Microsoft Develops Kinect Like Gesture Recognition without Cameras

Earlier today, we showcased a couple of futuristic projects from MIT Media Labs that are trying to re-imagine how we interact with devices. Now, it is the turn of Microsoft Research, which is known to come up with pretty neat stuff (like Harry Potter clock) from time to time.

This time around, a four member project team has developed a simple Windows application to enable gesture recognition without the use of any sophisticated gesture recognition hardware. Forget about complex (and often expensive) peripherals like Kinect, you don’t even need a basic camera. All that is required is a speaker and a microphone.

Microsoft’s gesture recognition technology, which is being called SoundWave, depends on Doppler Effect. Doppler Effect describes how the frequency of sound perceived by an observer changes with variation in the relative velocity of the observer with respect to the source. SoundWave emits a high frequency sound (18-22 KHz) that is inaudible to human beings. It then uses the microphone to pick up the frequency shifted signal to recognize the gesture. The use of high frequency sound makes SoundWave incredibly accurate even in a noisy environment.


SoundWave is still a research project, and there is no word if and when it might become ready for the general public. Unlike Kinect, SoundWave will probably not be able to recognize complicated gestures. In all likelihood, distance of the user from the speaker and microphone will also be a limiting factor. However, even with these constraints, it’s a fascinating piece of technology that might one day transform how we interact with computers.

Swÿp from MIT Enables Transfer of Files Across Devices with a Swipe

MIT Media Lab is a breeding ground for all sorts of futuristic technologies. In the past we have seen them come up with uber cool stuff like Sixth Sense and folding cars. Now, their Fluid interface group has developed a new app that can enable effortless sharing of files between any touchscreen enable device (phones, tablets etc.).

Swÿp allows you to transfer any file from any app to any app on any device, simply with a swipe of a finger. The file transfer happens in two phases. As soon as your finger leaves the boundary of the first device (swipe out), it registers as a service on available networks. When your finger enters the second device (swipe in), that device begins looking for registered services. An ad-hoc connection is then established between the two devices to transfer the dragged file. Have a look at the video below to see Swÿp in action.

Besides touchscreen devices, Swÿp is also compatible with another exciting MIT Lab project called LuminAR. LuminAR is a desk lamp with augmented reality features. This lamp comes with a Pico-projector, camera, and wireless computer in a compact form factor. The lamp is capable of projecting information onto the environment (for example your desktop), and recognizing your interactions with the projected information. In other words, it can turn any desktop into a touchscreen.

[ Swÿp Home ]

Google Faces Antitrust Investigation in India

GoogleGoogle’s legal woes just keep getting worse. After drawing the ire of American and European regulatory bodies, Google is now in hot water in India. According to WSJ, Competition Commission of India has initiated an antitrust probe into Google’s online advertising practices. Competition Commission is an Indian regulatory body responsible for enforcing The Competition Act (2002). It had earlier sued Apple for following a restrictive distribution model.

The initial target of the probe will be AdWords – Google’s automated service for selling ads that are served by its AdSense network. The instigating factor for the investigation is most probably a complaint by Consim Info Pvt. Ltd., which runs several matrimonial services including Bharatmatrimony, TamilMatrimony, and BengaliMatrimony. Consim believes that Google had engaged in discriminatory and retaliatory practices. It is currently suing Google in Chennai High Court. Earlier, Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) had urged Competition Commission to investigate potential anticompetitive conduct of Google in the Indian internet, e-commerce market, online advertising and related markets.

Google is already in some trouble in India. It is currently facing criminal charges for failing to “adequately” censor itself. Back in February, Google also received a foreign exchange violation notice from the ED (Enforcement Directorate) for alleged irregularities in transfer of funds to its foreign entities. So far, Google has declined to officially respond, claiming that it is yet to be officially notified about the investigation.

Google Retires Several Services Including Picasa for Linux and Patent Search

Google-DriveA few minutes back, Google finally stepped into the cloud storage solutions arena with the launch of Google Drive. Google’s absence in this segment was conspicuous because Google is known to have access to plenty of cheap storage, and it was already providing a massive amount of storage for various services like Gmail, Picasa, and Docs. However, the long delay in launching Drive is even more perplexing because Google isn’t exactly shy about launching new services. Over the past decade, its portfolio has expanded from search and advertising to a bewildering range of services such as Sketchup and Google Goggles. Of course, not everything from Google has been a hit. Some products like Wave were spectacular failures, while others like Lively fizzled away silently. In order to keep its house in order, Google is known to chuck away services that fail to gain traction from time to time. However, ever since taking over the mantle of CEO, Larry Page seems to have made it his mantra to streamline Google. Last week, Google announced the latest batch of services to get the chop.

