Virtual House Hunting Gets a Pandemic Boost

Padraig Belton from the BBC writes about how house hunters are using virtual-reality headsets to tour homes in the age of coronavirus. From the report: It's not for everyone as, at the moment, house hunters have to use their own headsets. But Giles Milner, marketing director at estate agent Chestertons, says he will sometimes send buyers headsets for new-build properties, if a development has multiple near-identical apartments with some still being built. "Developers are often selling off-plan, and it's hard to sell a product just on a 2D floor plan," he says. "So developers these days have virtual tours budgeted in from the start." Once you have a headset, it's a fairly simple process to find a virtual property on the estate agent's website, using a hand controller to work a virtual keyboard. It's still a fairly limited option, at the moment just 8% of Zoopla's listings have an option for a virtual tour. But Zoopla says there was a surge of activity during the first month of lockdown, when virtual reality (VR) viewings of new-build properties tripled. [...] Virtual reality offers greater detail than the traditional photos on a website. It also saves time for estate agents and is safer for everyone: "The last thing you want is for your staff members to get struck down with Covid-19," Mr Shipside says. Growing adoption of VR viewing also makes life easier for clients moving internationally, when travel back and forth is hard. Buyers from mainland China looking at homes in Singapore have to observe the country's strict fortnight quarantine on nearly all arrivals. So it makes sense to treat buying a house "just like online shopping," says Christopher Wang, founder of Imme VR, a Singaporean virtual-reality property company. A coming use of all this technology is letting prospective sellers find their property's value without estate agents visiting. Another will be letting possible buyers see a property as if it had their furniture already installed in the home. Having this record of your property's contents and their condition is especially beneficial if you ever have to submit an insurance claim -- for something stolen, or fire or flood damage. Another use will be in getting quotes from builders. Instead of contractors measuring and taking photos, going away and coming back with bids, a digital twin could instead let more contractors bid on the work -- giving power to the homeowner. Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2020-08-04 21:30:01 preview's
It's Official: EU Launches Antitrust Probe Into Google's Fitbit Takeover

It was rumored last week and now it's official: the European Commission announced it is launching an in-depth antitrust investigation into Google's $2.1 billion bid for Fitbit. CNN reports: The European Union's top antitrust regulator said it is concerned that the takeover would further strengthen Google's market position in online advertising by "increasing the already vast amount of data that Google could use for personalization of the ads it serves and displays." Google announced it was buying Fitbit, the world's leading maker of wearable fitness activity trackers, in November. The deal, worth about $2.1 billion, is one of Google's largest acquisitions and represents an important step for the company into smartwatches and other wearable devices. The Commission had already launched a preliminary investigation into the transaction. It said a commitment by Google not to use Fitbit data for advertising purposes was insufficient to address the concerns identified in the initial probe. The Commission's top antitrust official, Margrethe Vestager, said in a statement that the use of wearable devices by European consumers, as well as the data generated by them, is expected to grow significantly. "Our investigation aims to ensure that control by Google over data collected through wearable devices as a result of the transaction does not distort competition," Vestager said. In a blog post, Google Senior Vice President for Devices and Services Rick Osterloh said the deal "is about devices, not data," a market he said is full of competition. "We've been clear from the beginning that we will not use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads," Osterloh said. "We recently offered to make a legally binding commitment to the European Commission regarding our use of Fitbit data. As we do with all our products, we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move or delete their data." Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2020-08-04 21:00:02 preview's
Amazon's Engineers Are Building Robots In Their Garages

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: The next generation of Amazon's Scout bots -- the fully-electric autonomous delivery devices the company is hoping to deploy soon -- is currently being designed and built by a team of mechanical engineers in Seattle, and not in the most orthodox of settings. Instead of working in sleek labs, Amazon's engineers have effectively resorted to re-arranging their homes and garages to accommodate the development of the sophisticated piece of technology the Scout bot is promising to be. The cooler-sized bot is already deployed in a handful of US cities where it is being tested, albeit always accompanied by a human. And to make sure that Scout bots ever reach the next stage of development, Amazon's team had to work their way around the new restrictions suddenly imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, engineers need a lot more than a decent internet connection to be able to work remotely. In early March, therefore, Seattle-based Amazon mechanical engineer Jeff Gorges transformed his garage into an R&D lab of motors and wheels in anticipation of office closures. Since then, Gorges has been iterating the bot from his garage workbench, testing various new features by driving the device around his patio. The new Scout bot has now been assembled and debugged by Gorges, all from the comfort from his own home. Amazon's Canvas robotics team, which works on small autonomous carts that use spatial AI to move items through the company's fulfillment centers, moved their testing and manufacturing equipment from their office and lab space to several team members' homes. "With the new tools set up in their apartment living rooms, hardware engineers were able to build and assemble the sub-components for the carts, and then to pass the prototypes onto an R&D technician's home, who set up test and safety systems from his garage," reports ZDNet. "The robots were then sent to a computer vision scientist who worked on calibrating the devices' cameras by reconstructing the carts' future surroundings in the fulfillment center in 3D. All in all, six robots circulated through seven team members home, with precautions taken to disinfect the devices on each transition." Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2020-08-04 20:15:02 preview's
#MeTooSTEM founder admits to creating Twitter persona who “died” of COVID-19

