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Robotics

America May Miss Out On the Next Industrial Revolution (theverge.com) 297

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Robots are inevitably going to automate millions of jobs in the U.S. and around the world, but there's an even more complex scenario on the horizon, said roboticist Matt Rendall. In a talk Tuesday at SXSW, Rendall painted a picture of the future of robotic job displacement that focused less on automation and more on the realistic ways in which the robotics industry will reshape global manufacturing. The takeaway was that America, which has outsourced much of its manufacturing and lacks serious investment in industrial robotics, may miss out on the world's next radical shift in how goods are produced. That's because the robot makers -- as in, the robots that make the robots -- could play a key role in determining how automation expands across the globe. As the CEO of manufacturing robotics company Otto Motors, Rendall focuses on building fleets of warehouse bots that could eventually replace the many fulfillment workers who are hired by companies like Amazon. "The robots are coming," Rendall said. "After the Great Recession, there was a fundamental change in people's interest in automation. People started feeling the pain of high-cost labor and there's an appetite for automation that we haven't seen before." While Rendall described himself as one of the optimists, who believes automation will, in the long-term, improve society and help humans live better lives, he said there are changes afoot in the global manufacturing scene that could leave American industries in the dust. "China is tracking to be the No. 1 user in robots used in industrial manufacturing," he said, adding that the country is driving "an overwhelming amount" of growth. The difference, he added, is how China is responding to automation, which is by embracing it instead of shying away from it. This is in stark contrast to industrial advances of the previous century, like Ford's assembly line, that helped transform American industries into the most powerful on the planet.
China

NSA, DOE Say China's Supercomputing Advances Put US At Risk (computerworld.com) 129

dcblogs quotes a report from Computerworld: Advanced computing experts at the National Security Agency and the Department of Energy are warning that China is "extremely likely" to take leadership in supercomputing as early as 2020, unless the U.S. acts quickly to increase spending. China's supercomputing advances are not only putting national security at risk, but also U.S. leadership in high-tech manufacturing. If China succeeds, it may "undermine profitable parts of the U.S. economy," according to a report titled U.S. Leadership in High Performance Computing by HPC technical experts at the NSA, the DOE, the National Science Foundation and other agencies. The report stems from a workshop held in September that was attended by 60 people, many scientists, 40 of whom work in government, with the balance representing industry and academia. "Meeting participants, especially those from industry, noted that it can be easy for Americans to draw the wrong conclusions about what HPC investments by China mean -- without considering China's motivations," the report states. "These participants stressed that their personal interactions with Chinese researchers and at supercomputing centers showed a mindset where computing is first and foremost a strategic capability for improving the country; for pulling a billion people out of poverty; for supporting companies that are looking to build better products, or bridges, or rail networks; for transitioning away from a role as a low-cost manufacturer for the world; for enabling the economy to move from 'Made in China' to 'Made by China.'"
Iphone

Inside a Phishing Gang That Targets Victims of iPhone Theft (krebsonsecurity.com) 15

tsu doh nimh writes: Brian Krebs has a readable and ironic story about a phishing-as-a-service product that iPhone thieves can use to phish the Apple iCloud credentials from people who have recently had an iPhone lost or stolen. The phishing service -- which charged as much as $120 for successful phishing attempts targeting iPhone 6s users -- was poorly secured, and a security professional that Krebs worked with managed to guess several passwords for users on the service. From there, the story looks at how this phishing service works, how it tracks victims, and ultimately how one of its core resellers phished his own iCloud account and inadvertently gave his exact location as a result. An excerpt from the report via Krebs On Security: "Victims of iPhone theft can use the Find My iPhone feature to remotely locate, lock or erase their iPhone -- just by visiting Apple's site and entering their iCloud username and password. Likewise, an iPhone thief can use those iCloud credentials to remotely unlock the victim's stolen iPhone, wipe the device, and resell it. As a result, iPhone thieves often subcontract the theft of those credentials to third-party iCloud phishing services. This story is about one of those services..."
Robotics

If American Robots Had Their Own Economy, It'd Be Bigger Than Switzerland (fastcompany.com) 54

From a report: The total value of all the robots in the United States, from Roombas to auto-manufacturing plants to those that fold laundry, and everything in between, is $732 billion, a number that, according to a study released today by researchers at CEBR and Redwood Software, is larger than that of the economy of Switzerland. Other findings in the study suggest that American investment in robotics has doubled since 2009, and went up 30 percent between 2011 and 2015.
Earth

