savuporo writes "The two days of DARPA's humanoid robotics challenge are now over. 16 teams entered in three categories — custom built humanoid, DARPA supplied Atlas platform, and a non-humanoid form — and competed in eight different tasks. The all-Japanese SCHAFT team scored 27 out of 32 maximum points, followed by IHMC Robotics and Tartan Rescue, with 20 and 18 points. The tasks included challenges like driving a vehicle, climbing ladders and walls, using handheld tools to cut through walls, etc. All robots had a mix of autonomy and teleoperated controls to accomplish the tasks. Full details on scores can be found here. The eight teams that scored highest will get continued funding from DARPA to compete in the final challenge in 2014. Two NASA teams also entered, and the JPL-built non-humanoid RoboSimian placed 5th, whereas the JSC built and touted 'Valkyrie' came out of competition with zero points. Team SCHAFT and Boston Dynamics (building the Atlas platform) were recently acquired by Google."
An anonymous reader writes "About 2 years ago, Jonas Pfeil, created a Throwable Panorama Ball: A rugged, grapefruit-sized ball with 36 fixed-focus, 2-megapixel digital camera sensors that capture simultaneously when thrown in the air, creating a full spherical panorama of the surrounding scene. Now, an Indiegogo campaign aims to produce the the camera (Now known as Panono) available for about $500. The quality of the sample images is impressive: the resolution is quite good and most importantly, the stitching artifacts are hardly visible."
First time accepted submitter Maurits van der Schee writes "Where in older versions you had to add a cron job calling "fstrim" or mounting with the "discard" option in fstab, the new LTS (Long Term Stable) version of Ubuntu Linux will automatically enable TRIM for your SSD. Good news for hardware enthusiasts!"
First time accepted submitter monkaru writes "Given reports that various vendors and encryption algorithms have been compromised. Is it still possible to trust any commercial hardware routers or is 'roll your own' the only reasonable path going forward?" What do you do nowadays, if anything, to maintain your online privacy upstream of your own computer?
theodp writes "If you own an Android phone, you may have inadvertently butt-dialed 911 from time-to-time. So, wonders Kix Panganiban, why don't our phones come with a universal 'Panic Button', that would make it just as easy to intentionally dial the police when it's truly needed? Panganiban envisions "a smartphone app that when triggered, would discreetly send out a distress message to contacts of your choice, and perhaps do some other functions that can get you out of bad (and maybe even life-threatening) situations." While a quick search reveals that some have taken a crack at apps that put a Panic Button in smartphone users' hands, are there good reasons why such a feature isn't just standard on mobile devices? And, with GPS and always-watching and always-listening tech only becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous, how far out in the future is it before your person can be continuously remotely monitored like your residence, even while mobile, and what might that look like?"
An anonymous reader writes "It looks like AI-powered weapons systems could soon be outlawed before they're even built. While discussing whether robots should be allowed to kill might like an obscure debate, robots (and artificial intelligence) are playing ever-larger roles in society and we are figuring out piecemeal what is acceptable and what isn't. If killer robots are immoral, then what about the other uses we've got planned for androids? Asimov's three laws don't seem to cut it, as this story explains: 'As we consider the ethical implications of having robots in our society, it becomes obvious that robots themselves are not where responsibility lies.'"
sfcrazy writes "Google has blessed Oppo N1 by passing it in their compatibility test suite. What it means is that this will be the first phone outside Google's Open Hardware Alliance (OHA) to run Google services and apps legitimately. The phone will be available on December 24th."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Research scientists could learn an important thing or two from computer scientists, according to a new study (abstract) showing that data underpinning even groundbreaking research tends to disappear over time. Researchers also disappear, though more slowly and only in terms of the email addresses and the other public contact methods that other scientists would normally use to contact them. Almost all the data supporting studies published during the past two years is still available, as are at least some of the researchers, according to a study published Dec. 19 in the journal Current Biology. The odds that supporting data is still available for studies published between 2 years and 22 years ago drops 17 percent every year after the first two. The odds of finding a working email address for the first, last or corresponding author of a paper also dropped 7 percent per year, according to the study, which examined the state of data from 516 studies between 2 years and 22 years old. Having data available from an original study is critical for other scientists wanting to confirm, replicate or build on previous research – goals that are core parts of the evolutionary, usually self-correcting dynamic of the scientific method on which nearly all modern research is based. No matter how invested in their own work, scientists appear to be 'poor stewards' of their own work, the study concluded."
