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Super Bowl champ Reggie Bush never left football, he just went to VR

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***Original post published on Digital Trends***

Haven’t seen Super Bowl-winning running back Reggie Bush on an NFL field this season? You weren’t watching in virtual reality. Every two weeks since mid-October, Bush has been on the field as a co-commentator with Elika Sadeghi on NextVR, discussing VR highlights of the game he used to dominate.

Before Bush was behind the NextVR desk talking highlights, he was a human highlight reel. He could outrun defenders for 60 yards before changing directions in a split second, leaping over defenders for spectacular touchdowns. When he won a Super Bowl championship with the New Orleans Saints at Super Bowl XLIV, it cemented him as an all-time great.

“I always said if I didn’t play this season, then I would retire.”

Yet after a rough 2016 NFL season with the Buffalo Bills, the electrifying player began to contemplate his life after football. Retired NFL players often become TV commentators. Dan Marino, Kurt Warner, Randy Moss, Dick Butkus, and many others have followed that path; Bush officially announced his retirement on NFL Total Access Friday night: “I’m done,” Bush said. “Yeah, I’m done. I said it.”

But Bush isn’t headed to TV, he told Digital Trends. Instead, he’s headed to something a bit more immersive.

“When I got a chance to watch it in the VR headsets, it made it hard for me to go back to traditional TV. I just wanted to watch everything in VR,” Bush said.

The Dallas Cowboys’ December 10 matchup against the New York Giants was the final game NextVR covered for the 2017 NFL season, and Digital Trends spoke with Bush at the game. To hear the 11-year NFL veteran tell it, sports in VR is about to become his new home field away from home.

It’s In The Game

NextVR announced in early October that Bush would be one of its post-game commentators for the company’s second season of VR highlights. Yet even before his second VR post-game show on October 29, Bush was still voicing a desire to return to the NFL. After completing his first season with NextVR, though, Bush sounds ready to make virtual reality his new field.

“I always said if I didn’t play this season then I would retire. I haven’t played all year, and for me I always knew I’d do TV, so working with NextVR was kind of a step in the right direction for me,” Bush said. “The football thing wasn’t happening, so I wanted to start to get my feet wet in the media world and broadcasting. NextVR is a great opportunity for me to come in and learn different things.”

Even though Bush was on the field every Sunday recapping games for NextVR, he admits “nothing quite captures [live games] like playing.” Lucky for him, NextVR is the next best thing. “Being able to be around [football] through NextVR, for me, is a no-brainer. I’ve always enjoyed the game as a fan, as a player. Now that I’m not playing, I’m still a fan of the game — that’ll never leave.”

Bush not only comments on what you’re seeing but also gives context from a player’s perspective

In VR, Bush doesn’t just comment on what you see, he also gives context on what you’re seeing — from a player’s perspective. With the freedom to look around in VR, Bush can tell you what every player’s assignments are for a certain play, so you feel like you’re in the middle of a practice session instead of watching a replay. When San Diego Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin was tackled in his end zone on a punt return during an October 29 matchup with the New England Patriots, Bush explained how a punt returner trains to get to the spot of the ball, and to never run backwards.

Bush’s fanaticism for the game of football is visceral. When paired with the immersive quality of VR, it can turn even mundane football plays into highlights.

VR Commenting

Sitting next to Bush in the Metlife Stadium press box, watching the Cowboys pummel the Giants, we witnessed his almost supernatural ability to predict plays. While Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s fourth quarter pass to tight end Jason Witten was still cutting through the frigid New Jersey air, Bush had already called it a touchdown and deemed the game over. He rose from his seat before the pass landed in Witten’s hands.

“Whether it’s an audible at the line, or a check in the backfield, or if anyone on the field has a specific responsibility that the casual view might not pickup on, those are things that I can pick up on,” Bush said. “Plays I can point to that just gives fans a different perspective.”

With NextVR, viewers can listen to commentators break down a game in a virtual studio while experiencing the biggest plays from just yards away on the sideline.

Bush also interviews the standout player from each game, a new addition to the NextVR post-game show. Seeing Cowboys running back Rod Smith smile when meeting Bush made it apparent that he gives NextVR more than a guy who can break down the x’s and o’s.

