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Robotics

Volkswagen Factory Worker Killed By a Robot 267 267

m.alessandrini writes: A worker at a Volkswagen factory in Germany has died, after a robot grabbed him and crushed him against a metal plate. This is perhaps the first severe accident of this kind in a western factory, and is sparking debate about who is responsible for the accident, the man who was servicing the robot beyond its protection cage, or the robot's hardware/software developers who didn't put enough safety checks. Will this distinction be more and more important in the future, when robots will be more widespread?
Displays

SlideN'Joy Extender Adds Up To Two More Screens For a Multi-Monitor Laptop 69 69

MojoKid writes: Nothing beats the portability of a notebook when it comes to getting work done while on-the-go, but with that portability comes a number of caveats like a smaller keyboard and being forced to use a touchpad if you don't want to lug around a portable mouse. Then there's also the limitation of a single display, for those who need more screen real estate for certain tasks. Enter Sliden'Joy, a Kickstarter project that's set to launch on July 6. There's not a lot of technical detail given about it so far, but the basics are easy to understand. Sliden'Joy effectively hooks onto your notebook to allow you to extend one or two screens out of either side, giving you an effective dual or triple monitor setup. Two models of Sliden'Joy are going to be produced, offering either 1 or 2 displays, and sizes of 13, 15, and 17-inch are all going to be supported. There's no word on pledge levels quite yet, but the ultimate goal is to reach 300,000€ ($~332,000 USD) in 30 days.
United States

How the Next US Nuclear Accident Might Happen 121 121

Lasrick writes: Anthropologist Hugh Gusterson analyzes safety at US nuclear facilities and finds a disaster waiting to happen due to an over-reliance on automated security technology and private contractors cutting corners to increase profits. Gusterson follows on the work of Eric Schlosser, Frank Munger, and Dan Zak in warning us of the serious problems at US nuclear facilities, both in the energy industry and in the nuclear security complex.
Data Storage

Where Facebook Stores 900 Million New Photos Per Day 119 119

1sockchuck writes: Facebook faces unique storage challenges. Its users upload 900 million new images daily, most of which are only viewed for a couple of days. The social network has built specialized cold storage facilities to manage these rarely-accessed photos. Data Center Frontier goes inside this facility, providing a closer look at Facebook's newest strategy: Using thousands of Blu-Ray disks to store images, complete with a robotic retrieval system (see video demo). Others are interested as well. Sony recently acquired a Blu-Ray storage startup founded by Open Compute chairman Frank Frankovsky, which hopes to drive enterprise adoption of optical data storage.
Hardware Hacking

Celebrating Workarounds, Kludges, and Hacks 137 137

itwbennett writes: We all have some favorite workarounds that right a perceived wrong (like getting around the Wall Street Journal paywall) or make something work the way we think it ought to. From turning off annoying features in your Prius to getting around sanctions in Crimea and convincing your Android phone you're somewhere you're not, workarounds are a point of pride, showing off our ingenuity and resourcefulness. And sometimes artful workarounds can even keep businesses operating in times of crisis. Take, for example, the Sony employees, who, in the wake of the Great Hack of 2014 when the company's servers went down, dug out old company BlackBerrys that, while they had been abandoned, had never had their plans deactivated. Because BlackBerrys used RIM's email servers instead of Sony's, they could still communicate with one another, and employees with BlackBerrys became the company's lifeline as it slowly put itself back together. What hacks and workarounds keep your life sane?
Earth

Ask Slashdot: What To Do With Empty Toner Cartridges? 187 187

New submitter MoarSauce123 writes: Over time I accumulated a number of empty toner cartridges for a Brother laser printer. Initially, I wanted to take a local office supply chain store up on their offer to give me store credit for the returned cartridge. For that credit to be issued I would have to sign up for their store card providing a bunch of personal information. The credit is so lousy that after the deduction from the sales price of a new toner cartridge the price is still much higher than from a large online retailer. And the credit only applies to one new cartridge, so I cannot keep collecting the credit and then get a cartridge 'for free' at some point.

