Android

ZTE Exports Ban May Mean No Google Apps, a Death Sentence For Its Smartphones (arstechnica.com) 49

New submitter krazy1 shares a report from Ars Technica: The U.S. government is going after another Chinese Android device maker. After shutting down Huawei's carrier deals and retail partners, the government is now pursuing ZTE. The U.S. Department of Commerce has banned U.S. companies from selling parts and software to ZTE for seven years. ZTE was caught violating U.S. sanctions by illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company then made things worse by "making false statements and obstructing justice, including through preventing disclosure to and affirmatively misleading the U.S. Government," according to the Department of Commerce.

The latest news from Reuters raises even bigger issues for ZTE, though. A source told Reuters that "The Commerce Department decision means ZTE Corp may not be able to use Google's Android operating system in its mobile devices." Android is free and open source and will probably remain free for ZTE to use without Google's involvement. Reuters' source is probably referring to the Google apps, which aren't sold to device makers but are carefully licensed to them in exchange for other concessions. The Google apps package includes popular services like Gmail and Google Maps, and it also unlocks the Play Store, Google Play Services, and the entire Android app ecosystem. For a market-viable Android device, the Play Store is pretty much mandatory in every country other than China. So while ZTE could conceivably source hardware components from non-U.S. sources, being locked out of the Play Store would devastate ZTE's smartphones worldwide.

AMD

AMD 2nd Gen Ryzen Processors Launched and Benchmarked (hothardware.com) 68

MojoKid writes: AMD launched its 2nd Generation Ryzen processors today, based on a refined update to the company's Zen architecture, dubbed Zen+. The chips offer higher clocks, lower latencies, and a more intelligent Precision Boost 2 algorithm that improves performance, system responsiveness, and power efficiency characteristics. These new CPUs still leverage the existing AM4 infrastructure and are compatible with the same socket, chipsets, and motherboards as AMD's first-generation products, with a BIOS/UEFI update.

There are four processors arriving today, AMD's Ryzen 7 2700X, the Ryzen 7 2700, the Ryzen 5 2600X, and the Ryzen 5 2600. Ryzen 7 chips are still 8-core CPUs with 20MB of cache but now top out at 4.3GHz, while Ryzen 5 chips offer 6 cores with 19MB of cache and peak at 4.2GHz. AMD claims 2nd Gen Ryzen processors offer reductions in L1, L2, and L3 cache latencies of approximately 13%, 34%, and 16%, respectively. Memory latency is reportedly reduced by about 11% and all of those improvements result in an approximate 3% increase in IPC (instructions per clock). The processors now also have official support for faster DDR4-2933 memory as well. In the benchmarks, 2nd Gen Ryzen CPUs outpaced AMD's first gen chips across the board with better single and multithreaded performance, closing the gap even further versus Intel, often with better or similar performance at lower price points. AMD 2nd Gen Ryzen processors, and new X470 chipset motherboards that support them, are available starting today and the CPUs range from $199 to $299.

Robotics

Apple Has a New iPhone Recycling Robot Named 'Daisy' (techcrunch.com) 23

Apple has unveiled a new robot called Daisy that's designed to recycle nine different versions of the iPhone. The new robot is an update to Liam, the recycling robot the company announced back in 2016. TechCrunch reports: Daisy was developed in-house by Apple engineers, using some of Liam's parts -- a recycling of sorts. The industrial robot is able to disassemble nine different versions of the iPhone, sorting all of their reusable components in the process. In all, Daisy is capable of taking apart a full 200 iPhones in a given hour, proving a solid alternative to traditional methods that can destroy valuable components in the process. Along with Daisy, Apple's also using the occasion to announce GiveBack, an addition to its recycling program. For every device customers turn in or trade from now until April 30, the company will make a donation to Conservation International, a Virginia-based environmental nonprofit. Eligible devices will still qualify for an in-store or gift card credit.
Robotics

Scientists Create Robots That Can Assemble IKEA Furniture For You (sciencemag.org) 123