“When he’s out on the sidelines, all of the players are still coming over to him, wanting to talk to him, and take pictures with him,” NextVR Head of Sports Production Josh Earl said. “So he still has a great rapport with all the players, and that was a big thing for us to bring him onboard.”

Let’s Get Live

Bush has covered five NFL games in VR, and he’s looking forward to doing something no commentator has ever done — covering live NFL games in virtual reality.

An NFL game has never streamed live in VR. NextVR cameras can’t zoom in, so any action happening in the middle of the field is blurry from the sideline cameras, a problem that prevents the league from allowing live NFL games in VR.

“Live games is the ultimate goal,” Earl said. “I know it’s something the NFL is interested in… We have to solve some of the issues of covering the middle of the field.” Earl says NextVR already has plans in the works to bring live NFL games to virtual reality, proclaiming “it won’t be long.”

One of those plans involves running tests of a live NFL broadcast in VR. If you ask Bush, NextVR is ready to do a live NFL game right now. “We did a live game test, two, three weeks ago,” Bush said. “I think it went really well. I was up in the booth, calling the games. So, for me, I really enjoyed it.”

When asked if he would return to doing the NextVR post-game show next year, Bush laughed, and asked Earl the same question. “If he wants to be,” Earl responded through a beaming smile. NextVR has yet to officially announce if the company will be back for a third NFL season of VR highlights. Everyone, including a Super Bowl champion, is waiting to hear what’s next.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

Digital Trends is a leading consumer technology publisher helping people navigate an increasingly digital world. With easy-to-understand product reviews, entertaining news and videos, Digital Trends serves more than 30 million unique visitors each month. Digital Trends reaches 90 million tech influencers through their own media network, and its syndicate partners include Yahoo!, FOX News and more than 200 broadcast news stations. Digital Trends is headquartered in Portland, OR with offices in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago.

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Prepare for liftoff! Here’s 7 crazy facts about the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket

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Like many folks, we were super excited about this week’s Falcon Heavy rocket static-fire engine test. Unfortunately, the demonstration of the SpaceX rocket which Elon Musk hopes will one day wing its way to Mars was cancelled at the eleventh hour due to logistical and safety concerns.

While no new date has yet been announced, you can entertain yourself in the meantime by feasting on some of these astonishing stats about Musk’s red planet rocket.

It’s the world’s most powerful operational rocket

spacex falcon heavy press

Being, essentially, three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together (a single Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 first stages acting as boosters), the Falcon Heavy promises to swat away the pesky confines of gravity like a giant swatting away a fly.

SpaceX hails it as the “world’s most powerful rocket,” and that’s no exaggeration. In fact, it is the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two, boasting more than 5 million pounds of thrust. To put that figure in perspective, it’s the equivalent of eighteen 747 airplanes firing at once.

Its maiden flight will carry a fairly unusual payload

spacex falcon heavy aerial

You know Elon Musk is deadly serious about the success of his Falcon Heavy maiden flight when he promises that its cargo will include his personal Tesla Roadster as a dummy payload.

As Musk wrote on Twitter, the first Falcon Heavy’s “payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing ‘Space Oddity.’ Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.” We totally hope he’s not kidding. At any rate, it beats firing monkeys and dogs into space.

It can carry a whole lot more than just a Tesla Roadster, though

spacex falcon heavy fairing

The Falcon Heavy’s 27 engines and three cores are capable of transporting more than 54 metric tons (119,000 lb), including passengers, luggage, crew and fuel.

That’s equivalent to a 737 jetliner and more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, which was last flown in 1973, was able to deliver more payload to orbit.

It has taken longer than planned

spacex falcon heavy center core

Even before its recent delay, the Falcon Heavy was running late. Announced in 2011, it was originally supposed to have its maiden voyage back in 2013 or 2014, only for that date to be pushed back.

In 2015, SpaceX said the first rocket launch would happen in early 2016. When no launch transpired, that date was pushed back to late 2016.  Then, after one of SpaceX’s rockets exploded on a Florida launchpad in 2016, that date was put on hold until 2017. In the middle of the year, Musk tweeted that this would happen in November, before delaying it once more to January — and now beyond that as well.