I also looked into a local store of a toner refill chain. Their prices are a bit better, but the closest store is about half an hour away with rather odd business hours. Still, at the end they charge more than the large online retailer asks for a brand new cartridge. For now I bring the empty cartridges to the big office supply store and tell them that I do not want their dumb store credit. I rather have big corp make some bucks on me than throw these things in the trash and have it go to a landfill. Are there any better options? Anything from donating it to charity to refilling myself is of interest.
Graphics

Nvidia Details 'Gameworks VR', Aims To Boost Virtual Reality Render Performance 25 25

An anonymous reader writes: In a guest article published to Road to VR, Nvidia graphics programmer Nathan Reed details Nvidia's 'Gameworks VR' initiative which the company says is designed to boost virtual reality render performance, including support for 'VR SLI' which will render one eye view per GPU for low latency stereoscopy. While many Gameworks VR features will be supported as far back as GeForce 6xx cards, the company's latest 'Maxwell' (9xx and Titan X) GPUs offer 'Multi-projection' which Reed says, 'enables us to very efficiently rasterize geometry into multiple viewports within a single render target at once... This better approximates the shading rate of the warped image that will eventually be displayed—in other words, it avoids rendering a ton of extra pixels that weren't going to make it to the display anyway, and gives you a substantial performance boost for no perceptible reduction in image quality.'
Open Source

First Fedora Image For the MIPS Available For Testing 28 28

New submitter alexvoica writes: Today Fedora contributor Michal Toman has announced that the first Fedora 22 image for 32-bit MIPS CPUs is available for testing; this version of the operating system was developed using our Creator CI20 microcomputer, which includes a 1.2 GHz dual-core MIPS processor. In addition, Michal announced he is working on a 64-bit version designed to run on MIPS-based Cavium OCTEON III processors.
Power

Bill Gates Investing $2 Billion In Renewables 284 284

An anonymous reader writes: Bill Gates has dumped a billion dollars into renewables, and now he's ready to double down. Gates announced he will increase his investment in renewable energy technologies to $2 billion in an attempt to "bend the curve" on limiting climate change. He is focusing on risky investments that favor "breakthrough" technologies because he thinks incremental improvements to existing tech won't be enough to meet energy needs while avoiding a climate catastrophe. He says, "There's no battery technology that's even close to allowing us to take all of our energy from renewables and be able to use battery storage in order to deal not only with the 24-hour cycle but also with long periods of time where it's cloudy and you don't have sun or you don't have wind. Power is about reliability. We need to get something that works reliably." At the same time, Gates rejected calls to divest himself and his charitable foundation of investments in fossil fuel companies.
Bug

Chromecast Update Bringing Grief For Many Users 142 142

An anonymous reader writes: Last week, many Chromecast users were automatically "upgraded" to build 32904. Among the issues seen with this update are placing some users on the 'beta' release track, issues with popular apps such as Plex, HBO GO, (more embarassingly) YouTube, and others. Google so far has been slow to respond or even acknowledge the issues brought by customers, save for the beta release mishap. If you're a Chromecast user, what's been your experience?
Power

Samsung Nanotech Breakthrough Nearly Doubles Li-Ion Battery Capacity 131 131

The Korea Times reports that Samsung researchers have published in Nature Communications the results of research (here's the abstract) that could lead to vastly greater storage capacity for lithium-ion batteries. The researchers, by growing graphene on silicon anodes, were able to preserve the shape of the anodes, an outcome which has formerly eluded battery designers: silicon tends to deform over numerous charging cycles. From the linked abstract: Here we report direct graphene growth over silicon nanoparticles without silicon carbide formation. The graphene layers anchored onto the silicon surface accommodate the volume expansion of silicon via a sliding process between adjacent graphene layers. When paired with a commercial lithium cobalt oxide cathode, the silicon carbide-free graphene coating allows the full cell to reach volumetric energy densities of 972 and 700Whl1 at first and 200th cycle, respectively, 1.8 and 1.5 times higher than those of current commercial lithium-ion batteries. Also at ZDNet.
Input Devices

