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Search for Buried Treasure With This DIY Magnetometer

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For most of the 10 years that I idly thought about thermostats, I had no intention of building one. It was the early 2000s, and I was at Apple making the first iPhone. I got married, had kids. I was busy.

But then again, I was also really cold. Bone-chillingly cold.

Every time my wife and I drove up to our Lake Tahoe ski cabin on Friday nights after work, we’d have to keep our snow jackets on until the next day. The house took all night to heat up.

Walking into that frigid house drove me nuts. It was mind-boggling that there wasn’t a way to warm it up before we got there. I spent dozens of hours and thousands of dollars trying to hack security and computer equipment tied to an analog phone so I could fire up the thermostat remotely. Half my vacations were spent elbow-deep in wiring, electronics littering the floor. But nothing worked. So the first night of every trip was always the same: We’d huddle on the ice block of a bed, under the freezing sheets, watching our breath turn into fog until the house finally warmed up by morning.

Then on Monday I’d go back to Apple and work on the first iPhone. Eventually I realized I was making a perfect remote control for a thermostat. If I could just connect the HVAC system to my iPhone, I could control it from anywhere. But the technology that I needed to make it happen—reliable low-cost communications, cheap screens and processors—didn’t exist yet.

How did these ugly, piece-of-crap thermostats cost almost as much as Apple’s most cutting-edge technology?

A year later we decided to build a new, superefficient house in Tahoe. During the day I’d work on the iPhone, then I’d come home and pore over specs for our house, choosing finishes and materials and solar panels and, eventually, tackling the HVAC system. And once again, the thermostat came to haunt me. All the top-of-the-line thermostats were hideous beige boxes with bizarrely confusing user interfaces. None of them saved energy. None could be controlled remotely. And they cost around US $400. The iPhone, meanwhile, was selling for $499.

How did these ugly, piece-of-crap thermostats cost almost as much as Apple’s most cutting-edge technology?

The architects and engineers on the Tahoe project heard me complaining over and over about how insane it was. I told them, “One day, I’m going to fix this—mark my words!” They all rolled their eyes—there goes Tony complaining again!

At first they were just idle words born of frustration. But then things started to change. The success of the iPhone drove down costs for the sophisticated components I couldn’t get my hands on earlier. Suddenly high-quality connectors and screens and processors were being manufactured by the millions, cheaply, and could be repurposed for other technology.

My life was changing, too. I quit Apple and began traveling the world with my family. A startup was not the plan. The plan was a break. A long one.

We traveled all over the globe and worked hard not to think about work. But no matter where we went, we could not escape one thing: the goddamn thermostat. The infuriating, inaccurate, energy-hogging, thoughtlessly stupid, impossible-to-program, always-too-hot-or-too-cold-in-some-part-of-the-house thermostat.

Someone needed to fix it. And eventually I realized that someone was going to be me.

This 2010 prototype of the Nest thermostat wasn’t pretty. But making the thermometer beautiful would be the easy part. The circuit board diagrams point to the next step—making it round.Tom Crabtree

The big companies weren’t going to do it. Honeywell and the other white-box competitors hadn’t truly innovated in 30 years. It was a dead, unloved market with less than $1 billion in total annual sales in the United States.

The only thing missing was the will to take the plunge. I wasn’t ready to carry another startup on my back. Not then. Not alone.

Then, magically, Matt Rogers, who’d been one of the first interns on the iPod project, reached out to me. He was a real partner who could share the load. So I let the idea catch me. I came back to Silicon Valley and got to work. I researched the technology, then the opportunity, the business, the competition, the people, the financing, the history.

Making it beautiful wasn’t going to be hard. Gorgeous hardware, an intuitive interface—that we could do. We’d honed those skills at Apple. But to make this product successful—and meaningful—we needed to solve two big problems:

It needed to save energy.

And we needed to sell it.

In North America and Europe, thermostats control half a home’s energy bill—something like $2,500 a year. Every previous attempt to reduce that number—by thermostat manufacturers, by energy companies, by government bodies—had failed miserably for a host of different reasons. We had to do it for real, while keeping it dead simple for customers.

Then we needed to sell it. Almost all thermostats at that point were sold and installed by professional HVAC technicians. We were never going to break into that old boys’ club. We had to find a way into people’s minds first, then their homes. And we had to make our thermostat so easy to install that literally anyone could do it themselves.

