China

China Will Spend $3.3 Billion to Research Molten Salt Nuclear-Powered Drones (scmp.com) 190

Long-time Slashdot reader WindBourne tipped us off to some news from The South China Morning Post: China is to spend 22 billion yuan (US$3.3 billion) trying to perfect a form of technology largely discarded in the cold war which could produce a safer but more powerful form of nuclear energy. The cash is to develop two "molten salt" reactors in the Gobi Desert in northern China. Researchers hope that if they can solve a number of technical problems the reactors will lead to a range of applications, including nuclear-powered warships and drones. The technology, in theory, can create more heat and power than existing forms of nuclear reactors that use uranium, while producing only one thousandth of the radioactive waste. It also has the advantage for China of using thorium as its main fuel. China has some of the world's largest reserves of the metal...

The reactors use molten salt rather than water as a coolant, allowing them to create temperatures of over 800 degrees Celsius, nearly three times the heat produced by a commercial nuclear plant fuelled with uranium. The superhot air has the potential to drive turbines and jet engines and in theory keep a bomber flying at supersonic speed for days.

One Beijing researcher says these drones "would serve as a platform for surveillance, communication or weapon delivery to deter nuclear and other threats from hostile countries." He asked not to be named, but provided one more advantage for a nuclear-powered drone flying at high-altitudes over the ocean.

"It will also have more public acceptance. If an accident happens, it crashes into the sea."
Cellphones

Don't Keep Cellphones Next To Your Body, California Health Department Warns (techcrunch.com) 332

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a warning against the hazards of cellphone radiation this week. They are asking people to decrease their use of these devices and suggest keeping your distance when possible. TechCrunch reports: The warning comes after findings were offered up this week from a 2009 department document, which was published after an order from the Sacramento Superior Court. A year ago, UC Berkeley professor Joel Moskowitz initiated a lawsuit to get the department to release the findings after he started looking into whether mobile phone use increased the risk of tumors. A draft of the document was released in March, but the final release is more extensive.

According to the Federal Communication Commission's website, there is no national standard developed for safety limits. However, the agency requires cell phone manufacturers to ensure all phones comply with "objective limits for safe exposure." The CDPH recommends not keeping your phone in your pocket, not putting it up to your ear for a prolonged amount of time, keeping use low if there are two bars or less, not sleeping near it at night and to be aware that if you are in a fast-moving car, bus or train, your phone will emit more RF energy to maintain the connection.

AI

Google Is Shutting Down Project Tango (androidpolice.com) 36

Google announced that it is ending support for Project Tango, the company's first attempt to bring a solid augmented-reality experience to the average user. The project used an array of cameras and sensors to accurately map 3D areas, causing the devices support Tango to be relatively large and expensive. Android Police reports: The first Tango device put into production was the "Peanut" phone, which was given to early access partners in 2014. Then came the "Yellowstone" 7-inch tablet, which was initially sold for $1,024 before a massive price drop to $512. The only other devices with Project Tango were the Lenovo Phab2 Pro, which wasn't a very good phone to start off with, and the ZenFone AR. This move isn't entirely surprising, now that Google is working on a software-only solution called ARCore. Not only is ARCore similar to Tango in functionality, but it doesn't require specialized hardware like Tango does.
Hardware

NVIDIA Titan V Benchmarks Show Volta GPU Compute, Mining and Gaming Strength (hothardware.com) 48

MojoKid shares a report from Hot Hardware: Although NVIDIA officially unveiled its Volta-based GV100 GPU a few months ago, the NVIDIA TITAN V featuring the GV100 began shipping just this past week. The card targets a very specific audience and is designed for professional and academic deep learning applications, which partly explains its lofty $3,000 price tag. Unlike NVIDIA's previous-gen consumer flagship, the TITAN Xp, the TITAN V is not designed for gamers. However, since it features NVIDIA's latest GPU architecture, it potentially foreshadows next-year's consumer-targeted GeForce cards that could possibly be based on Volta. The massive 21.1 billion transistor GV100 GPU powering the TITAN V has a base clock of 1,200MHz and a boost clock of 1,455MHz. The card has 12GB of HBM2 memory on-board that is linked to the GPU via a 3072-bit interface, offering up 652.8 GB/s of peak bandwidth, which is about 100GB/s more than a TITAN Xp. Other features of the GV100 include 5,120 single-precision CUDA cores, 2,560 double-precision FP64 cores, and 630 Tensor cores. Although the card is not designed for gamers, the fact remains that the TITAN V significantly outpaces every other graphics card in a variety of games with the highest image quality settings. In GPU compute workloads, the TITAN V is much more dominant and can offer many times the performance of a high-end NVIDIA TITAN Xp or AMD Radeon RX Vega 64. Finally, when it comes to Ethereum mining, NVIDIA's Titan V is far and away the fastest GPU on the planet currently.
Businesses

