Google’s AI doodle bot will transform your crude drawings into glorious clip art

Google’s latest AI toy may be its most clever: an automated drawing bot that analyzes what you’re doodling in real time to suggest a more polished piece of clip art to replace it. Called AutoDraw, the software is another of Google’s ongoing creative machine learning demonstrations that it releases as part of its AI Experiments series. It uses the underlying technology behind the company’s experimental image recognition software to identify potential objects and pairs that with a database of neat and simplistic hand-drawn images.

The company bills AutoDraw as a “drawing tool for the rest of us,” and by us it means aesthetically impaired individuals who couldn’t doodle themselves out of a paper bag. “AutoDraw pairs the magic of machine learning with drawings from talented artists to help you draw stuff fast,” says the narrator in Google’s AutoDraw teaser video. The actual tech under the hood comes from another Google AI experiment called Quick Draw, which uses machine learning to analyze human drawings and get better over time at guessing what they are.

Quick Draw was a neat distraction, but AutoDraw is an absolute blast with some very tangible benefits for non-artists looking to add art to everything from fliers and party invites to custom birthday cards. For instance, if you want to make some balloons and a cake, it takes just a few moments:

Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

Of course, AutoDraw isn’t perfect. A lot of the times the program will suggest some truly bizarre replacements and it’s impossible to know really how the software arrived there. Write some English text, like the word “Verge,” and it will for some reason suggest toes or feet or yoga poses. But that does at the very least give you an opportunity to get really weird and experimental, like turning a taco into a boomerang:

Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

Or turning a shooting star into a battle ax:

In other cases, AutoDraw feels truly novel and clever, like when it appears to understand doodling shorthand for turning a pair of triangles into a fish:

Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

It’s a ton of fun to play with and it’s easily the first of these Google-made experiments I could see truly taking off with the general public. Google seems to know this, too, which is why it made the tool free and accessible through the mobile web, so you can access it on both your desktop and on a tablet or smartphone. Try it out for yourself. Just be warned, it can ensnare even the most casual of doodlers among us into long, procrastinatory art sessions.

NASA’s New Horizons probe is taking a long nap as it prepares to meet up with a distant icy space rock

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft — which famously flew by Pluto in the summer of 2015 — is going to sleep for a little while as it speeds toward its next destination at the edge of the Solar System. On April 7th, the vehicle went into hibernation, a mode in which most of its instruments are powered off. This extended nap, which will last until September 11th, will help keep New Horizons in a safe, stabilized state while reducing the wear and tear on some of the probe’s instruments.

But the biggest benefit of hibernation is that the vehicle will need less oversight from mission control back on Earth, and that’s crucial right now. The New Horizons team is about to prepare for the spacecraft’s next task: flying by an icy body at the edge of the Solar System that’s never been visited before. “It frees up our small team to work on the flyby sequence, and that’s really the main reason we do it,” Alice Bowman, New Horizons’ mission operations manager, tells The Verge.

New Horizons is scheduled to meet up with an object called 2014 MU69 on January 1st, 2019. Discovered in 2014, the icy boulder is found in the Kuiper Belt — the large cloud of tiny space rocks that orbit beyond Neptune. The new flyby target was selected in August 2015, and then finally approved by NASA last year. The encounter will mark the first time we’ve ever visited an object like this in the Kuiper Belt.

Since then, the New Horizons team has been preparing, slightly adjusting the course of New Horizons a few times, for instance. But now the team needs to come up with the spacecraft’s flyby sequence. This includes all the commands that New Horizons will have to pull off on its own before, during, and after the flyby — a time period that lasts from December 25th, 2018 to January 3rd, 2019.

