Hands-on with the OnePlus Loop virtual reality headset

OnePlus Loop VR

Two weeks after OnePlus announced a new virtual reality (VR) headset to accompany its upcoming flagship phone launch, the China-based smartphone maker has finally started shipping the headsets to users around the world.

To recap, OnePlus teamed up with VR specialists AntVR to build 30,000 OnePlus Loop VR headsets and gave them away on a first-come, first-served basis. The move was similar to what the company did last year with its Google Cardboard-style VR viewers, which were designed for use during a special virtual reality launch event for the OnePlus 2 phone.

OnePlus will launch its latest flagship phone on June 14 at an imaginary space station called The Loop, which the company touts as “the world’s first global shopping experience in VR.” Indeed, not only will you be able to see the new phone unveiled in virtual realty, you will also be able to order one of the new devices through a VR mall before it goes on general sale.

We’ve managed to get our hands on one of the new OnePlus headsets to see what’s what and how it works.

OnePlus Loop VR Headset

Above: OnePlus Loop VR Headset

Image Credit: Paul Sawers / VentureBeat

Similar to the Samsung Gear VR, the OnePlus Loop VR has two straps to fix the headset around the back and over the top of your head.

OnePlus Loop VR Headset

Above: OnePlus Loop VR Headset

Image Credit: Paul Sawers / VentureBeat

On the front is a slot where you can slide in any smartphone between 5″ and 6″ in size — the smartphone screen will serve as the Loop VR’s display.

OnePlus Loop VR Headset

Above: OnePlus Loop VR Headset

Image Credit: Paul Sawers / VentureBeat

For the launch event next week, OnePlus has created a new app for users to download to their phone and through which they’ll be able to access the virtual mall. But it’s worth noting that the headset can be used in conjunction with any virtual reality app, and the OnePlus 3 launch app can be used on any phone and with any virtual reality headset, not just with the Loop VR.

Though there are clear similarities between the OnePlus Loop VR and the Samsung Gear VR, they aren’t really the same thing. Samsung’s incarnation connects to the phone via a micro-USB cable and acts as a controller for the phone. OnePlus’s version has no such functionality, so if you need to change the volume, for example, you have to manually remove the phone from the headset to access the buttons. In effect, the OnePlus Loop VR is little more than a glorified Cardboard viewer, albeit one that is comfortable and convenient to wear.

OnePlus Loop VR headset

Above: OnePlus Loop VR headset

Image Credit: Paul Sawers / VentureBeat

Virtual reality is one of the key breakout tech trends of recent times, and the VR hype was almost palpable at Mobile World Congress this year. It seems every company under the sun is looking to get in on the act, from HTC and Facebook through to Google, Intel, and Huawei. This is also having a ripple effect that is beginning to impact many facets of life beyond gaming, with the likes of roller coasters and movie theaters receiving the VR treatment. And now OnePlus wants to make its mark on the ecommerce realm by encouraging people to buy its new phone through a virtual mall.

There is nothing to suggest that OnePlus intends to enter the virtual reality realm in any serious way, though. For now, it appears that the OnePlus Loop VR headset is little more than a limited edition promotional gimmick to support the launch of the brand’s new flagship phone.

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Former NASA chief unveils $100 million neural chip maker KnuEdge

KnuEdge founder and former NASA head Daniel Goldin.

It’s not all that easy to call KnuEdge a startup. Created a decade by Daniel Goldin, the former head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, KnuEdge is only now coming out of stealth mode. It has already raised $100 million in funding to build a “neural chip” that Goldin says will make data centers more efficient in a hyperscale age.

Goldin founded the San Diego, Calif.-based company with the former chief technology officer of NASA, said he believes the company’s brain-like chip will be far more cost and power efficient than current chips based on the computer design popularized by computer architect John von Neumann. In von Neumann machines, memory and processor are separated and linked via a data pathway known as a bus. Over the years, von Neumann machines have gotten faster by sending more and more data at higher speeds across the bus as processor and memory interact. But the speed of a computer is often limited by the capacity of that bus, leading to what some computer scientists to call the “von Neumann bottleneck.” IBM has seen the same problem, and it has a research team working on brain-like data center chips. Both efforts are part of an attempt to deal with the explosion of data driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Goldin’s company is doing something similar to IBM, but only on the surface. Its approach is much different, and it has been secretly funded by unknown angel investors. And Goldin said in an interview with VentureBeat that the company has already generated $20 million in revenue and is actively engaged in hyperscale computing companies and Fortune 500 companies in the aerospace, banking, healthcare, hospitality, and insurance industries. The mission is a fundamental transformation of the computing world, Goldin said.