China's Top Phone Makers Huawei and Xiaomi In Talks With Carriers To Expand To US Market (bloomberg.com) 43

From a report: Huawei and Xiaomi are in talks with U.S. wireless operators about selling flagship smartphones to American consumers as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the matter. The handset makers are negotiating with carriers including AT&T and Verizon, said the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. Talks are still fluid and it's possible no agreements will materialize, they said.
AI

Samsung Targets First Half of 2018 for Smart Speaker (bloomberg.com) 63

An anonymous reader shares a report: Samsung is aiming to introduce a smart speaker in the first half of 2018, entering a crowded field of voice-controlled devices from Amazon, Apple and Alphabet, people briefed on the plans said. The device by the South Korean technology giant will have a strong focus on audio quality and the management of connected home appliances such as lights and locks, said the people, who asked not to be identified talking about private plans. The gadget will run Bixby, Samsung's digital assistant that rivals Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. It will also synchronize with TVs, Galaxy smartphones and other Samsung devices, the people also said. The upcoming speaker, the report claims, will be priced at about $200.
Power

Solar Power and Batteries Are Encroaching On Natural Gas In Energy Production (electrek.co) 177

Socguy writes: The relentless downward march in cost of both solar and battery storage is poised to displace 10GW worth of natural gas peaker plant electricity production in the U.S. by 2027. Already we are seeing the net cost of combined solar and batteries cheaper than the equivalent natural gas peaker plant. Some particularly aggressive estimates from major energy companies predict that we may not see another natural gas peaker plant built in the U.S. after 2020. GE has already responded to the weakness in the gas turbine market by laying off 12,000 workers. Further reading available via Greentech Media.
Robotics

Robots Are Being Used To Shoo Away Homeless People In San Francisco (qz.com) 421

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: San Francisco's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has been ordered by the city to stop using a robot to patrol the sidewalks outside its office, the San Francisco Business Times reported Dec. 8. The robot, produced by Silicon Valley startup Knightscope, was used to ensure that homeless people didn't set up camps outside of the nonprofit's office. It autonomously patrols a set area using a combination of Lidar and other sensors, and can alert security services of potentially criminal activity.

In a particularly dystopian move, it seems that the San Francisco SPCA adorned the robot it was renting with stickers of cute kittens and puppies, according to Business Insider, as it was used to shoo away the homeless from near its office. San Francisco recently voted to cut down on the number of robots that roam the streets of the city, which has seen an influx of small delivery robots in recent years. The city said it would issue the SPCA a fine of $1,000 per day for illegally operating on a public right-of-way if it continued to use the security robot outside its premises, the San Francisco Business Times said.

AT&T

AT&T Begins Testing High-Speed Internet Over Power Lines (reuters.com) 119

AT&T has started trials to deliver high-speed internet over power lines. The company announced the news on Wednesday and said that trials have started in Georgia state and a non-U.S. location. Reuters reports: AT&T aims to eventually deliver speeds faster than the 1 gigabit per second consumers can currently get through fiber internet service using high-frequency airwaves that travel along power lines. While the Georgia trial is in a rural area, the service could potentially be deployed in suburbs and cities, the company said in a statement. AT&T said it had no timeline for commercial deployment and that it would look to expand trials as it develops the technology.

"We think this product is eventually one that could actually serve anywhere near a power line," said Marachel Knight, AT&T's senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design, in an interview. She added that AT&T chose an international trial location in part because the market opportunity extends beyond the United States.

Android

Andy Rubin's Essential Phone Considered Anything But (theregister.co.uk) 149

An anonymous reader shares a report: Andy Rubin's ambitions to create a new consumer electronics ecosystem are floundering at base camp. Sales of Essential's phone, which forms a key part of the strategy, are tepid. Google Play reports a mere 50,000 download of Essential's Camera app so far, the Android Police blog notes. This doesn't paint the full picture, but it can be assumed a fairly complete one, barring a few brush strokes. Essential launched in the US with support from Sprint, at a recommended SIM-free retail price of $699. After reported sales of just five thousand in the first month, this was slashed to $499 and could be grabbed for $399 in the post-Thanksgiving sales. As devices from different manufacturers proliferate in the home, Rubin has alluded to "a new operating system so it can speak all those protocols and it can do it securely and privately." But rather than launching a new software platform he's had to launch hardware.
AMD

