Solar sails, new avatars, dual screen laptops and more

Say hello to your new avatar

Meta has launched updated 3D avatars for Facebook and Messenger in India, adding new facial shapes and assistive devices for people with disabilities with the aim of making avatars more expressive, customizable and diverse, to “better reflect the billions of unique people on this planet” . Avatars, used most frequently by people while replying to Facebook posts and Messenger texts, will now also be available to use in Instagram Stories and DMs. Some of the elements added as options for creating avatars include cochlear implants and over-the-ear hearing aids and wheelchairs. This has already been rolled out for users in India, as evidenced by the addition of a number of options for Indian outfits and skin tones, even accessories like a red bindi.

NASA announces it’s going ahead with solar sail project

Diffractive solar sails, depicted in this conceptual illustration, could enable missions to hard-to-reach places, like orbits over the Sun’s poles.

As NASA’s exploration continues to push boundaries, a new solar sail concept selected by the agency for development toward a demonstration mission could carry science to new destinations. Like a sailboat using wind to cross the ocean, solar sails use the pressure exerted by sunlight to propel a craft through space. Existing reflective solar sail designs are typically very large and very thin, and they are limited by the direction of the sunlight, forcing tradeoffs between power and navigation. Diffractive light sails would use small gratings embedded in thin films to take advantage of a property of light called diffraction, which causes light to spread out when it passes through a narrow opening. This would allow the spacecraft to make more efficient use of sunlight without sacrificing maneuverability.

The Diffractive Solar Sailing project was selected for Phase III study under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. Phase III aims to strategically transition NIAC concepts with the highest potential impact for NASA, other government agencies, or commercial partners.

Imagen the future

An image created by the program from the input text 'An alien octopus floats through a portal reading a newsaper'

An image created by the program from the input text ‘An alien octopus floats through a portal reading a newsaper’

Imagine a stock photo generator you can ask for any image that your mind can conjure up, no matter how absurd or specific or far-out. A shiba inu dog in a red T-shirt skateboarding? Done. A flooded art gallery with robots floating by on boats? Why not? Google has just announced that it has created an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system called Imagen that creates photorealistic images from input text, using a text-to-image diffusion model “with an unprecedented degree of photorealism and a deep level of language understanding”. However, there’s a catch: While the company has announced its ability to do this, it hasn’t made the tech available to the public yet, because it admits that the program relies on datasets scraped from the internet which often reflect harmful stereotypes. Plus, there’s the ever-present fear of the program being used to create images that will bolster fake news.

Double your screen time

The ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED

The ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED

The reviews are in: The new ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED could be the dual-screen laptop you have been waiting for. While this laptop variant has been around for some time, most of the older models were inefficient in various ways—most complaints were about the second screen not being tilted at the right angle, or being difficult to navigate with the small built-in trackpad. ASUS seems to have put these complaints to rest in the new model, featuring a 4K OLED HDR touch screen and a new “ScreenPad™” that offers effortless ergonomics and seamless workflow. Why would one need two screens on a laptop, you ask? Well, it’s useful for people who write or code, to look at reference material on the second screen instead of constantly having to switch tabs and windows. Plus, you can always use the second screen to watch Netflix while performing a routine, mundane task.

Compiled by Shrabonti Bagchi

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