Some of the services that Google is retiring are stuff that almost no one knew about anyways. The first of them is Google Flu Vaccine Finder. This is a Google Maps mashup that was created in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic to help in identifying nearest vaccination places across the US. Google is now retiring this service and suggesting HealthMap Flu Vaccine Finder as a better alternative. Also being retired are Google Related (an extension that suggested content related to the website you are currently browsing), One Pass (payment platform for online news publishers), and Google Sync for Blackberry. Google Patent Search is being sunset as Google has already incorporated this feature into the main search engine.

Among the popular products that have been affected include Picasa and Talk. Google will no longer support Picasa for Linux, Picasa Web Albums Uploader for Mac, and Picasa Web Albums Plugin for iPhoto. Google Talk mobile web app is being shuttered as Google recommends using native Android app or any compatible XMPP chatting app.

Gmelius Extension for Firefox, Chrome and Opera Makes the New Gmail a Bit More Usable

Beginning this week, Google is forcing Gmail users to switch to the new interface. While the new interface looks slick and modern, it suffers from numerous poor design choices that have users up in arms. Some of the issues are fixable with a few settings tweaks. For example, you can use the compact, high-contrast theme to reduce the wastage of space and enhance readability. But for others, there is seemingly no cure.

Thankfully, few users are taking up the challenge themselves, and are trying to make the new Gmail more intuitive through extensions and userstyles. Among the better attempts is Gmelius, which is a free, cross-browser compatible extension that tweaks and refines the new Gmail interface.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the stuff that Gmelius does:

  • It reclaims space by collapsing the Search and Share bar, stripping away the footer, and removing the People widget. Gmelius can also be configured to block all advertisements.
  • It enhances the appearance of Gmail by adding subtle row highlights, and disabling fancy fonts and colors in incoming mails.
  • It makes navigation more intuitive by colorizing the navigation icons and supplementing them with text.
  • It adds an auto-scroll to the top action that can be triggered by clicking on the black Google bar.


Gmelius Gmelius is dead simple to configure, and the tweaks it offers go a long way towards enhancing the new Gmail interface. The new navigations icons drove me nuts for weeks, and even after using the new interface for a several months, I still get confused occasionally. I only wish that I had discovered Gmelius sooner. There’s undoubtedly a lot more stuff that Gmelius could do. For example, it could bring back the reply links beneath every message or re-enable color coding of conversations. However, Gmelius already does enough for me to encourage you to go ahead and install it. It’s currently available for Chrome, Firefox & Opera.

[ Download Gmelius ]

Introducing the World’s First Chocolate Printer

Chocoholics your world is about to get even better. A company called “Choc Edge” has introduced a new chocolate printer called the “Choc Creator” which seeks to “revolutionise chocolate making for a creative, pleasurable and healthy consumption experience”.

Choc Creator

This incredible device eliminates the need for the meticulous hands of a pastry chef. It allows the creator to print 3 dimensional confections simply at the press of a button. The 3-D printer is much like others that would utilize materials like metal to make shapes. An open source 3-D software controls the print head which is basically a syringe. The syringe can be changed during the printing process to utilize different types of chocolates. Below, you can see the printer in action.

[Video Link]


The printer is a result of research done at the University of Exeter. Dr Liang Hao led the research and eventually founded the Choc Edge company.

This new printer comes with a pretty hefty price tag with a retail price of £2,888 (more than $4500U.S.). Right now they have an interesting promotion set up on their Ebay site. They are auctioning 10 printers with a 2% income reward deal to go along with the purchase. If you are one of the lucky 10 to win an auction, you will get a 2% share of profit from the sale of all “Choc Creators” sold during the first year. The first auction ends on April 20th.

If you would like to learn more about this product, visit the Choc Edge website at

Grim Outlook as Blackberry Maker RIM Gives Up on Consumer Market

Waterloo, Ontario based company Research In Motion announced its first quarterly loss since 2005 yesterday. This announcement comes shortly after the resignation of longtime Co-CEO and board member, Jim Balsillie.

Jim Balsillie
Jim Balsillie (Courtesy of Bloomberg News)

Below are the highlights from the quarterly report.