“It actually ended up being way harder to do Falcon Heavy than we thought,” Musk said last year. “Really way, way more difficult than we originally thought. We were pretty naive about that.”

Given the enormity of the undertaking, delays are no great surprise, of course. Hopefully early 2018 will turn out to be the time when this eagerly anticipated test launch does finally happen — for real this time!

It is “competitively priced”

spacex falcon heavy night

Everyone’s idea of affordable is a bit different, but SpaceX is confident that the Falcon Heavy offers “competitive pricing.” A fully kitted-out version will set you back $90 million on a standard payment plan.

Too rich for your blood? SpaceX will offer “modest discounts,” although you’ll probably need to buy a few rockets to secure this. Or arrive at the showroom in a brand new Tesla Model X.

It has impressive fuel economy (although not as good as Elon Musk wants)

spacex falcon heavy engines

Unlike the Tesla, Falcon Heavy needs actual honest-to-goodness fuel to power it, but at least it promises pretty good fuel economy. Not only does it (as mentioned) claim 2x the payload of the next closest operation vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, but also that it will deliver this at just one-third the cost.

As of April 2016, the idea is that Falcon Heavy will be able to lift 2,268 kg to GTO (geostationary transfer orbit) for a cost of $3,968.25 per kilo. That’s more than 3.5x the $1,100 per kg that Musk stated was his ultimate goal with SpaceX when appearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in May 2004.

Still, it’s an impressive step in the right direction — and the plan to have a recoverable upper stage should lead to a further reduction in cost for subsequent missions.

There’s something bigger coming down the track

spacex falcon heavy horizon

The Falcon Heavy was designed from day one with the mission of playing a key role in Musk’s dream of carrying humans to Mars. But it won’t be the final piece in the puzzle.

As Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, told Ashlee Vance, author of Elon Musk: How The Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping Our Future: “Our Falcon Heavy will not take a busload of people to Mars. So, there’s something after Heavy. We’re working on it.”

As has since been revealed, that “something” would be the Interplanetary Transport System, a.k.a. The Big F***ing Rocket.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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WhatsApp targets small businesses with new app for better communication

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WhatsApp, if you didn’t already know it, has a massive user base. Chances are that you’re part of it.

More than a billion people around the world fire up the messaging app every day, with a growing number of people using the service to converse with businesses.

The Facebook-owned startup has decided to lend the smaller outfits a hand, launching a new app called, would you believe, WhatsApp Business. Its main goal is to improve the app’s ease of use for companies dealing with a large number of WhatsApp messages on a daily basis.

Specifically, WhatsApp said the app is aimed at making it easier for businesses to respond to customers, and separate customer and personal messages. Overall, it should help them to create a more official presence on the platform.

One obvious difference to the regular app is the addition of business profiles that let companies include more information about their business, such as a description, address, and website details.

The free app also comes with smart messaging tools designed to offer fast answers to FAQs, as well as greetings messages that introduce a potential customer to the business, and “away” messages so customers know you’re busy. Potentially useful messaging stats are also part of the package.

WhatsApp Business is available now for businesses in the U.S., U.K., Italy, Mexico, and Indonesia, and is coming to the rest of the world in the next few weeks. But take note, at launch the app is an Android-only offering.

WhatsApp edges toward monetization

Perhaps the only surprise about WhatsApp launching the new business-oriented app is that it’s taken it this long to do so. The move will be seen by many as a notable step toward the company monetizing its service, something that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been hinting at doing pretty much ever since he bought the startup for $19 billion in 2014, five years after it launched.

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum and Zuckerberg have been happy to play the long game when it comes to making money out of the messaging app, which has always been cautious about introducing revenue-generating schemes such as ads.

Instead it’s been trying over the years to get regular users comfortable with interactions with businesses, with a possible view to charging brands for the valuable contact opportunity.

As far back as 2015, Zuckerberg insisted the slow approach could prove lucrative in the long run, telling investors: “The long-term bet is that by enabling people to have good organic interactions with businesses, that will end up being a massive multiplier on the value of the monetization down the road.”

