot 6 What’s New Guide.

  • Interior Lighting Mode — The new interior lighting mode in KeyShot 6 is a completely new, game-changing technology for visualizing interior spaces. In the same way that KeyShot changed the speed at which products can be rendered, KeyShot 6 provides the fastest, most accurate method for rendering complex interior lighting. Scenes containing hundreds of lights and illumination through small windows can be rendered interactively without compromising the quality or the accuracy, and it all happens automatically in KeyShot without users having to adjust complex parameters such as number of photons needed to render a given scene.
  • Material Graph — Material creation and editing is now more powerful than ever before with the KeyShot 6 Material Graph. The Material Graph is a node-based visual interface to construct advanced materials and textures. Users can use existing materials as a starting point or create their own by dragging and dropping materials, textures, animations and layer effects onto the work area, using connectors to quickly create advanced materials that can be saved and shared. As always, any adjustment to the materials can be seen directly, in real time, with the highest render quality.
  • Materials on Labels — KeyShot’s powerful labeling capabilities are now extended with the ability to apply materials and textures to labels, blending with surrounding materials to enhance appearance and realism. This flexible approach allows the same opaque material types used for KeyShot materials to be applied directly to labels with the same material and texture options available for a more accurate communication of labels and their true physical properties.
  • Geometry View and Editor — KeyShot 6 introduces an entirely unique way to interact with a scene and model using KeyShot’s new Geometry View. This highly responsive, secondary real-time viewer brings the freedom of an additional viewport, 1:1 animation playback and camera path animation control. It also includes Geometry Editing for splitting surfaces, calculating vertex normals, separating individual surfaces or closing open boundaries directly inside of the KeyShot.
  • Material Animation — Color and Number Fade animations in KeyShot 6 now make it possible to quickly animate material colors or settings, change materials opacity or fade lights, through the new Material Graph or the Material Textures tab, eliminating the need to blend frames in post-production. Animation are applied immediately, added to the Animation Timeline with the ability to change Fade Animation settings, toggle visibility or add other animations during playback.
  • Camera Path Animation — KeyShot 6 opens up the ability to create incredibly dynamic camera motion with the new Camera Path Animation. With more control over the camera, smooth path-driven animations can be added in just a few clicks. Path Animations can be created quickly by moving a selected camera and adding control points with options to move, add and or delete existing cameras. Combined with real-time viewing and the other new features in KeyShot 6, the visual possibilities are endless.
  • KeyShotVR — Additional capabilities come to the KeyShotVR add-on, used in creating high-end, interactive visuals for web and presentation. A new ‘Look at’ mode helps to visuals what a space feels like from a first person perspective. For KeyShotVRs with zoom enabled, image quality is preserved to retain the highest level of detail, and embedding KeyShotVRs on websites is now faster with fully responsive option that allows the KeyShotVR to automatically resize to fit the browser.

New Product and Pricing

With the release of KeyShot 6, Luxion introduces new product structure and pricing for KeyShot HD and KeyShot Pro Editions. KeyShot HD now comes with unlimited real-time rendering and output resolution and remains priced at $995 USD. KeyShot Pro now includes KeyShot Animation, previously a $500 add- on, and remains priced at $1995 USD. Animation will no longer be available as an add-on for new purchase of KeyShot. KeyShotVR and all KeyShot Network Rendering options remain available as add-ons for all editions of KeyShot.

KeyShot 6 is available immediately for download and purchase. All customers who bought KeyShot on or after May 1, 2015, as well as all customers who purchased KeyShot for Education or KeyShot for ZBrush will receive the upgrade to KeyShot 6 free of charge. All KeyShot customers with active annual maintenance will automatically receive the upgrade to KeyShot 6. All other customer can upgrade to KeyShot 6 for an incremental fee.

Source: Luxion

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