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Robotics

MIT Creates 3D-Printing Robot That Can Construct a Home Off-Grid In 14 Hours (mit.edu) 30

Kristine Lofgren writes: Home building hasn't changed much over the years, but leave it to MIT to take things to the next level. A new technology built at MIT can construct a simple dome structure in 14 hours and it's powered by solar panels, so you can take it to remote areas. MIT's 3D-printing robot can construct the entire basic structure of a building and can be customized to fit the local terrain in ways that traditional methods can't do. It even has a built-in scoop so it can prepare the building site and gather its own construction materials. You can watch a video of the 3D-printing robot in action here.
Robotics

Washington State Orchard Owners Look To Robots As Labor Shortage Worsens (seattletimes.com) 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Seattle Times: Harvesting Washington state's vast fruit orchards each year requires thousands of farmworkers, and many of them work illegally in the United States. That system eventually could change dramatically as at least two companies are rushing to get robotic fruit-picking machines to market. The robotic pickers don't get tired and can work 24 hours a day. FFRobotics and Abundant Robotics, of Hayward, California, are racing to get their mechanical pickers to market within the next couple of years. Members of the $7.5 billion annual Washington agriculture industry have long grappled with labor shortages, and depend on workers coming up from Mexico each year to harvest many crops. While financial details are not available, the builders say the robotic pickers should pay for themselves in two years. That puts the likely cost of the machines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each. FFRobotics is developing a machine that has three-fingered grips to grab fruit and twist or clip it from a branch. The machine would have between four and 12 robotic arms, and can pick up to 10,000 apples an hour, Gad Kober, a co-founder of Israel-based FFRobotics, said. One machine would be able to harvest a variety of crops, taking 85 to 90 percent of the crop off the trees, Kober said. Humans could pick the rest. Abundant Robotics is working on a picker that uses suction to vacuum apples off trees.
Transportation

Apple, Tesla Ask California To Change Its Proposed Policies On Self-Driving Car Testing (reuters.com) 15

Tesla and Apple have asked the state of California to change its proposed policies on self-driving cars to allow companies to test vehicles without traditional steering wheels and controls or human back-up drivers, among other things. Reuters reports: In a letter made public Friday, Apple made a series of suggested changes to the policy that is under development and said it looks forward to working with California and others "so that rapid technology development may be realized while ensuring the safety of the traveling public." Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google parent company Alphabet Inc, Ford Motor Co, Uber Technologies Inc, Toyota Motor Corp, Tesla Motors Inc and others also filed comments suggesting changes. Apple said California should revise how companies report self-driving system "disengagements." California currently requires companies to report how many times the self-driving system was deactivated and control handed back to humans because of a system failure or a traffic, weather or road situation that required human intervention. Apple said California's rules for development vehicles used only in testing could "restrict both the design and equipment that can be used in test vehicles." Tesla said California should not bar testing of autonomous vehicles that are 10,000 pounds (4,535 kg) or more. Tesla also said California should not prohibit the sale of non-self-driving vehicles previously used for autonomous vehicle testing.
AI

Amazon's Alexa Can Now Whisper, Bleep Out Swear Words, and Change Its Pitch (theverge.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Amazon is trying to make its Alexa voice assistant sound more humanlike. Up until now, the female-sounding voice maintained an even, monotone cadence whenever speaking, but with Amazon's new Speech Synthesis Markup Language that the company introduced this week, Alexa can whisper, vary its speaking speed, and bleep out words. Developers can also add pauses, change the pronunciation of a word, spell a word out, add audio snippets, and insert special words and phrases into their skill. The Verge notes that "the language markups are [only] available to developers in the U.S., U.K. and Germany." Amazon will also be hosting a webinar on May 18th on the new code.
Nintendo

Nintendo Announces 2DS XL (theguardian.com) 52

The future for Nintendo is the Switch, or is it? Nintendo continues to keep things interesting. From a report: The ever-unpredictable hardware veteran has announced the Nintendo 2DS XL, a new version of the 2DS, which was itself a refreshed version of the 3DS. Featuring two enlarged displays, 4.88in on top and 4.18in on the bottom, and a clamshell design, the new format is lighter than the 3DS XL and of course lacks that machine's stereoscopic capabilities. Available in black and turquoise or white and orange and with built-in NFC support for amiibo cards and figures, it's a fully featured member of the extended 3DS family, even boasting the secondary C-pad nub like the New 3DS XL. It is priced at $150.
Patents

Apple Patent Hints At Wirelessly Charging Your iPhone Via Wi-Fi Routers (appleinsider.com) 136

