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Ben Heck builds WASD-replacement footpedals

Ben Heck builds WASD-replacement footpedals

Ben Heck’s footpedals, built in response to a viewer request, are designed to replace the traditional WASD control scheme in PC gaming.


Noted hacker and maker Ben ‘Heck’ Heckendorn has published details of his latest creation under Element14′s auspice: footpedals designed to ‘replace’ WASD gaming controls after their 32 year run.

The WASD control system, which uses the aforementioned letter keys in place of the traditional cursor keys, was first seen in the 1982 game Mazogs where it served to make up for the Sinclair ZX81′s lack of sensible keyboard layout. It caught on in the era of first-person shooters when mouse-look became the norm, allowing the left hand to sit at a more comfortable distance from the mouse-controlling right – unless you’re a sinister lefty, of course – while also providing easy reach to other keys that could be mapped to weapon changes, jumping, object usage or leaning.

WASD as a control layout has become so normalised that gaming keyboards typically come with replacement keycaps for those specific letters in eye-catching colours or with a deeply scooped design. Now, though, its days may be numbered – at least, if Ben Heck has his way.

Known for his innovative controller designs and homebrew laptops, including one based on a Commodore 64 and another on an net/news/modding/2008/02/04/ben_heck_unveils_xbox_360_elite_laptop/1">Xbox 360, Heck is now the resident hacker at electronics giant Farnell/Element14 where he has created one possible successor to the WASD layout: footpedals.

A viewer of the Ben Heck Show, dissatisfied with the ‘finger-twister’ training required to excel at modern games, suggested the creation and Heck obliged. A pair of foot pedals provide mapping to four keys by responding to two levels of motion: a partial press activates one mode, while a heavier press activates the second. The result, Heck claims, is a natural-feeling control system that allows for forward, backward and strafing motion without the need to lock the left hand to the WASD cluster.

The entire project has been created from scratch, using a 3D printer for the pedal parts and the popular Teensy microcontroller – chosen for the ease at which it can be turned into a joystick, keyboard or mouse Human Interface Device controller – for interfacing with the PC.

If you’re curious how it was made, or how it works, Heck’s video on the project is reproduced below.

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Warhammer 40K themed mobile RPG in the works

Warhammer 40K themed mobile RPG in the works

Warhammer 40,000 has featured in turn-based and real-time strategy series and also third and first person shooters, but never a 2D side-scroller before.


Games Workshop’s grim science fiction miniatures property Warhammer 40,000 is heading to iOS in the form of a side-scrolling action RPG.

Warhammer 40,000 Carnage will pit players in the role of a space marine churning through a horde of green-skinned orks, giving them the option to unlock further equipment that will be familiar to fans of the series, including chainswords, bolt guns and thunder hammers.

’We’ve taken the best of the Warhammer 40,000 universe and built a game that will appeal to seasoned 40k fans and more casual gamers alike,’ said developer Roadhouse Interactive president Tarrnie Williams. ’The game is full of explosive, adrenaline-fueled action, in stunning environments that will be familiar to many.’

The plot revolves around investigating a planet which has been consumed by collective insanity and violence, a plot device that will also be ‘familiar to many’ who have encountered the Warhammer 40,000 series before.

Best known as a tabletop wargaming franchise, Warhammer 40,000 has found its way into several video games over recent years, including 2011′s Space Marine, developed by Relic Entertainment, which also featured space marines cutting their way through hordes of orks.

Relic Entertainment, under the guidance of publisher THQ, also had a long stewardship over the Warhammer 40,000 intellectual property through its Dawn of War real time strategy series, but following the dissolution of THQ the license was reported to have ended up at Slitherine, a smaller developer and publisher specialising in historical strategy games.

Another smaller studio, Zattikka, was also granted a Warhammer 40,000 license and planned to develop a 3D isometric free-to-play game using the setting, but the company went into administration in August last year before it could release anything.

Will you be checking out Warhammer 40,000 Carnage? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

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Intel upgrades the Edison

Intel upgrades the Edison

Intel’s Edison has undergone a significant redesign since CES, dropping the Quark chip for an Atom and losing its SD card form factor – although the original design may yet hit the market.


Intel has announced an upgrade to its yet-to-launch Edison embedded computing platform which looks more like a ground-up rethink of the whole project, ditching the company’s flagship Quark processor for tried-and-tested Atom and losing the tiny SD card form factor.

