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Snapchat is among the first to leverage Apple’s new powerful AR tools

(TECH NEWS) Apple has announced the iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR scanner that will take AR to a whole new level, and Snapchat is already leveraging the technology in its Lens Studio 3.2.

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Phone taking picture of food shows potential of AR

Augmented Reality (AR) uses computer-generated information to create an enhanced and interactive experience of the world. It intertwines the physical world with the digital one to make it more entertaining and fun. And, this week Apple unveiled its latest phone models, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Max, and along with it, its custom-designed LiDAR scanner.

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging, and it measures how long it takes light to reach an object and reflect it back. With the sensor, the new iPhone’s machine learning capabilities, and the iOS 14 framework, the iPhone can “understand the world around you.” “LiDAR makes iPhone 12 Pro a powerful device for delivering instant AR and unlocking endless opportunities in apps,” said iPhone Product Line Manager, Francesca Sweet.

Apple says their new technology will help enable object and room scanning, photo and video effects, and precise placements of AR objects. With LiDAR’s ability to “see in the dark”, the sensor can autofocus in low-light six times faster. In doing so, it improves focus accuracy and reduces capture time “so your subject is clearly in focus without missing the moment.”

And, Snapchat is making sure it isn’t missing the moment either. The company is among the first to leverage iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR scanner for AR on its iOS app. On Wednesday, Snapchat announced it is launching Lens Studio 3.2, which will allow creators and developers to build their LiDAR-powered lenses for the iPhone 12 Pro.

“The addition of the LiDAR Scanner to iPhone 12 Pro models enables a new level of creativity for augmented reality,” said Eitan Pilipski, Snap’s SVP of Camera Platform. “We’re excited to collaborate with Apple to bring this sophisticated technology to our Lens Creator community.”

According to a Lens Studio article, the new iPhone 12 Pro AR experience will have a better understanding of geometry and the meaning of surfaces and objects. It will let Snapchat’s camera “see a metric scale of the scene”, which will allow “Lenses to interact realistically with the surrounding world.”

Even though the iPhone 12 Pro isn’t here yet, this isn’t stopping Snapchat from letting creators and developers start bringing their “LiDAR-powered Lenses to life.” Its new and interactive preview mode in Lens Studio 3.2 will already allow them to do that. So, if you’d like to get started, you can download the template on their site.

According to Apple, the new iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR scanner “puts advanced depth-mapping technology in your pocket.” Overall, Apple’s new technology has fancy sensors that will allow you to take top-quality photos and videos in low-light. It will also allow you to create an AR experience that should be better than what exists now. During Apple’s announcement, they said all these new “incredible pro technologies” won’t come with a higher price tag. I guess it’s up to you whether you really need the fancy new iPhone 12 Pro to play with the new lenses in Snapchat.

Veronica Garcia has a Bachelor of Journalism and Bachelor of Science in Radio/TV/Film from The University of Texas at Austin. When she’s not writing, she’s in the kitchen trying to attempt every Nailed It! dessert, or on the hunt trying to find the latest Funko Pop! to add to her collection.

Tech News

Introduce AWS Panorama to add machine learning to any camera

(TECH NEWS) Amazon Web Services has announced a new hardware device that will add machine learning to any camera – AWS Panorama.

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Security cameras on a gray cement wall that can be outfitted with AWS Panorama to give machine learning.

At its learning conference, AWS re:Invent, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a new hardware device that will add machine learning to any camera. Named the AWS Panorama Appliance, AWS claims the tool will improve industrial operations and workplace safety.

The device lets you add computer vision (CV) to your existing on-premises internet protocol (IP) cameras, which is the standard type of digital video camera most companies use today. In doing so, cameras that weren’t built to accommodate CV can now be turned into smart cameras that do.

So, how does it work?

You register your AWS Panorama Appliance with AWS Cloud and install it on your network. Automatically, the device will identify camera streams and start interacting with the existing industrial cameras.

How will it help?

According to a press release, “Each AWS Panorama Appliance can run computer vision models on multiple camera streams in parallel, making possible use cases like quality control, part identification, and workplace safety.”

  • Manufacturing Quality Control
    AWS Panorama can automate monitoring and visual inspection tasks. For instance, it can detect defective items in a manufacturing line, and send you an alert in real-time. With this information, you can address and resolve the issue to improve product quality.
  • Reimagined Retail Insights
    Leveraging AWS Panorama’s control vision, you can get insights about the retail environment to improve operations and customer experiences. For example, the appliance can count customers and calculate the length of queues.
  • Workplace Safety and Social Distance Monitoring
    It can monitor site activity to ensure operating compliance is always in place, and notify you about any potentially unsafe situations. For instance, if a forklift is outside a designated area. You can take preemptive steps to remove it so it won’t come in contact with pedestrians.
  • Supply Chain Efficiency
    AWS Panorama can track barcodes, labels, or completed products. By doing this, it can help optimize work operations.

Alongside the AWS Panorama Appliance, AWS unveiled the AWS Panorama Device SDK (Software Development Kit). This software kit enables third-party manufacturers to build their own AWS Panorama-enabled devices.

According to AWS, with Panorama SDK, manufacturers “can build cameras with computer vision models that can process higher quality video with better resolution for spotting issues.” Although the SDK isn’t ready yet, AWS says it will be ready soon.

AWS Panorama Appliance is still in preview in US East (N. Virginia) and US West (Oregon) regions, so it isn’t available everywhere yet. However, you can apply for an AWS Panorama Appliance Developer Kit on their website to start building and testing your computer vision applications.

