Raspberry Pi Zero W rival: New $10 Orange Pi 2G-IoT hooks into mobile networks

Raspberry Pi challenger Orange Pi has packed a 2G antenna into its latest developer board, aiming to target Internet of Things applications.

The Orange Pi 2G-IoT goes up against the recently released Raspberry Pi Zero W.

Image: Orange Pi

Last year the Shenzhen-based maker of the Orange Pi developer board undercut the Raspberry Pi 3 on price but only by sacrificing the better-known board’s Wi-Fi.

Now, a new Orange Pi model, dubbed the Orange Pi 2G-IoT, goes in the opposition direction on connectivity, giving builders a 2G antenna for Internet of Things applications, as well as offering wireless LAN and Bluetooth for a price of $10.

The Orange Pi 2G-IoT goes up against the recently released Raspberry Pi Zero W, which also costs $10, and offers wireless LAN and Bluetooth but not mobile network access.

The new Orange Pi board features a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A5 32-bit processor with a Vivante GC860 graphics processor, and 256MB RAM.

It also supports 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1, and features a Raspberry Pi-compatible 40-pin GPIO connector.

Other features include video and audio inputs and outputs, and USB 2.0 ports. The 2G antenna supports GSM/GPRS data connections and there’s, of course, a slot to insert a SIM card.

The device can run Android, Ubuntu, Debian, or Raspberry Pi, according to the Orange Pi 2G-IoT listing on Aliexpress.

While the Orange Pi 2G-IoT costs the same as the Raspberry Pi Zero W, the Raspberry board has double the RAM, at 512MB.

But as CNX-Soft notes, before buying the board it might be worth checking which carriers still support 2G. While some will continue to support it for years to come, AT&T, for example, killed its 2G network off at the end of 2016.

And there are still questions about software support, so CNX-Software urges anyone new to using these devices to proceed with caution. Raspberry Pi on the other hand is a known quantity and has a large array of operating systems and software to run on it.


Apple today has shared a new commercial for the Apple Watch Series 2. The new ad is titled “Live Bright” and highlights using the Apple Watch to live an active and healthy lifestyle.Throughout the ad, the Apple Watch is shown in a variety of different environments, including swimming, running, and even skydiving. The new ad also showcases features that can help improve a sedentary lifestyle, such as the Stand feature of the Activity app and the Breathe app.

The new ad seems destined for TV with its 1 minute length. This is opposed to some of Apple’s recent ads that have been geared more towards social media, such as the iPad Pro’s Twitter-based ads.

In the video’s description on YouTube, Apple touts that Apple Watch is the perfect companion for living a healthy life.

Built-in GPS. Water resistance to 50 meters. A lightning-fast dual‑core processor. And a display that’s two times brighter than before. Full of features that help you stay active, motivated, and connected, Apple Watch Series 2 is the perfect partner for a healthy life.

As for music, the ad is set to Beyoncé’s song Freedom, which features rapper Kendrick Lamar.

Most of Apple’s ads for the Apple Watch have been fast-paced, each highlighting a specific feature or capability of the device. Today’s ad is more generic and focuses on integrating Apple Watch into all aspects of your life. Watch the new ad below and let us know what you think of it in the comments.

Scientists grow beating heart tissue on spinach leaves

How crossing plant and animal kingdoms may lead to radical new tissue-engineering breakthroughs
March 31, 2017

A research team headed by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) scientists* has solved a major tissue engineering problem holding back the regeneration of damaged human tissues and organs: how to grow small, delicate blood vessels, which are beyond the capabilities of 3D printing.**

The researchers used plant leaves as scaffolds (structures) in an attempt to create the branching network of blood vessels — down to the capillary scale — required to deliver the oxygen, nutrients, and essential molecules required for proper tissue growth.

In a series of unconventional experiments, the team cultured beating human heart cells on spinach leaves that were stripped of plant cells.*** The researchers first decellularized spinach leaves (removed cells, leaving only the veins) by perfusing (flowing) a detergent solution through the leaves’ veins. What remained was a framework made up primarily of biocompatible cellulose, which is already used in a wide variety of regenerative medicine applications, such as cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering, and wound healing.

After testing the spinach vascular (leaf vessel structure) system mechanically by flowing fluids and microbeads similar in size to human blood cells through it, the researchers seeded the vasculature with human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) to grow endothelial cells (which line blood vessels).

Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC) and human pluripotent stem-cell-derived cardiomyocytes (cardiac muscle cells) (hPS-CM) were then seeded to the outer surfaces of  the plant scaffolds. The cardiomyocytes spontaneously demonstrated cardiac contractile function (beating) and calcium-handling capabilities over the course of 21 days.