  Image: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

First, New Horizons will have to figure out exactly where 2014 MU69 is in the sky, says Bowman. The spacecraft did something similar as it approached Pluto in 2015, but 2014 MU69 is estimated to be only about 10 to 30 miles wide — much smaller than Pluto, which is a little less than 1,500 miles wide. That makes it way more difficult to pinpoint the object’s exact location. To do that, the spacecraft will be taking a whole bunch of pictures of the icy object, up until its final approach. That way, the mission team will know if any last-minute course-correction maneuvers are necessary. “With a really small object, your best pictures are taken very close in,” says Bowman. “You can’t see too much until you’re right on it.”

New Horizons will have to pull off many other commands during its flyby, and figuring those out is a lengthy and complex process. The sleep mode will help make that process easier. When New Horizons is in an active state, it requires a lot of upkeep. It has to be checked on three to four times a week, and new sets of commands have to be uploaded every two weeks or so. And that takes a lot of time. All of those commands have to be reviewed, verified, and tested before they’re sent to the spacecraft. Plus, New Horizons is currently 3.5 billion miles from Earth, so round-trip communication with the spacecraft takes more than 10 hours.

When New Horizons is in hibernation, however, the team has to check in with the spacecraft only every week or so. The spacecraft also sends a monthly status update about its health and safety. But otherwise, the guidance and control systems are turned off, and the team doesn’t have to upload commands. The commands that control the spacecraft last from a week before the hibernation period begins until about five days after it’s over, according to Bowman.

An artistic rendering of New Horizons flying by 2014 MU69.
Photo: NASA

This isn’t the first time that New Horizons has gone into hibernation. In fact, it’s been in sleep mode 18 times since its launch in 2006. The last hibernation ended on December 6th, 2014, when the spacecraft was awoken to prepare for the Pluto flyby more than seven months later. New Horizons has stayed awake since then because it’s had quite a lot to do: sending Pluto data back to Earth and spying on some other Kuiper Belt objects. But from now until September, New Horizons doesn’t have much on its plate, which is why it can take this extended nap.

While New Horizons isn’t a stranger to hibernation mode, this time is particularly noteworthy for the mission team, since it somewhat signifies that the primary mission is complete. Now the team is solely focused on 2014 MU69.

“In one sense it feels pretty good, because for a long time Pluto was always been in the future… Now we’re at a point in the mission where we can put it back in hibernation and focus on the next encounter,” says Bowman. “It’s a little bit surreal. We’re all very happy, and it’s a great sense of accomplishment.”

Even the Bank of Canada can’t resist the Konami code

Konami’s infamous cheat code has lived a long life in video games and the internet at large. It first appeared in the 1986 NES game Gradius to help the developers beat their own game; it’s since grown beyond a cheat in later Konami games to a general pop culture joke.

It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate use for a cheat code than a bank, and it seems that the Bank of Canada agrees. If you enter the code correctly (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A) on its page celebrating the new $10 bank note, it showers your screen in bills and plays Canada’s national anthem. The goof was spotted byCTV News, which reports that the banks web team “thought the Konami code was a fun way to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.”

Of course, the Bank of Canada is hardly the only one to feature a Konami Code Easter egg — sites like ESPNand Facebook have hidden it on their sites before. May I also recommend a visit to our sister site Polygon?

Florida man scammed consumers by claiming FTC hired him to perform tech support

Basing your scam around the government agency meant to protect consumers from getting scammed is not a smart thing to do. This is a lesson that Florida man Daniel Croft is currently learning. Today the Federal Trade Commission announced that it has successfully obtained a preliminary injunction that forbids Croft from telling unsuspecting consumers that the FTC hired him to conduct tech support. He’s been doing so since at least last July.

Croft made up a bogus FTC press release in hopes of convincing people that another company had been shut down by the agency for installing malicious software on PCs, and that his own nonsense companies — PC Guru Tech Support and Elite Tech Support — had been hired to help fix the situation. For a price, that is.

Croft sent targets this fake press release that uses the FTC’s real seal and motto, and even lists real employee names.
Federal Trade Commission

You’d think this would lead Croft’s targets to get in touch with the real, actual FTC about the questionable situation, but that apparently didn’t occur to him. He figured that putting his own phone number in the emails would be enough to stay under the radar. Not quite, Danny. If people failed to respond, Croft would try to escalate their fears by saying their PCs were sending data to hackers and “seriously infected” with malware.

