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Power

Japanese Company Develops a Solar Cell With Record-Breaking 26%+ Efficiency (arstechnica.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The silicon-based cells that make up a solar panel have a theoretical efficiency limit of 29 percent, but so far that number has proven elusive. Practical efficiency rates in the low-20-percent range have been considered very good for commercial solar panels. But researchers with Japanese chemical manufacturer Kaneka Corporation have built a solar cell with a photo conversion rate of 26.3 percent, breaking the previous record of 25.6 percent. Although it's just a 2.7 percent increase in efficiency, improvements in commercially viable solar cell technology are increasingly hard-won. Not only that, but the researchers noted in their paper that after they submitted their article to Nature Energy, they were able to further optimize their solar cell to achieve 26.6 percent efficiency. That result has been recognized by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). In the Nature Energy paper, the researchers described building a 180.4 cm2 cell using high-quality thin-film heterojunction (HJ) -- that is, layering silicon within the cell to minimize band gaps where electron states can't exist. Controlling heterojunctions is a known technique among solar cell builders -- Panasonic uses it and will likely incorporate it into cells built for Tesla at the Solar City plant in Buffalo, and Kaneka has its own proprietary heterojunction techniques. For this record-breaking solar cell, the Kaneka researchers also placed low-resistance electrodes toward the rear of the cell, which maximized the number of photons that collected inside the cell from the front. And, as is common on many solar cells, they coated the front of the cell with a layer of amorphous silicon and an anti-reflective layer to protect the cell's components and collect photons more efficiently.
Transportation

Plans For London-Paris Electric Flight in 'Next Decade' Unveiled (telegraph.co.uk) 70

A start-up has unveiled ambitious plans to offer an electric-powered commercial flight between London and Paris in the next ten years. From a report: Wright Electric believes the proposed low-emission electric plane would offer a cheaper alternative to jet fuel for airlines and consumers. However, the start-up's bid to revolutionize short-haul flights relies on the continued advancement of battery technology. The company, who pitched to investors this week, would be forced to switch to a hybrid of aviation fuel and electricity if the advances in battery technology fail to materialise.
Businesses

Walmart Unveils 'Store No. 8' Tech Incubator In Silicon Valley (bloomberg.com) 62

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is creating a technology-startup incubator in Silicon Valley to identify changes that will reshape the retail experience, including virtual reality, autonomous vehicle and drone delivery and personalized shopping. The incubator will be called Store No. 8, a reference to a Wal-Mart location where the company experimented with new store layouts. Marc Lore, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart's e-commerce operations, announced the incubator Monday at the ShopTalk conference in Las Vegas. The world's biggest retailer has been overhauling its online team to better challenge Amazon.com Inc. with greater selection and lower prices. Lore founded Jet.com, which Wal-Mart purchased in September for about $3.3 billion in pursuit of Amazon in the e-commerce race. Lore said Wal-Mart has an advantage over "pure play" e-commerce companies because of its large network of stores that attract shoppers for such items as fresh food. The incubator will partner with startups, venture capitalists and academics to promote innovation in robotics, virtual and augmented reality, machine learning and artificial intelligence, according to Wal-Mart. The goal is to have a fast-moving, separate entity to identify emerging technologies that can be developed and used across Wal-Mart.
Advertising

Google Wants To Create Promotions That Aren't Ads For Its Voice-Controlled Assistant (businessinsider.in) 49

Earlier this month, some Google Home users noticed what appeared to be audio ads for Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" movie. After some intense backlash, the company released a statement claiming that the ad was not an ad, but that it was simply "timely content" that Disney didn't pay for. Google's UK director of agencies, Matt Bush, has since spoken out about the company's plans with advertising via the voice-controlled Assistant. Business Insider reports: Bush explained Google isn't looking to offer brand integrations in voice for the time being, since it didn't have enough data to come up with an ad product that adds value for consumers. "We want businesses to have a phenomenal mobile experience and then building on that have a phenomenal voice experience," Bush told Business Insider at Advertising Week Europe. "That might not be, in the early instances, anything that has to do with commercials at all. It might just be something something that adds value to the consumer without needing to be commercialized." Bush explained that the consumer experience with voice is very different from that of text search because the use cases for voice navigation differ depending on the device the function is used on and the context the user finds themselves in. "We don't want to start putting in commercial opportunities that we think users don't want to interact with," Bush said "We don't want anything to come in-between the user and their access to the information they're actually looking for. If a brand can add value in that space, fantastic." Bush cited mobile search ads as successful executions of using context and personal user insights, but voice promotions are unlikely to take the same form. "It's unlikely to be what you see from search as it currently stands, where you might have three or four ads as the top results of a search," he said.
Google

