Software

In Virtual Reality, How Much Body Do You Need? (nytimes.com) 34

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Will it soon be possible to simulate the feeling of a spirit not attached to any particular physical form using virtual or augmented reality? If so, a good place to start would be to figure out the minimal amount of body we need to feel a sense of self, especially in digital environments where more and more people may find themselves for work or play. It might be as little as a pair of hands and feet, report Dr. Michiteru Kitazaki and a Ph.D. student, Ryota Kondo. In a paper published Tuesday in Scientific Reports, they showed that animating virtual hands and feet alone is enough to make people feel their sense of body drift toward an invisible avatar (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). Their work fits into a corpus of research on illusory body ownership, which has challenged understandings of perception and contributed to therapies like treating pain for amputees who experience phantom limb.

Using an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and a motion sensor, Dr. Kitazaki's team performed a series of experiments in which volunteers watched disembodied hands and feet move two meters in front of them in a virtual room. In one experiment, when the hands and feet mirrored the participants' own movements, people reported feeling as if the space between the appendages were their own bodies. In another experiment, the scientists induced illusory ownership of an invisible body, then blacked out the headset display, effectively blindfolding the subjects. The researchers then pulled them a random distance back and asked them to return to their original position, still virtually blindfolded. Consistently, the participants overshot their starting point, suggesting that their sense of body had drifted or "projected" forward, toward the transparent avatar.

AI

Google's Duplex AI Robot Will Warn That Calls Are Recorded (bloomberg.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: On Thursday, the Alphabet Inc. unit shared more details on how the Duplex robot-calling feature will operate when it's released publicly, according to people familiar with the discussion. Duplex is an extension of the company's voice-based digital assistant that automatically phones local businesses and speaks with workers there to book appointments. At Google's weekly TGIF staff meeting on Thursday, executives gave employees their first full Duplex demo and told them the bot would identify itself as the Google assistant. It will also inform people on the phone that the line is being recorded in certain jurisdictions, the people said.
Google

Google Is Making An AR Headset With New Qualcomm Chips (theverge.com) 11

Google is reportedly working on a standalone augmented reality headset that will use new Qualcomm chips. "It will be built by Taiwanese computer maker Quanta," reports The Verge. "The project is still in its early stages, according to documents obtained by WinFuture." From the report: The AR headset is supposed to be similar to Microsoft's HoloLens, a headset that came out in 2016 and is aimed at design, training, and industrial use. The Google AR headset that's in development will reportedly be self-contained and powered by a Qualcomm chip, rather than tethered to another device. It will also include cameras and microphones. The headset is currently going by the name "Google A65." There's no release date yet for the Google A65 as it's still in the prototype stage, according to WinFuture. The headset won't only operate like a HoloLens, but it will use the same chips. HoloLens is rumored to be getting an update this year, with a new ARM-powered design and an improved field of view. The Qualcomm chips that will reportedly be used in both the new HoloLens and the new Google headset are the Qualcomm QSC603 four-core chips, based on ARM architecture.
Android

With Steam Link App, Your Smartphone Can Be An Imperfect Gaming Monitor (arstechnica.com) 47

Ars Technica's Kyle Orland shares his experience with Valve's recently announced Steam Link app, which lets users play games running on a PC via a tablet, mobile phone, or Apple TV on the same network. The app launches today for Android 5.0+ devices; iOS support is "pending further review from Apple." From the report: Valve isn't kidding when it says a Wi-Fi router in the 5Ghz band is required for wireless streaming. I first tested iPad streaming on the low-end 2.4Ghz router provided with my Verizon FiOS subscription (an Actiontec MI424WR), with a wired Ethernet connection to my Windows gaming rig on the other end. The Steam Link network test warned me that "your network may not work well with Steam Link," thanks to 1- to 2-percent frame loss and about 15ms of "network variance," depending on when I tested. Even graphically simple games like The Binding of Isaac ran at an unplayably slowed-down rate on this connection, with frequent dropped inputs to boot.

Switching over to a 5GHz tri-band router (The Netgear Nighthawk X6, to be precise), the same network test reported a "fantastic" connection that "look[s] like it will work well with Steam." On this router, remotely played games ran incredibly smoothly at the iPad's full 1080p resolution, with total round-trip display latency ranging anywhere from 50 to 150ms, according to Steam Link's reports (and one-way "input lag" of less than 1ms). At that level of delay, playing felt practically indistinguishable from playing directly on the computer, with no noticeable gameplay impact even on quick-response titles like Cuphead.

