Relaxing behind the wheel of Mercedes’ level 3 autonomous Drive Pilot

The dream of autonomous driving everywhere is still a long way away. But soon Mercedes will launch Drive Pilot, its level 3 autonomous driving system in Germany on the S-Class and EQS. We had a chance to try the system out at the automaker’s test track and, while it did what it was supposed to do, we found it hard to turn off our driving brain while behind the wheel.

The system works on highways in traffic at speeds up to 60 kph (37 mph). Essentially it’s for daily commuting. But during that time the driver can stop paying attention and the Mercedes is responsible for everything that happens. That’s not to say you can nap, the vehicle still tracks the driver with an in-car monitor and it requires the driver to take over when it’s about to go faster than 37 mph, an emergency vehicle shows up, it rains or other situations that the vehicle is not built to handle. But you can play Tetris and text people. So that’s fun. Watch our video for the full story.

Mercedes EQS first drive: S-Class luxury in an EV

Mercedes has a lot to prove with its first proper EV coming to the United States. The EQS will land in dealers this fall at a yet-to-be-announced price point and, when it does, it’ll take on offerings from Tesla and Porsche. How will it fare against these EVs? We had a chance to drive the 2021 EQS for two days and figure out how it stacks up not just against competitors but up against the S-Class itself.

On our drive we got time behind the 450+ with rear-wheel drive, the 580 4Matic with all-wheel drive, and the Edition One version with its two-tone paint and 580 4Matic powerplant. All vehicles have a 107.8 kWh capacity battery pack and on the WLTP range test, the vehicle is rated at 485 miles. Of course, the more stringent EPA testing needs to be done and that number should fall. For now, we have a drive and impressions while we wait for range estimates and pricing. Watch our first drive video above for the full story.

NASA clears Boeing Starliner for July 30th test flight to ISS

More than 18 months after its failed first attempt to make it to the International Space Station, Boeing’s Starliner is ready for a second shot. Following a flight readiness review, NASA is moving forward with the craft’s upcoming July 30th uncrewed orbital flight test. Unless there’s an unforeseen delay, the capsule will launch from the Space Force’s Cape Canaveral Station mounted on an Atlas V rocket at 2:53PM ET. Should NASA postpone the flight, it will again attempt to carry out the test on August 3rd at the earliest.

The purpose of the flight is for NASA to conduct an end-to-end test of Starliner’s capabilities. It wants to know if the capsule can handle every aspect of a trip to the ISS, including launch, docking as well as atmospheric re-entry. “[Orbital Flight Test-2] will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing’s crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station,” the agency said.

If the flight is a success, NASA will move forward with a crewed test of the Starliner. Steve Stich, commercial crew program manager at NASA, said that could happen “as soon as later this year.” Both Boeing and NASA have a lot invested in the viability of Starliner. For the aerospace company, its decision not to conduct an end-to-end test of the craft before its failed 2019 flight left the agency “surprised,” leading to questions about the project. Meanwhile, NASA is keen to have two capsules that can ferry its astronauts to the ISS. Right now, it’s limited to just SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. “It’s very important for the commercial crew program to have two space transportation systems,” Stich told reporters.

‘Star Trek: Prodigy’ trailer is a treat for ‘Voyager’ fans

CBS has shared the first trailer for Prodigy, its first-ever fully computer-animated Star Trek series. The clip introduces us to the show’s cast of disparate characters. They’re stuck on what looks like a mining colony and trying to find a way to escape. As it just so happens, they discover a grounded Starfleet vessel known as the USS Protostar, and it’s their ticket to adventure.  

Before the trailer ends, a familiar voice declares, “We’ve only just begun.” Star Trek: Prodigy will see Kate Mulgrew reprise the role of Captain Kathryn Janeway, albeit in holographic form. If you live outside of the US, you can see the clip on the official Star Trek Twitter account. We’ll note here CBS Viacom also shared a trailer for the second season of Lower Decks. Star Trek: Prodigy will debut this fall on Paramount+, before it eventually airs on Nickelodeon.

Activision Blizzard execs respond to harassment and discrimination lawsuit

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard this week over alleged sexual harassment and discrimination against women. In a memo to staff obtained by Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier, Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack wrote that "the allegations and the hurt of current and former employees are extremely troubling."

Brack wrote that everyone should feel safe at Blizzard and that "it is completely unacceptable for anyone in the company to face discrimination or harassment." He noted it requires courage for people to come forward with their stories, and that all claims brought to the company are taken seriously and investigated.

"People with different backgrounds, views, and experiences are essential for Blizzard, our teams, and our player community," Brack wrote. "I disdain 'bro culture,' and have spent my career fighting against it."

In the suit, the DFEH made a string of accusations against former World of Warcraft senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi. The agency alleged that Afrasiabi was "permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions" and suggested that the activity was an open secret.

