Robotics

Robots Step Into the Backbreaking Agricultural Work That Immigrants Won't Do 124

Posted by samzenpus
from the they-took-our-jobs dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Ilan Brat reports at the WSJ that technological advances are making it possible for robots to handle the backbreaking job of gently plucking ripe strawberries from below deep-green leaves, just as the shrinking supply of available fruit pickers has made the technology more financially attractive. "It's no longer a problem of how much does a strawberry harvester cost," says Juan Bravo, inventor of Agrobot, the picking machine. "Now it's about how much does it cost to leave a field unpicked, and that's a lot more expensive." The Agrobot costs about $100,000 and Bravo has a second, larger prototype in development. Other devices similarly are starting to assume delicate tasks in different parts of the fresh-produce industry, from planting vegetable seedlings to harvesting lettuce to transplanting roses. While farmers of corn and other commodity crops replaced most of their workers decades ago with giant combines, growers of produce and plants have largely stuck with human pickers—partly to avoid maladroit machines marring the blemish-free appearance of items that consumers see on store shelves. With workers in short supply, "the only way to get more out of the sunshine we have is to elevate the technology," says Soren Bjorn.

American farmers have in recent years resorted to bringing hundreds of thousands of workers in from Mexico on costly, temporary visas for such work. But the decades-old system needs to be replaced because "we don't have the unlimited labor supply we once did," says Rick Antle. "Americans themselves don't seem willing to take the harder farming jobs," says Charles Trauger, who has a farm in Nebraska. "Nobody's taking them. People want to live in the city instead of the farm. Hispanics who usually do that work are going to higher paying jobs in packing plants and other industrial areas." The labor shortage spurred Tanimura & Antle Fresh Foods, one of the country's largest vegetable farmers, to buy a Spanish startup called Plant Tape, whose system transplants vegetable seedlings from greenhouse to field using strips of biodegradable material fed through a tractor-pulled planting device. "This is the least desirable job in the entire company," says Becky Drumright. With machines, "there are no complaints whatsoever. The robots don't have workers' compensation, they don't take breaks."
Input Devices

Linux 4.1 Bringing Many Changes, But No KDBUS 138

Posted by samzenpus
from the latest-and-greatest dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The first release candidate of Linux 4.1 is now available. Linus noted, "The merge window is pretty normal in terms of what got merged too. Just eyeballing the size, it looks like this is going to fit right in — while 4.0 was a bit smaller than usual, 4.1 seems to be smack dab in the middle of the normal range for the last couple of years." There are numerous new features in Linux 4.1, like Xbox One controller force feedback support, better Wacom tablet support, Intel Atom SoC performance improvements, Radeon DisplayPort MST support, EXT4 file-system encryption, ChromeOS Lightbar support, and ACPI for 64-bit ARM, among other additions. However, KDBUS wasn't accepted for Linux 4.1.
Printer

The World of 3D Portraiture 47

Posted by samzenpus
from the it-looks-just-like-me dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with this BBC story about the niche market of 3D printed "selfie" models. By now we're familiar with tales of 3D-printed marvels, from guns to duck prosthetics. But when I traveled to a physics conference in March, I wasn't expecting to end up with a full colour printout of myself. However, at a small stall that popped up on Industry Day at the American Physical Society's March meeting — that is precisely the service that was being offered. I stepped on to a little rotating platform, tried to stand still for a few awkward minutes while a camera scanned me up and down, and then filled out a form. A few weeks later, a box has arrived in the post. Somewhere inside it, my two-inch twin is waiting for me to overcome my trepidation and show him the light of day. But I'm in no hurry; it all seems a bit... odd. The box sits on my desk for several days. Even though getting 'printed' puts me in the illustrious company of Barack Obama and Richard III, I'm unsure about my decision. What, I wonder, does someone do with a small selfie in statue form? Where does this business find its customers?
Robotics

Tiny Robots Climb Walls Carrying More Than 100 Times Their Weight 17

Posted by samzenpus
from the carrying-a-heavy-load dept.
schwit1 writes: Mighty things come in small packages. The little robots in this video can haul things that weigh over 100 times more than themselves. The super-strong bots — built by mechanical engineers at Stanford — will be presented next month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle, Washington. The secret is in the adhesives on the robots' feet. Their design is inspired by geckos, which have climbing skills that are legendary in the animal kingdom. The adhesives are covered in minute rubber spikes that grip firmly onto the wall as the robot climbs. When pressure is applied, the spikes bend, increasing their surface area and thus their stickiness. When the robot picks its foot back up, the spikes straighten out again and detach easily.
Displays

