Input Devices

Typing By Brain Arrives: No Surgery Necessary (wired.com) 93

mirandakatz writes: 2017 has been a coming-out year of sorts for the brain-machine interface. But the main barrier to adoption is the potentially invasive nature of a BMI: Not many people are going to want to get surgery to have a chip implanted in their brains. A New York company may have found a solution to that. It's created a BMI that works just by an armband -- and it works now, not in some far-off future.
Steven Levy describes a recent demo by the CEO of CTRL-Labs: After [typing] a few lines of text, he pushes the keyboard away... He resumes typing. Only this time he is typing on...nothing. Just the flat tabletop. Yet the result is the same: The words he taps out appear on the monitor... The text on the screen is being generated not by his fingertips, but rather by the signals his brain is sending to his fingers. The armband is intercepting those signals, interpreting them correctly, and relaying the output to the computer, just as a keyboard would have...

CTRL-Labs, which comes with both tech bona fides and an all-star neuroscience advisory board, bypasses the incredibly complicated tangle of connections inside the cranium and dispenses with the necessity of breaking the skin or the skull to insert a chip -- the Big Ask of BMI. Instead, the company is concentrating on the rich set of signals controlling movement that travel through the spinal column, which is the nervous system's low-hanging fruit. Reardon and his colleagues at CTRL-Labs are using these signals as a powerful API between all of our machines and the brain itself.

Businesses

'Bodega' CEO Apologizes, Insists They'll Create More Jobs (cnn.com) 155

Remember those two ex-Googlers who started a company to replace mom-and-pop corner stores with automated vending kiosks? An anonymous reader writes: The company's CEO has now "apologized in the face of mounting outrage," according to CNN. CEO Paul McDonald had shared a vision with Fast Company of a world where centralized shopping locations "won't be necessary" because there'll be a tiny automated one every 100 feet. Within hours McDonald was writing a new apologetic essay insisting he's not trying to replace corner stores, which carry more items and include a human staff who "offer an integral human connection to their patrons that our automated storefronts never will." In fact, he added that "Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them. We see a future where anyone can own and operate a Bodega -- delivering relevant items and a great retail experience to places no corner store would ever open." Promising to review criticism, he added his hope was to "bring a useful, new retail experience to places where commerce currently doesn't exist."
Bodega's CEO sees it as a way to beat Amazon by offering immediate access to popular products, and TechCrunch reports the company has already raised $2.5 million, while Fast Company notes "angel" investments from executives at Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Dropbox.

The company has already begun testing 30 Bodega boxes over the last ten months, and unveiled 50 more boxes last week, with hopes to have over 1,000 by the end of next year.
Government

Trump Blocks China-Backed Takeover of US Chip Maker 'Lattice Semi' (cnn.com) 151

MountainLogic shares a report from CNN: President Trump has stopped the takeover of an American chip maker by a private equity firm with ties to China. The deal, which would have seen China-backed Canyon Bridge Capital Partners acquire Lattice Semiconductors, was blocked over national security concerns. "Today, consistent with the administration's commitment to take all actions necessary to ensure the protection of U.S. national security, the president issued an order prohibiting the acquisition," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Wednesday. The national security risk included "the potential transfer of intellectual property" to the Chinese-backed company and the "Chinese government's role in supporting this transaction," according to Mnuchin's statement. Those are sensitive matters: the Trump administration launched an investigation last month into whether China is unfairly getting hold of American technology and intellectual property. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which reviews deals that could result in a foreign entity taking control of an American company, had previously recommended halting the deal. Lattice CEO Darin G. Billerbeck called the outcome "disappointing" and called the proposed acquisition "an excellent deal" for Lattice and for "expanding the opportunity to keep jobs in America." According to CNN, Lattice currently employs 300 people in Oregon -- and Canyon Bridge has committed to adding 350 more if the takeover deal went through.
Android

