Microsoft opens up on Kinect code

Close-up of Kinect sensors, MicrosoftThe Kinect works by flooding a room with infra-red light

Microsoft has opened up access to the core computer code for its Kinect motion-sensing device.

The device, built for the Xbox 360, lets people play games by moving their body instead of using a controller.

Before now anyone wanting to use the Kinect had to work via an official software toolkit that hid the underlying code.

Microsoft said it had opened the code up to make the Kinect easier to use and get feedback about how to improve it.

Soon after the Kinect’s 2010 release, hardware hackers wrote code that let them control the device so they could use it for their own projects.

Later on, Microsoft aided these “home-brew” efforts with the release of a software development kit and a program that allowed the Kinect to be controlled via Windows.

However, both these programs hid the core code of the device, limiting what developers and others could do with the gadget.

Now, Microsoft has released 22 code samples for the Kinect that expose the computer code that helps it track faces, interpret gestures and determine colours, among other things.

The code has been put on the CodePlex website so developers can freely download and share the software.

Microsoft made the announcement about the code sharing on a blog and said it had taken the step to help those that wanted to use Kinect for their own ends and to help improve the control software.

As the core Kinect code is updated and changed, new samples could be posted to CodePlex, said Microsoft spokesman Ben Lower.

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Pirate Bay for 3D printing launched

A handgun and licenseThe idea has grown out of a project to build a printed gun

The company that developed 3D printed gun parts has announced plans to launch a new firm, dedicated to copyright-free blueprints for a range of 3D printable objects.

Defcad, as the firm will be known, has already been dubbed the Pirate Bay of 3D printing.

The site will become a “search engine for 3D printing,” according to its founders.

But its flouting of copyright is likely to face legal challenges.

Wiki weapon

The firm is the brainchild of Cody Wilson, law student and self-styled crypto-anarchist.

Last year he set up Defense Distributed, a project aiming to print gun parts.

The project provoked controversy with 3D printing firm MakerBot pulling gun part blueprints from its website in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings and 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys refusing permission for its machines to be used by the company.

It is also facing legal challenges to shut the site down.

Despite the set-backs, it released a video this month demonstrating an AR-15 with a 3D printed part firing more than 600 rounds.

Meanwhile its blueprints at non-profit have seen 400,000 downloads since the site was launched, according to founder Cody Wilson.

Announcing the new for-profit at the South by South West conference in Texas, Mr Wilson said it was an obvious next step for the wiki weapon project.

“Help us turn Defcad into the world’s first unblockable, open-source search engine for 3D printable parts,” says Mr Wilson in the video posted on the website looking for funding.

In the video, Mr Wilson said the revolution which many predict 3D printing will bring about will only happen if it can be freed from corporate ties.

The blueprints available on the site will be for “important stuff”, he said. “Not trinkets, not garden gnomes but the things institutions and industries have an interest in keeping from us; access, medical devices, drugs, goods, guns.”

“Supplying consumers with blueprints to print products designed by third parties is a business model fraught with risk,” said Lorna Caddy of law firm Taylor Wessing.

“Many of those products will be protected by intellectual property rights, such as design law. Owners of those rights could assert them in the courts to prevent their designs being further distributed and to seek financial compensation,” she added.

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Google hit by $7m Street View fine

Streetview carPersonal data was collected from many countries

Google has agreed to pay a $7m (£4.6m) fine for collecting people’s personal data without authorisation as part of its Street View service.

In a settlement with 38 US states, the internet giant agreed to destroy emails, passwords, and web histories.

The data was harvested from home wireless networks as Street View cars photographed neighbourhoods between 2008 and 2010.

Google said it was pleased to have resolved the issue.

“We work hard to get privacy right at Google. But in this case we didn’t, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue,” the firm said in a statement.

“The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn’t use it or even look at it. We’re pleased to have worked with Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and the other state attorneys general to reach this agreement.”

Advertising campaign

US Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the legal settlement.

“Consumers have a right to protect their vital personal and financial information from improper and unwanted use by corporations like Google,” he said.

“This settlement addresses privacy issues and protects the rights of people whose information was collected without their permission.”

As well as agreeing to delete all the harvested data, Google has also been required to launch an employee training program about privacy and data use which it must continue for at least ten years.

It must also launch a public service advertising campaign to education consumers about how to secure their information on wireless networks.


Google claims it collected wi-fi data because of rogue code mistakenly included in the software by a lone engineer.

The controversy led data authorities around the world to demand Google made changes.

This is the biggest fine of its type to date, said Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at research firm Ovum.

But he said it was “peanuts” to a giant such as Google.

“What would be a bigger threat to Google is if regulators changed their stance about how it uses data, for instance telling it that it can no longer collect information about browsing habits,” he said.

