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Input Devices

Gesture Recognition Without Batteries 22

An anonymous reader sends this news from the University of Washington: "[C]omputer scientists have built a low-cost gesture recognition system that runs without batteries and lets users control their electronic devices hidden from sight with simple hand movements. The prototype, called 'AllSee,' uses existing TV signals as both a power source and the means for detecting a user's gesture command (PDF). 'This is the first gesture recognition system that can be implemented for less than a dollar and doesn't require a battery,' said Shyam Gollakota, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering. 'You can leverage TV signals both as a source of power and as a source of gesture recognition.' The researchers built a small sensor that can be placed on an electronic device such as a smartphone. The sensor uses an ultra-low-power receiver to extract and classify gesture information from wireless transmissions around us. When a person gestures with the hand, it changes the amplitude of the wireless signals in the air. The AllSee sensors then recognize unique amplitude changes created by specific gestures."

Vodafone Foundation Launches Cell Site In a Backpack 37

Bismillah writes "The Vodafone Foundation's Mini Instant Network cellular access site is deployable in ten minutes and can be carried on as hand luggage on commercial airliners. It's only 2G, but hey ..." This reminds me a bit of the Gargoyles in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and useful for more than just emergencies.

How To Take Apart Fukushima's 3 Melted-Down Reactors 167

the_newsbeagle writes "In Japan, workers have spent nearly three years on the clean-up and decommissioning of the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. They only have 37 years to go. Taking apart the plant's three melted-down reactors is expected to take 40 years and cost $15 billion. The plant's owner, TEPCO, admits that its engineers don't yet know how they'll pull off this monumental task. An in-depth examination of the decommissioning process explains the challenges, such as working amid the radioactive rubble, stopping up the leaks that spill radioactive water throughout the site, and handling the blobs of melted nuclear fuel. Many of the tasks will be accomplished by newly invented robots that can go where humans fear to tread."

First Outdoor Flocks of Autonomous Flying Robots 84

KentuckyFC writes "Aerial flocking has been a long-standing goal for roboticists, but the technical demands for autonomous outdoor flocking have always been too great. Now a European team has successfully demonstrated autonomous outdoor flocking for the first time, with up to 10 flyers in the air simultaneously for up to 20 minutes. The flyer of choice is the MK Basicset L4-ME made by the German company MikroKopter. They modified this by attaching an extension board carrying a variety of navigational devices such as a gyroscope, accelerometer, and GPS receiver, as well as a wireless communications unit and a minicomputer to calculate trajectories. To simplify these calculations, all the quadcopters fly at the same altitude to make the flocking problem two-dimensional. The team say the quadcopters can fly autonomously in lines and circles, and even demonstrate self-organizing behavior when confined to specific volumes of space. Crucially, the flock does not rely on any centralized control for its behavior. The researchers imagine using them for large-scale, redundant observations over wide areas, perhaps for farming, traffic monitoring and, of course, military purposes. They might even put on aerial displays for entertainment purposes."
Data Storage

Intel's New Desktop SSD Is an Overclocked Server Drive 111

crookedvulture writes "Most of Intel's recent desktop SSDs have followed a familiar formula. Combine off-the-shelf controller with next-gen NAND and firmware tweaks. Rinse. Repeat. The new 730 Series is different, though. It's based on Intel's latest datacenter SSD, which combines a proprietary controller with high-endurance NAND. In the 730 Series, these chips are clocked much higher than their usual speeds. The drive is fully validated to run at the boosted frequencies, and it's rated to endure at least 70GB of writes per day over five years. As one might expect, though, this hot-clocked server SSD is rather pricey for a desktop model. It's slated to sell for around $1/GB, which is close to double the cost of more affordable options. And the 730 Series isn't always faster than its cheaper competition. Although the drive boasts exceptional throughput with random I/O, its sequential transfer rates are nothing special."

Experimental Port of Debian To OpenRISC 56

Via Phoronix comes news that Debian has been ported to the OpenRISC architecture by Christian Svensson. Quoting his mailing list post: "Some people know that I've been working on porting Glibc and doing some toolchain work. My evil master plan was to make a Debian port, and today I'm a happy hacker indeed! ... If anyone want to try this on real hardware (would be very cool to see how this runs IRL), ping me on IRC [#openrisc on freenode] and I'll set you up with instructions how to use debootstrap - just point to a repo with the debs and you're all set, the wonders of binary distributions." For those who don't know, OpenRISC is the completely open source RISC processor intended as the crown jewel of the Opencores project. A working port of glibc and a GNU/Linux distribution is a huge step toward making use of OpenRISC practical. There's a screencast of the system in action, and source on Github (at posting time, it was a month out of date from the looks of it). Christian Svensson's Github account also has repos for the rest of the toolchain.