Disney Bans Selfie Sticks 177 177

New submitter albimaturityr writes with a story from the Orlando Sentinel that Disney is banning selfie sticks from its parks, starting with Disney World (as of Tuesday) but continuing with its other parks in California, Paris, and Hong Kong. Says the report: The issue has been building at Disney. Previously, the sticks were prohibited from its rides, and "no selfie-sticks" signs were at select rides, such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Magic Kingdom. Cast members have given verbal warnings to rule breakers. Several incidents preceded the change, but officials have been discussing the rules for some time, Disney said. This week at Disney California Adventure park, a roller coaster was halted after a passenger pulled out a selfie-stick. The ride was closed for an hour.
Cellphones

iPhone 6S New Feature: Force Touch 190 190

New submitter WarJolt writes: Apple is adding Force Touch to their iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus. I'm not sure if Force Touch enough to convince an Android user like myself to switch, but there are definitely some interesting possibilities for app developers. A challenge for App developers will be to make apps compatible with both Force Touch iPhones and non-force touch iPhones. (Here's the Bloomberg report Forbes draws from.)
AMD

AMD's Project Quantum Gaming PC Contains Intel CPU 136 136

nateman1352 links to an article at Tom's Hardware which makes the interesting point that chip-maker AMD will offer Intel -- rather than AMD -- CPUs in their upcoming high-end gaming PC. (High-end for being based on integrated components, at least.) From the article: Recently, AMD showed off its plans for its Fiji based graphics products, among which was Project Quantum – a small form factor PC that packs not one, but two Fiji graphics processors. Since the announcement, KitGuru picked up on something, noticing that the system packs an Intel Core i7-4790K "Devil's Canyon" CPU. We hardly need to point out that it is rather intriguing to see AMD use its largest competitor's CPU in its own product, when AMD is a CPU maker itself.
Apple

AppleCare+ Now Covers Batteries That Drop To 80% 149 149

Mark Wilson writes with news that Apple's AppleCare+ plan has been updated to address one of the biggest worries that people have about products with non-removeable batteries, and that become very expensive paperweights when the juice runs out. From BetaNews: "Previously, the extended warranty only covered batteries that would hold 50 percent charge or less. Now this has been updated so that you can request a free replacement within the coverage period if your device's battery is only able to hold 80 percent of full charge. The new terms to no apply to everyone — it all depends on when you bought your Apple device. If you bought your iPhone, iPad, iPod or Apple Watch before April 10, 2015, you're stuck with the old terms. I wish this change applied to my MacBook Air, with which I'm lucky to get 90 minutes of battery power.
Google

Why Is Google Opening a New Data Center In a Former Coal-Fired Power Plant? 40 40

HughPickens.com writes: Quentin Hardy reports at the NY Times that Google has announced it is opening its 14th data center inside a former coal-fired power plant in Stevenson, Alabama. While there is considerable irony in taking over a coal-burning plant and promoting alternative power, there are pragmatic reasons Google would want to put a $600 million data center in such a facility. These power facilities are typically large and solid structures with good power lines. The Alabama plant is next to a reservoir on the Tennessee River with access to lots of water, which Google uses for cooling its computers. There are also rail lines into the facility, which makes it likely Google can access buried conduits along the tracks to run fiber-optic cable. In Finland, Google rehabilitated a paper mill, and uses seawater for cooling. Salt water is corrosive for standard metal pipes, of course, so Google created a singular cooling system using plastic pipes.
China

Foxconn CEO Backpedals On Planned Robot Takeover 45 45

itwbennett writes: For years now, Foxconn has been talking up plans to replace pesky humans with robot workers in its factories. Back in February, CEO Terry Gou said he expected the automation to account for 70 percent of his company's assembly line work in three years. But in the company's shareholder meeting Thursday, Gou said he had been misquoted and that "it should be that in five years, the robots will take over 30 percent of the manpower."
Robotics

Making a Birdhouse is Like 'Hello World' for a Versatile Factory Robot (2 Videos) 24 24

Many millions of American students have been called on to construct a wooden birdhouse as part of a middle- or high-school shop class. To make a birdhouse from wood and nails may not requite advanced carpentry, but it does take eye-hand coordination, object recognition, the ability to lift constituent pieces, and to grasp and wield tools -- and each of those can be broken down further into smaller tasks and skills of the kind that we as humans don't generally have to think about. ("Rotate wrist slightly to account for board angle.") For robots, it's another story: like the computers that run them, robots generally only do what they're told. Industrial robots can do some complex tasks, but they're expensive and complex to program.

