“Lavender at 12 o’clock,” a virtual assistant calls out.
Meet Lookout, an Android app being developed by Google that can identify objects around you—from a pair of scissors to an exit sign to a lavender bush—and tell you exactly where they are located. The goal of the app, which will be made available on the Google Play store later in 2018, is to help guide people who are blind or visually impaired.
Lookout is specifically built for Pixel phones. Users can place their phone in a lanyard worn around their neck, with the camera facing out. Once the app is open, users can select a mode that best describes the environment they’re currently in, whether that's being home, at work, in a shopping mall, or in a situation where they need to have text read aloud to them ("scan mode"). The “work and play” mode, for instance, will likely alert users when they’re next to an elevator or stairwell, while the “home” mode will identify your TV, washing machine, and kitchen table.
After selecting a mode, the app begins to detect objects, text, and people using the phone’s camera. It uses machine learning to determine what information is most critical to the individual user based on their usage history, allowing it to improve over time.
It’s also designed to be mostly hands-free, allowing users to navigate their surroundings without having to constantly tap on the app. Users can cover the camera to pause detection, knock twice on their phone to resume detection, and use the fingerprint sensor to switch to a different mode. The app can also be controlled via bluetooth or work offline.
Lookout follows the 2017 release of Microsoft’s Seeing AI app for iOS, which acts as a “talking camera” by describing objects surrounding the user, according to The Next Web. As the tech news site points out, there’s one key difference, though:
“Lookout seems like it could be more useful as its various modes can help highlight only the important objects in one’s surroundings based on what they’re doing—and therefore cut out a whole lot of noise from the app.”
To see how the Lookout app works, check out this video from Google:
Update: The glass-carafe version of the Ninja Hot & Cold Brewed System is currently on sale for $99 (a 50 percent discount) on Amazon and Walmart. That's the cheapest price we've ever seen, so grab it while you can. The thermal-carafe version is on sale on Amazon for $168, a 27 percent discount.
For people who just want a cup of joe to help them get out the door in the morning, the French presses, Chemexes, Aeropresses, Moka pots, and other specialized devices that coffee aficionados swear by probably seem more overwhelming than appealing. Ditto the fancy cappuccino machines at local cafes. That’s where Ninja’s new Hot & Cold Brewed System comes in: It was created to give coffee addicts a myriad of options with minimal fuss, not to mention minimal equipment. And it makes tea, too!
“Coffeehouses are known for having an endless selection, but current at-home brewers haven't given users the vast variety of choice we thought possible, and certainly not all in one product," Mark Rosenzweig, CEO of SharkNinja, said in a press release. "The Ninja Hot & Cold Brewed System changes the category entirely. This innovative system is more than just a machine you use in the morning; it's your all-day brewing partner.”
The Hot & Cold Brewed System comes with two baskets: one for coffee and one for tea. It knows what you're making to make based on the basket you insert, and the available options for that basket will light up. The machine allows the user to make six different sizes of coffee or tea, from a single cup all the way up to a full 50-ounce (10-cup) carafe.
And of course, as the name suggests, the system can make both hot and iced beverages. For coffee, it has five brew options: classic, rich, over ice, cold brew, and specialty (a concentrated brew for milky drinks like cappuccinos). If you’re making tea, you can choose between hot and cold brews optimized for herbal, black, oolong, white, or green tea.
When you select an over ice or cold brew, the machine automatically doubles the strength of your beverage so it doesn't get overly diluted by the ice cubes in the carafe. Even better, the Ninja can make cold brew in just 10 to 15 minutes, whereas other systems and methods typically take hours. (Hot coffee is brewed at 205°F, while the cold brew is made at 101°F.) And the system has a hot and cold frother that folds into the side so you can make barista-level lattes, too.
These bells and whistles sound impressive on paper, but how do they perform in real life? Ninja sent me Hot & Cold Brewed System to test for myself.