Intel unveiled Edison in January of this year as part of its renewed focus on embedded and particularly wearable computing technologies. Prototype-proven and in a product-ready design, Intel claimed at the time, Edison was the second outing for the company’s low-power Pentium-based Quark processor which had previously launched in the hobbyist-oriented Galileo development board.

Now, Intel has announced a redesign which loses the two unique features of Edison: its SD card form factor and its Quark processor.

The shift sees Intel swap the Quark chip out in favour of a 22nm Atom processor based on the Silvermont architecture. A dual-core design running at 500MHz, the Atom will give considerably improved compute performance compared to the Quark, but requires a separate microcontroller unit to drive the input-output portions of the board.

The shift to Atom also does away with the SD card size of Edison, and while Intel hasn’t confirmed precise sizes for the new edition it has admitted that the last-minute shift in architecture means the new Edison will be ‘slightly larger‘ than the design chief executive Brian Krzanich showed off at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year.

The Atom-based Edison won’t replace the planned Quark version, Intel claims, but instead augment it as part of a new Edison-branded range of products. ‘We have received an enthusiastic response from the pro maker and entrepreneurial communities, as well as consumer electronics and industrial IoT [Internet of Things] companies,‘ claimed Intel’s Michael Bell of the move, ‘and have decided that in order to best address a broader range of market segments and customer needs we will extend Intel Edison to a family of development boards.

Intel has not yet confirmed availability or pricing for the Atom or Quark variants of the Edison.

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Instrument reads tattoos as sheet music


(Credit:
Dmitry Morozov)

Musical instruments, by design, usually require a human agent to work (player pianos and robotic bands notwithstanding). Usually, though, this involves some kind of active intervention, such as pressing keys, plucking strings, or blowing.

“Reading my body” by Moscow-based artist, musician, and engineer Dmitry Morozov is a little different: The human becomes partially passive, the instrument active, in a strange personal symbiosis. The instrument can only play when it reads and plays a tattoo on Morozov’s arm, much as a human would read and play a score.

“This is a special instrument that combines human body and robotic system into a single entity that is designed to automate creative process in an attempt to represent the artist and his instrument as a creative hybrid,” Morozov wrote of his project. “The device consists of a railing with comfortable hand holders and two parallel, but offset from each other black lines’ sensors that move along the arm using a stepper motor. It is equipped with a 3-dimensional
Wii remote controller that uses the OSC protocol in order to give a possibility of additional expression achieved by moving hand in space.”

Morozov designed the tattoo to contain the maximum number of variable time slots between triggers. By moving his arm, Morozov can control the speed and step length of the sensors, resulting in an infinite number of patterns — and, therefore, compositions that can be produced. However, the instrument can also be programmed to operate autonomously.

The result is a soundscape that sounds alien, like a cross between the theremin sounds so popular in sci-fi films of the ’60s with the voice of a computer.

This is not the first time Morozov has played around with translating unusual signals into sounds. His work “post code” was an installation that converted bar codes into glitchy music.

We really hope someone figures out a way to combine Morozov’s instrument with Hieronymus Bosch’s Buttmusik…

(Source: Crave Australia via Prosthetic Knowledge)

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Sony Project Morpheus revealed as virtual reality headset

Sony Project Morpheus revealed as virtual reality headset

The in-development headset will function alongside the Playstation camera and PS Move controllers.


Sony has announced its own entry into the virtual reality arena with Project Morpheus.

The virtual reality headset is destined for use with the Playstation 4 and is currently only in a prototype stage with Sony working on further development for a commercial release.

The head-mounted display will work with the Playstation camera and the PS Move motion controller to replicate head movements and physical actions made with the players hands in compatible games.

Project Morpheus will also use 3D audio technology to allow sounds to appear as if they are coming from different directions including above and below.

The prototype was shown off at GDC running Eve Online spin-off Valkyrie, the new Thief and a couple of tech demos developed by Sony. A developers kit is also being developed but is not yet ready for distribution.

‘Project Morpheus is the latest example of innovation from SCE and we’re looking forward to its continued development and the games that will be created as development kits get into the hands of content creators,’ said SCE Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida.

Sources talking to the Wall Street Journal also report that Microsoft is working on a virtual reality device of its own and has filed a patent for the project.

