Gadgets

Corruption at DJI may cost the company $150 million

Posted by | Asia, dji, Gadgets, Government | No Comments

DJI, the world’s leading maker of consumer drones, said today that extensive corruption discovered within the company could lead to losses as great as $150 million in the 2018 financial year. The exact nature of the corruption is not stated, but it seems to involve dozens of people at the least.

The China Securities Journal, a state-operated finance-focused newspaper, got hold of an internal company report on a corruption investigation that said some 40 people had been investigated so far, but the numbers may also be as high as 100.

Reuters confirmed with the company that it “set up a high-level anti-corruption task force to investigate further and strengthen anti-corruption measures,” and that “a number of corruption cases have been handed over to the authorities, and some employees have been dismissed.”

When contacted for details, DJI offered a statement (just after this post went live) partly explaining the situation:

During a recent investigation, DJI itself found some employees inflated the cost of parts and materials for certain products for personal financial gain. We took swift action to address this issue, fired the bad actors, and contacted law enforcement officials. We continue to investigate the situation and are cooperating fully with law enforcement’s investigation.

We are taking steps to strengthen internal controls and have established new channels for employees to submit confidential and anonymous reports relating to any violations of the company’s ethical and workplace conduct policies.

It’s a little hard to believe that people padding invoices and giving sweetheart deals to certain contractors for kickbacks could amount to more than a million dollars per person involved, but then again, DJI makes a lot of hardware and a few well-placed people could siphon off quite a bit.

Powered by WPeMatico

This $350,000 Swiss watch looks like an Apple Watch, chimes to tell the time

Posted by | Apple Watch, Gadgets, watch, watches | No Comments

H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp is back with another Apple Watch lookalike. The $350,000 Watch Concept Black is a ludicrous take on the classic minute repeater design. And on this version, the wearer can only tell the time by chiming the watch.

These sort of watches have a storied history that predate wristwatches by hundreds of years. Called minute repeaters, they allow the wearer to hit a button and the watch will respond with chimes indicating the time of the day. The movements were developed before artificial illumination made it possible for watchmakers to add glow-in-the-dark markings. But this is far from a working man’s watch. H. Moser worked with Manufactures Hautes Complications SA to develop the custom movement for this watch.

Flip the watch over, and the watch’s cost is explained in the custom movement. This minute repeater has a rectangular-shaped movement. It’s special. To chime, two small hammers strike a gong that runs around the outline of the rectangle casing. Despite the odd shape, the watch is capable of producing a chime Hodinkee calls “crisp, clear, and resonant, with none of the dampening you’d expect from a heavy precious metal case.”

To set the time, the wear chimes the watch using the slide on the side of the casing. Then the wearer adjusts the time using markers on the crown. I like it. It’s a simple and clever way to set a watch without hands.

This watchmaker started using the Apple Watch design in 2016 and now has a range of timepieces that mimic the rounded square look in its Swiss Alp Watch line.

H. Moser is known for its concept watches. Don’t expect this watch to be in your local Tourneau. It’s a publicity stunt for H. Moser’s custom watch business that lets the ultra-rich develop one-off timepieces. As for this concept, I’m a fan. The watch demonstrates everything special about the watch industry right now. After years of getting beat up from the Apple Watch, it’s finding its groove in producing both beautiful and affordable mechanical watches and wonderful unattainable timepieces. To be justified, watches do not have to have apps; they just have to delight the wearer — and this $350,000 watch does just that.

Powered by WPeMatico

‘Star Wars’ returns: Trump calls for space-based missile defense

Posted by | Defense Department, department of defense, Gadgets, Government, military, pentagon, science, Space, trump | No Comments

The President has announced that the Defense Department will pursue a space-based missile defense system reminiscent of the one proposed by Reagan in 1983. As with Reagan’s ultimately abortive effort, the technology doesn’t actually exist yet and may not for years to come — but it certainly holds more promise now than 30 years ago.

In a speech at the Pentagon reported by the Associated Press, Trump explained that a new missile defense system would “detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, any time, any place.”