Nick Pickles, head of UK privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the US had handled the issue better than the UK.

“British regulators barely managed to slap Google on the wrist for this, so yet again British consumers seem to be left with weaker protection of their privacy than other countries,” he said.

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Volvo unveils cyclist alert system

Graphic of Volvo detection systemVolvo’s system can handle multiple pedestrians and cyclists at the same time

Volvo has announced it is releasing a cyclist detection facility which should prevent fatal accidents.

The auto firm says vehicles fitted with the system will be able to detect threats including a cyclist suddenly swerving out into a car’s path.

It said that if a collision risk was detected an alarm would sound and the car’s brakes would be fully deployed.

However, safety campaigners say the tech is no replacement for caution behind the wheel.

The Chinese-owned company introduced the feature at the Geneva Motor Show.

No upgrades

The technology is an enhanced version of Volvo’s pedestrian detection system which it launched in 2010.

Like the earlier release the innovation uses a radar in the car’s grille and a camera located between its windscreen and back view mirror to detect collision threats.

The code which acts as the brains for the equipment has been rewritten to add the new feature, and its added complexity has meant a more powerful processor is now needed.

Cyclists detected by Volvo systemThe new system involved a software rewrite and the addition of a faster processor

As a consequence Volvo cars fitted with prior versions of the product cannot simply install a software upgrade.

The firm added that the new system also needed to be installed while cars were being built in the factory – meaning it would have to be ordered up front – and it would be limited to seven out of 11 models in the company’s current line-up.

Motorists wanting the feature face an added bill of at least £1,850 to buy it as a part of a package of added features.

Horse alerts

A Volvo Car UK spokesman told the BBC that the firm’s engineers were now working on a fresh version as part of its 2020 programme which would also detect animals.

They have already spent an evening at a safari park where they laid out dried food to attract the creatures which they filmed to study their various behaviours.

“The aim is to avoid collisions with horses and deer for example,” said Chris Mullord. “But there’s no firm release date yet.”

This is not the firm’s only effort to protect people outside its vehicles from accidents. In May it will release its first car fitted with an airbag beneath its bonnet which will inflate if sensors in the front bumper detect they have come into contact with a cyclist or pedestrian.

The airbag covers approximately a third of the windscreen and is designed to minimise injury to the victim’s head.

Volvo bonnet airbagVolvo is also offering the option of an airbag under the bonnet of its V40 model

According to the UK’s Department for Transport, 6,040 pedestrians, 3,270 cyclists and 5,440 motorcyclists were killed or seriously injured on the UK’s roads between October 2011 and September 2012.

It said the figures for each category had increased by between 4-8% over the previous year.

British Cycling – the UK’s governing body for cycling – said it appreciated Volvo’s efforts, but added that they only addressed part of the problem.

“While we obviously welcome any safety measures that can be built into vehicles, people shouldn’t be relying on technology to keep them and other road users safe,” said a spokeswoman.

“What would make much more of a difference is making cyclist awareness a mandatory part of the driving test. British Cycling will continue to campaign for this as well as the establishment of a prominent, national cyclist awareness campaign similar to that we’ve seen for motorcyclists.”

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Mobile gaming rise set to continue

Angry Birds  Black Ops 2

Angry Birds Space and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 have both been huge hits

The rise in smartphone and tablet gaming will continue in 2013, according to figures seen by Newsbeat.

Industry analysts IHS Screen Digest think nearly £300 million will be spent on mobile games in the UK this year, up from just £100m three years ago.

It is still significantly less than the £743m expected to be spent on console games but the gap is narrowing.

Nine out of 10 apps are free to download but ‘freemium’ games, offering in-app purchases, are now more common.

‘Mobile future’

Newsbeat visited the world’s biggest mobile phone show, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, to see how mobile gaming is developing.

Continue reading the main story

John Kopp

You’re looking at a generation of children who will grow up not knowing what it was like, not to have a touch screen

John Kopp
Game Insight

Firms were keen to show off how their phones and tablets could connect to modern televisions.

That could mean playing a game on your phone, with the graphics and sound beamed wirelessly to your TV.

John Kopp was at the show for gaming firm Game Insight and says the industry has “exploded”.

However, he doesn’t think the console is dead quite yet.

“I hope not,” he said. “But at the same time I can absolutely see [mobile] is the future.

“You’re looking at an entire generation of children who will grow up not knowing what it was like, not to have a touch screen.”

The success of mobile gaming is already having an impact on consoles.

The control pad for Nintendo’s Wii U console has a video screen which works on its own and Sony says gamers will be able to use their phones and tablets as a “second screen” with PlayStation 4.

Newsbeat spoke to gamers in Brixton in South London.