  • $2.1 billion in cash, cash equivalents, short-term and long-term investments at the end of the quarter, which increased by approximately $610 million in the quarter
  • Cash flow from operations of approximately $1.1 billion, up from approximately $900 million in Q3
  • Revenue of $4.2 billion, down 19% from the third quarter
  • GAAP net loss in Q4 of $125 million or $0.24 per share diluted; adjusted net income of $418 million or $0.80 per share diluted
  • BlackBerry smartphone shipments of 11.1 million in Q4, down 21% from Q3
  • RIM to discontinue providing specific quantitative guidance
  • RIM provides update on organizational changes

Current CEO, Thorsten Heins, is looking to change RIM’s focus as the company mounts up against continued pressure in the marketplace. Despite the grim report, Heins tries to put a positive spin in the report by saying, “I have assessed many aspects of RIM’s business during my first 10 weeks as CEO. I have confirmed that the Company has substantial strengths that can be further leveraged to improve our financial performance, including RIM’s global network infrastructure, a strong enterprise offering and a large and growing base of more than 77 million subscribers.”

It appears that Heins will be making organizational changes as it was announced the COO, Jim Rowan, and its CTO, David Yach, would be leaving. The company will also leverage its resources toward the corporate marketplace and steer away from the consumer market where it has lost ground against the likes of Apple and Google.

Heins definitely has his work cut out for him. The short term outlook for RIM does not look good as they have a stockpile of devices sitting stagnant on the shelves. They also are supposed to roll out a new line of Blackberry 10 in the near future. It remains to be seen what partnerships the pride of Canada can muster in its bid to recover. It may actually be a good investment in the long term but I wouldn’t bet the farm.

FBI Hits Back: Arrests LulzSec and Anonymous Members with the Help of Kingpin Sabu

After being repeatedly embarrassed and discomforted by Anonymous and its various offshoots, the feds have finally managed to land a telling blow on the notorious band of hackers. Fox News is reporting that Kayla (Ryan Ackroyd), Topiary (Jake Davis), pwnsauce (Darren Martyn), palladium (Donncha O’Cearrbhail), and Anarchaos (Jeremy Hammond) have been arrested in an intercontinental raid. The hackers were picked up from USA (Chicago), UK (London), and Ireland.

The arrests tell only part of the story. The real kicker is in the details. Apparently, the feds managed to track down Sabu, the kingpin of LulzSec and one of the leaders of Anonymous, in June, 2011. The man behind some of the most notorious attacks in the past 18 months turned out to be Hector Xavier Monsegur – an unemployed, 28-year-old father of two. Facing the charge of charge of aggravated identity theft, which carries a two year prison sentence, Sabu agreed to drop all his moral convictions and teamed up with the FBI. Turning him wasn’t easy, and ultimately it was the prospect of staying away from his kids that swayed him. Since then, Sabu has continued to work with the FBI, often from their offices, to help in collection of proof against his co-conspirators.

Although today’s news will send shockwaves through Anonymous, this wasn’t totally unexpected. Sabu had been doxed towards the end of last year itself, and several hackers believed that he was snitching. Here are excerpts from a prophetic interview given by Virus:

6:15:39 PM virus: he disappeared for a week, I don’t recall what day
6:15:52 PM virus: but when he returned he said his grand mother died and that’s why he was MIA
6:16:01 PM virus: after that he started offering me money to own people

6:19:19 PM virus: another reason why I believe he was converted after he disappeared and returned is everybody else started getting arrested one by one starting with ryan clearly, who was their ddos bitch
6:19:29 PM virus: yes, I believe he cut a deal to save himself

Back in November, Jester and others uncovered Sabu’s real name, email address, address, pictures and other personal details. Here are some of the stuff about Sabu that was already available on the internet:


Sabu’s grandmom with his and his dad’s pictures (source)

Even though, many members of the inner circle had already predicted today’s events, it still is a massive blow to Anonymous. Not only have they lost several of their most visible faces, but they have been betrayed by their de facto leader.

Flipkart Launches Digital Music Store ‘Flyte’

Indian ecommerce giant Flipkart has formally unveiled its new digital music store Flyte, which was outed last week by a hawkeyed user. Music piracy is rampant in India with an overwhelming majority of downloaded music being illegal. However, much of the blame can also put on the unavailability of affordable and reliable digital music stores. Apple disrupted digital music and entertainment arena around the world with the iTunes store. Unfortunately, Apple’s disdain for the Indian market means that the world’s second most populous country is still an untapped demographic with plenty of raw potential.

