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Robots, from big screen to playroom

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In the second of a series on consumer robots, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK introduces characters that have leaped from the big screen to the playroom, where privacy has become the new watchword.

In days gone by, when children fell in love with a character on the big screen, they would clamour for the plush toy or vinyl doll. Now, robots are marching into the playroom to take over that role.

And not only for kids. Adults who have fallen for superheroes or Star Wars character are the biggest fans of the robot versions of these heroes and villains. That’s just as well, as the price tags don’t often match parents’ budgets for their children’s gifts.

Our top character robot of the year is a case in point:

First Order Stormtrooper Robot

Storm trooper

The state of the art in toy robots does not come cheap. The Star Wars First Order Stormtrooper Robot from UBTech retails for R6499. But the price must be balanced with that phrase: “state of the art”.

This is what the Stormtrooper Robot does, according to local distributor Gammatek:

  • First and Third Person Augmented Reality App Modes: “Protect the First Order against the Resistance in your own room, issuing direct verbal orders, and launch attacks via the app interface in first and third person views for immersive interactive app play.”
  • Voice Commands: “Speak directly to your Stormtrooper to interact in new ways.”
  • Sentry Patrolling: “Order your Stormtrooper to patrol the designated area to detect and respond to intruders.”
  • Connect via secured WiFi on an encrypted platform: Platform encrypted … and no data or personal information is saved to the robot or the companion app.”

The last feature addresses a privacy issue that is currently in the spotlight. Two years ago, it was found that Mattell’s interactive “Hello Barbie” doll, which listened to a child and responded via voice, could be hacked to turn it into a surveillance tool without the child or parents knowing.

This year, Germany banned a similar doll, called “My Friend Cayla”, which boasted concealed microphones and cameras. The Federal Network Agency, the German regulator,  went as far as calling it a “de facto spying device”, saying the ban was intended “to protect the most vulnerable in our society”.

The Stormtrooper Robot was designed with this concern in mind, hence the startling decision not to connect it to the Internet, and to encrypt information on its app.

It is all the more surprising, then, that its features include facial recognition.
It can memorise up to three faces, and is geared towards members of a family storing their faces in the robot. This means it will later later automatically recognise the faces through facial biometrics, which will in turn activate interactions specific to each family member.

  • Stormtrooper will be available across South Africa at Hamleys, hi, Incredible Connection, iStore, ShopandShip, takealot.com and Toys R Us. For more information on the robot, visit ubtrobot.starwarsrobots.com

Spider-Man, by Sphero

unnamed

Like the Stormtrooper, the Spider-Man robot is also interactive, with voice recognition, along with a vast library of missions, jokes and banter.

However, its creator, Sphero, has taken a different approach to UBTech. Rather than lock down all outside access, it has built cutting edge security into the robot. It conducts a thorough security review of all products and apps, and uses third parties to test for weaknesses across apps, devices, and web services.

It also claims that it periodically reviews data it collects to make sure it is “only collecting what is necessary for your play experience”. While this very capability may set alarm bells ringing, Sphero is adamant it has strong policies for data storage, and data is encrypted both in transit and at rest.

With minds thus set at rest, the app for the robot is the entry point to numerous adventures, where every decision made by the player creates a new path forward, so that each game follows a unique journey that continually evolves.

Thanks to being Wi-Fi enabled, Spider-Man allows the player to download new missions, stories and other content. This, in turn, refreshes the banter that Spidey strikes up with its owner – including the friendly neighborhood hero’s signature cheeky wit.

Strictly speaking, Spider-Man is not a robot, as he doesn’t move, but he has as much artificial intelligence built in as most of his moving counterparts. Animated LCD eyes and motion detection make him both expressive and perceptive. He reacts to people passing, and can even guard a room: motion detection makes him an ally, giving him the semi-superpower of alerting his owner to intruders.

R2-D2 App-Enabled Droid

unnamed-1

Going back to Star Wars, here finally is the droid you’re looking for: the most famous astromech in this or any galaxy, R2-D2. He is a worthy successor to the coolest toy of 2016, the BB-8 remote controlled robot, still delighting kids and adults and scaring pets the world over.