According to AppleInsider, "Apple is experimenting with medium- to long-distance wireless charging technologies that could one day allow users to charge up their iPhones with nothing more than a Wi-Fi router." From the report: Detailed in Apple's patent application for "Wireless Charging and Communications Systems With Dual-Frequency Patch Antennas" is a method for transferring power to electronic devices over frequencies normally dedicated to data communications. In its various embodiments, the invention notes power transfer capabilities over any suitable wireless communications link, including cellular between 700 MHz and 2700 MHz, and Wi-Fi operating at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. More specifically, the document's claims apply to millimeter wave 802.11ad spectrum channels currently in use by the WiGig standard, which operates over the 60 GHz frequency band. Theoretically, the proposal opens the door to wire-free charging from in-home Wi-Fi routers to cellular nodes and even satellite signals. Of course, amplitude in a wireless system is normally a function of distance. Like conventional wireless charging techniques, Apple's design requires two devices -- a transmitter and receiver -- to function. Each device contains one or more antennas coupled to wireless circuitry capable of making phase and magnitude adjustments to transmitted and received signals. Such hardware can be employed in dynamic beam steering operations.
Bitcoin

Backdoor Could Allow Company To Shut Down 70% of All Bitcoin Mining Operations (bleepingcomputer.com) 101

An anonymous reader writes: "An anonymous security researcher has published details on a vulnerability named "Antbleed," which the author claims is a remote backdoor affecting Bitcoin mining equipment sold by Bitmain, the largest vendor of crypto-currency mining hardware on the market," reports Bleeping Computer. The backdoor code works by reporting mining equipment details to Bitmain servers, who can reply by instructing the customer's equipment to shut down. Supposedly introduced as a crude DRM to control illegal equipment, the company forgot to tell anyone about it, and even ignored a user who reported it last fall. One of the Bitcoin Core developers claims that if such command would ever be sent, it could potentially brick the customer's device for good. Bitmain is today's most popular seller of Bitcoin mining hardware, and its products account for 70% of the entire Bitcoin mining market. If someone hijack's the domain where this backdoor reports, he could be in the position to shut down Bitcoin mining operations all over the world, which are nothing more than the computations that verify Bitcoin transactions, effectively shutting down the entire Bitcoin ecosystem. Fortunately, there's a way to mitigate the backdoor's actions using local hosts files.
Businesses

Google Loses Top Hardware Executive (bloomberg.com) 26

randomErr writes: David Foster, who joined Alphabet Inc.'s Google in October as part of its aggressive hardware effort, has left the company. As the vice president of hardware product development he worked on the launch of the Pixel smartphone and Home speaker. Both of which are competitors to the Amazon Echo, Foster's previous employer. Google will not comment on why he is leaving.
Government

Energy Star Program For Homes And Appliances Is On Trump's Chopping Block (npr.org) 272

Appliance manufacturers and home builders are in Washington, D.C., today to celebrate a popular energy efficiency program, even as it's slated for elimination in President Trump's proposed budget. NPR adds: You probably know the program's little blue label with the star -- the Environmental Protection Agency says 90 percent of U.S. households do. [...] The 25-year-old Energy Star program appears to be targeted simply because it's run by the federal government. It's one of 50 EPA programs that would be axed under Trump's budget plan, which would shrink the agency's funding by more than 30 percent. Critics of Energy Star say the government should get involved in the marketplace only when absolutely necessary. But that argument doesn't hold sway for the program's legions of supporters, which span nonprofits, companies and trade groups.
Government

The Cheap Energy Revolution Is Here, and Coal Won't Cut It (bloomberg.com) 477

An anonymous reader shares a report: Wind and solar are about to become unstoppable, natural gas and oil production are approaching their peak, and electric cars and batteries for the grid are waiting to take over. This is the world Donald Trump inherited as U.S. president. And yet his energy plan is to cut regulations to resuscitate the one sector that's never coming back: coal. Clean energy installations broke new records worldwide in 2016, and wind and solar are seeing twice as much funding as fossil fuels, according to new data released Tuesday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). That's largely because prices continue to fall. Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity in the world. But with Trump's deregulations plans, what "we're going to see is the age of plenty -- on steroids," BNEF founder Michael Liebreich said. "That's good news economically, except there's one fly in the ointment, and that's climate."
Businesses