Apple's A11 Bionic Chip In iPhone 8 and iPhone X Smokes Android Handsets In Early Benchmarks (hothardware.com) 332

MojoKid writes: Many of the new releases of Apple's iPhone bring with it a new A-series SoC (System on Chip) and Apple is keeping that tradition with the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X. Each of those handsets sports a custom ARM-based A11 Bionic processor with six cores -- four high performance cores and two power efficiency cores. The two power efficiency cores will perform the bulk medial chores to maintain battery life, which Apple says will be 2 hours longer than the iPhone 7. However, for heavier workloads, the chip is capable of not only firing up its four high performance cores, but also all six cores simultaneously. If early leaked benchmarks are any indication, the A11 Bionic is going to be a benchmark-busting beast of a chip. A set of just-posted Geekbench scores reinforces that notion. Just prior to Apple announcing its newest iPhone models, Geekbench's database was updated with a new entry for an "iPhone 10,5" which we assume to be the iPhone X. Based on the scores recorded, in this one benchmark at least, the A11 CPU powering the iPhone X appears to be 50 to 70 percent faster than any Android handset on the market currently, even those powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 835.
Android

PSA: Google Will Delete Your Android Backups If Your Device Is Inactive For Two Months (vernonchan.com) 165

New submitter Vernon Chan writes: It was discovered that Google will automatically schedule to delete your Android device backups if it is inactive for more than two months. The issue was discovered by a Reddit user after his Nexus 6P was sent for a refund claim. He was using an old iPhone while he waited for an Android replacement device. When he glanced at his Google Drive Backup folder, he freaked out when he noticed his Nexus 6P backup was missing. He then stumbled upon this Google Drive help document regarding backup expirations: "Your backup will remain as long as you use your device. If you don't use your device for 2 weeks, you may see an expiration date below your backup. For instance: 'Expires in 54 days.'" Once a backup is deleted, there is zero chance for recovery.
Robotics

You Are Already Living Inside a Computer (theatlantic.com) 82

An anonymous reader shares a report: Think about the computing systems you use every day. All of them represent attempts to simulate something else. Like how Turing's original thinking machine (PDF) strived to pass as a man or woman, a computer tries to pass, in a way, as another thing. As a calculator, for example, or a ledger, or a typewriter, or a telephone, or a camera, or a storefront, or a cafe. After a while, successful simulated machines displace and overtake the machines they originally imitated. The word processor is no longer just a simulated typewriter or secretary, but a first-order tool for producing written materials of all kinds. Eventually, if they thrive, simulated machines become just machines. Today, computation overall is doing this. There's not much work and play left that computers don't handle. And so, the computer is splitting from its origins as a means of symbol manipulation for productive and creative ends, and becoming an activity in its own right. Today, people don't seek out computers in order to get things done; they do the things that let them use computers.
Android

Target's Sales Floors Are Switching From Apple To Android Devices (gizmodo.com) 118

After three years of Apple products, Target is moving to Android devices for stocking, pulling items, and other essential sales floor duties. Target first outfitted its employees with Apple products in 2014, replacing PDAs with iPod Touches. Gizmodo reports: In Fall of 2016, Target stores began testing the Zebra TC51, which runs Android 6.0 Mashmallow and was confirmed to Gizmodo as "the new MyDevices for store team members chainwide" by a company spokesperson over email. On Reddit's r/Target page and the unofficial employee forum The Breakroom, the new devices have been met with enthusiasm -- and plenty of jabs at the old iOS scanners. "The current iOS my devices we have all sorts of issues, connection issues, scanner issues, and tons more," one Breakroom poster complained. On Reddit, a former store manager wrote that "the iPod hardware they used as on the floor scanners for employees died quickly and there was no way of swapping in new batteries. There were many hardware issues that came about with the ipods." While a Target spokesperson confirmed the company will still purchase some products from Apple -- iPads for online order pickups, iPhones for managers -- the sales floor is switching to Android, and the company is staffing up on Android developers to port over all the internal software stores use.
Iphone

iPhone 8 and iPhone X Will Support Fast Charging, But Only If You Buy a New USB-C Charger (9to5mac.com) 142