The future of ”crossing kingdoms”

These proof-of-concept studies may open the door to using multiple spinach leaves to grow layers of healthy heart muscle, and a potential tissue engineered graft based upon the plant scaffolds could use multiple leaves, where some act as arterial support and some act as venous return of blood and fluids from human tissue, say the researchers.

“Our goal is always to develop new therapies that can treat myocardial infarction, or heart attacks,” said GlennGaudette, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering at WPI and corresponding author of an open-access paper in the journal Biomaterials, published online in advance of the May 2017 issue.

“Unfortunately, we are not doing a very good job of treating them today. We need to improve that. We have a lot more work to do, but so far this is very promising.”

Currently, it’s not clear how the plant vasculature would be integrated into the native human vasculature and whether there would be an immune response, the authors advise.

The researchers are also now optimizing the decellularization process and seeing how well various human cell types grow while they are attached to (and potentially nourished by) various plant-based scaffolds that could be adapted for specialized tissue regeneration studies. “The cylindrical hollow structure of the stem of Impatiens capensis might better suit an arterial graft,” the authors note. “Conversely, the vascular columns of wood might be useful in bone engineering due to their relative strength and geometries.”

Other types of plants could also provide the framework for a wide range of other tissue engineering technologies, the authors suggest.****

The authors conclude that “development of decellularized plants for scaffolding opens up the potential for a new branch of science that investigates the mimicry between kingdoms, e.g., between plant and animal. Although further investigation is needed to understand future applications of this new technology, we believe it has the potential to develop into a ‘green’ solution pertinent to a myriad of regenerative medicine applications.”

* The research team also includes human stem cell and plant biology researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Arkansas State University-Jonesboro.

** The research is driven by the pressing need for organs and tissues available for transplantation, which far exceeds their availability. More than 100,000 patients are on the donor waiting list at any given time and an average of 22 people die each day while waiting for a donor organ or tissue to become available, according to a 2016 paper in the American Journal of Transplantation

*** In addition to spinach leaves, the team successfully removed cells from parsley, Artemesia annua (sweet wormwood), and peanut hairy roots.

**** “Tissue engineered scaffolds are typically produced either from animal-derived or synthetic biomaterials, both of which have a large cost and large environmental impact. Animal-derived biomaterials used extensively as scaffold materials for tissue engineering include native [extracellular matrix]  proteins such as collagen I or fibronectin and whole animal tissues and organs. Annually, 115 million animals are estimated to be used in research. Due to this large number, a lot of energy is necessary for the upkeep and feeding of such animals as well as to dispose of the large amount of waste that is generated. Along with this environmental impact, animal research also has a plethora of ethical considerations, which could be alleviated by forgoing animal models in favor of more biologically relevant in vitro human tissue models,” the authors advise.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute | Spinach leaves can carry blood to grow human tissues

Tesla Software Update Enables Autosteer at 80mph

Other improvements includes a beta feature that will automatically park your Tesla without you in it.

Phonemakers battling over production contract for the Pixel 3, report claims

google pixel  news review

The competition over who will get to produce the future of Google’s flagship phones could make those phones better and more readily available for purchase.

As Google prepares the successor to the Pixel and Pixel XL due for release later in 2017, the battle has apparently already begun over who will get to manufacture the third iteration of the flagship Android phone.

HTC is once again in the running, along with LG, current Blackberry producer TCL, and Coolpad, according to Chinese publication Commercial Times by way of Digitimes. Google’s existing contract with HTC will expire after the release of the Pixel 2, so says the report, opening up an opportunity for other hardware companies. LG is purportedly leading the race, though Commercial Times does not elaborate as to why.


Since September, HTC has reportedly shipped more than 2.1 million Pixel devices, but Google may be looking to ramp output up to 5 million in time for the Pixel 3. Meanwhile, most variants of the original Pixel — especially the XL — remain out of stock about six months after the phone’s launch, as HTC continues to struggle to fill orders quickly enough.

Remember, too, that HTC may not have been Google’s first choice to build the Pixel, but rather Huawei, according to the accounts of multiple executives from the Chinese tech firm last fall. Keeping this in mind along with the supply-side constraints, it’s possible Google is more confident in LG’s manufacturing capabilities, given that the companies have worked together on multiple Nexus phones in the past.

Commercial Times’ report comes shortly after rumors that Google could be planning a third, larger version of the Pixel 2 for release, codenamed “Taimen.” This article only mentions the “Muskie” and “Walleye” devices we’ve already heard about, which lends credence to the theory that Google is simply testing a variety form factors for the next Pixel, but still only plans to release two of them.

