How to reverse-engineer a rainforest

How to reverse-engineer a rainforest


In the interim, researchers tasked with studying and reforesting plots outside of carefully-protected landscapes are trying to figure out the best ways to work with the resources and information they’ve got. Experiment, iterate, fail, try again — the third step in our hypothetical reverse-engineering process. “When you’re dealing with a natural ecosystem, we should not have the expectation that we can go in and control everything, and engineer it so that it works exactly how it did, like a machine,” says Robin Chazdon, a former professor at the University of Connecticut, current research professor at University of the Sunshine Coast and member of Brazil’s Tropical Forest and People Research Center, who has spent nearly 40 years of her career regenerating rainforests IRL. “I realize that we are getting much better with AI, and computer modeling and technology, but my experience studying the recovery of forests on the ground over time is that there’s a lot of unpredictable things that can happen.”

For that reason, in areas with low levels of degradation, simply protecting the land and letting the forests grow back on their own is largely seen by conservationists as the best, most cost-effective strategy when it comes to regeneration. This should sound familiar to those of us who have ever seen a Greenpeace ad or studied rainforest conservation in primary school in the early ‘90s—as the argument goes, the rainforest is sacred, complicated, irrevocably wild and must remain untouched to be truly protected.

Drawing of a tapir's footprints

03. Seed Drones

Is that incessant buzzing in my ear a spotted lanternfly — or is it an army of drones coming to replant this barren, post-industrial landscape? Seed-planting drones carry pressurized canisters of germinated seed pods immersed in a nutrient-rich gel, then fire them into the ground from a height of 1-2 meters before flying off to their next bio-target. There are several drone-planting initiatives going down in the Amazon today, the largest by U.K. start-up Dendra Systems, which hopes to plant 500 billion trees by 2060 with the use of “precision forestry.”

But that’s not always possible in a world where borders constantly change and legal protections shift like the acidic, clay-rich sand beneath the rainforest floor. Unassisted regeneration is also not possible scientifically or sociologically in certain sites for a number of reasons: from soils being too far degraded to support natural succession, to the needs of the people who have been living off the rainforest for centuries.

“We need to really look at this from interdisciplinary backgrounds,” says Chazdon. “When you’re dealing with a landscape that has productive agriculture on it, or grazing lands, people are living there, they are using the land. You can’t wall to wall bring that back to a natural ecosystem like you can within a natural park or nature reserve.”

Many scientists in today’s conservation debate also say the drawing of boundaries between “natural” and “unnatural” in the rainforest is inherently limiting, drawing a false dichotomy between protecting ecosystems and protecting human prosperity. Instead of reverse-engineering, they suggest, maybe we should start thinking about where we can start redesigning the rainforest all together.

Already, there’s a sort of classification system in place for differentiating between man-made and nature-made rainforests. Primary forests, also known as “old-growth” “primeval” or “late seral” forests are those that have attained great age without significant disturbance. To be fair, there is no single definition of the term—some rely on human interference as their marker; others, acknowledging that human interference is everywhere, from the CO2 in the atmosphere to the microplastics in the bottom of our rivers, rely on minimum age (i.e. 150 years) to mark their distinction.

And then there are secondary forests. Those that have regrown after major human impact, and recovered just enough so that the effects of disturbance are no longer immediately evident. With only 21 percent of the earth’s original old-growth forests remaining, these are the Anthropocene creations that may one day help knit together the remaining fragments of ancient nature into a more contiguous, constantly changing system. New growth also helps protect watersheds and prevent erosion for forests that have higher mitigation potential and makes the forest as a whole less susceptible to disease.

Even more critically, secondary forests are also where the rules of engagement get a bit less precious. Instead of being cordoned off from the world for research or conservation, these new iterations of rainforest ecology can help support native communities, harbor indigenous medicines and even, as some scientists are suggesting, serve as extractive reserves for the limited harvest of timber, game animals, and other forest products to help sustain the people who live there.

“I think the best approach is a systems approach,” says Chazdon. “In many ways, we are trying to reestablish a new system that is going to be able to perpetuate itself given the challenges of climate change, and given that there’s already been a lot of damage that’s already been done. The composition may really not be identical. In reality, it might be quite different.”


That brings us to the final step in any reverse-engineering process: Swap out parts where necessary. In the rush to mitigate the effects of deforestation, researchers, environmentalists, NGOs, corporations and tree-savvy start-ups are flooding into the area, working with and against each other to combat the crisis and claim responsibility for its resurgence in their own ways. As with engineering the ecology of the Amazon, the international race to replant will likely come down to the survival of the fittest.

“Over the past few years, we have seen a massive interest in reforestation,” says Stephanie Kimball, director of climate strategy at Conservation International, one of the four largest conservation organizations in the world and biggest players in Amazon reforestation today. “I definitely would say that it’s the most popular kid in class right now as far as these kinds of climate solutions go.”

In 2017, Conservation International announced it was launching the world’s largest-ever tropical reforestation project, with a plan to plant 73 million trees in Brazil’s Amazon across 30,000 hectares by the end of 2023. The purpose of the project is in part, to revive the 20 percent of the Amazon lost to deforestation over the past 40 years. CI, which has offices in 29 countries and has over 2,000 partners worldwide, is also interested in joining researchers like Chazdon, Moorcroft, and Hall in learning how to track and restore tropical rainforests from the ground up — and have raised money from dozens of massive corporations to do so.

Drawing of a tapir's footprints

04. Inga Alley Cropping

novel agroforestry technique developed in Costa Rica that helps protect rainforest soil while allowing farmers to grow crops between rows of trees. The inga, a genus of small, tropical, nitrogen-fixing shrubs known locally as the “ice-cream bean tree” is used to provide shade to crops and prevent soil erosion. Once crops are harvested, the ingas are cut back and their leaves are left there to decompose on the ground, creating a self-sustaining cycle of fertility, growth, and carbon capture on sites that might otherwise be slashed and burned or sold to the highest bidder.

From McDonald’s to United Airlines to Google to ExxonMobil, CI is working with some of the world’s biggest polluters to trade in emissions for ecology. Going back to the climate change conversation, it makes sense that so many are investing their efforts into reforestation right now. Around the world, tropical rainforests store an estimated 471 billion tons of carbon, more than all the carbon ever emitted from fossil fuel combustion and cement production combined. According to estimates by the International Panel on Climate Change, the Amazon rainforest alone can absorb a quarter of the CO2 released each year from the combustion of fossil fuels—making tree planting initiatives like CI’s one of the most popular ways for businesses to reduce their net emissions.

