We joined Activetainment‘s Norway launch of their new B\01 Bike in Oslo earlier this month. The new bike is a part of the training concept named ebove which is:
a unique training concept that combines exercise and gaming.
Activetainment strives to make indoor exercise more like outdoor exercise, with both visual and motional features. The company claims that they deliver the most engaging, entertaining and realistic indoor exercise experience in the world. The only way to test their claim was to try a few of the bikes ourselves and interview one of the founders.
Interview with co-founder Jan Arild Svello from Activetainment
Who started Activetainment?
My classmates, Jørgen Østby Damslora and Sondre Fossum, and I met the inventor of the technology, Ziad Badarneh, during a school course. We immediately saw that this idea could become the next big thing within the fitness industry and consequently formed Activetainment with Ziad in 2012.
We have a genuine desire to make indoor exercise more fun than it currently is by using elements from gaming and gamification. We created bike simulators that move like outdoor bikes in line with what you see on the screen. The combination of hardware and software that we created was brand new.
Have you been working on the project full time since 2012?
Yes, we have. The first year we all worked “pro-bono” and we had to find the cheapest food products to cope. But all entrepreneurs know about that entrepreneurial stage. Then we succeeded to raise funds from private investors which made it possible to develop our prototypes in cooperation with our production partner in Asia.
Tell me more about your VR-concept
Virtual reality is something that we wanted early on for our bikes. As standard, they are equipped with a touchscreen where you see the track you are exercising on, but with VR you can get a different and more real experience. We want our bikes to be able to utilize all new technology that can improve the experience. When we used VR on our bikes for first time, we understood that this was the future.
Everyone that tries this their first time, gets an ‘out of body experience’. You’ll experience real fear and adrenaline, and that is something we’re pretty proud of.
What has been most difficult with your startup?
It takes time! It always takes longer time than you expect. The product development has given us a few challenges as well. The fun starts now as we are able to finally sell our products.
How many have you sold?
After showcasing at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year we got almost 200 consumer inquiries, but we weren’t able to start taking orders at that time. We have now just opened up for orders and we have already sold 15 bikes.
How much does a bike cost?
We have an introductory offer, where you can get the whole set-up and a special edition design for $4600. The normal sale price will be between $6000 to $8000. We will mainly target businesses like hotels and gyms first though.
Have you had multiple funding rounds?
Yes, we have. Our investors are private persons that we know through our own network, and they have invested in us through multiple rounds. We haven’t chosen to go after venture capital yet since we have managed to fund the startup ourselves. Now, since we have started to sell our product, we want to become sustainable as fast as possible.
What is next year’s goal?
We want to sell and ship bikes and establish new partnerships for our distribution. In the coming years we also want to change our focus from hardware to software and open up for 3rd-party developers to contribute.
What software are you using?
We are using Unity as our game platform and Linux as our operative system.
Review of Activetainment’s ebove B/01
The B\01 Bike made me sweat after just a few minutes on it. I wasn’t pedaling that fast, but the energy I used to try and stay balanced was more than enough to make me burn some fat. As this was my first time trying the bike I believe it will become easier to stay balanced the next time around and get some real pedaling action.
I tried both their virtual reality connected bike and a bike with a lcd-screen attached to the steering (one of their newer models). The VR-bike gave me the most challenge and felt most real. However, since this was the first time I’ve ever tried a VR-concept, I struggled with maintaining balance on the bike. I swayed heaviliy from side to side the first five minutes on the bike but after a while I got more comfortable.
I can say that I’ve never had so much fun on an indoor bike before, and it may even beat the outdoor experience – as I love both the gaming and technology aspect of the concept. I can imagine this will become a huge success when you are able to gather your friends to an online bike competition.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that will happen anytime soon for the “average joe” as the price of $4600 to $8000 is too expensive for the mass market. But I believe that fitness gyms and high class hotels will fight over these bikes
Images by Jonas Borchgrevink @Hacked.
Obama Administration Concerned United States Falling Behind on AI Research
The White House released its “National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan” [PDF] this month. One of the chief concerns in the report is the fact that of the two countries doing the most research on artificial intelligence, more specifically on deep learning, the US has fallen into second place. The below graphs were published on page 13 of the report (page 21 if you’re looking at the PDF) and are supposed to be cause for concern. According to the graphs, China has outpaced the US in the publication of papers regarding “deep learning,” and, more to the point, has also had more such papers cited by other researchers.