“My upcoming budget will invest in a space-based missile defense layer. It’s new technology. It’s ultimately going to be a very, very big part of our defense, and obviously our offense,” he said. The nature of this “new technology” is not entirely clear, as none was named or ordered to be tested or deployed.

Lest anyone think that this is merely one of the President’s flights of fancy, he is in fact simply voicing the conclusions of the Defense Department’s 2019 Missile Defense Review, a major report that examines the state of the missile threat against the U.S. and what countermeasures might be taken.

It reads in part:

As rogue state missile arsenals develop, space will play a particularly important role in support of missile defense.

Russia and China are developing advanced cruise missiles and hypersonic missile capabilities that can travel at exceptional speeds with unpredictable flight paths that challenge existing defensive systems.

The exploitation of space provides a missile defense posture that is more effective, resilient and adaptable to known and unanticipated threats… DoD will undertake a new and near-term examination of the concepts and technology for space-based defenses to assess the technological and operational potential of space-basing in the evolving security environment.

The President’s contribution seems to largely have been to eliminate the mention of the nation-states directly referenced (and independently assessed at length) in the report, and to suggest the technology is ready to deploy. In fact all the Pentagon is ready to do is begin research into the feasibility of the such a system or systems.

No doubt space-based sensors are well on their way; we already have near-constant imaging of the globe (companies like Planet have made it their mission), and the number and capabilities of such satellites are only increasing.

Space-based tech has evolved considerably over the many years since the much-derided “Star Wars” proposals, but some of them are still as unrealistic as they were then. However as the Pentagon report points out, the only way to know for sure is to conduct a serious study of the possibilities, and that’s what this plan calls for. All the same it may be best for Trump not to repeat Reagan’s mistake of making promises he can’t keep.

Powered by WPeMatico

OrCam’s MyMe uses facial recognition to remember everyone you meet

Posted by | CES, CES 2019, Gadgets, OrCam, OrCam MyMe | No Comments

Meet the OrCam MyMe, a tiny device that you clip on your T-shirt to help you remember faces. The OrCam MyMe features a small smartphone-like camera and a proprietary facial-recognition algorithm so that you can associate names with faces. It can be a useful device at business conferences, or to learn more about how you spend a typical day.

This isn’t OrCam’s first device. The company has been selling the MyEye for a few years. It’s a wearable device for visually impaired people that you clip to your glasses. Thanks to its camera and speaker, you can point your finger at some text and get some audio version of the text near your ear. It can also tell you if there’s somebody familiar in front of you.

OrCam is expanding beyond this market with a mass-market product. It features the same technological foundation, but with a different use case. OrCam’s secret sauce is that it can handle face recognition and optical character recognition on a tiny device with a small battery — images are not processed in the cloud.

It’s also important to note that the OrCam MyMe doesn’t record video or audio. When the device detects a face, it creates a signature and tries to match it with existing signatures. While it’s not a spy camera, it still feels a bit awkward when you realize there’s a camera pointed at you.

When there’s someone in front of you, the device sends a notification to your phone and smartwatch. You can then enter the name of this person on your phone so that the next notification shows the name of the person with whom you’re talking.

If somebody gives you a business card, you can also hold it in front of you. The device then automatically matches the face with the information on the business card.

After that, you can tag people in different categories. For instance, you can create a tag for family members, another one for colleagues and another one for friends.

The app shows you insightful graphs representing your work-life balance over the past few weeks and months. If you want to quantify everything in your life, this could be an effective way of knowing that you should spend more time with your family, for instance.

While the device isn’t available just yet, the company already sold hundreds of early units on Kickstarter. Eventually, OrCam wants to create a community of enthusiasts and figure out new use cases.

I saw the device at CES last week and it’s much smaller than you’d think based on photos. You don’t notice it unless you’re looking for the device. It’s not as intrusive as Google Glass for instance. You can optionally use a magnet if the clip doesn’t work with what you’re wearing.