CI isn’t the only big player in the Amazon taking up this industry-first approach either. More recently, the Trillion Trees Project — which U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was signing on to at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos—pledged to plant one trillion trees around the globe (including the Amazon) to help combat climate change over the next decade. The initiative is joined by other environmental giants like the WWF, World Conservation Society and BirdLife International and claims that planting a trillion trees could capture more than a third of all the greenhouse gases humans have released since the Industrial Revolution.

Drawing of a tapir's footprints

05. Novo Campo

A sustainable cattle ranching pilot project started by Brazilian NGO Instituto Centro de Vida promising “forest-friendly beef.” The technique works by dividing rainforest plots into small units, then asking ranchers to regularly rotate their cattle through them one by one to help optimize grass growth and keep soil fertile over time. Rather than letting their cows have free, destructive reign over their plots, ranchers instead provide cozy tree-lined groves, improving animal welfare, CO2 capture, and productivity, while potentially bringing the world one step closer to a zero deforestation beef product future.

“It’s the only way we know of right now — the only technology that can take emissions that are already in the atmosphere out of the atmosphere at scale,” explains Kimball. “It’s like the original carbon capture.” And unlike massive carbon-sucking machines, direct air capture techniques or rethinking the entire global agricultural system to better trap carbon in the soil, this method is also seemingly the simplest. Plant a tree. Reduce your emissions. Create a place where carbon capture, wildlife conservation, agriculture and big business can live together in perfect harmony.

But many have been quick to point out that this all too convenient salve may be too good to be true; there is trouble in paradise. As corporations race to partner with nonprofits who will erase their environmental footprints with massive tree-planting initiatives, so too grows a movement of grassroots advocates who are hoping to stand in their way and swap out a new solution to the crisis.

“Far too often, what we see from a number of large NGOs is this readiness to partner with the very corporations that have been fueling the crisis for so long,” says Sriram Madhusoodanan, deputy campaigns director at Corporate Accountability International, a Boston, Massachusetts-based advocacy group that has called out CI in the past for its partnerships with big businesses like Fiji Water and Starbucks. “I think when we see the profiteers of deforestation attempt to position themselves as the solution, I think at the very least, you have to ask why.”

Drawing of a tapir's footprints

06. Tapir Army

Go ahead, call my bias, but us tapirs, with our prehensile snouts and fragrant, communal latrines make us some of the best natural seed-dispersers in the Amazon. New research using camera trapping, scat collection, and remote LiDAR sensing suggest we may be an ideal species for reforestation, since we actually prefer dining (and pooping) in disturbed areas of the rainforest, where scavenging for lithe, young shoots is easier. Tapirs also drop 120 times more climax seed species than pioneer species, meaning our scat might help forests achieve a healthier succession—with little need for human intervention.

Instead of placing power into the hands of the highest bidder, groups like Corporate Accountability International want to put reforestation in the hands of local, frontline communities. They also want to force big business to pay for reforestation not voluntarily, but to make it compulsory and trade the emerging conversation about environmental realism and managed expectations with one that holds industries directly accountable for their impacts.

Other groups working on large-scale reforestation projects like the Rainforest Action Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, are with them. Though many do work with big companies to reduce their impact, they make a point to not take any consulting fees or donations and share findings from their work, good or bad.

“I mean, this is where the real solutions are,” says Madhusoodanan. “This is where they have always been, and this is where we need to invest in order to stand a chance at staying below what we in the global movement call ‘real zero,’ not net zero. We need to drastically reduce emissions and ensure that as we do so, we’re centering justice for the communities most impacted.”

When asked about the criticism, Kimball was ready with a quick response. “Every organization has to make their own judgement on who to partner with and we respect everybody’s perspective on that. We made the determination that if companies want to come to the table to invest and make a change and want to do it the right way, then we want to help them do that.”

The best grilling gear

In addition to Traeger’s handy app that allows you to control and monitor the grill remotely, the Ironwood series grills ship with a pellet sensor. This add-on keeps tabs on your fuel supply, so you don’t have to worry about running out. The app also houses a wealth of recipes, which you can send directly to the grill from your phone. The Ironwood has a barrel-shaped design, which circulates smoke and heat before it exits the exhaust port on the back, and a small side shelf to rest supplies on as needed. And because the grill has an internet connection, you’ll be privy to regular firmware updates that improve grill performance. 

Buy Ironwood Series at Traeger – from $1,200

Buy Ironwood 650 cover at Amazon – $80 

Buy Ironwood 885 cover at Amazon – $71

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560

Billy Steele/Engadget

For the most part, built-in WiFi connectivity is for pellet grills. More often than not, if you want the same feature on a charcoal grill, you’ll have to settle for a separate purchase. Masterbuilt’s Gravity Series 560 is one exception. It’s a gravity-fed charcoal grill you can monitor from your phone.

Another key thing here is price. The 560 is $499: hundreds of dollars less than a lot of WiFi-enabled pellet grills, and less than half of what you’d pay for an Ironwood. The build quality isn’t quite up to Traeger’s standards, but the performance is great. In seven minutes, the 560 can be at smoking temperature (225 degrees), and the grill can hit a blazing hot 700-degree searing temp in less than 15. Plus, the fuel source is easier to find. Almost every grocery store carries charcoal while, despite the popularity of pellet grills, you still have to visit a hardware, sporting goods store or go online to buy pellets.

You will have to make some sacrifices here, though. For starters, the app isn’t as full-featured as those that come with some connected pellet grills. You can basically only monitor things, not make any adjustments. Second, some components of the grill are rather flimsy, especially the sides of the charcoal hopper. Even with those caveats, getting a grill that can reliably do low-and-slow BBQ and high-heat searing — and that also uses a common fuel source — is an interesting proposition at this price. 

Buy Gravity Series 560 at Home Depot – $500

Buy 560 cover at Masterbuilt – $50

Weber iGrill series

iGrill Mini

Billy Steele/Engadget

I’ve been using the Weber iGrill Mini for years now. Until I added it to my grilling arsenal, I had a bad habit of overcooking steaks. And in my defense, it’s really easy to do if you don’t have some type of thermometer. With the iGrill, you can insert a food probe before you start cooking, select your meat or seafood, pick your desired doneness and an app will alert you when the food is ready. It will also warn you when you’re getting close. And if you like a manual route, you can skip the food preset entirely and just go by internal temperature. The iGrill also lets you use a probe to monitor ambient grill temps, should you need to do so. 

