Cloud

Microsoft Built Its Own Custom Linux Kernel For Its New IoT Service (techcrunch.com) 199

At a small press event in San Francisco, Microsoft today announced the launch of a secure end-to-end IoT product that focuses on microcontroller-based devices -- the kind of devices that use tiny and relatively low-powered microcontrollers (MCUs) for basic control or connectivity features. TechCrunch reports: At the core of Azure Sphere is a new class of certified MCUs. As Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith stressed in today's announcement, Microsoft will license these new Azure Sphere chips for free, in hopes to jump-start the Azure Sphere ecosystem. Because it's hard to secure a device you can't update or get telemetry from, it's no surprise that these devices will feature built-in connectivity. And with that connectivity, these devices can also connect to the Azure Sphere Security Service in the cloud. For the first time ever, Microsoft is launching a custom Linux kernel and distribution: the Azure Sphere OS. It's an update to the kind of real-time operating systems that today's MCUs often use.

Why use Linux? "With Azure Sphere, Microsoft is addressing an entirely new class of IoT devices, the MCU," Rob Lefferts, Microsoft's partner director for Windows enterprise and security told me at the event. "Windows IoT runs on microprocessor units (MPUs) which have at least 100x the power of the MCU. The Microsoft-secured Linux kernel used in the Azure Sphere IoT OS is shared under an OSS license so that silicon partners can rapidly enable new silicon innovations." And those partners are also very comfortable with taking an open-source release and integrating that with their products. To get the process started, MediaTek is producing the first set of these new MCUs. These are low-powered, single-core ARM-A7 systems that run at 500MHz and include WiFi connectivity as well as a number of other I/O options.

Power

Ola Wants a Million Electric Rides on India's Roads by 2021 (bloomberg.com) 28

Ride-hailing company Ola, Uber's fiercest Indian competitor, wants to roll out 10,000 electric three-wheeled rickshaws within a year and a million battery-powered vehicles by 2021. From a report: The startup run by ANI Technologies said it's in policy discussions with several state governments, and is talking with potential partners from automakers to battery producers. It aims to build out an existing pilot project in the central Indian city of Nagpur, where Ola's first EVs have already traveled more than 4 million kilometers. Ola's ambitions dovetail with the Indian government's objectives. Prime Minster Narendra Modi plans to significantly increase the number of new energy vehicles on the road. The power ministry in March said Modi had directed senior ministers to ensure that by 2030 most vehicles in India would be powered by electricity.
Robotics

Europe Divided Over Robot 'Personhood' (politico.eu) 246

Politico Europe has an interesting piece which looks at the high-stakes debate between European lawmakers, legal experts and manufacturers over who should bear the ultimate responsibility for the actions by a machine: the machine itself or the humans who made them?. Two excerpts from the piece: The battle goes back to a paragraph of text, buried deep in a European Parliament report from early 2017, which suggests that self-learning robots could be granted "electronic personalities." Such a status could allow robots to be insured individually and be held liable for damages if they go rogue and start hurting people or damaging property.

Those pushing for such a legal change, including some manufacturers and their affiliates, say the proposal is common sense. Legal personhood would not make robots virtual people who can get married and benefit from human rights, they say; it would merely put them on par with corporations, which already have status as "legal persons," and are treated as such by courts around the world.

The Military

Robots Replace Soldiers In First of Its Kind Obstacle-Breaching Exercise (military.com) 23

Long-time Slashdot reader cold fjord writes: U.S. and British troops have completed a first-of-its-kind exercise using robots for breaching a complex anti-tank/anti-personnel obstacle as part of what was titled the "Robotic Complex Breach Concept demonstration" at the Grafenwoehr training area in Germany. The exercise included a number of robotic systems, including remotely controlled British Army Terrier engineering vehicles (five cameras, including thermal imaging), UAVs for reconnaissance and chemical agent detection, and the M58 Wolf under remote control and used to provide smoke screens...

British Warrant Officer Robert Kemp stated that breaching enemy obstacles is one of the most dangerous tasks on a battlefield, and that, "Any breach like this will have enemy weapons trained in on the area... Roboticizing breach operations takes away the risk of life and makes clearing enemy obstacles much safer." U.S. Army officer 1st Lt. Felix Derosin said, "As an engineer, this means a lot to me... The casualty rate for a breach is expected to be 50 percent. Being able to take our guys away from that, and have some robots go in there, is a very positive thing for us. In the future, this can save engineers' lives."

