GamesRead : MIT’s running Cheetah robot has been taught how to jump

Those scientists have really done it this time. When the robot apocalypse happens, you won’t be able to take shelter behind small wooden barriers. The robots can jump over those now. These traitors to humanity are a group of engineers at MIT who have managed to teach the running “Cheetah” robot how to properly detect and clear obstacles placed in its path.

Cheetah is a quadrupedal robot based on high-torque density actuators. This hardware gives the robot the ability to run at a top speed of 10 miles per hour, which is far short of its namesake, but impressive for an untethered robot. The new jumping behavior is thanks to three real-time algorithms at work in the Cheetah’s electronic brain.

First, its 2D laser rangefinder (LIDAR) detects an object in its path and calculates the distance and height. This data tells the robot how to change its stride length to get into an optimal jumping position. Finally, it figures out how much thrust to apply with the front and hind legs to safely clear the barrier.

Using this system, the Cheetah can easily clear objects more than 30 centimeters tall, and they don’t even have to be perfectly aligned with its path. Several of the tests in the video show the barriers being placed slightly at an angle. It only takes about 100 milliseconds for the adjustment process to happen, so the robot can respond to unexpected changes in the terrain.

The untethered test at the end of the video is the most impressive part. The robot maintains an average speed of five miles per hour throughout the test, which is about the same as a light jog for humans. On the track with more time to calculate the position of barriers, Cheetah has a 90% success rate on its jumps. With the treadmill, it’s a little less successful (70%) due to the shorter lead time. The team expects these numbers to improve over time.

GamesRead : Screentendo turns your desktop into Super Mario Bros.

Let’s be honest, anyone who spent the better part of the ’80s and ’90s playing Mario games on the Nintendo Entertainment System at some point just started seeing the world as a series of blocks to smash. Now, thanks to some clever programming by Aaron Randall, you can download a program and make those old hallucinations come to life on the internet.

To get this running on your own computer, you have to download the source code from GitHub, then launch through Xcode to turn whatever screen or window you’re looking at into a playable level right out of Shigeru Miyamoto’s beloved video game starring the world’s best plumber.

You simply extend a transparent window over the desired location, which then generates the block-filled level that Mario gets to jump around, smashing bricks along the way. Over on his blog, Randall goes through the step-by-step process of what exactly the code does to turn the images on your screen into 8-bit awesomeness.

Though the code offers plenty of fun for users, Randall does admit that it has a few problems, including a slow image processing speed, the need for “reasonably distinct contrast” between the main and underlying images to create the blocks and some wonky physics. Still, we hope he continues with this work to the point where we can score our very own Tanooki suits and play Super Mario Bros. 3 using the official Nintendo website as the level.

GamesRead : EA confirms Need for Speed reboot cannot be played offline

Will game publishers never learn? Clearly EA refuses to. The huge disaster that was SimCity required an online connection to play, was unplayable at launch because of this, eventually led to an offline mode being introduced, and resulted in developer Maxis closing its doors. So what has EA and EA-owned developer Ghost Games decided to do for the Need for Speed reboot? Make the game require an online connection to play!

This is a game that will have both single-player and multiplayer modes across PC, PS4, and Xbox One, but you won’t be able to play it offline. The official @NeedforSpeed Twitter account confirmed this, stating that requiring the connection comes with some nice benefits, “more variety and a more rewarding experience with friends.”

It sounds all too familiar, and understandably has already turned a number of gamers off the title. Anyone who experienced purchasing SimCity at launch will likely go nowhere near this game, at least initially.

As well as being a poor decision, this also counts as a marketing gaff. We know very little about the game as EA hasn’t detailed the features yet beyond stating there will be “deep customization, authentic urban car culture, a nocturnal open world, and an immersive narrative.” So for now all we know is Need for Speed is being rebooted and you’ll need to be online to play it. Not much to be excited about yet, is there? And of course, the kicker in all this is that even if EA produces a fantastic game, a few years from now you won’t be able to play it anymore because the servers will be turned off.

You can expect to play Need for Speed (online) in November.

GamesRead : Disney is building robots that walk like its animated characters

There’s a lot of work going on with bipedal robots right now. Some are being pressed into military service, while others, like Disney’s, merely want to learn to walk like cartoon characters.