Weber offers a range of options here, starting with the single-probe iGrill mini (under $50). The iGrill 2 can support up to four probes at once, as does the iGrill 3, which is specifically for use with some of Weber’s gas grills. Those are both $100.

Buy iGrill Mini at Amazon – $35

Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub

Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub

Billy Steele/Engadget

Weber won Engadget’s Best of CES 2020 award for Best Connected Home product with the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub, and for good reason: The standalone cooking device offers all of the smart features of WiFi connectivity on literally any grill. The Weber Connect app has step-by-step guidance for a range of meats and seafood, so you have a sous chef on your phone at all times. What’s more, the Hub features June’s software that uses algorithms to estimate completion times and tells how long until the next phase of cooking. 

The Weber Connect app is somewhat limited in terms of presets right now, but you can opt for a manual mode to bypass the software guidance. The company has committed to adding more profiles, so you should see new items pop up in the app over time. The Hub ships with two probes — one food and one ambient temp — but it can support up to four simultaneously.

Buy Grilling Hub at Amazon – $130

Buy meat probe at Weber – $15

Buy ambient temp probe at Weber – $15

Thermoworks Smoke X2 and X4

Thermoworks Smoke X2

Billy Steele/Engadget

If you already have a grill or smoker you like, and you don’t need the fancy app-based guidance of Weber Connect, Thermoworks’ newly redesigned Smoke X thermometers are worth a look. These devices give you the ability to watch food and grill temperatures without having to venture outside. They use RF wireless technology to relay info from the hub at your grill to a handheld receiver. You can set high and low temperature alarms yourself, so this is a completely customizable device for more experienced users. 

Thermoworks says the Smoke X has a line of sight range of up to 6,562 feet (1.24 mile). I’m not sure you’d want to trek that far away while cooking, but the increased signal strength means you won’t have to worry about walls and other obstacles around your house. The Smoke X also has a long battery life. Because it doesn’t rely on WiFi, it can last up to 330 hours on two AA batteries (1,800 hours for the receiver, Smoke X2). The device duo is also protected against outdoor hazards with an IP66 splash-proof rating. Lastly, the Smoke X2 and Smoke X4 ship with all the probes you’ll need, so you don’t have to make any additional purchases there. 

Buy Smoke X at Thermoworks – from $170

Thermoworks Thermapen Mk4

Thermapen Mk4

Billy Steele/Engadget

I get it: not everyone needs or wants to keep tabs on what’s cooking from afar. No shade there, but you do need a reliable thermometer to confirm when your food is done. I’ve been using the Thermoworks Thermapen Mk4 for a while now and it’s the best instant-read option I’ve found. There are cheaper models available elsewhere, but the Mk4 has a backlit display that rotates based on how you’re holding it. It also has motion sensing activation, so it automatically turns on when you pick up and shuts off after you put it down. The Mk4 is waterproof with an IP67 rating, so you don’t have to worry about getting it wet when you’re saucing chicken. 

Buy Thermapen Mk4 at Thermoworks – $99

Anova sous vide

Anova

Billy Steele/Engadget

A sous vide device might seem out of place in a grilling guide, but hear me out. Since I started using an Anova Precision Cooker as part of my steak process, I’ve massively upped my game. Steaks are tender and juicy, with edge-to-edge doneness that’s difficult to achieve on a hot-and-fast grill. Basically, I sous vide for a couple hours (or more) and then sear the steaks on a grill to finish them off. Perhaps the best part is you don’t have to invest a ton to get one of these app-connected machines (they start at $99 from Anova), and they’re great for cooking other things, too. 

In order to make the most of your sous vide setup, you’ll want to also invest in a vacuum sealer. I have the FoodSaver FM2000, a model that doesn’t have some of the flashy features of more expensive units, but it does the basics just fine. Plus, you can use this to seal leftovers for the freezer or store other goods you don’t want air to get to. I’ve also found vacuum-sealed packs handy for reheating things like pulled pork. With sous vide, the meat doesn’t dry out like it would in the microwave. What’s more, the pouches are great for marinating, which is essential for cuts that aren’t very tender, or just imparting flavors over time. Sure, you could just use Ziploc bags, but I’ve done that, and the FoodSaver is worth the investment. 

Buy Anova sous vide at Anova –  from $99

Buy FoodSaver FM2000 at Home Depot – $83

Making an indie phone is not for the faint-hearted

One of the people trying to save us from corporate boredom is French product designer Pierre-Louis Boyer. Technically, Boyer doesn’t make phones. Yet. He has, however, released a few products with some modest success. His company 8Bcraft makes retro gaming handhelds which are popular within that scene (I wrote about one of them here). He also started a company that made thermal plastic. Now, he’s setting his sights on the gadget we all use the most, and he’s hoping to convince people that small is cool again.

OneDevice concept phone.

Pierre-louis Boyer

“Every time I upgraded my phone I was like, ‘Well, this phone is very big. How can I handle it?’ So that’s actually one reason why I kept my iPhone 4 for a long time. It’s because it was small and it was working so I was going to keep it,” Boyer told Engadget. It’s a sentiment you may have heard before, and one that even pops up at Engadget HQ (some of us are very fond of the original iPhone SE, for example). But take a look at any mobile operator’s phone selection, and the message is clear: Big phones rule, and Android or iOS are likely your only options.

The phone that Boyer plans to make — working title: OneDevice — isn’t just a small smartphone. Though at about 4-inches tall, it is also that. In fact, it’s the same height as his beloved iPhone 4, just a little wider. During our interview, he held up his old Apple handset, with a pencil taped to the side, to illustrate the dimensions of the phone he envisions. The OneDevice would come in two models, one of which would sport a Yotaphone-like e-ink display on the back. The main display would be 4.7-inches across — incidentally the same as this year’s, taller, iPhone SE — but with a 16:9 aspect ratio, which Boyer points out is optimized for video viewing.

Then there’s Alex Davidson, whose “Boring phone” is an (ironically) interesting take on the smartphone. Unlike other anti-distraction devices that just offer the basics (usually no browser or social media), the Boring phone is a legit smartphone (a modified Xiaomi A1), just with a limited operating system. Or, there’s the security and privacy-focused Volla phone from a German company of the same name. Volla (not to be confused with Jolla) is similar to Boring phone in that it uses a customized handset from an existing manufacturer — Germany’s Gigaset — but totally changes the experience with bespoke software. Both Boring phone and Volla had successful crowdfunding campaigns, with Boring already shipping, while Volla is on track to be in backers’ hands this fall.