BethAnn McLaughlin invented @Sciencing_Bi, a Hopi anthropologist who died of COVID-19
2020-08-04 19:30:04 preview's
Tesla's Touchscreen Wiper Controls Ruled Illegal In Germany

New submitter Rei_is_a_dumbass shares a report from Electrek: Tesla's wiper controls through its touchscreen have been ruled illegal in Germany after someone crashed their Model 3 while using them and fought a fine and driving ban through the court system. A Tesla Model 3 driver got into an accident while using the touchscreen to adjust the speed of the automatic windshield wipers. In Model 3 and Model Y vehicles, Tesla didn't install normal windshield wiper settings through a steering wheel stalk. Instead, the automaker is detecting the rain through its Autopilot cameras and automatically adjusting the speed based on the strength of the rainfall. If the driver wants to adjust the speed, they need to do it through the center touchscreen. The driver in Germany was adjusting those settings when he lost control of the vehicle and crashed. A local district court gave him a fine and a one-month driving ban and that's where the problem started for Tesla. He decided to fight the punishment -- bringing the case to the Higher Regional Court (OLG). "It comes as no surprise that enlightened Germans would be the first to rule Tesla's poly engineered cars a road hazard," adds Slashdot reader Rei_is_a_dumbass. "Touch screen interfaces have no place in cars." Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2020-08-04 19:30:04 preview's
Some Stars Could Support as Many as 7 Habitable Planets

A new study by a team of astronomers and planetary scientists calculate that some stars could have as many as 7 habitable planets orbiting them! The post Some Stars Could Support as Many as 7 Habitable Planets appeared first on Universe Today.
2020-08-04 19:00:07 preview's
Mulan skips US theaters, will debut on Disney+ Sept 4—for an extra $30

Described as a "one-off," but is Black Widow next?
2020-08-04 18:45:03 preview's
'Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout' Is a Freewheeling Breath of Fresh Air

Surviving three or four rounds of this multiplayer knock-out game makes you feel like a total athlete, even as a pirate-costumed bean
2020-08-04 18:45:03 preview's
Disney+ Passes 60.5 Million Subs, Reaches 5-Year Streaming Goal In First Eight Months

In Disney's earnings call today, CEO Bob Chapek said there are now 60.5 million global subscribers to Disney+, reaching the 60 million-90 million range it told investors it would get to by 2024. Deadline reports: He also said today that Mulan, long in limbo amid the COVID-19 pandemic, will debut September 24 on Disney+ for $24.99, a new wrinkle for the streamer. Disney also announced it will launch a new streaming service internationally under its Star brand and using Disney's own content, starting in September. After rising from 54.5 million subscribers as of the beginning of May, Disney+ reached 57.5 million subscribers by the end of June before surpassing the 60M mark in the last couple of days. The overall results came up short of Wall Street analysts' expectations of a loss of 64 cents per share and total revenue of $12.4 billion. Disney has already reached its five-year target for Disney+ global subscribers less than nine months after launching the $7-a-month service. While it is a far more targeted offering than Amazon Prime Video or Hulu, it has quickly vaulted into the No. 2 spot in the subscription streaming game after Netflix, which has nearly 193 million global subscribers. When the company reported its last batch of quarterly results in May, Disney said it had 54.5 million Disney+ subscribers, up from 33.5 million as of March 28. Hulu, which Disney has controlled since the spring of 2019, had 32.1 million total subscribers at the end of the March quarter. Hulu, the company said in its fiscal third-quarter earnings report, now has 35.5 million subscribers to its on-demand service and live TV bundle combined, while ESPN+ is now at 8.5 million, more than triple its level a year ago. Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2020-08-04 18:45:01 preview's
Gordon Murray says the his new supercar is the most driver-centric ever

It means to improve on the legendary McLaren F1 "in every conceivable way."
2020-08-04 18:00:04