The process is more complicated than it might seem. Computer software first examines a rough 3D sketch of the character and then analyzes the expected movement path. If the robot is capable of walking that path without one of its 3D-printed feet or legs breaking out of the computer-generated polygons, it’s good to go. Otherwise, the path is reworked to keep the moving parts hidden.

What exactly is Disney going to do with an army of 3D-printed bipedal robots that can walk like Baloo the bear or Scrooge McDuck? They could one day wind up on television or in movies, strolling around with cartoonish swagger next to humans or other Disney robots. I’m assuming that robots don’t have to be paid scale like actors do, and they also probably don’t have magazine-length riders, either — thoughts that probably have studio executives drumming their fingertips and muttering “exxxxxcellent.”

Putting them to work in its theme parks also seems like a good possibility — either as part of an attraction or as roaming robotic park ambassadors that can stop and pose for photo ops with kids. Disney certainly has the resources and researchers to make both a reality in the near future. Let’s just hope they program in a kill switch. No one wants to read about a Disney robot going all Judge Doom and trying to wipe out Toontown.

GamesRead : Andy Serkis’ Star Wars role officially revealed, synopsis of new movie less so

The tree of “things we can find out about Star Wars: The Force Awakens from the Vanity Fair Annie Leibovitz shoot” is still bearing fruit, and I rhymed. StarWars.com has an official interview with Leibovitz where she talks about the magic of being on a Star Wars set (she visited Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Phantom Menace to photograph the production) and working with Harrison Ford. She also says JJ Abrams compares Adam Driver to Marlon Brando!

The real news doesn’t come from the interview, but a new photo from the set of Andy Serkis doing facial performance capture that identifies his character as “Supreme Leader Snoke.”

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Serkis scowls at the awkening Force.

Previously, all we knew about Serkis’ character is that he was a villain and the one who was speaking in the first Force Awakens teaser

Now we officially have a character name, even if “Supreme Leader” is a step down from “Darth” and “Lord” and Snoke. Well:

Unofficially, this week saw an intrepid internet Star Wars fan cobble together all the rumors that had been floating around online into a working synopsis of the film. If you want to stay spoiler-free for the most part, don’t exit the post just yet.

Using the most readily accepted rumors about Star Wars Episode VII and pairing it to the official releases (the trailer and from a public relations tour), a person by the handle of DarthLightlyBruise wrote up, beat-by-beat, what he or she thought the plot of The Force Awakens is. It includes full character arcs for the new group — Finn, Rey, Kylo Ren, and Poe Dameron — in a fairly detailed outline that occasionally follows the movie moment-to-moment.

Okay, if you fear spoilers about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, even potential ones, now is the time to step away.

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The movie sounds like a pretty exciting Star Wars installment, with the search for a lightsaber turning into an “awakening” in the Force, especially Rey and Finn. Finn is a defecting stormtrooper who witnesses the terrible acts of the cross-saber-wielding Kylo Ren, and needs a pilot to escape the ship of The First Order (the name of what we’d call the Empire in the old days). He pairs up with Poe and crashes on Jakku where he meets Rey and things tumble forward from there.

The description goes into what sounds like fairly accurate detail about a scene with Lupita N’yongo’s performance capture character, a pirate named Maz Kanata. Through technology or Force powers, she tells our heroes about events that happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, including a younger Kylo Ren and younger Rey in the same place with a hooded Luke Skywalker.

Like many Star Wars movies before it, the climactic battle between the Resistance (new Rebellion) and The First Order will parallel a lightsaber-laden climax near a castle and a snowy forest and not everyone is going to make it out alive!

If you want to get into more extreme detail than that, including descriptions of what the mid-movie action set pieces will be and which characters may (or may not) be related to each other, you can jump over here. Keep in mind that until the movie comes out or things are officially announced, descriptions of future Star Wars plots should be used for entertainment purposes only.

GamesRead : All of the UK’s special edition Splatoon Amiibos were stolen

The only major dedicated game retailer in the United Kingdom, GAME, had one of its lorries stolen that happened to contain its entire shipment of special edition Splatoon games, which just so happened to come with exclusive Amiibos. It’s been roight nabbed, it ‘as!