Burglars Can Easily Make Google Nest Security Cameras Stop Recording (helpnetsecurity.com) 66

Orome1 quotes a report from Help Net Security: Google Nest's Dropcam, Dropcam Pro, Nest Cam Outdoor and Nest Cam Indoor security cameras can be easily disabled by an attacker that's in their Bluetooth range. The vulnerabilities are present in the latest firmware version running on the devices (v5.2.1). They were discovered by researcher Jason Doyle last fall, and their existence responsibly disclosed to Google, but have still not been patched. The first two flaws can be triggered and lead to a buffer overflow condition if the attacker sends to the camera a too-long Wi-Fi SSID parameter or a long encrypted password parameter, respectively. Triggering one of these flaws will make the devices crash and reboot. The third flaw is a bit more serious, as it allows the attacker to force the camera to temporarily disconnect from the wireless network to which it is connected by supplying it a new SSID to connect to. If that particular SSID does not exist, the camera drops its attempt to associate with it and return to the original Wi-Fi network, but the whole process can last from 60 to 90 seconds, during which the camera won't be recording. Nest has apparently already prepared a patch but hasn't pushed it out yet. (It should be rolling out "in the coming days.")
Cellphones

Wells Fargo: All ATMs Will Take Phone Codes, Not Just Cards (go.com) 60

Given the prevalence of smartphones nowadays, Wells Fargo has announced plans to upgrade all 13,000 of its ATMs next week to allow customers to access their money using their cellphones instead of traditional bank cards. Wells Fargo would be the first to upgrade all of its ATMs with the feature across the United States. ABC News reports: To access their money, customers would get unique eight-digit codes from their Wells Fargo smartphone app, and enter the code into the ATM along with their PIN number. The machines will still accept debit cards as well. One limitation of the one-time code, though, is that it won't work on the secure doors that many branches have for non-business hours that require a customer to swipe an ATM or debit card to gain entry. Wells Fargo said those secure doors are found at a small percentage of branches, mostly in major metropolitan areas like New York City or Chicago. Wells said it plans to roll out another upgrade to its ATMs later this year, which will allow customers to access the ATMs by holding their smartphones up to a reader on the machine, instead of entering the eight-digit code. It would be similar to using Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, the bank said.
Technology

AMD Confirms It's Issuing a Fix To Stop New Ryzen Processors From Crashing Desktops (digitaltrends.com) 105

AMD says the company has been able to figure out why FMA3 code is causing system hangs on PCs using a new Ryzen desktop processor. From a report: Although AMD didn't provide a detailed report on the problem's root cause, the company said that BIOS changes will be distributed to motherboard manufacturers to resolve the issue. Customers are encouraged to keep an eye on their motherboard vendor's website for an update. "We are aware of select instances where FMA code can result in a system hang," the company said. "We have identified the root cause." AMD released three Ryzen-branded desktop processors at the beginning of March that plug into motherboards based on AMD's new AM4 socket. The trio of processors include the Ryzen 7 1800X, the Ryzen 7 1700X, and the Ryzen 7 1700. However, all three reportedly cause a hard system lock when running certain FMA3 workloads. The problem was replicated across all three processors and a variety of motherboards.
Transportation

UK Flight Ban On Devices To Be Announced (bbc.com) 244

The UK is due to announce a cabin baggage ban on laptops, tablets and DVD players on certain passenger flights, after a similar US move. From a report on BBC: It is understood the UK restrictions may differ from the US Department of Homeland Security's ban, although details have not yet been released. Flights from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries are subject to the US announcement. US officials said bombs could be hidden in a series of devices. BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford said the expected move was "obviously part of coordinated action with the US." The attempted downing of an airliner in Somalia last year was linked to a laptop device, and it appears the security precautions are an attempt to stop similar incidents, our correspondent added.
Businesses

Apple iPad is a Faster, Cheaper iPad Air 2 (cnet.com) 102

Say good-bye to the iPad Air, it's just the iPad now. From a report on CNET: Apple announced on Tuesday morning that it will be dropping the price of the 9.7-inch iPad by $70. The tablet's A8X processor will be getting an upgrade too, jumping over to the A9 chip used in the iPad Pro. The upgrade will replace the iPad Air 2, but the iPad Mini 4 will live on, starting at $399. The updated pricing will start on Friday, at $329 for the 32GB model and $459 for the 32GB WiFi with cellular service model. It's Apple's cheapest iPad, after the company decided to replace the iPad Mini 2, which started at $269. Although Apple's iPad is leading the tablet market, it's still a tumbling one as demand takes a decline thanks to people holding onto their tablets longer.
Power

