Next year let’s all celebrate an augmented reality Christmas

It’s that time of year again. Christmas has come around and it’s time to deck the halls with all those decorations that have been gathering dust in the attic for the last year. Gordian tangles of fairy lights, baubles that may or may not have become cracked in the transition from tree to box and the motherlode of tree decorations of mysterious origin.

But before you get all wrapped up and frustrated in one of the more gloriously troublesome of Christmas traditions, let’s instead take a moment to look forward to how we may be making things festive in the future. In all likelihood, it will look fairly different and rather more virtual.

Augmented reality tech, if it can capture the same hype as virtual reality, is sure to steamroll the market in the next few years. Though Google Glass fell rather flat, the tech is coming along to overlay our reality with all the various aspects of the digital world. It seems to make perfect sense then that our future celebrations may not rely on physical aspects.

While we may be currently tied down by bulky headsets (even Microsoft’s untethered HoloLens seems pretty big to have on for long periods) Google Glass proved at least in concept that this won’t always be the case. Being bold, we might even say that you’ll have a svelte set of augmented reality glasses perched on your nose in just ten years.

Once a part of everyday life such devices will render precariously standing on a ladder to get those lights on your roof just right a thing of the past. Instead we imagine a more advanced form of geotagging, where you can design the way your house looks by pinning its location.

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To anyone strolling by without their glasses, it will look perfectly ordinary. But to those with an augmented reality device, the tech will respond to the location and display the exterior of the home just as lit up as you choose. From the simplest string of lights to the most elaborate of displays you can imagine, and all without having to lift a finger.

Once past the giant flashing Santa and assorted reindeer, your visitors will also get the chance  to embrace a more updated version of a long-standing tradition before crossing the threshold. Beneath the holographic mistletoe, they’ll have the chance to instantly capture and share the moment across social media.

Inside, the decorating continues. With smart enough GPS and what we assume to be some kind of design app, we imagine you simply telling the app that your house consists of X rooms and exteriors, and each of them can be decorated to suit refined tastes or fit out Santa’s Grotto.

This is fairly unlikely to come for free, but the in-app purchase of a fancier setup than the basic free package provided seems a fairly good deal for the loft space cleared up. Think of it kind of like The Sims, where if you want expanded options for decorating and designing your house you have to buy the expansion pack.

Of course, there are potential issues. If you thought your relatives could be judgemental before, wait until they see that you didn’t shell out for the Winter Wonderland package. You just know that Aunt Janice is going to be inquiring into your finances, tutting away at the lights of just one colour.

The problems only continue if you take into account that there may be older relatives who aren’t using an AR device. As far as they’re concerned, you just didn’t bother to decorate and are lacking in Christmas spirit. Bah humbug.

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We here at Factor have a couple of suggestions to clear these obstacles and smooth the way to your ideal festivities. As far as Aunt Janice is concerned, while you may not appreciate dressing and undressing your very own Winter Wonderland, if it keeps her off your back it may be that you can have physical decorations as well as digital ones.

More difficult is the issue of those who won’t or can’t adopt the augmented reality tech. While small hologram projectors would give them the same impression, it would rather defeat the purpose of everyone else bringing along their Google Glass, Hololens or whatever it is Magic Leap is working on.

One solution is to simply guilt them into getting on board by gifting them a set of the glasses. Those wishing for a less morally ambiguous resolution however, may prefer to think a little further forward to a Christmas hosted inside a smart home. Recognising each of your guests, your house may be able to personalise displays to suit each of their festive preferences.

Of course, there’s something to be said for pulling out the presents from under a real tree and feeling the irritation against your skin of real tinsel. There’s also something to be said for never having to sweep up pine needles again or work out just how you fit all the decorations in that one box.

However you choose to celebrate in the years to come, whether it be through a virtual lens or stacking up just as many lights as you possibly can on the outside of your house, Factor wishes you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Robot takes first steps towards building artificial lifeforms

A robot equipped with sophisticated AI has successfully simulated the creation of artificial lifeforms, in a key first step towards the eventual goal of creating true artificial life.

The robot, which was developed by scientists at the University of Glasgow, was able to model the creation of artificial lifeforms using unstable oil-in-water droplets. These droplets effectively played the role of living cells, demonstrating the potential of future research to develop living cells based on building blocks that cannot be found in nature.

Significantly, the robot also successfully predicted their properties before they were created, even though this could not be achieved using conventional physical models.

The robot, which was designed by Glasgow University’s Regius Chair of Chemistry, Professor Lee Cronin, is driven by machine learning and the principles of evolution.

It has been developed to autonomously create oil-in-water droplets with a host of different chemical makeups and then use image recognition to assess their behaviour.

Using this information, the robot was able to engineer droplets to have different properties­. Those which were found to be desirable could then be recreated at any time, using a specific digital code.

“This work is exciting as it shows that we are able to use machine learning and a novel robotic platform to understand the system in ways that cannot be done using conventional laboratory methods, including the discovery of ‘swarm’ like group behaviour of the droplets, akin to flocking birds,” said Cronin.

“Achieving lifelike behaviours such as this are important in our mission to make new lifeforms, and these droplets may be considered ‘protocells’ – simplified models of living cells.”

One of the oil droplets created by the robot

The research, which is published today in the journal PNAS, is one of several research projects being undertaken by Cronin and his team within the field of artificial lifeforms.

While the overarching goal is moving towards the creation of lifeforms using new and unprecedented building blocks, the research may also have more immediate potential applications.

The team believes that their work could also have applications in several practical areas, including the development of new methods for drug delivery or even innovative materials with functional properties.

Mac spyware stole millions of user images

A criminal case brought against a man from Ohio, US has shed more light on a piece of Mac malware, dubbed Fruitfly, that was used to surreptitiously turn on cameras and microphones, take and download screenshots, log keystrokes, and steal tax and medical records, photographs, internet searches, and bank transactions from users.

Source: Ars Technica

Drone swarm attack strikes Russian military bases

Russia's Ministry of Defence claims its forces in Syria were attacked a week ago by a swarm of home-made drones. According to Russia's MoD Russian forces at the Khmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility "successfully warded off a terrorist attack with massive application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)"

Source: Science Alert

Las Vegas strip club employs robot strippers

A Las Vegas strip club has flown in robot strippers from London to 'perform' at the club during CES. Sapphire Las Vegas strip club managing partner Peter Feinstein said that he employed the robots because the demographics of CES have changed and the traditional female strippers aren’t enough to lure a crowd to the club anymore.

Source: Daily Beast

GM to make driverless cars without steering wheels or pedals by 2019

General Motors has announced it plans to mass-produce self-driving cars without traditional controls like steering wheels and pedals by 2019. “It’s a pretty exciting moment in the history of the path to wide scale [autonomous vehicle] deployment and having the first production car with no driver controls,” GM President Dan Ammann told The Verge.

Source: The Verge

Russia-linked hackers "Fancy Bears" target the IOC

Following Russia's ban from the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, the Russia-linked hacking group "Fancy Bears" has published a set of apparently stolen emails, which purportedly belong to officials from the International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee, and third-party groups associated with the organisations.

Source: Wired

Scientists discover ice cliffs on Mars

Using images provided by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists have described how steep cliffs, up to 100 meters tall, made of what appears to be nearly pure ice indicate that large deposits of ice may also be located in nearby underground deposits. The discovery has been described as “very exciting” for potential human bases.

Source: Science Mag