Jasmine Fergus, 21, and Ben Smalley, 22

Jasmine and Ben

Jasmine is more of a mobile gamer but doesn’t mind a bit of Call of Duty.

Ben’s phone isn’t up to playing games and the Fifa addict is happier on his console anyway.

“I just don’t see the point. I don’t think I’d ever play a game on my mobile. You want to be around a console with all your mates don’t you?”

But he agrees people are buying fewer games nowadays.

“Pretty much everyone I know, the only games they buy are CoD and Fifa.”

Annis el Marzak and Alex Peddar, both 25

Annis and Alex

Annis and Alex both used to work in video game stores but aren’t surprised by the rise in mobile gaming.

“It’s accessible and it’s there in front of you, and it only costs 69p”, said Alex.

“Plus you’ve already got the phone, which you didn’t have to pay for because it’s on contract.”

They’re expecting Apple to make a move into home gaming soon, building on the success of the App store but say they’ll probably still buy a PS4.

Kim Johnson and Skye Bryan, both 17

Kim and Skye

Kim says consoles can’t compete with mobiles on price.

She said: “You can get apps for free and games are too expensive nowadays.

“I use my brother’s console. He’s still buying games but not as many as before.”

Skye says she gets frustrated by ‘freemium’ games. “They try to persuade you at every level to buy the full version,” she said.

“But then you’re thinking, £1, £2, should I or shouldn’t I? Because you might delete it one day.”

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Motorola Mobility to cut more jobs

Motorola phoneGoogle bought Motorola and its thousands of technology patents for $12.5bn last year

Google’s Motorola Mobility Unit has said it is cutting 1,200 jobs, or more than 10% of its workforce.

It follows a 4,000 jobs cut last August as Google aims to turn around the loss-making business it acquired last year for $12.5bn (£8.3bn).

The layoffs are expected to affect the United States, China and India, according to a company email.

The Motorola unit was bought for its Android-operating mobile devices and access to more than 17,000 patents.

“These cuts are a continuation of the reductions we announced last summer,” Google spokeswoman Niki Fenwick told the Reuters news agency.

“It’s obviously very hard for the employees concerned, and we are committed to helping them through this difficult transition,” she added.

An internal email published by the Wall Street Journal said: “Our costs are too high, we’re operating in markets where we’re not competitive and we’re losing money.”

Motorola, which once dominated the mobile phone market, has fallen behind its competitors, including Apple and Samsung.

Motorola Mobility was created in 2011 when Motorola Inc split the company into a mobile devices unit and a government and public safety division known as Motorola Solutions.

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Amazon suspends sales of SimCity

SimCity game screenCities built by players are part of larger online regions

Ongoing problems with the latest version of SimCity led Amazon to briefly stop selling the game.

The web retailer stopped sales late on 7 March as players reported continued problems with the city building title.

The latest version of SimCity was launched on 5 March and, like many current games, demand players stay online as they play.

EA has also taken steps to fix login delays by turning off some features to lighten the load on game servers.

Prior to this latest release, SimCity was a stand-alone game, but EA has added the online element to infuse the title with more realism.

Now player cities exist as part of online regions and share some characteristics of those virtual environments such as pollution, crime and essential resources.

The online requirement is also seen as an attempt to curb piracy of the title as a web connection is required even if a player shuns the chance to connect their cities to others.

However, the requirement for all players of the game to be connected has led some to wait 30 minutes or more to play. The server problems have led to sluggish response times, crashes and other bugs.

Amazon’s sales suspension of the downloadable PC version of the game only lasted a few hours, but it has put a warning note on the product page about the “issues” with the game. These have contributed to the one-star score purchasers have given SimCity on Amazon.

Amazon warningAmazon has posted a warning about the ongoing problems with SimCity

In official discussion forums and on its Twitter feed EA has apologised for the trouble players have had.

In one of its latest messages, an EA spokeswoman said it had added server capacity and rolled out a quick fix to SimCity servers to speed up game play and get more people into the game.

To lighten the load on its back-end servers, EA turned off some features including leader boards and achievements. It has also removed the option to run the game at its fastest setting, known as “cheetah speed”. Instead, all cities will now run at the lower “llama speed”.

In a message posted to the official EA discussion forums, SimCity’s senior producer Kip Katsarelis said the launch week had been “challenging” for the company.

‘Growing pains’

However, he added, there was a positive side to the delays.

“What we saw was that players were having such a good time they didn’t want to leave the game, which kept our servers packed and made it difficult for new players to join,” he wrote.

Games journalist Nathan Grayson, writing on the Rock Paper Shotgun website, praised EA for keeping players informed through Facebook, Twitter and discussion forums about the problems. However, he wondered why games firms were still so unprepared for the launch day deluge of players.