There is also the chance of a lower-end Pixel phone named the 2B that broke early in the rumor cycle, though more recent reports — including a statement from Google’s Senior Vice President of Hardware Rick Osterloh — suggest that the Pixel brand will stay premium, and the 2B could instead fit into the Android One family.

Amazon’s best-selling smart thermostat works with Alexa and costs half as much as a Nest

Best Smart Thermostat

The Nest Learning Thermostat was a game-changer. It made people realize that a little smarts could go a long way in making their homes more efficient, thus saving energy and money. Of course with the Nest, you have to spend a whole lot of money to start saving money. The good news is that there’s another option out there that costs less than half as much as the Nest but can still save you just as much money. It even works with Alexa!

Check out the Sensi Smart Thermostat, which is on sale right now on Amazon.

  • Ranked “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Smart Thermostat” by J.D. Power
  • No other Wi-Fi thermostat works in more homes (no “C-wire” required for many HVAC applications). Refer to Sensi’s online compatibility resources to verify compatibility in your home
  • Connect Sensi thermostat to your home Wi-Fi Network and control from anywhere via free mobile app (compatible with Android and iOS)
  • Optional 7-day scheduling helps reduce wasteful heating and cooling when no one is home
  • Quick and easy installation in 15 minutes or less. The Sensi app includes a step-by-step installation guide and video tutorial
  • Works with Amazon Alexa for voice control (Alexa device sold separately) and Wink app (no Wink hub required)

A 20-mile long ‘spacescraper’ dangling from an asteroid: Could it work?


Realizing an architectural firm’s dream of a record-setting skyscraper hanging from an asteroid would be a tall order.

MARCH 29, 2017 It’s a new approach to an old idea. While Jonathan Swift’s fantastical island city of Laputa stayed aloft via magnets, a New York City design firm envisions using an orbiting asteroid to hang a skyscraper above the Earth.

Clouds Architecture Office espouses a dream-big-or-go-home philosophy with its plan to construct the world’s “tallest building ever.” The 20-mile high (or long) megastructure would dangle from an asteroid suspended by a cable system tens of thousands of miles long.

A number of engineering hurdles stand in the way, so would-be atmospheric settlers of tomorrow will have plenty of time to save up for a down payment. Nevertheless, today’s humble surface-dwellers may see inspirational value in proposing such castles in the sky, regardless of their feasibility.

Clouds AO’s “Analemma Tower” riffs on the concept of the space elevator, an orbiting counterweight tethered to Earth by an unimaginably long cable that, once built, could provide more affordable access to space.

But rather than a fixed line to the ground, the firm proposes an apartment building hanging off the lower end of a very, very, very long cable attached to an asteroid. The entire system would orbit at the same speed the Earth turns, so it could hover over a relatively narrow area, rather than zipping around many times per day, like the International Space Station does.

The plan calls for an asteroid to be captured and brought back to orbit Earth, similar to NASA’s soon-to-be-cancelled Asteroid Redirect Mission. The space rock would orbit about 30,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, and tens of thousands of miles of cable would suspend the low-flying apartment complex, which would span the last 20 miles and nearly scrape the Earth’s surface.

The scale of the project is mind-boggling. The building alone would be 60 times as tall as New York’s One World Trade Center, a height that would take Dubai’s Burj Khalifa elevator nearly an hour to climb (although the proposal suggests cableless magnetic elevators). If the entire asteroid-to-bottom-floor span were shrunk to the size of the Eiffel Tower, by comparison the real Eiffel Tower would stand a mere seven hundredths of an inch tall.

Inhabitants could live more than 100,000 feet in the air, where they would enjoy 45 extra minutes of daylight, but it would come at the cost of near-vacuum conditions outside and temperatures comparable to an Antarctic winter, necessitating the recycling of air and water much like a space station.

But a free-flying design affords a number of advantages. By tweaking the elongation of the orbit, builders could specify the figure-eight shaped path the building traces over the Earth. All geosynchronous satellites follow this pattern, from which the structure gets its name: analemma. And the view would be spectacular.

Clouds Architecture Office | Caption

The analemma movement makes the building mobile, with ports of call in New York City and on the western coast of South America where it could dock for loading, unloading, and re-supplying. It would complete one analemma each day.

The design also suggests taking advantage of the skyscraper’s mobility to defray the astronomical building costs, pointing out that Dubai has proven itself a master of low cost, high rise construction. After completion, builders could transport the entire structure to its final New York City-focused orbit.

