Google’s AR tools make it easier for apps to apply face filters

Google’s AR tools make it easier for apps to apply face filters

Owen Kmety, 15, of Chicago uses his iPhone to put a Snapchat filter on Edmonton Oilers left wing Jujhar Khaira (16) during the second period during a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Edmonton Oilers on January 7, 2018, at the United Center in Chicago, IL.

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Augmented reality experiences are still in their relative infancy, but because Android runs on so many devices, it can’t always assume they’ll have dedicated hardware to create extra effects. While Apple is already pushing ahead with AR and packed an entire Kinect-like camera into the front of its iPhone X family to support it, Google is enhancing its software to work even without capabilities like the LG G8’s depth-sensing hardware.

AR

The latest release of ARCore, version 1.7, can create a 468-point 3D mesh of a user’s face from just the front camera alone, good enough to apply slick filtering effects like the ones seen in this GIF. The key is making sure apps can track where to put everything, and avoid weird artifacting like you sometimes see with things like Snapchat filters. Also, 9to5Google points out the the list of devices that can run ARCore is expanding, with new additions like the Moto G7 family and Vivo Nex Dual Display Edition.

Beyond just the Augmented Face API, with “ARCore Elements.” Those allow developers to easily implement technology that helps software detect surfaces to place virtual objects on, and then use gestures to manipulate or resize them. So far, many AR-powered experiences in apps have launched on iPhone first — AR+ mode for Pokémon Go took almost a year to make the jump — but with improving software development tools hopefully we’ll see more feature available to owners of varying Android devices.

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Inside Nike’s DIY studio for Snapchat selfie filters

Inside Nike’s DIY studio for Snapchat selfie filters

Snapchat’s Lens Studio, which lets anyone create their own augmented reality filters, has been a big hit for the company. More than 250,000 Lenses created by independent users to date, and those have been viewed over 15 billion times. Still, Snapchat wants Lens Studio to get even bigger, and what better way to help it do that than by teaming up with one of the biggest brands in the world: Nike. At NBA All-Star Weekend 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Nike and Snapchat built a do-it-yourself studio for people to create AR Lenses on the fly.

Ever since Snapchat launched its Lens Studio in 2017, it has spent the past 13 months making a major push to grow that platform, and this is the first time it has partnered with another company to showcase its AR-making software. Nike, meanwhile, is using the collaboration as an opportunity to market its star NBA athletes. That means you’ll see elements related to LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and others turned into part of augmented reality filters on Snapchat.

Inside Nike and Snapchat's DIY AR studio.

Inside the Snapchat Workshop, which is located at Nike’s Owners HQ pop-up in Charlotte, people can come in choose between four different templates from a custom version of Lens Studio: Sunglasses, Segmentation, Hat and Headband. Once you select one of these, the software populates virtual assets from Nike and Jordan Brand, like an inspirational quote from LeBron James that you put on your AR filter. If you’re not a fan of LeBron, you can put the name of Wesbrook’s signature shoe line (“Why not?”) on your augmented reality glasses, or just pick a Nike headband with confetti.

Depending on how creative you want to get with your NBA- and Nike-themed AR Lenses, the process could take as little as a couple of minutes. After you’ve made your filter, you just have to pair your Snapchat profile to the Lens Studio session, using a Snap code, and then publish it to your account. You can then start sharing it with your friends and the Snapchat community, who may want to use it if they’re like the way it looks. (The one I created is below, in case you’re interested.)

The thing that makes Lens Studio stand out is that you don’t have to know how to code to use it, since Snapchat designed it with both beginners and programmers in mind. And if you do run into any issues at Nike’s Snapchat Workshop, there are Lens experts readily available to guide you through the process. For Snapchat, this is just the latest example of how it views Lens Studio as a key part of its overall business strategy. Just a few months ago, the company brought AR filters to the desktop with the new Snap Camera, which lets people use filters from Lens Studio (as well as Snapchat’s own) on video-chat apps like Skype and Google Hangouts.