R2-D2 is a little more refined, and can be controlled from an app on a smartphone or set to patrol an area independently. It can adapt from bipod to tripod stances, and can interact with other Star Wars droids from Sphero. One of its most intriguing features, holographic simulation, allows one to explore the Star Wars universe in a novel way.

The most unusual feature must be Watch With Me, which invites one to watch Star Wars movies with R2-D2 – but mostly to watch how he reacts to the movies. This feature is also available for BB-8 and the new BB-9E droids from Sphero.

Finally, R2-D2 wouldn’t be himself without his beeps, boops and flashing lights. These are all brought to robot life with front and rear LED lights and a speaker.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.

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Password managers don’t protect you from hackers

Using a password manager to protect yourself online? Research reveals serious weaknesses…

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Top password manager products have fundamental flaws that expose the data they are designed to protect, rendering them no more secure than saving passwords in a text file, according to a new study by researchers at Independent Security Evaluators (ISE).

“100 percent of the products that ISE analyzed failed to provide the security to safeguard a user’s passwords as advertised,” says ISE CEO Stephen Bono. “Although password managers provide some utility for storing login/passwords and limit password reuse, these applications are a vulnerable target for the mass collection of this data through malicious hacking campaigns.”

In the new report titled “Under the Hood of Secrets Management,” ISE researchers revealed serious weaknesses with top password managers: 1Password, Dashlane, KeePass and LastPass.  ISE examined the underlying functionality of these products on Windows 10 to understand how users’ secrets are stored even when the password manager is locked. More than 60 million individuals 93,000 businesses worldwide rely on password managers. Click here for a copy of the report.

Password managers are marketed as a solution to eliminate the security risks of storing passwords or secrets for applications and browsers in plain text documents. Having previously examined these and other password managers, ISE researchers expected an improved level of security standards preventing malicious credential extraction. Instead ISE found just the opposite. 

Click here to read the findings from the report.

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MWC: Next generation of inflight connectivity to be unveiled

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Next week at Mobile World Congress, the Seamless Air Alliance will reveal progress on its mission towards enabling the next generation of inflight connectivity. This follows a significant start for the Alliance, which has seen membership increase five-fold since the first meeting in June of last year. The Alliance has a new research laboratory setup and continues progress through its three working groups, writing specifications for the technology, requirements, and operations.

These developments represent a huge leap towards the goal of making connectivity as easy and enjoyable in the skies as it is on the ground. Appearing as part of the Airbus stand (Hall 6, stand 6G34), the Seamless Air Alliance will reveal specification topics that have been completed and published to its membership.

“The passenger experience with inflight connectivity remains one of the great technology challenges. From Day One we have been determined to deliver on our mission to bring industries and technologies together to make the inflight internet experience simple to access and a delight to use,” said the Alliance’s Chief Executive Officer, Jack Mandala.

“I have been tremendously encouraged by the enthusiastic and committed response we have seen and the widening areas of expertise we can call upon as more and more companies and organisations continue to join us,” he added.

Announced during MWC 2018, the Seamless Air Alliance has since grown to twenty-three membercompanies with more than one-hundred key personnel from across the membership participating in its three working groups, with numbers continuing to increase.

The Seamless Air Alliance was created by founding members Airbus, Airtel, Delta Air Lines, OneWeb and Sprint, and quickly joined by Air France KLM, Aeromexico, and GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes and global technology leaders including Astronics, Collins Aerospace, Comtech, Cyient, iDirect, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Latecoere, Nokia, and Panasonic. 

Today, the Alliance is pleased to announce five additional new members: Adaptive Channel, Etihad Airways, GlobalReach Technology, Safran, and SITAONAIR.

“We are extremely pleased to have these companies join and be a part of the companies driving the next generation of connectivity.” said Mr Mandala.

The Seamless Air Alliance will enable travelers boarding any flight, on any airline, anywhere in the world, to use their own devices to automatically connect to the Internet with no complicated login process nor paywall to scramble over.

The Alliance is also announcing the release of a new research study on the economic benefit of standardization on the inflight connectivity market at Mobile World Congress. This report is available for download at https://www.seamlessalliance.com/publications/

The Alliance is moving rapidly towards an expected demonstration of the technology later in 2019 and anticipates massive interest in Barcelona from the whole communications eco-system.

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