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Privacy

Watchdog Group Claims Smart Toys Are Spying On Kids (mashable.com) 67

The Center for Digital Democracy has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission warning of security and privacy holes associated with a pair of smart toys designed for children. Mashable reports: "This complaint concerns toys that spy," reads the complaint, which claims the Genesis Toys' My Friend Cayla and i-QUE Intelligent Robot can record and collect private conversations and offer no limitations on the collection and use of personal information. Both toys use voice recognition, internet connectivity and Bluetooth to engage with children in conversational manner and answer questions. The CDD claims they do all of this in wildly insecure and invasive ways. Both My Friend Cayla and i-QUE use Nuance Communications' voice-recognition platform to listen and respond to queries. On the Genesis Toy site, the manufacturer notes that while "most of Cayla's conversational features can be accessed offline," searching for information may require an internet connection. The promotional video for Cayla encourages children to "ask Cayla almost anything." The dolls work in concert with mobile apps. Some questions can be asked directly, but the toys maintain a constant Bluetooth connection to the dolls so they can also react to actions in the app and even appear to identify objects the child taps on on screen. While some of the questions children ask the dolls are apparently recorded and sent to Nuance's servers for parsing, it's unclear how much of the information is personal in nature. The Genesis Privacy Policy promises to anonymize information. The CDD also claims, however, that My Friend Cayla and i-Que employ Bluetooth in the least secure way possible. Instead of requiring a PIN code to complete pairing between the toy and a smartphone or iPad, "Cayla and i-Que do not employ... authentication mechanisms to establish a Bluetooth connection between the doll and a smartphone or tablet. The dolls do not implement any other security measure to prevent unauthorized Bluetooth pairing." Without a pairing notification on the toy or any authentication strategy, anyone with a Bluetooth device could connect to the toys' open Bluetooth networks, according to the complaint.
NASA

NASA Awards $127 Million Contract For Refueling Mission Spacecraft (gizmodo.com) 38

Satellites cost millions of dollars to be launched into space and there's no guarantee that they will work without electrical or mechanical problems once in orbit. NASA has recently announced that it will award a $127 million contract to a company that aims to use a robotic spacecraft to fix satellites in space, thus potentially saving millions of dollars in the long-run by fixing satellites that would otherwise be "expensive e-waste." Gizmodo reports: NASA has just announced that it will award a $127 million contract to the California-based satellite company Space Systems/Loral for Restore-L, a robotic spacecraft capable of grasping, refueling and relocating a satellite in low Earth orbit, in addition to testing technologies for future missions. SSL has three years to build the bot, which is projected to launch in 2020. Without the ability to refuel, a satellite's lifespan is restricted by the amount of propellant engineers can pack in its tank at launch. That lifespan can be cut even shorter should the spacecraft encounter any electrical or mechanical problems on orbit. As more and more satellites reach the end of their operational lifespans, government agencies and private companies have been working to remedy this problem by developing robots that can give satellites a tune-up in zero-gravity. DARPA, for instance, recently launched a program aimed at designing robots capable of servicing satellites at the hard-to-reach but highly-desirable perch of geosynchronous orbit, 22,000 miles above Earth. NASA's Satellite Servicing Division, meanwhile, has a handful of on-orbit repair and refueling technology demonstrators in the works, including a robotic arm with the same range of motion as a human arm, a navigation system designed to help robots rendezvous with moving objects in space, and Restore-L, which combines these and other capabilities into a multi-purpose space mechanic. For now, Restore-L's primary goal is to refuel Landsat 7, a critical Earth-monitoring satellite operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. If successful, the spacecraft may be modified for all sorts of other useful tasks, from mopping up the ever-growing halo of space junk encircling our planet, to servicing exciting new science missions like the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which will grab a multi-ton boulder from the surface of an asteroid and tow it back to orbit around the Moon.
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.
Google