Benjamin Cohen is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Pennsylvania working under adviser Maxim Likhachev with a real-world, cheap way to make robots to accomplish a multi-step project with minimal human intervention, which he calls "autonomous robotic assembly." Project Birdhouse -- part of his Ph.D. work, along with teammates Mike Phillips and Ellis Ranter -- is Cohen's effort to create a sort of "Hello, World" for robots. With a combination of a research-platform robot base, off-the-shelf parts, like a nail gun (read: "One not built for robot use"), and software to squeeze greater accuracy out of the system as a whole, he and his colleagues have come up with a robot that can grab a selection of parts, align them properly, and assemble them with nails into a functional birdhouse. QR codes let the robot give the robot a sort of recipe to follow, and the system is smart enough to squawk if it doesn't have the right parts to complete the task. (Check out more video with the robot in action, and a great many photos, sketches, and diagrams illustrating the project's evolution.)

NOTE: We split today's video in half, with both halves running right here, today. This way, if you watch the first video and and want to learn more, you can move on to the second one. And the transcript not only covers both videos, but has "bonus" material that isn't in either one.
Power

New Manufacturing Technique Halves Cost of Lithium-Ion Batteries 214 214

An anonymous reader writes: Experts in materials science at MIT have developed a new process for creating lithium-ion batteries that will drop the associated production costs by half. The researchers say fundamental battery construction techniques have been refined over the past two decades, but not re-thought. "The new battery design is a hybrid between flow batteries and conventional solid ones: In this version, while the electrode material does not flow, it is composed of a similar semisolid, colloidal suspension of particles. Chiang and Carter refer to this as a 'semisolid battery.' This approach greatly simplifies manufacturing, and also makes batteries that are flexible and resistant to damage, says Chiang. ... Instead of the standard method of applying liquid coatings to a roll of backing material, and then having to wait for that material to dry before it can move to the next manufacturing step, the new process keeps the electrode material in a liquid state and requires no drying stage at all. Using fewer, thicker electrodes, the system reduces the conventional battery architecture's number of distinct layers, as well as the amount of nonfunctional material in the structure, by 80 percent."
AMD

AMD Radeon R9 Fury X Launched, Independent Benchmarks, HBM Put To the Test 102 102

MojoKid writes: AMD officially launched the Radeon R9 Fury X based on their next generation Fiji GPU and HBM 3D stacked DRAM memory. Fiji is manufactured using TSMC's 28nm process. At its reference clocks of 1050MHz (GPU) and 500MHz (HBM), Fiji and the Radeon R9 Fury X offer peak compute performance of 8.6 TFLOPs, up to 268.8 GT/s of texture fill-rate, 67.2 GP/s of pixel fill-rate, and a whopping 512GB/s of memory bandwidth, thanks to HBM. Its compute performance, memory bandwidth, and textured fill-rate are huge upgrades over the previous generation AMD Hawaii GPU and even outpace NVIDIA's GM200, which powers the GeForce Titan X and 980 Ti. To keep the entire assembly cool, AMD strapped a close-loop liquid cooler onto the Fury X. There's a reason AMD went that route on this card, and it's not because they had to. There will be air-cooled Fury and Fury Nano cards coming in a few weeks that feature fully-functional Fiji GPUs. What the high-powered liquid-cooler on the Fury X does is allow the use of an ultra-quiet fan, with the side benefit of keeping the GPU very cool under both idle and load conditions(around 60C max under load and 30C at idle), which helps reduce overall power consumption by limiting leakage current. The AMD Radeon R9 Fury X performed very well in the benchmarks, and remained competitive with a similarly priced, reference NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti, but it wasn't a clear win. Generally speaking, the Fury X was the faster of the two cards at 2560x1440. With the resolution cranked up to 3840x2160, however, the Fury X and 980 Ti trade victories.