Rent would cover the remainder of the costs, the architects expect. “It taps into the desire for extreme height, seclusion, and constant mobility. If the recent boom in residential towers proves that sales price per square foot rises with floor elevation, then Analemma Tower will command record prices, justifying its high cost of construction,” the firm wrote.

Recent record-setting apartment prices include a $100 million unit in New York City and a $335 million penthouse in Monaco. Even more astronomical fees for spacescraper real estate would make Analemma Tower accessible only to the hyper-rich.

But Clouds AO won’t be taking deposits anytime soon, because the project faces the challenges of a space elevator, and then some.

“It’s basically a space elevator with the lower end free. I think that’s actually harder.  Probably not 10 times harder though, maybe 1.5 times harder,” suggests Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The number one problem is the cable. The sheer length and tension require tremendous strength, and theorists can’t come up with a material that could bear more than two-thirds of the load required for a practical elevator, even just on paper.

Another hurdle is space trash from defunct satellites. “The fact that space tethers are often cut in two by a space debris hit is the reason they haven’t seen extensive use since the 1990s,” Dr. McDowell tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. On top of the space elevator style tether, Analemma Tower also presents a large pressurized structure with big windows as a large target for lower flying objects such as birds and planes.

McDowell suspects smaller, higher systems may be feasible (“start small, a hut!”), but he worries about the dangers of dipping too far into the Earth’s thick and breezy atmosphere: “The problems get worse once you start to lower the bottom end into the atmosphere and you have the interaction of the tether with the atmosphere, winds, etc. Then I think it actually gets simpler when you anchor it on the ground.” The jet stream, for example, could buffet the tower at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour.

And if anything went wrong, a crash could impact more than just the sky dwellers. In the event of a tether snap near the asteroid, the loosed cable could whip around the Earth, wrapping itself over the entire globe 1.2 times. The impact and collapse of a 20-mile building wouldn’t be good news either.

Despite its risk and impracticality, McDowell sees some value in at least discussing the proposal. “It is a fun idea that gets engineers and architects thinking outside the box, which is its purpose,” he says. “For an actual implementation, I think it’s a bad idea.”

It’s a sentiment famed science fiction author Neal Stephenson would agree with. Lamenting a shift in innovation from large works of engineering to app and web development, he sees science fiction and big thinking like the Analemma Tower as playing an important role in inspiring engineers and project planners.

“I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done. My parents and grandparents witnessed the creation of the airplane, the automobile, nuclear energy, and the computer to name only a few,” he wrote in his essay Innovation Starvation.

Aiming to lead by example, Mr. Stephenson partnered with Arizona State University structural engineer Keith Hjelmstad in 2012 to design a 12-mile-high steel towerthat could aid in refueling aircraft and launching spacecraft. He believes such initiatives to be fundamental to the continued success of the human race.

“The imperative to develop new technologies and implement them on a heroic scale no longer seems like the childish preoccupation of a few nerds with slide rules. It’s the only way for the human race to escape from its current predicaments. Too bad we’ve forgotten how to do it,” he wrote.

Advancements in technology have long spurred even more fanciful leaps of inspiration, as the Eiffel Tower reportedly inspired rocketry pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky to outline a proto-space elevator in 1895. We may still lack the technology to build the marvel he imagined, but humans have since found their way to the sky in ways he may not have foreseen.

Space elevators and “spacescrapers” firmly inhabit the realm of impossibility today, but the Burj Khalifa, with its 2,722-foot pinnacle of stone, glass, and computer chip-controlled elevators, would have been far beyond even the imagination of a Stone Age person familiar with only stone hatchets and wooden huts.

As for what will be achievable in the coming centuries, McDowell is bearish, but doesn’t rule out the possibility of an Analemma Tower entirely.

“I would bet against it for at least the next 200 years,” he says.

This Robotic Tentacle Can Easily Grasp Smooth Objects

Its dexterity could make it invaluable in factories and homes.

Do not be alarmed, but this disembodied robotic tentacle can gracefully grasp smooth objects or pass them to your puny human hand.

The OctopusGripper has been created by German robotics firm Festo, which is no stranger to creating automatons modeled on nature. Its soft gripper is composed of two main mechanisms. Its silicone tentacle is pneumatically driven: when air is pumped into it, it curls inward to encircle whatever item it’s placed around. Then, two rows of suction cups, which can deform to accommodate unusually shaped objects, use a vacuum to ensure that the object stays in place.

As you can see, it works pretty well, and can be used to grasp smooth, curved objects, including balls, metal cylinders, bottles, and even rolled-up magazines. It’s notable because grasping irregularly shaped and slippery items is an incredibly difficult task for most robots, and advances such as this will make it easier for robots to take up more roles in factories and homes.