Google Preparing 'Invisible ReCAPTCHA' System For No User Interaction (bleepingcomputer.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer: Google engineers are working on an improved version of the reCAPTCHA system that uses a computer algorithm to distinguish between automated bots and real humans, and requires no user interaction at all. Called "Invisible reCAPTCHA," and spotted by Windows IT Pro, the service is still under development, but the service is open for sign-ups, and any webmaster can help Google test its upcoming technology. Invisible reCAPTCHA comes two years after Google has revolutionized CAPTCHA technologies by releasing the No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA service that requires users to click on one checkbox instead of solving complex visual puzzles made up of words and numbers. The service helped reduce the time needed to fill in forms, and maintained the same high-level of spam detection we've become accustomed from the reCAPTCHA service. The introduction of the new Invisible reCAPTCHA technology is unlikely to make the situation better for Tor users since CloudFlare will likely force them to solve the same puzzle if they come from IPs seen in the past performing suspicious actions. Nevertheless, CloudFlare started working on an alternative.
AI

Many CEOs Believe Technology Will Make People Largely Irrelevant (betanews.com) 537

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."
Movies

British Film Institute To Digitize 100,000 Old TV Shows Before They Disappear (bbc.com) 124

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Thousands of British TV programs are to be digitized before they are lost forever, the British Film Institute says. Anarchic children's show Tiswas and The Basil Brush Show are among the programs in line for preservation. The initiative was announced as part of the BFI's five-year strategy for 2017-2022. "Material from the 70s and early 80s is at risk," said Heather Stewart, the BFI's creative director. "It has a five or six-year shelf life and if we don't do something about it will just go, no matter how great the environment is we keep it in. "Our job is make sure that things are there in 200 years' time." The BFI has budgeted $14.3 million of Lottery funding towards its goal of making the UK's entire screen heritage digitally accessible. This includes an estimated 100,000 of the "most at-risk" British TV episodes and clips held on obsolete video formats. The list includes "early children's programming, little-seen dramas, regional programs and the beginnings of breakfast television." The issue for the BFI, Ms Stewart added, was also to do with freeing up storage space. "We have a whole vault which is wall-to-wall video. If we digitized it, it would be in a robot about the size of a wardrobe," she said.
Transportation

Self-Driving Trucks Begin Real-World Tests on Ohio's Highways (cbsnews.com) 178

An anonymous reader writes: "A vehicle from self-driving truck maker Otto will travel a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Route 33 on Monday in central Ohio..." reports the Associated Press. The truck "will travel in regular traffic, and a driver in the truck will be positioned to intervene should anything go awry, Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Bruning said Friday, adding that 'safety is obviously No. 1.'"

Ohio sees this route as "a corridor where new technologies can be safely tested in real-life traffic, aided by a fiber-optic cable network and sensor systems slated for installation next year" -- although next week the truck will also start driving on the Ohio Turnpike.

Robotics

Slashdot Asks: Will Farming Be Fully Automated in the Future? (bbc.com) 278

BBC has a report today in which, citing several financial institutions and analysts, it claims that in the not-too-distant future, our fields could be tilled, sown, tended and harvested entirely by fleets of co-operating autonomous machines by land and air. An excerpt from the article: Driverless tractors that can follow pre-programmed routes are already being deployed at large farms around the world. Drones are buzzing over fields assessing crop health and soil conditions. Ground sensors are monitoring the amount of water and nutrients in the soil, triggering irrigation and fertilizer applications. And in Japan, the world's first entirely automated lettuce farm is due for launch next year. The future of farming is automated. The World Bank says we'll need to produce 50% more food by 2050 if the global population continues to rise at its current pace. But the effects of climate change could see crop yields falling by more than a quarter. So autonomous tractors, ground-based sensors, flying drones and enclosed hydroponic farms could all help farmers produce more food, more sustainably at lower cost.What are your thoughts on this?
Businesses