It took around 9 to 12 months of making prototypes and interactive models, building bits of software, talking to users and experts, and testing it with friends before Matt and I decided to pitch investors.

“Real People” Test the Nest

Once we had prototypes of the thermostat, we sent it out to real people to test.

It was fatter than we wanted. The screen wasn’t quite what I imagined. Kind of like the first iPod, actually. But it worked. It connected to your phone. It learned what temperatures you liked. It turned itself down when nobody was home. It saved energy. We knew self-installation was potentially a huge stumbling block, so everyone waited with bated breath to see how it went. Did people shock themselves? Start a fire? Abandon the project halfway through because it was too complicated? Soon our testers reported in: Installation went fine. People loved it. But it took about an hour to install. Crap. An hour was way too long. This needed to be an easy DIY project, a quick upgrade.

So we dug into the reports—what was taking so long? What were we missing?

Our testers…spent the first 30 minutes looking for tools.

Turns out we weren’t missing anything—but our testers were. They spent the first 30 minutes looking for tools—the wire stripper, the flathead screwdriver; no, wait, we need a Phillips. Where did I put that?

Once they gathered everything they needed, the rest of the installation flew by. Twenty, 30 minutes tops.

I suspect most companies would have sighed with relief. The actual installation took 20 minutes, so that’s what they’d tell customers. Great. Problem solved.

But this was going to be the first moment people interacted with our device. Their first experience of Nest. They were buying a $249 thermostat—they were expecting a different kind of experience. And we needed to exceed their expectations. Every minute from opening the box to reading the instructions to getting it on their wall to turning on the heat for the first time had to be incredibly smooth. A buttery, warm, joyful experience.

And we knew Beth. Beth was one of two potential customers we defined. The other customer was into technology, loved his iPhone, was always looking for cool new gadgets. Beth was the decider—she dictated what made it into the house and what got returned. She loved beautiful things, too, but was skeptical of supernew, untested technology. Searching for a screwdriver in the kitchen drawer and then the toolbox in the garage would not make her feel warm and buttery. She would be rolling her eyes. She would be frustrated and annoyed.

A white handheld device with 4 screwdriver heads, one on the bottom, and three at the top.Shipping the Nest thermostat with a screwdriver “turned a moment of frustration into a moment of delight”Dwight Eschliman

So we changed the prototype. Not the thermostat prototype—the installation prototype. We added one new element: a little screwdriver. It had four different head options, and it fit in the palm of your hand. It was sleek and cute. Most importantly, it was unbelievably handy.

So now, instead of rummaging through toolboxes and cupboards, trying to find the right tool to pry their old thermostat off the wall, customers simply reached into the Nest box and took out exactly what they needed. It turned a moment of frustration into a moment of delight.

Honeywell Laughs

Sony laughed at the iPod. Nokia laughed at the iPhone. Honeywell laughed at the Nest Learning Thermostat.

At first.

In the stages of grief, this is what we call Denial.

But soon, as your disruptive product, process, or business model begins to gain steam with customers, your competitors will start to get worried. And when they realize you might steal their market share, they’ll get pissed. Really pissed. When people hit the Anger stage of grief, they lash out, they undercut your pricing, try to embarrass you with advertising, use negative press to undermine you, put in new agreements with sales channels to lock you out of the market.

And they might sue you.

The good news is that a lawsuit means you’ve officially arrived. We had a party the day Honeywell sued Nest. We were thrilled. That ridiculous lawsuit meant we were a real threat and they knew it. So we brought out the champagne. That’s right, f—ers. We’re coming for your lunch.

Nest Gets Googled

With every generation, the product became sleeker, slimmer, and less expensive to build. In 2014, Google bought Nest for $3.2 billion. In 2016 Google decided to sell Nest, so I left the company. Months after I left, Google changed its mind. Today, Google Nest is alive and well, and they’re still making new products, creating new experiences, delivering on their version of our vision. I deeply, genuinely, wish them well.