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Crucial M550 SSD 512GB Review

Crucial M550 SSD 512GB Review

Manufacturer: Crucial
UK price (as reviewed):
MSRP £241.50 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): MSRP £$336.99 (ex Tax)

When we looked at the Crucial M500 we found it to be a decent SSD with a host of handy features rarely found in consumer drives, though its performance wasn’t chart topping. Just six months ago its price was £270, which was pretty affordable for a 480GB drive. Now, however, it can be found for just £170 – a fantastic price no doubt, but one which may have something to do with today’s launch of the M550 SSD. The new 512GB drive has a suggested retail price of £240, but naturally it may be lower than this at retailers. For reference, the SSD 840 Evo 500GB is as low as £200 now, but more professional 512GB drives are closer to £300.

As with the M500, the M550 will be available in mSATA and M.2 form factors with no performance deficit, though the 1TB drive is reserved for the standard 2.5-inch form factor. The 7mm tall drive comes with a spacer for 9mm bays, with no other accessories or software provided.

READ MORE: SSD and HDD Reviews

Crucial M550 SSD 512GB Review Crucial M550 SSD 512GB Review
Click to enlarge
As you can see, the 512GB drive along with the 1TB one has the best performance of the range. Over the 480GB M500, sequential read and write speeds are up by 50MB/sec and 100MB/sec, while random read and write speeds (at 32 queue-depth) have increased by 15,000 and 5,000 IOPS respectively.

The M550 is again powered by a Marvell controller running custom firmware, though it’s been upgraded from the 88SS9187 to the 88SS9189. Information on the eight-channel 9189 controller is scarce, but according to Crucial it has more bandwidth and allows for better programming efficiency, both of which contribute to the increased performance. It also now supports low-power DRAM, and indeed the 512MB cache is now of the LP-DDR3 variety, so it consumes less power than before and also happens to be a bit faster too. As with the M500, DEVSLP is also supported, with Crucial reporting that its drive typically consumes just 3mW in this ultra low power state, which is particularly beneficial to portable users and in stark contrast to Intel’s latest SSDs, for instance.

As well as standard ATA AES 256-bit encryption support, the M550 also meets the TGC Opal 2.0 and IEEE-1667 standards of hardware level encryption. This means the drive again meets Microsoft’s eDrive protocol, and the encryption is more secure and has less of a performance penalty than the ATA method, which also requires a password to be set within the BIOS in order to work.

Adaptive Thermal Protection, which automatically throttles performance when the drive detects that it has risen too far above its rated operating temperature (0°C – 70°C), is again present. At 78°C, write speeds fall to around 150MB/sec, and will continue to fall if temperatures continue to rise, with read speeds affected too. DRAM refresh rates are simultaneously increased to provide additional data integrity, and the drive will remain throttled until it reaches 65°C again. While unlikely to be an issue for desktop users, high performance gaming notebooks may be at risk of exceeding the operating temperatures, though a thermal pad connects the controller and cache to the SSD’s metal chassis to aid cooling.

Crucial M550 SSD 512GB Review
Click to enlarge – The rear of the PCB houses eight of the sixteen IMFT NAND packages
As you’d expect, the M550 uses Micron NAND, specifically the IMFT 20nm MLC variety, which is the same as that in the M500. In the higher capacities, 128Gbit dies are used, and in the 512GB model there are two of these in each of the sixteen NAND packages, and four per controller channel. 64Gbit dies are used in the 128GB and 256GB models to increase the number of dies per channel and thus increase performance. In terms of endurance, the M550 is again rated for around 40GB/day of host writes for five years (72TB total), and it carries the same three year limited warranty.

The move from rounded capacities (480GB) to power-of-two ones (512GB) equates to an increase in available capacity. This usually decreases performance and endurance, but with the M550 this isn’t the case since the additional spare area in the M500 was used exclusively for RAIN (Redundant Array of Independent NAND), another feature carried over from Micron’s enterprise business. Essentially, as user data is written, the M550 calculates and writes parity data to the NAND with a minimal performance penalty. This parity data block can then be used by the RAIN algorithms to restore the user data associated with it in the event of an unrecoverable error. In this sense it’s similar to the distributed parity of a RAID 5 array.