AMD Is Open-Sourcing Their Official Vulkan Linux Driver (phoronix.com) 67

An anonymous reader writes: While many of you have likely heard of the "RADV" open-source Vulkan driver, it's been a community-written driver up to this point in the absence of AMD's official, cross-platform Vulkan driver being open-source. That's now changed with AMD now open-sourcing their official Vulkan driver. The code drop is imminent and they are encouraging the use of it for quick support of new AMD hardware, access to the Radeon GPU Profiler, easy integration of AMD Vulkan extensions, and enabling third-party extensions. For now at least it does provide better Vulkan performance than RADV but the RADV developers have indicated they plan to continue development of their Mesa-based Vulkan driver.
iMac

Apple iMac Pro Goes on Sale December 14th (engadget.com) 278

Apple vowed to ship the iMac Pro in December, and it's making good on that promise. From a report: The company has confirmed that its workstation-grade all-in-one will be available on December 14th. It has yet to reveal the exact configuration options, but the $4,999 'starter' model ships with an 8-core Xeon processor, 32GB of RAM, 1TB of solid-state storage and a Radeon Vega graphics chipset with 8GB of RAM. You can option it with up to an 18-core Xeon, 128GB of RAM, a 4TB SSD and a 16GB Vega chipset, although video creator Marques Brownlee notes that you'll have to wait until the new year for that 18-core beast.
Microsoft

Microsoft Releases Free Preview of Its Quantum Development Kit (zdnet.com) 31

Microsoft is releasing a free preview version of its Quantum Development Kit. "The kit includes the Q# programming language and compiler and a local quantum computing simulator, and is fully integrated with Visual Studio," reports ZDNet. "There's also an Azure-based simulator that allows developers to simulate more than 40 logical qubits of computing power, plus documentation libraries, and sample programs, officials said in their December 11 announcement." From the report: Quantum computers are designed to process in parallel, thus enabling new types of applications across a variety of workloads. They are designed to harness the physics of subatomic particles to provide a different way to store data and solve problems compared to conventional computers, as my ZDNet colleague Tony Baer explains. The result is that quantum computers could solve certain high-performance-computing problems more efficiently. Microsoft officials have said applications that developers create for use with the quantum simulator ultimately will work on a quantum computer, which Microsoft is in the process of developing. Microsoft's goal is to build out a full quantum computing system, including both the quantum computing hardware and the related full software stack.
Robotics

After Automating Order-Taking, Fast Food Chains Had to Hire More Workers (theatlantic.com) 234

An anonymous reader quotes the Atlantic: Blaine Hurst, the CEO and president of Panera, told me that because of its new [self-service] kiosks, and an app that allows online ordering, the chain is now processing more orders overall, which means it needs more total workers to fulfill customer demand. Starbucks patrons who use the chain's app return more frequently than those who don't, the company has said, and the greater efficiency that online ordering allows has boosted sales at busy stores during peak hours. Starbucks employed 8 percent more people in the U.S. in 2016 than it did in 2015, the year it launched the app...

James Bessen, an economist at Boston University School of Law, found that as the number of ATMs in America increased fivefold from 1990 to 2010, the number of bank tellers also grew. Bessen believes that ATMs drove demand for consumer banking: No longer constrained by a branch's limited hours, consumers used banking services more frequently, and people who were unbanked opened accounts to take advantage of the new technology. Although each branch employed fewer tellers, banks added more branches, so the number of tellers grew overall. And as machines took over many basic cash-handling tasks, the nature of the tellers' job changed. They were now tasked with talking to customers about products -- a certificate of deposit, an auto loan -- which in turn made them more valuable to their employers. "It's not clear that automation in the restaurant industry will lead to job losses," Bessen told me.

Toys

Ask Slashdot: Are There Any Good Smartwatches Or Fitness Trackers? 251

"What's your opinion on the current state of smartwatches?" asks long-time Slashdot reader rodrigoandrade. He's been researching both smartwatches and fitness trackers, and shares his own opinions: - Manufacturers have learnt from Moto 360 that people want round smartwatches that actually look like traditional watches, with a couple of glaring exceptions....

- Android Wear 2.0 is a thing, not vaporware. It's still pretty raw (think of early Android phones) but it works well. The LG Sport Watch is the highest-end device that supports it.

- LTE-enabled smartwatches finally allow you to ditch your smartphone, if you wish. Just pop you nano SIM in it and party on. The availability is still limited to a few SKUs in some countries, and they're ludicrously expensive, but it's getting there.

Keep reading for his assessment of four high-end choices -- and share your own opinions in the comments.

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