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Best of CES 2021: The smart home and home entertainment products that captured our attention


If you think judging a product based on what you can see and hear in a jampacked and noisy convention center is hard, imagine doing it over a Zoom connection. That being said, these smart home and home entertainment products impressed us despite the limitations of the venue. The products below are presented in alphabetical order. If you'd like to see everything we checked out at CES 2021, just click here. Wait, three thousand bucks for a doggie door?

The Tula is a stylish portable audio recorder with AI noise cancellation


You probably haven't heard of Tula before, but you may be familiar with founder David Brown and his other microphone brand: Soyuz. The Tula is different: it's a surprisingly flexible portable recorder that promises quality audio and clever features for $199. The first thing you'll notice about the Tula is its design -- while not nearly as ostentatious as a Soyuz, it shares a sense of old-school whimsy lacking in more "professional" gear like, well, anything Zoom makes.

Barking Commands At A Self-Driving Car Won't Do You Any Good


Verbal commands can save lives, including for self-driving cars. The powerful impact of the spoken word. I was in a local park the other day and someone had let their dog off its leash, allowing the frisky pooch a chance to run around wildly and relish its newfound freedom. At one point, I saw that the canine was about to dart wantonly into the street where cars were zipping along, so I yelled out to the dog and called for it to come back towards the trees and grassy area. Thankfully, the pooch heard me and scooted away from the dangers of the busy byway. Later that same day, I was walking along on the sidewalk in my neighborhood and saw up ahead a car that was backing out of a driveway.

Amazon's Halo bracelet tells users they have too much body fat or if they sound 'condescending' -

Daily Mail - Science & tech

Amazon unveiled its Halo health and fitness tracker over the summer that pairs with an AI-powered app to provide users insight into their overall wellness – but it seems to also shame wearers. The Washington Post released a report that the technology points out flaws such as an overbearing voice or too much body fat. The wearable is equipped with a tiny microphone that listens to your voice, allowing it to determine the tone and shares descriptions such as'opinionated' or'condescending.' Users can also upload a near-naked image of themselves to the companion app, which is analyzed by AI to determine their body composition. The app not only displays body fat percentage, but also shows users how they would look after shedding a few pounds.

Apple's HomePod Mini Falls Short As a Smart Speaker


I was ridiculously excited to review the HomePod mini, Apple's latest small smart speaker. Just like how it's hard to review a kid product honestly without having a kid or two to test it on, it's also hard to review an Apple product if you're not already a ride-or-die Apple fan. As senior editor Michael Calore noted in his review of the first HomePod, Apple products are just not meant for everyone. They're meant for us, the dedicated members of the Apple clan who are writing reviews on our MacBooks Pro and checking Slack on our iPhones, recording step counts on our Apple Watches while listening to Apple Music on AirPods, before turning on Paw Patrol on the Apple TV. I'm an Apple fan, and I've also been in a long and dispiriting battle with the Sonos app that controls my ancient Sonos speakers.

What Is An Artificial Intelligence (AI) Personal Assistant? - Conversational AI assistant for personal use


Once upon a time to find a restaurant a person had to flip through a thick, bulky (and sometimes dusty) book. Yes, those were the yellow pages, which incidentally could also be used as a good doorstop. So what is an AI assistant? In the most simplistic terms, its artificial intelligence (AI) that understands natural language (a human voice), jumps into action when given voice commands, and does what it is told to do. Let's examine how digital assistants are being used at home and at work.

Hey Alexa, what's my PIN? Voice assistants can figure out the taps made on a smartphone keyboard

Daily Mail - Science & tech

Smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Alexa could be used by criminals to listen to and decipher a password or PIN being typed in on a nearby phone. Researchers from the University of Cambridge built their own version of a smart speaker to closely resemble those which are commercially available. Sound recordings from the gadget were inputted into a computer for analysis and experts investigated if the sound and vibrations caused by typing on a smartphone screen could be used to guess a five-digit passcode. When the phone was placed within 20cm (7.8inches) of the custom-built device, the computer was able to guess the code with 76 per cent accuracy in three attempts. This graphic outlines the general flow of the experiment.

Transcribe Speech on your Website


We all enjoy talking to Google, and requesting a search by just talking to our phone. Ever thought of doing that on your own website? To allow the user to just talk into the forms, rather than typing it out? Yes, it is possible, and quite easy to do! Check it out. The Web Speech API helps us with processing speech in the browser.

Popular Robotic Vacuum Cleaners Can Be Remotely Hacked to Act As Microphones


Researchers hacked a robotic vacuum cleaner to record speech and music remotely. A team of researchers demonstrated that popular robotic household vacuum cleaners can be remotely hacked to act as microphones. The researchers -- including Nirupam Roy, an assistant professor in the University of Maryland's Department of Computer Science -- collected information from the laser-based navigation system in a popular vacuum robot and applied signal processing and deep learning techniques to recover speech and identify television programs playing in the same room as the device. The research demonstrates the potential for any device that uses light detection and ranging (Lidar) technology to be manipulated for collecting sound, despite not having a microphone. This work, which is a collaboration with assistant professor Jun Han at the University of Singapore was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's Conference on Embedded Networked Sensor Systems (SenSys 2020) on November 18, 2020.

LidarPhone attack converts smart vacuums into microphones


A team of academics has detailed this week novel research that converted a smart vacuum cleaner into a microphone capable of recording nearby conversations. Named LidarPhone, the technique works by taking the vacuum's built-in LiDAR laser-based navigational component and converting it into a laser microphone. Laser microphones are well-known surveillance tools that were used during the Cold War to record conversations from afar. Intelligence agents pointed lasers at far-away windows to monitor how glass vibrated and decoded the vibrations to decipher conversations taking place inside rooms. Academics from the University of Maryland and the National University of Singapore took this same simple concept but applied it to a Xiaomi Roborock vacuum cleaning robot.