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NASA Upgrades The Robonaut In Space

July 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The 300-pound humanoid robot working on the International Space Station is getting several upgrades, including new processors and software, in preparation of having a pair of legs attached to it.

Robonaut 2, also known as R2, is the legless but humanoid robot that has been working on the space station since 2011.

“Commander Steve Swanson focused his attention primarily on mobility upgrades for the station’s robotic crew member, Robonaut 2,” NASA reported on its website. “Since arriving aboard the station in May 2011 during the STS-134 space shuttle mission, Robonaut has been put through a series of increasingly complex tasks to test the feasibility of a humanoid robot taking over routine and mundane chores or even assisting a spacewalker outside the station.”

In March, SpaceX, a commercial space flight company that runs cargo missions to the space station, brought up a pair of robotic legs for Robonaut.

Once the legs are attached to R2′s torso, the robot will have a fully extended leg span of nine feet. That will give it “great flexibility” to move around the inside and outside of the space station, according to NASA.

The robot has 38 PowerPC processors, including 36 embedded chips, which control the robot’s joints. Each leg has seven joints and a device on its foot, dubbed an end effector, a tool that enables the robot to use handrails and sockets.

Since Robonaut was unpacked and set up on the station in 2011, astronauts have run experiments to see how the robot functions in space. NASA scientists also have been working with astronauts onboard the station to get them to use the robot and put them at ease with it.

So far, the robot, which can communicate using sign language, has been able to correctly press buttons, flip switches and turn knobs. It also has worked with tools, using an air flow meter and an RFID inventory scanner, according to NASA.

In preparation for attaching Robonaut’s legs, the astronauts installed new processors and replaced fans, a power distribution board and other components inside the robot’s torso.

Last weekend, NASA’s robotics team on the ground remotely deployed software for the robot’s new processors. NASA has not specified what type of processors or what software has been added.

NASA originally planned to install and test the robot’s legs in June, that didn’t happen and a new installation timeframe has not been announced.

 

 

 

Several Countries Now Have More Wireless Devices Than People

July 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Wireless broadband subscriptions now outnumber people in seven countries as consumers continue to add smartphone and tablet devices to their personal electronics arsenal, according to a new report.

Finland, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, South Korea and the U.S. had wireless broadband penetration of more than 100 percent as of December 2013, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Tuesday. That means there was more than one wireless broadband subscription per person, usually because consumers have more than one mobile device that can go online. The U.S. just barely crossed the bar, while Finland led the group with more than 123 percent penetration.

Across all 37 OECD countries, wireless broadband penetration rose to 72.4 percent as total subscriptions grew 14.6 percent. The group spans North America, Australia, New Zealand, and much of Europe, as well as Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Israel, Mexico and Chile. It’s sometimes treated as a barometer of the developed world.

Wired broadband subscriptions also grew in 2013, reaching an average of 27 percent penetration. That means there was just over one wired subscription per four people: Wired broadband services, such as cable and DSL (digital subscriber line), typically are shared. Switzerland led in that category with 44.9 percent penetration, followed by the Netherlands and Denmark. The U.S. had just under 30 wired subscriptions per 100 people, while Turkey came in last with just over 11.

DSL still makes up a majority of wired broadband subscriptions, at 51.5 percent, followed by cable with 31.2 percent. Fiber-optic grew to a 16.7 percent share, gradually replacing DSL services. Fiber more than doubled its share of the market in the U.K. and also gained strongly in Spain, Turkey and France. While those countries still have relatively low fiber penetration, Japan and Korea continued to lead the OECD for that technology. Nearly 70 percent of all wired broadband in Japan goes over fiber, and almost 65 percent in Korea.

The OECD has compiled some of its broadband statistics on a portal page. For all the technologies it tracks, the group uses a generous definition of broadband as a service capable of at least 256K bits per second downstream.