John Goodenough's Colleagues Are Skeptical of His New Battery Technology (qz.com) 240

Earlier this month, a research team led by John Goodenough announced that they had created a new fast charging solid-state battery that can operate in extreme temperatures and store five to ten times as much energy as current standard lithium-ion batteries. The announcement was big enough to have Google's Eric Schmidt tweeting about it. However, there are some skeptics, including other leading battery researchers. "For his invention to work as described, they say, it would probably have to abandon the laws of thermodynamics, which say perpetual motion is not possible," reports Quartz. "The law has been a fundamental of batteries for more than a century and a half." Quartz reports: Goodenough's long career has defined the modern battery industry. Researchers assume that his measurements are exact. But no one outside of Goodenough's own group appears to understand his new concept. The battery community is loath to openly challenge the paper, but some come close. "If anyone but Goodenough published this, I would be, well, it's hard to find a polite word," Daniel Steingart, a professor at Princeton, told Quartz. Goodenough did not respond to emails. But in a statement released by the University of Texas, where he holds an engineering chair, he said, "We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today's batteries. Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted." In addition, Helena Braga, the paper's lead author, in an exchange of emails, insisted that the team's claims are valid. For almost four decades, Goodenough has dominated the world of advanced batteries. If anyone could finally make the breakthrough that allows for cheap, stored electricity in cars and on the grid, it would figure to be him. Goodenough invented the heart of the battery that is all but certainly powering the device on which you are reading this. It's the lithium-cobalt-oxide cathode, invented in 1980 and introduced for sale by Sony in 1991. Again and again, Goodenough's lab has emerged with dramatic discoveries confirming his genius. It's what is not stated in the paper that has some of the battery community stumped. How is Goodenough's new invention storing any energy at all? The known rules of physics state that, to derive energy, differing material must produce differing eletro-chemical reactions in the two opposing electrodes. That difference produces voltage, allowing energy to be stored. But Goodenough's battery has pure metallic lithium or sodium on both sides. Therefore, the voltage should be zero, with no energy produced, battery researchers told Quartz. Goodenough reports energy densities multiple times that of current lithium-ion batteries. Where does the energy come from, if not the electrode reactions? That goes unexplained in the paper.
Security

New Technology Combines Lip Motion and Passwords For User Authentication (bleepingcomputer.com) 54

An anonymous reader writes: "Scientists from the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) have developed a new user authentication system that relies on reading lip motions while the user speaks a password out loud," reports BleepingComputer. Called "lip password" the system combines the best parts of classic password-based systems with the good parts of biometrics. The system relies on the uniqueness of someone's lips, such as shape, texture, and lip motions, but also allows someone to change the lip motion (password), in case the system ever gets compromised. Other biometric solutions, such as fingerprints, iris scans, and facial features, become eternally useless once compromised.
Android

Samsung Announces Bixby, Its New Digital Assistant Launching With the Galaxy S8 (phonedog.com) 71

Samsung has taken the wraps off its new digital assistant that will be launching with the upcoming Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus smartphones. Called "Bixby," the new assistant will use artificial intelligence to enable users to do everything that is possible to do by touch, but with voice. PhoneDog reports: Samsung is touting three main features of its new assistant. The first is "Completeness," which means that when an app is Bixby-enabled, the assistant will able to perform almost every task that the app normally supports using touch. The second Bixby property is "Context Awareness." This means that when Bixby is activated, it'l be able to understand the current context and the state of the app that you're in without interrupting the work that you're doing. Finally, there's "Cognitive Tolerance." Samsung says that Bixby is smart enough to understand commands with incomplete commands, meaning that you don't have to remember the exact phrase that you have to say to perform a task with an assistant. Bixby will also ask you for more information when performing a task and then execute it. A select number of apps on the Galaxy S8 will be Bixby-enabled at launch, and Samsung plans to add more over time. The company also intends to release an SDK so that third-party app developers can add Bixby support to their apps.
Intel

Intel Unveils Optane SSD DC P4800X Drive That Can Act As Cache Or Storage (hothardware.com) 61