Shawn Dedeluk, Creative Strategy Lead at Snapchat, told Engadget that the partnership with Nike is about bringing more awareness to Lens Studio and educating consumers on what the app is capable of. “It’s really easy to make augmented reality and that’s our goal at Snapchat,” he said. “We want anybody to be able to do this, whether you have no technical skills or you’re very technically skilled.” While this experience is less about the users and more about marketing, it may still be a good step to let people get more familiar with augmented reality.

It’ll be interesting to see if, down the road, Snap starts doing more of these augmented reality workshops — especially as it looks to keep users on its service. If more people know it’s easy to create a personal augmented reality filter for their selfies, that may just keep them coming back. Dedeluk said Snap will “probably” end up building similar pop-ups in the future, noting that what the company is doing with Nike and Jordan at NBA All-Star Weekend paves the way for what could be done with other brands.

As for Nike, the sportswear giant has been experimenting with AR to sell sneakers for a couple of years, so its interest in the technology shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, Nike always finds a way to try to generate hype at big sporting events, whether that be the Super Bowl or the NBA’s star-studded mid-season game.

Gallery: Nike’s Snapchat Workshop at NBA All-Star Weekend 2019 | 22 Photos

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New houseplant can clean your home’s air

New houseplant can clean your home’s air

We like to keep the air in our homes as clean as possible, and sometimes we use HEPA air filters to keep offending allergens and dust particles at bay.

But some hazardous compounds are too small to be trapped in these filters. Small molecules like chloroform, which is present in small amounts in chlorinated water, or benzene, which is a component of gasoline, build up in our homes when we shower or boil water, or when we store cars or lawn mowers in attached garages. Both benzene and chloroform exposure have been linked to cancer.

Now researchers at the University of Washington have genetically modified a common houseplant — pothos ivy — to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it. The modified plants express a protein, called 2E1, that transforms these compounds into molecules that the plants can then use to support their own growth. The team will publish its findings Wednesday, Dec. 19 in Environmental Science & Technology.

“People haven’t really been talking about these hazardous organic compounds in homes, and I think that’s because we couldn’t do anything about them,” said senior author Stuart Strand, who is a research professor in the UW’s civil and environmental engineering department. “Now we’ve engineered houseplants to remove these pollutants for us.”

The team decided to use a protein called cytochrome P450 2E1, or 2E1 for short, which is present in all mammals, including humans. In our bodies, 2E1 turns benzene into a chemical called phenol and chloroform into carbon dioxide and chloride ions. But 2E1 is located in our livers and is turned on when we drink alcohol. So it’s not available to help us process pollutants in our air.

“We decided we should have this reaction occur outside of the body in a plant, an example of the ‘green liver’ concept,” Strand said. “And 2E1 can be beneficial for the plant, too. Plants use carbon dioxide and chloride ions to make their food, and they use phenol to help make components of their cell walls.”

The researchers made a synthetic version of the gene that serves as instructions for making the rabbit form of 2E1. Then they introduced it into pothos ivy so that each cell in the plant expressed the protein. Pothos ivy doesn’t flower in temperate climates so the genetically modified plants won’t be able to spread via pollen.

“This whole process took more than two years,” said lead author Long Zhang, who is a research scientist in the civil and environmental engineering department. “That is a long time, compared to other lab plants, which might only take a few months. But we wanted to do this in pothos because it’s a robust houseplant that grows well under all sort of conditions.”

The researchers then tested how well their modified plants could remove the pollutants from air compared to normal pothos ivy. They put both types of plants in glass tubes and then added either benzene or chloroform gas into each tube. Over 11 days, the team tracked how the concentration of each pollutant changed in each tube.

For the unmodified plants, the concentration of either gas didn’t change over time. But for the modified plants, the concentration of chloroform dropped by 82 percent after three days, and it was almost undetectable by day six. The concentration of benzene also decreased in the modified plant vials, but more slowly: By day eight, the benzene concentration had dropped by about 75 percent.

In order to detect these changes in pollutant levels, the researchers used much higher pollutant concentrations than are typically found in homes. But the team expects that the home levels would drop similarly, if not faster, over the same time frame.

Plants in the home would also need to be inside an enclosure with something to move air past their leaves, like a fan, Strand said.