Davidson says his Boring phone has two main audiences: People who want fewer distractions, and parents that want a capable, yet internet-free phone for their kids. As he tells it, having a “dumb” phone is social suicide for many tweens and teens these days, so a somewhat capable handset, just with a stripped back operating system, could keep parents and overwhelmed professionals happy.

While the Boring phone’s Kickstarter goal was modest — it only needed around 75 backers to hit its target — Davidson is confident more people are looking for something like this. “It’s a little bit of a strange one for people to get,” he explained, “but once people get it, and they sort of say, ‘Yeah, right. So I have all the useful things and I just don’t have an option to have anything that’s going to waste my time.’”

Volla is the brainchild of Dr. Jörg Wurzer. His vision was to make a phone that balances privacy with a smart, yet simple, operating system. Like the Boring phone, it too is based on a heavily modified version of Android at its core, but has no Google services and a completely rethought user interface (it will run most Android apps if you want). “I realized that it’s almost impossible to decide on my own with whom I share which data if I use stock Android or iOS.” Wurzer told Engadget.

Boring Phone

Alex Davidson

Taking an existing phone and modifying the experience is an obvious route. Making your own handset is fraught with challenges. For one, you need access to reference designs from the chip makers. And according to Boyer, getting those from the market leaders is nigh on impossible as an independent. Plus it’s costly. “For example, the hardware development and software development is around, between 500,000 and one million Euro” said Boyer. Even tweaking an existing design requires deep pockets. “The minimum order for a phone, for getting one made where they change the chipset at the factory for you, is about 3,000. Which is like $100 a phone for a base model, that’s $300,000 upfront” according to Davidson. 

This is even before you consider selling the phone in the US. Boyer is in France, speaking with local operators there. Davidson is in New Zealand, and Wurzer is from Germany. None of them mentioned any plans to sell their phone in America, and there’s likely a good reason why. “We are focused on Europe because FCC certification costs about $150,000 and this is, for a startup, challenging,” Wurzer explained. 

Then, of course, you need somewhere for people to buy it. Mobile operators have close relationships with the big companies and a limited amount of “shelf space” in terms of the number of phones they can offer and support at any one given time. “I think we will start with online sales channels, then with other commonly known sales channels in Germany: Supermarkets, electric markets and in the end, the operators,” Wurzer said. Davidson points out that just getting visibility on crowdfunding platforms can be difficult. “We were a little bit disappointed that the algorithms within Kickstarter […] I guess that they just use an algorithm and whatever is getting the clicks is what gets to the top of the list.” Kickstarter, for its part, explains how its “Magic” filter works here in this blog post.

Boyer is exploring crowdfunding as well as traditional investment routes. He’s been speaking with Xavier Niel, a French investor who founded Free, one of the country’s largest carriers. It was Niel who told him that about 15 percent of customers expressed an interest in a smaller phone. But Neil drives a hard bargain and told Boyer that for his phone to be considered for Free’s network, it would need to sell for around €200 ($220), which is a very low price for a new company to meet. And it’s not just how marketable your phone is. “There’s all of the stuff with the cellular networks between countries, and how they’re all just different enough to make that difficult,” Davidson added.

Having a large network offer your phone to its customers is likely the holy grail for an independent, and while it’s not easy, it’s also not impossible. “We need to be confident that there will be customer demand for a particular product and that it, therefore, makes commercial sense for us, but the customer is at the heart of our decision making.“ Magnus McDonald, Director of Product and Category Management at O2 (UK) told Engadget. He admits some brands (Apple and Samsung) make up most of what customers want, but indies aren’t off the table. “We would absolutely consider smaller companies making interesting phones” he added. “I’d encourage any new and emerging brands to contact my Hardware Category Management team on LinkedIn, providing some detail on the product, the marketing strategy, and investment that will enable them to achieve cut-through in the UK handset market.”

The sad truth is, some of the most interesting phones from the last few years have struggled to gain any traction. Whether that’s the curious Yotaphone, Razer’s gaming phone or even the promising (and relatively thoroughbred) Essential phone. It seems we’re losing our appetite for (or access to) anything outside of the norm. Of course, that’s with regard to the Western market. Chinese manufacturers aren’t afraid to try out new and bold ideas, but often in a way that doesn’t resonate with US buyers either.

It turns out, Chinese manufacturers pose something of a challenge for independent phone-makers, too. When I checked Kickstarter for recent projects, quite a few come up, but it’s not long before you realize that many (if not most) of them are either the same kinds of phone you might find on Wish, likely made by an ODM in Shenzhen or similar. “You only have to look at a few Kickstarters, and you’ll quite quickly start to realize what’s really homegrown and what’s kind of pretending to be homegrown,” Davidson said.

Volla phone.

Jorg Wurzer

For Wurzer and Volla, using a local manufacturer had other benefits. “With Gigaset, because they are able to produce highly customized, small batches through the way they’re produced. It’s not manufactured by people in Asia, it’s a highly automated way to produce them with robots and people and because of that, it’s possible to produce high quality and low price and high customization” He said. “And what you can’t underestimate is the legal and the business security you have, if you have a vendor in the same country that is 90 car minutes away.”

What all three of these projects have in common is the desire to solve a problem. “I’m not trying to push a vision, what I’m trying to do is to solve a pain point which is, you have a lot of people, which is 15 percent of the population, which want a small smartphone and there isn’t any smartphone available for them,” Boyer said. For Davidson, it’s productivity: “I just found that I was just spending more and more time on the phone and not able to control it. And most of the things that I tried to do to stop it, just wouldn’t work out.” As for Wurzer? “It’s the usability and privacy for my freedom. “

Meanwhile, the big companies are trying to create solutions to problems we’re not sure exist. Take the new wave of foldable phones for example. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold didn’t exactly make a gracious entrance, but the Galaxy Z Flip has given us a hint at what our bendy future might look like. But that doesn’t help much if you’re one of Boyer’s 15 percent or one of the people seeking to get more done, or just wanting to have control over your data.

