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Robotics

Washington State Orchard Owners Look To Robots As Labor Shortage Worsens (seattletimes.com) 119

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Seattle Times: Harvesting Washington state's vast fruit orchards each year requires thousands of farmworkers, and many of them work illegally in the United States. That system eventually could change dramatically as at least two companies are rushing to get robotic fruit-picking machines to market. The robotic pickers don't get tired and can work 24 hours a day. FFRobotics and Abundant Robotics, of Hayward, California, are racing to get their mechanical pickers to market within the next couple of years. Members of the $7.5 billion annual Washington agriculture industry have long grappled with labor shortages, and depend on workers coming up from Mexico each year to harvest many crops. While financial details are not available, the builders say the robotic pickers should pay for themselves in two years. That puts the likely cost of the machines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each. FFRobotics is developing a machine that has three-fingered grips to grab fruit and twist or clip it from a branch. The machine would have between four and 12 robotic arms, and can pick up to 10,000 apples an hour, Gad Kober, a co-founder of Israel-based FFRobotics, said. One machine would be able to harvest a variety of crops, taking 85 to 90 percent of the crop off the trees, Kober said. Humans could pick the rest. Abundant Robotics is working on a picker that uses suction to vacuum apples off trees.
Transportation

Apple, Tesla Ask California To Change Its Proposed Policies On Self-Driving Car Testing (reuters.com) 28

Tesla and Apple have asked the state of California to change its proposed policies on self-driving cars to allow companies to test vehicles without traditional steering wheels and controls or human back-up drivers, among other things. Reuters reports: In a letter made public Friday, Apple made a series of suggested changes to the policy that is under development and said it looks forward to working with California and others "so that rapid technology development may be realized while ensuring the safety of the traveling public." Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google parent company Alphabet Inc, Ford Motor Co, Uber Technologies Inc, Toyota Motor Corp, Tesla Motors Inc and others also filed comments suggesting changes. Apple said California should revise how companies report self-driving system "disengagements." California currently requires companies to report how many times the self-driving system was deactivated and control handed back to humans because of a system failure or a traffic, weather or road situation that required human intervention. Apple said California's rules for development vehicles used only in testing could "restrict both the design and equipment that can be used in test vehicles." Tesla said California should not bar testing of autonomous vehicles that are 10,000 pounds (4,535 kg) or more. Tesla also said California should not prohibit the sale of non-self-driving vehicles previously used for autonomous vehicle testing.
Privacy

WikiLeaks Reveals the 'Snowden Stopper': CIA Tool To Track Whistleblowers (zerohedge.com) 89

schwit1 quotes a report from Zero Hedge: As the latest installment of it's "Vault 7" series, WikiLeaks has just dropped a user manual describing a CIA project known as "Scribbles" (a.k.a. the "Snowden Stopper"), a piece of software purportedly designed to allow the embedding of "web beacon" tags into documents "likely to be stolen." The web beacon tags are apparently able to collect information about an end user of a document and relay that information back to the beacon's creator without being detected. Per WikiLeaks' press release. But, the "Scribbles" user guide notes there is just one small problem with the program: it only works with Microsoft Office products. So, if end users use other programs such as OpenOffice of LibreOffice then the CIA's watermarks become visible to the end user and their cover is blown.
AI

Amazon's Alexa Can Now Whisper, Bleep Out Swear Words, and Change Its Pitch (theverge.com) 34

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Amazon is trying to make its Alexa voice assistant sound more humanlike. Up until now, the female-sounding voice maintained an even, monotone cadence whenever speaking, but with Amazon's new Speech Synthesis Markup Language that the company introduced this week, Alexa can whisper, vary its speaking speed, and bleep out words. Developers can also add pauses, change the pronunciation of a word, spell a word out, add audio snippets, and insert special words and phrases into their skill. The Verge notes that "the language markups are [only] available to developers in the U.S., U.K. and Germany." Amazon will also be hosting a webinar on May 18th on the new code.
Security

A Database of Thousands of Credit Cards Was Left Exposed on the Open Internet (zdnet.com) 35

