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Robotics

Scientists Develop Robotic Hand For People With Quadriplegia (phys.org) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Scientists have developed a mind-controlled robotic hand that allows people with certain types of spinal injuries to perform everyday tasks such as using a fork or drinking from a cup. The low-cost device was tested in Spain on six people with quadriplegia affecting their ability to grasp or manipulate objects. By wearing a cap that measures electric brain activity and eye movement the users were able to send signals to a tablet computer that controlled the glove-like device attached to their hand. Participants in the small-scale study were able to perform daily activities better with the robotic hand than without, according to results published Tuesday in the journal Science Robotics. It took participants just 10 minutes to learn how to use the system before they were able to carry out tasks such as picking up potato chips or signing a document. According to Surjo R. Soekadar, a neuroscientist at the University Hospital Tuebingen in Germany and lead author of the study, participants represented typical people with high spinal cord injuries, meaning they were able to move their shoulders but not their fingers. There were some limitations to the system, though. Users had to have sufficient function in their shoulder and arm to reach out with the robotic hand. And mounting the system required another person's help.
Iphone

Apple Says Air Exposure Is Causing iPhone 6s Battery Problems (arstechnica.com) 76

Last month, Apple announced a repair program for a "small number" of iPhone 6s phones that suffer from faulty batteries. The phones that were affected by this fault were manufactured between September and October 2015. Two weeks later, Apple now says the fault was caused by overexposure to "controlled ambient air." Ars Technica reports: The same press release -- issued only in China so far, but available in English if you scroll down -- says that some owners of later iPhone 6S models are also reporting problems with unexpected shutdowns. Apple isn't replacing those batteries just yet, but the company says that an iOS update "available next week" will add "additional diagnostic capability" that will allow Apple to better track down and diagnose the causes of these shutdowns. It "may potentially help [Apple] improve the algorithms used to manage battery performance and shutdown," as well. Those improvements will be included in future iOS updates. Apple says that the battery problem "is not a safety issue," an important thing to note given the way the Galaxy Note 7 blew up in Samsung's face. The software update that Apple mentions in the release is almost certainly iOS 10.2, which is currently in its sixth beta build. The update will be the first major bug-fix release since October's iOS 10.1, and it also includes a handful of other changes like new and redesigned emoji, the TV app that Apple demoed at its last product event, and other features.
Hardware

Some Children's Headphones Raise Concerns of Hearing Loss, Report Says (go.com) 77

Some headphones marketed for children may not restrict enough noise for young ears. From a report on ABC: The Wirecutter, a technology products review website (owned by the New York Times), tried out 30 different children's headphones for style, fit and safety by using both a plastic model ear and a few real children. "There's no governing board that oversees this," Lauren Dragan, the Headphone Editor at The Wirecutter, told "Good Morning America" in an interview that aired today. Dragan added that the headphones for children all claim to limit volume to around 85 decibels. Sound below the 85 decibel mark for a maximum of eight hours is considered safe, according to the World Health Organization. The Wirecutter report found that some of these headphones emit sound higher than the 85 decibel mark. The full report here.
Hardware

Samsung's Upcoming Galaxy S8 Flagship Smartphone Won't Have a Headphone Jack: Report (sammobile.com) 335

Samsung is planning to ditch headphone jack in its next flagship smartphone, called the Samsung Galaxy S8, reports SamMobile, a Samsung-focused blog that has a pretty good track record with these things. From the report: Removing the 3.5mm headphone jack enables Samsung to make the Galaxy S8 thinner while also freeing up more space inside for a bigger battery. Samsung may also integrate stereo speakers which some believe will be made in collaboration with Harman, a company that Samsung is acquiring for $8 billion.
Google

Google Says It Is About To Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy (blog.google) 176

