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HomePod may get phone call support and multiple timers

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While Apple was quiet about HomePod updates at WWDC, that doesn't mean it's twiddling its thumbs -- its staff are privately testing pre-release software. And now, we might now what that software entail.s French site iGeneration claims to have details of the HomePod's iOS 12-based beta, and it could address a laundry list of feature requests for Apple's smart speaker. Most notably, it would include native phone call support. Instead of having to start the call on your iPhone and switch audio inputs, you could both place and receive calls through the HomePod.


Harvard's robot arm can grab squishy sea animals without hurting them

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As you might imagine, you can't just grab extra-soft sea creatures like jellyfish or octopuses when you want to study them. Not if you want them to remain intact, anyway. Thankfully, researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute have a far more delicate solution. They've created a robot arm (the RAD sampler) whose petal-like fingers can quickly form a ball shape around an animal, capturing it without risking any harm. It's simpler than it looks -- it uses just a single motor to drive the entire jointed structure, so it's easy to control and easier still to repair if something breaks.


Recommended Reading: The accent struggle for Alexa and Google Assistant

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Smart speakers (and the virtual assistants they house) offer voice control for so many connected devices it's hard to keep count. Those audio gadgets can also assist with a range of questions -- that is, if they can understand you. The Washington Post took a close look at the performance of Alexa and Google Assistant when it comes to understanding people with strong accents. The results show that while these devices are certainly handy and increasingly popular, there's still a lot of room for improvement. The Facebook CEO covered a range of topics, including its evolving approach to fake news and a comment about Holocaust deniers that warranted a clarification afterwards.


'Stardew Valley' multiplayer arrives on PC, Mac and Linux August 1st

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We've been waiting on Stardew Valley multiplayer for awhile now, and now we finally have a release date. According to the developer's Twitter account, it will arrive on PC, Mac and Linux on August 1st. There's also a new trailer to enjoy. Eric Barone, the solo game developer of Stardew Valley, answered some questions in the replies to this original tweet, so feel free to take a look if you have additional concerns. There is currently no date for the Nintendo Switch or other console multiplayer versions, though they are in the works.


Google AI experiment compares poses to 80,000 images as you move

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Google released a fun AI experiment today called Move Mirror that matches whatever pose you make to hundreds of images of others making that same pose. When you visit the Move Mirror website and allow it to access your computer's camera, it uses a computer vision model called PoseNet to detect your body and identify what positions your joints are in. It then compares your pose to more than 80,000 images and finds which ones best mirror your position. Move Mirror then shows you those images next to your own in real time and as you move around, the images you're matched to change. You can even make a GIF of your poses and your Move Mirror matches.


Voice assistants still have problems understanding strong accents

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Cultural biases in tech aren't just limited to facial recognition -- they crop up in voice assistants as well. The Washington Post has partnered with research groups on studies showing that Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant aren't as accurate understanding people with strong accents, no matter how fluent their English might be. People with Indian accents were at a relatively mild disadvantage in one study, but the overall accuracy went down by at least 2.6 percent for those with Chinese accents, and by as much as 4.2 percent for Spanish accents. The gap was particularly acute in media playback, where a Spanish accent might net a 79.9 accuracy rate versus 91.8 percent from an Eastern US accent. A second study showed how voice assistants would frequently mangle interpretations when people read news headlines out loud.


DARPA's insect-sized SHRIMP robots could aid disaster relief

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DARPA's efforts to propel military technology forward often manifest in a diverse fashion, spanning everything from drone submarine development to a biostasis program that aims to buy more time to rescue soldiers on the battlefield. The SHRIMP program, short for SHort-Range Independent Microrobotic Platforms, is another potentially life-saving initiative that is being designed to navigate through hazardous natural disaster zones. What differentiates SHRIMP from microrobotics limited by SWaP (size, weight and power) constraints is its size. DARPA has managed to shrink the tech down to the size of an insect -- a scale of mm-to-cm. Program manager Dr. Ronald Polcawich says the smaller scale is what gives SHRIMP robots an advantage over larger robots -- which are too large to inspect damaged environments.


Wirecutter's best Prime Day deals (that you can still buy)

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This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter's independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commissions. Read Wirecutter's continuously updated list of Prime Day deals here. A new low and huge drop in price on our upgrade pick for best home theater projector and also budget pick for best 4K projector. Chris Heinonen wrote, "if you want better image quality, along with support for wide color gamut (WCG) Ultra HD sources (although not at 4K resolution), even easier setup, and support for automation integration with complex home theaters, the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB is our upgrade pick."


Riding an autonomous shuttle through Times Square was reassuringly boring

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Yesterday afternoon, I rode an autonomous shuttle down a short section of Broadway in the heart of Times Square, and it was easily the most boring part of my day. I'm not saying that because my life is particularly exciting, either. The trip was boring because everything inside the Coast Autonomous P-1 worked exactly the way it was supposed to: The shuttle crawled up to a barricade on 47th Street, paused for a bit, and scooted back in the opposite direction toward 48th. In this case, the vehicle wasn't completely autonomous -- Coast CTO Pierre Lefevre manually started each leg of a trip with an Xbox Elite controller -- but the P-1 navigated its surroundings all own its own. That short trip was one of many small-scale tests the company has put on over the years, all of which speak to the commercial viability of tiny, driverless buses.


'Robot chemist' could use AI to speed up medical breakthroughs

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Scientists can only do so much to discover new chemical reactions on their own. Short of happy accidents, it can take years to find new drugs that might save lives. They might have a better way at the University of Glasgow, though: let robots do the hard work. A research team at the school has developed a "robot chemist" (below) that uses machine learning to accelerate discoveries of chemical reactions and molecules. The bot uses machine learning to predict the outcomes of chemical reactions based on what it gleans from direct experience with just a fraction of those interactions.