People have been quick to point out that these metrics are not necessarily meaningful. A paper can be cited for multiple reasons, including to point out its inaccuracies. The mere fact that Chinese researchers have been cited more, and that China has overall published more papers (with a three-fold population), does not necessarily mean the US is falling behind in terms of deep learning research. After all, one of China’s biggest companies, Baidu, was recently pushing to hire artificial intelligence researchers for its Silicon Valley lab. Its competition for talent is the likes of Google, Apple, and Microsoft, all of whom already have viable deep-learning projects deployed in the form of Google Now, Siri, and Cortana.
The report speaks to areas of AI research that have been less pursued or are most likely to be neglected by industry, making them most important for Federal investment dollars. It notes that most progress in AI has involved specific applications, and says on page 19:
Using these systems on a wider range of problems requires a significant re-engineering effort. In contrast, the long-term goal of general AI is to create systems that exhibit the flexibility and versatility of human intelligence in a broad range of cognitive domains, including learning, language, perception, reasoning, creativity, and planning.
Broad learning capabilities would provide general AI systems the ability to transfer knowledge from one domain to another and to interactively learn from experience and from humans. General AI has been an ambition of researchers since the advent of AI, but current systems are still far from achieving this goal.
The report also suggests that it would be valuable to invest in research on “human-like AI” so systems can “explain themselves in ways that people can understand.”
The future definitely involves a lot more artificial intelligence. Some believe that most or all manual labor will be conducted by robots one day, and that people at all levels of society will benefit with the emergence of a universal basic income. Others still fear the changes that will come due to “the rise of the machines.” Whatever the future brings, the Obama administration wants to see the US leading the way rather than China or any of the other countries currently investing in its ongoing development.
Images from Shutterstock. Charts courtesy of the White House report.
Is Russia Really Looking to Hack the U.S. Presidential Elections?
Hillary Clinton and her party believe it’s Russia’s fault that various scandals surrounding her and the Democratic National Committee have come to light in recent weeks. From the organization’s early unfair treatment of Bernie Sanders to the fact that the DNC knew Donald Trump was the candidate Hillary could most likely beat, and therefore pushed for him to be the Republican nominee, voters in this election have a clearer picture of what goes on behind closed political doors than perhaps any previous one.
Russia, and many other countries in the world, for that matter, have a vested interest in who will become the next US president. With one of the largest military forces and perhaps the most resources, whoever is at the helm of the US government come January will swing a mighty stick. Donald Trump has publicly expressed a bizarre admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Cold War-era KGB officer and all-around strongman leader. This, along with various digital forensics, has led Hillary Clinton and many in her party to simplify the issue of scandals regarding internal communications now made public: blame Russia.
Before we get into a breakdown of the various things which outline – or dispel – the likelihood of Russian interference, a timeline of events seems in order.
- March, 2015: Hillary Clinton becomes the subject of an investigation that she had illegally used a private e-mail server while acting in an official capacity as the Secretary of State. Various debacles take place as Clinton makes the appearance of co-operating with the investigation. Ultimately, it is proven that on at least a couple of occasions, Clinton’s server, which was insecure by modern computer security standards, contained classified information – which is illegal.
- March, 2016: WikiLeaks posts a massive trove of Hillary Clinton e-mails.
- May, 2016: The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General releases a report stating that Clinton was never officially permitted to use her own server while Secretary of State, a claim the candidate had made on multiple occasions.
- June, 2016: Guccifer 2.0, whose name references Guccifer, the Romanian hacker who said in May that Clinton’s e-mail server was “like an open orchid on the Internet,” breaches Democratic National Committee servers and leaks internal communications revealing that long before the primaries had ever commenced, the organization already assumed Hillary Clinton would be the candidate. Scandalously, it was revealed that the organization may have been involved in some of the uglier smear campaigns against Bernie Sanders, including the “Bernie Bros” who actively harassed Clinton supporters.
- July, 2016: WikiLeaks posts a large DNC e-mail archive.
- October, 2016: WikiLeaks posts a trove of e-mails belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The Clinton campaign continues to attribute such leaks to Russians, with Clinton spokesman Glen Caplin making a public statement on the matter:
It is absolutely disgraceful that the Trump campaign is cheering on a release today engineered by Vladimir Putin to interfere in this election, and this comes after Donald Trump encouraged more espionage over the summer and continued to deny the hack even happened at Sunday’s debate. he timing shows you that even Putin knows Trump had a bad weekend and a bad debate.
Russian Statecraft Or Hacker-Induced Political Transparency?
Members of the US government intelligence community view the hacks as being directly sponsored by the Russian government, a typical play and well-documented method of Russian statecraft. Robert Dietz, a veteran of the CIA and NSA, said Russian interests would be in determining which candidate was more likely to be friendly to their policies, telling the Washington Post that the information gathered by also hacking Trump:
… may provide tips for understanding his style of negotiating. In short, this sort of intelligence could be used by Russia, for example, to indicate where it can get away with foreign adventurism.
