Saturday, 13 August 2016

A computer program that can replicate your handwriting

Even the worst penmanship can be mimicked.

Handwriting is a skill that feels personal and unique to all of us. Everyone has a slightly different style -- a weird quirk or a seemingly illegible scrawl -- that's nearly impossible for a computer to replicate, especially as our own penmanship fluctuates from one line to the next. A team at University College London (UCL) is getting pretty close, however, with a new system it's calling "My Text in Your Handwriting." A custom algorithm is able to scan what you've written on a piece of paper and then reproduce your style, to an impressive degree, using whatever words you wish.

To capture your scrawl, the team will ask you to write on four A4-sized sheets of paper (as little as one paragraph can deliver passable results, however). The text is then scanned and converted into a thin, skeletal line. It's broken down by a computer and a human moderator, assigning letters and their position within a word. They also look for "splits," where the line changes from a letter into a "ligature," -- the extra bits you need for joined-up handwriting. Finally, there are "links" which indicate that two separate marks are part of the same letter, for instance when crossing a "t."
The algorithm then works to replicate your handwriting style by referencing and adapting your previously scanned examples. You will have written the same letter on a number of different occasion, so the computer will look for the one that works best for the word or phrase it's trying to sketch out. A degree of randomness is then applied to ensure that the same letters and combinations aren't used more than once (an easy way for humans to figure out if a computer has written something).
Once your written examples or "glyphs" have been selected, the computer will figure out the appropriate spacing in between each letter. The height of each character and where it sits on the line is also taken into consideration. Finally, the "ligatures" are added to the computer-generated piece, along with some basic texturing to mimic the pen and ink you were using.
The results are fairly believable. As an experiment, the team asked a group to decide which envelopes -- all seemingly handwritten -- were produced by a computer. They chose incorrectly 40 percent of the time.
"Up until now, the only way to produce computer-generated text that resembles a specific person's handwriting would be to use a relevant font," Dr Oisin Mac Aodha, a member of the UCL team said. "The problem with such fonts is that it is often clear that the text has not been penned by hand, which loses the character and personal touch of a handwritten piece of text. What we've developed removes this problem and so could be used in a wide variety of commercial and personal circumstances."
The ability to scan and interpret handwriting isn't new -- plenty of apps let you sketch with a stylus or finger, and then convert this into text. Similarly, it's possible for software to reproduce digital text in a variety of seemingly human, handwritten styles. But the ability to reproduce your personal penmanship -- with words and sentences you might not have shown the computer -- is unprecedented. It could be used to help elderly people who are starting to lose their writing ability, or translate handwritten text into new languages while keeping the personality of the author.
If you're wondering if this sort of technology could be used to forge signatures and documents, the answer is yes, it's possible. The team at UCL has stressed, however, that their system works both ways, meaning it could be used by law enforcers to spot computer-aided forgeries too. Still, it's best to be wary the next time someone tries to sell you an autograph.
Source: Engadget

SpaceX to start testing the engine that will take it to Mars

The engine is thrice as powerful as the one it currently uses.

SpaceX has recently inched closer to realizing its head honcho's -- that's Elon Musk, but you already know that -- ambitious Mars plans. It has sent its next-generation rocket engine, the one it's developing for the rocket that will ferry a spacecraft to the red planet, to its McGregor, Texas facility for testing. Company president Gwynne Shotwell made that revelation during the Small Satellite Conference in Utah. A spokesperson also confirmed to Ars Technica that the engine is being prepped for testing in the Lone Star State.
SpaceX hasn't revealed much about the engine yet. We know, however, that it's called "Raptor," and that it will power Falcon Heavy's successor, the reusable rocket SpaceX is building for its Mars Colonial Transporter project. Musk once said at a Reddit AMA that it's capable of producing 500,000 pounds of thrust at liftoff. That makes it thrice as powerful as the engines its Falcon 9 and Heavy rockets use and puts it on par with the Space Shuttle engine.
The CEO expects his Raptor-powered rocket to be able to lift off with a spacecraft that's 100 times the size of an SUV and carry up to 100 tons of cargo. It's important for manned missions bound for Mars to be able to carry huge amounts of supplies, since spacefarers on board face a long journey ahead of them.
SpaceX's goal is to launch its first manned flight to Mars as soon as 2024, and this latest development means that timeframe could be viable. According to Ars, rocket engine development can take up to seven years, and full-scale testing typically happens towards the end of its development. It's still unclear what kind of tests the company will do in Texas, though -- we'll just have to wait for the update Shotwell promised to reveal in the next few months.
Source: Engadget

Adidas rewards its medal-winning Olympians with 3D-printed shoes

These you can actually wear.

It's too early to tell whether 3D-printed footwear will ever be more than a gimmick. Still, you have to give credit to sportswear brands for trying something new, even if in some cases 3D printing is only used to make outsole prototypes. Last year, Adidas began showing the potential of the technology with concepts like Futurecraft 3D, a running shoe made partially out of 3D-printed materials. And now the company's taking that one step further: it created a ready-to-wear pair for its sponsored athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics. As its name suggests, though, the "3D-printed Winners Shoe" will be limited to those who win a medal in Brazil.
Gallery: Adidas 3D-printed Winners Shoe press images | 4 Photos

Unlike the Futurecraft 3D silhouette from a few months ago, this one features a black Primeknit upper and 3D-printed midsole. The heel counter is also 3D-printed, something we hadn't seen before. By integrating the heel counter into the midsole, Adidas says it was able to avoid the usual process of glueing or stitching in parts of the design. Most importantly, an Adidas spokesperson tells Engadget that the 3D-printed Winners Shoe has been fully tested and is approved for running in. Yes, you can wear them without worrying that they'll break before taking any steps.
Adidas hasn't shared details on a consumer model yet, but here's hoping regular folk have a chance to buy their own in the near future.
Source: Engadget