OrCam expects to ship the MyMe in January 2020 for $399. It’s an impressive little device, but the company also faces one challenge — I’m not sure everyone feels comfortable about always-on facial recognition just yet.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Powered by WPeMatico

Robots learn to grab and scramble with new levels of agility

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Berkeley, ETHZ, Gadgets, hardware, robotics, robots, science, TC | No Comments

Robots are amazing things, but outside of their specific domains they are incredibly limited. So flexibility — not physical, but mental — is a constant area of research. A trio of new robotic setups demonstrate ways they can evolve to accommodate novel situations: using both “hands,” getting up after a fall, and understanding visual instructions they’ve never seen before.

The robots, all developed independently, are gathered together today in a special issue of the journal Science Robotics dedicated to learning. Each shows an interesting new way in which robots can improve their interactions with the real world.

On the other hand…

First there is the question of using the right tool for a job. As humans with multi-purpose grippers on the ends of our arms, we’re pretty experienced with this. We understand from a lifetime of touching stuff that we need to use this grip to pick this up, we need to use tools for that, this will be light, that heavy, and so on.

Robots, of course, have no inherent knowledge of this, which can make things difficult; it may not understand that it can’t pick up something of a given size, shape, or texture. A new system from Berkeley roboticists acts as a rudimentary decision-making process, classifying objects as able to be grabbed either by an ordinary pincer grip or with a suction cup grip.

A robot, wielding both simultaneously, decides on the fly (using depth-based imagery) what items to grab and with which tool; the result is extremely high reliability even on piles of objects it’s never seen before.

It’s done with a neural network that consumed millions of data points on items, arrangements, and attempts to grab them. If you attempted to pick up a teddy bear with a suction cup and it didn’t work the first ten thousand times, would you keep on trying? This system learned to make that kind of determination, and as you can imagine such a thing is potentially very important for tasks like warehouse picking for which robots are being groomed.

Interestingly, because of the “black box” nature of complex neural networks, it’s difficult to tell what exactly Dex-Net 4.0 is actually basing its choices on, although there are some obvious preferences, explained Berkeley’s  Ken Goldberg in an email.

“We can try to infer some intuition but the two networks are inscrutable in that we can’t extract understandable ‘policies,’ ” he wrote. “We empirically find that smooth planar surfaces away from edges generally score well on the suction model and pairs of antipodal points generally score well for the gripper.”

Now that reliability and versatility are high, the next step is speed; Goldberg said that the team is “working on an exciting new approach” to reduce computation time for the network, to be documented, no doubt, in a future paper.

ANYmal’s new tricks

Quadrupedal robots are already flexible in that they can handle all kinds of terrain confidently, even recovering from slips (and of course cruel kicks). But when they fall, they fall hard. And generally speaking they don’t get up.

The way these robots have their legs configured makes it difficult to do things in anything other than an upright position. But ANYmal, a robot developed by ETH Zurich (and which you may recall from its little trip to the sewer recently), has a more versatile setup that gives its legs extra degrees of freedom.

What could you do with that extra movement? All kinds of things. But it’s incredibly difficult to figure out the exact best way for the robot to move in order to maximize speed or stability. So why not use a simulation to test thousands of ANYmals trying different things at once, and use the results from that in the real world?

This simulation-based learning doesn’t always work, because it isn’t possible right now to accurately simulate all the physics involved. But it can produce extremely novel behaviors or streamline ones humans thought were already optimal.

At any rate that’s what the researchers did here, and not only did they arrive at a faster trot for the bot (above), but taught it an amazing new trick: getting up from a fall. Any fall. Watch this:

It’s extraordinary that the robot has come up with essentially a single technique to get on its feet from nearly any likely fall position, as long as it has room and the use of all its legs. Remember, people didn’t design this — the simulation and evolutionary algorithms came up with it by trying thousands of different behaviors over and over and keeping the ones that worked.

Ikea assembly is the killer app

Let’s say you were given three bowls, with red and green balls in the center one. Then you’re given this on a sheet of paper:

As a human with a brain, you take this paper for instructions, and you understand that the green and red circles represent balls of those colors, and that red ones need to go to the left, while green ones go to the right.