Of course, adding bespoke software to an existing handset isn’t exactly the same as the quirky Nokia “see what sticks” days, but what it does tell us is that what’s out there right now, running the same grid-of-apps style software isn’t what everybody wants. Both Davidson and Wurzer indicated they would like to get more involved with hardware customization further down the line. With the OneDevice, meanwhile, Boyer is taking that challenge on directly.

Whatever the approach, the end goal is ultimately the same, to slowly chip away at the current cadre of companies that dominate the current market. In our independent developers’ eyes, nothing can change unless action is taken. Or as Wurzer puts it. “In five years’ time, we want Volla to have developed and serve a third market segment alongside Apple and Google. I deliberately speak of a market segment instead of a market niche. I see a market segment for alternative products to the current duopoly, which will not only enable sustainable economic growth but survival for a single brand.” 

No one expects building your own phone to be as easy as building your own PC, but it also shouldn’t be as prohibitively difficult as it currently is. With people like Boyer, Davidson and Wurzer around, though, maybe, just maybe, there is hope that phones from smaller companies with interesting ideas can find a place in the market. But if the challenges our independents have described continue, then we might be waiting a little while longer.

The Morning After: Texas Instruments makes it harder to cheat on its calculators

Graphing calculators have clung on to school lives despite us all carrying around smartphones that are several magnitudes more powerful. (Let’s not even get into wearables.) 

In a bid to reduce cheating in exam settings, Texas Instruments is pulling support for assembly- and C-based programs. If you install the latest firmware update, those kinds of programs won’t work, and you won’t be able to roll-back the device. 

While this could please teachers worried that students will use apps on their calculator to cheat during exams, enthusiasts are, unsurprisingly, mad. It reduces the control programmers have over their calculator apps. It also might not have the intended effect.

Some have already found ways to bypass the calculators’ Exam Mode — the updates may block ‘casual’ cheaters, but not determined ones. How much do you need that grade?

— Mat

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 leaks hint at S20 Ultra and giant dimensions

Even the base Note 20 may be huge.

Note 20 render

OnLeaks and Pigtou

The Galaxy Note family tends to borrow a few cues from the S series that preceded it, but these cues might be more conspicuous than usual this year. Leak-based renders for the Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20+ suggest that big screens are the order of the day — the usual for Note devices. The Note 20+ will reportedly have a 6.9-inch screen, like the S20 Ultra, while even the ‘regular’ Note 20 would boast a 6.7-inch display. It would be a big jump from the relatively petite 6.3-inch Note 10 of last year. Continue reading.

Two of Apple’s former HomePod masterminds prep a ‘revolutionary’ speaker

This includes the architect of one of the HomePod’s key features.

HomePod

Engadget

There is no shortage of smart speaker options, but here’s another challenger. Financial Times sources say that ex-Apple design legend Christopher Stringer (who worked on the HomePod, Apple Watch and iPhone) and engineer Afrooz Family (who was heavily involved on the spatial audio system on the Apple smart speaker) are using their startup Syng to develop a “revolutionary” speaker system that would tackle both the HomePod as well as Sonos’ home audio devices — and the rest. 

Their upcoming Cell speakers would reportedly use a mix of Stringer’s design and Family’s audio engineering to produce “immersive rendering” with sound “indistinguishable from reality,” according to the investment pitch.

The first Cell speaker is due in the fourth quarter of the year, according to FT, but it’s not certain how the pandemic will affect that timeline. Continue reading.

Hacked NES Power Glove controls a modular synth with finger wriggles

It’s more artistic flourish than instrument.

Power Glove

YouTube

Look Mum No Computer (aka Sam Battle) has hacked an NES Power Glove into a gesture controller for his modular synth setup. All he has to do is bend his fingers to adjust the filter cutoff, pitch, pulse width and volume. Yes, the result is just as strange and beautiful as it sounds — Battle just has to wriggle his fingers to add an extra flourish to an electronic tune. He’s gone further, making an animatronic hand that takes input from the synth to control the glove, which in turn controls the synth. It’s a feedback loop with a robot hand. Check out how it sounds right here.

Sponsored Content by Stack Commerce

Stack Commerce

After Math: Some good news for a change

Magic Leap

Magic Leap

Tech companies have been getting battered left and right by the economic downturn the COVID-19 pandemic has brought along in its wake. Magic Leap especially was hemorrhaging cash and was facing the prospect of laying off 1,000 of its workers. But thanks to a fortuitous and perfectly-timed investment infusion, the company is currently on more sound financial footing and the layoffs are currently off the table.

fibre

Engadget

Due to social distancing requirements, people have found themselves stuck indoors for weeks at a time. So it should come as little surprise that video games are having a bit of a moment while console sales are seeing record sales. But all that extra traffic could put the squeeze on existing ISPs so its a good thing that a team of Australian researchers have managed to pump a whopping 44.2 terabits of data per second through existing fiber optic cables. That’s, oh, only around a million times more than what Google Fiber can currently deliver.

solitarie

Engadget

While it may not have quite the same pedigree as Pac-Man, Microsoft’s Solitaire has been a “screwing off at work” staple for decades. It may not have the same addictive qualities of Candy Crush or the career-ending implications of spouting off on Twitter, but anyone who worked in an office in the last 30 years can attest to the fist-pumping exhilaration of watching four neatly stacked towers of cards go bouncing around the screen.

samsungs

Engadget

While it may feel like a bit of a dig, Samsung releasing an outdoor flat screen in the middle of a pandemic quarantine like this — especially when nobody in the marketing materials is even pretending to physically distance themselves. But just think of how much you’ll have with your friends at whatever coastal villa this was shot at, doing the exact same thing you’re doing right now.

Hitting the Books: Do we really want our robots to have consciousness?

How to Grow a Robot

MIT Press


Excerpted from How to Grow a Robot: Developing Human-Friendly, Social AI by Mark H. Lee © 2020 Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Although I argue for self-awareness, I do not believe that we need to worry about consciousness. There seems to be an obsession with robot consciousness in the media, but why start at the most difficult, most extreme end of the problem? We can learn a lot from building really interesting robots with sentience, by which I mean being self-aware, as with many animals. The sentience of animals varies over a wide range, and it seems very unlikely that consciousness is binary—either you have it or you don’t.

It’s much more probable that there is a spectrum of awareness, from the simplest animals up to the great apes and humans. This is in line with evolutionary theory; apparently sudden advances can be traced to gradual change serendipitously exploited in a new context. As I’ve indicated, there are many animal forms of perception and self-awareness, and these offer fascinating potential. Let’s first try to build some interesting robots without consciousness and see how far we get.

