Monthly Archives: February 2018

Take a 360º journey through the “eyes” of a self-driving Waymo car

Google’s self-driving car sibling has the world’s only fleet of fully self-driving cars on public roads. They built this short film using footage and real-time data from an actual trip on city streets:

Step into our 360° video and take control of the camera to see through the “eyes” of our car. Then, be one of the first in the world to take a ride with Waymo.

Here’s how to explore the video in 360°:

  • On mobile, move your phone around to explore in all directions. 
  • On desktop, use your mouse to drag the video around your screen. 
  • If you have Cardboard, tap the Cardboard icon in the bottom right of the YouTube player, insert your phone into Cardboard, and look around. If you have Google Daydream View, just place your phone into the headset.

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[YouTube]

Skydio AI drone promises “a flim crew that fits in a backpack”

Skydio boasts 13 cameras that power really impressive collision-avoidance tech, allowing it to track a person even through obstacles like woods. Check it out:

Here’s how the “Autonomy Engine” works:

The device looks bulky, but it’s said to fit into any backpack that can accommodate a 17-inch laptop. Being roughly 3x the price ($2,499), size, and weight of a Mavic Air, the Skydio makes me ask a few questions:

  • What’s the average utilization of any drones people buy? They seem like action-sports cameras: aspirational, highly specialized, rarely used. (Thus it made perfect sense to me that GoPro would get into the drone business, and that doing so might just compound their existing problems.)
  • How important is this kind of aerial selfie mode that really sets Skydio apart? That is, what percentage of the time one wants to use a drone is it for, say, mountain biking through the woods? The obvious concern is that it falls into a real niche (the small Venn diagram overlap of “actually doing action sports” and “wanting to view from the air”).
Having said all that, the AI capabilities look like a great step forward, and I’m eager to learn more as the device starts reaching customers.
 

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[YouTube 1 and 2]

Explore England’s Enormous Chalk Figures

Google Earth has teamed up with Atlas Obscura to provide an interactive tour of England’s giant chalk figures—from massive horses to, um, excited giants. Check it out here. Funky details abound:

From the 17th to the 19th centuries, routine maintenance of the horse took the form of “scouring” festivals every seven years, which included not only repairs but other entertaining activities such as cheese-wheel chasing and pipe-smoking marathons.

and

In 2007, an enormous Homer Simpson carving, complete with a very large doughnut, appeared near the Cerne Abbas Giant as a promotion for The Simpsons Movie.

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A little drone fun at 10,000 ft.

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We’ve just returned from spending a week in Leadville, CO, which at 10,200 ft. is the highest incorporated city in the US. Despite the inevitable dehydration insomnia that always afflicts me there, I didn’t find the elevation quite high enough, so I brought my Mavic Pro (piloted by a custom-printed “Googler” minifig) to capture a few shots of Leadville from above. You can find some 360º panoramas (uploaded to & embedded via Google Maps) and videos below.

Quick observations in case you’d find them useful:

 

  • DJI Goggles do make it easier to fly while panning/tilting one’s camera, and I got my smoothest shots yet. On the downside, I’ve yet to figure out how to adjust the picture to look fully clear to my eyes (with or without glasses), and the fact that you apparently can’t just put them into head-tracking mode before a flight & keep them there is a pain.
  • 360º panorama capture is totally my jam. Whereas I find capturing video stressful (is it smooth enough? will anyone find it interesting?) and editing video laborious, shooting panos is almost trivially easy. Having said that, I ran into a few snags:
    • Downloading & installing the needed firmware update took several tries, due partly to dodgy mountain WiFi & partly to the DJI app’s less-than-straightforward flow.
    • An inscrutable, non-dismissible (!) warning screen would sometimes pop up to let us know that we were a few miles from an airport. It blocking most of the screen, coupled with the wonky path one must follow to invoke pano capture mode, meant that we blew it on at least one pano, accidentally capturing 180º instead of 360º—and facing the wrong way at that!
    • I found that Facebook wouldn’t recognize the panos as panos, so after some searching I found & downloaded the metadata-tweaking tool Exif Fixer. Running it on the images did the trick.
    • Stitching images on my iPhone X was fairly quick (taking perhaps a minute for a full 360) and did a pretty good job (PTGui, which I downloaded, seemed to do no better). On the downside it sucks that the process is modal, blocking you from using the app to fly, so you’d probably do well to wait & stitch after landing.
    • The exposure on what might’ve been my best pano was totally blown out for reasons I don’t understand. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
 Okay, on to the pics & vids!
 

Ballet Rotoscope

This short film from Masahiko Sato + EUPHRATES is poetry in motion:

[B]y extracting the movement of a dancing ballerina, we created a animation of locus drawn in the air, and dancing geometric figures, composed with a documentary picture. The geometric figures were created by connecting the movement of ballerina’s joints by using algorithm of computer geometry(such as “convex hull”,and “Delaunay diagram”). Our aim was to represent a complete new type of beauty, by showing the interaction of abstract animation with realistic movements and documentary film.

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[YouTube][Via]

Illustration: A charming street-art ad from Coke

I’ve been getting a kick out of this spot running during the Olympics:

The minute-long spot features three animated graffiti characters stealthily shifting off a wall and, unseen by passersby distracted by drinking Coca-Cola, climb their way up skyscrapers towards their destination: a print ad of three bottles of Coca-Cola. The trio then enjoy the drinks together on the side of a water tower.

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[YouTube]

Mesmerizing drone shots from inside a fireworks cloud

Happy Chinese New Year from above Yunnan, China:

The intriguing reversal of footage reminds me of this beautifully sad passage from Slaughterhouse Five:

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers , and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans though and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

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