Panasonic Invests $60 Million In World's First Laundry-Folding Robot (telegraph.co.uk) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Telegraph.co.uk: Panasonic has invested tens of millions of dollars in a robot that can reduce the time it takes to wash clothes by sorting clean items and folding them into neat piles. The electronics giant will pour $60 million into the startup behind the folding robot called Laundroid, which was first unveiled in October last year. The domestic robot has been a decade in the making and is expected to finally be available to buy next year. Created by Japanese company Seven Dreamers, the Laundroid can fold a shirt in ten minutes and sort clothing into types.
Seven Dreamers is yet to say how much the robot, which is around the same size as a fridge-freezer, will cost, but Panasonic is reportedly funding just 10pc of the project. Consumers place clothes in a drawer at the bottom of the Laundroid, which it then identifies, sorts and folds using a combination of image recognition software, advanced robotics and machine learning. It can fold a range of clothing items, including shirts, skirts, shorts and trousers, according to Seven Dreamers. The company plans to release the Laundroid in March 2017, and will unveil more details at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Transportation

Flying Robot Ambulance Finally Takes Its First Flight (popsci.com) 43

What weighs 2,400 pounds, flies 100 miles per hour, and doesn't haven't a pilot? An anonymous reader writes: This week Popular Science remembers a 2007 article which discovered "an amazing machine of the future, almost like a flying car, that seemed plausible but just out of reach" -- and reports that it's now finally performed "a full, autonomous flight on a preplanned route." Designed to provide unmanned emergency evacuations, it's been described as "a hovercar-like aircraft" flown with a built-in AI-controlled flight system.

Tuesday's route was two minutes long, and "According to Urban Aeronautics, the vehicle's Flight Control System made the decision to land too early." But what's significant is there's no human pilot. "Decisions by the flight controls are checked by the craft's flight management system, like a pilot overseen by a captain...all informed by an array of sensors, including 'two laser altimeters, a radar altimeter, inertial sensors, and an electro-optic payload camera.'"

The test brings the giant unmanned vehicle one step closer to its ultimate goal of becoming "a robot that can fly inside cities, weaving between buildings and hovering above any dangers on the ground below."
AI

Why Automation Won't Displace Human Workers (diginomica.com) 540

"There was never a job opening for a drone pilot until there was something to fly," writes the founder of market research firm Beagle Research Group, arguing that automation won't inevitably lead society to a universal basic income "free lunch" because new jobs arise when "new capabilities, technical and otherwise, innovate them into existence." Heck, computer programmers had no existence until computers. At one point a computer was just someone who was very good at math performing calculations all day...it took a year to check all of the calculations needed to produce the atomic bomb and that work was all done by humans. Imagine how history might be different if even one of them had a pocket calculator. You get the idea. New technology inspires new jobs.
He also argues that historically automation eliminates jobs that were "dull, dirty, and dangerous," and that automation also ends up performing previously-nonexistent jobs -- or work that was forced onto customers in self-service scenarios.
Robotics

Robot Solves Rubik's Cube In Less Than a Second (livescience.com) 54

An anonymous reader quotes a report from LiveScience: In just over half of a second (0.637 seconds), the Sub1 Reloaded robot made each side of the Rubik's Cube show a single color. This breaks the previous record of 0.887 seconds achieved by an earlier version of the same machine using a different processor. German technology company Infineon staged the record attempt at the Electronica trade fair in Munich this week, as a way to highlight its self-driving-car technology. The company provided one of the Sub1 Reloaded robot's microchips. Infineon said more than 43 quintillion combinations of the Rubik's Cube's colored squares are possible. That same number of cubes would cover Earth in 275 layers, resulting in an approximately 65.6-foot-high (20 meters) layer of Rubik's Cubes, the company added. The record-breaking attempt began with the press of a button. Sensor cameras on the machine had their shutters removed, and the computer was then able to detect how the cube was scrambled. The computing chip, or the "brain" of the machine as Infineon called it, then determined the fastest solution. Commands to execute the solution were sent to six motor-controlled arms. "It takes tremendous computing power to solve such a highly complex puzzle with a machine," Infineon said in a statement. "In the case of 'Sub1 Reloaded,' the power for motor control was supplied by a microcontroller from Infineon's AURIX family, similar to the one used in driver assistance systems."
AI