Support for this view comes from biophilosopher Peter GodfreySmith, who studies biology with a particular interest in the evolutionary development of the mind in animals. He traces the emergence of intelligence from the earliest sea creatures and argues for gradual increases of self-awareness. He says, “Sentience comes before consciousness” (Godfrey-Smith, 2017, 79) and claims that knowing what it feels like to be an animal does not require consciousness. It seems entirely logical that we can replace the word animal with robot in the last sentence. Godfrey-Smith also argues that “language is not the medium of complex thought” (2017, 140–148, italics in original), which supports the view that symbolic processing is not a sufficient framework for intelligence.

In any case, it is important to recognize that the big issues in human life—birth, sex, and death—have no meaning for robots. They may know about these concepts as facts about humans, but they are meaningless for nonbiological machines. This seems to be overlooked in many of the predictions for future robots; systems that are not alive cannot appreciate the experience of life, and simulations will always be crude approximations. This is not necessarily a disadvantage: A robot should destroy itself without hesitation if it will save a human life because to it, death is a meaningless concept. Indeed, its memory chips can be salvaged from the wreckage and installed inside a new body, and off it will go again.

Consequently, such robots do not need to reason philosophically about their own existence, purpose, or ambitions (another part of consciousness). Such profound human concerns are as meaningless to a robot as they are to a fish or a cat. Being human entails experiencing and understanding the big life events of living systems (and some small ones as well), and human experience cannot be generated through nonhuman agents. If this contention is accepted, it should counter much of the concern about future threats from robots and superintelligence.

Two Nobel laureates, Gerald Edelman and Francis Crick, both changed direction following their prize-winning careers. Edelman won the prize for his work on antibodies and the immune system, and Crick was the co-discoverer (with James Watson) of the structure of the DNA molecule. Both started research into consciousness as a second career. Edelman experimented with robots driven by novel competing artificial neural systems (Edelman, 1992), and Crick looked for the seat of consciousness in the brain (Crick, 1994). They didn’t agree on their respective approaches, but their work, well into retirement, produced interesting popular books and showed how fascinating the whole topic of consciousness is. Despite their mutual criticism, their general goal was the same: They both thought that the circular feedback paths in the brain somehow supported consciousness, and they were looking for structural mechanisms in the brain.

I have already argued that sentient agents, like robots, need not be conscious, but they must be self-aware. In any case, it is a reasonable scientific position to start with experiments with models of self, self-awareness, and awareness of others and see how far the results take autonomous agents. Then the requirement for, or the role of, consciousness, can be assessed by the lack of it. This is not a structural approach, based directly on brain science as with Edelman and Crick, but rather a functional approach: What do models of self offer? How do they work? What is gained by self-awareness? What is missing from the behavior of sentient robots that consciousness could address?

The Morning After: SpaceX prepares for Crew Dragons biggest test

As we settle in for a holiday weekend in the US, we’re looking forward to next week’s big event: a groundbreaking trip to space.

SpaceX Demo-2 test fire
SpaceX Demo-2 test fire

(NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The Demo-2 mission will be the first crewed launch from US soil since 2011, as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon undertakes its final flight test. NASA confirmed everything is on schedule for launch May 27th at 4:33 PM ET — we’ll be watching.

— Richard

The best deals we found this week: Pixel 3a, the HomePod and more

Plus Memorial Day sales.

Engadget Deals

Engadget

Google’s Pixel 3a and 3a XL smartphones hit a new low this week at Best Buy and Amazon, at $280 and $320, respectively. Other products that we spotted at a discount include Apple’s HomePod for $200, and the 10.2-inch iPad at $250. If you’re looking for a new laptop, then keep an eye on Memorial Day deals including the HP Envy x360 for $650, the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s for $640 and the Lenovo Yoga C940 for $1,450

Valentina Palladino has the full rundown for you, and for more updates on Twitter, be sure to follow the new @EngadgetDeals account.
Continue reading.

Surface Book 3 15-inch review: Beautiful, yet limited

Its flexibility comes with some compromises.

Surface Book 3

Engadget

Microsoft’s latest Surface Book hasn’t changed much about its combination laptop/tablet design and is still a uniquely capable machine. This time around it has an even more powerful GPU inside, with our test model sporting NVIDIA’s GTX 1660 Ti.

The downside of its detachable screen is that it has to work as a tablet too. That’s why you can’t get one with the more powerful six- or eight-core CPUs offered by competing laptops like the 16-inch MacBook Pro or Dell XPS 15. With its price starting at $2,300 with a Core i7-1065G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 256GB SSD and NVIDIA’s GTX 1660 Ti, Devindra Hardawar sees the Surface Book 3 as “too familiar and underpowered” — read on for the full review.
Continue reading.

Apple and Google’s COVID-19 contact tracing tech is ready

It’s not an app, it’s an API.

TMA

Google

Just a few weeks after Google and Apple announced plans to collaborate on developing Exposure Notification technology for their mobile operating systems, the software is ready. On iPhones, it’s a part of the iOS 13.5 update rolling out now, which also makes it easier to use FaceID while wearing a mask. For Android 6.0 or above, a Play Services update will deliver it in the background.

The notification tech works through Bluetooth, with phones exchanging and storing keys whenever they’re in range of each other. Public health agencies tie into the opt-in system with their apps, and if a user tests positive, it can alert people who may have been exposed.
Continue reading.

Sponsored Content by Stack Commerce

Stack Commerce

Microsoft flexed its cloud and AI muscles at Build 2020

If you’re on the Targeted Release cycle, you’ll be one of the first people to try this out in Office.com and Outlook for the web. In the new format, you’ll be able to start whichever Office app you want — say Excel or Word, for example — and pull in Fluid components like charts, tables or task lists. 

Microsoft Build 2020 Rajesh Jha discussing Microsoft 365 updates

Microsoft

These components will stay updated wherever they are, so if you edit a cell in a table you pulled from an existing spreadsheet, the value will save in every place it exists. You’ll also be able to collaborate on these files in real time with others, too. These components can be inserted into emails or even a chat app like Microsoft’s Teams. The company also announced that Fluid Framework will be open-source, so you might see third-party apps make use of these features in future too. 