Researchers Convert Biomass To Hydrogen Using Sunlight (rdmag.com) 106

New submitter omaha393 writes: Cambridge chemists have developed a new catalytic approach capable of converting biomass into hydrogen gas using only sunlight as an energy source. The method converts lignocellulose, one of Earth's most abundant biomaterials, into hydrogen gas and organic byproducts when in a basic water and in the presence of the cadmium sulfide/oxide nanoparticle catalysts. The new method, published in Nature Energy, offers a relatively cheap fuel alternative that researchers are looking to scale up to meet consumer demands at the industrial level. Per R&D Magazine: "'With this in place we can simply add organic matter to the system and then, provided it's a sunny day, produce hydrogen fuel,' says joint lead author David Wakerley. 'Future development can be envisioned at any scale.'" In addition to lignocellulose, the team was also able to produce hydrogen gas using unprocessed material including wood, paper and leaves. Further reading: New Atlas; ScienceDaily
Android

Kickstarter Campaign Aims To Add a Full Android Device To the Back of Your iPhone (macrumors.com) 158

A new Kickstarter campaign aims to expand the iPhone's functionality with its "Eye Smart iPhone Case," which features a fully functional Android device built into the case itself. The campaign was launched on March 1 and has already raised over $100,000. Mac Rumors reports: An always-on 5-inch AMOLED display is built into the case, which runs the Android 7.1 Nougat operating system. The case connects to the iPhone using its Lightning port to enable file transfers, power delivery, and more. A microSD card slot provides up to 256GB of storage for holding photos, videos, and other media, all of which is accessible using the Android file explorer. A built-in 2,800 mAh battery provides additional charge to the iPhone, and the Eye case itself supports Qi wireless charging. Two SIM card slots are included, and higher-end models support 4G LTE connectivity, so up to three phone numbers can be used with an iPhone. Android exclusive features, like native call recording, the file explorer, customization, file transfers, and Android apps are all made available to iPhone users via the Eye case. A 3.5mm headphone jack lets iPhone owners with an iPhone 7 or an iPhone 7 Plus to use wired headphones with the device, and the Eye case includes NFC, an IR blaster and receiver for controlling TVs and other devices, and a car mount. It's available for the iPhone 6 and later, and will allegedly be available for the new wave of iPhones coming in 2017 within a month of their release. The Smart iPhone Case is available for a Super early bird pledge of $95, with prices going up for 4G connectivity. The estimated retail price is between $189 and $229.
Chrome

Chrome 57 Limits Background Tabs Usage To 1% Per CPU Core (bleepingcomputer.com) 154

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer: Starting with Chrome 57, released last week, Google has put a muzzle on the amount of resources background tabs can use. According to Google engineers, Chrome 57 will temporarily delay a background tab's JavaScript timers if that tab is using more than 1% of a CPU core. Further, all background timers are suspended automatically after five minutes on mobile devices. The delay/suspension will halt resource consumption and cut down on battery usage, something that laptop, tablet, and smartphone owners can all relate. Google hinted in late January that it would limit JavaScript timers in background tabs, but nobody expected it to happen as soon as last week's Chrome release. By 2020, Google hopes to pause JavaScript operations in all background pages.
Privacy

Vibrator Maker To Pay Millions Over Claims It Secretly Tracked Use (npr.org) 113

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: The makers of the We-Vibe, a line of vibrators that can be paired with an app for remote-controlled use, have reached a $3.75 million class action settlement with users following allegations that the company was collecting data on when and how the sex toy was used. The We-Vibe product line includes a number of Bluetooth-enabled vibrators that, when linked to the "We-Connect" app, can be controlled from a smartphone. It allows a user to vary rhythms, patterns and settings -- or give a partner, in the room or anywhere in the world, control of the device. Since the app was released in 2014, some observers have raised concerns that Internet-connected sex toys could be vulnerable to hacking. But the lawsuit doesn't involve any outside meddling -- instead, it centers on concerns that the company itself was tracking users' sex lives. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Illinois in September. It alleges that -- without customers' knowledge -- the app was designed to collect information about how often, and with what settings, the vibrator was used. The lawyers for the anonymous plaintiffs contended that the app, "incredibly," collected users' email addresses, allowing the company "to link the usage information to specific customer accounts." Customers' email addresses and usage data were transmitted to the company's Canadian servers, the lawsuit alleges. When a We-Vibe was remotely linked to a partner, the connection was described as "secure," but some information was also routed through We-Connect and collected, the lawsuit says.
Hardware