This is bad news for UK video game fans, who already often get the short end of the stick with game releases (good luck getting a Shin Megami Tensai game the same year Japan and North America get one). The special edition of Splatoon seems to still be available on Amazon UK, but you won’t be finding that version of the game in any chain stores in the near future. The only other way to get the exclusive Amiibo it comes with is to buy the Amiibo three-pack, which combines the retail-available Boy Inkling and Girl Inkling Amiibos with the Squid Amiibo. Amazon UK has that on sale for 75 GPB, or $115. You can get a Marth for cheaper.

The United Kingdom isn’t a very large nation, but it still has a population of about 65 million, so it’s baffling that every special edition of Splatoon could be stolen from just one truck. GAME has over 300 stores across the UK, too, so it’s kind of like if a truck with every copy the Splatoon special edition bound for GameStops in New York was stolen. This is particularly rough for GAME, which has faced some big financial problems over the last few years. It’s not clear if this setback will hurt the chain.

GAME will be offering gamers who preordered the special edition a 10 GPB discount off of the standard edition, and assures that the games will be sent through first-class mail so they don’t get Fast and Furioused a second time. Which wouldn’t have actually prevented the theft, because the truck that was stolen was shipping the Splatoon special editions from Nintendo Europe’s warehouse to GAME’s, before they were distributed to players.

Details on the theft itself aren’t clear, but if an entire shipment (the entire shipment) was simply stolen, it would point to a security breach in GAME’s or Nintendo Europe’s supply chain. That’s just a theory, however, and I have one that’s just as likely: Nintendo saw that so many people wanted the special edition Amiibo, and stole all of them.

It doesn’t make any sense for Nintendo to do this, but nothing Nintendo has done with Amiibo makes sense. From the complete lack of communication regarding Amiibo distribution, to a seeming refusal to reissue rare Amiibos that have comically ballooned in value on the reseller market, to the insult that is Amiibo Tap, Nintendo’s attitude with Amiibo has been a cross between Cartmanland and those plastic ball toy machines in supermarkets. Nintendo has failed to recognize the interest collectors and long-time fans have in the figures themselves, and hasn’t produced a cohesive game surrounding them to appeal to kids who love Skylanders and Disney Infinity.

I joke about Nintendo stealing the lorry full of special edition Amiibos, but I remain baffled by the company’s attitude. It takes a breathtaking amount of effort to make me give up on ever seeing a Ness Amiibo at retail or hope on buying one, and I’ve crossed rivers, boroughs, and state lines for my toys (and, if Good Smile/Max Factory is reading this, would seriously consider importing any Figma or Nendoroid based on the Mother series).

If you’re in England next week, and you see a shady man selling you a squid Amiibo, keep an eye out for a nearby truck. Or consider offering him payment for one last heist of a few dozen cars, including a ’73 Mustang or ’67 Shelby GT 500. Also, see if he has any Ness Amiibos. I’m asking for a friend.

GamesRead : Smartphone battery life extended 30% by harvesting stray radio signals

Research and development is ongoing to improve the capacity of the batteries we use inside our smartphones. But just as important as new battery tech is energy savings for existing ones. A team of engineers working out of Ohio State University believe they can extend the battery life of a typical smartphone significantly thanks to a very simple energy harvesting idea.

The idea stems from the fact that most of the communication signals sent from a phone count as wasted energy. As much as 97 percent of the radio signals never reach their intended destination. So the Ohio State team came up with a simple circuit which can retrieve milliwatts of that wasted energy whenever communication is initiated.

Smartphones send out signals in all directions when communicating, but only a small portion of those signals get used. This new circuit can identify which signals are being used and harvests energy from the rest, which are redundant. This way the circuit siphons off enough energy to save a milliwatts of power, but doesn’t degrade voice or data transmission.

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The end result, according to their research, is a battery life extension of around 30%. That’s hours of extra battery life for your phone. Of course, how much you save depends on what you are using your phone for. The harvesting only occurs when you phone is communicating, so using an app offline (e.g. a game) won’t allow any harvesting. Surf the net, have a Snapchat conversation, or talk to someone, and the harvesting kicks in.

The final circuit design is thought to be small and light enough to fit inside most smartphone cases easily. The research team is going to attempt to fund continued development of it through a Kickstarter next month. It’s unclear what rewards they will be able to offer backers in return for a pledge, though, as the circuit would surely need to be fitted by phone manufacturers after fitting it into the design of any given hadnset.