Brack is said to be among those who were aware of Afrasiabi's purported actions. The DFEH claimed Brack "allegedly had multiple conversations with Afrasiabi about his drinking and that he had been 'too friendly' towards female employees at company events but gave Afrasiabi a slap on the wrist (i.e. verbal counseling) in response to those incidents." After those supposed talks, Afrasiabi "continued to make unwanted advances towards female employees," including groping one of them, according to the suit.

The DFEH claimed a Blizzard employee informed Brack in early 2019 that people were leaving the company because of sexual harassment and sexism. The employee allegedly said that women on the team were "subjected to disparaging comments," that "the environment was akin to working in a frat house" and that women who weren't "huge gamers" or "into the party scene" were "excluded and treated as outsiders."

Activision Blizzard has denied the allegations. It claimed the suit "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." The company also accused the DFEH, which investigated Activision Blizzard for two years, of "disgraceful and unprofessional" conduct and claimed the agency didn't engage in a “good faith effort” to resolve complaints before resorting to legal action.

"A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago," Fran Townsend, executive vice president for corporate affairs at the publisher, wrote in a memo to employees. Some Blizzard employees are "fuming" over the note, according to Schreier.

Townsend, a former Homeland Security advisor to President George W. Bush who joined Activision Blizzard this year, said "the Activision companies of today, the Activision companies that I know, are great companies with good values." Townsend also claimed Activision Blizzard "takes a hardline approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments and sexual harassment issues" and that the company has "put tremendous effort into creating fair compensation policies that reflect our commitment to equal opportunity."

Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony included a light display with 1,800 drones

There may not have been any fans in the Olympic Stadium, but Japan still found a way to put on a show for the opening of the 2020 Summer Games. The host country charmed early with the parade of nations, which featured an orchestrated video game soundtrack, and then showed off the type of creativity it's known for with a performance involving the Olympic pictograms. But Tokyo saved the biggest spectacle for last.

Toward the end of the ceremony, a fleet of 1,824 drones took to the skies above the Olympic Stadium. Initially arrayed in the symbol of the 2020 Games, they then took on the shape of the Earth before a rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," which was reworked by Hans Zimmer for the Olympics, played across the stadium.

We've seen displays like this before. At Super Bowl LI in 2017, a pre-taped segment featuring 300 Intel drones forming the US flag punctuated Lady Gaga's halftime performance. Technically, the drone show that occurred above Tokyo isn't the biggest ever. As of earlier this year, that distinction belongs to a 3,281-display Hyundai-owned car brand Genesis put on in Shanghai, China. But even with fewer drones involved, the Tokyo drone show was still impressive. 

If you missed the opening ceremony, you can watch it again at 7:30PM ET on NBC.

Microsoft offers discounts on hundreds of Xbox and PC games

Xbox's Ultimate Game Sale has returned. Microsoft is offering deals on hundreds of Xbox and PC games and accessories over the next two weeks. Among the console titles you can save on are FIFA 21 Ultimate Edition and NBA 2K21 (75 percent off at $25 and $15, respectively), Battlefield 1 Revolution ($8, down 80 percent) and Forza Horizon 4 Ultimate Edition ($45, 55 percent off).

MLB The Show 21's standard Xbox One edition and Series X/S bundle have both been discounted by 35 percent to $39 and $55.24 respectively. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is half off at $30, as is Assassin's Creed Valhalla. Other Xbox game deals include Mass Effect Legendary Edition (25 percent off, $45), Far Cry 5 (down 85 percent to $9), The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Game of the Year Edition (discounted from $50 to $10) and Watch Dogs: Legion ($20, usually $60).

There are discounts on dozens of PC games as well. Gears 5, for instance, is down from $40 to $16. You can also save on Yakuza: Like a Dragon ($36, 40 percent off), Control (half off at $15) and Halo: The Master Chief Collection (down from $40 to $20).

There are many more deals to check out on the Ultimate Game Sale pages for Xbox and PC. The sale runs until August 5th. Still, before you snap up any of the games on offer, it's worth checking whether you already have access to them through Xbox Game Pass or EA Play. There are details about that on each game's product page.

You'll also be able to save on PCs and accessories as part of the sale. Microsoft has cut the prices of several gaming PCs and laptops by up to $500. You can save up to $300 on the Razer Blade 15, which starts at a sale price of $2,700. There are solid deals on VR headsets too, including the HTC Vive Cosmos and Vive Cosmos Elite, which have been discounted by $250 to $449 and $649 respectively.

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

Erica Synths Matrix Mixer lets you patch your modular like an Etch A Sketch

Erica Synths' SYNTRX is an undeniably interesting instrument. But one of the most unique things about it is definitely the patching matrix. It's a digital reimagining of the pin-based patching system found on classic the classic EMS Synthi. People were apparently so enamored with the matrix that the company is now offering it as a standalone product called the Matrix Mixer.