The engineer added later that "Being able to see it, eyes on, shows me what the future is going to be like, and it's pretty good."
Businesses

Apple's Stumbling HomePod Isn't the Hot Seller It Wanted (bloomberg.com) 98

The recently-released Apple HomePod smart speaker is not selling very well. According to Bloomberg, "By late March, Apple had lowered sales forecasts and cut some orders with Inventec, one of the manufacturers that builds the HomePod for Apple." From the report: At first, it looked like the HomePod might be a hit. Pre-orders were strong, and in the last week of January the device grabbed about a third of the U.S. smart speaker market in unit sales, according to data provided to Bloomberg by Slice Intelligence. But by the time HomePods arrived in stores, sales were tanking, says Slice principal analyst Ken Cassar. "Even when people had the ability to hear these things," he says, "it still didn't give Apple another spike." During the HomePod's first 10 weeks of sales, it eked out 10 percent of the smart speaker market, compared with 73 percent for Amazon's Echo devices and 14 percent for the Google Home, according to Slice Intelligence. Three weeks after the launch, weekly HomePod sales slipped to about 4 percent of the smart speaker category on average, the market research firm says. Inventory is piling up, according to Apple store workers, who say some locations are selling fewer than 10 HomePods a day. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple is "mulling" a "low-cost version" of the HomePod that may help short-term shipments. However, even if the product materializes, he predicts it will only provide a short-term boost to sales.
AMD

AMD Makes 2nd Gen Ryzen Processors Official With Availability Starting Next Week (hothardware.com) 63

MojoKid writes: Today AMD announced official details regarding its new mainstream second-generation Ryzen family of processors. Pricing and detailed specs show some compelling new alternatives from AMD and a refined family of chips to give Intel even more competition, especially considering price point. These new AMD CPUs are all based on the 12nm Zen+ architecture and, at least initially, include four SKUs. The Ryzen 7 family features 8 cores and 16 threads along with 20MB of cache. Ryzen 7 2700 (65W) has a base clock of 3.2GHz and a turbo frequency of 4.1GHz. The top-of-the-line Ryzen 7 2700X (105W) ups the stakes with clocks of 3.7GHz and 4.3GHz respectively. The new Ryzen 5 family features six physical cores capable of executing 12 threads and 19MB of cache. The Ryzen 5 2600 (65W) has a base clock of 3.4GHz and a max boost frequency of 3.9GHz. The Ryzen 5 2600X (95W) ups those speeds to 3.6GHz and 4.2GHz respectively. AMD says that the Ryzen 5 2600, Ryzen 5 2600X, Ryzen 7 2700 and Ryzen 2700X will be available starting April 19th, priced at $199, $229, $299 and $329 respectively.
AI

Google Works Out a Fascinating, Slightly Scary Way For AI To Isolate Voices In a Crowd (arstechnica.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Google researchers have developed a deep-learning system designed to help computers better identify and isolate individual voices within a noisy environment. As noted in a post on the company's Google Research Blog this week, a team within the tech giant attempted to replicate the cocktail party effect, or the human brain's ability to focus on one source of audio while filtering out others -- just as you would while talking to a friend at a party. Google's method uses an audio-visual model, so it is primarily focused on isolating voices in videos. The company posted a number of YouTube videos showing the tech in action.

The company says this tech works on videos with a single audio track and can isolate voices in a video algorithmically, depending on who's talking, or by having a user manually select the face of the person whose voice they want to hear. Google says the visual component here is key, as the tech watches for when a person's mouth is moving to better identify which voices to focus on at a given point and to create more accurate individual speech tracks for the length of a video. According to the blog post, the researchers developed this model by gathering 100,000 videos of "lectures and talks" on YouTube, extracting nearly 2,000 hours worth of segments from those videos featuring unobstructed speech, then mixing that audio to create a "synthetic cocktail party" with artificial background noise added. Google then trained the tech to split that mixed audio by reading the "face thumbnails" of people speaking in each video frame and a spectrogram of that video's soundtrack. The system is able to sort out which audio source belongs to which face at a given time and create separate speech tracks for each speaker. Whew.