Crucial M550 SSD 512GB Review
Click to enlarge – The front of the PCB is home to the controller and cache as well as the capacitors that protect the drive against power failure
The reason that the M550 has more usable capacity is simply because the ratio of data to parity blocks has increased from 15:1 to 127:1, so there are now more data elements associated with each parity element. This ratio is fixed and cannot be altered. While the lowered parity technically means less reliability, Crucial says that the maturation of its 20nm NAND manufacturing process means that the drive still meets the same reliability targets, while the M500 with its lower ratio is now considered reliable enough to be used in certain data centre applications (which far exceed the endurance requirements of personal storage).

The final feature of note is the M550′s power loss protection. Only 2-4MB of user data is ever stored in the large cache at one time (the rest is used to manage the NAND address table). In the event of sudden power loss, the series of capacitors on the PCB should power the drive long enough for this data to be flushed to NAND. Intel uses a similar method in its SSD 730 and the feature was also present in the M500.

Specifications

Interface: SATA 6Gbps
Nominal capacity: 512GB
Formatted capacity: 476.94GB
Controller: Marvell 88SS9189
Cache: 512MB LP-DDR3
Memory type/amount: 32 x 128Gbit IMFT 20nm MLC NAND dies (16 x 32GB packages)
Endurance rating: ~40GB/day for five years (72TB total)
Warranty: Three years

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Cubli cube robot demonstrates incredible balance

Cubli
(Credit:
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia))

Some robots do something useful, like ordnance disposal. Some robots do something artistic, like produce music. Some are more interactive. And some robots are just danged cool.

On that note, we’ve recently stumbled across Cubli, a little cube-shaped robot made by Gajan Mohanarajah, Ph.D. candidate and research assistant at ETH Zurich. Cubli isn’t designed to build a wall or translate slime mold. Instead, it’s based on a very simple idea: “Can we build a 15-centimeter-sided cube that can jump up, balance on its corner, and walk across our desk using off-the-shelf motors, batteries, and electronic components?”

Balancing is not necessarily difficult to achieve (although it looks amazing); the trickiest part was in getting the cube to jump up from a resting position to a balancing position, since it releases a burst of energy to do so, and needed to be kept stable. The solution was to use momentum wheels, which are the same kind of flywheel used for altitude control in spacecraft.

These momentum wheels were then also used to help the cube balance by using the reaction torques‘ acceleration and deceleration.

“These torques are what the Cubli’s structure ‘feels’ when the three motors attached to it accelerate or decelerate the wheels,” Mohanarajah explained. “In fact, Cubli’s controller tries to minimise wheel velocities in addition to keeping the structure upright. This method is more reactive to external disturbances and reduces vibrations and sensor noise.”

The resulting robot is able to jump from a resting position to balancing on an edge, then a corner; and it can “walk” by jumping up, balancing on an edge and falling onto another side of the cube, effectively rolling along. It’s really cool stuff, and we’d love to have one of our own just to play with.

(Source: Crave Australia via Robohub)

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Valve shows off latest Steam Controller design

Valve shows off latest Steam Controller design

Valve’s latest Steam Machine controller design ditches the innovative central touch area, previously downgraded from a display, altogether in favour of traditional button layouts.


Valve has once again redesigned its innovative Steam Machine controller, designed as the first gamepad suitable for playing titles more readily associated with a keyboard and mouse, but in doing so has arguably lost much of what made it unique.

When Valve first announced its Steam Machine plans, it did so with the promise of a dramatically different controller. While its twin concave touch surfaces, in place of analogue thumbsticks, were the main talking point, the company also promised a central touch-sensitive display which would be split into four controllable areas. Later, likely once Valve saw how much it would have to charge for such a controller, this was revised to a quadrant-based touch pad with no display functionality – the same design as enjoyed by the lucky few hundred Steam Machine beta testers since late last year.

Now, however, Valve has redesigned the controller once again – and the central surface has gone for good. In its place is a layout far more in keeping with something Sony or Microsoft would come out with: four face buttons in a diamond configuration at the right, and four direction buttons in the same configuration on the left. Start and Select buttons are also included, along with a glowing Steam logo which likely acts as a hot-button for the Steam overlay while paying a game – similar, fans may note, to the logo button featured on Microsoft’s Xbox controllers.

According to Valve’s statement on the redesign, the new face buttons feature analogue pressure sensitivity – something the original Xbox controllers had, but that was ditched due to a lack of interest from developers for the Xbox 360 and its successor the Xbox One. The two track-pad areas – designed to offer a similar velocity-sensitive control system to a mouse – remain present on the left and right sides of the pad.