This is one of those things where humans apply vast amounts of knowledge and intuitive understanding without even realizing it. How did you choose to decide the circles represent the balls? Because of the shape? Then why don’t the arrows refer to “real” arrows? How do you know how far to go to the right or left? How do you know the paper even refers to these items at all? All questions you would resolve in a fraction of a second, and any of which might stump a robot.

Researchers have taken some baby steps towards being able to connect abstract representations like the above with the real world, a task that involves a significant amount of what amounts to a sort of machine creativity or imagination.

Making the connection between a green dot on a white background in a diagram and a greenish roundish thing on a black background in the real world isn’t obvious, but the “visual cognitive computer” created by Miguel Lázaro-Gredilla and his colleagues at Vicarious AI seems to be doing pretty well at it.

It’s still very primitive, of course, but in theory it’s the same toolset that one uses to, for example, assemble a piece of Ikea furniture: look at an abstract representation, connect it to real-world objects, then manipulate those objects according to the instructions. We’re years away from that, but it wasn’t long ago that we were years away from a robot getting up from a fall or deciding a suction cup or pincer would work better to pick something up.

The papers and videos demonstrating all the concepts above should be available at the Science Robotics site.

Powered by WPeMatico

Apple expands its reach with free Apple Music on Verizon Wireless

Posted by | apple music, Gadgets, music streaming services, Verizon, verizon wireless | No Comments

Verizon Wireless is now offering free access to Apple Music. The music streaming service is available on select Verizon Wireless plans starting on January 17, 2019. Previously, Verizon and Apple offered a free six-month trial to the streaming service.

The partnership comes as Apple is clearly looking for partners to help extend the reach of Apple’s services. Just last week, at CES 2019, multiple consumer electronic companies announced compatibility and support for several of Apple’s services, including Airplay 2, HomeKit and iTunes video streaming services. This Verizon partnership further demonstrates Apple’s willingness to piggyback on another company to reach new users.

Verizon Wireless is America’s largest wireless carriers, though it’s unclear how many users will have access to this service. The free Apple Music offer is only available to Verizon subscribers on select plans. Starting January 17, Apple Music will be included in Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited plans. For other users, a six-month trial is still available.

Wireless carriers have long looked to offering outside services to its subscribers to prop up their offerings. T-Mobile offers free Netflix and limited access to GoGo. Sprint gives subscribers free Hulu and Tidal. Sprint lets users on some plans pick from free HBO, Cinemax, Showtime or other services. Verizon is the first to offer free Apple Music.

Partnering with wireless carriers is a proven strategy to supercharge growth. Previously, Spotify used similar methods to introduce its service to customers. Others, such as Dropbox, followed. It’s a smart move: Go where there are already customers. Wireless carriers offer service companies access to a huge range of customers from various demographic groups.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Apple discloses the source of Apple Music subscribers in quarterly reports. This deal will likely result in a massive increase of subscribers who are not paying for the service through traditional means.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.

Powered by WPeMatico

Wrest control from a snooping smart speaker with this teachable ‘parasite’

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Alexa, artificial intelligence, connected devices, Europe, Gadgets, GitHub, Google, google home, hardware, Home Automation, Internet of Things, IoT, neural network, privacy, Security, smart assistant, smart speaker, Speaker | No Comments

What do you get when you put one internet-connected device on top of another? A little more control than you otherwise would in the case of Alias the “teachable ‘parasite’” — an IoT project smart speaker topper made by two designers, Bjørn Karmann and Tore Knudsen.

The Raspberry Pi-powered, fungus-inspired blob’s mission is to whisper sweet nonsense into Amazon Alexa’s (or Google Home’s) always-on ear so it can’t accidentally snoop on your home.

Project Alias from Bjørn Karmann on Vimeo.

Alias will only stop feeding noise into its host’s speakers when it hears its own wake command — which can be whatever you like.

