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Google

Why Is Google Opening a New Data Center In a Former Coal-Fired Power Plant? 40 40

HughPickens.com writes: Quentin Hardy reports at the NY Times that Google has announced it is opening its 14th data center inside a former coal-fired power plant in Stevenson, Alabama. While there is considerable irony in taking over a coal-burning plant and promoting alternative power, there are pragmatic reasons Google would want to put a $600 million data center in such a facility. These power facilities are typically large and solid structures with good power lines. The Alabama plant is next to a reservoir on the Tennessee River with access to lots of water, which Google uses for cooling its computers. There are also rail lines into the facility, which makes it likely Google can access buried conduits along the tracks to run fiber-optic cable. In Finland, Google rehabilitated a paper mill, and uses seawater for cooling. Salt water is corrosive for standard metal pipes, of course, so Google created a singular cooling system using plastic pipes.
China

Foxconn CEO Backpedals On Planned Robot Takeover 45 45

itwbennett writes: For years now, Foxconn has been talking up plans to replace pesky humans with robot workers in its factories. Back in February, CEO Terry Gou said he expected the automation to account for 70 percent of his company's assembly line work in three years. But in the company's shareholder meeting Thursday, Gou said he had been misquoted and that "it should be that in five years, the robots will take over 30 percent of the manpower."
Robotics

Making a Birdhouse is Like 'Hello World' for a Versatile Factory Robot (2 Videos) 24 24

Many millions of American students have been called on to construct a wooden birdhouse as part of a middle- or high-school shop class. To make a birdhouse from wood and nails may not requite advanced carpentry, but it does take eye-hand coordination, object recognition, the ability to lift constituent pieces, and to grasp and wield tools -- and each of those can be broken down further into smaller tasks and skills of the kind that we as humans don't generally have to think about. ("Rotate wrist slightly to account for board angle.") For robots, it's another story: like the computers that run them, robots generally only do what they're told. Industrial robots can do some complex tasks, but they're expensive and complex to program.

Benjamin Cohen is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Pennsylvania working under adviser Maxim Likhachev with a real-world, cheap way to make robots to accomplish a multi-step project with minimal human intervention, which he calls "autonomous robotic assembly." Project Birdhouse -- part of his Ph.D. work, along with teammates Mike Phillips and Ellis Ranter -- is Cohen's effort to create a sort of "Hello, World" for robots. With a combination of a research-platform robot base, off-the-shelf parts, like a nail gun (read: "One not built for robot use"), and software to squeeze greater accuracy out of the system as a whole, he and his colleagues have come up with a robot that can grab a selection of parts, align them properly, and assemble them with nails into a functional birdhouse. QR codes let the robot give the robot a sort of recipe to follow, and the system is smart enough to squawk if it doesn't have the right parts to complete the task. (Check out more video with the robot in action, and a great many photos, sketches, and diagrams illustrating the project's evolution.)

NOTE: We split today's video in half, with both halves running right here, today. This way, if you watch the first video and and want to learn more, you can move on to the second one. And the transcript not only covers both videos, but has "bonus" material that isn't in either one.
Power

New Manufacturing Technique Halves Cost of Lithium-Ion Batteries 214 214

An anonymous reader writes: Experts in materials science at MIT have developed a new process for creating lithium-ion batteries that will drop the associated production costs by half. The researchers say fundamental battery construction techniques have been refined over the past two decades, but not re-thought. "The new battery design is a hybrid between flow batteries and conventional solid ones: In this version, while the electrode material does not flow, it is composed of a similar semisolid, colloidal suspension of particles. Chiang and Carter refer to this as a 'semisolid battery.' This approach greatly simplifies manufacturing, and also makes batteries that are flexible and resistant to damage, says Chiang. ... Instead of the standard method of applying liquid coatings to a roll of backing material, and then having to wait for that material to dry before it can move to the next manufacturing step, the new process keeps the electrode material in a liquid state and requires no drying stage at all. Using fewer, thicker electrodes, the system reduces the conventional battery architecture's number of distinct layers, as well as the amount of nonfunctional material in the structure, by 80 percent."
AMD

