France Debuts World’s First Solar Panel Road in Normandy

A one-kilometer stretch of road in the French town of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy is officially the world’s first public “Wattway.” As France 24 reports, the solar panel road was opened by French Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal on Thursday, December 22.

The panels cover 30,000 square feet of roadway and have been reinforced with layers of plastic to support the roughly 2000 cars that use the road each day. It can generate up to 280 kilowatts of energy, which will be used to power the town’s street lights.

The project is a big step forward for sustainable energy, and Colas, the company behind the solar road, is optimistic about what lies ahead. As of November, the company plans to build similar sites in North America, Europe, Africa, and Japan.

But there are still several challenges to overcome before solar roadways go mainstream, the biggest of which is expense. Normandy’s Wattway required $5.2 million to build, which means that each kilowatt peak it produces costs $17.74 compared to the $1.36 per kilowatt cost of a conventional solar roof. Colas representatives say they're working on ways to make the roads cheaper, and Ecology Minister Royal says “the costs will be driven sharply down" as more of these roads are built, according to France 24. Royal's hope is that before long, France will reach the point where every 1000 kilometers of highway contains at least one kilometer of solar cells.

[h/t France 24]

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iStock
A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Apple
Here's a Preview of the 70 New Emojis Coming to Your iPhone
Apple
Apple

Get ready to add a whole new set of symbols to your emoji vocabulary. As CNN reports, Apple has released a sneak peak of some of the 70 new emojis coming to iOS in late 2018.

In February 2018, the Unicode Consortium announced the latest additions to their official emoji database. Software makers have since been working on customizing the designs for their own operating systems, and now iPhone and iPad users are getting a preview of what the new emojis will look like on their devices.

One of the most highly anticipated new symbols is the redhead emoji, something people have been demanding for a while. A curly haired option, another popular request, will be added to the line-up, as will gray-hair and bald emoji choices. Each of the new hair types can be added to the classic face emoji regardless of gender, but when it comes to specific characters like the bride or the jogger emojis, users will be limited to the same hair options they had before.

If Apple users ever want to express their inner superhero, two new super characters, a man and woman, will let them do so. They will also have new "smiley" symbols to choose from, like a party emoji, a sad eyes emoji, and a frozen emoji.

In the food category you have a head of lettuce and a mango, and for dessert, a cupcake and a mooncake—a festive Chinese pastry. New animals include a peacock, a kangaroo, and a lobster. The lobster emoji stirred some controversy in February when Mainers noticed the Unicode version was missing a set of legs. The design was quickly revised, and Apple's version is also anatomically correct.

These images just show a small sample of the emojis that will be included in an iOS update planned for later in 2018. Users will have to wait to see the final designs for other the symbols on the list.

New Apple emojis.
Apple

New Apple emojis.
Apple

New Apple emojis.
Apple

New Apple emojis.
Apple

[h/t CNN]

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