“If you had a plant growing in the corner of a room, it will have some effect in that room,” he said. “But without air flow, it will take a long time for a molecule on the other end of the house to reach the plant.”

The team is currently working to increase the plants’ capabilities by adding a protein that can break down another hazardous molecule found in home air: formaldehyde, which is present in some wood products, such as laminate flooring and cabinets, and tobacco smoke.

“These are all stable compounds, so it’s really hard to get rid of them,” Strand said. “Without proteins to break down these molecules, we’d have to use high-energy processes to do it. It’s so much simpler and more sustainable to put these proteins all together in a houseplant.”

Civil and environmental engineering research technician Ryan Routsong is also a co-author. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Amazon Catalyst at UW and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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Your heart hates air pollution; portable filters could help

Your heart hates air pollution; portable filters could help

Microscopic particles floating in the air we breathe come from sources such as fossil fuel combustion, fires, cigarettes and vehicles. Known as fine particulate matter, this form of air pollution increases the risk of cardiovascular and other serious health problems.

“Despite improvements in air quality across the U.S. during the past few decades, more than 88,000 deaths per year occur in the U.S. due to fine particulate matter air pollution exposure,” says Robert Brook, M.D., a cardiovascular medicine specialist at the University of Michigan’s Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

Now, researchers have found that an inexpensive portable air purifier used inside a home is powerful enough to round up a good portion of those miniscule particles and get them out of the indoor air — a simple move that may protect the heart.

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found three days of using a low-cost air purifier at home significantly lowered urban seniors’ fine particulate matter exposure. It also significantly lowered their blood pressure, which is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide.

“The results show that a simple practical intervention using inexpensive indoor air filtration units can help protect at-risk individuals from the adverse health effects of fine particulate matter air pollution,” says Brook, the study’s senior author.

He conducted the research with colleagues from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, including first author Masako Morishita, Ph.D., of MSU.

Improving indoor air

Because the nation’s population spends nearly 90 percent of its time indoors, researchers focused on exposure to pollutants while people are inside their own homes.

So instead of heading to a highway or factory, or even a park, Brook and his colleagues took their air pollution fight to living rooms and bedrooms in low-income senior housing in Detroit.

Forty seniors participated in this randomized, double-blind study between fall 2014 and fall 2016. Ninety-five percent of the participants were black; all were nonsmokers.

Each person experienced three different three-day scenarios: a sham air filter (an air filtration system without a filter), a low-efficiency air purifier system and a high-efficiency air purifier system.

Participants went about their normal business during the study period and were allowed to open windows and go outside as often as they wished. Blood pressure was measured each day, and participants wore personal air monitors to determine their personal air pollution exposure.

The researchers focused on reduced air pollutant exposure and lowered blood pressure over a three-day period as an indication of the portable air filters’ potential to be cardioprotective.

As a result, Brook says fine particulate matter exposure was reduced by 40 percent, and systolic blood pressure was reduced by an average of 3.4 mm Hg (normal systolic blood pressure is considered less than 120 mm Hg; stage 1 hypertension begins at 130 and stage 2 at 140).

“The benefits were even more marked in obese individuals who had 6 to 10 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure,” says Brook, also a professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School.

And even a small investment could reap big benefits: High-efficiency air purifiers reduced pollutant exposure to a greater degree, but they didn’t lower people’s blood pressure more significantly than low-efficiency air purifiers, which are widely available for less than $70 apiece.

A relatable model

Existing research has investigated air pollution’s cardiovascular and metabolomic effects in heavily polluted areas, also reporting some improvements after deploying air filters.

However, Brook says his team’s report adds an important new consideration: It was conducted in a much cleaner environment that already met existing air quality standards for fine particulate matter yet still showed the potential to reduce exposure.

“During the time of the study in Detroit, outdoor fine particulate matter levels averaged 9 micrograms per cubic meter, which is within the National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” Brook adds. “This strongly supports that even further improvements in air quality can be yet more protective to public health.”

The JAMA Internal Medicine paper further differs from previous studies through its focus on an elderly and low-income population.

