Robotics

Robots Step Into the Backbreaking Agricultural Work That Immigrants Won't Do

Posted by samzenpus
from the they-took-our-jobs dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Ilan Brat reports at the WSJ that technological advances are making it possible for robots to handle the backbreaking job of gently plucking ripe strawberries from below deep-green leaves, just as the shrinking supply of available fruit pickers has made the technology more financially attractive. "It's no longer a problem of how much does a strawberry harvester cost," says Juan Bravo, inventor of Agrobot, the picking machine. "Now it's about how much does it cost to leave a field unpicked, and that's a lot more expensive." The Agrobot costs about $100,000 and Bravo has a second, larger prototype in development. Other devices similarly are starting to assume delicate tasks in different parts of the fresh-produce industry, from planting vegetable seedlings to harvesting lettuce to transplanting roses. While farmers of corn and other commodity crops replaced most of their workers decades ago with giant combines, growers of produce and plants have largely stuck with human pickers—partly to avoid maladroit machines marring the blemish-free appearance of items that consumers see on store shelves. With workers in short supply, "the only way to get more out of the sunshine we have is to elevate the technology," says Soren Bjorn.

American farmers have in recent years resorted to brought hundreds of thousands of workers in from Mexico on costly, temporary visas for such work. But the decades-old system needs to be replaced because "we don't have the unlimited labor supply we once did," says Rick Antle. "Americans themselves don't seem willing to take the harder farming jobs," says Charles Trauger, who has a farm in Nebraska. "Nobody's taking them. People want to live in the city instead of the farm. Hispanics who usually do that work are going to higher paying jobs in packing plants and other industrial areas." The labor shortage spurred Tanimura & Antle Fresh Foods, one of the country's largest vegetable farmers, to buy a Spanish startup called Plant Tape, whose system transplants vegetable seedlings from greenhouse to field using strips of biodegradable material fed through a tractor-pulled planting device. "This is the least desirable job in the entire company," says Becky Drumright. With machines, "there are no complaints whatsoever. The robots don't have workers' compensation, they don't take breaks."
Programming

Linux 4.1 Bringing Many Changes, But No KDBUS 37

Posted by samzenpus
from the latest-and-greatest dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The first release candidate of Linux 4.1 has been released, Linus noted, "The merge window is pretty normal in terms of what got merged too. Just eyeballing the size, it looks like this is going to fit right in — while 4.0 was a bit smaller than usual, 4.1 seems to be smack dab in the middle of the normal range for the last couple of years." There are numerous new features in Linux 4.1 like Xbox One controller force feedback support, better Wacom tablet support, Intel Atom SoC performance improvements, Radeon DisplayPort MST support, EXT4 file-system encryption, ChromeOS Lightbar support, and ACPI for 64-bit ARM, among other additions. However, KDBUS wasn't accepted for Linux 4.1.
Printer

The World of 3D Portraiture 33

Posted by samzenpus
from the it-looks-just-like-me dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with this BBC story about the niche market of 3D printed "selfie" models. By now we're familiar with tales of 3D-printed marvels, from guns to duck prosthetics. But when I traveled to a physics conference in March, I wasn't expecting to end up with a full colour printout of myself. However, at a small stall that popped up on Industry Day at the American Physical Society's March meeting — that is precisely the service that was being offered. I stepped on to a little rotating platform, tried to stand still for a few awkward minutes while a camera scanned me up and down, and then filled out a form. A few weeks later, a box has arrived in the post. Somewhere inside it, my two-inch twin is waiting for me to overcome my trepidation and show him the light of day. But I'm in no hurry; it all seems a bit... odd. The box sits on my desk for several days. Even though getting 'printed' puts me in the illustrious company of Barack Obama and Richard III, I'm unsure about my decision. What, I wonder, does someone do with a small selfie in statue form? Where does this business find its customers?
Google

Google Insiders Talk About Why Google+ Failed 193

Posted by samzenpus
from the here's-what-happened dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with this story about what happened to Google+ from an employee perspective. "Last month, Google announced that it's changing up its strategy with Google+. In a sense, it's giving up on pitching Google+ as a social network aimed at competing with Facebook. Instead, Google+ will become two separate pieces: Photos and Streams. This didn't come as a surprise — Google+ never really caught on the same way social networks like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn did....Rumors have been swirling for months that Google would change its direction with Google+. Business Insider spoke with a few insiders about what happened to the network that Google believed would change the way people share their lives online. Google+ was really important to Larry Page, too — one person said he was personally involved and wanted to get the whole company behind it. The main problem with Google+, one former Googler says, is the company tried to make it too much like Facebook. Another former Googler agrees, saying the company was 'late to market' and motivated from 'a competitive standpoint.'"
Technology