The new WhatsApp Business app is another step toward that goal.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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Instagram now shows when you’re on the app, and here’s how to stop it

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If you’re the kind of person that turns off read-receipts on messaging apps at the first available opportunity, and you’re on Instagram, then here’s another “feature” you’ll be wanting to take care of.

In a nutshell, it lets some of your Instagramming buddies know your activity status on the app, and gives you information on their activity, too. And it’s switched on by default.

By “activity status” we mean how many minutes and hours since you last checked in to look at content. It’ll also say “active now” if you happen to be scrolling through your timeline when they check.

Viewable inside the Direct Messages section of the app, the data is only shared with users that you follow as well as anyone that you message privately. So, no, people that follow you will not be able to check your activity status — unless you’re following them, too.

Instagram describes it like this: “Allow accounts you follow and anyone you message to see when you were last active in Instagram apps. When this is turned off, you won’t be able to see the activity status of other accounts.”

Indeed, if you’d prefer not to share that kind of information on Instagram, it’s easy to stop it.

Simply open the app, go to your profile page, tap the gear icon for Options, and then scroll down till you see “show activity status.” Tap the button beside it and you’re done.

It’s not clear when Instagram introduced the functionality, though it may have come as part of updates rolled out for iOS on Tuesday and Android on Wednesday. With no announcement, there’s a chance it could be a test with a limited number of users, so it may even disappear as quietly as it arrived.

The Facebook-owned company is continuing to roll out updates and test potential features on a regular basis, some more significant than others. Earlier on Thursday, it emerged that Instagram is currently trialing “Type,” a feature that lets you add photo-free text to one of your Instagram Stories. Several fonts are offered, and the app automatically chooses a colored background for you. If you want to jazz it up a bit, you can still select one of your own images as a background, though Instagram will fade it so the text stands out. As with all testing, Instagram will evaluate the results, and possibly tweak the feature, before deciding whether to roll it out to everyone.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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London’s anticipated electric black cab launch loses its spark

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The much-anticipated launch of London’s first electric black taxi has pretty much fizzled after problems with the vehicle scuppered its smooth arrival.

The “TX” cabs, an updated version of the city’s iconic taxi design, are being built by the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC) and were supposed to arrive on the streets of the capital toward the end of 2017, the Guardian reported this week. But the car, which costs a hefty 55,600 pounds ($77,230), is no longer being delivered to drivers because of an issue with its meter, which is pretty important when you consider a taxi’s primary role.

The technical glitch reportedly results in fares much lower than they should be — a boon for tourists and locals hopping in for a ride across London, but not much good for a cabbie trying to make a living.

“Deliveries are subject to a short delay as a result of an unexpected issue with compatibility with the taxi meters and the taxi,” LEVC said in a tweet on Wednesday. “The problem is understood, and it involves the pulse messages sent between the vehicle and the meter.”

LEVC said it has found a solution and is now working with Transport for London (the city’s travel authority) and third-party meter suppliers “to get the updated, approved meters installed so we can begin customer deliveries in earnest.”

The new electric taxi has a driving range of 70 miles, but that extends to 400 miles with its three-cylinder petrol engine that performs as a generator for a battery pack and electric motor. The system could save cabbies 100 pounds ($138) a week compared to current diesel taxis, according to LEVC.

Inside the vehicle, riders will find seating for six people and modern features such as Wi-Fi and charging ports for mobile devices.

Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, told the Guardian that the TX is “a fantastic vehicle” and said it could help prompt locals to switch to “electric, clean and green” vehicles.

As for London cabbies, McNamara said many are currently reluctant to ditch their diesel-powered taxi, explaining, “We’ve got to pay 12,000 pounds ($16,700) more for a vehicle that we don’t know the reliability or durability of, at a time when the market is being squeezed by that company.” Yes, he’s referring to Uber.

Another issue is an apparent lack of fast-charging points, with only 90 currently in operation across the capital. To have a serious impact on emissions, cabbies will have to regularly charge their taxis to avoid having to use the gasoline range extender. TfL promises more rapid charging points are on the way.

The rollout of the new electric taxi is clearly presenting some serious challenges, but TfL is aiming for 9,000 of London’s more than 20,000 black cabs to be “zero-emission capable” within two years.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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