Amazon Wants To Put a Camera and Microphone in Your Bedroom (vice.com) 207

On Wednesday, Amazon announced the Echo Look, the latest gadget in the company's new Echo-powered hardware lineup. Motherboard explains: The newly announced Echo Look is a virtual assistant with a microphone and a camera that's designed to go somewhere in your bedroom, bathroom, or wherever the hell you get dressed. Amazon is pitching it as an easy way to snap pictures of your outfits to send to your friends when you're not sure if your outfit is cute, but it's also got a built-in app called StyleCheck that is worth some further dissection. [...] "All photos and video captured with your Echo Look are securely stored in the AWS cloud and locally in the Echo Look app until a customer deletes them," a spokesperson for the company said. "You can delete the photos or videos associated with your account anytime in the Echo Look App." Motherboard also asked if Echo Look photos, videos, and the data gleaned from them would be sold to third parties; the company did not address that question.
The Internet

US ISP Goes Down As Two Malware Families Go To War Over Its Modems (bleepingcomputer.com) 93

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Bleeping Computer: Two malware families battling for turf are most likely the cause of an outage suffered by Californian ISP Sierra Tel at the beginning of the month, on April 10. The attack, which the company claimed was a "malicious hacking event," was the work of BrickerBot, an IoT malware family that bricks unsecured IoT and networking devices. "BrickerBot was active on the Sierra Tel network at the time their customers reported issues," Janit0r told Bleeping Computer in an email, "but their modems had also just been mass-infected with malware, so it's possible some of the network problems were caused by this concomitant activity." The crook, going by Janit0r, tried to pin some of the blame on Mirai, but all the clues point to BrickerBot, as Sierra Tel had to replace bricked modems altogether, or ask customers to bring in their modems at their offices to have them reset and reinstalled. Mirai brought down over 900,000 Deutsche Telekom modems last year, but that outage was fixed within hours with a firmware update. All the Sierra Tel modems bricked in this incident were Zyxel HN-51 models, and it took Sierra Tel almost two weeks to fix all bricked devices.
Crime

Murdered Woman's Fitbit Nails Cheating Husband (nydailynews.com) 130

BarbaraHudson writes: A murdered woman's Fitbit data shows she was still alive an hour after her husband claims she was murdered and he was tied up, contradicting her husband's description of events. New York Daily News reports: "Richard Dabate, 40, was charged this month with felony murder, tampering with physical evidence and making false statements following his wife Connie's December 2015 death at their home in Ellington, Tolland County. Dabate called 911 reporting that his wife was the victim of a home invasion, alleging that she was shot dead by a 'tall, obese man' with a deep voice like actor Vin Diesel's, sporting 'camouflage and a mask,' according to an arrest warrant. Dabate alleged her death took place more than an hour before her Fitbit-tracked movements revealed."
China

China To Boost Non-Fossil Fuel Use To 20 Percent By 2030 (reuters.com) 43

An anonymous reader shares a report: China aims for non-fossil fuels to account for about 20 percent of total energy consumption by 2030, increasing to more than half of demand by 2050, its state planner said on Tuesday, as Beijing continues its years-long shift away from coal power. In a policy document, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will peak by 2030 and total energy demand will be capped at 6 billion tons of standard coal equivalent by 2030, up from 4.4 billion tons targeted for this year.
Botnet

BrickerBot, the Permanent Denial-of-Service Botnet, Is Back With a Vengeance (arstechnica.com) 111

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: BrickerBot, the botnet that permanently incapacitates poorly secured Internet of Things devices before they can be conscripted into Internet-crippling denial-of-service armies, is back with a new squadron of foot soldiers armed with a meaner arsenal of weapons. Pascal Geenens, the researcher who first documented what he calls the permanent denial-of-service botnet, has dubbed the fiercest new instance BrickerBot.3. It appeared out of nowhere on April 20, exactly one month after BrickerBot.1 first surfaced. Not only did BrickerBot.3 mount a much quicker number of attacks -- with 1,295 attacks coming in just 15 hours -- it used a modified attack script that added several commands designed to more completely shock and awe its targets. BrickerBot.1, by comparison, fired 1,895 volleys during the four days it was active, and the still-active BrickerBot.2 has spit out close to 12 attacks per day. Shortly after BrickerBot.3 began attacking, Geenens discovered BrickerBot.4. Together, the two newly discovered instances have attempted to attack devices in the research honeypot close to 1,400 times in less than 24 hours. Like BrickerBot.1, the newcomer botnets are made up of IoT devices running an outdated version of the Dropbear SSH server with public, geographically dispersed IP addresses. Those two characteristics lead Geenens to suspect the attacking devices are poorly secured IoT devices themselves that someone has compromised and used to permanently take out similarly unsecured devices. Geenens, of security firm Radware, has more details here.

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