Robotics

Scientists Create Robots That Can Assemble IKEA Furniture For You (sciencemag.org) 45

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) 55

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.

Science

MIT Discovers Way To Mass-Produce Graphene In Large Sheets (inhabitat.com) 26

New submitter Paige.Bennett writes: Up till now, graphene has been produced in small batches in labs. But MIT just found a way to mass-produce graphene in large sheets using a process that rolls out five centimeters of graphene each minute. The longest span so far was nearly four hours, which produced about 10 meters of graphene. According to MIT, here's how their conveyor belt system works: "The first spool unfurls a long strip of copper foil, less than one centimeter wide. When it enters the furnace, the foil is fed through first one tube and then another, in a 'split-zone' design. While the foil rolls through the first tube, it heats up to a certain ideal temperature, at which point it is ready to roll through the second tube, where the scientists pump in a specified ratio of methane and hydrogen gas, which are deposited onto the heated foil to produce graphene." The work has been published in the journal Materials and Interfaces.
Bitcoin

German ICO Savedroid Pulls Exit Scam After Raising $50 Million (techcrunch.com) 103

German company Savedroid has pulled a classic exit scam after raising $50 million in ICO and direct funding. The site is currently displaying a South Park meme with the caption "Aannnd it's gone." The founder, Dr. Yassin Hankir, has posted a tweet thanking investors and saying "Over and out." TechCrunch reports: A reverse image search found Hankir's photo on this page for Founder Institute, and he has pitched his product at multiple events, including this one in German. Savedroid was originally supposed to use AI to manage user investments and promised a crypto-backed credit card, a claim that CCN notes is popular with scam ICOs. It ran for a number of months and was clearly well-managed as the group was able to open an office and appear at multiple events.
Censorship

Google Is Shuttering Domain Fronting, Creating a Big Problem For Anti-Censorship Tools (theverge.com) 33

"The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain fronting, which lets services use Google's network to get around state-level internet blocks," reports The Verge. While the move makes sense from a cybersecurity perspective as domain fronting is widely used by malware to evade network-based detection, it will likely frustrate app developers who use it to get around internet censorship. From the report: First spotted by Tor developers on April 13th, the change has been rolling out across Google services and threatens to disrupt services for a number of anti-censorship tools, including Signal, GreatFire.org and Psiphon's VPN services. Reached by The Verge, Google said the changes were the result of a long-planned network update. "Domain fronting has never been a supported feature at Google," a company representative said, "but until recently it worked because of a quirk of our software stack. We're constantly evolving our network, and as part of a planned software update, domain fronting no longer works. We don't have any plans to offer it as a feature."

Domain-fronting allowed developers to use Google as a proxy, forwarding traffic to their own servers through a Google.com domain. That was particularly important for evading state-level censorship, which might try to block all the traffic sent to a given service. As long as the service was using domain-fronting, all the in-country data requests would appear as if they were headed for Google.com, with encryption preventing censors from digging any deeper.
We do not yet know exactly why and when Google is shutting down the practice, but will update this post once we learn more.
Facebook

'Login With Facebook' Data Hijacked By JavaScript Trackers (techcrunch.com) 51

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Facebook confirms to TechCrunch that it's investigating a security research report that shows Facebook user data can be grabbed by third-party JavaScript trackers embedded on websites using Login With Facebook. The exploit lets these trackers gather a user's data including name, email address, age range, gender, locale, and profile photo depending on what users originally provided to the website. It's unclear what these trackers do with the data, but many of their parent companies including Tealium, AudienceStream, Lytics, and ProPS sell publisher monetization services based on collected user data. The abusive scripts were found on 434 of the top 1 million websites including freelancer site Fiverr.com, camera seller B&H Photo And Video, and cloud database provider MongoDB. That's according to Steven Englehardt and his colleagues at Freedom To Tinker, which is hosted by Princeton's Center For Information Technology Policy.
NASA

SpaceX Launches NASA's Planet-Hunting Satellite, Successfully Lands Its Falcon 9 Rocket (theverge.com) 32