One little detail Apple didn't mention at its event in Cupertino, California yesterday was the fact that the new iPhones will support fast charging. According to the official tech specs page, the new iPhones can recharge up to 50 percent of their battery life in a 30-minute charge. The catch? You have to use a USB-C charger and Lightning cable (sold separately). 9to5Mac reports: iPhone 8 battery life is roughly equivalent to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. On a full charge, expect up to 12 hours of internet usage on iPhone 8 and iPhone X, with up to 13 hours on iPhone 8 Plus. With a 50% quick charge in 30 minutes, you are effectively gaining hours of additional battery life during the day, even if you only plug in for a short period. However, to take advantage of fast-charging, you cannot use the Lightning to USB-A cable that is bundled in the box. Fast charging requires a USB-C to Lightning cable and the USB-C wall charger. More specifically, one of three USB-C wall chargers. Apple sells 29W, 61W and 87W variants of its USB-C power adapters. Prices range from $49 to $79. Apple doesn't break out specific numbers on how each model affects charging times, it's not clear if the cheapest 29W model can achieve the advertised 50% recharge in 30 minutes.
Power

Samsung Unveils New Electric Car Batteries For Up To 430 Miles of Range (electrek.co) 90

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Electrek: At the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA Cars 2017) this week, Samsung's battery division, Samsung SDI, showcases a new "Multifunctional battery pack" solution to enable more range in electric vehicles as the Korean company tries to carve itself a bigger share of the growing automotive battery market. Most established automakers, like Nissan with the LEAF or even GM with the more recent Chevy Bolt EV, have been using large prismatic cells to build their electric vehicle battery packs. Tesla pioneered a different approach using thousands of individual smaller cylindrical li-ion battery cells in each pack. Earlier this year, Samsung unveiled its own '2170' battery cell to compete with Tesla/Panasonic. Now they are claiming that they can reach an impressive energy density by using those cells in new modules: "'Multifunctional battery pack' of Samsung SDI attracted the most attention. Its users can change the number of modules as they want as if they place books on a shelf. For example, if 20 modules are installed in a premium car, it can go 600 to 700 kilometers. If 10 to 12 modules are mounted on a regular sedan, it can run up to 300 kilometers. This pack is expected to catch the eyes of automakers, because they can design a car whose mileage may vary depending on how many modules of a single pack are installed."
Music

Apple's 'Shoddy' Beats Headphones Get Slammed In Lawsuit (theregister.co.uk) 188

A lawsuit (PDF) filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Oakland, California, recounts the frustrations of five plaintiffs who found that Apple's Powerbeats 2 and Powerbeats 3 headphones did not perform as advertised. They are also claiming the company is refusing to honor warranty commitments to repair or replace the failed units. The Register reports: The complaint seeks $5,000,000 in damages and class action certification, in order to represent thousands of similarly afflicted Beats customers who are alleged to exist. "In widespread advertising and marketing campaigns, Apple touts that its costly Powerbeats (which retail for $199.95) are 'BUILT TO ENDURE' and are the 'BEST HEADPHONES FOR WORKING OUT,'" the complaint says. "But these costly headphones are neither 'built to endure' nor 'sweat & water resistant,' and certainly do not have a battery that lasts for six or twelve hours. Instead, these shoddy headphones contain a design defect that causes the battery life to diminish and eventually stop retaining a charge."

The complaint attributes the shoddiness of Apple's Powerbeats headphones to cheap components. Citing an estimate in a recent Motley Fool article, the complaint contends that Apple's Beats Solo headphones cost $16.89 to make and retail for $199.95: a markup of more than 1,000 per cent. That figure actually comes from a Medium post by Avery Louie, from hardware prototyping biz Bolt.