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Create a pandemic-friendly sign-in with this touchless technology

(TECH NEWS) In an era where touchless communication is paramount, Wellcome brings touchless employee and visitor sign-in technology to the workplace.

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Logo page for Wellcome, a touchless technology sign-in.

Touchless technology is becoming more and more common these days and for good reasons — health and safety. Due to the COVID pandemic, social distancing is crucial in helping decrease the amount of positive coronavirus cases.

Unfortunately, some work environments require in-person employees, contractors, and visitors. And now, some businesses are even starting to bring more of their workforce back into the office. While we can hopefully assume they all have some safety protocols in place, the front desk interactions haven’t changed much. This makes it difficult to manage and see who’s in and out.

But to fill in that gap, meet Wellcome. Wellcome is a touchless sign-in platform for employees and visitors. According to their website, the app “helps you manage the workplace effectively, making it safe and easy for everyone” who’s in the office.

And the platform does this by implementing the following features in its tool.

Employee Touchless Check-in
By uploading a list of employees to the Admin, employees automatically receive an email with a one-click “Wellcome Pass”. This pass can be added to their Apple or Android digital wallet.

Once at work, employees scan their pass on an iPad at the reception desk. Then, they will see a customizable confirmation screen with the company’s health and safety guidelines messaging. This reminder can help ensure everyone is following the rules and staying safe.

Visitor Touchless Check-in
For visitors without a Wellcome Pass, they can still scan the QR code on the iPad using their device. The QR code will direct them to a customized check-in form where they can select their host and fill out a health questionnaire on their mobile device.

COVID-Safe Visitor Screening
Based on how a visitor answers the health screening questionnaire, it will grant or deny them access to the office. This health COVID screening will help HR managers “protect the office by restricting access to visitors that might be infected.”

Host Notifications
Via email, Slack, and/or SMS, Wellcome will immediately notify the host when they have a visitor and send them the visitor’s contact details. It will also let them know if their visitor was granted or denied access based on the health screening. If a visitor is denied access, the host is instructed to not meet the visitor, but contact them another way.

Contact Tracing
If there is a potential or confirmed COVID-19 case at work, Wellcome makes it easy to identify and notify anyone who may be at risk. To do this, the HR manager just needs to search by a person’s name and date range in the Admin. Search results will pull up anyone that could have come in contact with the infected person.

The Admin will also notify all employees and visitors that need to self-isolate and get tested. If needed, Wellcome also lets you download and submit a tracing report.

Manage Office Capacity
Wellcome tracks workplace capacity and occupancy data to help maintain social distancing. If occupancy reaches the capacity limit, the Admin will be notified to “take steps to reduce occupancy in order to stay within the required limits.”

In the Admin Dashboard, reports are available to view the status of current capacity. It can also predict what the occupancy will be each day so companies can plan ahead.

Book Workdays
Employees have the option to pre-book when they want to come into the office. The app displays how many slots are available for each day, and it can send out a calendar reminder. Through the Admin, HR managers can see who will be coming into the office. This is Wellcome’s other way of making sure capacity limits are always within range.

Also, setting up Wellcome is pretty simple. All you need is an iPad. You install the app on it and leave it at the reception desk for employees and visitors to check-in.

For companies who have employees and visitors in and out of the office. Wellcome does sound appealing, and it looks like they will benefit a great deal from the platform. And, if you’d like to check it out, Wellcome lets you use the app free for 14 days. Afterwards, you can select a plan that works best for you.

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Scoring productivity: Is this new Microsoft tool creepy or helpful?

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft launched a new tool that helps monitor user data, but it’s not a work monitoring tool – it’s trying to judge productivity.

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Black and white data screens monitoring productivity.

Last month, Microsoft launched their new tool, “Productivity Score”. According to Microsoft, this new tool will help organizations understand how well they are functioning, how technology affects their productivity, and how they can get the most out of their Microsoft 365 purchase.

But to do all of this, the tool will keep track of how each employee is using Microsoft products. For instance, the tool will monitor how often video or screen sharing is enabled during meetings by employees.

It will keep a metric of how employees are communicating. It will show if employees are sending out emails through Outlook, sending out messages through Teams, or posting on Yammer. It will also keep track of which Microsoft tools are being used more and on which platforms.

So, Microsoft’s new tool is a scary work surveillance tool, right? According to Microsoft, it isn’t. In a blog post, Microsoft 365’s corporate Vice President Jared Spataro said, “Productivity Score is not a work monitoring tool. Productivity Score is about discovering new ways of working, providing your people with great collaboration, and technology experiences.”

Spataro says the tool “focuses on actionable insights” so people and teams can use Office 365 tools to be more productive, collaborative, and help make work improvements. And, while this all sounds good, privacy advocates aren’t too thrilled about this.

Microsoft says it is “committed to privacy as a fundamental element of Productivity Score.” To maintain privacy and trust, the tool does aggregate user data over a 28-day period. And, there are controls to anonymize user information, or completely remove it. However, by default individual-level monitoring is always on, and only admins can make any of these changes. Employees can’t do anything about securing their privacy.

So, user data privacy is still a large issue on the table, but privacy advocates can breathe a sigh of relief. Yesterday, they got a response from Microsoft they can smile about. In another blog post, Spataro responded to the controversy. “No one in the organization will be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365,” he said.

Although Productivity Score will still aggregate data over a 28-day period, it will not do so from an individual employee level. It will do it from an organizational one as a whole. Also, the company is making it clearer that the tool is a “measure of organizational adoption of technology—and not individual user behavior.”

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