Flipkart has already established itself as a clear leader in ecommerce. With the impending arrival of Amazon, it has been getting more and more aggressive. Recently it acquired one of its biggest competitors – LetsBuy. Even before that, it had acquired Mime360 and Chapak’s digital catalogue. Mime360 specialized in hosting streaming music, while Chapak had a catalogue with 40,000 filmographies, 10,000 movies and close to 50,000 ratings.

Digital music business is always a tough nut to crack. Flipkart is entering uncharted waters as most Indians simply aren’t habituated with purchasing music online, or purchasing music at all. The greediness of record labels often complicates things further. However, Flipkart’s dominance and reach offers it a killer advantage that might prove vital in this challenging segment.


To its credit, Flipkart is kicking things off on the right note. All the music in Flipkart’s catalogue is DRM-free (high quality MP3 files) and will work on any device and any operating system. Consumers can download each track a total of four times, and a download manager is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux to facilitate simultaneous downloads. Browsing through the music catalogue is simple and intuitive, and purchasing is easy as credit cards, debit cards, and internet banking is allowed. However, none of this would have mattered if Flipkart hadn’t gotten the pricing right. Thankfully, I think they have succeeded in making music affordable enough for the extremely price-sensitive Indian market. Like iTunes, Flipkart allows purchase of individual tracks, so you only pay for what you want to listen to. New and popular tracks are priced at Rs. 15, while Rs. 6 seems to be the baseline. Flipkart has managed to get a large chunk of Indian music publishers onboard, including biggies like T-Series, Saregama, Tips, Universal India and Sony Music. International record labels that have signed up include Universal, and Sony Music International. EMI is sadly missing. Currently Flipkart’s catalogue features music in English and Hindi, as well as regional languages like Tamil, Telegu, Punjabi, and Bengali.

Mozilla Announces Firefox on Metro for a Touchscreen Optimized Browsing Experience

FirefoxMozilla took way too long to bring Firefox to smartphones, and suffered as a result. It had a go in 2004 with Minimo, but users had to wait until 2011 to get a version of Firefox Mobile that wasn’t slow as a cow and didn’t crash on a whimsy. Not wanting to repeat its earlier mistake, Mozilla has begun working on a Metro-fied version of Firefox for Windows 8 months ahead of the release of Microsoft’s next major operating system.

Firefox on Metro will be a full-screen, touch optimized app built on top of the same Gecko engine that powers Firefox classic. It’s still early days for the project, and Mozilla isn’t providing a lot of information. However, here is what we do know.

  • The feature goal here is a new Gecko based browser built for and integrated with the Metro environment.
  • Firefox on Metro, like all other Metro apps will be full screen, focused on touch interactions, and connected to the rest of the Metro environment through Windows 8 contracts.
  • Firefox on Metro will bring all of the Gecko capabilities to this new environment and the assumption is that Mozilla be able to run Firefox as a Medium integrity app so that it can access all of the win32 Firefox Gecko libraries avoiding a port to the new WinRT API for the bulk of the code.
  • Firefox on Metro is a full-screen App with an Appbar that contains common navigation controls (back, reload, etc.,) the Awesomebar, and some form of tabs.
  • Firefox will have to support three “snap” states — full screen, ~1/6th screen and ~5/6th screen depending on how the user “docks” two full screen apps. The UI will to adjust to show the most relevant content for each size.
  • In order to provide users with access to other content, other apps, and to Firefox from other content and apps, it will integrate with the share contract, the search contract, the settings contract, the app to app picking contract, the print contract, the play to contract, and possibly a couple more. Firefox on Metro will be a source for some, a target for some, and both for some.
  • Mozilla might offer a live tile with user-centric data like friends presence or other Firefox Home information updates
  • Ideally Mozilla will like to be able to create secondary tiles for Web-based apps hosted in Firefox’s runtime.

Mozilla is hoping that Microsoft will allow it to run Firefox as a medium integrity app (like Internet Explorer 10 Metro App). Medium integrity apps typically have more privileges and can load old school Win32 libraries. This will make Mozilla’s task simpler. Even then, Firefox on Metro is expected to hit alpha and beta stages only in the second half of the year. A preview should be ready by the second quarter of 2012.