This Build-Your-Own Touchscreen Computer Will Help Your Kid Learn to Code

Kano
Kano

Though most people rely on computers and smart phones every single day, many of us have almost no clue how these machines work. The coding education startup Kano hopes to change that by showing kids how to assemble their own computers with step-by-step instructions. And now, it’s teaching kids how to put together touchscreens.

Kano’s new Computer Kit Touch lets you build a touchscreen computer that you can use to play Kano's coding games. It comes equipped with a 10-inch screen that you hook up to a Raspberry Pi computer, as well as a separate keyboard with a trackpad.

Like the rest of Kano’s products, putting together the computer is simple enough. You just need to follow a streamlined set of illustrated directions akin to what you’d get if you were putting together a set of LEGOs. In the process, kids can learn the basics of computing without getting too overwhelmed by tech specs.

A disassembled touch computer kit
Kano

Once assembled and booted up, the computer runs on Kano’s custom educational operating system. Kids can add apps like YouTube and Whatsapp, play Kano’s coding games, making art projects, and explore Kano World, the social learning community where users share the cool things they’ve come up with using their own kits. The touchscreen kit is essentially a revved-up version of the original computer kit, adding in the ability to draw and gesture with the touchscreen as part of its coding games and challenges, while still allowing you to use a keyboard if you want to.

It seems obvious that a kid-focused company like Kano would want to get into the touchscreen game. Many children love tablets and other touchscreens, much to the chagrin of parents and education experts who worry that so much screen time might be harming their development. In 2017, Common Sense Media reported that 42 percent of kids between the ages of 0 and 8 had their own tablet at home. Parents who are concerned about their kids spending an unhealthy amount of time with touchscreens might feel more at peace giving them something like Kano, which combines the fun parts of an iPad—i.e., access to YouTube—with games and challenges that are specifically tailored to helping kids learn.

Kano launched its original computer kit on Kickstarter in 2013, and has recently been expanding its offerings beyond the computers themselves. Earlier this year, the company came out with a Harry Potter wand kit, and prior to that, the company debuted a motion sensor, a camera, and a light-pixel array, among other gadgets, all designed to help kids learn coding skills.

The touchscreen kit sells for $279.

Why Robocalls Just Keep Getting Worse

iStock.com/Oleksii Spesyvtsev
iStock.com/Oleksii Spesyvtsev

Artificial intelligence was supposed to make life easier for all of us. In the case of robocalls—those persistent, indefatigable automated dialers that pester millions of people with often-bogus sales offers—it’s proving to be one of our biggest nuisances. Somehow, we’re powerless to stop them.

According to a recent NBC News report by Nigel Chiwaya and Jeremia Kimelman, they’re now worse than ever. NBC cited data from YouMail, a voicemail and call-blocking service for iPhone and Android customers, that demonstrated a staggering increase in robocalls: Americans received in excess of 4 billion of the calls in June 2018, up from more than 2 billion in January 2016. Telemarketing calls also topped the list of consumer complaints filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

How frequently you’re interrupted by these calls may depend on your region. Residents of Atlanta received an average of 68 robocalls in September. Those with a 202 area code in Washington, D.C. got 49 calls. On average, a U.S. resident can expect to receive 13 robocalls a month.

There are two possible reasons for the uptick in the calls. Phone apps that block unwanted or unfamiliar numbers are increasing in popularity, which may be prompting scammers and telemarketers to make more calls in an effort to get through. It’s also easier than ever to dispatch the calls, as new software programs make it a snap for anyone to set up a system to mass-dial potential customers. The effort is so cheap—sometimes pennies per call—that if even a small percentage of people respond, it’s worth the investment.

According to CBS News, 25 million Americans were drawn in by a pitch of this type last year alone, losing $9 billion to scams. (“Spoofing,” which can display a local number on a person’s caller ID function, can be an effective way to get an individual to answer the phone.)

What’s the FCC doing about it? This year, they’ve suggested multimillion dollar fines for companies targeting people with robocalls that use spoof numbers. That may deter domestic companies, but because many robocallers are located outside of the United States, it might not lead to a drastic reduction in the number of calls.

There was also hope that the National Do Not Call Registry, which allows consumers to request their number not be dialed by businesses, would lessen the volume. Unfortunately, law-abiding businesses make up only a fraction of those making the calls.

Industry experts have drawn comparisons to spam emails, citing the wave of unsolicited messages that blanketed the internet in the early 2000s before services were able to funnel them out of view. The same may hold true for phone carriers. AT&T offers Call Protect, a service that tries to caution users when an incoming call might be dubious. T-Mobile has Scam Block, which keeps an inventory of known scam numbers so it can block them from coming in.

For now, the best thing consumers can do is ignore calls from unknown numbers and hope technology—like Google’s Pixel smartphone, which will answer and transcribe calls for review, or Stir/Shaken, a cross-platform standard that might one day authenticate phone numbers—will be able to stem the tide of unwanted calls.

Unfortunately, the robocall epidemic could get worse before it gets better. It's being predicted that by 2019, half of all incoming cell phone calls will be from a non-human.

[h/t NBC News]

New Netflix Hack Lets You Control the App With Your Eyes

Netflix, YouTube
Netflix, YouTube

Watching Netflix could become a truly hands-free experience, Popular Mechanics reports. As part of the streaming giant's recent Hack Day—a biannual event where Netflix employees come up with experimental features—engineers debuted Eye Nav, a feature that lets Netflix iOS users navigate the app with simple eye movements.

Using Apple’s augmented reality platform, ARKit, Netflix engineers programmed the Face ID function for iPhone and iPad to recognize eye movements as gestures within the Netflix app. Users can control a cursor by moving their gaze around a screen, browsing the catalog and playing content without ever lifting a finger.

As you move your eyes, a yellow circle moves through the catalog, serving as a giant cursor button. A longer stare results in a click, while sticking out your tongue dismisses the current screen.

While the feature may seem a bit dystopian to some—why would you want Netflix to track every one of your tiniest movements?—it could actually be super useful for people with disabilities who might have an easier time browsing and selecting shows with their eyes rather than tapping the app with their fingers.

So far, Eye Nav is just experimental, but it could become a more permanent part of the mobile app in the future. Since it does require eye-tracking functionality, though, it likely isn't coming to your television anytime soon.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

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