Researchers, Brook says, wanted to explore preventive strategies in everyday situations where aging adults are already dealing with other health conditions and may be on medications.

Nearly half of participants in the small study met the criteria for obesity — and their mean blood pressure would be classified as hypertensive, according to the 2017 American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology guideline.

It’s also the first known pollution and heart health study to focus on a three-part combination of low-income seniors, an urban environment in the U.S. and personal exposures to fine particulate matter.

Clearing the air

Despite the findings in the small study, more research is needed.

“It’s premature to recommend that our patients purchase indoor air filters to prevent heart diseases,” Brook says.

His team plans to test the approach in more diverse populations to learn whether personal reductions in fine particulate matter exposure will lead to fewer heart attacks and other negative outcomes associated with high blood pressure.

Brook says future research must also study long-term effects of the intervention to see if the reduced blood pressure will stay lower over longer time periods and result in fewer cardiovascular events.

Currently available epidemiologic calculations predict an approximate 16 percent decrease in cardiovascular events if a 3.2 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure is maintained for a period of months to years, the study’s authors note.

“In the meantime, clinicians and medical societies should play an active role in supporting clean air regulations in the effort to improve the health of their patients and families,” Brook says.

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Plasma-based system provides radical new path for water purification

Plasma-based system provides radical new path for water purification

Many of today’s methods of purifying water rely on filters and chemicals that need regular replenishing or maintenance. Millions of people, however, live in areas with limited access to such materials, leading the research community to explore new options of purifying water in using plasmas. Many plasma-based approaches are expensive, but a new class of plasma devices may change that.

Researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville have been studying a new type of plasma generator for water purification. The new generator pulses voltage signals to ionize gas at atmospheric pressure and produce many useful byproducts, including hydroxyl radicals, which cause a cascade of reactions that lead to purer water samples.

“We’re finding ways to speed up the purification process,” said Ryan Gott, a doctoral candidate in aerospace engineering at UAH who will present the research next week at the American Physical Society 71st Annual Gaseous Electronics Conference and the 60th Annual meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics, which will take place Nov. 5-9 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

“In theory, if this technology can be developed in a real-world, practical system, it would be able to purify water at lower costs than current methods can,” Gott said.

While the term “plasma” conjures images of superhot solar jets traveling through space, most plasma-based water purification approaches work through plasma’s ability to generate reactive free radicals, rendering many compounds in the water inert. The plasma and ensuing chemical reactions release energy and chemical species that can kill even tough microcystin bacteria, one culprit in algal blooms that lurk in our water supply.

“The pulses are so fast that it doesn’t change the temperature of the water,” Gott said. “You can touch our plasma jet with your hand.”

Unlike more common, ozone-producing plasma purifiers, the new device relies on the production of hydroxyl radicals. This method will hopefully sidestep some of the hurdles that have hampered ozone-based counterparts, namely high power consumption and challenges keeping excessive heat in check.

Using optical emission spectroscopy, the UAH researchers have been able to compare how different factors play a role in producing more hydroxyl radicals from their plasma device. Increasing voltage, for example, appears to have the biggest effect on output, followed by increasing the frequency of the pulses.

Right now, the device is limited to 10 kilovolts, but the researchers are hoping to see what higher voltage could mean down the road.

Gott said after the group continues to better understand the mechanisms behind how the plasma interacts with water, he hopes to scale up the technology for point-of-use applications.

“The end goal is to develop something that can be mass-produced and distributed to places that need it the most,” he said.

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Twitch streamers are getting Snap’s AR selfie filters

Twitch streamers are getting Snap’s AR selfie filters

As part of its Snap Camera announcement, Snap Inc. has revealed a partnership with Twitch that will bring augmented reality Lenses to users of the video-streaming site. This will give Twitch streamers access to thousands of Snapchat-style selfie filters, including those made by Snap and independent Lens Studio creators. There’s no need for users to have a Snapchat account, though the company is hoping to drive Twitch viewers to its mobile app by letting them unlock Lenses that their favorite streamers are “wearing” during a stream. You just have to scan a Snapcode that shows up on the big screen.