MojoKid writes from a report via HotHardware: Intel unveiled its first SSD product that will leverage 3D Xpoint memory technology, the new Optane SSD DC P4800X. The Intel SSD DC P4800X resembles some of Intel's previous enterprise storage products, but this product is all new, from its controller to its 3D Xpoint storage media that was co-developed with Micron. The drive's sequential throughput isn't impressive versus other high-end, enterprise NVMe storage products, but the Intel Optane SSD DX P4800X shines at very low queue depths with high random 4kB IO throughput, where NAND flash-based storage products tend to falter. The drive's endurance is also exceptionally high, rated for 30 drive writes per day or 12.3 Petabytes Written. Intel provided some performance data comparing its SSD SC P3700 NAND drive to the Optane SSD DC P4800X in a few different scenarios. This test shows read IO latency with the drive under load, and not only is the P4800X's read IO latency significantly lower, but it is very consistent regardless of load. With a 70/30 mixed read write workload, the Optane SSD DC P4800X also offers between 5 and 8x better performance versus standard NVMe drives. The 375GB Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X add-in-card will be priced at $1520, which is roughly three times the cost per gigabyte of Intel's high-end SSD DC P3700. In the short term, expect Intel Optane solid state drives to command a premium. As availability ramps up, however, prices will likely come down.
United States

'Sorry, I've Forgotten My Decryption Password' is Contempt Of Court, Pal - US Appeal Judges (theregister.co.uk) 507

Thomas Claburn, reporting for The Register: The US Third Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a lower court ruling of contempt against a chap who claimed he couldn't remember the password to decrypt his computer's hard drives. In so doing, the appeals court opted not to address a lower court's rejection of the defendant's argument that being forced to reveal his password violated his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. In the case under review, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held the defendant (referred to in court documents as "John Doe" because his case is partially under seal) in contempt of court for willfully disobeying and resisting an order to decrypt external hard drives that had been attached to his Mac Pro computer. The defendant's computer, two external hard drives, an iPhone 5S, and an iPhone 6 Plus had been seized as part of a child pornography investigation.
Security

Royal Jordanian Airlines Bans Use of Electronics After US Voices Security 'Concerns' (theverge.com) 107

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Royal Jordanian airlines banned the use of electronics on flights servicing the U.S. after government officials here expressed concerns. Details are scant, but CNN is reporting that other carriers based on the Middle East and Africa may be affected as well. The news broke when Royal Jordanian, a state-owned airline that operates around 500 flights a week, posted this cryptic notice on its Twitter feed. The ban, which includes laptops, tablets, and video games, but does not include smartphones or medical devices, is effective for Royal Jordanian flights servicing New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Montreal. A spokesperson for Royal Jordanian was not immediately available for clarification. Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that Royal Jordanian may not be the only carrier affected by these new security provisions. Jon Ostrower, the network's aviation editor, just tweeted that as many as 12 airlines based in the Middle East and Africa could be impacted. A Saudi executive also tweeted that "directives by U.S. authorities" could affect passengers traveling from 13 countries, with the new measure set to go into effect over the next 96 hours.
Businesses

Qualcomm's New Processor Brings 4G To Feature Phones As Company Eyes Growth in Developing Markets (fortune.com) 24

With smartphone growth tapped out in many developed countries, the biggest opportunities remaining are in markets where consumers have considerably less disposable income. Qualcomm moved Monday to address this next wave with a renewed chipset for lower-end smartphones and feature phones ("candy phones"). From a report on Fortune: Dubbed the 205 Mobile Platform, the chips will allow less expensive smartphones and even feature phones to connect to 4G LTE networks, which are just spreading in places like Brazil and India. Unlike Qualcomm's top-end chips, which can reach speeds of over 1 gigabit per second on 4G networks, the 205 chips top out at 150 megabits per second. The platform will also include other lower-end capabilities like support for 3-megapixel cameras. "India and the Southeast Asia regions present growth opportunities in the telecom space with 4G adoption rising and continued adoption of feature phones," Jim Cathey, president of Qualcomm Asia Pacific and India, said in a statement.
Software

Canonical Helps Launch A Snap Store For The Orange Pi Community (ubuntu.com) 55

"Developers can distribute their applications packaged as snaps to Orange Pi owners," explains a new blog post from Canonical, bragging that "hackers and tinkerers can install complex IoT and server projects in seconds." An anonymous reader quotes Ubuntu's Insights blog: Orange Pi maker Shenzhen Xunlong Software Co. Ltd is launching an app store in partnership with Canonical to foster an active community of developers and users. Through this app store, developers gain a simple mechanism to share their applications, projects and scripts between themselves and with the wider Orange Pi community...