 

 

Sony Wants To Capitalize On The ‘Selfie’ Boom

July 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Sony Corp said that it has plans to invest 35 billion yen ($345 million) to increase production of image sensors for smartphones and tablets, as the company courts handset makers to get more orders for front-facing camera sensors, used to take selfies.

The Japanese firm said it will increase production of stacked CMOS sensors at two factories on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, while completing work on a factory in northwestern Japan it bought from Renesas Electronics Corp for a total investment of 35 billion yen.

Sony, which currently supplies image sensors for the main camera in Apple Inc’s iPhone said the investment will allow it to raise production by 13 percent to 68,000 wafers a month by August 2015, a step closer to its mid-term goal of 75,000.

Imaging sensors are an area of strength for Sony, which leads the market ahead of Omnivision Technologies Inc, whose sensors are mostly used in front-facing smartphone modules that typically have lower specifications than the main rear camera.

Sony told Reuters in March that it was looking to supply more sensors for front-facing cameras as smartphone makers were looking to improve their quality in response to consumers taking more ‘selfies’, or self-portraits, as well as video calls.

Of the total investment, 9 billion yen will be spent this year, which will come out of the 65 billion yen capex budget for semiconductors announced in May. The remaining 26 billion yen will be spent in the first half of the fiscal year starting next March.

 

Google May Have A Plan To Bring Wi-Fi To NYC Pay Phones

July 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Google may be amongst a list of hopefuls looking to transform the New York City phone booths of the past into “communication points” of the future with free Wi-Fi and cellphone charging.

The dominant search company was among 60 entities that attended a meeting on May 12 to discuss a project to replace or supplement as many as 10,000 pay phones around the city. The list came to light in a Bloomberg News article. Other participants included Samsung, IBM, Cisco Systems, Verizon Wireless, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable.

Responses to the “request for proposals” (RFP) from vendors were due Monday. Google, or any other participant in the May 12 meeting, may have pulled out of the process before filing one. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But it seems likely the company will at least submit a plan, given the opportunity to blanket much of New York’s streetscape with Wi-Fi. Despite some false starts and headaches in free public Wi-Fi in the past, Google looks more serious than ever about providing new forms of Internet access. It’s selling gigabit-speed service via fiber in Provo, Utah, and Kansas City, and plans to expand that service to Austin, Texas. A Google request for information sent to 34 other prospective Google Fiber cities suggested the company is looking at adding a Wi-Fi component to that service, too. Far outside major cities, its balloon-based Project Loon is being tested in licensed frequencies sometimes used for LTE cellular networks.

The New York project would be vast and potentially lucrative, as well as high profile. There are currently more than 7,000 pay-phone sites spread across all five boroughs of the city, and about 4,000 of them carry advertising on the sides. The winning bidder for the upgrade project would share ad revenue with the city, which says it would pay them at least US$17.5 million in compensation.

 

 

Yahoo To Purchase Flurry To Beef Up Mobile Ad Revenue

July 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Yahoo Inc will acquire mobile analytics startup Flurry to beef up a fast-growing mobile advertising business that still lags Google Inc’s  and Facebook Inc’s in scale.

Six-year-old Flurry uses analytics to help target ads at consumers by monitoring activity on more than half a million apps on some 1.4 billion mobile devices around the world, Yahoo said in a statement.

The startup provides information to help marketers and brands more easily reach their desired audiences, Yahoo said.

Yahoo did not cite a price tag, but a source familiar with the matter said the Internet company is paying several hundred million dollars. Tech blog re/code earlier reported that rough amount.

Flurry will operate much as before after the acquisition closes, and its team will remain in their current locations, Yahoo added.

Yahoo is trying to revitalize a stagnant online advertising business as Chief Executive Marissa Mayer marks her second anniversary at the Internet company.

The former Google executive has revamped many of Yahoo’s Web products but its ad sales are still weak while rivals such as Google and Facebook continue to post strong, double-digit revenue growth.

Like its rivals, it has been investing in its mobile advertising platform, as users increasingly access the Internet from smartphones and tablets. Its mobile advertising revenue more than doubled in the second quarter.