AMD

French Company Plans To Heat Homes, Offices With AMD Ryzen Pro Processors 181

At its Ryzen Pro event in New York City last month, AMD invited a French company called Qarnot to discuss how they're using Ryzen Pro processors to heat homes and offices for free. The company uses the Q.rad -- a heater that embeds three CPUs as a heat source -- to accomplish this feat. "We reuse the heat they generate to heat homes and offices for free," the company says in a blog post. "Q.rad is connected to the internet and receives in real time workloads from our in-house computing platform."

The idea is that anyone in the world can send heavy workloads over the cloud to a Q.rad and have it render the task and heat a person's home in the process. The two industries that are targeted by Qarnot include movies studios for 3D rendering and VFX, and banks for risk analysis. Qarnot is opting in for Ryzen Pro processors over Intel i7 processors due to the performance gain and heat output. According to Qarnot, they "saw a performance gain of 30-45% compared to the Intel i7." They also report that the Ryzen Pro is "producing the same heat as the equivalent Intel CPUs" they were using -- all while providing twice as many cores.

While it's neat to see a company convert what would otherwise be wasted heat into a useful asset that heats a person's home, it does raise some questions about the security and profitability of their business model. By using Ryzen Pro's processors, OS independent memory encryption is enabled to provide additional security layers to Qarnot's heaters. However, Q.rads are naturally still going to be physically unsecured as they can be in anyone's house.

Further reading: The Mac Observer, TechRepublic
Government

Department of Energy Invests $50 Million To Improve Critical Energy Infrastructure Security (helpnetsecurity.com) 51

Orome1 shares a report from Help Net Security: Today, the Department of Energy (DOE) is announcing awards of up to $50 million to DOE's National Laboratories to support early stage research and development of next-generation tools and technologies to further improve the resilience of the Nation's critical energy infrastructure, including the electric grid and oil and natural gas infrastructure. The electricity system must continue to evolve to address a variety of challenges and opportunities such as severe weather and the cyber threat, a changing mix of types of electric generation, the ability for consumers to participate in electricity markets, the growth of the Internet of Things, and the aging of the electricity infrastructure. The seven Resilient Distribution Systems projects awarded through DOE's Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium (GMLC) will develop and validate innovative approaches to enhance the resilience of distribution systems -- including microgrids -- with high penetration of clean distributed energy resources (DER) and emerging grid technologies at regional scale. The project results are expected to deliver credible information on technical and economic viability of the solutions. The projects will also demonstrate viability to key stakeholders who are ultimately responsible for approving and investing in grid modernization activities. In addition, the Department of Energy "is also announcing 20 cybersecurity projects that will enhance the reliability and resilience of the Nation's electric grid and oil and natural gas infrastructure through innovative, scalable, and cost-effective research and development of cybersecurity solutions."
Intel

Intel Cuts Cord On Its Current Cord-Cutting WiGig Products (zdnet.com) 30

An anonymous reader shares a ZDNet report, which also has some clarification from Intel: It looks like you can add WiGig wireless docking to Intel's dustbin (along with IoT products axed earlier this summer), as the company has discontinued existing products using the 802.11ad wireless standard, according to Anandtech. [Since publishing this report, we've received a statement from Intel clarifying its WiGig support: "We continue to offer current versions of our 802.11ad products, such as the Intel Tri-band Wireless AC 18265 and Gigabit Wireless 10101R antenna module. We remain committed to WiGig and think it has exciting potential for a number of applications, including enabling VR to become wireless, mesh networking and as part of Intel's leading products for 5G."] WiGig was developed several years ago with faster speeds than then-current Wi-Fi standards, but because it relied on the 60GHz channel, its high throughput could only travel over short distances. As a result, it eventually became marketed as a feature for wireless laptop docking stations, and while it received some support from enterprise laptop manufactures like Dell and Lenovo, the technology didn't make a big dent against standard wired laptop docks.
Iphone