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Although artificial intelligence systems may be able to beat humans at board games, we still have the upper hand when it comes to complicated manual tasks. But now, scientists have created robots that can do something even most humans struggle with: assemble an IKEA chair. Putting together a chair requires a combination of complex movements that, in turn, depends on such skills as vision, limb coordination, and the ability to control force. Until now, that was too much to ask of even a sophisticated robot. But researchers have finally broken the dexterity barrier by combining commercially available hardware, including 3D cameras and force sensors, to build two chair-building bots. To construct their IKEA masterpiece, the robots first took pictures to identify each part of the chair. An algorithm planned the motions the robots needed to manipulate the objects without causing any collisions; two robotic arms then performed those actions in concert. Feedback from force sensors also helped: When the robot needed to insert a pin into a hole, for example, it would slide the pin over the surface until it felt a change in force. The robots were able to put together the chair in a little over 20 minutes, which includes the 11 minutes and 21 seconds of planning time and 8 minutes and 55 seconds of actual assembly. The findings have been reported today in Science Robotics.
Transportation

Autonomous Boats Will Be On the Market Sooner Than Self-Driving Cars (vice.com) 134

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: In the autonomous revolution that is underway, nearly every transportation machine will eventually be self-driving. For cars, it's likely going to take decades before we see them operating freely, outside of test conditions. Some unmanned watercraft, on the other hand, may be at sea commercially before 2020. That's partly because automating all ships could generate a ridiculous amount of revenue. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of the world's trade is carried by sea and 10.3 billion tons of products were shipped in 2016. According to NOAA's National Ocean Service, ships transported $1.5 trillion worth of cargo through U.S. ports in 2016. The world's 325 or so deep-sea shipping companies have a combined revenue of $10 billion.

Startups and major firms like Rolls Royce are now looking to automate the seas and help maritime companies ease navigation, save fuel, improve safety, increase tonnage, and make more money. As it turns out, autonomous systems for boats aren't supremely different than those of cars, beyond a few key factors -- for instance, water is always moving while roads are not, and ships need at least a couple miles to redirect. Buffalo Automation, a startup in upstate New York that began at the University at Buffalo, just raised $900,000 to help commercialize its AutoMate system -- essentially a collection of sensors and cameras to help boats operate semi-autonomously. CEO Thiru Vikram said the company is working with three pilot partners, and intends to target cargo ships and recreational vessels first. Autonomous ships are an area of particular interest for the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which sets the standards for international waters. It launched a regulatory scoping exercise last year to analyze the impact of autonomous boats. By the time it wraps in 2020, market demand may make it so that we already have semi-autonomous and unmanned vessels at sea.

Facebook

Facebook To Design Its Own Processors For Hardware Devices, AI Software, and Servers (bloomberg.com) 55

Facebook is the latest technology company to design its own semiconductors, reports Bloomberg. "The social media company is seeking to hire a manager to build an 'end-to-end SoC/ASIC, firmware and driver development organization,' according to a job listing on its corporate website, indicating the effort is still in its early stages." From the report: Facebook could use such chips to power hardware devices, artificial intelligence software and servers in its data centers. Next month, the company will launch the Oculus Go, a $200 standalone virtual-reality headset that runs on a Qualcomm processor. Facebook is also working on a slew of smart speakers. Future generations of those devices could be improved by custom chipsets. By using its own processors, the company would have finer control over product development and would be able to better tune its software and hardware together. The postings didn't make it clear what kind of use Facebook wants to put the chips to other than the broad umbrella of artificial intelligence. A job listing references "expertise to build custom solutions targeted at multiple verticals including AI/ML," indicating that the chip work could focus on a processor for artificial intelligence tasks. Facebook AI researcher Yann LeCun tweeted about some of the job postings on Wednesday, asking for candidates interested in designing chips for AI.
Businesses

Robots Ride To the Rescue Where Workers Can't Be Found (nytimes.com) 81

Fast-growing economies in Eastern Europe have led to severe labor shortages, so companies are calling in the machines [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: In many major economies, companies are experimenting with replacing factory workers, truck drivers and even lawyers with artificial intelligence, raising the specter of a mass displacement of jobs. But in Eastern Europe, robots are being enlisted as the solution for a shortage of workers. Often they are helping to create new types of jobs as businesses in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland try to stay agile and competitive. Growth in these countries, which became low-cost manufacturing hubs for Europe after the fall of Communism, has averaged 5 percent in recent years, buoyed by the global recovery.

Few are riding higher than the Czech Republic, where plants roll out cars for the likes of Toyota and consumer electronics for Dell, while smaller companies produce specialty goods to sell around the world. A roaring economy has slashed the jobless rate to just 2.4 percent, the lowest in the European Union. The dearth of manpower, however, has limited the ability of Czech companies to expand. Nearly a third of them have started to turn away orders, according to the Czech Confederation of Industry, a trade group.