But mobile advertising typically commands lower rates than online. Revenue in Yahoo’s display advertising business decreased 8 percent to $436 million in the second quarter.

 

Xiaomi Sets Sights On Premium Smartphone Market With Mi 4 Device

July 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

China’s Xiaomi introduced on Tuesday its new flagship Mi 4 smartphone, aimed primarily at the premium handset market dominated by Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.

The Mi 4 has a 5 inch, 1080p screen and a Qualcomm Inc Snapdragon 801 2.5 Ghz processor, said Chief Executive Lei Jun at a launch event in Beijing.

But sheathed in iPhone-like metal sides, the Mi 4′s similarities to Apple’s smartphone drew murmurs from the crowd of ‘iPhone’ when showcased by Lei.

Founded in 2010 by Lei, Xiaomi seeks to cut costs by eschewing brick-and-mortar stores in favor of web-based distribution and word-of-mouth marketing.

Xiaomi became the world’s sixth-largest smartphone vendor in the first quarter of 2014, according to data firm Canalys, after repeatedly doubling its sales. The company was valued at $10 billion last year.

Xiaomi sold 18.7 mln smartphones in 2013 and on Tuesday maintained a 60 million sales target for 2014. For comparison, Huawei Technologies Co Ltd has said it is targeting 80 million smartphone sales for the year.

The latest phone was unveiled at a glitzy launch event at the National Convention Center in Beijing, where Lei Jun and Vice President Hugo Barra – a former Google executive – posed for photos with a winding queue of fans decked in Xiaomi-branded red T-shirts.

Barra told Reuters in an interview this month that the company was actively targeting the Indian market.

 

Twitter Pressed To Release Diversity Data

July 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson is urging Twitter to release its employee diversity information, which its Silicon Valley peers such as Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Facebook have already done.

The Rainbow Push Coalition, founded by Jackson, has also asked Twitter to signal its commitment to inclusion by hosting a public community forum to address the company’s plan to recruit and retain more African American talent.

The coalition and black empowerment group, ColorOfChange.org, plans to launch a Twitter-based campaign to challenge the company, the coalition said in a statement late last week.

On Friday at the Netroots Nation conference in Detroit, ColorofChange will lead a “Black Twitter” plenary session where activists will push out the petition campaign over Twitter and other social media.

Tech companies have been under pressure to release employee diversity data since Jackson took up the campaign to highlight the underrepresentation of African-Americans in Silicon Valley companies, starting with a delegation to Hewlett-Packard’s annual meeting of shareholders.

“….Twitter has remained silent, resisting and refusing to publicly disclose its EEO-1 workforce diversity/inclusion data,” according to the joint petition by the coalition and ColorOfChange.org.

The diversity reports are typically filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and companies are not required to make the information public.

Twitter has not commented on the matter.

 

 

China’s Rush To The Internet Is Slowing

July 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

China’s once furious pace to get on the Internet is slowing, with the country adding only 14.4 million new Internet users in the first half of 2014, the lowest half-year growth in eight years.

There were 632 million Internet users in China in June, according to the government-linked China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).

Although China has long reigned as the country with the world’s largest Internet population, the services are still struggling to take off in the rural areas, where about 450 million people never go online, said the CNNIC in its bi-annual report.

Total Internet penetration in China is at 46.9 percent. This is far lower than the U.S, which has a penetration rate of 87 percent, according to Internet World Stats.

Many of these non-Internet users in China have low education levels, and have little need to surf the Web, the research group added. To increase adoption, the CNNIC recommended that the country focus on teaching rural elementary students Internet skills.

The slowing growth in Internet usage in China follows a rapid rise in the Internet population there, from just 94 million over a decade ago. Most of the growth has taken place in the country’s urban areas, where the Internet market has begun to mature.

In June, China had 527 million users who went online with mobile phones, which have now overtaken PCs, including both notebooks and desktops, as the most popular way to reach the Internet, the CNNIC said.