SpaceX launched NASA's TESS spacecraft Wednesday evening from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship following takeoff. This marks 24 successful landings for SpaceX now, notes The Verge. We will update this post once TESS is deployed into orbit. From the report: TESS is NASA's newest exoplanet hunter. The probe is tasked with staring at stars tens to hundreds of light-years from Earth, watching to see if they blink. When a planet passes in front of a distant star, it dims the star's light ever so slightly. TESS will measure these twinkles from a 13.7-day orbit that extends as far out as the distance of the Moon. The satellite won't get to its final orbit on this launch. Instead, the Falcon 9 will put TESS into a highly elliptical path around Earth first. From there, TESS will slowly adjust its orbit over the next couple of months by igniting its onboard engine multiple times. The spacecraft will even do a flyby of the Moon next month, getting a gravitational boost that will help get the vehicle to its final path around Earth. Overall, it will take about 60 days after launch for TESS to get to its intended orbit; science observations are scheduled to begin in June.
Facebook

Facebook To Design Its Own Processors For Hardware Devices, AI Software, and Servers (bloomberg.com) 47

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.
Communications

A Florida Man Has been Accused of Making 97 Million Robocalls (bloomberg.com) 138

A Florida man accused of flooding consumers with 97 million phone calls touting fake travel deals appeared Wednesday before lawmakers to explain how robocalls work and to say, "I am not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged." From a report: Adrian Abramovich, of Miami, who is fighting a proposed $120 million fine, told senators that open-source software lets operators make thousands of phone calls with the click of a button, in combination with cloud-based computing and "the right long distance company." "Clearly regulation needs to address the carriers and providers and require the major carriers to detect robocalls activity," Abramovich said in testimony submitted in advance to the Senate Commerce Committee. He has asked the Federal Communications Commission to reduce the fine proposed last year, calling it disproportionate, in part because most calls went unanswered or resulted in a quick hang-up by consumers. The panel's chairman, Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, called Abamovich and officials from the FCC and other agencies to discuss ways to stop abusive calls.
Microsoft

Microsoft Drops OneNote From Office, Pushes Users To Windows 10 Version (venturebeat.com) 56

An anonymous reader writes: Microsoft is making big changes to OneNote for Windows: The desktop app will no longer be included in Microsoft Office. Instead, OneNote for Windows 10, the UWP app, will be the default OneNote experience for both Office 365 and Office 2019. OneNote for Mac, Android, iOS, and the web are unaffected. The move shouldn't be a huge surprise for those paying close attention to OneNote's development. Back in February 2015, Microsoft made OneNote for Windows completely free by removing all feature restrictions. This untethering of OneNote from Office meant users could download OneNote 2013 for Windows 7 and Windows 8 without having to pay for Office 2013.
Privacy

Richard Stallman On Facebook's Privacy Scandal: We Need a Law. There's No Reason We Should Let Them Exist if the Price is Knowing Everything About Us (nymag.com) 302

From a wide-ranging interview of Richard Stallman by New York Magazine: New York Magazine: Why do you think these companies feel justified in collecting that data?

Richard Stallman: Oh, well, I think you can trace it to the general plutocratic neoliberal ideology that has controlled the U.S. for more than two decades. A study established that since 1998 or so, the public opinion in general has no influence on political decisions. They're controlled by the desires of the rich and of special interests connected with whatever issue it is. So the companies that wanted to collect data about people could take advantage of this general misguided ideology to get away with whatever they might have wanted to do. Which happened to be collecting data about people. But I think they shouldn't be allowed to collect data about people.

We need a law. Fuck them -- there's no reason we should let them exist if the price is knowing everything about us. Let them disappear. They're not important -- our human rights are important. No company is so important that its existence justifies setting up a police state. And a police state is what we're heading toward. Most non-free software has malicious functionalities. And they include spying on people, restricting people -- that's called digital restrictions management, back doors, censorship.