Yet few leaks on Trump have come to light, making it seem that the hacking endeavors of the Russian government, as confirmed by a security called CrowdStrike who reviewed DNC computer systems and identified two Russians working for the Russian government, are not simply about causing disruption in the US election cycle, but rather have a specific goal in mind: the elevation of Donald Trump to the presidency.
Further illustrating the likelihood of official Russian involvement is the release of altered leaked documents, as reported by Newsweek writer Kurt Eichenwald. Eichenwald’s writing was incorrectly attributed to Sidney Blumenthal by a Russian news organization. Donald Trump used the doctored, leaked e-mail in a recent speech, believing that the long-time friend of Hilary Clinton had actually said that more could have been done about Benghazi. In response, Eichenwald has written:
This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the same manufactured story as truth.
The Obama administration recently officially acknowledged that it believed the Russian government had been involved in meddling in US politics this election season, and the president is currently considering a “proportional” response, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
But is the fact that Russian hackers have been involved in securing the documents, or that Russian news agencies have made false claims in relation to the leaked documents, as important as the contents of the documents themselves? The deflection strategy from the Clinton campaign to “blame Russia” fails to address what is actually at issue: the anti-democratic means by which the candidate came by her candidacy, the failure of the DNC to properly consider all would-be nominees, with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz actively supporting Hillary Clinton in her capacity as DNC Chairwoman long before the nominee had even been decided.
There is even the lingering possibility that the nomination vote in Brooklyn, New York was, in effect, rigged, with tens of thousands of voters falling off the rolls. Such things are interesting because they are true, regardless of who made them public information.
WikiLeaks has a long history of publicizing information about governments and other powerful organizations around the world. In the most recent leaks, it has acted as the primary source of dissemination. So while the government and the Democratic party are quick to place blame at the feet of Vladimir Putin, whom Donald Trump has openly expressed admiration for, it seems WikiLeaks is intent, as always, on forcing the matter of transparency.
The contents of the e-mail archives and other leaks have not been disputed, but the method by which they were obtained is called into question. So, American voters are basically being told that they should disregard the nefarious activities of Clinton and the DNC even if they are true because the Russian government wants them to vote for Donald Trump. The odds of people voting in favor of Trump as a result of Hillary Clinton and the DNC’s e-mail scandals are pretty small, by the way. The first scandal, regarding her use of a private server and privately trafficking in classified information, has been going on for the duration of her campaign, and yet the candidate enjoys a double-digit favoritism among American voters polled.
More Interesting Than Bernie’s Plight: Hillary Clinton’s Secret Wall Street Speeches
As recently as February, Bernie Sanders urged Clinton to release the transcripts of various paid speeches she has given to Wall Street. Clinton had failed to do so when WikiLeaks managed to do so itself. The speeches reveal a person who opposes the legalization of marijuana and believes the financial industry should reform and essentially regulate itself.
The friendliness and favorable tone of Clinton’s remarks to various Wall Street banks would seem to make clear the reason that her campaign would not release these transcripts themselves: many liberals, including especially those who supported Bernie Sanders, want to see intense regulation and forced reform of the financial industry, along with higher taxation. That Clinton was personally enriched in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for each speech doesn’t help, either.
So, is Russia really looking to hack the U.S. presidential elections? The answer seems to be yes, but this should not detract from the value of the information the public now has at its disposal. The character of executive politics for at least the next four years can be previewed in the method by which the nomination was obtained – by any means necessary – and the beliefs privately expressed by Clinton to Wall Street cronies.
At an October 2015 debate, Clinton said she supports the use of medical marijuana and wanted to use a “wait and see” approach in regards to recreational legalization. But in one of her speeches to Wall Street, Clinton said that regarding the legalization of marijuana she was “short in all senses of the word,” which in the context of the conversation meant she was against it. Many younger voters have grown up with an attitude that the end of the Drug War and the lack of support for medical marijuana is long overdue.
While Russian interference seems likely, the Clinton campaign has only themselves to blame for any backlash from the leaks at hand. WikiLeaks is merely doing its job of providing secret documents to the press and public, and whether Russians would prefer to see Trump as the next president or not, a move which represented the taking of accountability would be more likely to assuage voter concerns than would the continual deflection strategy employed by the Clinton campaign.
Images from Shutterstock.
Beware Uber Drivers! The Robot Cars Are Coming
Uber announced that that the world’s first self-driving Uber cars are on the road in Pittsburgh, the Steel City. The road ahead is still long, but the implications are staggering.
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