Elon Musk Predicts Automation Will Lead To A Universal Basic Income (mashable.com) 426

An anonymous reader quotes Mashable's new article about Tesla/SpaceX founder Elon Musk: Tech innovators in the self-driving car and AI industries talk a lot about how many human jobs will be innovated out of existence, but they rarely explain what will happen to all those newly jobless humans. In an interview with CNBC on Friday, Musk said that he believes the solution to taking care of human workers who are displaced by robots and software is creating a (presumably government-backed) universal basic income for all. "There's a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation," said Musk. "I'm not sure what else one would do. That's what I think would happen."
And what will this world look like? "People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things," Musk told CNBC's interviewer. "Certainly more leisure time." President Obama has also talked about "redesigning the social compact" with MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito, and in August predicted the question of whether there's support for the Universal Basic Income is "a debate that we'll be having over the next 10 or 20 years."
Cellphones

Scientists Develop Magnetic Ink That Can Self-Heal Gadgets When They Break (theverge.com) 52

Scientists from the University of California discuss how they plan on fixing broken devices with magnetic ink particles. "Just like the human skin is stretchable and self-healing, we wanted to impart a self-healing ability to printed electronics," Amay Bandodkar, a member of the research team, tells The New York Times. The Verge reports: Sensors printed with this ink would magnetically attach to each other when a rip or tear occurs, automatically fixing a device at the first sign of disintegration. The published study focused on creating sensors that can be incorporated with fabrics. The result is smart clothing that can repair cuts up to three millimeters long in 50 milliseconds. In a sample video, a sensor used to light a small bulb gets snipped in half. In seconds, magnets in the sensor pull the two sides back together and slowly light the bulb again. To create the self-healing effect, the team used pulverized neodymium magnets typically found in refrigerators and hard drives and combined them into the ink. This helps the researchers avoid the traditional process of adding chemicals and heat, which could take hours to complete. Bandodkar estimates that $10 worth of ink can create "hundreds of small devices" that can help reduce waste, since you won't need to throw these wearables and gadgets out when they're broken. "Within a few seconds it's going to self-heal, and you can use it over and over again."
China

China's New Policing Computer Is Frontend Cattle Prod, Backend Supercomputer (computerworld.com) 69

Earlier this year, we learned about China's first "intelligent security robot," which was said to include "electrically charged riot control tool." We now know what this robot is up to, and what its developed unit looks like. Reader dcblogs writes: China recently deployed what it calls a "security robot" in a Shenzhen airport. It's named AnBot and patrols around the clock. It is a cone-shaped robot that includes a cattle prod. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which look at autonomous system deployments in a report last week, said AnBot, which has facial recognition capability, is designed to be linked with China's latest supercomputers. AnBot may seem like a 'Saturday Night Live' prop, but it's far from it. The back end of this "intelligent security robot" is linked to China's Tianhe-2 supercomputer, where it has access to cloud services. AnBot conducts patrols, recognizes threats and has multiple cameras that use facial recognition. These cloud services give the robots petascale processing power, well beyond onboard processing capabilities in the robot. The supercomputer connection is there "to enhance the intelligent learning capabilities and human-machine interface of these devices," said the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review.
Twitter

'Armies' of Twitter Bots Bolster Both The Trump And Clinton Campaigns (technewsworld.com) 214

An anonymous reader writes: During the first U.S. presidential debate, "automated accounts were tweeting messages with hashtags associated with the candidates. For example, #makeamericagreatagain or #draintheswamp for Trump; #imwithher for Clinton," according to TechNewsWorld. They cite researchers at PoliticalBots.org, who "found that one-third of all tweets using pro-Trump hashtags were created by bots and one-fifth of all Clinton hashtags were generated by automated accounts."