XBox (Games)

Microsoft Announces Xbox Adaptive Controller For Players With Disabilities (theverge.com) 19

A new Xbox controller designed for people with disabilities has been announced by Microsoft today. The Xbox Adaptive Controller features two large programmable buttons and 19 jacks that can be connected to a range of joysticks, buttons, and switches to make it easier for a wider range of people to play games on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. The Verge reports: "I can customize how I interface with the Xbox Adaptive Controller to whatever I want," says Solomon Romney, a Microsoft Store learning specialist who was born without fingers on his left hand. "If I want to play a game entirely with my feet, I can. I can make the controls fit my body, my desires, and I can change them anytime I want. You plug in whatever you want and go. It takes virtually no time to set it up and use it. It could not be simpler."

The focus is on connectivity and customizability, with players able to build a setup that works for their capabilities and needs. It won't be an all-in-one solution for many games, but through the use of peripherals and the Xbox's system-level button remapping, the possibilities could be endless. The Xbox Adaptive Controller will cost $99.99 and goes on sale later this year.

Businesses

The Boston Restaurant Where Robots Have Replaced the Chefs (washingtonpost.com) 110

Started by a group of 20-something robotics engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology who partnered with Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud, Spyce in downtown Boston is founded on the idea that a fulfilling meal can be more science than spontaneity [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. From a report: The restaurant's founders have replaced human chefs with seven automated cooking pots that simultaneously whip up meals in three minutes or less. A brief description of meal preparation -- courtesy of 26-year-old co-founder, Michael Farid -- can sound more like laboratory instructions than conventional cooking. "Once you place your order, we have an ingredient delivery system that collects them from the fridge," Farid said.

"The ingredients are portioned into the correct sizes and then delivered to a robotic wok, where they are tumbled at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The ingredients are cooked and seared. And once the process is complete, the woks tilt downward and put food into a bowl. And then they're ready to be garnished and served." Spyce bills itself as "the world's first restaurant featuring a robotic kitchen that cooks complex meals," a distinction that appears to reference burger-flipping robots like "Flippy," who plied his trade in a California fast food kitchen before being temporary suspended -- because he wasn't working fast enough.

Earth

A Fleet of Sailing Robots Sets Out To Quantify the Oceans (bloomberg.com) 76

pacopico writes: A start-up in California called Saildrone has built a fleet of robotic sailboats that are gathering tons of data about the oceans. The saildrones rely on a hard, carbon-fiber sail to catch wind, and solar panels to power all of their electronics and sensors. "Each drone carries at least $100,000 of electronics, batteries, and related gear," reports Businessweek. "Devices near the tip of the sail measure wind speed and direction, sunlight, air temperature and pressure, and humidity. Across the top of the drone's body, other electronics track wave height and period, carbon dioxide levels, and the strength of the Earth's magnetic field. Underwater, sensors monitor currents, dissolved oxygen levels, and water temperature, acidity, and salinity. Sonars and other acoustic instruments try to identify animal life." So far they've been used to find sharks, monitor fisheries, check on climate change and provide weather forecasts. Saildrone just raised $90 million to build a fleet of 1,000 drones, which it thinks will be enough to measure all of the world's oceans.
Android

OnePlus 6 Launched With 6.28-inch Display, Snapdragon 845 CPU, and Headphone Jack (phonedog.com) 109

OnePlus has launched their newest flagship smartphone today at an event in London. The OnePlus 6, as it is called, features a 6.28-inch 2280x1080 display with 19:9 aspect ratio and notch, Snapdragon 845 octa-core processor with up to 8GB of RAM, 16- and 20-megapixel rear-facing cameras, 3,330mAh battery, 3.5mm headphone jack, and Android 8.1 Oreo running out of the box with support for Android P coming soon. Strangely, the phone features a glass build construction but no support for wireless charging. OnePlus claims the glass back will be better for transmitting radio waves, but it's likely included in preparation for the OnePlus 6T, which will likely launch several months later and include wireless charging. PhoneDog reports: Around on the back of the OnePlus 6 is a vertically stacked dual rear camera setup that's now in the center of the phone for symmetry. There's a 16MP camera with Sony IMX 519 sensor, f/1.7 aperture, and support for optical image stabilization and electronic image stabilization, as well as a 20MP camera with Sony IMD 376K sensor and f/1.7 aperture. Also included are portrait mode and slow-motion 480fps video capture features.