“It all started over a mission to Mars,” Goldin said.

KnuEdge's first chip has 256 cores.

Above: KnuEdge’s first chip has 256 cores.

Image Credit: KnuEdge

Back in the year 2000, Goldin saw that the time delay for controlling a space vehicle would be too long, so the vehicle would have to operate itself. He calculated that a mission to Mars would take software that would push technology to the limit, with more than tens of millions of lines of code.

Daniel Goldin, CEO of KnuEdge

Above: Daniel Goldin, CEO of KnuEdge

Image Credit: KnuEdge

“I thought, holy smokes,” he said. “It’s going to be too expensive. It’s not propulsion. It’s not environmental control. It’s not power. This software business is a very big problem, and that nation couldn’t afford it.”

So Goldin looked further into the brains of the robotics, and that’s where he started thinking about the computing it would take.

Asked if it was easier to run NASA or a startup, Goldin let out a guffaw.

“I love them both, but they’re both very different,” Goldin said. “At NASA, I spent a lot of time on non-technical issues. I had a project every quarter, and I didn’t want to become dull technically. I tried to always take on a technical job doing architecture, working with a design team, and always doing something leading edge. I grew up at a time when you graduated from a university and went to work for someone else. If I ever come back to this earth, I would graduate and become an entrepreneur. This is so wonderful.”

Back in 1992, Goldin was planning on starting a wireless company as an entrepreneur. But then he got the call to “go serve the country,” and he did that work for a decade. He started KnuEdge (previously called Intellisis) in 2005, and he got very patient capital.

“When I went out to find investors, I knew I couldn’t use the conventional Silicon Valley approach (impatient capital),” he said. “It is a fabulous approach that has generated incredible wealth. But I wanted to undertake revolutionary technology development. To build the future tools for next-generation machine learning, improving the natural interface between humans and machines. So I got patient capital that wanted to see lightning strike. Between all of us, we have a board of directors that can contact almost anyone in the world. They’re fabulous business people and technologists. We knew we had a ten-year run-up.”

But he’s not saying who those people are yet.

KnuEdge’s chips are part of a larger platform. KnuEdge is also unveiling KnuVerse, a military-grade voice recognition and authentication technology that unlocks the potential of voice interfaces to power next-generation computing, Goldin said.

While the voice technology market has exploded over the past five years due to the introductions of Siri, Cortana, Google Home, Echo and ViV, the aspirations of most commercial voice technology teams are still on the drawing board because of security and noise issues. KnuVerse solutions are based on patented authentication techniques using the human voice – even in extremely noisy environments – as one of the most secure forms of biometrics. Secure voice recognition has applications in enterprises in industries such as banking, entertainment and hospitality.

KnuEdge says it is now possible to authenticate to computers, web and mobile apps and Internet of Things devices (or everyday objects that are smart and connected) with only a few words spoken into a microphone – in any language, no matter how loud the background environment or how many other people are talking nearby. In addition to KnuVerse, KnuEdge offers Knurld.io for application developers, a software development kit and a cloud-based voice recognition and authentication service that can be integrated into an app typically within two hours.

And KnuEdge is announcing KnuPath with LambdaFabric computing. KnuEdge’s first chip, built with an older manufacturing technology, has 256 cores, or neuron-like brain cells, on a single chip. Each core is a tiny digital signal processor. The LambdaFabric makes it possible to instantly connect those cores to each other — a trick that helps overcome one of the major problems of multicore chips, Goldin said. The LambdaFabric is designed to connect up to 512,000 devices, enabling the system to be use din the most demanding computing environments. From rack to rack, the fabric has a latency (or interaction delays) of only 400 nanoseconds. And the whole system is designed to use a low amount of power.