Google said today it will power 100 percent of its sprawling data centers and offices with renewable energy starting next year. The company said today it has bought enough wind and solar power to account for all the electricity it uses globally each year. In comparison, 44 percent of Google's power supplies came from renewables last year. From a blogpost: To reach this goal we'll be directly buying enough wind and solar electricity annually to account for every unit of electricity our operations consume, globally. And we're focusing on creating new energy from renewable sources, so we only buy from projects that are funded by our purchases. Over the last six years, the cost of wind and solar came down 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively, proving that renewables are increasingly becoming the lowest cost option. Electricity costs are one of the largest components of our operating expenses at our data centers, and having a long-term stable cost of renewable power provides protection against price swings in energy.
HP

HP Shutting Down Default FTP, Telnet Access To Network Printers (pcworld.com) 83

Security experts consider the aging FTP and Telnet protocols unsafe, and HP has decided to clamp down on access to networked printers through the remote-access tools. From a report on PCWorld: Some of HP's new business printers will, by default, be closed to remote access via protocols like FTP and Telnet. However, customers can activate remote printing access through those protocols if needed. "HP has started the process of closing older, less-maintained interfaces including ports, protocols and cipher suites" identified by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology as less than secure, the company said in a statement. In addition, HP also announced firmware updates to existing business printers with improved password and encryption settings, so hackers can't easily break into the devices.
Apple

Apple, Which Doesn't Reveal Watch Sales Data, Says Watch Sales Are Great (mashable.com) 111

Though several companies are struggling to sell their smartwatches, Apple CEO Tim Cook says sales of Apple Watch set a record during the first week of holiday shopping. Cook added that the current quarter is on track to be the best ever for the product. The only problem: The company, which loves to numbers do all the talking, won't disclose how many Apple Watch units were shipped or sold. From a report on Mashable: "During the first week of holiday shopping, our sell-through of Apple Watch was greater than any week in the product's history. And as we expected, we're on track for the best quarter ever for Apple Watch," Cook told Reuters in an email. This is not surprising: The company has never revealed any sales data for the Watch, bundling it with the "other products" category in its earnings reports. There have been quite a few attempts to extrapolate what this means in numbers, but the truth is that any of those attempts could be a few million units wrong either way.
Software

Windows 10 'Home Hub' Is Microsoft's Response To Amazon Echo and Google Home (mashable.com) 101

Microsoft's response to the Amazon Echo and Google Home is Home Hub, a software update for Windows 10's Cortana personal assistant that turns any Windows PC into a smart speaker of sorts. Mashable reports: Microsoft's smart digital assistant Cortana can already answer your queries, even if the PC's screen is locked. The Home Hub is tied to Cortana and takes this a few steps further. It would add a special app with features such as calendar appointments, sticky notes and shopping lists. A Home Hub-enabled PC might have a Welcome Screen, a full-screen app that displays all these, like a virtual fridge door. Multiple users (i.e. family members) could use the Home Hub, either by authenticating through Windows Hello or by working in a family-shared account. Cortana would get more powerful on Home Hub; it could, for example, control smart home devices, such as lights and locks. And even though all of this will work on any Windows 10 device -- potentially making the PC the center of your smart home experience -- third-party manufacturers will be able to build devices that work with Home Hub. You can read Windows Central's massive report here. Do note that Home Hub is not official and individual features could change over time. The update is slated for 2017.
Displays

Panasonic Announces 1,000,000:1 Contrast Ratio LCD Panel To Rival OLED (androidauthority.com) 103

OLED panels have always been known to have higher contrast ratios than LCD panels, but that may be about to change with Panasonic's recently announced LCD IPS display. The display boasts a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, which is up to 600 times more contrast than some of the company's conventional LCD panels that tend to offer around 1800:1 ratios, and rivals OLED specifications. Android Authority reports: Panasonic has accomplished this through the use of its new light modulating cell technology, which allows the company to switch off individual pixels in the display using a secondary control layer. Typically, LCD backlights mean that either the entire or only large parts of the display can be dimmed at any one time. OLED panels switch off lights entirely for a black pixel to offer very high contrast ratios, and this new LCD technology works on a very similar principle. This is particularly important for reproducing HDR video content, which is becoming increasingly popular. Furthermore, this new light modulating cell technology allows Panasonic to increase the peak brightness and stability of the display, which can reach 1,000 cd/m2 while also providing HDR colors. Many other HDR TV panels top out in the range of 700 to 800 cd/m2, so colors, highlights, and shadows should appear vivid and realistic. Panasonic plans to ship the new display starting in January 2017 with sizes ranging from 55 to 12 inches.
Power