The body of the OnePlus 6 is made of Gorilla Glass 5, which OnePlus says will be better for transmitting radio waves. Rounding out the OP6's spec list is a 16MP front-facing camera, NFC, Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C, an alert slider, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the security side of things, there's a rear fingerprint reader and face unlock, and when it comes to wireless capabilities, the OnePlus 6 supports 40 global LTE bands as well as 4x4 MIMO for speeds up to 1Gbps.
The OnePlus 6 will be available on May 22 with the following prices: 6GB/64GB: $529; 8GB/128GB: $579; 8GB/256GB: $629.
Government

Cops Will Soon ID You Via Your Roof Rack (arstechnica.com) 98

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: On Tuesday, one of the largest license plate reader (LPR) manufacturers, ELSAG, announced a major upgrade to "allow investigators to search by color, seven body types, 34 makes, and nine visual descriptors in addition to the standard plate number, location, and time." Such a vast expansion of the tech now means that evading such scans will be even more difficult.

"Using advanced computer vision software, ELSAG ALPR data can now be processed to include the vehicle's make, type -- sedan, SUV, hatchback, pickup, minivan, van, box truck -- and general color -- red, blue, green, white and yellow," ELSAG continued. "The solution actively recognizes the 34 most-common vehicle brands on US roads." Plus, the company says, the software is now able to visually identity things like a "roof rack, spare tire, bumper sticker, or a ride-sharing company decal."

Bitcoin

Nobody Knows How Much Energy Bitcoin Is Using (vice.com) 161

dmoberhaus writes: A new report published in 'Joule' today claims Bitcoin may use up to 0.5% of the world's energy by the end of this year. We often hear about how bad Bitcoin is for the environment -- it already uses the same amount of energy as the country of Ireland -- but these numbers are usually just the /minimum/ amount of energy the network must be using. The actual amount of energy used by the Bitcoin network is likely substantially higher, but getting an accurate reading on that energy level is hard. The only researcher trying to quantify Bitcoin's energy use spoke to Motherboard about opening Bitcoin's 'black box.'
Microsoft

Microsoft To Launch a Line of Lower-Cost Surface Tablets With 10-inch Displays By Second Half of 2018, Report Says (bloomberg.com) 75

Microsoft plans to launch a line of lower-cost Surface tablets as soon as the second half of 2018, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. These devices should help Microsoft improve its market share in the iPad-led hybrid machines market, the outlet noted. From the report: Microsoft has tried this before. The software giant kicked off its consumer-oriented hardware push in 2012 with the launch of the original Surface RT. At the time, it was priced starting at $499. After the tablets didn't resonate with consumers and product reviewers, Microsoft pivoted to the more-expensive Surface Pro, a line which has gained steam and likely contributed to demand for a pro-oriented iPad, which Apple launched in 2015.

The new tablets will feature 10-inch screens -- around the same size as a standard iPad, but smaller than the 12-inch screens used on the Surface Pro laptop line. The new Surfaces, priced about $400, will have rounded edges like an iPad, differing from the squared off corners of current models. They'll also include USB-C connectivity, a first for Surface tablets, a new charging and syncing standard being used by some of the latest smartphones. The tablets are expected to be about 20 percent lighter than the high-end models, but will have around four hours fewer of battery life. (The current Surface Pro can last 13.5 hours on a single charge.)

Robotics

Researchers Create First Flying Wireless Robotic Insect (newatlas.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: You might remember RoboBee, an insect-sized robot that flies by flapping its wings. Unfortunately, though, it has to be hard-wired to a power source. Well, one of RoboBee's creators has now helped develop RoboFly, which flies without a tether. Slightly heavier than a toothpick, RoboFly was designed by a team at the University of Washington -- one member of that team, assistant professor Sawyer Fuller, was also part of the Harvard University team that first created RoboBee. That flying robot receives its power via a wire attached to an external power source, as an onboard battery would simply be too heavy to allow the tiny craft to fly. Instead of a wire or a battery, RoboFly is powered by a laser. That laser shines on a photovoltaic cell, which is mounted on top of the robot. On its own, that cell converts the laser light to just seven volts of electricity, so a built-in circuit boosts that to the 240 volts needed to flap the wings. That circuit also contains a microcontroller, which tells the robot when and how to flap its wings -- on RoboBee, that sort of "thinking" is handled via a tether-linked external controller. The robot can be seen in action here.
Power

Tesla Unveils New Large Powerpack Project For Grid Balancing In Europe (electrek.co) 99

Tesla has unveiled a new large Powerpack energy storage project to be used as a virtual power plant for grid balancing in Europe. It consists of 140 Powerpacks and several Tesla inverters for a total power output of 18.2 MW. Electrek reports: Tesla partnered with Restore, a demand response aggregator, to build the system and offer balancing services to European transmission system operators. Instead of using gas generators and steam turbines kicking to compensate for losses of power on the grid, Tesla's batteries are charged when there's excess power and then discharge when there's a need for more power.