All of the company’s designs are built on biological principles about how the brain gets a lot of computing work done with a small amount of power. The chip is based on what Goldin calls “sparse matrix heterogeneous machine learning algorithms.” And it will run C++ software, something that is already very popular. Programmers can program each one of the cores with a different algorithm to run simultaneously, for the “ultimate in heterogeneity.” It’s multiple input, multiple data, and “that gives us some of our power,” Goldin said.

KnuEdge's KnuPath chip.

Above: KnuEdge’s KnuPath chip.

Image Credit: KnuEdge

“KnuEdge is emerging out of stealth mode to aim its new Voice and Machine Learning technologies at key challenges in IoT, cloud based machine learning and pattern recognition,” said Paul Teich, principal analyst at Tirias Research, in a statement. “Dan Goldin used his experience in transforming technology to charter KnuEdge with a bold idea, with the patience of longer development timelines and away from typical startup hype and practices. The result is a new and cutting-edge path for neural computing acceleration. There is also a refreshing surprise element to KnuEdge announcing a relevant new architecture that is ready to ship… not just a concept or early prototype.”

Today, Goldin said the company is ready to show off its designs. The first chip was ready last December, and KnuEdge is sharing it with potential customers. That chip was built with a 32-nanometer manufacturing process, and even though that’s an older technology, it is a powerful chip, Goldin said. Even at 32 nanometers, the chip has something like a two-times to six-times performance advantage over similar chips, KnuEdge said.

“The human brain has a couple of hundred billion neurons and each neuron is connected to at least 10,000 to 100,000 neurons,” Goldin said. “And the brain is the most energy efficient and powerful computer in the world. That is the metaphor we are using.”

KnuEdge has a new version of its chip under design. And the company has already generated revenue from sales of the prototype systems. Each board has about four chips.

As for the competition from IBM, Goldin said, “I believe we made the right decision and are going in the right direction. IBM’s approach is very different from what we have. We are not aiming at anyone. We are aiming at the future.”

In his NASA days, Goldin had a lot of successes. There, he redesigned and delivered the International Space Station, tripled the number of space flights and put a record number of people into space, all while reducing the agency’s planned budget by 25 percent. He also spent 25 years at TRW, where he led the development of satellite television services.

KnuEdge has 100 employees, but Goldin said the company outsources almost everything. Goldin said he is planning to raised a round of funding late this year or early next year. The company collaborated with the University of California at San Diego and its California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology.

With computers that can handle natural language systems, many people in the world who can’t read or write will be able to fend for themselves more easily, Goldin said.

“I want to be able to take machine learning and help people communicate and make a living,” he said. “This is just the beginning. This is the Wild West. We are talking to very large companies about this, and they are getting very excited.”

A sample application is a home that has much greater self-awareness. If there’s something wrong in the house, the KnuEdge system could analyze it and figure out if it needs to alert the homeowner.

Goldin said it was hard to keep the company secret.

“I’ve been biting my lip for ten years,” he said.

As for whether KnuEdge’s technology could be used to send people to Mars, Goldin said. “This is available to whoever is going to Mars. I tried twice. I would love it if they use it to get there.”

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SoftBank plans to sell Puzzle & Dragons maker in deal valued at $685 million

A combo that makes sense.

SoftBank Group plans to sell most of its stake in GungHo Online Entertainment to management of the game publisher in deal valued at  ¥73 billion, or roughly $685 million, according to published reports.

Japan-based GungHo, the maker of the popular Puzzle & Dragon’s mobile game, said it plans to buy back its shares from the Japanese telecommunications giant. GungHo will hold a tender offer starting within 20 days from June 3 for ¥294 a share. The news follows upon SoftBank’s announcement that it was selling its shares in Alibaba Group for  about $10 billion.

And rumors persist that SoftBank still plans to sell its 73 percent stake in Finland-based Supercell, the maker of Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, for well over $5 billion. Nikesh Arora, new appointed president of SoftBank’s international investments and operations, reportedly has decided to sell some of SoftBank’s video game properties. These businesses are the envy of the mobile gaming world, and it’s surprising that any company would decide to sell them — since they make so much money — so soon after acquiring them.

But SoftBank has more than $80 billion in debt, about a third of it related to its U.S. mobile carrier, Sprint.


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