Online messaging, search engines, and news are the country’s top Internet services. But social networking sites are facing a decline in popularity, with their user numbers falling by 7.4 percent to 257 million in the last six months. The sites are struggling to innovate, and meet the demands of users, CNNIC said in its report.

 

Lenovo Says It’s Still In The 8-in. Windows Tablet Game

July 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Lenovo on Friday said it would continue selling sub-10-in. Windows tablets in the U.S., backing away from statements it made the day before, when it said it was pulling the ThinkPad 8 from the North American market and had discontinued offering a model of the Miix 2.

“We will continue to bring new Windows devices to market across different screen sizes, including a new 8-inch tablet and 10-inch tablet coming this holiday,” Lenovo said in a press release published on its website Friday.

“Our model mix changes as per customer demand, and although we are no longer selling ThinkPad 8 in the U.S., and we have sold out of Miix 8-inch, we are not getting out of the small-screen Windows tablet business as was reported by the media (emphasis in original),” the statement continued.

On Thursday, the IDG News Service — like Computerworld, owned and operated by IDG – reported the withdrawal of the ThinkPad 8 and the 8-in. Miix from the U.S. market. The ThinkPad 8 had debuted in January at prices starting at $449, and the similarly-sized Miix had launched in October 2013.

Lenovo told IDG News that it was diverting remaining stocks of the ThinkPad 8 to other countries, including Brazil, China, and Japan, where demand was stronger for smaller Windows 8.1-powered tablets.

The China-based company, which has made impressive gains in the global market — it was the world’s largest personal computer seller during the second quarter, ahead of Hewlett-Packard and Dell, according to IDC — did not say exactly when it would return with an 8-in. device. If it begins selling the unnamed device in October, typical of OEMs that seed the channel then for the holiday sales season, it will have been absent from the market for two or more months.

 

 

Sony’s FeliCa Smartcard Chip Is Gearing Up For Wearables

July 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

If you’re waiting for that multi-functional smartwatch of your dreams, Sony is working to add contactless payments to wearables with a new chip.

The electronics giant’s FeliCa Networks subsidiary is modifying its FeliCa contactless card technology, widely used in Japan for public transit and e-money payments, for wearables.

The company is designing a low-power chip that could be used in wearables such as smartwatches and smart bands, giving them contactless e-money or transit functions or access to restricted areas.

That would allow users to board a train or bus simply by waving a smartwatch near a chip reader, eliminating the need for a separate smart card.

“The wearables field is just beginning so we’re considering what users will want with this functionality as well as what degree of compactness and power savings it will have,” a spokeswoman for FeliCa Networks said.

The company is also developing FeliCa smartcards with small LCD screens and a touch interface that can display information when users swipe their fingers across the cards.

This “interactive FeliCa card,” still in the prototype stage, can show the remaining balance of money stored in the card, for instance, or payment history.

While about 45 million Android smartphones in Japan have had the FeliCa chip since 2012, iPhones do not support it. The LCD smart card could link with iPhones via Bluetooth so users could check their balances on their phones.

FeliCa Networks hopes to introduce the LCD smartcards in the year to April 2016.

One in two people in Japan has a mobile phone with NFC FeliCa phone functions, according to FeliCa Networks.

The company has shipped more than 236 million of its Mobile FeliCa chips as of December 2013, while Suica, a FeliCa-based smartcard for railways in the Tokyo area, can be used in 230,000 stores.

 

 

Dell Is Now Accepting Bitcoin Payments

July 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Want to purchase a laptop with bitcoins? Dell is now accepting the digital currency as a form of payment.

Consumer and business shoppers can pay for products directly via bitcoins or through Coinbase, a third-party payment processing company, Dell said.

Buyers can pay for products through Bitcoin wallets or by scanning a QR code with a smartphone.