The middleman IoT device has its own local neural network, allowing its owner to christen it with a name (or sound) of their choosing via a training interface in a companion app.

The open-source TensorFlow library was used for building the name training component.

So instead of having to say “Alexa” or “Ok Google” to talk to a commercial smart speaker — and thus being stuck parroting a big tech brand name in your own home, not to mention being saddled with a device that’s always vulnerable to vocal pranks (and worse: accidental wiretapping) — you get to control what the wake word is, thereby taking back a modicum of control over a natively privacy-hostile technology.

This means you could rename Alexa “Bezosallseeingeye,” or refer to your Google Home as “Carelesswhispers.” Whatever floats your boat.

Once Alias hears its custom wake command it will stop feeding noise into the host speaker — enabling the underlying smart assistant to hear and respond to commands as normal.

“We looked at how cordyceps fungus and viruses can appropriate and control insects to fulfill their own agendas and were inspired to create our own parasite for smart home systems,” explain Karmann and Knudsen in a write-up of the project here. “Therefore we started Project Alias to demonstrate how maker-culture can be used to redefine our relationship with smart home technologies, by delegating more power from the designers to the end users of the products.”

Alias offers a glimpse of a richly creative custom future for IoT, as the means of producing custom but still powerful connected technology products becomes more affordable and accessible.

And so also perhaps a partial answer to IoT’s privacy problem, for those who don’t want to abstain entirely. (Albeit, on the security front, more custom and controllable IoT does increase the hackable surface area — so that’s another element to bear in mind; more custom controls for greater privacy does not necessarily mesh with robust device security.)

If you’re hankering after your own Alexa-disrupting blob-topper, the pair have uploaded a build guide to Instructables and put the source code on GitHub. So fill yer boots.

Project Alias is of course not a solution to the underlying tracking problem of smart assistants — which harvest insights gleaned from voice commands to further flesh out interest profiles of users, including for ad targeting purposes.

That would require either proper privacy regulation or, er, a new kind of software virus that infiltrates the host system and prevents it from accessing user data. And — unlike this creative physical IoT add-on — that kind of tech would not be at all legal.

Powered by WPeMatico

CERN’s plan for 100-km collider makes the LHC look like a hula hoop

Posted by | CERN, colliders, Europe, Gadgets, Government, large hadron collider, LHC, particle colliders, particle physics, Physics, science | No Comments

The Large Hadron Collider has produced a great deal of incredible science, most famously the Higgs Boson — but physicists at CERN, the international organization behind the LHC, are already looking forward to the next model. And the proposed Future Circular Collider, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles around, would be quite an upgrade.

The idea isn’t new; CERN has had people looking into it for years. But the conceptual design report issued today shows that all that consulting hasn’t been idle: there’s a relatively cohesive and practical plan — as practical as a particle collider can be — and a decent case for spending the $21 billion or so that would be needed.

“These kind of largest scale efforts and projects are huge starters for networking, connecting institutes across borders, countries,” CERN’s Michael Benedikt, who led the report, told Nature. “All these things together make up a very good argument for pushing such unique science projects.”

On the other hand, while the LHC has been a great success, it hasn’t exactly given physicists an unambiguous signpost as to what they should pursue next. The lack of new cosmic mysteries — for example, a truly anomalous result or mysterious gap where a particle is expected — has convinced some that they must simply turn up the heat, but others that bigger isn’t necessarily better.

The design document provides several possible colliders, of which the 100-km ring is the largest and would produce the highest-energy collisions. Sure, you could smash protons together at 100,000 gigaelectron-volts rather than 16,000 — but what exactly will that help explain? We have left my areas of expertise, such as they are, well behind at this point so I will not speculate, but the question at least is one being raised by those in the know.

It’s worth noting that Chinese physicists are planning something similar, so there’s the aspect of international competition as well. How should that affect plans? Should we just ask China if we can use theirs? The academic world is much less affected by global strife and politics than, say, the tech world, but it’s still not ideal.

