Why Samsung and Xiaomi are talking UWB, and more tech news you need to know today

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Your tech news digest, by way of the DGiT Daily tech newsletter, for Monday, 12 October 2020.

1. UWB is ultra, it’s wideband, and Apple’s announcing it tomorrow?

Here’s a little preview of the future via Samsung, which said today in a blog post that says it expects UWB to be one of the “next big wireless technologies”.

What’s UWB?

  • UWB, or ultra-wideband, looks like the next big thing as it allows for fast data transfer over longer ranges, with precision location services baked in.
  • UWB chips are now present in several new smartphones, like the iPhone 11 series and the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
  • And the reason is that the technology looks intensely useful. Better Bluetooth is a simple mostly right answer, but another example would be much better NFC, as well, given accuracies can be down to centimeters.
  • So, what does it mean? Samsung’s examples of using UWB technology: finding your car in a parking lot, or unlocking your front door as you approach it.
  • Yes, using Bluetooth and NFC could maybe work as well for these examples, but UWB is going to dramatically amplify and simplify the possibilities.

Coincidentally, Xiaomi has also posted its own take on UWB earlier today. (Probably, it’s not a coincidence at all — it’s very possible Apple is going to show off UWB applications tomorrow in its event, including the launch of AirTags, its take on Tile devices for keeping track of the location of things. So, here are Samsung and Xiaomi with the pre-emptive strike)

  • Xiaomi’s video isn’t in English so forgive me for missing some of it, but what it does show is someone using a Xiaomi phone to control devices such as a smart light, smart display, fan, and smart TV, just by pointing it at the devices.

Time Spent Talking, Not Just Physical Distance, Plays Role In Covid-19 Spread Researchers Say

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Stay six feet apart — that’s the rule of thumb when it comes to social distancing. However, a new study suggests we need to take speech into account in addition to physical distancing when creating Covid-19 transmission mitigation strategies. By assessing the physics of saliva droplet formation and subsequent spray while a person speaks, researchers have shown the words we say play a role in how many droplets we spread — and how far they go.  

The paper, published in Physical Review Fluids, explores the mechanics behind transmission of droplets through speech. Manouk Abkarian of the University of Montpellier, France, and Howard Stone of Princeton University used high-speed videos to study how a talking person forms saliva droplets.

“Since there are many excellent studies on the size of droplets formed in some of these activities, we decided to study the airflows that would carry small droplets and aerosols from one person to another in casual interaction such as speaking,” says Stone, a professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering with research interests in fluid dynamics.

Previous studies have also explored the role of speech in Covid-19 transmission. Earlier this year, researchers from the National Institutes of Health used laser light to observe droplet production. Their findings revealed that a person talking loudly even for just a second will emit thousands of droplets. Ironically, they found the phrase “stay healthy” is especially effective in sending saliva spraying, due to the pronunciation of “th.”

Similarly to the NIH study, Abkarian and Stone’s research suggested the length a person speaks is a more important factor in droplet spread than has been discussed in social distancing conversations thus far. “We were basically discovering that a ‘distance of security’ made no sense without introducing time in the problem,” says