Android

Google Appears To Be Testing iPhone X-Style Gesture Navigation In Android P (androidpolice.com) 18

A new screenshot that Google recently shared (and since deleted) is stirring up theories about a possible iPhone X-like gesture navigation interface for Android P. Android Police reports: What we see is a decidedly odd navigation layout, with this short little bar in place of the expected home button, a back arrow that's now hollowed-out, and an app-switcher that seems utterly absent. So how would Google's presumably screen-only implementation work? Well, not only does that home bar look like a narrower version of the bar you'll find on the iPhone X, but we hear that the Android version may function in a quite similar way, with users swiping up to access their home screens. While we still haven't heard any details about how app switching might work with this new regime, the back button will reportedly only appear when needed, disappearing on the home screen, for example. As to other controls we can only speculate, like how you would gesture to conjure up the Google Assistant.
Robotics

Tesla Relied On Too Many Robots To Build the Model 3, Elon Musk Says (theverge.com) 103

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Elon Musk says Tesla relied on too many robots to build the Model 3, which is partly to blame for the delays in manufacturing the crucial mass-market electric car. In an interview with CBS Good Morning, Musk agreed with Tesla's critics that there was over-reliance on automation and too few human assembly line workers building the Model 3. Earlier this month, Tesla announced that it had officially missed its goal of making 2,500 Model 3 vehicles a week by the end of the first financial quarter of this year. It will start the second quarter making just 2,000 Model 3s per week, but the company says it still believes it can get to a rate of 5,000 Model 3s per week at the midway point of 2018. Previously, Tesla has blamed bottlenecks in the production of the Model 3's batteries at the company's Gigafactory for the delays. But in a wide-ranging (and largely positive) interview with CBS's Gayle King, Musk also admits it was Tesla's over-reliance on robots in the production. Musk then said the company needs more people working in the factory and that automation slowed the Model 3 production process. He alluded to a "crazy, complex network of conveyor belts" the company had previously used and said the company eliminated it after it became clear it wasn't working.
Power

World's First Electrified Road For Charging Vehicles Opens In Sweden (theguardian.com) 102

A 1.2-mile stretch of road with electric rails has been installed in Stockholm, Sweden, allowing electric vehicles to charge up their batteries as they drive across it. "The technology behind the electrification of the road linking Stockholm Arlanda airport to a logistics site outside the capital city aims to solve the thorny problems of keeping electric vehicles charged, and the manufacture of their batteries affordable," reports The Guardian. From the report: Energy is transferred from two tracks of rail in the road via a movable arm attached to the bottom of a vehicle. The design is not dissimilar to that of a Scalextric track, although should the vehicle overtake, the arm is automatically disconnected. The electrified road is divided into 50m sections, with an individual section powered only when a vehicle is above it. When a vehicle stops, the current is disconnected. The system is able to calculate the vehicle's energy consumption, which enables electricity costs to be debited per vehicle and user. The "dynamic charging" -- as opposed to the use of roadside charging posts -- means the vehicle's batteries can be smaller, along with their manufacturing costs. A former diesel-fuelled truck owned by the logistics firm, PostNord, is the first to use the road.
Software

Apple Starts Alerting Users That It Will End 32-Bit App Support On the Mac (techcrunch.com) 267

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Tomorrow at midnight PT, Apple will begin issuing an alert box when you open a 32-bit app in MacOS 10.13.4. It's a one-time (per app) alert, designed to help MacOS make the full transition to 64-bit. At some unspecified time in the future, the operating system will end its support for 32-bit technology meaning those apps that haven't been updated just won't work. That time, mind you, is not tomorrow, but the company's hoping that this messaging will help light a fire under users and developers to upgrade before that day comes. Says the company on its help page, "To ensure that the apps you purchase are as advanced as the Mac you run them on, all future Mac software will eventually be required to be 64-bit." As the company notes, the transition's been a long time coming. The company started making it 10 or so years ago with the Power Mac G5 desktop, so it hasn't exactly been an overnight ask for developers. Of course, if you've got older, non-supported software in your arsenal, the eventual end-of-lifing could put a severe damper on your workflow. For those users, there will no doubt be some shades of the transition from OS 9 to OS X in all of this.
AI

FDA Approves AI-Powered Software To Detect Diabetic Retinopathy (engadget.com) 34

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just approved an AI-powered device that can be used by non-specialists to detect diabetic retinopathy in adults with diabetes. Engadget reports: Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the high levels of blood sugar in the bloodstream cause damage to your retina's blood vessels. It's the most common cause of vision loss, according to the FDA. The approval comes for a device called IDx-DR, a software program that uses an AI algorithm to analyze images of the eye that can be taken in a regular doctor's office with a special camera, the Topcon NW400. The photos are then uploaded to a server that runs IDx-DR, which can then tell the doctor if there is a more than mild level of diabetic retinopathy present. If not, it will advise a re-screen in 12 months. The device and software can be used by health care providers who don't normally provide eye care services. The FDA warns that you shouldn't be screened with the device if you have had laser treatment, eye surgery or injections, as well as those with other conditions, like persistent vision loss, blurred vision, floaters, previously diagnosed macular edema and more.
Software