Microsoft also announced a new Lists app that’s based on the existing Lists feature in SharePoint. The project management tool will let you track your progress using checklists across Microsoft’s services, and you can create new to-do lists from within chat apps like Teams, too. You’ll also be able to import existing lists from elsewhere in the app for people in the room to comment and edit. Your coworkers can tweak or leave suggestions on both the full list and individual items in it as well. There’s also conditional formatting so you can have background or font colors change when items are checked off, or have the icons update based on specific situations. 

As Microsoft continues to build out and enhance its suite of productivity software, it’s also eyeing ways to reach more organizations. This week, the company announced its first Industry Cloud offering, which is a set of tools designed for specific industries. Microsoft is starting with Cloud for Healthcare, which is pretty smart and timely given the country’s pivot to telehealth. 

Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare

Microsoft

The new service offers medical workers access to a range of tools like Microsoft’s Teams and Healthcare Bot Service, in addition to patient engagement portals and systems for booking appointments and making referrals. Within Teams, healthcare providers can also conduct HIPAA-compliant telehealth visits and follow up on aftercare. The patient portals will also make it easier to manage appointment booking, send reminders and make bill payments across various devices.

Providers can also use Cloud for Healthcare to reach out to patients with preventative and care management programs. With Azure IoT integration, they can also remotely receive data from medical devices in real time to escalate care when needed and respond quickly to emergency situations. 

It all sounds like a comprehensive, well-rounded way to manage most of the aspects of running a healthcare business, which, given how fragmented America’s infrastructure is on this front, is welcome news.

Microsoft Build 2020 supercomputer illustration. Yes, seriously, this is what the company provided.

Microsoft

From improving productivity software to creating cloud-based systems for entire industries, to… a supercomputer? Microsoft also announced that it’s developed a supercomputer hosted on its Azure cloud network. It was built specifically to train OpenAI models to tackle large problems. Microsoft hasn’t shared detailed speed measurements yet, but the supercomputer does have 285 THOUSAND CPU cores and 10,000 GPUs that help it execute massive, complicated AI models. That should make it one of the five fastest systems in the world.  

While it’s not yet clear exactly what processes the supercomputer will work on, that amount of power could allow Microsoft to train AI for more complex tasks like moderating game streams, instead of simpler things like recognizing faces in photos, for example.

Again, Microsoft hasn’t laid out concrete plans for how it plans to use this supercomputer, but the company’s been public about its ambitions. It announced in April plans for a planetary computer that’s basically a system that takes in global data about the world, processes it with AI and machine learning, then delivers environmental and biological data to customers. The goal is to help inform decision-making around environmental issues in both the private and public sectors. 

That’s a whole lot of news out of Microsoft in two days, and surprisingly, I’m excited about some of it. Fluid Framework is the most immediately compelling, since it could actually change my day to day workflow. Even though I’m currently a hardcore Google user, I could see Microsoft’s advancements spurring its rivals to step up their games. I’m also intrigued by Cloud for Healthcare and what it could do for medical workers and organizations everywhere. 

This Build, Microsoft showed us improvements at the micro level with boosts to its productivity software, flexed its ample cloud muscle at the middle level with the Industry Cloud offerings, and finally, laid the foundation for good work to come at the macro level with its AI supercomputer news. It’s clear the company wants to be a part of your life at every turn.

The best deals we found this week: Pixel 3a, the HomePod and more

Buy Pixel 3a at Best Buy – $280

Buy Pixel 3a at Amazon – $280

HomePod

Apple HomePod smart speaker.

Engadget

Apple’s HomePod remains on sale for $200 at Best Buy, or $100 off its normal price. It’s a solid speaker in terms of audio quality, but it’s best if you’re entrenched in Apple’s ecosystem already — and especially if you’re an Apple Music user. Apple has also made significant improvements to the HomePod since launch, including adding features like multi-user support, live radio and Spotify voice control.

Buy Apple HomePod at Best Buy – $200

10.2-inch iPad

Apple 10.2-inch iPad.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

The base iPad is back on sale for $250 at Best Buy and Amazon (although stock is low at Amazon). Normally priced at $330, it’s an even better deal when on sale like this. Despite its aging design, we gave it a score of 86 for its good battery life and slightly larger and improved display. This deal is your best bet if you want to get an iPad right now and also stick to your budget.

Buy 10.2-inch iPad at Best Buy – $250

Buy 10.2-inch iPad at Amazon – $250

Google Nest WiFi

Google Nest WiFi and access point.

Daniel Cooper

Now’s a good time to grab a new WiFi router from Google. Memorial Day sales brought down the price of the Nest WiFi mesh router to $150 for one and $240 for a 2-pack that includes one router and one access point. The former is the best price we’ve seen on one, and the latter, while not the lowest price ever, is much better than the normal price of $300. We gave Google’s WiFi system a score of 84 for its minimalist design, easy setup and built-in smart speaker.

Buy Nest WiFi at Amazon – $150

Buy Nest WiFi (2-pack) at Amazon – $240

Google Nest Cam

Google Nest Cam Outdoor security camera.

Google

Google’s Nest Cam Outdoor is also on sale — $238 for a 2-pack. That’s just $10 more than its lowest price ever, making it a good deal to snag if you’ve been wanting security cameras for the exterior of your home. The Nest Cam Outdoor records video in 1080p and it has two-way audio as well as an IP66-certified water-resistant design. Nest Cams must be plugged in to work which makes them a bit more cumbersome than Blink XT2 cameras, but otherwise they are solid alternatives.

Buy Nest Cam (2-pack) at Amazon – $238

Google Nest Learning Thermostat

Google Nest Learning Thermostat.

Google

You can still get a Nest Learning Thermostat for $200 at BuyDig — that’s $50 off its normal price. The deal also includes $40-worth of freebies: one Deco wall plate cover for the thermostat as well as two Deco WiFi smart plugs. Just make sure to check that your home’s heating and cooling system will play nicely with the Learning Thermostat before you buy it.

Buy Nest Thermostat at BuyDig – $200

Free Mamba Elite with Razer Huntsman keyboard

Razer Huntsman gaming keyboard.

Razer

Razer’s Mamba Elite gaming mouse is still free when you buy a Huntsman gaming keyboard at Best Buy. The keyboard users Razer’s “opto-mechanical” switches that, even though we find them a tad overhyped, are still solid for PC gamers and typists alike. The Mamba Elite wired mouse normally costs $90 and it has most essential features you’d want in a gaming mouse including a 16K DPI sensor, eight programmable buttons and an ambidextrous design.