Engineers Explain Why the Galaxy Note 7 Caught Fire (digitaltrends.com) 285

Engineers with manufacturing technology company Instrumental tore apart a Galaxy Note 7 to try and figure out what may have caused some devices to overheat and explode, causing Samsung to recall and eventually cancel all Galaxy Note 7 devices. In their damning new report, the engineers discovered the root of the problem appears to be that the battery is too tightly packed inside the body of the Note 7. Digital Trends reports: They discovered the battery was so tightly packed inside the Galaxy Note 7's body that any pressure from battery expansion, or stress on the body itself, may squeeze together layers inside the battery that are never supposed to touch -- with explosive results. Batteries swell up under normal use, and we place stress on a phone's body by putting it our pocket and sitting down, or if it's dropped. Tolerances for battery expansion are built into a smartphone during design, and Instrumental notes Samsung used "a super-aggressive manufacturing process to maximize capacity." In other words, the Galaxy Note 7 was designed to be as thin and sleek as possible, while containing the maximum battery capacity for long use, thereby better competing against rival devices such as the iPhone 7 Plus and improving on previous Note models. The report speculates that any pressure placed on the battery in its confined space may have squeezed together positive and negative layers inside the cell itself, which were thinner than usual in the Note 7's battery already, causing them to touch, heat up, and eventually in some cases, catch fire. Delving deeper into the design, the engineers say the space above a battery inside a device needs a "ceiling" that equates to approximately 10 percent of the overall thickness. The Galaxy Note 7 should have had a 0.5mm ceiling; it had none.
AI

Many CEOs Believe Technology Will Make People Largely Irrelevant (betanews.com) 538

An anonymous reader shares a report on BetaNews:Although artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other emerging technologies may reshape the world as we know it, a new global study has revealed that the many CEOs now value technology over people when it comes to the future of their businesses. The study was conducted by the Los Angeles-based management consultant firm Korn Ferry that interviewed 800 business leaders across a variety of multi-million and multi-billion dollar global organizations. The firm says that 44 percent of the CEOs surveyed agreed that robotics, automation and AI would reshape the future of many work places by making people "largely irrelevant." The global managing director of solutions at Korn Ferry Jean-Marc Laouchez explains why many CEOs have adopted this controversial mindset, saying: "Leaders may be facing what experts call a tangibility bias. Facing uncertainty, they are putting priority in their thinking, planning and execution on the tangible -- what they can see, touch and measure, such as technology instruments."
Security

70 Laptops Got Left Behind At An Airport Security Checkpoint In One Month (bravotv.com) 168

America's Transportation Security Administration has been making some surprising announcements on social media. An anonymous reader writes: A TSA spokesperson says 70 laptops were left behind in just one month at an airport security checkpoint in Newark. "And yes, there are plenty of shiny MacBooks in that pile," reported BravoTV, "which can cost in the $2,000 range new." The TSA shared an image of the 70 laptops on their Instagram page and on Twitter, prompting at least one mobile project designer to reclaim his laptop. "The most common way laptops are forgotten is when traveler's stack a bin on top of the bin their laptop is in," the TSA warns. "Out of sight out of mind."
The TSA is also sharing pictures on social media of the 70 guns they confiscated at security checkpoints in one week in November, reporting they've also confiscated a blowtorch, batarangs, and a replica of that baseball bat from "The Walking Dead". They're reporting they found 33 loaded firearms in carry-on luggage in one week, and remind readers that gun-carrying passengers "can face a penalty as high as $11,000. This is a friendly reminder to please leave these items at home."
EU