As you'd expect the Matrix Mixer is, a mixer. It has 16 3.5mm ins and 16 3.5mm outs along the X and Y axes which you can use to combine either audio or control voltage signals. The actual interface for combining them is the same as the SYNTRX: a 16x16 grid of LEDs that you navigate using a pair of knobs just like you were drawing on an Etch A Sketch. Pressing down on the encoders enables a connection, and then you can cycle through different levels of attenuation, from 100-, to 70- and then 30-percent.

This makes it quick and easy to connect a bunch of different modules and synths without a rats nest of cables. You can even connect multiple sources or destination to the same patch point without special stacking cables.

Before this desktop version of the Matrix Mixer, and even before the SYNTRX, Erica Synths made a Eurorack Module called the Matrix Mixer. The core idea was the same, but it had less inputs and outputs, relied on a tiny touchscreen for controls and was limited to Eurorack connections. This new version easily integrates other sources like a guitar or synthesizer using the 1/4-inch in and outs on the back. You can even patch a Buchla Music Easel in using special adapter cards.

The Matrix Mixer can even store presets, allowing you to quickly recall particular patches, though you will have to manually set all the parameters on your modules. 

Erica Synths has brought one of the best features of the SYNTRX to a wider audience and expanded it flexibility. But, it doesn't come cheap. It's currently available for preorder for €490 or $599 and is expected to star shipping on July 26.

Facebook’s cloud gaming service hits iOS devices as a web app

Facebook has become the latest company to offer a cloud gaming service on iOS, only once again you won't access it through the App Store. Starting today, you can visit the Facebook Gaming website to add a Progressive Web App (PWA) that acts as a shortcut to the service on your iPhone or iPad. To do so, visit the platform's website and tap the "Add to Home Screen" option from the Safari share sheet.

It's not an elegant solution, but it's the same one employed by Amazon and Microsoft. When Apple tweaked its guidelines last September to allow for cloud gaming clients on iOS, it said games offered in a streaming service had to be individually downloaded from the App Store. That's a requirement both Microsoft and Facebook said was not congruent with how every other platform treats cloud gaming services.

"We've come to the same conclusion as others: web apps are the only option for streaming cloud games on iOS at the moment," Vivek Sharma, Facebook's vice-president of gaming, told The Verge of today's launch. "As many have pointed out, Apple's policy to 'allow' cloud games on the App Store doesn't allow for much at all. Apple's requirement for each cloud game to have its own page, go through review and appear in search listings defeats the purpose of cloud gaming."

The process of adding the web app is complicated enough that Facebook includes a short how-to when you first visit its Gaming website on Safari. You also have to know to navigate to the company's website in the first place. The reason for that is the App Store guidelines prohibit developers from using their applications to direct individuals to websites that feature alternative payment systems to those offered by Apple, and you pay for the in-game purchases offered in Facebook Gaming titles through Facebook's Pay platform.

Eargo’s in-app test transforms its next-gen hearing aids

Eargo recently announced its latest smart hearing aid — the Eargo 5. We don’t do a lot of hearing aid news here at Engadget, but the California-based company makes some of the most "gadgety" we’ve tried and the latest model certainly appears to continue that trend.

Like the Neo HiFi and the Neo before it, the Eargo 5 is a tiny, "invisible" (completely in the canal, or CIC) hearing aid that comes with a charging case. With older Eargos, that case doubled as a way to connect the “buds” to your phone. Unfortunately, that meant the buds had to be in it while they were updated. What’s new this time around is that you can perform profile changes and more while actually wearing the hearing aids. What's more, there are key new features that change how the hearing aids sound. It’s an exciting update for fans of the brand as it adds to Eargo’s already slick user experience, something sorely lacking in many of the mainstream brands you find at your local audiologists.

The most interesting new feature is “Sound Match." Hearing aids have long had different profiles, and will usually be tuned for your own needs by an audiologist, but Eargo’s direct-to-consumer (and the need for the buds to be in the case) approach has made this much-needed personalization difficult. Until now?

Sound Match is effectively a hearing test built-in to the Eargo app. Once you pair the case (via Bluetooth) you can remove the Eargo 5s and the app will walk you through the test. If you’ve ever completed a hearing test, you’ll be familiar with this one. The app plays a series of sounds and you tell it if you can hear it or not; at the end, you’ll be presented with the results for each ear.

Eargo 5.
James Trew / Engadget

As simple as this is, my initial experiences with it weren’t entirely smooth. Not least because it took a few tries (and some back and forth with Eargo) to even get the case to pair with the app. After trying several restarts and installations, I was able to get connected and access the test — most likely due to me having early hardware.