There are plenty of options to consider and time is not of the essence; it would take a decade or more to get even the simplest and cheapest of these proposals up and running.

Powered by WPeMatico

Amazon upgrades its Fire TV Stick with the new Alexa Voice Remote

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, cord cutting, Fire TV, Gadgets, streaming, streaming media player, TC, voice, voice assistant | No Comments

Amazon is giving its Fire TV Stick an upgrade. The company announced today it will now ship the Fire TV Stick with the new version of the Alexa Voice Remote launched last fall. The remote allows users to control other devices besides their Fire TV, thanks to its support for both Bluetooth and multi-directional infrared. However, the upgraded remote won’t impact the Fire TV Stick’s price, which remains $39.99.

The new Alexa remote arrived alongside the $49.99 Fire TV Stick 4K in October. It’s capable of controlling the TV, soundbar and other AV equipment, and can do things like switch inputs or tune to a channel on your cable box. As a standalone purchase for older Amazon Fire TV devices, the remote was retailing yesterday for $29.99. But today, Amazon is slashing the price by 50 percent, it says.

The voice remote also includes the ability to speak to Alexa with the press of a button, which can help you find shows and movies, control smart home devices, get the news and weather, stream music and more.

Amazon notes the inclusion of the next-gen remote makes the Fire TV Stick the only streaming media player under $40 that includes a remote capable of controlling other AV equipment besides the TV. This could be a selling point for Fire TV Stick versus Roku, whose high-end voice remotes are focused on controlling power and volume on TVs, or its own Roku wireless speakers.

At CES this year, Amazon said its Fire TV platform as a whole had now topped 30 million active users, which seemed to put it just ahead of Roku’s 27 million. By swapping in a better remote with the flagship Fire TV Stick device, Amazon is looking to solidify its lead gained by steep discounts on its devices over Black Friday and the larger 2018 holiday shopping season.

The updated Fire TV Stick will also be the first to ship with Amazon’s just-launched, free streaming service IMDb Freedive included. Announced at CES, the service offers a range of free, ad-supported movies and TV shows — a challenge to its rival’s service, The Roku Channel. It will come to other Fire TV devices by way of a software update.

The Fire TV Stick with the new Alexa Voice Remote goes on pre-order today for $39.99 (or £39.99 in the U.K.), and will be available in a bundle with the Echo Dot for $69.98.

Powered by WPeMatico

The new TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Tourbillon Nanograph is a lot of buzzwords in a beautiful package

Posted by | carrera, chronograph, Clocks, Culture, Gadgets, luxury brands, tag heuer, TC, time, tourbillon, watches | No Comments

Almost every word in the name of TAG Heuer’s new watch – the Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph – is important. Carrera connects it to TAG’s long history of chronographs while Calibre suggests a handmade watch made with some technical prowess. Tourbillon means you can expect this thing to cost more than a car (about $25,000 when it goes on sale) and Nanograph suggests that this thing is doing something quite unique. And it is.

TAG Heuer loves experimenting with new materials and the Nanograph features a new hairspring design that is unique to TAG. The hairspring, which is made of carbon-composite, is lightweight and unaffected by gravity or shock. It also offers “perfect concentric oscillations” and is completely antimagnetic. Couple that with the rotating tourbillon and the suggestion is that this watch will remain accurate under all sorts of pressure.

Further, rest of the movement includes carbon fiber and aluminum which reduces the effects of temperature and looks pretty darn cool. It doesn’t do much – it basically shows elapsed time – but it does it in a decidedly sexy way.

“This new interpretation of the TAG Heuer Carrera with its advanced in-house technology underscores our legacy in achieving watchmaking excellence and proves that we remain true to our values of performance, disruption and avant-garde,” said TAG CEO Stéphane Bianchi.

It is quite fascinating to note the range materials that went into this little mechanical marvel are surprisingly new. Not many manufacturers are using carbon fiber in this way and the fact that it’s going into a chronograph mechanical watch for less than $100,000 is surprising. Now you just have to convince yourself to spend $25,000 on a watch.

Powered by WPeMatico