Restore UK Vice President Louis Burford told The Energyst that they are bundling their assets like batteries as a "synthetic pool": "By creating synthetic pools or portfolios, you reduce the technical requirements on individual assets that otherwise would not be able to participate [in certain balancing services]. By doing so you create value where it does not ordinarily exist. That is only achievable through synthetic portfolios."
For those interested, Tesla has released promo video on YouTube about the project.
Crime

Suspect Identified In CIA 'Vault 7' Leak (nytimes.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: In weekly online posts last year, WikiLeaks released a stolen archive of secret documents about the Central Intelligence Agency's hacking operations, including software exploits designed to take over iPhones and turn smart television sets into surveillance devices. It was the largest loss of classified documents in the agency's history and a huge embarrassment for C.I.A. officials. Now, The New York Times has learned the identity of the prime suspect in the breach (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): a 29-year-old former C.I.A. software engineer who had designed malware used to break into the computers of terrorism suspects and other targets.

F.B.I. agents searched the Manhattan apartment of the suspect, Joshua A. Schulte, one week after WikiLeaks released the first of the C.I.A. documents in March last year, and then stopped him from flying to Mexico on vacation, taking his passport, according to court records and family members. The search warrant application said Mr. Schulte was suspected of "distribution of national defense information," and agents told the court they had retrieved "N.S.A. and C.I.A. paperwork" in addition to a computer, tablet, phone and other electronics. But instead of charging Mr. Schulte in the breach, referred to as the Vault 7 leak, prosecutors charged him last August with possessing child pornography, saying agents had found the material on a server he created as a business in 2009 while he was a student at the University of Texas.

Microsoft

Surface Hub 2 Coming in 2019, Looks Amazing (arstechnica.com) 62

Microsoft gave an early look at its next-generation Surface Hub 2 today. It will go on sale next year, with certain selected customers testing it this year. From a report: Microsoft's Surface Hub, its conference room computer, was something of a surprise hit. The system has been in short supply since its launch about three years ago, especially in its 84-inch version: its combination of video conferencing and whiteboarding makes it a collaborative tool with few direct competitors. The central feature of the new system is that it's a 50.5-inch 4K display with a rotating mount. Instead of the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, the Surface Hub 2 has the same 3:2 ratio of Microsoft's other Surface systems.
Intel

Intel's First 10nm Cannon Lake CPU Sees the Light of Day (anandtech.com) 184

Artem Tashkinov writes: A Chinese retailer has started selling a laptop featuring Intel's first 10nm CPU the Intel Core i3 8121U. Intel promised to start producing 10nm CPUs in 2016 but the rollout has been postponed almost until the second half of 2018. It's worth noting that this CPU does not have integrated graphics enabled and features only two cores.

AnandTech opines: "This machine listed online means that we can confirm that Intel is indeed shipping 10nm components into the consumer market. Shipping a low-end dual core processor with disabled graphics doesn't inspire confidence, especially as it is labelled under the 8th gen designation, and not something new and shiny under the 9th gen -- although Intel did state in a recent earnings call that serious 10nm volume and revenue is now a 2019 target. These parts are, for better or worse, helping Intel generate some systems with the new technology. We've never before seen Intel commercially use low-end processors to introduce a new manufacturing process, although this might be the norm from now on."

Cellphones

Lenovo Teases a True All-Screen Smartphone With No Notch (cnet.com) 177

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: Notches, it seems, are the new black. Originally seen -- and often criticized -- on the Essential PH-1 and iPhone X in 2017, the trend of adding notches to Android phones has only accelerated this year as phone makers look to maximize the screen size. But the Lenovo Z5 is going the other way: It's truly all-screen, and notch-free. At least, that's according to a sketch shared last Friday by Lenovo VP Chang Cheng on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform in China. Cheng's teaser post says (according to Google Translate) that the Lenovo Z5 is the company's new flagship phone. Besides that, the post leaves it pretty vague.

All-screen phones look cool, but they challenge the manufacturer to find a place to put front cameras, sensors and other hardware. That's why we see bezels on some phones and notches on others. It's not clear what Lenovo plans to do with the front camera on the Lenovo Z5. Cheng's post claims that "four technological breakthroughs" and "18 patented technologies" were made for the phone, but doesn't go into details.
One of the first smartphones to launch with an edge-to-edge display was the Xiaomi Mi Mix. It launched with next to no bezel or notch, leaving many to wonder where the earpiece would be. What Xiaomi managed to do was use what it calls "cantilever piezoelectric ceramic acoustic technology." Basically, it's a component that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy to transfer to the phone's internal metal frame, which then vibrates to create sound. It's possible the Z5 relies on a similar technology, or bone conduction technology found in many headphones and some smartphones.