The volatile Bitcoin has had its share of controversies and exchange shutdowns as the currency matures. Companies like Overstock.com, Newegg, Expedia and some Amazon storefronts accept Bitcoin as a form of payment. But major retailers like Walmart and eBay have not warmed up to the idea. The value of one bitcoin was around $630 as of Friday, according to multiple cryptocurrency website.

There are some advantages to paying via Bitcoin. The form of currency is accepted around the world, and for Dell, the payment-processing cost is less than with credit cards.

But the form of payment has its quirks.

“Due to the nature of the Bitcoin network, once you initiate a Bitcoin transaction you cannot change or cancel it,” Dell said on a terms and conditions page.

Customers could seek refunds in the case of canceled transactions or product returns.

“For a qualifying return of product paid for in Bitcoin, any refund due will be remitted to the purchaser via check in U.S. Dollars for the full amount of the purchase price paid at the time of the original transaction, less any applicable restocking fees,” Dell said.

 

Google’s Growth Will Be In A Shift To Mobile

July 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google Inc  is the more properly positioned than any company to benefit from the shift to mobile, increased local advertising and wearables, analysts said after the search giant posted its 18th straight quarter of 20 percent-plus revenue growth.

At least eight brokerages raised their price targets on the stock on Friday by as much as $75, to a high of $745.

The company, which is also set to benefit from the so-called “internet of things”, said that second-quarter revenue rose 22 percent to $15.96 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of $15.61 billion.

Growth was driven by the company’s core search business, YouTube and product-listing ads, which combined to drive three times as much mobile traffic for merchants compared with last year, Jefferies analysts wrote in a note.

Brokerage Jefferies maintained its “buy” rating and $700 price target on the stock.

Of the 46 analysts covering Google, 36 have a “buy” or a higher rating on the stock and 10 have a “hold”. There are no “sell” ratings, according to StarMine data.

Google earns most of its revenue from advertising.

The number of “paid clicks” by consumers on ads serviced by Google increased 25 percent year-on-year in the quarter.

However, the average price of the ads declined 6 percent as ad rates on mobile phones are typically cheaper than traditional online ads because of their smaller screens.

“Google is successfully transitioning its business from PC to mobile, and is arguably in a more favorable position in mobile than it was in PC, which should eventually be reflected in a higher multiple,” Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Sandler wrote in a client note.

Google also owns Android, the world’s most-used mobile software, and YouTube, the most popular video-streaming service.

Other online companies such as Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc  are also revamping their advertising businesses to take advantage of the shift to mobile devices.

But Google has established unusually deep competitive “moats” around its business through scale, aggressive product innovation and substantial investment, RBC Capital Markets analysts wrote in a research note.

Google’s capital investment budget has topped $17 billion over the past five years, and the company has spent about $13 billion on research, according to analysts.

The company is also spending big to push into new markets with innovations such as wearable computers, ultra high-speed internet access and home automation – the “internet of things.”

 

 

AMD Tumbles

July 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

AMD’s debt load is causing huge problems for the chipmaker — this quarter it had another substantial loss. The tame Apple Press has been claiming that AMD’s woes are caused by the fact it did not move to mobile as was directed by the profit Steve Jobs. They claim, along with some of the dafter analysts, that mobile computing has replaced the PC and companies that stuck to the “old technology” suffered.

However that does not explain how Intel made a stonking profit mostly because of its PC chip sales while its mobile division bled cash. The insistence that mobile was a replacement technology, rather than a parallel development which would not have been noticed if the economy had not tanked, is evidence of how many analysts and hacks drank the Jobs’ kool aid.

AMD’s problems are a lot more obvious. Each quarter it has to pay $49 million to service its huge debt pile. If it did not have to do this the company would have reported a non-GAAP operating profit of $67 million. In fact AMD’s revenue rose 24 percent to $1.44 billion in the second quarter. The company said its third-quarter revenue would rise 2 percent, plus or minus 3 percent, from the June quarter. That would be about $1.47 billion. Analysts on average had expected revenue of $1.44 billion in the second quarter and $1.57 billion in the third quarter.