CO2 Researchers Are Now Hacking Photosynthesis (chicagotribune.com) 119

Remember that story about the "artificial leaf" solar cells? Long-time Slashdot reader managerialslime quotes the Chicago Tribune: University of Illinois at Chicago researchers have developed a way to mimic plants' ability to convert carbon dioxide into fuel, a way to decrease the amounts of harmful gas in the atmosphere and produce clean energy. The artificial leaf essentially recycles carbon dioxide. And it's powered entirely by the sun, mimicking the real photosynthesis process.
But meanwhile, in Germany: Biochemists led by Tobias Erb at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology...have developed a new, super-efficient method for living organisms to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. Plants, algae, and other organisms turn CO2 into fuel. Erb and his colleagues reengineered this process, making it about 25 percent more energy efficient and potentially up to two or three times faster... Erb hopes that one day the CETCH cycle could be genetically engineered into living organisms, helping them more rapidly reduce atmospheric CO2 while producing useful materials.
The researchers created their new CO2-transforming cycle using 11 carefully chosen enzymes.
Businesses

Why MakerBot Didn't Kickstart A 3D Printing Revolution (backchannel.com) 273

Bre PettisâS once said MakerBot gave you a superpower -- "You can make anything you need." But four years later, mirandakatz writes that though MakerBot promised to revolutionize society, "That never happened." At Backchannel, Andrew Zaleski has the definitive, investigative account of why the 3D printing revolution hasn't yet come to pass, culled from interviews with industry observers, current MakerBot leadership, and a dozen former MakerBot employees. As he tells it, "In the span of a few years, MakerBot had to pull off two very different coups. It had to introduce millions of people to the wonders of 3D printing, and then convince them to shell out more than $1,000 for a machine. It also had to develop the technology fast enough to keep its customers happy. Those two tasks were too much for the fledgling company."
Linux

Ask Slashdot: What's the Best Linux Laptop? 284

Long-Time Slashdot reader sconeu is finally replacing his 10-year-old Toshiba Satellite laptop, and needs suggestions on the best current laptops for running Linux. I'm looking to run some flavor of Linux (probably KDE-based UI, but not mandatory) while using a virtual machine to run Windows 7 (for stuff needed for work). For me personally, battery life and weight are more important than raw power. I'm not going to be running games on this. I've been considering an XPS 13 Developer Edition, or something from System76, ZaReason or Emperor Linux. What laptop do you use? Do you have any suggestions?
It's your chance to share useful information, recommendations, and your own experiences with various brands of laptop. So leave your best answers in the comments. What's the best Linux laptop?
Power

Nikola Motor Company Reveals Hydrogen Fuel Cell Truck With Range of 1,200 Miles (valuewalk.com) 105

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ValueWalk: Nikola Motor Company just unveiled a huge class 8 truck which will run on hydrogen fuel cells. Nikola claimed that the truck's operational range will be as much as 1,200 miles (1,900 km), and it will be released in 2020. Nikola designed the Nikola One for long-haul transport across a large landmass. The truck will deliver over 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 foot-pounds of torque. Provided these claims are true, the vehicle will provide nearly double the power of the current-gen diesel-powered semis/articulated lorries, notes Ars Technica. The leasing cost of the trucks will include the fuel price, servicing costs and warranty, but exactly how the lease will work is not known now, notes Ars Technica. The company says it has already accepted nearly $3 billion in future orders. A fully-electric drivetrain which gets power from high-density lithium batteries runs the vehicle, and a hydrogen fuel cell charges the batteries on the go. Its reach is presently limited, as hydrogen fueling stations currently exist in only small numbers. This made Nikola decide to construct a network of 364 hydrogen fueling stations across the U.S. and Canada, just like Tesla with its network of Superchargers. Milton claims it will come with a smart dashboard which has the capability of picking the most cost-efficient route for drivers. Also one or two full-size beds will be included inside the vehicle's enormous cab. It will have other luxuries and necessities as well, such as Wi-Fi, a refrigerator, 4G LTE connectivity, freezer, a 40-inch curved 4K TV with Apple TV and a microwave.
Security

The 'USB Killer' Has Been Mass Produced -- Available Online For About $50 (arstechnica.com) 243

