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Drones inspired by birds

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Newly developed drones incorporate a flapping X-wing design that allow them to fly, thrust, and maneuver much like a bird.

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X-wing drones

The next generation of drones will master the art and aerodynamics of flight with actual wings! This complex engineering feat adds both stability and an unforeseen agility to drones, which means they will be more useful than ever before.

Darting, flapping, swooping, hovering, and soaring are a few of the improved capabilities these cross-wing ornithopters have, making them far superior to the often wobblier, stiffer versions on the market now. The creators of the ornithopters used reverse engineering based on detailed observation and study of how birds move to create a winged version of the flying robot drones.

Instead of the propellers and fixed-wings used in conventional drones, these new drones flap their wings and raise their tails in order to create a forward thrust, similar to how birds and insects fly. The X-wing designs make these flying robots better at maneuvering tight spaces, giving them greater control at varying speeds.

How exactly does the X-wing design excel where other flapping-wing designs have failed? The inventors form a team of researchers from Singapore, Australia, China, and Taiwan. In a recent Science Robotics magazine article, they explain:

“One difference is that our ornithopters make use of the “clap and fling” effect. The two pairs of wings flap such that they meet, like hands clapping. This makes enough extra thrust to lift their body weight when hovering.”

The ornithopters have control over nose and tail as well, and can quickly change from moving horizontally to moving vertically. They also use up to 40% less energy to run, and can be flown like a regular plane, or hover like an existing drone in order to conserve even more energy. Because of the greater control and increased capabilities of these drones, they also have more uses including being safe enough to fly inside.

One of the researchers responsible for creating this ornithopter, Lau Gih-Keong, an associate professor in mechanical engineering at Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University, spoke to CNN about specific future uses of these flying machines. The new drones can be used to maneuver in and out of nearly inaccessible, tight spaces. For example, they can easily fly in and out of a ventilation duct, where regular inspections are difficult but essential to system upkeep.

If you want to see how these next gen drones work, The Conversation published three videos of these marvels in motion. They look small, about the size of a hummingbird or even a large, flying insect. One can only imagine their potential after seeing how agile they are. In that same article, the researchers have said they will continue to refine and develop these and newer drones, based on the evolution of birds.

Joleen Jernigan is an ever-curious writer, grammar nerd, and social media strategist with a background in training, education, and educational publishing. A native Texan, Joleen has traveled extensively, worked in six countries, and holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. She lives in Austin and constantly seeks out the best the city has to offer.

Real Estate Technology

Avoid real estate scams with these virtual investigators

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) As real estate scams increase, services such as Fireball Approves are joining the fight by offering an array of background check services.

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Man seated at kitchen table with laptop and checking phone, searching to avoid real estate scams.

Daily business across every industry has continued to find a home online, as more consumers are using websites, apps, and other digital services to complete any number of tasks. Real estate is not immune to this, with trends year over year showing users flocking to digital tools to assist with every step of the process. Whether it’s looking for a new home, rental property, apartment, or anything else, it’s clear that this industry is embracing the internet to power transactions.

Unfortunately, this also means that there is a growing number of real estate scams being carried out as well, which can include fake listings for properties, landlords, realtors, and associated services. Apartmentlist.com states that as many as 5.2 million U.S. renters are affected annually, and that 43.1% of people encounter a listing they believe to be fraudulent during their search.  Forbes reports that the FBI estimates as much as $150 million is lost per year in relation to real estate, with wire fraud being a major factor.

Sadly, this appears to be tied hand in hand with the current pandemic, as it has forced more online interactions in a time where face-to-face help may not always be possible or available.

Some services have already appeared that aim to help consumers combat and avoid such schemes, such as Scamlord.ai, which is operated by Onerent and was featured on Product Hunt. Using machine learning, it has analyzed thousands of fake listings in order to observe and find patterns. From this data, it can help guide users away from anything that might be part of real estate scams.

Another service is Fireball Approves, which utilizes background checks to help customers find information over a number of possible inquiries. From their website, Investicheck covers a wide variety of options that are broken down into people and real estate categories (with more to come). The former covers things such as a background sweep, asset confirmation, social media perusal, and even locating someone who might be missing.

The real estate side of things promises ways for renters to look into the validity of listings in order to protect themselves. This includes confirming that the lister is who they say they are (owner or landlord) and checking for past criminal or court actions. Fireball Approves can do this for short and long term properties, and even covers vacation options.

Likewise, additional offers include student housing checks (proper zoning and management validation), obtaining photos of the exterior and interior of a property, and researching legal matters such as liens, the deed, and anything related to possible foreclosure.

In a sense, Fireball Approves is another necessary safeguard against a new and emerging type of crime. A blog post on the site details ways such actions are performed, including international AirBNB impersonations, local scammers breaking into properties and listing them as available, or bypassing lockboxes and then inviting customers to sign a fake lease. Even as this new type of fraud has appeared in the form of real estate scams, Fireball Approves has worked diligently to remain informed on their tactics, responding to new scams and combating the issue with experience.

Simply put, you can never be too sure what may be a real or fake listing. Just as you might take necessary precautions to confirm identities, it will always be in your best interest to be as safe and thorough as possible. Fireball Approves and Scamlord.ai are part of the growing number of tools at your disposal. With losses potentially in the thousands, it may be worth the small investment for the peace of mind it affords.

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Real Estate Technology

Speed up your online productivity with this Chrome extension

(REAL ESTATE TECH NEWS) Say hello to faster work times with Sidekick, a Chromium-based browser made specifically for people who work on the web.

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Sidekick, the Chrome extension that boosts productivity while working on the web.