AMD Radeon R9 Fury X Launched, Independent Benchmarks, HBM Put To the Test 103 103

MojoKid writes: AMD officially launched the Radeon R9 Fury X based on their next generation Fiji GPU and HBM 3D stacked DRAM memory. Fiji is manufactured using TSMC's 28nm process. At its reference clocks of 1050MHz (GPU) and 500MHz (HBM), Fiji and the Radeon R9 Fury X offer peak compute performance of 8.6 TFLOPs, up to 268.8 GT/s of texture fill-rate, 67.2 GP/s of pixel fill-rate, and a whopping 512GB/s of memory bandwidth, thanks to HBM. Its compute performance, memory bandwidth, and textured fill-rate are huge upgrades over the previous generation AMD Hawaii GPU and even outpace NVIDIA's GM200, which powers the GeForce Titan X and 980 Ti. To keep the entire assembly cool, AMD strapped a close-loop liquid cooler onto the Fury X. There's a reason AMD went that route on this card, and it's not because they had to. There will be air-cooled Fury and Fury Nano cards coming in a few weeks that feature fully-functional Fiji GPUs. What the high-powered liquid-cooler on the Fury X does is allow the use of an ultra-quiet fan, with the side benefit of keeping the GPU very cool under both idle and load conditions(around 60C max under load and 30C at idle), which helps reduce overall power consumption by limiting leakage current. The AMD Radeon R9 Fury X performed very well in the benchmarks, and remained competitive with a similarly priced, reference NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti, but it wasn't a clear win. Generally speaking, the Fury X was the faster of the two cards at 2560x1440. With the resolution cranked up to 3840x2160, however, the Fury X and 980 Ti trade victories.
Power

The Presidential Candidate With a Plan To Run the US On 100% Clean Energy 308 308

merbs writes: Thus far, no other candidate has said they're going to make climate change their top priority. Martin O'Malley has not only done that, but he has outlined a plan that would enact emissions reductions in line with what scientists say is necessary to slow global climate change—worldwide emissions reductions of 40-70 percent by 2050. He's the only candidate to do that, too. His plan would phase out fossil-fueled power plants altogether, by midcentury.
Encryption

Ask Slashdot: Keeping Cloud Data Encrypted Without Cross-Platform Pain? 107 107

bromoseltzer writes: I use cloud storage to hold many gigs of personal files that I'd just as soon were not targets for casual data mining. (Google: I'm thinking of you.) I want to access them from Linux, Windows, and Android devices. I have been using encfs, which does the job for Linux fairly well (despite some well-known issues), but Windows and Android don't seem to have working clients. I really want to map a file system of encrypted files and encrypted names to a local unencrypted filesystem — the way encfs works. What solutions do Slashdot readers recommend? Ideal would be a competitive cloud storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive that provides trustworthy encryption with suitable clients. Is there anything like that?
Data Storage

When Will Your Hard Drive Fail? 297 297

jfruh writes: Tech writer Andy Patrizio suffered his most catastrophic hard drive failure in 25 years of computing recently, which prompted him to delve into the questions of which hard drives fail and when. One intriguing theory behind some failure rates involve a crisis in the industry that arose from the massive 2011 floods in Thailand, home to the global hard drive industry.
Hardware

New Freescale I.MX7 Processor Line Takes Aim At IoT 34 34

DeviceGuru writes: Freescale has unveiled a new i.MX7 embedded processor family. The family launches with two parts having one or two Cortex-A7 cores, along with Cortex-M4 microcontroller cores, and boasts much lower power consumption than the company's popular i.MX6 embedded processors, making it ideal for power constrained Internet of Things applications. The i.MX7 is Freescale's second i.MX family to use Coretex-A7 cores, and its first to move backward in performance, although significantly upward in power efficiency — a testament to how IoT is impacting the semiconductor business. Like the recently introduced i.MX6 UltraLite, the initial i.MX7 parts are limited to 2D image processing in hardware. An ARMv8 Cortex-A53 based i.MX8 line is also under development, and is expected to be announced next year with 2016 or 2017 availability.
Sony