In addition, "Political actors and governments worldwide have begun using bots to manipulate public opinion, choke off debate, and muddy political issues... We know for a fact that Russia, as a state, has sponsored the use of bots for attacking transnational targets... We've had cases in Mexico, Turkey, South Korea and Australia. The problem is that a lot of people don't know bots exist, and that trends on social media or even online polls can be gamed by bots very easily."

After the second presidential debate, "Pro-Clinton bots 'fought back'," reported the BBC, adding that they were still outnumbered by the Trump bots.
Robotics

Mines May Eliminate More Than Half Their Human Workers Within 10 Years (computerworld.com) 231

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes ComputerWorld: In the next decade, the mining industry may lose more than half of its jobs to automation, according to a new report... This industry is adopting self-driving trucks, automated loaders and automated drilling and tunnel-boring systems. It is also testing fully autonomous long-distance trains, which carry materials from the mine to a port...

A broader question is whether mining is a bellwether for other industries. There's no clear answer, but what Aaron Cosbey, a development economist and a report author, can say is this: "Where you can find robotic replacements for human labor you tend to do it." Cosbey estimates that automation will replace 40% to 80% of the workers at a mine...

Driverless technology can increase output up to 20%, while decreasing fuel consumption up to 15%, according to the article. "This will increase demand for people with IT skills who can set up and operate the automation systems -- but at far smaller numbers than the people automation displaces."
Medicine

Harvard Scientists Invent Cigarette-Smoking Robot For Better Lung Disease Research (ieee.org) 46

the_newsbeagle writes: Harvard scientists have invented a nifty lab robot that can smoke 10 cigarettes at a time, lighting up for the benefit of medical research on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The bot channels smoke into a "lung on a chip," a small device with microfluidic channels lined by human lung cells. This setup enables researchers to realistically replicate the action of taking regular pulls from a cigarette, and to watch the effects on the lung cells. Researchers can't achieve the same realism with cells cultured in a petri dish or with lab mice -- which, interestingly, are "obligate nasal breathers" that typically take in air through their noses. The invention was announced yesterday by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
Transportation

Uber's Self-Driving Truck Went on a 120-Mile Beer Run To Make History (businessinsider.com) 246

An anonymous reader writes: In the arms race to build self-driving vehicles, Uber-owned Otto just reached a landmark milestone by completing the first-ever commercial cargo run for a self-driving truck. On October 20, the self-driving truck left Fort Collins, Colorado at 1 a.m. and drove itself 120 miles on I-25 to Colorado Springs. The driver, who has to be there to help the truck get on and off the interstate exit ramps, moved to the backseat alongside a crowd of transportation officials to watch the historic ride. 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer filled the trailer. "We're just thrilled. We do think this is the future of transportation," James Sembrot, senior director of logistics strategy at Anheuser-Busch, told Business Insider.
Crime

US Police Consider Flying Drones Armed With Stun Guns (digitaltrends.com) 163

Slashdot reader Presto Vivace tipped us off to news reports that U.S. police officials are considering the use of flying drones to taser their suspects. From Digital Trends: Talks have recently taken place between police officials and Taser International, a company that makes stun guns and body cameras for use by law enforcement, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. While no decision has yet been made on whether to strap stun guns to remotely controlled quadcopters, Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle said his team were discussing the idea with officials as part of broader talks about "various future concepts."

Tuttle told the Journal that such technology could be deployed in "high-risk scenarios such as terrorist barricades" to incapacitate the suspect rather than kill them outright... However, critics are likely to fear that such a plan would ultimately lead to the police loading up drones with guns and other weapons. Portland police department's Pete Simpson told the Journal that while a Taser drone could be useful in some circumstances, getting the public "to accept an unmanned vehicle that's got some sort of weapon on it might be a hurdle to overcome."

The article points out that there's already a police force in India with flying drones equipped with pepper spray.

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