From then on the test was mostly straightforward, until I spotted there was a “replay” button. I noticed that sometimes when I didn’t initially hear a sound, I definitely heard it after tapping replay. As in, it was audible enough that I wouldn’t have missed it the first time around. This meant I had to re-do the test to make sure I hadn’t incorrectly tapped “No” when really the sound just didn’t play at all.

Minor hiccups aside, once I was confident I had completed the test properly, I could further customize the experience by changing what profiles are available on the device. There are six situational ones (restaurant/meeting etc) and four presets. You can store a total of four on the hearing aids themselves.

Previous Eargo models would simply tell you the number of the audio profile that is active as you switch through the four on offer (via a double-tap on your tragus). With the Eargo 5 it now tells you the name of that profile if you chose one of the "situational" ones to eliminate any guesswork. You can also further tweak these profiles in the app, or simply change the volume and noise reduction (there’s now noise reduction here too I should mention) without having to permanently change the profile. This includes adjusting the volume and the treble/bass.

Eargo 5 smart hearing aid.
James Trew / Engadget

Although you can now adjust the sound and profiles while actually wearing the Eargo (before, you had to take them out and plop them in the case, which is less than ideal), there’s no capability for music/audio streaming from your phone. Eargo uses ultrasonic commands to communicate between the case and the hearing aids. That’s a neat way to enable small updates, but not enough for anything more heavyweight. Remember, size is key here, and streaming on devices this small, that go fully in your ear, isn’t a simple thing to do.

This new customization functionality really does improve the Eargo experience. I have tried several different devices and the ones that best serve my hearing loss are, predictably, the ones that have been tuned by an audiologist. This meant that, while older Eargos were some of the most appealing in terms of user experience and fit, they weren’t quite suitable for my personal situation and only provided users with limited tools to adjust the sound to their needs.

With the Eargo 5, I find them much more assistive in my hearing, particularly on the side I have problems with. In fact, I personally prefer just wearing only one, as my hearing loss is unilateral and having a boost on the "good" side can feel a bit much. I also find wearing both a bit less comfortable. There’s no logical reason why wearing one for extended periods should be fine, but two isn’t, but I think the combination of too much "extra" hearing (on my good side) and the physical feeling of something in both ears is just a lot of sensory stimulation, for me at least. Obviously, if you have a bilateral hearing deficiency you’ll want all the assistance you can get.

If you own a pair of older Eargos and were wondering if the hearing test feature might come to your model via an update, sadly it's not possible. There's specific hardware here to enable the ultrasonic commands, that isn't present in previous models.

Eargo 5 smart hearing aid.
James Trew / Engadget

Beyond Sound Match, Eargo claims the sound has been redesigned from the ground up for “optimal audio and speech performance.” The company doesn’t elaborate further but, with the new customization feature, it’s fair to say this is a very different experience than previous models already so any other improvements are hard to pick out, but good to know they are there.

Beyond the core updates, there are some welcome usability tweaks, too. The charging case now has lights around where the hearing aids should be placed to help you correctly seat them at night. Those lights also provide feedback by changing color when there’s a software update or the aids aren’t charging properly. You’ll also no longer need to make sure the contacts on the buds meet the ones in the case. A new magnetic inductive charging system means they will click themselves into the right position automatically.

While Eargo's app remains a slick experience, there are a few small opportunities to improve it further. The volume control is nice and simple, and you can choose to boost either side individually, or both as a pair. What’s lacking is visual feedback or even a tone in your ear, to let you know when you’ve reached the top or bottom of the range. There’s also no indication of whether any changes you make to a profile are permanently saved or an obvious way to reset them to default, but these are minor UI issues.

Battery life is claimed to be around 16 hours per charge. Add to that the battery in the case and this means you won’t need to plug them in for a couple of days, which is handy for weekends away where you don’t want to have to worry about finding an outlet. Should you need to, though, the charger is USB-C, so likely something you already have for your phone or laptop (a cable is, of course, included).

All in all, it's a substantial update for a direct-to-consumer product. Eargo has been getting a lot of things right in terms of making its products user-friendly and appealing to a mass audience. This matters when it's estimated that over 40 million Americans could benefit from an assistive hearing device. What was lacking, until now that is, was a way to tune them to your specific needs. Which in the world of hearing loss, can be the difference between understanding the television a bit better and being able to pick out quieter sounds in a noisy environment. The latter is something that makes daily life feel a lot more natural and makes social situations much more comfortable, so it's something really valuable to have on a device this small.

Remember, though, hearing aids are not a cheap product category. A good pair will often run you a couple of thousand dollars, more if you want something bespoke. The Eargo 5, then, at $2,950 might seem steep compared to a pair of wireless headphones but is relatively affordable among its hearing aid peers. If you’re already an Eargo user looking to upgrade, there’s a “repeat customer discount” that can shave off $500 from the MSRP.