Google+ Gambles on Image Recognition
Modes of transportation dominate this week's gallery of eye-pleasing technology. From bicycles strung up for the sake of art to the world's fastest passenger jet to a balloon ride designed to lift you to the edge of space, we can't help but marvel at what the future of transportation holds.
Above: Each year, Toronto holds a one-night arts festival called Nuit Blanche. A highlight this year was a sculpture from Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei. His Forever Bicycles installation featured 3,144 silver bikes stacked 30 feet high and 100 feet in length in the city's Nathan Phillips Square.
Flying cars are no longer a figment of fiction. Joining forces with road planes such as the Terrafugia and PAL-V is the Aeromobil 2.5, created by Stefan Klein, a designer who has worked on projects for Audi, BMW and Volkswagen at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, Slovakia. Klein tested his prototype at a Slovakian airport, demonstrating the vehicle can go 124 mph and has a range of 430 miles.
Swedish automaker Volvo announced that it's now working on a wireless inductive charger for electric vehicles. This kind of charging platform uses an electromagnetic field instead of a cord to recharge a car's battery. In tests, the company demonstrated that their C30 Electric car battery could be fully charged in 2.5 hours.
Zaha Hadid Architects
German shipbuilder Blohm + Voss hired architect Zaha Hadid to design this super yacht, which is actually a fleet of six vessels dubbed Unique Circle. Her concept consists of a 420-foot “mothership,” shown here, and five 295-foot ships.
World View Enterprises
Space tourism is gaining in popularity. World View Enterprises has now obtained US Federal Aviation Administration approval to give people balloon rides to the edge of space, 18.6 miles above the Earth. The ride will cost around $75,000 and should be available in 2016.
This Gulfstream G650 set a world record for the fastest westbound, around-the-world flight for civilian aircraft. It traveled 20,310 nautical miles in 41 hours and seven minutes, reaching a maximum speed of Mach 0.925.
At the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting & Exposition, Sikorsky and Boeing revealed the name of their new Joint Multi-Role (JMR) helicopter tech: Defiant. Over the next twenty years, the helicopter will replace the current Apaches and Black Hawks helicopters.
Renzo Piano/ENEL Green Power
Italian architect Renzo Piano has won a prize for his compact, super-efficient wind turbine that's small enough to install in a backyard. Inspired by the aerodynamic flight of dragonflies, the two-bladed “Dragonfly Invisible Wind Turbine” captures the energy of breezes as slow as four miles per hour and is able to convert that motion into 55 kiloWatts of electricity. Currently the international renewable energy corporation ENEL Green Power is testing the wind turbine for possible use in its Green Power Plants.
UK-based company Pro-Teq has developed a coating that can be applied to any pavement. During the day, it absorbs sunlight and then at night, glows to create energy-free light that could be used to illuminate dark pathways for a low cost. It's also non-slip and water-resistant.
U.S. Army, Revision
The Army is testing a new helmet that resembles headgear from the “Halo” video game franchise. The HEaDS-UP system, developed by Revision, has a transparent ballistic visor, a mandible facemask to protect against 9 mm ammunition and display technologies that can be projected on the inside of the visor.
Google made one of its more ambitious claims to machine intelligence this week when it rolled out an update to Google’s Google+ photo features. Among other helpful features – for instance, better Auto Enhance and Auto Awesome editing — Google’s social network now recognizes “over a thousand different objects” and can find matching photos when you search on specific terms.
Since Google+ launched in 2011, I’ve had its mobile apps automatically backing up photos taken with various review phones — and most of those pictures still lack captions, meaning G+ image recognition won’t have anything else to fall back on. So I thought I’d test the augmented version of a feature Google quietly rolled out earlier this year with some sample searches.
Snow: Google presented two shots from skiing in West Virginia and two showing the snowcapped peak of Mount Shasta, but also one of a light-rail train in Santa Clara, Calif., and another showing a rainy construction scene in Tysons Corner, Va.
Sunset: The site plucked out a photo of San Francisco at dusk (which may not count, since I had “sunset” in the caption), and another of the sun setting over rural Maryland, but missed a panorama of a Seattle sunset. ”Sunrise,” however, found a shot of the setting sun in Austin that the prior search had overlooked.
Moon: Amazingly enough, it nailed two photos of Earth’s satellite taken from my front porch (and a third that had a much smaller moon visible but used that keyword in its caption).
Sky: This pulled in multiple shots of the view above during the day and night — and one of a Windows-install error message that, with its blue background and reflected glare from an overhead light, does look uncannily like the sky.
Windows: Google+ found three photos of windows and sliding-glass doors, then got confused by pictures of glass tiles and one of a framed photo. It did not, however, find that Windows error message.
Airplane: This was a total failure, missing all of the pictures I’ve taken of planes and instead only locating two iOS screengrabs that highlighted the airplane-mode switch. And yet “aircraft” quickly found four photos of various commercial jets.
Building: G+ yielded an impressive range of structures from across the country, with the only partially-false positives being photos of the inside of a house and of a stretch of the Berlin Wall.
Face: Fail. Google found two portraits of me but missed every other photo that featured a prominent visage. I was especially disappointed that G+ didn’t find a few adorable close-ups of our toddler taken as she was grabbing for a phone.
Phone: In addition to three pictures and one screenshot that featured actual phones, G+ also picked up a picture of two tablets, a couple of shots of the same slim point-and-shoot camera — and a set of spinning numbers at a playground, which I suppose Google saw as a phone keypad. Meanwhile, Google missed dozens of other phone photos I’ve taken.
Sign: An Android tablet showing the “sign in” prompt, a warning to cyclists not to get tripped up by streetcar tracks in Portland, and a couple of photos with “sign” in their captions.
Flowers: Mostly foliage from my garden, but also an array of Post-It notes stuck to the window of a nearby Apple Store with remembrances of Steve Jobs. Oh, wait: One photo included flowers left at the base of the window.
So: Good news, everyone! Google is not as omniscient as you’ve feared or hoped. Well, not yet.
Credit: Google+ screen capture