Apple Announces iPhone X With Edge-To-Edge Display, Wireless Charging and No Home Button (theverge.com) 569

At its event in Cupertino, California today, Apple unveiled the iPhone X to mark the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. It brings several new features including an edge-to-edge screen, Qi wireless charging, and Face ID. The Verge reports: Because of its edge-to-edge display, the iPhone has no place for a conventional home button, relying instead on a complex facial recognition system to unlock the phone. Called FaceID, the new system will replace TouchID, the home button sensor that's enabled fingerprint logins since 2013's iPhone 5S. Users can wake the phone by swiping up from the button instead of hitting the button. The same gesture will open the control panel once the phone is awake. The updated iPhone 8 will continue unchanged, including both the home button and TouchID. Apple also unveiled the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, which are updated versions of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus released last year. These new devices feature glass backs with support for wireless charging. The Verge provides some additional specs and features in its report: Apple has improved the display on the iPhone 8 line, adding the same True Tone technology it offers on the 10.5-inch iPad Pro to automatically adjust the screen based on the ambient light in the room to offer more accurate colors. Internally, Apple has upgraded the processor from the A10 Fusion found in the 7 to the A11 Bionic. It's a six-core chip with two performance cores that are 25 percent faster than the A10, and four performance cores that the company says are 70 percent faster that the old model. There's also a new Apple-designed GPU that's 30 percent faster, with the same performance as the A10 at half the power. On the camera front, there's a new 12-megapixel sensor on the iPhone 8 that is larger, faster, and finally has optical image stabilization. The iPhone 8 Plus also has new sensors, and offers f/1.8 and f/2.8 apertures now. The dual cameras on the 8 Plus also have a new "Portrait Lighting" feature to adjust the lighting for portrait shots. And Apple says that the improvements apply to video, too, with Apple executive Phil Schiller claiming that the new devices have the "highest quality video capture ever in a smartphone," with support for 4K/60fps video. Slow motion videos now support up to 1080p resolution at 240fps, doubling the the iPhone 7's 120fps option. The iPhone 8 will start at $699 for a 64GB model, while the 8 Plus will start at $799 for 64GB of storage. You can preorder these devices starting Friday, September 15th, and they will be released a week later on September 22nd.

UPDATE 9/12/17: The iPhone X will be priced starting at $999 for the 64GB variant. Pre-order will be available October 27th with shipments starting November 3rd.
Communications

The New Apple Watch Series 3 Has Cellular Built-In (techcrunch.com) 55

The first big product unveiling at Apple's Event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California was the Apple Watch Series 3 with built-in support for cellular. TechCrunch reports: Wireless cellular LTE connectivity provided by a built-in chip means the new Apple Watch will be able to stay connected even when it's not tethered to an iPhone, which is a huge step forward in terms of making it an independent mobile device. Pricing for the Series 3 Cellular starts at $399, and a version without cellular starts at $329. Pre-orders begin on September 15, and they'll be available on September 22. The new Apple Watch is visually quite similar to the existing version, with backwards compatibility with existing straps and bands. There's a new Blush Gold color to match the new iPhone color option, and a new ceramic Dark Gray for the higher-end models that joins the existing white. Plus, the cellular version sports that red crown for an extra bit of visual flare. The non-cellular version doesn't have the new red crown.

Inside, it has a new dual-core processor with 70 percent better performance, as well as a new W2 chip that improves Bluetooth and wireless connectivity and power efficiency. The cellular antenna is actually the display itself, and there's an electronic SIM card inside for connectivity. The device is the same physical size as the Series 2, despite adding everything needed for cellular and LTE connectivity -- though the back crystal is extended 0.25 mm, which is incredibly thin. It's still got GPS like Series 2, and it's swimproof, plus it packs in all-day battery life still.

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