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Paytm, whose share price has dropped 57% so far this year, reports Q4 revenue of ~$200M, up 89% YoY, and a net loss of ~$98M, up 72% YoY due to higher expenses (Reuters)

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Paytm, whose share price has dropped 57% so far this year, reports Q4 revenue of ~$200M, up 89% YoY, and a net loss of ~$98M, up 72% YoY due to higher expenses  —  India’s One 97 Communications Ltd (PAYT.NS), the parent of fintech firm Paytm, on Friday reported a wider fourth-quarter loss due …

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Doctor Strange 2 Surpasses 800 Million at the Box Office

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Image: Marvel Studios

As the weekend winds down, news has come out from The Wrap that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, directed by Sam Raimi, has earned over 800 million dollars officially passing The Batman’s theatrical runs, the last big superhero flick to hit the theaters. Doctor Strange 2 is still a decent chunk of change away from the last Marvel outing–Spider-Man: No Way Home earned 1.89 billion dollars during its release.

The Northman continues to draw audiences, although its release to VOD has made it so that there will likely be little more movement after this weekend. To date the Robert Eggers-directed historical action film earned about 64 million. The film stars Alexander Skarsgård and Anya Taylor-Joy as they attempt to seek revenge and escape the clutches of a dismal fate.

This weekend also saw the first returns for Downton Abbey: A New Era, which brought in 16 million after its opening weekend. Universal Pictures, a specialty production from Universal Studios, released the sequel to 2019’s Downton Abbey, which in turn was a follow-up to the hit television series that ran from 2010 to 2015 and became an international phenomenon. The show follows the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic help across six seasons and fifty-two episodes.

Alex Garland’s horror film of “toxic masculinity,” aptly titled Men, had a solid opening weekend as well (Entertainment Weekly). While 3.3 million might seem modest compared to the big releases, the film is a challenging and divisive watch distributed by the indie darling A24. For a better comparison we can look at the opening numbers for Everything Everywhere All at Once, another A24-distributed film, which netted 3.2 million on its opening weekend.


Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

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Your iPhone Pro Has LiDAR: 7 Cool Things You Can Do With It

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Tim Brookes

Some high-end iPhone and iPad models have a LiDAR scanner integrated into the camera module on the back of the device. This effectively gives your device 3D scanning abilities with a few unique and interesting applications.

RELATED: What Is LiDAR, and How Will It Work on the iPhone?

What Does the LiDAR Scanner Do?

LiDAR stands for Light Detection And Ranging, but it may also be commonly referred to as “3D laser scanning” or some variation thereon. The technology works by bouncing light waves at surfaces and measuring the reaction time to determine the shape and distance of objects in the area.

Think of it like RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging) but for light waves. Unlike RADAR imaging, LiDAR can provide more detailed and crisper scans with smaller equipment. LiDAR uses signals that work in the nanometer range, whereas RADAR requires the use of antennas that produce radio waves at much lower frequencies.

Coupled with the software on your iPhone, the LiDAR scanner can be used to create 3D representations of objects and their surroundings. To do this you’ll need the appropriate software which you can download from the App Store. Some core iPhone features, like the Camera app, will use LiDAR in other ways.

At present, only the iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro, iPad Pro 11-inch (2nd and 3rd generation), and iPad Pro 12.9-inch (4th and 5th generation) are equipped with LiDAR scanners. If you look at the camera array on your device, the LiDAR scanner looks like a small round black circle.

RELATED: How to Use the iPhone Camera App: The Ultimate Guide

Create 3D Scans of Places You Love

Imagine if you had an interactive 3D model of your childhood home or a treehouse you built when you were young. Most of us keep photographs to remind us of places we once lived and loved, but what if instead of flat images we were able to take 3D scans instead?

Well if you have an iPhone or an iPad with a LiDAR scanner on the back, you can do exactly that. Having a 3D space to navigate is a lot more immersive than simply looking at a 2D image. Photographs and videos still have their place, but why not augment your memory bank with something you can experience in three dimensions instead?

This is possible with apps like Polycam, RoomScan LiDAR, and Canvas: Pocket 3D Room Scanner. Most of these apps are free to use, though there are paid upgrades that remove certain restrictions and improve the quality of the scans that you make. You can see LiDAR scanning in action in a YouTube video published by Polycam.

RELATED: How to See 3D Walking Directions in Google Maps

Buying a House? Redecorating? Scan First

Capturing a 3D model of a room or building has some very practical uses. If you’re currently looking to rent or buy a house, taking a scan of the building can help you make up your mind whether or not the place is for you. The process is very similar to taking a walk-through video or series of photographs, both of which are common practices in the real estate world.

Not only is a 3D scan more immersive, but it’s also easier to compare sizes, layout, practical space, and potential for renovation and other major work. We’d recommend taking detailed photos and videos in addition to your scan, which works best with apps like Polycam and RoomScan LiDAR.