New submitter npslider writes: The "USB Killer," a USB stick that fries almost everything that it is plugged into, has been mass produced -- available online for about $50. Ars Technica first wrote about this diabolical device that looks like a fairly humdrum memory stick a year ago. From the report: "The USB Killer is shockingly simple in its operation. As soon as you plug it in, a DC-to-DC converter starts drawing power from the host system and storing electricity in its bank of capacitors (the square-shaped components). When the capacitors reach a potential of -220V, the device dumps all of that electricity into the USB data lines, most likely frying whatever is on the other end. If the host doesn't just roll over and die, the USB stick does the charge-discharge process again and again until it sizzles. Since the USB Killer has gone on sale, it has been used to fry laptops (including an old ThinkPad and a brand new MacBook Pro), an Xbox One, the new Google Pixel phone, and some cars (infotainment units, rather than whole cars... for now). Notably, some devices fare better than others, and there's a range of possible outcomes -- the USB Killer doesn't just nuke everything completely." You can watch a video of EverythingApplePro using the USB Killer to fry a variety of electronic devices. It looks like the only real defense from the USB Killer is physically capping your ports.
Transportation

Mercedes Unveils Digital Headlights That Project Street Signs, Markings Onto the Road Ahead (newatlas.com) 65

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: Mercedes has just announced a conceptual new set of lamps that can not only adapt their light distribution to cater to the environment, but can project high-res visual aids onto the road ahead, such as makeshift zebra crossings for nearby pedestrians. The new system is dubbed Digital Light and features two million pixels that, with the help of algorithms and sensors that analyze the vehicle's surroundings, can each adjust their individual brightness depending on the scenario. An example of this might be a partial dimming to avoid blinding a cyclist. We have seen this kind of adaptive lighting technology before in systems developed by Fraunhofer and indeed Mercedes itself, although tuning it to control millions of pixels individually does appear to be new territory. But where the Digital Light system gets quite interesting is with the ability to project different objects onto the road. Imagine you are rolling up to an intersection in a foreign city with unfamiliar streets signs and the car, having collected the necessary information, projects a stop sign onto the road out ahead. Perhaps just as practical is the ability to shoot out strips of light that represent the precise width of the car, which could be pretty hand just as you try to squeeze through that extremely narrow gap. For what it's worth, Mercedes says it has already fitted it to a number of demo vehicles and reckons it will be on the road "in the near future."
Crime

Foxconn Employee Faces 10-Year Prison Sentence For Stealing 5,700 iPhones Worth $1.5 Million (thenextweb.com) 45

A Taiwanese Foxconn manager faces a stiff prison sentence after he stole 5,700 iPhones from his employer, and went to sell them for $1.56 million. The Next Web reports: Foxconn is a tech manufacturing giant. It makes a lot of things, including laptops for HP, phones for Apple, games consoles for Sony, and its workers so depressed it has to install suicide nets. The Taiwanese manager at the center of this crime -- known only by his family name, Tsai -- worked in the testing department at Foxconn's factory in Shenzhen, mainland China. According to Taiwanese prosecutors, Tsai ordered eight of his subordinates to smuggle out thousands of iPhones which were used by the company for testing and quality assurance purposes. These were destined to be scrapped after use. The stolen iPhones (mostly iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s models) made their way to stores in Shenzhen, and went on to make Tsai and his accomplices nearly $1.56 million USD (Tw$50 million). Tsai has since been charged with breach of trust and, if found guilty, he faces a maximum 10-year jail term.
IBM

Erich Bloch, Who Helped Develop IBM Mainframe, Dies At 91 (google.com) 40

shadowknot writes: The New York Times is reporting (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source) that Erich Bloch who helped to develop the IBM Mainframe has died at the age of 91 as a result of complications from Alzheimer's disease. From the article: "In the 1950s, he developed the first ferrite-core memory storage units to be used in computers commercially and worked on the IBM 7030, known as Stretch, the first transistorized supercomputer. 'Asked what job each of us had, my answer was very simple and very direct,' Mr. Bloch said in 2002. 'Getting that sucker working.' Mr. Bloch's role was to oversee the development of Solid Logic Technology -- half-inch ceramic modules for the microelectronic circuitry that provided the System/360 with superior power, speed and memory, all of which would become fundamental to computing."

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