With snaps developers can distribute their application in a secure, confined package bundled with all its dependencies, so users can install applications that could take half an hour to install in just a few seconds. The Orange Pi App Store uses the whitelabel app store offering from Canonical, which lets them distribute applications to the Orange Pi community under its own brand. The store is a place for developers to share their Orange Pi specific applications. It also benefits from the wealth of applications available in the Ubuntu snap store, also available through the store.

Are there any Slashdot readers who are actually using snaps? Or -- for that matter -- are there any Slashdot readers developing with the Orange Pi?
AI

The First Practical Use For Quantum Computers: Chemistry (technologyreview.com) 42

"The first quantum computer to start paying its way with useful work in the real world looks likely to do so by helping chemists," writes MIT Technology Review, "trying to do things like improve batteries or electronics." An anonymous reader quotes their report: So far, simulating molecules and reactions is the use case for early, small quantum computers sketched out in most detail by researchers developing the new kind of algorithms needed for such machines... "From the point of view of what is theoretically proven, chemistry is ahead," says Scott Crowder, chief technology officer for the IBM division that today sells hardware including supercomputers and hopes to add cloud-hosted quantum computers to its product line-up in the next few years...

Researchers have long used simulations of molecules and chemical reactions to aid research into things like new materials, drugs, or industrial catalysts. The tactic can reduce time spent on physical experiments and scientific dead ends, and it accounts for a significant proportion of the workload of the world's supercomputers. Yet the payoffs are limited because even the most powerful supercomputers cannot perfectly re-create all the complex quantum behaviors of atoms and electrons in even relatively small molecules, says Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a chemistry professor at Harvard. He's looking forward to the day simulations on quantum computers can accelerate his research group's efforts to find new light-emitting molecules for displays, for example, and batteries suitable for grid-scale energy storage.

Microsoft is already focusing on chemistry and materials science in its quantum algorithm effort, saying a hybrid system combining conventional computers with a small quantum computer "has great promise for studying molecules." Meanwhile, the article argues that breaking encryption, "although a genuine threat, is one of the most distant applications of the technology, because the algorithms involved would require an extremely large quantum processor."
Google

Google Glass Enters The Manufacturing Sector (npr.org) 61

NPR recently profiled one of the 100 factory workers now using Google Glass at the agricultural equipment manufacturer AGCO. An anonymous reader quotes their report: Google Glass tells her what to do should she forget, for example, which part goes where. "I don't have to leave my area to go look at the computer every time I need to look up something," she says. With Google Glass, she scans the serial number on the part she's working on. This brings up manuals, photos or videos she may need. She can tap the side of headset or say "OK Glass" and use voice commands to leave notes for the next shift worker...

Peggy Gullick, business process improvement director with AGCO, says the addition of Google Glass has been "a total game changer." Quality checks are now 20 percent faster, she says, and it's also helpful for on-the-job training of new employees... Tiffany Tsai, who writes about technology, says it's one of a growing number of companies -- including General Electric and Boeing -- testing it out... Companies working in the health care, entertainment and energy industries are listed as some of the Google Glass certified partners.

AGCO plans to have 200 workers using Google Glass by the end of this year.
Biotech

Tech Billionaires Invest In Linking Brains To Computers (technologyreview.com) 77

"To many in Silicon Valley, the brain looks like an unconquered frontier whose importance dwarfs any achievement made in computing or the Web," including Bryan Johnson, the founder of Braintree online payments, and Elon Musk. An anonymous reader quotes MIT Technology Review: Johnson is effectively jumping on an opportunity created by the Brain Initiative, an Obama-era project which plowed money into new schemes for recording neurons. That influx of cash has spurred the formation of several other startups, including Paradromics and Cortera, also developing novel hardware for collecting brain signals. As part of the government brain project, the defense R&D agency DARPA says it is close to announcing $60 million in contracts under a program to create a "high-fidelity" brain interface able to simultaneously record from one million neurons (the current record is about 200) and stimulate 100,000 at a time...

According to neuroscientists, several figures from the tech sector are currently scouring labs across the U.S. for technology that might fuse human and artificial intelligence. In addition to Johnson, Elon Musk has been teasing a project called "neural lace," which he said at a 2016 conference will lead to "symbiosis with machines." And Mark Zuckerberg declared in a 2015 Q&A that people will one day be able to share "full sensory and emotional experiences," not just photos. Facebook has been hiring neuroscientists for an undisclosed project at Building 8, its secretive hardware division.

Elon Musk complains that the current speeds for transferring signals from brains are "ridiculously slow".

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