Working remotely isn’t all that bad, but it could be easier. With all our work being done straight from our computers today, our one, two, or even three monitors can start to feel overcrowded quickly. Those open tabs, windows, and apps are everywhere! As a result, we’re left with little to no organization. To make things worse, memory consumption slows down our computers thus putting the brakes on our work productivity level.

A lot of us are experiencing these same problems. Over the last few months, we have seen web tools that make things better. And now, there’s a new tool that works with Chrome extensions and promises it will be FASTER, too!

Sidekick is a Chromium-based browser made specifically for people who work on the web. It is designed to be the “ultimate online work experience” by combining everything your productivity needs in one interface.

With Sidekick, you “work in apps instead of tabs”. You can pin your apps in the Sidekick sidebar so you can access them instantly. Each app has its own search field, and you can configure notification alerts for each one. As an added bonus, you can have multiple logins. With a simple click, you can switch between your accounts without having to login and logout constantly.

Also, you can “search all your work instantly”. The tool has a built-in search bar with a single shortcut. You can search across apps, tabs, workspaces, contacts, and documents all at the same time. Hooray!

To remove clutter, Sidekick automatically saves open tabs into “sessions”. In the side panel, you can open and create a new session to organize your work.

According to the company’s website, their business model isn’t ad-based so they “can afford a no compromise approach to the privacy.” Instead, “Sidekick blocks virtually every data-grabbing ad and tracker” with its built-in adblocker.

Sidekick also makes it easy to work together. Sidekick Teams lets you “stay on top of every project through your browser.” Workspaces can be created to set up a project with its own session, app Sidebar, and tabs. Additionally, if you need to get a hold of a team member you can see who’s available so you can video chat with them.

The tool makes onboarding a lot simpler. You can set up apps, bookmarks, and credentials for new employees before they open the browser for the first time.

Furthermore, the tool safeguard’s everyone’s data. It can “remotely configure the security of every device connected to your data cloud, even in BYOD situations.” And, Sidekick’s password manager lets you share passwords securely without having to reveal what it is. And, we can all agree this is pretty important.

The company’s website states that Sidekick is the “fastest work environment ever made.” By centralizing everything you could need to do your work, it could create a boost to your productivity on the web. If you’d like to give it a try, you can check them out here.

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Real Estate Technology

Value privacy? DuckDuckGo is the answer to breaking up with Google

(TECHNOLOGY) DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn’t listen to home recordings, sell you stuff, or track your every movement. They just provide search results.

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DuckDuckGo search engine

A recent Wired editorial caught our eye, urging folks to consider using DuckDuckGo instead of Google. As someone who does use DuckDuckGo as my default search engine, it made me smile.

In the modern world of telecommunications, the only real currency is trust. When you buy an iPhone or an Android, you’re not really buying a set of features. You’re buying assurance that the cell phone company you’ve chosen isn’t going to screw you over too badly. You have a device in your pocket that tracks you, everywhere you go.

Even when you have location services off, your smartphone knows where you are through a combination of the Wi-Fi networks nearby and your phone’s motion sensor. Here’s an article from nearly a decade ago talking about how this process is 90% accurate. How much better do you reckon it’s gotten since then?

The thing is, Apple and Google both kinda suck at the privacy thing. Here’s an article about Siri recordings being made when Siri isn’t meant to be turned on, and the quality assurance contractors who then have to listen to people having sex. (Apple is ending the contractor program, after a public outcry.) Here’s an article about a big ol’ leak of Google Home recordings, many of which were made without the user activating Google Home. Here’s an article about Amazon leaking 1,700 audio recordings from someone’s Alexa to a complete stranger!

So your phone companies don’t really protect you that well. Apps take advantage of this too. If you still have the FB app, you should probably delete it! Here’s a story about a psychiatrist realizing that Facebook was suggesting that her patients add each other!

So privacy matters, and Google sucks at it. Google is also a HUGE business. It’s an enormous company that wields so much influence on ours lives that there is an entire industry now called “search engine optimization” dedicated to unraveling its whims.

And what whims! One major update a few weeks ago caused a 30-40% drop in traffic for some websites. These updates are pretty opaque, and a whole constellation of websites has arisen to help the search engine optimization workers (or SEOs, for short) untangle what those updates mean, and why their traffic has suddenly gone down.

And at this point, Google only kinda wants to serve you results. Mostly they wanna serve you ads, and highly-optimized shopping results. One of the big problems facing SEO workers right now is that you can bust your ass to get a company to the front page of results, and it may not matter if you don’t crack the top 3. Because people do most of their Internetting on their phones now, and ads take up most of the screen space when someone Googles.

So Google isn’t great at privacy AND their priorities are skewed. But this is an article about DuckDuckGo, right? And we’ve barely covered it! So let’s talk about that a little.

DuckDuckGo doesn’t save your searches. It forgets everything you search. And you know what? That feels incredible. There are drawbacks. When I type the letter L into DuckDuckGo, it doesn’t immediately suggest “Leonard Bernstein shirtless” like Google does. But the ten seconds it takes to type that out is worth the knowledge that my data isn’t being stored by my search engine.

And yes, Google pours a ton of money and attention into their algorithms, and they’ve got a years-long head start on DuckDuckGo. But usually, DuckDuckGo still manages to get me exactly what I want. Sometimes, it’s even better at giving me what I want. Because it’s not serving me ads, or trying to second-guess me. It just…gives me the thing I asked for.

There are still some instances that send me to Google. If I’m looking for a specific image or gif, for instance. Or if I’m looking for a certain news story. And there are certain niche searches where Google’s experience is necessary. But for the vast majority of what I need, DuckDuckGo is there, serving up only what I want and protecting my privacy while it does. And it feels GREAT.

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