NRC Expects Applications To Operate Reactors Beyond 60 Years 135

mdsolar writes with news that the aging reactor fleet in the U.S. will likely see units hitting 80 or more years of use before being decommissioned. From the article: "Officials of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear power industry expect the first application to be filed with the agency in 2018 or 2019 for a license renewal to operate a power reactor or reactors beyond 60 years. At a Nuclear Energy Institute forum in Washington Tuesday, neither NRC nor industry officials named specific plants considered likely to apply, and it was not clear from their remarks if any nuclear operator has yet volunteered to be the first to apply." Also see the staff report on preparing for the first applications. The proposed operating license changes would place no limit on the number of 20 year extensions, so perhaps a few reactors will end up in operation for a full century (if there's anyone left who can remember how to operate them then).

Woman Attacked In San Francisco Bar For Wearing Google Glass 921

First time accepted submitter Martin Blank writes "Sarah Slocum, an early adopter of Google Glass, was bar hopping with friends in San Francisco when a few people in the bar took issue with the eyewear when she was demonstrating it to another patron even though she wasn't recording. When she felt threatened, she informed them that she would start recording. Two of them approached her, yelling and throwing a bar rag at her, and ultimately ripping the Glass from her face and running from the bar with it. She gave chase and eventually got the Glass back, but her purse was gone when she returned to the bar. This physical level of hostility is unusual, but discomfort with Glass is common, especially among those who don't understand how it works. Given that much more hidden spy cameras are available for far less than the $1500 cost of Glass, what will it take for general acceptance to finally take hold?"

Project Ara: Inside Google's Modular Smartphones 70

harrymcc writes "Google is releasing more details on Project Ara, its effort — originally spearheaded by Motorola — to reinvent the smartphone in a form made up of hot-swappable modules that consumers can configure as they choose, then upgrade later as new technologies emerge. Google is aiming to release about a year from now."

Tesla Used A Third of All Electric-Car Batteries Last Year 236

cartechboy writes "We've heard about Tesla building this new gigafactory to produce battery packs for its electric cars. Heck, the company's current bottleneck is its ability to get battery packs for its electric cars. In fact, last year Tesla used a bit more than one-third of the auto industry's electric-car batteries, and that was with only selling 22,477 cars last year. Tesla is expanding its model lineup as quickly as possible with the introduction of the Model X crossover next year and a compact sports sedan in 2017. With the rapid expansion of its vehicle line, Tesla is going to need a crazy amount of battery packs, and quickly. Thus, the Silicon Valley upstart is building the gigafactory to engineer and produce battery packs in much larger quantities. If Tesla can remove the battery production bottle neck it's currently facing, the only question left will be market acceptance of a mainstream electric car."
Hardware Hacking

Radar Expert Explains How To Cheaply Add Radar To Your Own Hardware Projects 69

szczys writes "Gregory Charvat has been playing with and teaching others about entry-level radar concepts for a long time. Now he's sat down and explained how you can do it yourself inexpensively. He says, 'One enabling technology for Radar was the cathode ray tube (CRT), which facilitated a method of measuring the time delay between transmitted and received waveforms. ... Today, rather than using a CRT we can use high-speed digitizers. This offers the obvious advantage of applying signal processing to acquired data so that only moving targets are detected, tracking can be achieved, imaging, and a multitude of other modes. But for hobbyist and consumer projects we do not need this much power, range, and can not afford the cost. We need the ability to sense like a long range radar (detecting only moving targets, imaging, Doppler, signatures, etc) but at short ranges and at low costs.' Charvat then proceeds to walk through several options for the amatuer hardware hacker."

Google Fighting Distracted Driver Laws 226

Rambo Tribble writes "Reuters reports Google has initiated lobbying efforts to stymie attempts by some states to enact distracted driver laws aimed at wearable technologies, such as Google Glass. 'Google's main point to legislators is that regulation would be premature because Google Glass is not yet widely available, the state elected officials say. Illinois state Senator Ira Silverstein, a Chicago Democrat who introduced a Google Glass restriction bill in December, responded that it was clear the merchandise was heading for the broader public.' Given the toll on our highways shown to arise from distracted drivers, is this responsible corporate behavior to protect their product, or an unethical endangering of lives?"

DARPA Looks To End the Scourge of Counterfeit Computer Gear 75

coondoggie writes "Few things can mess up a highly technical system and threaten lives like a counterfeit electronic component, yet the use of such bogus gear is said to be widespread. A new Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program will target these phony products and develop a tool to 'verify, without disrupting or harming the system, the trustworthiness of a protected electronic component.'"

