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Facebook to sell portable headset for virtual reality

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By David Ingram

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Reuters) – Facebook is launching a new virtual reality headset that does not require a separate computer to operate, allowing more mobile uses than the company’s existing Oculus Rift product, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday.

Zuckerberg, speaking at a conference for virtual reality developers, said the “Oculus Go” device would cost $199 and ship early next year, too late for this year’s holiday shopping season but likely ahead of rivals.

Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality hardware in hopes the technology, which offers a 360-degree panoramic view of faraway or imaginary spaces, will move from a niche interest to a widely used platform for gaming, communication and business applications.

In 2014, Facebook paid $3 billion to acquire Oculus and retain its employees.

The Oculus Go is billed as simpler than the Rift, which went on sale last year, or the Vive system made by HTC Corp. Both of those require desktop computers to operate.

“I think you’re going to see these a lot on airplanes, because it’s way better than the back-of-the-seat monitor or my phone,” Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, said in an interview.

Schroepfer said the device is aimed at people who do not have Samsung smartphones. Oculus and Samsung Electronics Co.; already sell a device, named Gear VR, that when paired with certain Samsung phones is similar to Oculus Go.

Alphabet Inc. offers a rival headset, Google Daydream, that works with yet more smartphones.

“The Oculus Go has potential to be a huge driver of growth,” if people like the titles and apps on it, Stephanie Llamas, vice president of research at Super Data, said in an email.

Facebook will permanently cut the price of the Rift system to $399 from $499, the company said.

Facebook is expected to ship 213,000 Rift systems this year, while HTC is expected to ship 305,000 Vive systems, according to Super Data research.

Beyond price cuts and new products, Facebook is trying different ways to attract people to the virtual-reality medium.

The company is developing software known as Facebook Spaces that allows friends to meet in virtual rooms, and it said it will soon integrate live video.

On Wednesday, the company said it was releasing technology to create better, customized facial images, or avatars, and would soon add the ability to use playing cards in Facebook Spaces, in addition to the dice it already has.

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Say hello to the iCar? Volkswagen turns to Apple for help making electric cars

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By Andreas Cremer

Volkswagen is looking at Apple products for guidance on how to style its new generation of electric cars, its top designer said, as the automaker aims to turn profits on battery-powered vehicles when they launch in 2020.

The U.S. tech giant has brought about a design aesthetic with its iPhone and iPad that set it apart from rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co Ltd; and Sony Corp and helped make it the most valuable company in the world.

For Europe’s biggest automaker, adopting simplicity as the guiding principle for future styling of electric vehicles (EVs) marks a departure from the era before its 2015 “dieselgate” emissions scandal, when vehicle design conveyed the German group’s engineering prowess and technological ambitions.

“We are currently redefining the Volkswagen values for the age of electrification,” Klaus Bischoff, head of VW brand design, said in an interview. “What’s at stake is to be as significant, purist and clear as possible and also to visualize a completely new architecture.”

With regulators slashing emissions on a fast timetable, dieselgate has also energized the costly shift to EVs that is necessary to compete in China, VW’s largest market, and to avoid future fines in Europe.

Previously a laggard on electrification, VW has pledged 34 billion euros ($42.45 billion) of investment in EVs, self-driving technology and digital mobility businesses across the group by 2022.

The core namesake brand alone will spend 6 billion euros on a new modular platform dubbed MEB designed to underpin over 20 purely battery-powered models such as the I.D. hatchback, I.D. Crozz crossover and the I.D. Buzz microbus.

Bischoff said VW will use the Geneva auto show on March 5-7 to give early guidance on what the post-I.D. generation of EVs might look like, but declined to elaborate.

Bischoff belongs to VW’s old guard, having worked a quarter of a century in VW’s design operations and the past decade as head of the core brand’s design.

He became famous through a video shot at the 2011 Frankfurt auto show that has since drawn over 2 million hits on YouTube.

It showed Bischoff being yelled at by former CEO Martin Winterkorn, who was inspecting a model by South Korean rival Hyundai and had discovered something that had displeased him.

“In the past everything was very centralized, very narrow boundaries were set on the road of success,” Bischoff said. “Today is the most exciting time of my career because I’m allowed to do things that didn’t use to exist that way.”

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‘People would die for Olympic medal, I nearly did’

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Canada’s Mark McMorris described his comeback from life-threatening injuries to the podium at the Pyeongchang Olympics as a “miracle” and said inspiring others with his story was worth more than the slopestyle bronze he won on Sunday.

Snowboarding near his home in British Columbia with his brother Craig in March, McMorris caught an edge as he took off for a jump and spiraled into a tree.

Feb 11, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; Mark Mcmorris (CAN) competes in the snowboard slopestyle during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Phoenix Snow Park. Mandatory Credit: Guy Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

He broke his jaw and left arm, ruptured his spleen, suffered a pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed lung.

“People would die for a medal at the Olympics and I nearly did,” he said on Monday, a day after his medal-winning run at the Phoenix Snow Park.

“It’s definitely a miracle and I’m really thankful… to be able to motivate and inspire others – that’s bigger than any medal, right?”

Feb 11, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; Mark Mcmorris (CAN) reacts after his run in the snowboard slopestyle during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Phoenix Snow Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 11, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; Silver medalist Max Parrot (CAN), left, gold medalist Redmond Gerard (USA) and bronze medalist Mark McMorris (CAN) celebrate their victories in the snowboard slopestyle event during the medals ceremony in the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Medals Plaza. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

McMorris’ remarkable comeback drew praise from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who tweeted: “What a journey back to the podium for @MarkMcMorris. Mark – your tenacity and courage inspire so many of us.”

McMorris tweeted two photographs on Monday, one of him in the hospital following his crash and the other on the medal podium. They were accompanied by a caption: “Thank You Life.”

The Canadian could add yet another chapter to his success story before the end of the Games, as McMorris is seen as a gold medal contender in the new Olympic discipline of Big Air.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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Tokyo elementary school is so EXTRA AF with Armani uniforms for students

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A public elementary school in Tokyo’s upscale shopping district of Ginza has raised parents’ eyebrows with a plan to adopt uniforms designed by Italian fashion brand Giorgio Armani for its students, media said on Thursday.

Taimei Elementary School is introducing the uniforms for incoming pupils, each costing more than 80,000 yen ($729), including optional items, or more than three times as much as current ones, the Huffington Post said.

Armani’s Japan head office, located in Ginza, is just 200 meters (219 yards) away from the grade school.

“I was surprised, and wondered why such luxury brand-designed uniforms have been picked for a public elementary school,” an unnamed mother was quoted by the Huffington Post as saying.

“I’m worried that a wrong notion that something expensive is good and something cheap is bad could be imprinted on children,” said the woman, whose child is set to start at the school in April, when a new school year begins.

In a letter to parents last November, headmaster Toshitsugu Wada said Taimei was a landmark in Ginza, and the decision to adopt the Armani-designed uniforms aimed at creating an atmosphere suitable for such a school, the Huffington Post said.

Taimei officials were not immediately available for comment, but Wada posted a statement on the school’s home page, promising to provide sufficient explanation on the plan for new uniforms.

“With humility, I take the criticism that explanation has been insufficient and not well-timed. I will go on explaining carefully to those concerned.”

(Reporting by Kiyoshi TakenakaEditing by Clarence Fernandez)

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