[Images courtesy of TechStage and Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr]

GamesRead : 80s action movie parody Kung Fury kickflips its way onto YouTube

What’s a rad, ’80s-style cop to do when he realizes that Adolf Hitler is the worst criminal ever? Travel back in time, fight him in a karate-style fight, and make a movie about it called Kung Fury (which is also your name).

That probably sounds confusing, but what else do you expect from a Swedish writer-director who decided to make an own ode to ’80s action films from the States? As director and writer David Sandberg explained back in the Kickstarter video from 2013, he started the film with $5,000 of his own money, then began the crowdfunded campaign for $200,000 which actually netted $630,019. All that extra cash was used to bring in a more adept CGI artist who helped bring the final look to the film which made it into Cannes.

The short film is now available to watch in full on YouTube and also debuted on Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network. At this point, Sandberg’s using the short to shop around a feature length version to interested parties.

So, the movie’s out there for free and the soundtrack is available for purchase on iTunes, but that’s not it. Kung Fury also has a webshop where fans can buy a vinyl version of the record, posters, T-shirts, and just about every combination of those in packaged deals.

Oh and did we mention that part of the aforementioned soundtrack includes the main theme “True Survivor” performed by none other than ’80s pop culture icon and Knight Rider star David Hasselhoff, complete with a music video? Cause, yeah, that also happened.

If your brain is melting just a little, we’re pretty sure that’s normal. At least, we hope it is.

GamesRead : Celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jaws by staying out of the water and going to the theater

Almost 40 years ago, some guy named Steven Spielberg — who’d only done a few TV episodes, the TV movie Duel, and the mostly forgotten Sugarland Express — shocked a nation and changed the way films are produced and presented with Jaws. Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, and Lorraine Gary came together to adapt an okay book written by Peter Benchley and turned it into a cinematic masterpiece that still pops up out of the water of our minds every time we go anywhere near the ocean.

To celebrate the film’s June 20, 1975 debut, Fathom Events is bringing the very first summer blockbuster back to the big screen. 500 theaters across the country will present a version of the film with an introduction by Turner Classic Movies’ host Ben Mankiewicz from June 21 through June 24. Head over to the site and put in your ZIP code to find out how far you’ll have to drive to be scared by a robot shark named Bruce.

Jaws proved so successful that it led to three sequels — one of which was in 3D and set at Sea World — and more low budget ripoffs than a great white has teeth. More importantly, the film set the bar for other blockbuster summer offerings, the likes of which bombard theaters with explosions and craziness starting in about April and going until September.

Spielberg didn’t participate in any more Jaws offerings, but did go on to make Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. the Extra Terrestrial in the next six years after. That’s not too shabby of a resume. We bet this guy will go on to big things.

GamesRead : Ballistic wallpaper will protect soldiers while they sleep

When you mention Kevlar, most people think of body armor, but the synthetic fiber has a much wider range of uses. First used in racing tires, you’ll now find this very strong material in ropes, sails, helmets, canoes, and bicycle tires. The uses keep expanding, with the most recent being wallpaper for soldiers. Yep, the thing Willy Wonka flavors and sticks to walls.

It’s actually being referred to as “ballistic wallpaper,” and has been developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development center. The wallpaper is a mix of Kevlar fibers and plastic, which forms a sheet that can offer added protection to structures, be they permanent or temporary.

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Although not in use in the field yet, the wallpaper has be demonstrated during a Department of Defense Lab Day. Its main advantage over otherwise un-reinforced buildings is the control of projectiles. If, for example, a building takes a direct hit from an RPG, the walls will likely crumble and the force will fill the interior with fast-moving projectiles. Those, in turn, hit and injure any soldiers inside or damage equipment.

The ballistic wallpaper protects against such a scenario. Used directly on the wall structures, it will prevent any rubble from leaving the surface, instead taking the brunt of the force and keeping anything inside safe — at least safe long enough to exit the building and head for cover.

Such material isn’t exactly a new idea. Here’s a test using X-Flex’s Blast Protection System, which is a similar concept. As you can see, it’s very effective.

Further development is needed before the wallpaper becomes viable for use in hostile situations, but it certainly looks promising and should offer troops a little more peace of mind.

[Kevlar fiber image courtesy of Cjp24 on Wikimedia]