Sony Releasing New 1TB PlayStation 4 In July 98 98

Mark Wilson writes: Known as the 1TB PS4 Ultimate Player Edition (or PlayStation 4 Ultimate Player 1TB Edition depending on who you're talking to), Sony is launching a new PlayStation 4 next month. With the ever-growing market for downloadable content, it's difficult to have too much disk space. Recognizing this, Sony is doubling the size of the largest capacity PS4. The 1TB console will launch next month in the US, Asia and Europe, and the announcement comes just weeks after Microsoft announced a 1TB version of its Xbox One. Gamers in Japan will be able to get their hands on the console by the end of June, but the rest of the world will have to wait until July 15. There's no word on pricing, but Sony has detailed a few other changes that have been made to this version of the console.
Programming

Ask Slashdot: Best Setups For Navigating a Programming-Focused MOOC? 39 39

theodp writes: As one works his or her way through EdX's free The Analytics Edge, one finds oneself going back-and-forth between videos and R to complete the programming exercises associated with the lectures. While this can certainly be done on a cheap-o 13" laptop with a 6mbps connection by jumping around from the web-based videos to the client-based programming environment and to the web for help (god bless Stack Overflow), have you found (or do you dream of) a better setup for the MOOC programming courses offered by the likes of EdX, Udacity, and Coursera? Are you using multiple screens, split screens, touch screens, laptops/desktops/tablets, speakers, headphones, higher-speed connections? Anything else? Do you rely solely on the class materials and web-based resources, or do you purchase complementary books? Any thoughts on how to make the experience work best for those learning at home, in a classroom setting, on the road for business/travel, or during lengthy train commutes? Do you playback videos at faster speeds (e.g., 1.5x)? Any other tips?
Data Storage

1 In 3 Data Center Servers Is a Zombie 107 107

dcblogs writes with these snippets from a ComputerWorld story about a study that says nearly a third of all data-center servers are are comatose ("using energy but delivering no useful information"). What's remarkable is this percentage hasn't changed since 2008, when a separate study showed the same thing. ... A server is considered comatose if it hasn't done anything for at least six months. The high number of such servers "is a massive indictment of how data centers are managed and operated," said Jonathan Koomey, a research fellow at Stanford University, who has done data center energy research for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "It's not a technical issue as much as a management issue."
Robotics

Robot Swarm Behavior Suggests Forgetting May Be Important To Cultural Evolution 37 37

Hallie Siegel writes: Can we learn about human cultural evolution by studying how group behaviour in robots evolves? Researchers in the Artificial Culture Project are trying to do just that. Prof. Alan Winfield from the Bristol Robotics Lab discusses his latest research on modelling the process by which cultural memes develop in robots when they pass learned behaviours to other robots in their group. Some interesting findings suggest imitation noise (ie. when the behaviour isn't learned perfectly) and forgetfulness (i.e. when the robot has only limited memory of the behaviours it is trying to imitate) lead to stronger cultural memes in the robot behaviour.
Graphics

AMD Reveals Radeon R9 Fury X Specs and Preliminary Benchmark Performance Results 87 87

MojoKid writes: AMD announced new Radeon R9 and R7 300 series of graphics cards earlier this week, and while they are interesting, they're not nearly as impressive as AMD's upcoming flagship of AMD GPU, code named Fiji. Fiji will find its way into three products this summer: the Radeon R9 Nano, Radeon R9 Fury, and the range-topping (and water-cooled) Radeon R9 Fury X. Other upcoming variants like, AMD's dual-Fiji board, were teased at E3 but are still under wraps. However, while full reviews are still under embargo, the official specification of the Radeon R9 Fury X have been revealed, along with an array of benchmark scores comparing the GPU to NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 980 Ti. Should the numbers AMD has released jibe with independent testing, the Radeon R9 Fury X looks strong and possibly faster than Nvidia's GeForce GTX 980 Ti.
Robotics

The Death of Aibo, the Birth of Softbank's Child-Robot 152 152

New submitter pubwvj writes: Sony is killing off their robot Aibo, stranding the 150,000 or so owners with no support, repairs or parts other than cannibalism. Now we have another Japanese company, SoftBank, releasing a robotic 'child.' Eventually, they too will discontinue the production of parts and support, beginning the process of killing off all those 'children' that are spawned. As robotics become (far) more advanced at what point will it be murder for a company to discontinue a product line?
Censorship