Empirically, basically, if a program is not free software, it probably has one of these malicious functionalities. So imagine a driverless car, controlled of course by software, and it will probably be proprietary software, meaning not-free software, not controlled by the users but rather by the company that makes the car, or some other company. Well imagine if that has a back door, which enables somebody to send a command saying, "Ignore what the passenger said, and go there." Imagine what that would do. You can be quite sure that China will use that functionality to drive people toward the places they're going to be disappeared or punished. But can you be sure that the U.S. won't?

Security

Data Firm Leaks 48 Million User Profiles it Scraped From Facebook, LinkedIn, Others (zdnet.com) 55

Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet: A little-known data firm was able to build 48 million personal profiles, combining data from sites and social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Zillow, among others -- without the users' knowledge or consent. Localblox, a Bellevue, Wash.-based firm, says it "automatically crawls, discovers, extracts, indexes, maps and augments data in a variety of formats from the web and from exchange networks." Since its founding in 2010, the company has focused its collection on publicly accessible data sources, like social networks Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and real estate site Zillow to name a few, to produce profiles.

But earlier this year, the company left a massive store of profile data on a public but unlisted Amazon S3 storage bucket without a password, allowing anyone to download its contents. The bucket, labeled "lbdumps," contained a file that unpacked to a single file over 1.2 terabytes in size. The file listed 48 million individual records, scraped from public profiles, consolidated, then stitched together.

Communications

Puerto Rico is Experiencing an Island-Wide Blackout (engadget.com) 199

An anonymous reader shares a report: Seven months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, the power grid is still unstable. But progress was being made; according to CBS, less than 10 percent of the island was without power as of a month ago. But now, the Associated Press reports that the island is undergoing yet another full blackout. The power company is still investigating the cause and estimates it will take 24 to 36 hours for power to be restored. The saga of Puerto Rico's power grid has been an unhappy one. The US territory was already facing a financial crisis before the hurricane hit. The island only has one electric company, and prior to Maria, it was $9 billion in debt and utilizing outdated infrastructure and equipment.
Technology

Elon Musk's Alleged Email To Employees on Tesla's Big Picture (jalopnik.com) 166

An email allegedly sent by Elon Musk to Tesla staff has announced that the Model 3, which has faced a number of production issues, will go into "24/7" production by June, resulting in 6,000 Model 3 units made per week. But apart from this update, in the email, Elon Musk sheds light on how much he values precision in his cars. An excerpt: Most of the design tolerances of the Model 3 are already better than any other car in the world. Soon, they will all be better. This is not enough. We will keep going until the Model 3 build precision is a factor of ten better than any other car in the world. I am not kidding.

Our car needs to be designed and built with such accuracy and precision that, if an owner measures dimensions, panel gaps and flushness, and their measurements don't match the Model 3 specs, it just means that their measuring tape is wrong.

Some parts suppliers will be unwilling or unable to achieve this level of precision. I understand that this will be considered an unreasonable request by some. That's ok, there are lots of other car companies with much lower standards. They just can't work with Tesla.

The Internet

Russia Admits To Blocking Millions of IP Addresses (sfgate.com) 71

It turns out, the Russian government, in its quest to block Telegram, accidentally shut down several other services as well. From a report: The chief of the Russian communications watchdog acknowledged Wednesday that millions of unrelated IP addresses have been frozen in a so-far futile attempt to block a popular messaging app. Telegram, the messaging app that was ordered to be blocked last week, was still available to users in Russia despite authorities' frantic attempts to hit it by blocking other services. The row erupted after Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, refused to hand its encryption keys to the intelligence agencies. The Russian government insists it needs them to pre-empt extremist attacks but Telegram dismissed the request as a breach of privacy. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, said in an interview with the Izvestia daily published Wednesday that Russia is blocking 18 networks that are used by Amazon and Google and which host sites that they believe Telegram is using to circumvent the ban.
Communications

Iran Bans State Bodies From Using Telegram App, Khamenei Shuts Account (reuters.com) 36