ckwu writes "The vast real estate of windows in office buildings and skyscrapers could be a fruitful field for harvesting solar energy—if lightweight solar cells could be made with a high enough conversion efficiency and appealing aesthetics. Now researchers at Oxford University report semitransparent solar cells that might do the trick. The team made solar cells using a perovskite, a class of mineral-like materials that have properties similar to inorganic semiconductors and show sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiencies of more than 15%. The team deposited a thin film of perovskite onto glass so that the material formed tiny crystalline islands. The islands absorb photons and convert them to electrons, while light striking the empty areas passes through. The result was a semitransparent solar cell with a grayish tint."
cartechboy writes "It looks like Elon Musk and Tesla Motors find themselves in another PR war over the cause of a fire involving a Tesla Model S. Authorities in Irvine, CA are currently investigating the reason for a fire in a garage that, yes, contained a Tesla Model S. While the actual cause of the fire remains unknown, Tesla Motors and the Orange County Fire Authority are already publicly disputing possible causes, thought to center around the Tesla charging system. Tesla says the fire was not caused by any part of the car nor its charging system, reports Reuters. For what its worth — we've seen a version of this movie before. In 2011, investigators determined that a garage fire that destroyed a Chevrolet Volt had started away from the car, later spreading to engulf and destroy the car."
An anonymous reader writes "The Free Software Foundation announced today the first laptop they have been able to certify as-is that respects the user's freedoms. The laptop is free down to using Coreboot in place of a proprietary BIOS. The OS shipped on the laptop is Trisquel, the Ubuntu derived Linux OS that removes all traces of proprietary firmware, patented formats, etc. The only issue though for new customers is this endorsed laptop comes down to being a refurbished 2006 ThinkPad X60 with single or dual-core Intel CPU, 1GB+ of RAM, 60GB+ HDD, and a 1024x768 12.1-inch screen, while costing $320+ USD (200 GBP). The FSF-certified refurbished laptops are only offered for sale through the Gluglug UK shop. Are these outdated specs worth your privacy and freedom?"
waderoush writes "One of the problems that kept PR2, a two-armed humanoid robot developed by Menlo Park, CA-based Willow Garage, from succeeding commercially was its $400,000 price tag. But as it turned out, only a handful of the 40 or so universities that own PR2s ever developed applications that use both arms. That's one of the reasons why UBR-1, a mobile manipulator robot from Willow Garage spinoff Unbounded Robotics, has only one arm. And that, along with many other engineering decisions and technology improvements, will allow the startup to sell its robot for just $35,000 (it's designed for materials-handling tasks in places like warehouses, elder care facilities, and supermarkets). 'With robots, feature creep is so much more present than in some other fields,' says Unbounded co-founder and CEO Melonee Wise. 'There is always this desire to make a Swiss Army knife. But you have to make compromises, and those compromises directly impact the capabilities as well as the cost of the robot.' One roboticist told Unbounded: 'Your robot is so inexpensive that if I needed to have a second arm, I'd just buy a second robot.'"