As with its previous redesigns, Valve has shown no indication that the new pad exists outside computer-generated renders. With the first Steam Machine consoles due to go on sale later this year, however, the race is on for the company to finalise its design and begin mass production.

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Jony Ive: Competitors steal Apple’s work

Pursued by thieves?


(Credit:
Charlie Rose/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

Here is the good news: you can make Jony Ive angry. All you have to do it copy his ideas.

How do I know? Because I’ve just read a long interview with him in the UK’s Sunday Times. (It’s behind a paywall, but I promise I didn’t steal it.)

This interview was part of the Sunday Times Magazine’s “Makers” series, and Ive warmed immediately to the concept. “Everyone I work with shares the same love of and respect for making,” he explained.

He added: “Objects and their manufacture are inseparable. You understand a product if you understand how it’s made.”

The problem is that the word “maker” has been co-opted, nay stolen, by the pimple-faced, soft-hearted techies of San Francisco, who are deeply hurt to be called “techies.

Ive, though, believes craft is enjoying a resurgence. He said he once took his iPhone apart and put it back together again, just to prove he could.

Interestingly, the Sunday Times managed to dig up a photo to prove that he once had hair. And lots of it — spiky like a Bay City Roller. (Look it up.)

The interview takes great pains to describe the great pains Ive takes to make sure the products aren’t great pains. This is relatively familiar territory.

But Ive shone a little light into why Apple doesn’t exactly make cheap products.

He said:

We’re surrounded by anonymous, poorly made objects. It’s tempting to think it’s because the people who use them don’t care — just like the people who make them. But what we’ve shown is that people do care. It’s not just about aesthetics. They care about things that are thoughtfully conceived and well made.

The implication, of course, is that they’re prepared to pay for that thoughtfulness.

Ive put it like this: “We make and sell a very, very large number of (hopefully) beautiful, well-made things. Our success is a victory for purity, integrity — for giving a damn.”

He believes his job is making technology personal and he believes that the relationship people have with Apple products is intimate. (Oh, of course, he vaguely, slightly hinted at an intimate iWatch. But he wasn’t going to actually say anything, was he?)

Asked whether all the lining up outside Apple stores to wait for the latest thing isn’t intimately insane, he replied: “It’s a demonstration against thoughtlessness and carelessness.”

I bet you’ve never thought of it that way. You always thought it was just a bunch of style-obsessed, superficial groupies who are vacuous in the extreme. (At least Samsung thinks so.)

Talking of Samsung — which Ive specifically did not — there is talk (and legal action) suggesting the Korean company (and others) occasionally mimics the work of Ive and his team.

Copying clearly annoys him. “It’s theft,” he said.

He added: “What’s copied isn’t just a design, it’s thousands and thousands of hours of struggle.”

Quiet struggle, though. Ive described a “pre-verbal” understanding at Apple about what everyone is trying to achieve.

Apple only gets verbal during the fancy presentations. And when it sues you, of course.

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Friday Poll: What will the Web be like in 25 more years?

Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, created a powerful entity.


(Credit:
World Wide Web Consortium)

The Web turned 25 this week and the birthday celebrations have been full of memories and musings. Crave’s Eric Mack put together a four-part series tracing his life through the Web, from his days as a teenage dial-up addict, through the dot-com boom and bust, to how the Web looks today.

It’s been a wild ride so far, but where will the roller coaster take us next? There’s been plenty of speculation on the future of the Web. Even though “Minority Report” came out back in 2002, it’s still mentioned constantly as a model for immersive interactions with computers. Perhaps we’ll all be flailing our hands about in the air as we interface with a Web that has pretty much the whole world under surveillance.

There is already plenty of talk about the “Internet of Things,” so it’s not hard to imagine the Web growing into a giant network of stuff, connecting everything from dog collars to toasters to sensor-laden bracelets worn on our wrists.

Perhaps the Web will take a darker turn, one where some governments attempt to exercise more control over what citizens can access, fracturing the borderless ideal of the Internet.

Chances are, the Web in 25 years could be a mix of all these things, along with developments we haven’t even imagined yet. If you had told a Web user back in the early ’90s that we would all be storing our data in the cloud and people would be walking around with the Internet on their glasses, you might be accused of writing a sci-fi story.

Take what you know about the history of the Web and turn your imagination loose. What will the Web look like 25 years from now? Vote in our poll, and share your vision in the comments.

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