IMAX Tries To Censor Ars Technica Over SteamVR Comparison 190 190

Cutting_Crew writes: An article published last week at Ars Technica looked at the SteamVR virtual reality headset created by Valve. Contained in the article is a quote from game designer Alex Schwartz, who said in reference to the device, "The jump between a regular game and playing a room scale VR experience is X times 100. It’s like saying, 'I have an IMAX theater in my house.' It’s so much better that we can get away with a cumbersome setup." Now, for that single quoted reference, IMAX has sent a trademark complaint to Ars and demanded that they take the story down. "The company said our story required a retraction because it included a brief reference to IMAX—included without IMAX's permission. 'Any unauthorized use of our trademark is expressly forbidden.'"

If you look at the letter from IMAX (PDF), you'll see they think the reference to IMAX is "misleading to readers." They further request that "all future articles regarding this "room-scale" virtual reality system make no reference to our registered trademark." Apparently, IMAX has never heard of the Streisand Effect.
Update: 06/19 19:26 GMT by S : IMAX has apologized.
Cellphones

Planned Sequel To Fairphone Promises an Ethical, Repairable Phone 83 83

New submitter sackvillian writes: An article in Wired reports on the ongoing development of the Fairphone 2, planned for European release in September. The phone is the follow-up to the Indiegogo-funded original that inevitably had room for improvement. The manufacturers promise a modular phone with an emphasis on repairability and expandability, with otherwise respectable specs (Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, 2GB RAM, Dual SIM, 8MP camera). It runs on a customized Android 5.1. So, the inevitable question arises — would you be willing to sacrifice some performance (and pay a significant premium) for a phone that's repairable, moddable, and ethical?
Classic Games (Games)

The Rebirth of Arcade Racers -- On Kickstarter 79 79

An anonymous reader writes: While big budget racers like The Crew and Forza chase realism, in recent years we've also seen a return to the racers of old with checkpoints, a ticking countdown, little in the way of AI and banging chiptune soundtracks. As a new article points out though, they're not in the arcades any more though — they're on Kickstarter. The author tracks down the creators of three indie games that look to Daytona rather than Gran Turismo for inspiration, and find out why we're seeing a resurgence in power sliding.
Businesses

More Warehouse Robots Coming To Market As Softbank Invests $20M In Fetch 38 38

Hallie Siegel writes: Japanese Softbank just injected $20M in funding to Fetch Robotics, a Silicon Valley company that is developing robotic solutions for warehouse and logistics. This is one of the first warehouse systems that is coming to market since Kiva. Softbank is also invested in Aldebaran Robotics, producing the Pepper robot — a social humanoid robot that is scheduled to make its debut in Nestle stores later this year as a sales and marketing assistant.
Graphics

AMD Announces Fiji-based Radeon R9 Fury X, 'Project Quantum', Radeon 300 Series 76 76

MojoKid writes: Today AMD announced new graphics solutions ranging from the bottom to the top ($99 on up to $649). First up is the new range of R7 300 Series cards that is aimed squarely at gamers AMD says are typically running at 1080p. For gamers that want a little bit more power, there's the new R9 300 Series (think of them as R9 280s with higher clocks and 8GB of memory). Finally, AMD unveiled its Fiji graphics cards that feature onboard High Bandwidth Memory (HBM), offering 3x the performance-per-watt of GDDR5. Fiji has 1.5x the performance-per-watt of the R9 290X, and was built with a focus on 4K gaming. The chip itself features 4096 stream processors and is comprised of 8.9 billion transistors. It has a graphics core clock of 1050MHz and is rated at 8.6 TFLOPs. AMD says there will also be plenty of overhead for overclocking. Finally, AMD also took the opportunity to showcase its "Project Quantum," which is a small form-factor PC that manages to cram two Fiji GPUs inside. The processor, GPUs, and all other hardware are incorporated into the bottom of the chassis, while the cooling solution is built into the top of the case.