Transportation

Selling Full Autonomy Before It's Ready Could Backfire For Tesla (arstechnica.com) 185

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Tesla has an Autopilot problem, and it goes far beyond the fallout from last month's deadly crash in Mountain View, California. Tesla charges $5,000 for Autopilot's lane-keeping and advanced cruise control features. On top of that, customers can pay $3,000 for what Tesla describes as "Full Self-Driving Capability." "All you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go," Tesla's ordering page says. "Your Tesla will figure out the optimal route, navigate urban streets (even without lane markings), manage complex intersections with traffic lights, stop signs and roundabouts, and handle densely packed freeways with cars moving at high speed." None of these "full self-driving" capabilities are available yet. "Self-Driving functionality is dependent upon extensive software validation and regulatory approval, which may vary widely by jurisdiction," the page says. "It is not possible to know exactly when each element of the functionality described above will be available, as this is highly dependent on local regulatory approval."

But the big reason full self-driving isn't available yet has nothing to do with "regulatory approval." The problem is that Tesla hasn't created the technology yet. Indeed, the company could be years away from completing work on it, and some experts doubt it will ever be possible to achieve full self-driving capabilities with the hardware installed on today's Tesla vehicles. "It's a vastly more difficult problem than most people realize," said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Navigant Research and a former auto industry engineer. Tesla has a history of pre-selling products based on optimistic delivery schedules. This approach has served the company pretty well in the past, as customers ultimately loved their cars once they ultimately showed up. But that strategy could backfire hugely when it comes to Autopilot.

Businesses

One Laptop Per Child's $100 Laptop Was Going To Change the World -- Then it All Went Wrong (theverge.com) 263

Adi Robertson, reporting for The Verge: In late 2005, tech visionary and MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte pulled the cloth cover off a small green computer with a bright yellow crank. The device was the first working prototype for Negroponte's new nonprofit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), dubbed "the green machine" or simply "the $100 laptop." And it was like nothing that Negroponte's audience -- at either his panel at a UN-sponsored tech summit in Tunis, or around the globe -- had ever seen. After UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan offered a glowing introduction, Negroponte explained exactly why. The $100 laptop would have all the features of an ordinary computer but require so little electricity that a child could power it with a hand crank.

[...] But OLPC's overwhelming focus on high-tech hardware worried some skeptics, including participants in the Tunis summit. One attendee said she'd rather have "clean water and real schools" than laptops, and another saw OLPC as an American marketing ploy. "Under the guise of non-profitability, hundreds of millions of these laptops will be flogged off to our governments," he complained. In the tech world, people were skeptical of the laptop's design, too. Intel chairman Craig Barrett scathingly dubbed OLPC's toy-like prototype "the $100 gadget," and Bill Gates hated the screen in particular. "Geez, get a decent computer where you can actually read the text," he told reporters.

[...] After announcing "the $100 Laptop," OLPC had one job to do: make a laptop that cost $100. As the team developed the XO-1, they slowly realized that this wasn't going to happen. According to Bender, OLPC pushed the laptop's cost to a low of $130, but only by cutting so many corners that the laptop barely worked. Its price rose to around $180, and even then, the design had major tradeoffs. [...]

Canada

19-Year-Old Archivist Charged For Downloading Freedom-of-Information Releases (www.cbc.ca) 418

Ichijo writes: According to CBC News, a Canadian teen "has been charged with 'unauthorized use of a computer,' which carries a possible 10-year prison sentence, for downloading approximately 7,000 freedom-of-information releases. The provincial government says about 250 of those contain Nova Scotians' sensitive personal information."

"When he was around eight [...] his Grade 3 class adopted an animal at a shelter, receiving an electronic adoption certificate," reports CBC. "That lead to a discovery on the classroom computer. 'The website had a number at the end, and I was able to change the last digit of the number to a different number and was able to see a certificate for someone else's animal that they adopted,' he said. 'I thought that was interesting.' The teenager's current troubles arose because he used the same trick on Nova Scotia's freedom-of-information portal, downloading about 7,000 freedom-of-information requests."
The teen is estimated to have around 30 terabytes of online data on his hard drives, which equates to "millions" of webpages. "He usually copies online forums such as 4chan and Reddit, where posts are either quickly erased or can become difficult to locate."
Cloud

Microsoft Built Its Own Custom Linux Kernel For Its New IoT Service (techcrunch.com) 198

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.

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