This isn’t, of course, the first wriggly robot to slither onto the scene. British firm OC Robotics has built a a laser-toting serpentine arm to carve up decommissioned nuclear power hardware, while oil giant Statoil has helped develop a robotic snake designed for undersea inspection. And, at the gentler end of the spectrum, researchers from the Tokyo Institute of Technology have built a 20-meter-long inflatable arm made from helium-filled balloons.

It is, however, one of the more dextrous robot arms out there. But despite its rather uncanny abilities to seize objects, you shouldn’t be too worried by the device’s physical capabilities. Festo explains that because the “materials installed in the structure are also elastic and deformable, the gripper poses no danger to the user in direct contact.” Phew. Could it grab away your job, though? That might be another matter altogether.

Farming possible on Red Planet? Scientists grow ‘super potato’ plant in Mars-like conditions

WORLD Updated: Mar 30, 2017 12:27 IST

AP, Lima
Mars colonisation

In this March 16, 2017 photo, a potato plant grows inside a Mars simulator in Lima, Peru. (AP Photo)

In a lab in the Peruvian capital of Lima, a simulator mimicking the harsh conditions found on Mars now contains a hint of life: a nascent potato plant.

After experimenting in the Andean nation’s dry, desert soil, scientists have successfully grown a potato in frigid, high carbon-dioxide surroundings.

Though still in early stages, investigators at the International Potato Center believe the initial results are a promising indicator that potatoes might one day be harvested under conditions as hostile as those on Mars.

The findings could benefit not only future Mars exploration, but also arid regions already feeling the impact of climate change.

“It’s not only about bringing potatoes to Mars, but also finding a potato that can resist non-cultivable areas on Earth,” said Julio Valdivia, an astrobiologist with Peru’s University of Engineering and Technology who is working with Nasa on the project.

The experiment began in 2016 — a year after the Hollywood film “The Martian” showed a stranded astronaut surviving by figuring out how to grow potatoes on the red planet.

A scene from Hollywood sci-fi movie: The Martian

Peruvian scientists built a simulator akin to a Mars-in-a-box: Frosty below-zero temperatures, high carbon monoxide concentrations, the air pressure found at 6,000 metres (19,700 feet) altitude and a system of lights imitating the Martian day and night.

Though thousands of miles away from colleagues at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California providing designs and advice, Peru was in many ways an apt location to experiment with growing potatoes on Mars.

The birthplace of the domesticated potato lies high in the Andes near Lake Titicaca, where it was first grown about 7,000 years ago. More than 4,000 varieties are grown in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, where potatoes have sprouted even in cold, barren lands.

The Peruvian scientists didn’t have to go far to find high-salinity soil similar to that found on Mars, though with some of the organic material Mars lacks: Pampas de la Joya along the country’s southern coast receives less than a millimeter of rain a year, making its terrain somewhat comparable to the Red Planet’s parched ground.

International Potato Center researchers transported 700 kilos (1,540 pounds) of the soil to Lima, planted 65 varieties and waited. In the end, just four sprouted from the soil.

In a second stage, scientists planted one of the most robust varieties in the even more extreme conditions of the simulator, with the soil — Mars has no organic soil — replaced by crushed rock and a nutrient solution.

Live-streaming cameras caught every tiny movement as a bud sprouted and grew several leaves while sensors provided around-the-clock monitoring of simulator conditions.

The winning potato: A variety called ‘Unique’.

“It’s a ‘super potato’ that resists very high carbon dioxide conditions and temperatures that get to freezing,” Valdivia said.

The ‘super potato’ resists very high carbon dioxide conditions and temperatures that get to freezing levels. (AP Photo)

Nasa itself also has been doing experiments on extraterrestrial agriculture, both for use on spacecraft and perhaps on Mars.

Ray Wheeler, the lead for advanced life support research activities at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center, said plant survival in the open on Mars would be impossible given the planet’s low-pressure, cold temperature and lack of oxygen, but showing plants could survive in a greenhouse-type environment with reduced pressure and high carbon-dioxide levels could potentially reduce operating costs. Most research on growing plants in space has focused on optimizing environments to get high outputs of oxygen and food.

“But understanding the lower limits of survival is also important, especially if you consider pre-deploying some sort of plant growth systems before humans arrive,” he said.

In the next stage of the experiment, scientists will build three more simulators to grow potato plants under extreme conditions with the hope of gaining a broader range of results. They will also need to increase the carbon dioxide concentrations to more closely imitate the Martian atmosphere.