The FTC is asking the court to permanently stop the scam and force Croft “to stop claiming he’s affiliated with the FTC, to shut down his websites and phone numbers, and inform current customers who contact him that he is not affiliated with the FTC.” Also, just so there’s no confusion here, the agency today published a blog post with a very simple message: the FTC won’t offer to fix your computer. But it will most certainly come after you if you claim a false connection to the FTC in hopes of scamming random people out of their money.

Defend a city from killer robots in Overwatch’s latest live event

Blizzard just revealed new details about its latest Overwatch live event called Uprising. The limited time event, which starts today and lasts until May 1st, will pit up to four players against an army of Omnic robots who are ravaging the city of King’s Row. Players can assume the role of heroes Tracer, Torbjörn, Reinhardt, and Mercy to fight off the AI invasion in what looks to be a similar cooperative brawl game mode to Blizzard’s Halloween Terror event last October.

Overwach live events are, of course, a lot of fun. But the real add-on the player base cares about is the new set of hero skins — and the Uprising ones look glorious. The four heroes playable in the Uprising story mission mentioned above get special Overwatch Agent-branded blue skins for players to unlock. For players with a more counterculture aesthetic, you’ll be able to unlock Blackwatch skins for heroes McCree and Genji, while sniper Widowmaker now has a new Talon variety skin. There also appears to be some other goodies thrown in, including comical one-off skins for Torbjörn and Bastion and more than 100 new poses, sprays, and other collectibles.

Even still, there might be additional loot Blizzard is not disclosing here that won’t be fully revealed until the event goes live at some point later today for players in North America. For those who savor the team shooter’s slow drip of story elements, there’s an additional Uprising animated teaser narrated by Tracer that helps set up the new cooperative brawl:

Jeep says the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is the fastest SUV ever

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk has 707-horsepower and can go 0–60 in 3.5 seconds — Jeep says this makes it the quickest SUV ever, though we suspect Tesla might disagree since the Model X (which is really sort of a crossover) can make that run in 2.9 seconds.

A few years ago, Dodge released its Challenger and Charger Hellcat models: insanely powerful muscle cars equipped with a supercharged V8 that makes an astonishing 707-horsepower. Jeep engineers have spent the past few years figuring out how to jam that glorious Hellcat engine into a Jeep Grand Cherokee and, crucially, how to make it work with an all-wheel drive system without the whole thing exploding into little pieces.

With so many car companies focused on polar bear-friendly electric cars and improving fuel economy, it’s refreshing to see a car company so wholeheartedly embracing huge engines and cars that exist primarily to turn gasoline into noise and tire smoke.

Pricing (and fuel economy numbers) were not released. The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk will hit dealers late this year. It’ll be on display at the New York Auto Show beginning this week.

Roku TVs can now detect what you’re watching on cable to see if it’s available on Netflix

Televisions with Roku’s software preinstalled can now automatically detect what you’re watching via cable, satellite, or an antenna. The new feature, coming to Roku TVs as part of a the latest operating system update, is called “More Ways to Watch” and is designed to show you whenever a show or movie you’ve got on can also be streamed using popular services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video. This could allow you to watch an in-progress episode from the beginning, find other episodes of a series, or view recommendations for similar content.

Roku uses Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) technology to recognize what’s currently being viewed in your living room. Somewhat creepy, yet also helpful! Not that the creepy side is stopping other companies from doing the same thing. Roku is at least being careful about how it’s all being implemented. More Ways to Watch requires customers to opt-in once the feature is rolled out or whenever they perform an initial out-of-box setup on a Roku TV. Only Roku TVs are doing this right now; your streaming set-top box isn’t (yet) detecting what you’re watching.

Other new additions that are part of the Roku OS 7.6 update include thumbnails for live TV pause, choosing favorite channels when you’re watching TV through an antenna, and giving custom names to inputted devices.