Buy Razer Huntsman keyboard at Best Buy – $150

New Memorial Day deals

HP Envy x360

Best Buy has a good sale on a fairly powerful model of the HP Envy x360 laptop that drops the price to $650. It has a 15.6-inch 1080p touchscreen, a 10th-gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage — that’s enough power for most people, and it would even make a solid schoolwork laptop for college students. HP’s Envy line has improved a lot over the past couple of years, borrowing many design elements from the more expensive Spectre family. Not only does this laptop look sleek, but it’s also a convertible and it includes a full-sized number pad.

Buy Envy x360 at Best Buy – $650

Lenovo Yoga C940

You can also grab a Lenovo Yoga C940 laptop for $1,450 at Best Buy this weekend. This particular model is quite powerful: it has a 15.6-inch 1080p touchscreen, 9th-gen Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage plus an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 GPU. Those specs will provide more than enough power for most, plus the necessary chops for some light gaming. We like the Yoga C940 for its attractive metal design, the speaker built into its 360-degree hinge and the included stylus that lives in its chassis.

Buy C940 at Best Buy – $1,450

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s

Newegg has a sale on Lenovo’s ThinkBook 13s that drops the price to $640, which is roughly $150 off of its normal price. This model includes an 8th-gen Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The ThinkBook 13s was signed for business users who value style and slimness as much as they do security. The ThinkBook has an attractive if plain aluminum design, USB-C and USB-A ports and a fingerprint reader built in to its power button.

Buy ThinkBook 13s at Newegg – $640

Razer Nari Ultimate headset

The Overwatch Lucio Edition of Razer’s Nari Ultimate gaming headset is down to its lowest price ever: $150. Normally priced at $230, this is a more colorful version of the standard Nari Ultimate headset that’s generally well-liked in the gaming community for its haptic feedback, comfortable design and retractable mic.

Buy Nari Ultimate at Amazon – $150

Anker Roav Duo dash cam

You can grab Anker’s Roav Duo dash cam for $90 on Amazon right now by clipping the $20 coupon and using the code DUALDC519 at checkout. It’s a handy dash cam that has cameras to record the road ahead of you as well as the interior of your car. You may not be keen to the idea of being filmed while driving, but that footage could protect you if you get into an accident. It has all the basic features you’d want in a dash cam, too, including night vision, emergency recording and a built-in GPS.

Buy Roav Duo at Amazon – $90

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

Petit Depotto, Gnosia and the new, obsolete game

The Vita is far from the oldest platform pushing past its expiration date. Avid communities are devoted to the 38-year-old Commodore 64, 40-year-old Atari machines, almost every Sega console and Nintendo’s 3DS and Game Boys. Console gamers bond deeply with the idiosyncrasies of each device, each with its own specs and technical limitations. 

“You are assured that everybody else who owns one shares the essentially same experience as you, that the machine is gonna perform the same way, that the games are exactly the same, the sounds are the same,” said Jason Scott, a tech historian who works at the Internet Archive. “So there’s a real strong sense of community among people who own a certain platform … even the console makers, I don’t think, 100 percent understand how cohesive that made these communities.”

There’s also nostalgia. “To understand that somebody going through a certain age thinks this console is part of their childhood or part of their life means that the lasting effects of it ends up being as meaningful as having come from a certain town or having gone to a certain school,” Scott continued. 

In 2010, retro gaming company Watermelon released an original 16-bit role-playing game called Pier Solar and the Great Architects for the Sega Genesis (also known as the Mega Drive), which was discontinued in 1999 and is remembered as Sega’s most popular machine

The game began as a project on Eidolon’s Inn, a now-defunct forum for old-school Sega enthusiasts, and was subsequently rereleased on the Dreamcast in 2015, 14 years after Sega’s final console was axed.  

Watermelon went on to make Paprium, another Genesis title designed to be played on the original hardware. Other speciality studios like Big Evil Corporation continue work on retro projects: In 2015 the UK company crowdfunded a new Genesis game, Tanglewood, and it’s currently working on The Alexandra Project. Meanwhile, in 2020, people are still making games for the Dreamcast.

But playing on old platforms means keeping them alive in a neophilic world that fetishizes upgrades. Retro gamers and niche developers maintain the hardware needed to play these games, while professional archivists help DIYers with everything from networking and troubleshooting to digging up technical documentation. 

Based in Oakland, California, Frank Cifaldi is the co-founder of the Video Game History Foundation and has made it his life’s work to preserve video game culture. The foundation’s mission includes documenting how video games are being played and finding alternative ways to preserve them. Companies like Analogue and Sega have followed this trend, fine-tuning emulators and homage hardware to replicate playing on original machines. Of course, for some purists, emulators simply won’t do — only the original console.

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of video game preservation is happening in the fan communities. It’s not happening with organizations like ours,” Cifaldi explained. “They’re the ones who are figuring out replacement parts when things go bad; they’re the ones figuring out how to modify these old systems to put out better video signals so that we can capture them better; they’re the ones who are figuring out how to replace the CD drive in old consoles so we can read games off an SD card instead.”

Screenshot from Nintendo's Sky Skipper

Nintendo

Game companies aren’t often helpful in grassroots restoration projects. But Cifaldi recalled an incident in 2016 when Nintendo — usually known for cease and desists rather than community outreach — allowed access to an incredibly rare artefact.

“[Nintendo of America] still had an intact arcade cabinet … for a game that they tested in the United States — and it failed, so it never went into manufacturing — called Sky Skipper,” he said. “And they actually let someone in the preservation community come and take photographs and scan the artwork and stuff like that from that cabinet.” In 2017, fans managed to rebuild this singular piece of arcade history.

While not all retro gamers focus on the posteric significance of these relics, preservation is a vital part of fan enthusiasm. “I often forget that one form of preservation is preserving interest in something,” Cifaldi mused.

In his experience, this can vary according to different cultural contexts. For instance, much enthusiasm for Japan’s old games and gaming systems has come from outside the country. “In Japan … the copyright laws are much more strict, and also I suspect because of that, there’s what I would call a cultural aversion to sharing a creator’s works without them being 100 percent on board with it,” he said. 

Japan’s NPO Game Preservation Society is one such organization trying to archive and protect the country’s rich cultural legacy in video games. Efforts to document and save rare Japan-only releases will face an even greater challenge, and one day, this might include Gnosia. In the future, perhaps Gnosia’s first port on the Vita will become an object of curiosity for retro hobbyists.