New Navigation App 'Live Roads' Promises 1.5m-Accuracy With Standard Cellphone Hardware (arstechnica.com) 80

Jonathan M. Gitlin from Ars Technica reviews a new navigation app called Live Roads, which promises 1.5m-accuracy via your current smartphone without the need of any extra hardware. In a nutshell, the app provides more accurate mapping/navigation than what's currently available via Google Maps or Apple Maps, but it's still not quite as accurate as a true "HD map." HD maps are accurate to within a centimeter or two and are usually made by a combination of traditional surveying and lidar scanning. Here's an excerpt from the report: A few weeks after talking with the company, I was delivered a Samsung S7 loaded with Live Roads. I'll be honest: I'm not that familiar with Android, and this isn't really a review of the app. I used it enough to check that it does what it claims, but I didn't use it as my sole method of navigation. However, this brief bit of user-testing did let me check out the claims in that email. I don't think I'd equate the app with the HD maps that autonomous vehicles will need. For one thing it's readable by a human being; for another it's not quite that accurate. But the spatial resolution was indeed better than it should be on a consumer phone, and Live Roads was able to locate me down to a specific lane on a multi-lane road. Various navigation apps give you lane-specific instructions -- for instance, telling you to stay in the middle two lanes if you're approaching a complicated intersection. Where Live Roads differs is that it can also tell which lane you're actually in. Whether this is enough of a feature to build a business model around is an open question; I'm quite happy using Google Maps on iOS, with occasional forays into Waze (running in the background to warn of speed traps) and Apple Maps (if I'm driving something with CarPlay and the infotainment's built-in navigation sucks).

But it left me wondering: how does it work? Paul Konieczny, CEO of Live Roads, gave me an explanation -- up to a point. "Primarily it is based around sensor fusion and certain probabilistic models -- we call it the Black Box," he said. "The current release of the app that is available in the Play Store has an earlier revision of our Black Box. This initial version is missing some of the functionality of the full-fledged system and thus has a spatial resolution of ~2.5m. This compares favorably to standard GPS that has a resolution of 4.0 m+." By summer, Konieczny hopes that the system will be fully operational and that accuracy will be down to under 1.5m. Assuming a large enough user base, that should let it offer lane-specific traffic data, "as well as introducing an entire ecosystem of 3D objects that users will be able to interact with," he told me.

Cellphones

The Personality Traits That Put You At Risk For Smartphone Addiction (washingtonpost.com) 73

Zorro shares a report from The Washington Post: When the Trump-affiliated firm Cambridge Analytica obtained data on tens of millions of Facebook users, it used the "Big 5" or "Five Factor Model" personality test to target them with ads designed to influence their votes in the 2016 election. The test scores people on five traits -- openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism -- and was used in the election to predict the way a voter would respond to an advertisement. But the Big 5 can predict a lot more -- including how likely you are to even use Facebook or any other social media (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source).

That's because the way you score on the test can tell you how likely you are to become addicted to your screen. Research shows that people who score high on neuroticism, low on conscientiousness, and low on agreeableness are more likely to become addicted to social media, video games, instant messaging, or other online stimuli. Studies have also found that extraverts are more likely to become addicted to cellphone use than introverts. Some of the correlations make sense. Less agreeable people may be more apt to immerse themselves in technology because it does not require the kind of friendly interactions that real life does. Neurotic people have been shown to spend more time online because it validates their desire to belong or be part of a group. Conscientious people are less impulsive and therefore more able to control and organize their time. But then it gets complicated. Because according to a new study out of the State University of New York at Binghamton, specific combinations of those personality traits can mitigate or exaggerate one's propensity to addiction.

AI

How Will Automation Affect Different US Cities? (northwestern.edu) 98

Casino dealers and fishermen are both likely to be replaced by machines in coming years. So which city will lose more of its human workforce -- Las Vegas, the country's gambling capital, or Boston, a major fishing hub? From a research: People tend to assume that automation will affect every locale in the same, homogeneous way, says Hyejin Youn, an assistant professor of management and organization at Kellogg. "They have never thought of how this is unequally distributed across cities, across regions in the U.S." It is a high-stakes question. The knowledge that certain places will lose more jobs could allow workers and industries to better prepare for the change and could help city leaders ensure their local economies are poised to rebound. In new research, Youn and colleagues seek to understand how machines will disrupt the economies of individual cities. By carefully analyzing the workforces of American metropolitan areas, the team calculated what portion of jobs in each area is likely to be automated in coming decades. You can run your city's name, and also the job position you're curious about here.

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