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Will This New Development in CGI Skin Overcome the Uncanny Valley?

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Computer graphics populate the levels of your favorite video games and help turn actors into superheroes. Bad CGI can derail a project and distract the audience, but when done skillfully, it can seamlessly fill gaps and enhance the overall viewing experience. A recent breakthrough in creating CGI skin by researchers at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies and Imperial College London is changing the game, and will most certainly raise the bar for what can be considered “realistic.”

By developing a “10-micron resolution scanning technique” to capture very subtle skin microstructure deformations, the researchers were able to translate the tiniest movements in the skin and pores into usable data. The data was then used to manipulate the CGI character’s artificial flesh, resulting in rendered skin that stretches and compresses in ways that are more nuanced and realistic than ever before. The next step would be to study and use this technique to mimic various emotions, as well as differences in expression across age, race, and gender.

This is a major development, and one that computer graphics designers have been building towards for decades. Back in 1992, the makers of the film Death Becomes Her used CGI skin software (paired with silicone and animatronics) in various scenes and took home the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. Fast forward to 1997, and Pixar was pushing the envelope with CGI textures and skin with Geri’s Game, a short that also snagged an Academy Award. 

As the years progressed, the software seemed to peak at a point where CGI skin looked real, but not photo-real (this scene in The Matrix Reloaded is a good example). Attempts to make actors seem younger or to help them achieve inhuman feats with “digital cosmetic enhancements” was impressive, but still unnatural and a little weird. This CGI sits firmly in what is often called the “uncanny valley,” a step just shy of photorealism that evokes a negative emotional response. 

Is it possible that this study could be the key to escaping that uncanny valley? Check out the video below, which explains the study and its findings, and head to the project website to read the technical paper in full.

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Apple Is Offering Free Battery Replacements for Some MacBook Models
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iStock

Want to extend the life of your MacBook Pro battery? A new offer from Apple might let you replace it for free.

Some non Touch Bar, 13-inch MacBook Pros that were manufactured between October 2016 and October 2017 are eligible for the program, and you can see if your computer qualifies by entering your serial number on Apple’s website.

The company said some of the batteries in models manufactured during this one-year period may be faulty, which is what prompted the offer. Although it’s not a safety issue, a component in the battery could fail, causing the battery to expand. Affected customers who already paid to have their battery replaced can also contact Apple for a refund.

The service takes three to five days to complete and can be done at any Apple-authorized service provider or retail store. Computers can also be mailed in to a repair center.

Before sending it away for repairs, though, it's important to check for other issues with your computer. Apple notes, “If your 13-inch MacBook Pro has any damage which impairs the replacement of the battery, that issue will need to be resolved prior to the battery replacement. In some cases, there may be a cost associated with the repair.”

[h/t The Verge]

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Amazon Will Now Deliver Packages to Your Car Trunk
Amazon
Amazon

Delivery drivers call them “porch pirates.” It’s a derisive term for people who take advantage of the fact that many residents aren’t home during the day and swipe packages from doorsteps. Bad weather, nosy neighbors, or general privacy concerns may be other reasons you’re not comfortable leaving shipments unattended. Now, Amazon has a solution: Today, the company is introducing Amazon Key In-Car Delivery, a new method for dropping off packages that virtually guarantees they’ll be in one piece when you get home.

When shoppers opt for Amazon Key at checkout and own a vehicle that supports app-based unlocking, the delivery driver will be able to pop open your trunk and deposit your items inside. Essentially, your car doubles as a storage locker.

Your car may be sitting in your office parking lot during the day, but that’s no problem. Drivers will be able to pull up to your car there and make the same drop-off. When you’re done with work for the day, your packages will be waiting. Your car can be parked anywhere within a two-block radius of the delivery address and still be eligible for the service.

But how would a driver find it? The In-Car Delivery program requires a few things in order to work. For one, you need Amazon’s Key app; you also need to give the company permission to lock and unlock your vehicle. Your car must support app-based access, like 2015 or newer GM cars with OnStar subscriptions or recent-model Volvos with a Volvo On Call account. These vehicles have partnership agreements with Amazon that make them compatible with the Key software, as well as GPS functioning that allows drivers to find them when parked offsite. You’ll also need to be in one of 37 markets where Amazon dispatches their own delivery staff.

If this delivery approach is embraced, it’s likely that other carmakers will help Amazon widen their distribution platform. Amazon Key also offers in-home delivery service in select cities, which allows drivers entry into your home to leave packages inside.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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