Why Samsung Ditched On-Screen Fingerprint Scanning For Galaxy S8 (theinvestor.co.kr) 71

An anonymous reader shares a report: Samsung Electronics' upcoming Galaxy S8 is unlikely to feature on-screen fingerprint scanning after its touch sensor partner Synaptics ran out of time for developing the related technology, industry sources told The Investor earlier this month. On-screen fingerprint was a highly anticipated function for the new phone with a larger-than-ever display screen. "Samsung poured resources into Synaptics' fledgling technology last year but the results were frustrating," a source briefed on the matter on condition of anonymity. "With the production imminent, the company had to decide to relocate the fingerprint scanning home button to the back of the device at the last minute." A larger screen that covers almost the entire front body is a key feature for the S8. Since last year, Samsung had made all-out efforts to embed a fingerprint scanner under the display to allow users to unlock the phone by placing their finger on the screen, not the physical home button on the bottom.
Robotics

A Rogue Robot Is Blamed For a Human Colleague's Gruesome Death (qz.com) 407

A new lawsuit has emerged claiming a robot is responsible for killing a human colleague, reports Quartz. It all started in July 2015, when Wanda Holbrook, "a maintenance technician performing routine duties on an assembly line" at an auto-parts maker in Ionia, Michigan, called Ventra Ionia Main, "was 'trapped by robotic machinery' and crushed to death." From the report: On March 7, her husband, William Holbrook, filed a wrongful death complaint (pdf) in Michigan federal court, naming five North American robotics companies involved in engineering and integrating the machines and parts used at the plant: Prodomax, Flex-N-Gate, FANUC, Nachi, and Lincoln Electric. Holbrook's job involved keeping robots in working order. She routinely inspected and adjusted processes on the assembly line at Ventra, which makes bumpers and trailer hitches. One day, Holbrook was performing her regular duties when a machine acted very irregularly, according to the lawsuit reported in Courthouse News. Holbrook was in the plant's six-cell "100 section" when a robot unexpectedly activated, taking her by surprise. The cells are separated by safety doors and the robot should not have been able to move. But it somehow reached Holbrook, and was intent on loading a trailer-hitch assembly part right where she stood over a similar part in another cell. The machine loaded the hardware onto Holbrook's head. She was unable to escape, and her skull was crushed. Co-workers who eventually noticed that something seemed amiss found Holbrook dead. William Holbrook seeks an unspecified amount of damages, arguing that before her gruesome death, his wife "suffered tremendous fright, shock and conscious pain and suffering." He also names three of the defendants -- FANUC, Nachi, and Lincoln Electric -- in two additional claims of product liability and breach of implied warranty. He argues that the robots, tools, controllers, and associated parts were not properly designed, manufactured or tested, and not fit for use. "The robot from section 130 should have never entered section 140, and should have never attempted to load a hitch assembly within a fixture that was already loaded with a hitch assembly. A failure of one or more of defendants' safety systems or devices had taken place, causing Wanda's death," the lawsuit alleges.
Nintendo

Nintendo Switch Ships With Unpatched 6-Month-Old WebKit Vulnerabilities (arstechnica.com) 89

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Nintendo's Switch has been out for almost two weeks, which of course means that efforts to hack it are well underway. One developer, who goes by qwertyoruiop on Twitter, has demonstrated that the console ships with months-old bugs in its WebKit browser engine. These bugs allow for arbitrary code execution within the browser. A proof-of-concept explainer video was posted here. The potential impact of these vulnerabilities for Switch users is low. A Switch isn't going to have the same amount of sensitive data on it that an iPhone or iPad can, and there are way fewer Switches out there than iDevices. Right now, the Switch also doesn't include a standalone Internet browser, though WebKit is present on the system for logging into public Wi-Fi hotspots, and, with some cajoling, you can use it to browse your Facebook feed. The exploit could potentially open the door for jailbreaking and running homebrew software on the Switch, but, as of this writing, the exploit doesn't look like it provides kernel access. The developer who discovered the exploit himself says that the vulnerability is just a "starting point."
Data Storage

Laptop SSD Capacity To Remain Flat As NAND Flash Dearth Causes Prices To Rise (computerworld.com) 167