The update will roll out over the next few weeks and Roku estimates it will reach all compatible devices by June. For 4K Roku TVs in particular, More Ways to Watch will be available sometime this summer.

The Guardians of the Galaxy game will reintroduce you to the gang

In 2006, Bill Rosemann made the move to Marvel from rival DC and was immediately tasked with editing the “cosmic” portion of the company’s portfolio. You know, the stories about superpowered alien rings and far-flung wars in distant galaxies. One of his first projects started as a new series starring wisecracking Star-Lord, but it snowballed into something much bigger. Inspired by the “Annihilation” crossover storyline, Rosemann wanted to create an event that pulled in long-forgotten characters from the Marvel mythos, and eventually that turned into the modern edition of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

In the years that followed, Rosemann has seen the franchise turn into an unlikely blockbuster, spanning multiple comics, an animated series, and two Hollywood films. Next week, it will grow even bigger, with the release of the first episode of Telltale Games’ Guardians of the Galaxy game. But even though Star-Lord, Groot, Rocket, Gamora, and Drax have become well-known names, the new series isn’t being designed exclusively with the growing fanbase in mind. “Stan Lee always said, every Marvel comic could be someone’s first comic ever,” explains Rosemann, now executive creative director at Marvel Games. “So we approach things with that goal of accessibility.”

Since the release of the first season of its Walking Dead adaptation in 2012, Telltale has made a name for itself transforming some of the biggest names in entertainment into choice-driven interactive dramas. That includes everything from Game of Thrones to Minecraft to Batman. Guardians of the Galaxy represents the studio’s first Marvel game after a partnership was announced in 2015. “A big thing that’s really worked well for Telltale thematically is family,” said Justin Lambros, executive producer on the game at Telltale. “And Guardians definitely carries that tradition of a Marvel superhero group that have a really great, interesting chemistry. They’re really more of a family than a professional team.” (It also doesn’t hurt that the game will launch just before the second movie on May 5th. “We definitely made sure to work hard to [release] around that window,” Lambros explains.)

You are Groot?

Telltale’s games are largely defined by their dialogue. It’s a form of role-playing: the things you say and choices you make help shape the character you’re controlling. But that proves difficult with someone like Groot, who is only capable of saying three words. “Well, there’s ‘I am Groot.’ There’s ‘I am Groot.’ And there’s ‘I am Groot.’ That’s all you need right there,” jokes Rosemann.

He may not have the vocabulary of the other characters, but Lambros says that Groot’s speech is actually one of the aspects of the game he’s most excited about. “In later episodes you’ll interact with him a lot,” he says. “Obviously, in the movie Rocket does some translating, and we’ve got some really cool stuff planned where we can play with that. We’re saving that one up as a fun, unique experience that I don’t want to spoil — plus, we’re still trying to figure out the nuances of it.”

Many of Telltale’s series, including both Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, star brand-new characters. This gives the studio a good amount of freedom to craft their own stories even within a well-established world. Guardians of the Galaxy, on the other hand, features an already well-defined cast of heroes. (The story itself, however, is not canonical to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.) That presents a challenge when your stories are based largely around player choice. So the studio is following a similar path as it did with Batman. Since both Batman and Bruce Wayne had so many different iterations over the years, in the game players were able to essentially create their own version of the character, acting as either the aloof playboy, the hardened crime fighter, or somewhere in-between. In Guardians, players will primarily play as Star-Lord, and the goal is to offer a similar amount of freedom when it comes to shaping the character. “One of the things we’ve tried to do is show a range,” says Lambros, “and let people play their own version of Star-Lord.” According to Telltale, you’ll be able to role-play as the cocky showboat Star-Lord or the serious leader or a mixture of the two.