The Ever So Unlikely Tale of How ARM Came To Rule the World 111

pacopico writes "About 24 years ago, a tiny chip company came to life in a Cambridge, England barn. It was called ARM, and it looked quite unlike any other chip company that had come before it. Businessweek has just published something of an oral history on the weird things that took place to let ARM end up dominating the mobile revolution and rivaling Coke and McDonald's as the most prolific consumer product company on the planet. The story also looks at what ARM's new CEO needs to do not to mess things up."

Apocalypse NAO: College Studies the Theological Ramifications of Robotics 176

malachiorion writes "Have you heard the one about the Christian college in North Carolina that bought a humanoid robot, to figure out whether or not bots are going to charm us into damnation (dimming or cutting our spiritual connection to God)? The robot itself is pretty boring, but the reasoning behind its purchase—a religious twist on the standard robo-phobia—is fascinating. From the article: '“When the time comes for including or incorporating humanoid robots into society, the prospect of a knee-jerk kind of reaction from the religious community is fairly likely, unless there’s some dialogue that starts happening, and we start examining the issue more closely,” says Kevin Staley, an associate professor of theology at SES. Staley pushed for the purchase of the bot, and plans to use it for courses at the college, as well as in presentations around the country. The specific reaction Staley is worried about is a more extreme version of the standard, secular creep factor associated with many robots. “From a religious perspective, it could be more along the lines of seeing human beings as made in God’s image,” says Staley. “And now that we’re relating to a humanoid robot, possibly perceiving it as evil, because of its attempt to mimic something that ought not to be mimicked.”'"

Seafloor Carpet Mimics Muddy Seabed To Harness Wave Power 20

Zothecula writes "Many organizations around the world are looking at ways to harness the power of waves as a renewable energy source, but none are covering quite the same ground as a team of engineers from the University of California (UC), Berkeley. The seafloor carpet, a system inspired by the wave absorbing abilities of a muddy seabed, has taken exploring the potential of wave power to some intriguing new depths."

Nostalgic For the ZX Spectrum? Soon You Can Play With a New One 91

An anonymous reader writes "There is a very interesting project underway to recreate the ZX Spectrum and more. The Bluetooth ZX Spectrum has been successfully crowdfunded, and it is due to go on sale in September 2014. If you want to go back to the 1980s — to the wonderful era of 8-bit gaming, you can instead try one of the many ZX Spectrum emulators." I remember being excited at the new Sinclair when my dad brought it home, but my strongest memory now is of what might be the worst keyboard I've ever had the chance to use.

Amazon To Put Android In Set-top Box To Compete With Apple, Roku 104

sfcrazy writes "Amazon is all set to get Apple and Roku some serious competition with its own 'web-TV' or set-top box. According to reports, Amazon will be using Google's Android to build the box. Amazon already has a huge library of content (from Amazon Prime) which it can push to the living room through the box. Amazon, like Netflix, is also investing heavily in producing content to their own set-box. Amazon has also been hiring game developers and it won't be surprising if the company also dabbles into gaming." And while it may be only a rumor, the idea's got some reasonable legs: besides the content on Prime, Amazon has been making media-centric Android devices for a few years with its Kindle Fire line.
Input Devices

Lechal Haptic Footwear Guides You By Buzzing Your Feet 26

Zothecula writes "Three years ago, we heard about a prototype shoe that could be used to guide the wearer via haptic feedback. Designed by Anirudh Sharma, who was then a researcher at Hewlett-Packard Labs in Bangalore, India, the Lechal shoe was intended for use mainly by the blind. This week, however, Sharma and business partner Krispian Lawrence announced that the production version of the Lechal will soon be available for preorder, and it's aimed at helping all people navigate the city streets." Sensor-laden shoe computers aren't a new idea; in the past, they've just been put to different purposes (PDF).

Safety Measures Fail To Stop Fukushima Plant Leaks 157

AmiMoJo writes "The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant has been developing countermeasures to deal with repeated leaks from tanks of contaminated water. But despite the measures, 100 tons of radioactive water leaked on Wednesday and Thursday. 'The leaked water was among the most severely contaminated that Tepco has reported in the aftermath of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, when damage caused by an earthquake and a tsunami led to meltdowns in three of the plant’s reactors. Each liter of the water contained, on average, 230 million becquerels of particles giving off beta radiation, the company said. About half of the particles were likely to be strontium 90, which is readily taken up by the human body in the same way that calcium is, and can cause bone cancer and leukemia.' The estimated volume of the leaked radioactive materials caused Japan's nuclear regulator to rank the leak a level-3 serious accident. The international scale of nuclear and radiological events ranges from zero to 7."