For streamers, setting up the Snap Camera integration is fairly simple. All they have to do is download the standalone Snap Camera application, which works for Mac and Windows desktops, and then they’ll be able to choose a Lens to rock in their live session. Viewers will also be able to use Snapcodes to subscribe to channels, while streamers themselves can reward their fans with “bonus” and “thank you” Lenses that are being created as part of the partnership between Snap and Twitch.

Snap

In addition to that, Snap Camera is also going to give Twitch streamers access to filters designed for particular audiences, including fans of League of Legends, PUBG, World of Warcraft and Overwatch. The great thing about Snap’s Lens ecosystem is that users can create their own filters through the company’s Studio tool, which to date has been used to make over 250,000 filters. If you’re a Twitch streamer and would like to know how to start using the Snap Camera’s features, here’s a step-by-step guide that you can peruse.

There’s a lot of potential for other video-streaming services to use what Snap Camera has to offer, but Snap says that right now it is focused on ensuring that the Twitch integration is perfect. “We would love to see, as we launch [Snap Camera], if other video services out there find this to be valuable,” Eitan Pilipski, vice president of Camera Platform at Snap, told Engadget. “The community in Twitch is very unique. The streamer on Twitch [is] taking on a different persona or character, and we couldn’t think of a [more] fun way to give them another tool.”

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Snapchat’s filters can now recognize your cat

Snapchat’s filters can now recognize your cat


Engaget / Mat Smith

What do you do after you lose three million daily users in three months? You start focusing on people’s pets. Snapchat filters can now recognize your cat. You can insert your moody feline companion into a slice of bread, put fancy eyeglasses on them and more.

Cats aren’t the first pets that Snapchat’s filters can recognize. Last year, the company introduced object recognition, including food and sports equipment, to help customize filters based on what things were in the picture being taken. This recognition extended to certain dog breeds. Now, the company is finally giving cats their due.

It’s a good move; after all, these types of photos are hilarious and eminently shareable. But will features like cat selfies stop, or at least slow down, Snap’s user hemorrhage? Only time will tell.

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Facebook tests Snapchat-like map for Nearby Friends

Facebook tests Snapchat-like map for Nearby Friends

Facebook’s eagerness to replicate Snapchat features might extend beyond particularly conspicuous elements like Stories and selfie filters. The company has confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s testing a rework of Nearby Friends that introduces visuals u…

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Liquid metal discovery to make toxic water safe and drinkable

Liquid metal discovery to make toxic water safe and drinkable

Researchers have discovered a revolutionary and cheap way to make filters that can turn water contaminated with heavy metals into safe drinking water in a matter of minutes.

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Facebook hopes to prove AR is more than selfie filters and games

Facebook hopes to prove AR is more than selfie filters and games

As I’m surrounded by software engineers in a conference room with no natural light, playing augmented reality games on an iPhone, I forget for a second that I’m in Seattle visiting Facebook. Not Amazon or Microsoft. Facebook, a company that’s evolved…

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School internet filter maker launches suicide risk detector

School internet filter maker launches suicide risk detector

A company that makes internet filters and Chromebook management software for schools is launching a product today that detects when K12 students are at risk of suicide or self harm. GoGuardian serves about 4,000 school districts in the US, totaling a…

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Selfies are shifting our definition of beauty

Selfies are shifting our definition of beauty

Selin Pesmes says she uses selfie filters because they smooth out her skin and present a “better-quality version” of herself. That’s likely the same thinking for the millions of other people who regularly post edited pictures of themselves on social…

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Selfie filters are driving new cosmetic surgery trends

Selfie filters are driving new cosmetic surgery trends,

Doctors have noticed a new trend: People want to change their body to look like their edited selfies. Specifically, they’re referring to photos of themselves taken with apps like Snapchat and Facetune that apply filters to instantly touch-up their ap…

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Engineers use Tiki torches in study of soot, diesel filters

Engineers use Tiki torches in study of soot, diesel filters,

Chemical engineers are using the summer staple in testing methods to improve efficiency of diesel engines.

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