A US online pet store has exposed the details of more than 110,400 credit cards used to make purchases through its website, researchers have found. From a report on ZDNet: In a stunning show of poor security, the Austin, TX-based company FuturePets.com exposed its entire customer database, including names, postal and email addresses, phone numbers, credit card information, and plain-text passwords. Several customers that we reached out to confirmed some of their information when it was provided by ZDNet, but did not want to be named. The database was exposed because of the company's own insecure server and use of "rsync," a common protocol used for synchronizing copies of files between two different computers, which wasn't protected with a username or password.
Businesses

IT Leaders Will Struggle To Meet Future Demands, Study Says (betanews.com) 107

When it comes to meeting future demands, IT leaders in the UK are lagging behind those in Germany and the US. From a report: This is according to a new report by Brocade, entitled Global Digital Transformation Skills Study. The report is based on a survey of 630 IT leaders in the US, UK, France, Germany, Australia and Singapore. It says that organizations are "at a tipping point" -- a point in time when technology demands are just about to outstrip the skills supply. Consequently, those that train their staff now and prepare for the future in that respect are the ones that are setting themselves up for a successful future. Almost three quarters (74 percent) of IT leaders in the UK see IT departments as either "very important" or "critical" to both innovation and the growth of their business. But the same woes reman, as almost two thirds (63 percent) think they'll struggle to find the right people in the next year.
Transportation

Elon Musk Outlines His 'Boring' Vision For Traffic-Avoiding Tunnels (axios.com) 155

Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed new details about his futuristic tunnel-boring project during his TED talk on Friday. Ina Fried, writing for Axios: In an appearance at the TED conference in Vancouver, Musk showed off a new video visualization of electric skates transporting cars in a narrow tunnel, then raising them back to street level in a space as small as two parking spaces. Inside the tunnels, Musk said cars could travel as fast as 200 kilometers per hour (roughly 130 MPH). "You should be able to go from say Westwood to LAX in 5-6 minutes," the Tesla and SpaceX founder said, adding he is spending only 2-3 percent on the tunnel effort. The Boring Company is currently building a demo tunnel in SpaceX's parking lot, but will need permits from the city of Los Angeles to extend beyond the property line. Musk added, "I'm not trying to be anyone's savior. I'm just trying to think about the future and not be sad." You can watch the video here.
Government

NSA Halts Collection of Americans' Emails About Foreign Targets (nytimes.com) 48

The NSA is stopping one of the most disputed forms of its warrantless surveillance program (alternative source), one in which it collects Americans' emails and texts to and from people overseas and that mention a foreigner under surveillance, NYTimes reports on Friday citing officials familiar with the matter. From the report: National security officials have argued that such surveillance is lawful and helpful in identifying people who might have links to terrorism, espionage or otherwise are targeted for intelligence-gathering. The fact that the sender of such a message would know an email address or phone number associated with a surveillance target is grounds for suspicion, these officials argued. [...] The N.S.A. made the change to resolve problems it was having complying with special rules imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2011 to protect Americans' privacy. For technical reasons, the agency ended up collecting messages sent and received domestically as a byproduct of such surveillance, the officials said.
Medicine

We're Getting Closer To Mass Production of Bones, Organs, and Implants (bloomberg.com) 52

Medical researchers have been able to create certain kinds of living cells with 3D printers for more than a decade. Now a few companies are getting closer to mass production of higher-order tissues (bone, cartilage, organs) and other individually tailored items, including implants. From an article: Organovo has successfully transplanted human liver tissue into mice to cure chronic liver failure. Pending the success of human trials, possible applications include the $3 billion market for inherited conditions such as hemophilia. [...] Aspect prints tissue cells to create structures that resemble parts of the human body, such as an airway or meniscus, to spur easier research on treatments for, say, asthma or muscle tears. By taking muscle cells from a lung, for example, the company built respiratory tissue that responded to common asthma inhalers as a person's body should. [...] Materialise designs custom 3D-printable implants, surgical guides, and other medical devices. It's waiting on approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for implants designed to fuse bones.
Businesses

Report Shows Another Diversity Challenge: Retaining Employees (sfchronicle.com) 280

An anonymous reader shares a report: Women, blacks and Latinos are far more likely to quit jobs in tech than white or Asian men, according to a new report by the Kapor Center for Social Impact. The Oakland nonprofit commissioned an online survey by the Harris Poll, which asked 2,006 people who voluntarily left tech jobs in the past three years about why they quit. It found women were twice as likely to leave as men (alternative link), while black and Latino tech workers were 3.5 times likelier to quit than white or Asian colleagues. The most common reason they gave for their departures was workplace mistreatment.
Network