Games makers may laud the always online requirement as the future, he said, but so far no studio had got it right or used that permanent link to do more with a game.

“I haven’t seen a single one of these things stick their initial landings or catapult a pre-existing series to new heights,” he said. “I have quite a bit of trouble declaring these things ‘growing pains’ when I barely see any, you know, growth.”

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Web ‘brain’ for robots goes live

Robot holding appleThe database will help robots work out what to do with objects they have not seen before

Robots confused about what they encounter in the world of humans can now get help online.

European scientists have turned on the first part of a web-based database of information to help them cope.

Called Rapyuta, the online “brain” describes objects robots have met and can also carry out complicated computation on behalf of a robot.

Rapyuta’s creators hope it will make robots cheaper as they will not need all their processing power on-board.

The Rapyuta database is part of the European Robo Earth project that began in 2011 with the hope of standardising the way robots perceive the human world.

Instead of every robot building up its own idiosyncratic catalogue of how to deal with the objects and situations it encounters, Rapyuta would be the place they ask for help when confronted with a novel situation, place or thing.

In addition, the web-based service is able to do complicated computation on behalf of a robot – for example if it needs to work out how to navigate a room, fold an item of clothing or understand human speech.

The system could be particularly useful for drones, self-driving cars or other mobile robots who have to do a lot of number crunching just to get round, said Mohanarajah Gajamohan, technical head of the project at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Cloud control

“On-board computation reduces mobility and increases cost.” said Dr Heico Sandee, Robo Earth program manager at the Dutch University of Technology in Eindhoven in a statement. As wireless data speeds increase more and more robotic thinking could be offloaded to the web, he said.

Without access to such a database, roboticists fear machines will be restricted to working in very tightly controlled environments such as production lines and never live easily alongside humans.

The project, which involves researchers at five separate European research labs, has produced the database as well as software that robots can run to connect to and quiz Rapyuta.

The name Rapyuta is taken from the Japanese film by Hayao Miyazaki Castle in the Sky – in the film it is the place where all the robots live.

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Million dollar appeal for Ultima sequel

Screengrab from Ultima OnlineUltima Online was one of the first widely successful online fantasy games

One million dollars are being sought on Kickstarter for a sequel to the long-running Ultima series of video games.

The cash is being sought by legendary British developer Richard Garriott who created the original titles which helped define the fantasy gaming genre.

Ultima gave rise to Ultima Online which was one of the first significantly popular massively multiplayer games.

The PC game, called Shroud of the Avatar, is scheduled to be ready to play in October 2014.

Mr Garriott is expected to make a formal announcement about the game and the funding push at the SXSW festival arts and media festival currently under way in Austin, Texas,

In an introductory video on the Kickstarter webpage Mr Garriott, often known by his in-game alias Lord British, said the current crop of fantasy video games had become too formulaic and scripted.

Instead, he said, Shroud of the Avatar would be a much more open experience in which players were free to follow their own path. It would be more about playing a useful role in an online world than just racking up kills and loot to make a character more powerful, he said.

Space trip

It would also take some elements from Ultima Online such as player housing and a detailed crafting system.

Work had already begun on the game, said Mr Garriott, but those backing it via the crowd-funding site would also get a say in how it would be built.

Alec Meer, a writer at games news site Rock Paper Shotgun, expressed surprise that Mr Garriott had to appeal for funds via Kickstarter given that in 2009 he spent millions of dollars to take a trip into space.

“It’s just a shame to see so many already wealthy industry old-hands making hay with all these old-fashioned role-playing games when so many dramatically more inventive and ambitious ideas from smaller studios are failing to reach their targets,” he added.

Shroud of the Avatar is being created by a company called Portalarium that Mr Garriott set up after the failure of an online game called Tabula Rasa that he helped to develop.

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Samsung loses Apple case in UK

iPhone and Galaxy S3Samsung and Apple have been involved in multiple legal battles against each other

South Korean phone-maker Samsung has lost another patent fight against rival Apple, in the UK High Court.

Samsung had said technology used in Apple products to allow phones to send and receive data over 3G networks infringed three of its patents.

The case comes a week after Galaxy smartphone manufacturer failed to secure an iPhone ban in Japan.

Samsung has pursued a number of claims against Apple in courts worldwide, but has won only a minority of the cases.

It said in a statement it was disappointed by the court’s decision and would consider whether to file an appeal.

“For decades, we have heavily invested in pioneering the development of technological innovations in the mobile industry, which have been constantly reflected in our products,” a spokeswoman said.

Apple declined to comment.

Legal battles between the two companies began in 2011, when Apple first sued Samsung in the US for alleged intellectual property infringements.

Other court cases have taken place in France, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, South Korea and Japan.

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