Iran banned government bodies on Wednesday from using the popular Telegram instant messaging app as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office said his account would shut down to protect national security, Iranian media reported. From a report: ISNA news agency did not give a reason for the government ban on the service which lets people send encrypted messages and has an estimated 40 million users in the Islamic Republic. The order came days after Russia -- Iran's ally in the Syrian war -- started blocking the app in its territory following the company's repeated refusal to give Russian state security services access to users' secret messages. Iran's government banned "all state bodies from using the foreign messaging app," according to ISNA.
The Internet

Chrome 66 Arrives With Autoplaying Content Blocked By Default (venturebeat.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: Google today launched Chrome 66 for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. The desktop release includes autoplaying content muted by default, security improvements, and new developer features. You can update to the latest version now using the browser's built-in silent updater or download it directly from google.com/chrome. In our tests, autoplaying content that is muted still plays automatically. Autoplaying content with sound, whether it has visible controls or not, and whether it is set to play on loop or not, simply does not start playing. Note that this is all encompassing -- even autoplaying content you are expecting or is the main focus of the page does not play. YouTube videos, for example, no longer start playing automatically. And in case that's not enough, or if a page somehow circumvents the autoplaying block, you can still mute whole websites.
Transportation

Southwest Airlines Engine Failure Results In First Fatality On US Airline In 9 Years (heavy.com) 309

schwit1 shares a report from Heavy: Tammie Jo Shults is the pilot who bravely flew Southwest Flight 1380 to safety after part of its left engine ripped off, damaging a window and nearly sucking a woman out of the plane. The flight was en route to Dallas Love airport from New York City, and had to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. Shults, 56, kept her cool during an incredibly intense situation, audio from her conversation with air traffic controllers reveals, while many passengers posted on social media that they were scared these were their last moments. She, with the help of the co-pilot and the rest of the crew, landed the plane safely. The NTSB reported that there was one fatality out of 143 passengers on board. Some passengers said that someone had a heart attack during the flight, but it's not yet known if this was the fatality reported by the NTSB. The woman who died has been identified by KOAT-TV as Jennifer Riordan, 43, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Bitcoin

Cambridge Analytica Planned To Launch Its Own Cryptocurrency (theverge.com) 59

Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm that harvested millions of Facebook profiles of U.S. voters, attempted to develop its own cryptocurrency this past year and intended to raise funds through an initial coin offering. The digital coin would have helped people store online personal data and even sell it, former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser told The New York Times. The Verge reports: Cambridge Analytica, which obtained the data of 87 million Facebook users, was hoping to raise as much as $30 million through the venture, anonymous sources told Reuters. Cambridge Analytica confirmed to Reuters that it had previously explored blockchain technology, but did not confirm the coin offering and didn't say whether efforts are still underway. The company also reportedly attempted to promote another digital currency behind the scenes. It arranged for potential investors to take a vacation trip to Macau in support of Dragon Coin, a cryptocurrency aimed at casino players. Dragon Coin has been supported by a Macau gangster Wan Kuok-koi, nicknamed Broken Tooth, according to documents obtained by the Times. Cambridge Analytica started working on its own initial coin offering mid-2017 and the initiative was overseen in part by CEO Alexander Nix and former employee Brittany Kaiser. The company's plans to launch an ICO were still in the early stages when Nix was suspended last month and the Facebook data leak started to gain public attention.
Medicine

FDA Approves First Contact Lenses That Turn Dark In Bright Sunlight (interestingengineering.com) 101

The first photochromic contact lenses have been approved by the FDA. "A unique additive will automatically darken the lenses when they're exposed to bright light," reports Interesting Engineering, citing a FDA statement. "The lenses will clear up whenever they're back in normal or darker lighting conditions." From the report: "This contact lens is the first of its kind to incorporate the same technology that is used in eyeglasses that automatically darken in the sun," said Malvina Eydelman. Eydelman serves as director of the division of ophthalmic, and ear, nose and throat devices at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. The FDA approved the technology after extensive trials and clinical studies. One study had 24 wearers use the contacts while driving in both daytime and nighttime settings. The FDA found that there were no problems with driving performance or issues with vision while wearing those contact lenses. In total, over 1,000 patients were involved in the various studies conducted by the FDA. According to current plans, these photochromic lenses should be available for those needing them by the first half of 2019.

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