New submitter ttyler writes "It turns out a MacBook's built-in camera can be activated without turning on the green LED. An earlier report suggested the FBI could activate a device's camera without having the light turn on, and there was a case in the news where a woman had nude pictures taken of her without her knowledge. The new research out of Johns Hopkins University confirms both situations are possible. All it takes are a few tweaks to the camera's firmware."
hessian writes "According to a news release from Purdue University, 'Researchers are developing computers capable of "approximate computing" to perform calculations good enough for certain tasks that don't require perfect accuracy, potentially doubling efficiency and reducing energy consumption. "The need for approximate computing is driven by two factors: a fundamental shift in the nature of computing workloads, and the need for new sources of efficiency," said Anand Raghunathan, a Purdue Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who has been working in the field for about five years. "Computers were first designed to be precise calculators that solved problems where they were expected to produce an exact numerical value. However, the demand for computing today is driven by very different applications. Mobile and embedded devices need to process richer media, and are getting smarter – understanding us, being more context-aware and having more natural user interfaces. ... The nature of these computations is different from the traditional computations where you need a precise answer."' What's interesting here is that this is how our brains work."
An anonymous reader writes "We tend to take things like household appliances and other automation for granted, but as O'Reilly's Mike Loukides puts it: 'The Future Is All Robots. But Will We Even Notice? We've watched the rising interest in robotics for the past few years. It may have started with the birth of FIRST Robotics competitions, continued with the iRobot and the Roomba, and more recently with Google's driverless cars. But in the last few weeks, there has been a big change. Suddenly, everybody's talking about robots and robotics. ... I have no doubt that Google’s robotics team is working on something amazing and mind-blowing. Should they succeed, and should that success become a product, though, whatever they do will almost certainly fade into the woodwork and become part of normal, everyday reality. And robots will remain forever in the future. We might have found Rosie, the Jetsons’ robotic maid, impressive. But the Jetsons didn’t.'"
cagraham writes "Google is currently testing a web-connected thermostat, similar to the popular Nest Thermostat, according to The Information. The device would display energy usage details, and allow user's to control it from a web app. This actually marks the second time Google has ventured into home energy, after their PowerMeter web app that was shut down in 2011. Web connected devices could allow Google access to a treasure trove of data on people's daily habits and routines."
Sockatume writes "The IEC, the standards body which wrote the phone charger specification used in the EU, has approved a standardised laptop charger. While the 'DC Power Supply for Portable Personal Computer' doesn't have a legal mandate behind it, the IEC is still optimistic that it will lead to a reduction in electronics waste and make it easier to find a replacement charger. Unfortunately the technical documentation does not seem to be available yet, but previous comments indicate that it will be a barrel plug of some kind." I wish they'd push a yank-resistant and positive-connecting plug along the lines of Apple's MagSafe.
Hallie Siegel writes "According to its developers, the DelFly Explorer is the first flapping wing Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) that is able to fly with complete autonomy in unknown environments. Weighing just 20 grams and with a wingspan of 28cm, it is equipped with an onboard stereo vision system. The DelFly Explorer can perform an autonomous take-off, keep its height, and avoid obstacles for as long as its battery lasts (~9 minutes). All sensing and processing is performed on board, so no human or offboard computer is in the loop."
New submitter hamster_nz writes "Hot topics for the maker community are things such as embedded vision, Bitcoin mining, autonomous vehicle control, Arduino, Open Hardware, software defined radio, small ARM/Linux boards and reconfigurable computing. A current Kickstarter project, LOGi FPGA, is touching all these bases. Funding has been reached after just a day, and Kicktraq currently has it projected to reach over $133,000. As a long time FPGA enthusiast I'm very interested to see what will happen when a thousand keen users get together to explore programmable logic."
An anonymous reader writes "The OpenBSD project has no reason to follow the steps taken by FreeBSD with regard to hardware-based cryptography because it has already been doing this for a decade, according to Theo de Raadt. 'FreeBSD has caught up to what OpenBSD has been doing for over 10 years,' the OpenBSD founder told iTWire. 'I see nothing new in their changes. Basically, it is 10 years of FreeBSD stupidity. They don't know a thing about security. They even ignore relevant research in all fields, not just from us, but from everyone.'"