Oculus Rift: 2015 Launch Unlikely, But Not Impossible 72

Posted by Soulskill
from the is-the-future-here-yet dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Earlier this week during Facebook's 2015 Q1 earnings call, the company seemed to suggest that a 2015 Oculus Rift release date was unlikely. At least, that's what a report about the call from Gamasutra indicated, saying, "It doesn't sound like Oculus will ship the consumer version of its Oculus Rift VR headset this year, or at least not in very large quantities." However, an equity analyst has chimed in to say that the language used during the call shouldn't be interpreted colloquially, concluding that "...there is no information here that rules out Oculus shipping in 2015."
Power

Tesla To Announce Battery-Based Energy Storage For Homes 278

Posted by timothy
from the but-in-the-meantime-here's-this-preemptive-announcement dept.
Okian Warrior writes: Billionaire Elon Musk will announce next week that Tesla will begin offering battery-based energy storage for residential and commercial customers. The batteries power up overnight when energy companies typically charge less for electricity, then are used during the day to power a home. In a pilot project, Tesla has already begun offering home batteries to SolarCity (SCTY) customers, a solar power company for which Musk serves as chairman. Currently 330 U.S. households are running on Tesla's batteries in California. The batteries start at about $13,000, though California's Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PCG) offers customers a 50% rebate. The batteries are three-feet high by 2.5-feet wide, and need to be installed at least a foot and a half off the ground. They can be controlled with a Web app and a smartphone app.
DRM

Microsoft, Chip Makers Working On Hardware DRM For Windows 10 PCs 292

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-what-users-wanted dept.
writertype writes: Last month, Microsoft began talking about PlayReady 3.0, which adds hardware DRM to secure 4K movies. Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and Qualcomm are all building it in, according to Microsoft. "Older generations of PCs used software-based DRM technology. The new hardware-based technology will know who you are, what rights your PC has, and won’t ever allow your PC to unlock the content so it can be ripped. ... Unfortunately, it looks like the advent of PlayReady 3.0 could leave older PCs in the lurch. Previous PlayReady technology secured content up to 1080p resolution using software DRM—and that could be the maximum resolution for older PCs without PlayReady 3.0." Years back, a number of people got upset when Hollywood talked about locking down "our content." It looks like we may be facing it again for 4K video.
Graphics

NVIDIA Quadro M6000 12GB Maxwell Workstation Graphics Tested Showing Solid Gains 66

Posted by samzenpus
from the check-it-out dept.
MojoKid writes: NVIDIA's Maxwell GPU architecture has has been well-received in the gaming world, thanks to cards like the GeForce GTX Titan X and the GeForce GTX 980. NVIDIA recently took time to bring that same Maxwell goodness over the workstation market as well and the result is the new Quadro M6000, NVIDIA's new highest-end workstation platform. Like the Titan X, the M6000 is based on the full-fat version of the Maxwell GPU, the G200. Also, like the GeForce GTX Titan X, the Quadro M6000 has 12GB of GDDR5, 3072 GPU cores, 192 texture units (TMUs), and 96 render outputs (ROPs). NVIDIA has said that the M6000 will beat out their previous gen Quadro K6000 in a significant way in pro workstation applications as well as GPGPU or rendering and encoding applications that can be GPU-accelerated. One thing that's changed with the launch of the M6000 is that AMD no longer trades shots with NVIDIA for the top pro graphics performance spot. Last time around, there were some benchmarks that still favored team red. Now, the NVIDIA Quadro M6000 puts up pretty much a clean sweep.
Businesses

We'll Be the Last PC Company Standing, Acer CEO Says 416

Posted by timothy
from the fate-is-fickle dept.
Velcroman1 writes: At a sky-high press conference atop the new World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, Acer unveiled a sky-high lineup of goods – and placed a flag in the sand for the sagging PC industry. "There are only four or five players in the PC industry, and all of us are survivors," Jason Chen, CEO of Acer Corp, told an international group of reporters. "We will be the last man standing for the PC industry." To that end, the company showed off a slew of new laptops and 2-in-1s, the new Liquid X2 smartphone, and introduces a new line of gaming PCs, called Predator. I suspect Apple will outlive Acer; who do you think will fall next (or rise next)?
Intel