The Internet-of-Things is Maturing (axios.com) 33

An anonymous reader shares a report: The "Internet of Things" (IoT) category is starting to mature in terms of startup investments, according to a new report from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Wing. Like any other trendy area of tech, IoT is in the midst of its own hype cycle, so it's important to get a more detailed picture of how the money is flowing.
Businesses

Qualcomm Says Apple To Stop Paying Royalties (reuters.com) 57

Apple has decided to withhold royalty payments to its contract manufacturers that are owed to Qualcomm, until a legal dispute between the companies is resolved, the chipmaker said on Friday. From a report: Qualcomm, the largest maker of chips used in smartphones, said it will not receive royalties from Apple's contract manufacturers for sales made during the quarter ended March 31. San Diego, California-based Qualcomm also slashed its profit and revenue forecasts for the current quarter, to account for the lost royalty revenue.
DRM

An Open Letter on DRM To the Inventor of the Web, From the Inventor of Net Neutrality (boingboing.net) 46

Tim Wu, a law professor at the Colombia University, and best known for coining the term "net neutrality," has published an open letter to Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). In the letter, Wu has asked Berners-Lee to "seriously consider extending a protective covenant to legitimate circumventers who have cause to bypass EME, should it emerge as a W3C standard." Cory Doctorow, writes for BoingBoing: But Wu goes on to draw a connection between the problems of DRM and the problems of network discrimination: DRM is wrapped up in a layer of legal entanglements (notably section 1201 of America's Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which allow similar kinds of anticompetitive and ugly practices that make net neutrality so important. This is a live issue, too, because the W3C just held the most contentious vote in its decades-long history, on whether to publish a DRM standard for the web without any of the proposed legal protections for companies that create the kinds of competing products and services that the law permits, except when DRM is involved. As Wu points out, this sets up a situation where the incumbents get to create monopolies that produce the same problems for the open web that network neutrality advocates -- like Berners-Lee -- worry about.
The Almighty Buck

Slashdot Asks: Should an Employee Be Fired For Working On Personal Side Projects During Office Hours? (quora.com) 382

An anonymous reader writes: I found this article that talks about whether an engineer should be fired if s/he is working on a side project. Several people who have commented in the thread say that the employer should first talk to the person and understand why they are working on personal projects during the office hours. One reason, as many suggested, could be that the employee might not have been fairly compensated despite being exceptionally good at the job. In which case, the problem resides somewhere in the management who has failed to live up to the expectations. What do you folks think? Let's not just focus on engineers, per se. It could be an IT guy (who might have a lot of free time in hand), or a programmer.
Advertising

Amazon Confirms Advertising Will Become a 'Meaningful' Part of Its Business (thedrum.com) 69

An anonymous reader shares a report: Amazon's advertising business has loomed quietly in the digital media space for some time but the online behemoth has given the clearest indication yet that it will now come to the fore. Advertisers and agencies have been hearing Amazon-sized footsteps for some time but until now the business has erred away from revealing too much. However, on its latest earnings call Amazon was asked by one analyst as to whether advertising could become a more "meaningful part of the business" over the near to mid-term. "It's pretty early in the days with advertising but we're very pleased with the team we have and the results," said Amazon's chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky in response to another analyst query. "Our goal is to be helpful to consumers and enhance their shopping or their viewing experience with targeted recommendations, and we think a lot of the information we have and preferences of customers and recommendations help us do that for customers."
Businesses

BitTorrent is Shutting Down Its Live TV Streaming Service (variety.com) 17

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Variety: San Francisco-based BitTorrent Inc. is set to shut down its P2P-powered live TV streaming service BitTorrent Live in the coming weeks, Variety has learned. Most of the 10-person team behind the live streaming service is expected to leave the company by the end of this week. The closure of Live comes after BitTorrent unsuccessfully tried to raise money to spin out the service into a separate company. It's also just the latest twist in a long corporate drama. Last year, two outside investors took control of BitTorrent, spent millions of dollars on an expensive expansion into the media space and promptly got themselves fired. BitTorrent has since rehired its former COO Rogelio Choy as its new CEO, and is now looking to focus on its core products. As part of that realignment, the company was looking to turn Live into a separate, venture-funded entity, but raising money for it proved challenging.
Nintendo

