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DARPA Funding Better Prosthetic Arms

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the agency that brought you the Internet, is funding a set of projects to develop better prosthetic arms. The first project seeks to create a working arm (including hand) with a revolutionary neural interface by the end of 2007 -- the important part here is the neural arm-brain interface, which promises to replace the traditional mechanical interfaces. The second project should have the arm ready for clinical trials (and hopefully FDA approval) within four years.

Much buzz has surrounded this project, partially because Dean Kamen is involved. Kamen is best known for his creation of the Segway, but he was also involved with the iBOT wheelchair (which can, among other things, go up stairs) and several other inventions.

The first reports of Kamen's new robotic arm are in, after Kamen gave a talk on the arm at TED. While there's no good transcript or full recording of the talk yet, here's a camera phone video and a first-person account of the talk. Even judging from the poor video, this looks like a major advance in prosthetics.

(Links courtesy of Gizmodo.)

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The Playhouse Theatre
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The World’s First Minecraft Play Debuts in Northern Ireland
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The Playhouse Theatre

There are a lot of replicas of real-world locations in Minecraft, but there are few replicas of real-life performances. The latest show to premiere at the Playhouse Theatre in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, though, takes place both on stage and online. In what the theater is billing as the world’s first live play inside Minecraft, actors will perform both in real life and through digital avatars.

Playcraft Live is adapted from a series of young adult sci-fi novels called TimeRiders, which follows a group of teens as they work to stop future time travelers from changing history—in the case of this story, in the Neolithic Age. While the play was written by TimeRiders author Alex Scarrow, Minecraft users were involved in producing it, helping professional video game designers build out one of the virtual sets as part of a Minecraft buildathon in late September.

Three Minecraft renderings of Times Square
The Playhouse Theatre

The performance will be split between the actors live on stage and puppeteers controlling the avatars in the game. “Audiences within the theater, and online, will experience the production as a single live-stream, and neither audience needs to own Minecraft in order to view the stream,” according to a press release from the theater.

The play debuts on October 14 in Northern Ireland, and you can also watch it online via livestream.

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Zillow to Introduce 3D Tours of Houses and Apartments
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Chances are you’ve been fooled by a too-good-to-be-true housing ad, from that “spacious, light-filled” abode that was actually dark and cramped to the “two-bedroom” apartment that was just a single unit with a large living room. To spare prospective homeowners and renters these types of experiences, Zillow, the online real estate database company, is working on a free app that will soon allow customers to take 3D house tours, according to Engadget.

Real estate agents with iPhones will use the Zillow Group Home Capture App to upload 360-degree pictures of rooms to Zillow Group, sans special equipment and hosting fees. The photos will then be fused together into a panoramic walk-through, and the virtual tour will be added to a Zillow listing.

About 44 percent of homebuyers and 47 percent of renters search for homes from a distance, according to data from the 2017 Zillow Group Housing Report. 3D tours “will help buyers and renters more easily visualize themselves living in the home, no matter how far away they happened to be,” said Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow Group’s chief marketing officer, in a news release. “Photos have always been vital to the home search process and now 3D tours can give buyers and renters a realistic understanding of what it would be like to live in the home."

The Zillow Group Home Capture App isn’t quite ready for release, as it’s currently being tested by a focus group in Scottsdale, Arizona. But if you live in Phoenix, you may see it hitting the iTunes store as early as 2018, with a nationwide rollout expected by the end of next year. In the meantime, you can get an online preview of Zillow’s 3D tours here.

[h/t Engadget]

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