Intel 'Compute Stick' PC-Over-HDMI Dongle Launched, Tested 174

Posted by Soulskill
from the minimally-elegant-product-names dept.
MojoKid writes: Intel has officially announced the availability of their Compute Stick HDMI dongle, and has lifted the embargo on early tests with the device. The Compute Stick is essentially a fully-functional, low-power, Atom-based system with memory, storage, and an OS, crammed into a dongle about 10cm long. There will initially be two compute sticks made available: one running Windows (model STCK1A32WFC) and another running Ubuntu (model STCK1A8LFC). The Windows 8.1 version of the Compute Stick is packing an Intel Atom Z3735F processor, with a single-channel of 2GB of DDR3L-1333 RAM and 32GB of internal storage, though out of the box only 19.2GB is usable. The Ubuntu version of the Compute Stick has as a similar CPU, but is packing only 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. All sticks have USB and MicroSD expansion capability. It doesn't burn through any benchmarks, but for multi-media playback, basic computing tasks, web browsing, HD video, or remote access, the Compute Stick has enough muscle to get the job done, and it's cheap, too: $99 — $149.
AI

Japan Looks To Distributed Control Theory To Manage Energy Market Deregulation 53

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept.
Hallie Siegel writes: Japan's power industry is currently centralized, but it aims to deregulate by around 2020. Coupled with this major structural market change, the expansion of thermal, nuclear and renewable power generation will place additional demands on the management of the country's energy market. Researchers from the Namerikawa lab at Keio University are working with control engineers, power engineers and economists to designing mechanical and control algorithms that can manage this large-scale problem.
Robotics

Learn About FIRST's New Embedded Linux Controller (Video) 26

Posted by Roblimo
from the rocking-and-socking-more-powerfully-than-ever dept.
Our interviewee today is Mike Anderson, an adviser to FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Team 116 at Herndon High School in Virginia. He's here to tell us about the new embedded Linux controller FIRST is using this year. It is apparently a bit short of documentation at this stage, so team 116 and others have been posting what they learn at Chief Delphi, which is 'the' FIRST online discussion forum (and fun to read to keep up with all things FIRST). We've talked about FIRST before. We've taken you to FIRST competitions, and looked behind the scenes at the building of a FIRST robot, and will no doubt keep covering a selection of FIRST activities in the future.
Networking

The Logistics of an eSports Tournament 48

Posted by timothy
from the who-ordered-450-large-pepperoni-pizzas? dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Wargaming's hugely popular World of Tanks game sees its biggest tournament of the year, The Grand Finals, taking place this weekend. In an interview published today, the developer's eSports director, Mohamed Fadl, reveals just what goes into preparing a tournament for both thousands of spectators at the venue, and millions more streaming online.

"The infrastructure behind such an event is the most challenging task," he reveals. "Ten highly qualified IT managers, 28 on-air casters and around 50 additional TV staff will be doing their best...A TV level production setup, 170 computers, a total of 1.3GB/s bandwidth and 16 cameras plus 14 player cameras." And all for just 12 teams playing one strategy game.
Government

USPS Shortlists 'HorseFly' Octocopter Drone Delivery Service 67

Posted by timothy
from the why-they-want-9-digit-zip dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The likes of GM and Nissan are keeping unusual company in the bidding war to build and deliver the next generation of delivery vehicles for the U.S. Postal Service. Workhorse Group Inc. have made it to the 16-company shortlist with their octocopter drone delivery system, developed by the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science. The self-guiding UAV 'HorseFly' has multiple hardware and software redundancy systems and launches from its special host van 'WorkHorse' to get the parcel the final hurdle to the door. The drone can recharge itself wirelessly in two minutes at base, and calculates its own routes from the van to the destination door.
Robotics

Robot Workers' Real Draw: Reducing Dependence on Human Workers 288

Posted by Soulskill
from the it-can-do-your-job-and-won't-complain-about-the-coffee dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Zeynep Tufekci writes in an op-ed at the NY Times that machines are getting better than humans at figuring out who to hire, who's in a mood to pay a little more for that sweater, and who needs a coupon to nudge them toward a sale. It turns out most of what we think of as expertise, knowledge and intuition is being deconstructed and recreated as an algorithmic competency, fueled by big data. "Machines aren't used because they perform some tasks that much better than humans, but because, in many cases, they do a "good enough" job while also being cheaper, more predictable and easier to control than quirky, pesky humans," writes Tufekci. "Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency."

According to Tufekci technology is being used in many workplaces: to reduce the power of humans, and employers' dependency on them, whether by replacing, displacing or surveilling them. Optimists insist that we've been here before, during the Industrial Revolution, when machinery replaced manual labor, and all we need is a little more education and better skills. Tufekci points out that one historical example is no guarantee of future events. "Confronting the threat posed by machines, and the way in which the great data harvest has made them ever more able to compete with human workers, must be about our priorities," concludes Tufekci. "This problem is not us versus the machines, but between us, as humans, and how we value one another."