Mountable Laserlight Projector Creates a Personal Bike Lane for Cyclists

Beryl, Kickstarter
Beryl, Kickstarter

All the blinking lights and reflectors in the world aren't enough to prevent your bike from disappearing into a truck's blind spot. But what if you could extend the length of your bike by an 20 extra feet with the click of a button? That's the concept behind the Laserlight Core, a product currently raising funds on Kickstarter, Fast Company reports.

Laserlight resembles a small flashlight, and it attaches easily to the front of your handlebars. When biking, you can switch it on to project a laser image of a green bike symbol onto the street several yards in front of you. If the driver of a van, truck, or bus can't see your actual bike in their mirror, the idea is that the light will make them aware of your presence. The projection is about the width of a bike lane, so it may also encourage drivers to give cyclists more road space than they would have otherwise. According to an independent study on the light from Transport for London, bikers with Laserlight are about 97 percent visible at night to drivers in vans (compared to 65 visibility with a standard LED light).

Emily Brooke came up up with the concept seven years ago as a design student at England's University of Brighton. After a frighteningly close encounter with a van while biking, she wondered if she could invent a way to get the attention of drivers even when she was stuck squarely in their blind spots.

Her product, originally dubbed Blaze, launched on Kickstarter in 2012. The campaign was a success, and now she's returning to the crowdfunding platform with a new-and-improved version of the item. Laserlight Core is easier to mount than its predecessor and it also projects a clearer image. You can reserve yours with a pledge of $75 or more with shipping estimated for December of this year. (It makes a great gift for the dedicated cyclist in your life, too.)

[h/t Fast Company]

Surprise! Microsoft Admits That People Are Listening In on Your Cortana and Skype Conversations

mabe123/iStock via Getty Images
mabe123/iStock via Getty Images

In a turn of events that, at this point, probably shocks no one, Microsoft has confessed that human contractors have been listening in on some people's private conversations via Skype and Cortana.

Vice first broke the news on the privacy breach earlier this month, after a contractor passed along documents, screenshots, and actual audio files of some conversations. “The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data,” the contractor, whose name was withheld (for obvious reasons), told Motherboard. Unlike Apple’s recent Siri snafu, these conversations didn’t include potential criminal activity, but they did catch intimate exchanges about weight loss, love, and relationship problems.

Also unlike Apple: Microsoft is not suspending its practices. Instead, the tech monolith has updated its privacy policy to clarify that humans might, in fact, be eavesdropping on you.

“We realized, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job of clarifying that humans sometimes review this content,” a Microsoft representative told Vice. Before, the Skype website had mentioned that your content could be analyzed in order to improve the technology, but it never explicitly stated that humans would be listening to it.

Microsoft only records Skype conversations that use its translation features, in order to “help the translation and speech technology learn and grow,” according to the Skype FAQ section. If you’re not using translation features, your sweet nothings are reportedly as private as you want them to be. The updated FAQ section also now states that “Microsoft employees and vendors” may be transcribing the translated audio, and the procedures are “designed to protect users’ privacy, including taking steps to de-identify data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees,” and more.

But Cortana’s data gathering isn’t limited to translation. According to its support page, Microsoft can collect your voice data literally any time you “use your voice to say something to Cortana or invoke skills.” If that worries you, we recommend spending some time adjusting the settings on your Microsoft Privacy Dashboard.

[h/t Vice]

Amazon Is Making It Easier for Sellers to Donate Returned or Unsold Items Instead of Trashing Them

ronstik/iStock via Getty Images
ronstik/iStock via Getty Images

After mailing back an unwanted Amazon order or bringing it to a drop-off location, you may assume your return will find its way to a good home. But not every item returned to Amazon is re-listed on the website. Many third-party sellers working through Amazon simply toss returned products in the trash along with any surplus goods they can't sell. That's about to change: As CNBC reports, the retailer will make its new Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) Donations program the default option for independent shops based in the U.S. and the UK.

Starting in September 2019, sellers that have unwanted returns or unsold items sitting in an Amazon warehouse can depend on the company to donate them to a good cause. In the U.S., products that are eligible for donation will be sent to various nonprofits through a charity group called Good360, and in the UK, groups including Newlife, Salvation Army, and Barnardo will distribute the goods.

“We know getting products into the hands of those who need them transforms lives and strengthens local communities,” Alice Shobe, director of Amazon in the Community, said in a statement. “We are delighted to extend this program to sellers who use our fulfillment services.”

Amazon charges independent sellers 50 cents to ship unsold items back to them and just 15 cents to throw them away, meaning that donating or trying to resell returned items wasn't always cost-effective for businesses. Amazon reportedly wasted 293,000 products over a nine-month period in just one French distribution center alone.

The company now aims to incentivize sellers to donate their unsold and returned inventory by making it the cheaper option, according to sellers who spoke to CNBC. As part of this program, Amazon will also manage the logistics and work with charities in an effort to "streamline the donation process for independent sellers."

The Fulfillment by Amazon Donations program will be the default for U.S. and UK sellers starting on September 1, but stores will still have the opportunity to opt out if they wish.

[h/t CNBC]

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