Aside from the front-facing camera and ambient light sensors, the other components that are typically found on the front of smartphones are relatively easy to drag-and-drop to different locations. For example, the speakers in the Z5 are likely bottom facing and the navigation controls are almost certainly software based. The question is whether or not it's worth having a true all-screen smartphone if it means there's no front-facing camera, ambient light sensors, or stereo speakers.
China

Chinese Scientists Develop Photonic Quantum Analog Computing Chip (sciencemag.org) 55

hackingbear writes from a report via Xinhua: Chinese scientists demonstrated the first two-dimensional quantum walks of single photons in real spatial space, which may provide a powerful platform to boost analog quantum computing. Scientists at Shanghai Jiaotong University reported in a paper published in the journal Science Advances a three-dimensional photonic chip with a scale up to 49x49 nodes, by using a technique called femtosecond direct writing. Universal quantum computers, under develop by IBM, Google, Alibaba and other American and Chinese rivals, are far from being feasible before error correction and full connections between the increasing numbers of qubits could be realized. In contrast, analog quantum computers, or quantum simulators, can be built in a straightforward way to solve practical problems directly without error correction, and potentially be able to beat the computational power of classical computers in the near future.
AMD

AMD Integrates Ryzen PRO and Radeon Vega Graphics In Next-Gen APUs (zdnet.com) 76

The three biggest PC OEMs -- Dell, HP, and Lenovo -- are now offering AMD Ryzen PRO mobile and desktop accelerated processing units (APUs) with built-in Radeon Vega graphics in a variety of commercial systems. There are a total of seven new APUs -- three for the mobile space and four for the desktop. As AMD notes in its press release, the first desktops to ship with these latest chips include: the HP Elitedesk G4 and 285 Desktop, the Lenovo ThinkCentre M715, and the Dell Optiplex 5055. ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes writes about what makes Ryzen PRO so appealing: Ryzen PRO has been built from the ground up to focus on three pillars -- power, security and reliability. Built-in security means integrated GuardMI technology, an AES 128-bit encryption engine, Windows 10 Enterprise Security support, and support for fTPM/TPM 2.0 Trusted Platform Module. One of the features of Ryzen PRO that AMD hopes will appeal to commercial users is the enterprise-grade reliability that the chips come backed with, everything from 18-moths of planned software availability, 24-months processor availability, a commercial-grade QA process, 36-moth warranty, and enterprise-class manageability.

There are no worries on the performance front either, with the Ryzen PRO with Vega Graphics being the world's fastest processor currently available for ultrathin commercial notebooks, with the AMD Ryzen 7 PRO 2700U offering up to 22 percent more productivity performance than Intel's 8th-generation Core i7-8550U in testing carried out by AMD. AMD has also designed the Ryzen PRO processors to be energy-efficient, enabling up to 16 hours of battery life in devices, or 10.5 hours of video playback. The Ryzen PRO with Vega Graphics desktop processors are also no slouches, opening up a significant performance gap when compared to Intel Core i5 8400 and Core i3 8100 parts.
AMD also announced that it is sampling its second-generation Threadripper 2900X, 2920X and 2950X products. "For Threadripper Gen2 you can expect a refresh of the current line-up; an 8-core Threadripper 2900X, a 12-core Threadripper 2920X and of course a 16-core Threadripper 2950X," reports Guru3D.com. "AMD will apply the same Zen+ tweaks to the processors; including memory latency optimizations and higher clock speeds."

AMD has something for the datacenter enthusiasts out there too. Epyc, AMD's x86 server processor line based on the company's Zen microarchitecture, has a new promo video, claiming more performance, more security features, and more value than Intel Xeon. The company plans to market Epyc in an aggressive head-to-head format similar to how T-Mobile campaigns against Verizon and AT&T. Given Intel Xeon's 99% market share, they sort of have to...
Google

Google Will Make Its Paid Storage Plans Cheaper (theverge.com) 69

An anonymous reader shares a report:Google is rolling out new changes to its storage plans that include a new, low-cost storage plan and half off the price of its 2TB storage option, the company announced today. It's also converting all Google Drive paid storage plans to Google One, perhaps in part because you'll now have one-tap access to Google's live customer service.

Google One will get a new $2.99 a month option that gets you 200GB of storage. The 2TB plan, which usually costs $19.99 per month, will now cost $9.99 a month. Finally, the 1TB plan that costs $9.99 a month is getting removed. The other plans for 10, 20, or 30TB won't see any changes.

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