Ease of Use
Though it might look like something developed by NASA, the Hot & Cold Brewed System is designed to easily work with the twist of a dial and the push of a button, and it delivers. From loading in the correct amount of grounds with the system’s “smart scoop” to picking what type of brew you’d like, it’s simple enough to use even while bleary-eyed in the morning. It’s also easy to schedule a delayed brew so you can do the rest of your morning routine while your coffee brews. (Here’s the only drawback I can think of about this machine: When it starts brewing, it’s kind of noisy—loud enough to make my cats jump. It’s not a dealbreaker, but if you live in a small apartment and plan to brew coffee so that it’s ready right when you wake up, it might be something to consider.)
The system even tells you when it needs to be descaled. The “clean” button will light up, at which point you simply fill the water reservoir with descaling solution and water and press the clean button. A countdown lets you know how much longer the clean cycle will last.
Taste and Flavor
I swapped out an old, cheap coffee maker for the Hot & Cold Brewed System, and the difference was immediately noticeable. Whether hot or cold, the coffee made by the H&CBS was a better, smoother cup of joe. That’s due to what Ninja has dubbed Thermal Flavor Extraction automated brewing technology, which, according to a press release, “knows the precise temperatures, correct bloom times, and proper levels of saturation for every possible beverage combination to ensure a great taste every time.”
Whatever tech they use, it works. The coffee I make in this machine is consistently tasty. The rich brew setting works exactly as advertised, too, providing a richer, bolder flavor than the classic brew.
Features and Accessories
One of the best things about the H&CBS is the fact that it cuts down on waste significantly. Unlike other machines, it doesn't require any plastic pods or paper filters. Instead, it comes with two permanent filters, one for coffee and one for tea.
And the cold brew function is a game changer if you prefer iced coffee to hot. Not only does it brew quickly, but it eliminates the messy cleanup that comes with making cold brew yourself.
Typically priced at $230 for the thermal carafe version (or $200 for the glass carafe), the Hot & Cold Brewed System is significantly more expensive than a simpler drip coffee machine. But if you’re a cold brew addict looking to treat yourself, it’s worth it. Consider springing for the slightly more expensive thermal carafe model, which will keep your java hot or cold for hours. (I’ve left ice in it overnight and found cubes the next morning.)
Nothing gets under the skin quite like robocalls, those irritating and persistent attempts to sell questionable services and perpetuate moneymaking scams. A recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling finally paved the way for cell phone carriers to block the calls by default, rather than requiring consumers to opt into a blocking service to stop them.
Now, AT&T is doing exactly that. But if consumers want to block all robocalls, they’ll still have to pay a little extra.
AT&T just announced an expansion of its Call Protect service that will automatically block robocalls suspected to be fraudulent free of charge. Users are also free to manually block individual numbers of known spam callers. But if a consumer wants to automatically block all robocalls, even those from legitimate businesses, it will cost an additional $4 a month.
Call Protect was previously an opt-in feature: Users had to change their phone settings in order to take advantage of it. Due to the FCC ruling, AT&T can now activate Call Protect on all phones.
The benefit is expected to be available to all new AT&T service sign-ups, with existing users added in the coming months. If you don’t want to wait, you can download Call Protect as an app or turn it on via your AT&T account.
While AT&T is the first carrier to make the blocking feature a default, other cell phone providers offer similar functionality. T-Mobile’s Scam Block service blocks likely spam calls, while Verizon’s Call Filter and Sprint’s Premium Caller ID apps perform essentially the same function.
It’s expected robocalls will continue to face an uphill battle in an effort to reach consumers. The FCC also mandated that providers verify calls at the network level before reaching the consumer using a framework known as SHAKEN/STIR, or Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs and the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited standard. Clunky? Maybe. But the standard allows for carriers to catch suspected spam or fraud calls before they reach the consumer. All cell phone providers must implement it before the end of the year.
While nothing is likely to ever completely eliminate robocalls, at least we're making progress.