Nintendo Announces 2DS XL (theguardian.com) 52

The future for Nintendo is the Switch, or is it? Nintendo continues to keep things interesting. From a report: The ever-unpredictable hardware veteran has announced the Nintendo 2DS XL, a new version of the 2DS, which was itself a refreshed version of the 3DS. Featuring two enlarged displays, 4.88in on top and 4.18in on the bottom, and a clamshell design, the new format is lighter than the 3DS XL and of course lacks that machine's stereoscopic capabilities. Available in black and turquoise or white and orange and with built-in NFC support for amiibo cards and figures, it's a fully featured member of the extended 3DS family, even boasting the secondary C-pad nub like the New 3DS XL. It is priced at $150.
Privacy

Lawsuit: Fox News Group Hacked, Surveilled, and Stalked Ex-Host Andrea Tantaros (arstechnica.com) 99

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Comparing their actions to the plot this season on the Showtime series Homeland, an attorney for former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros has filed a complaint in federal court against Fox News, current and former Fox executives, Peter Snyder and his financial firm Disruptor Inc., and 50 "John Doe" defendants. The suit alleges that collective participated in a hacking and surveillance campaign against her. Tantaros filed a sexual harassment suit against Roger Ailes and Fox News in August of 2016, after filing internal complaints with the company about harassment dating back to February of 2015. She was fired by the network in April of 2016, as Tantaros continued to press complaints against Fox News' then-Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, and others. Tantaros had informed Fox that she would be filing a lawsuit over the alleged sexual harassment. Tantaros claims that as early as February of 2015, a group run out of a "black room" at Fox News engaged in surveillance and electronic harassment of her, including the use of "sock puppet" social media accounts to electronically stalk her. Tantaros' suit identifies Peter Snyder and Disruptor Inc. as the operators of a social influence operation using "sock puppet" accounts on Twitter and other social media.
Patents

Apple Patent Hints At Wirelessly Charging Your iPhone Via Wi-Fi Routers (appleinsider.com) 136

According to AppleInsider, "Apple is experimenting with medium- to long-distance wireless charging technologies that could one day allow users to charge up their iPhones with nothing more than a Wi-Fi router." From the report: Detailed in Apple's patent application for "Wireless Charging and Communications Systems With Dual-Frequency Patch Antennas" is a method for transferring power to electronic devices over frequencies normally dedicated to data communications. In its various embodiments, the invention notes power transfer capabilities over any suitable wireless communications link, including cellular between 700 MHz and 2700 MHz, and Wi-Fi operating at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. More specifically, the document's claims apply to millimeter wave 802.11ad spectrum channels currently in use by the WiGig standard, which operates over the 60 GHz frequency band. Theoretically, the proposal opens the door to wire-free charging from in-home Wi-Fi routers to cellular nodes and even satellite signals. Of course, amplitude in a wireless system is normally a function of distance. Like conventional wireless charging techniques, Apple's design requires two devices -- a transmitter and receiver -- to function. Each device contains one or more antennas coupled to wireless circuitry capable of making phase and magnitude adjustments to transmitted and received signals. Such hardware can be employed in dynamic beam steering operations.
NASA

NASA Delays First Flight of New SLS Rocket Until 2019 (arstechnica.com) 106

schwit1 writes: Despite spending almost $19 billion and more than thirteen years of development, NASA today admitted that it will have to delay the first test flight of the SLS rocket from late 2018 to sometime in 2019. "We agree with the GAO that maintaining a November 2018 launch readiness date is not in the best interest of the program, and we are in the process of establishing a new target in 2019," wrote William Gerstenmaier, chief of NASA's human spaceflight program. "Caution should be used in referencing the report on the specific technical issues, but the overall conclusions are valid." The competition between the big government SLS/Orion program and private commercial space is downright embarrassing to the government. While SLS continues to be delayed, even after more than a decade of work and billions of wasted dollars, SpaceX is gearing up for the first flight of Falcon Heavy this year. And they will be doing it despite the fact that Congress took money from the commercial private space effort, delaying its progress, in order to throw more money at SLS/Orion.

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