If you’re planning major work in a home you already own, a 3D scan can give you a base from which to work in a 3D modeling app like Blender (if you’re comfortable working in such an app). Alternatively, it can provide a nice “before and after” comparison to look back on.

And lastly, selling your house without a real estate agent is surging in popularity. These apps allow you to provide 3D environment scans to potential buyers while still cutting down on expensive agent fees.

RELATED: The Best DIY Home Improvement Apps for iPhone and Android

Create Your Own 3D Assets

Photogrammetry is the act of creating 3D objects from photographic data, and it’s a time-consuming process. While the assets that photogrammetry provides are often highly accurate and detailed, the process of taking an item from a series of photographs to a finished model you can use can take hundreds of hours.

By comparison, a scan made on an iPhone or iPad with an app like Polycam can take a matter of minutes. Scanning an object is a bit like taking a video, and when you’re finished you can export a file that can be used in 3D modeling apps like Blender. Once you’ve tidied up your scan you can import objects into 3D engines like Unity and Unreal.

These engines are used heavily in game development, film, and interactive media. Conor O’Kane is a game developer with a YouTube channel who has not only used this technique but created a tutorial showing how to do this and why small developers might be interested in the process.

Scan and Share Interesting or Cherished Items

Are you a collector? Whatever it is you collect—art, plants, games consoles, or even cars—you might get a kick out of exhibiting it online, in a 3D format. Polycam is perfect for this since it includes built-in model sharing with the rest of the Polycam community, or “polyworld” as the app refers to it.

Some people share ice cream or rock crystals, others share their extensive sneaker collection. Even if you don’t have a LiDAR scanner on your iPhone or iPad, Polycam may still be worth the download just to see what people are scanning and sharing.

It’s like Instagram but for 3D models with an interactive element that other forms of media don’t come close to. It’s easy too, even if you make a bit of a mess while scanning the app has intuitive crop controls that allow you to remove background or surface objects.

Tip: For best results, place your item on a stand, pedestal, or stool before scanning

Take Better Photos in the Dark

Your iPhone and iPad already do this, so you don’t need to activate anything to get the benefit. However, if you’re putting off taking photos in the dark since you don’t trust your device’s autofocus, you might want to reconsider if you have a LiDAR-equipped device.

Since LiDAR is capable of judging distances based on how long it takes the light waves to return to the sensor, autofocus in the dark can be better calculated.

While standard cameras and non-LiDAR equipped models use contrast and phase detection autofocus (what Apple calls “Focus Pixels”) which struggle in low light, your LiDAR-equipped model fares much better. Coupled with Night mode you should be better equipped to take photos in the dark.

Measure More Accurately

You may not have realized this but Apple includes an app called Measure with iOS by default. If you’ve previously discounted and deleted it you can download Measure again for free from the App Store.

The app uses augmented reality to measure real-world distances simply by pointing your phone at a surface. Tap the plus “+” icon to start the measurement and move your device to see it in action.

iPhone Measure app

With a LiDAR scanner, augmented reality is vastly improved on the iPhone and iPad. Measure has gone from being a fun party trick to surprisingly accurate. In our tests, the app was right most of the time, with a margin of error of around 1 cm. This may depend more on how shaky your hands are than anything.

RELATED: How to Measure Distances With Your iPhone

Get More From AR Apps

Measure is just one such AR app that performs better when paired with a LiDAR-equipped iPhone or iPad. Every other AR app can benefit from the sensor, which provides a more stable experience by gauging distance using light rays rather than estimations derived from a “flat” image.

LiDAR really helps to improve the AR experience across the board, like when you’re creating art in apps like World Brush, SketchAR, and Assemblr. Need to provide remote assistance for a real-world problem? Vuforia Chalk allows you to scribble on real-world objects to help relay the point.

Try out various bits of IKEA furniture in your house with IKEA Place, or bring your child’s LEGO sets to life with LEGO Hidden Side, as demonstrated in the above YouTube video published by the Brothers Brick. If you’d rather have a more educational AR experience, Playground AR provides a whole physics sandbox to play around with.

Of course, these experiences are available on just about any recent iPhone, but the experience is considerably more stable with a LiDAR scanner. Find even more apps to enjoy in Review Geek’s roundup of the best AR apps for iPhone and Android.

RELATED: The Best Augmented Reality Apps for iPhone and Android

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