Lucas123 writes from a report via Computerworld: Laptop manufacturers aren't likely to offer higher capacity standard SSDs in their machines this year as a shortage of NAND flash is pushing prices higher this year. At the same time, nearly half of all laptops shipped this year will have SSDs versus HDDs, according to a new report from DRAMeXchange. The contract prices for multi-level cell (MLC) SSDs supplied to the PC manufacturing industry for those laptops are projected to go up by 12% to 16% compared with the final quarter of 2016; prices of triple-level cell (TLC) SSDs are expected to rise by 10% to 16% sequentially. "The tight NAND flash supply and sharp price hikes for SSDs will likely discourage PC-[manufacturers] from raising storage capacity," said Alan Chen, a senior research manager of DRAMeXchange. "Therefore, the storage specifications for mainstream PC [...] SSDs are expected to remain in the 128GB and 256GB [range]."
XBox (Games)

Microsoft's Project Scorpio Will Pack Internal PSU, 4K Game DVR Capture (windowscentral.com) 44

According to an exclusive report from Windows Central, Microsoft's upcoming "Project Scorpio" gaming console will feature an internal power supply unit (PSU), similar to the Xbox One S, and 4K game DVR and streaming at 60 frames-per-second (FPS). From the report: In Microsoft's efforts to make Project Scorpio a true 4K system, it will also feature HEVC and VP9 codecs for decoding 4K streams for things such Netflix, just like the Xbox One S. It will also leverage HEVC for encoding 2160p, 60 frame-per-second (FPS) video for Game DVR and streaming. Microsoft's Beam streaming service has been running public 4K stream tests for some time, and it's now fair to assume it will not only be PC streamers who will benefit. Project Scorpio's Game DVR will allow you to stream and record clips in 4K resolution with 60FPS, according to our sources, which is a massive, massive step up from the 720p, 30FPS you get on the current Xbox One. With every bit of information we receive about Project Scorpio, the theme of native 4K keeps appearing -- not only for games, but also console features. We now believe Scorpio will sport 4K Game DVR, 4K Blu-ray playback, and 4K streaming apps, but the real showstopper will be the 4K games Microsoft will likely flaunt at E3 2017.
PlayStation (Games)

PlayStation Now Will Bring PS4 Games to your PC (engadget.com) 84

You could soon play PlayStation 4 exclusives like Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us Remastered on your PC. From a report on Engadget: Sony is bringing the PS4 catalog to its streaming game service PlayStation Now, the company said today in a blog post. The announcement is light on details, but we know that every game in the service, including PS4 games, will be part of a single PS Now subscription.
AI

Google Wants To Use AI To Cut the UK's Electric Bill By 10 Percent (popularmechanics.com) 68

The Google-owned firm artificial intelligence company DeepMind is in talks with the National Grid about a potential partnership, with the possibility of using the technology to make the supply of energy across the UK more efficient. From a report: Google Deepmind is opening talks with the UK government to use the company's artificial intelligence to reduce energy use by up to 10 percent. Artificial intelligence is highly adept at spotting patterns and making predictions that are much too small and subtle for humans to pick out, which lets AIs to micromanage systems with far greater efficiency than any human engineer could hope to achieve. For instance, Google is currently using Deepmind's AI to control its server rooms, where it manages windows, fan speeds, air conditioning, and more than a hundred other factors to save Google hundreds of millions of dollars in electricity costs.
Power

Millions of Smart Meters May Over-Inflate Readings by up to 600% (bleepingcomputer.com) 249

"Lab tests carried out by Dutch scientists have shown that some of today's 'smart' electrical meters may give out false readings that in some cases can be 582% higher than actual energy consumption," reports BleepingComputer. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The study involved several tests conducted on nine different brands of "smart" meters, also referred to in the industry as "static energy meters." Researchers also used one electromechanical meter for reference... Experiments went on for six months, with individual tests lasting at least one week, and sometimes several weeks. Test results varied wildly, with some meters reporting errors way above their disclosed range, going from -32% to +582%...

The results of the study also matched numbers posted on an online forum by a disgruntled Dutchman complaining about high energy bills... Researchers blamed all the issues on the design of some smart meters, and, ironically, electrical devices with energy-saving features. The latter devices, researchers say, introduced a large amount of noise in electrical current waveforms, which disrupt the smart meter sensors tasked with recording power consumption...