Despite the stated goal of being approachable to newcomers, the new Guardians game series isn’t an origin story. “The movie did such a great origin story getting this group together, so we didn’t want to redo that and try to one-up an origin story,” says Lambros. “What we wanted to do was show these characters together, but then dig into their past, which in turn will reveal why the Guardians make sense and why they stick together.” The focus may be on Star-Lord, but over the course of the five-episode debut season, players will have a chance to control each member of the team, and explore their backstories in different ways. The idea is to use that history to explain who the characters are and their relationships with one another.

The game won’t directly tie into any of the other media, and it takes place fairly far along the Guardians’ timeline. “They’ve been together for a while,” says Lambros. That said, it will naturally take a lot of inspiration from the adaptations that came before it, with characters that largely look and sound familiar. “We looked at the film, we looked at cartoons, we looked at comic books, and we brought our own ideas to the table,” says Rosemann. “If you’re an established Guardians fan it will feel very familiar. That said, you will see situations, settings, and characters that you’ve never seen before.”

It’s a tricky balancing act. The team wants to create an experience that eases in newcomers, without boring existing fans who are looking for something. “We want to keep the storytelling very clear,” says Rosemann.

The first episode, “Tangled up in Blue,” will be available on April 18th on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.

DirecTV Now is giving early subscribers a free year of HBO

Did you sign up for DirecTV Now back when the streaming TV service first launched? Check your email. AT&T is rewarding early customers by adding a free year of HBO to their existing channel package — “no strings attached.”

The offer doesn’t just cover DirecTV Now’s earliest adopters; anyone who signed up prior to March 6th is eligible, according to this FAQ. HBO is usually a $5 add-on on top of whatever subscription package you choose with DirecTV Now. The free “loyalty gift” runs through March 7th, 2018.

“We want to thank you for being one of our most valuable customers and coming on this unprecedented journey with us,” the email says. For some subscribers, that journey has been a bit rocky, but the company says it’s fully “dedicated to making DirecTV Now the best streaming entertainment product in the industry.”

Watch the new Volvo XC60 survive some nasty crash tests

The 2018 Volvo XC60 is the company’s newest and safest offering. For a company with such a fanatical devotion to safety as Volvo, that’s saying something.

Steering assist has been added to Volvo’s City Safety system, allowing the XC60 to use its steering assist feature to help mitigate head-on and lane-changing collisions. It has available Pilot Assist — a feature somewhat similar to Tesla’s Autopilot — which takes care of steering, acceleration, and braking on well-marked highways up to 80 mph, as long as the driver keeps their hand lightly on the wheel. And, when not decked out in crash test orange, it’s also extremely handsome.

But, unlike most carmakers who just focus on luxury and performance in their press releases, Volvo included video of the XC60 undergoing crash testing at the Volvo Safety Center in Gothenburg, Sweden in its announcement today.

As a former volunteer firefighter, I have a secret love of crash test videos — I’ve seen numerous real-world crashes up close, and I know what violence is done to cars smashing into each other at high-speeds. So, I appreciate safe cars and all the engineering and design work that goes into them.

The key thing to watch for in crash test videos is intrusion into the passenger compartment. Ideally, the cell where the humans are should remain intact, which means that the humans are more likely to remain intact. In the video at the top, you can see the roof of the XC60 doesn’t give at all as the car tumbles over and over, and the passengers remain protected.

Volvo XC60 35MPH Frontal Crash Test

In the frontal crash above, you can see the crash structure give way, absorbing much of the force of the crash and sending some of the engine and wheel structure downward instead of rearward into the passenger compartment. Again, there is very little in the way of intrusion into the cabin.

Finally, below we have a frontal offset crash test. These are particularly difficult for many carmakers to deal with as the full force of the crash is spread over a very small area of the car. Volvo deals with this by designing the vehicle to slide to the side as the crash occurs, moving the passengers away from the barrier as much as possible.

Volvo XC60 25MPH Frontal Offset Crash Test

The new XC60 will go into production next month at Volvo’s Torslanda Plant in Sweden. It should hit dealers later this year. Pricing was not disclosed.