AMD’s stock fell 15 percent in extended trade after the outfit said it had a net loss of $36 million in the June quarter, compared with a loss of $74 million, a year earlier. AMD has been expanding into non-PC markets like game consoles and low-power servers and it aims to obtain half of its revenue from those additional businesses by the end of 2015. It is also doing well in professional graphics.

Revenue in the Computing Solutions Group dropped 20 percent from a year ago, to $669 million, as microprocessor unit shipments declined. But notebook processor sales rose, while AMD sold fewer desktop processors and chipsets. GPU revenue declined as well, partially offset by a rise in chips sold into graphics workstations and add-on cards.

Courtesy-Fud

Imagination Technologies Shrinking Again

July 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Mobile GPU designer Imagination Technologies has announced the world’s smallest mobile GPU.

The PowerVR GX5300 takes up just 0.55mm2 on a 28nm die, which means it’s as small as a grain of salt. It operates at 250MHz and the company says it can handle everyday tasks with ease.

The GPU features full OpenGL ES 2.0 compatibility PVRTC texture compression technology and of course the emphasis is on ultra-low power consumption. The company is not saying anything about the actual consumption, but the tiny die size sounds very encouraging.

Imagination Technologies says the GX5300 sets the standard for efficient mobile GPUs, making it an ideal choice for entry level smartphones, but more importantly for wearables and IoT gadgets.

Tony King-Smith, EVP marketing, Imagination, said the new GPU demonstrates the company’s leadership in the entry-level market.

“We see many compelling opportunities such as low-cost smartphones and tablets, wearables and IoT devices,” said King-Smith.

He added that Imagination IP will end up in many wearables.

Courtesy-Fud

Nearly 1M Fake Apps Are Targeting Your Mobile Devices

July 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Fake apps purposely masked to look like official ones but actually designed to steal user data are increasingly targeting Android phone users, according to a study by Trend Micro.

The company looked at the top 50 free apps in Google’s Play Store and then searched Google’s app store and others to see if fake versions existed. It found fake versions existed for 77 percent of the apps. The fake apps are often made to look like the real ones and have the same functions, but carry a dangerous extra payload.

“We’ve been tracking the activity of malicious or high-risk apps for nearly five years,” said JD Sherry, vice president of technology and solutions at Trend Micro. “The potential for people to slip things past the gate and appear legitimate is much easier.”

Tokyo-based Trend Micro, which makes antivirus and antimalware software that guard against such risks, said it cataloged 890,482 fake apps in a survey conducted in April this year. More than half were judged to be malicious of which 59,185 were aggressive adware and 394,263 were malware.

The most common type of fake app purports to be antivirus software — targeting users who think they are protecting themselves from such problems. In some cases, the apps ask users to approve administrator privileges, which allow the app wider access to the phone’s software and data and make it more difficult to remove.

While many of the fake apps exist on forums or third-party app stores where security is either weaker than Google’s Play Store or nonexistent, fake apps can also invade the official Google store.

“A more recent example of a rogue antivirus app known as “Virus Shield” received a 4.7-star rating after being downloaded more than 10,000 times, mostly with the aid of bots,” Trend Micro said in its report.

Cheekily, scammers charged $3.99 for the fake app, which promised to prevent harmful apps from being installed. It was removed by Google after a few days, but not before it fooled thousands of users and even became a “top new paid app” in the Play Store. Trend said it was “perplexing” how the app achieved “top” status.

Attackers sometimes play on hype for apps.

When the “Flappy Bird” game was taken off the Play Store, fake versions appeared, some of which sent premium text messages. And before BlackBerry released its BBM messenger app for Android, a number of fake versions appeared that were downloaded more than 100,000 times.

Trend Micro’s report was published on the same day Google said it had formed a security team to go after so-called “zero-day” exploits in software that allow attackers to target users before software companies issue patches.

Sherry said he thought Google’s announcement was “ironic” considering the large number of problems Trend Micro found in Google’s own backyard.