Long-time Slashdot reader ClarkMills points out the researchers estimate that "potentially inaccurate meters have been installed in the meter cabinets of at least 750,000 Dutch households," while the article suggests that worldwide, "the numbers of possibly faulty smart meters could be in the millions,especially after some governments, especially in the EU, have pushed for smart meters to replace classic electromechanical (rotating disk) meters."
Portables

Can Crowdfunding Bring Back The Netbook? (salon.com) 243

"The mini-laptop's market niche got swamped by the iPad and the phablet," writes Salon, since the stripped-down hardware of tablets made them cheaper to produce. But now netbooks could be making a grassroots-fueled comeback, "thanks to the lower costs in electronics manufacturing and the fact that individual investors can come together to crowdfund projects." An anonymous reader quotes Salon: Michael Mrozek, the Germany-based creator of creator of the DragonBox Pyra, says "I never understood why they were gone in the first place. I have no idea why you would use a tablet. I tried one, and it's awkward to use it for anything else than browsing the Web"... He has already managed to raise several hundred thousand dollars through a private pre-order system set up on his geek's paradise online store. Once those initial orders have been filled, Mrozek said he will probably start up a mainstream crowdfunding campaign for his Linux handheld... "The niche was always there, but thanks to the Internet and crowdfunding, it's easy to reach everyone who's interested in such a device so even a niche product still gets you enough users to sell it. That wasn't possible 10 years ago."
Meanwhile, in just under two weeks Planet Computer raised $446,000 on Indiegogo, more than double the original $200,000 goal for their netbook-like Gemini computer (with a keyboard designed by the creator of the original Psion netbook). Planet's CEO Janko Mrsic-Flogel says "It's a bit like Volkswagen bringing back the Beetle," and predicts that the worldwide demand for netbooks could reach 10 million a year.
Australia

Australian Farmers Switch To Diesel Power As Electricity Prices Soar (abc.net.au) 270

"As power prices rise, some farmers have been forced to turn off the pumps," reports the Australian Broadcast Corporation. Long-time Slashdot reader connect4 shared their report from the coast of Queensland, where the price of pumping water to sugarcane fields has doubled. Local irrigators council representative, Dale Hollis, says right now, irrigators have two options. "They have to switch off the pumps and go back to dryland [cropping], and that impacts upon the productivity of the region and impacts on jobs" he said. "The second option is to go off the grid and look at alternatives." Another option is solar and there are plenty of farmers installing panels, but many growers irrigate at night and can't afford the millions of dollars it could take to buy battery storage. That's pushing many of them back to a dirtier option. "Right now, diesel stacks up," Mr Hollis said.
The head of farm operations for a sugar producer says it's now 30% cheaper to pump water with diesel than electricity, even before you count the subsidy from the federal government, and they expect to save even more money as energy prices go up.
AI

Backlash Builds Against Bill Gates' Call For A Robot Tax (cbsnews.com) 392

Bill Gates argued governments should tax companies that use replace humans with robots, which "provoked enough negative feedback to fry a motherboard," according to CBS News. Here's how they summarized some of the reactions:
  • "Why pick on robots?" former Treasury Secretary Summers asked in a Washington Post opinion piece, which called Gates "profoundly misguided." The economist argued that progress, however messy and disruptive sometimes, ultimately benefits society overall.
  • Mike Shedlock, a financial adviser with Sitka Pacific Capital Management in Edmonds, Washington, wrote on his blog that robot owners, who likely would pay the tax, would simply pass it along by jacking up prices.
  • The European Union's parliament in February rejected a measure to impose a tax on robots, using much the same reasoning as Gates' critics.

But even while acknowledging that technology can complement humans rather than replacing them, a Bloomberg columnist argues that "Gates is right to say that we should start thinking ahead of time about how to use policy to mitigate the disruptions of automation." So if we're not going to tax robots, then how should society handle the next great wave of automated labor?


Data Storage

New 'USG' Firewalls Protect USB Drives From Malicious Attacks (zdnet.com) 67

A developer has created the USG, "a small, portable hardware USB firewall...to prevent malicious USB sticks and devices laden with malware from infecting your computer." An anonymous reader quotes ZDNet: The problem is that most computers automatically trust every USB device that's plugged in, which means malicious code can run without warning... Cars, cash registers, and some ATMs also come with USB ports, all of which can be vulnerable to cyberattacks from a single USB stick. That's where the USG firewall comes in...a simple hardware serial link that only accepts a very few select number of safe commands, which prevents the device from executing system commands or intercepting network traffic. That means the data can flow from the USB device, but [it] effectively blocks other USB exploits.
The firmware has been open sourced, and the technical specifications have also been released online "to allow anyone to build their own from readily available development boards."

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