When Exxon Wanted To Be a Personal Computing Revolutionary 93

Posted by samzenpus
from the back-in-the-day dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this story about Exxon's early involvement with consumer computers. "This weekend is the anniversary of the release of the Apple IIc, the company's fourth personal computer iteration and its first attempt at creating a portable computer. In 1981, Apple's leading competitor in the world of consumer ('novice') computer users was IBM, but the market was about to experience a deluge of also-rans and other silent partners in PC history, including the multinational descendant of Standard Oil, Exxon. The oil giant had been quietly cultivating a position in the microprocessor industry since the mid-1970s via the rogue Intel engineer usually credited with developing the very first commercial microprocessor, Federico Faggin, and his startup Zilog. Faggin had ditched Intel in 1974, after developing the 4004 four-bit CPU and its eight-bit successor, the 8008. As recounted in Datapoint: The Lost Story of the Texans Who Invented the Personal Computer, Faggin was upset about Intel's new requirement that employees had to arrive by eight in the morning, while he usually worked nights. Soon after leaving Intel and forming Zilog, Faggin was approached by Exxon Enterprises, the investment arm of Exxon, which began funding Zilog in 1975."
Education

The Future Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher 215

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-don't-need-no-education dept.
An anonymous reader writes: English teacher Michael Godsey writes in The Atlantic what he envisions the role of teachers to be in the future. In a nutshell, he sees virtual classrooms, less pay, and a drastic decrease in the number of educators, but thinks they will all be "super-teachers". From the article: "Whenever a college student asks me, a veteran high-school English educator, about the prospects of becoming a public-school teacher, I never think it's enough to say that the role is shifting from 'content expert' to 'curriculum facilitator.' Instead, I describe what I think the public-school classroom will look like in 20 years, with a large, fantastic computer screen at the front, streaming one of the nation's most engaging, informative lessons available on a particular topic. The 'virtual class' will be introduced, guided, and curated by one of the country's best teachers (a.k.a. a "super-teacher"), and it will include professionally produced footage of current events, relevant excerpts from powerful TedTalks, interactive games students can play against other students nationwide, and a formal assessment that the computer will immediately score and record.

I tell this college student that in each classroom, there will be a local teacher-facilitator (called a 'tech') to make sure that the equipment works and the students behave. Since the 'tech' won't require the extensive education and training of today's teachers, the teacher's union will fall apart, and that "tech" will earn about $15 an hour to facilitate a class of what could include over 50 students. This new progressive system will be justified and supported by the American public for several reasons: Each lesson will be among the most interesting and efficient lessons in the world; millions of dollars will be saved in reduced teacher salaries; the 'techs' can specialize in classroom management; performance data will be standardized and immediately produced (and therefore 'individualized'); and the country will finally achieve equity in its public school system."
United States

Officials Say Russian Hackers Read Obama's Unclassified Emails 80

Posted by samzenpus
from the lets-have-a-look dept.
An anonymous reader points out that Russian hackers reportedly obtained some of President Obama’s emails when the White House’s unclassified computer system was hacked last year. Some of President Obama's email correspondence was swept up by Russian hackers last year in a breach of the White House's unclassified computer system that was far more intrusive and worrisome than has been publicly acknowledged, according to senior American officials briefed on the investigation. The hackers, who also got deeply into the State Department's unclassified system, do not appear to have penetrated closely guarded servers that control the message traffic from Mr. Obama's BlackBerry, which he or an aide carries constantly. But they obtained access to the email archives of people inside the White House, and perhaps some outside, with whom Mr. Obama regularly communicated. From those accounts, they reached emails that the president had sent and received, according to officials briefed on the investigation.
Google

Google Executive Dan Fredinburg Among Victims of Everest avalanche 135

Posted by samzenpus
from the rest-in-peace dept.
alphadogg writes: Dan Fredinburg, privacy director for the company's Google X team, and an engineer who worked on many of Google's most exciting projects during his 8 years with the company, died over the weekend in an avalanche on Mount Everest. The 33-year-old worked on projects such as Google Loon, the company's balloon-based Internet access effort and self-driving car. He also was involved in Google Street View Everest, leading expeditions to gather imagery of the Khumbu region around Mt. Everest. Fredinburg's career began in a much less glamorous fashion as a "dock rat" and as a farm hand in Arkansas.
Earth

Seeing Buildings Shake With Software 18

Posted by samzenpus
from the whole-lot-of-shaking-going-on dept.
mikejuk writes: In 2012 a team from MIT CSAIL discovered that you could get motion magnification by applying filtering algorithms to the color changes of individual pixels. The method didn't track movement directly, but instead used the color changes that result from the movement. Now another MIT team has attempted to put the technique to use in monitoring structures — to directly see the vibrations in buildings, bridges and other constructions. Currently such monitoring involves instrumenting the building with accelerometers. This is expensive and doesn't generally give a complete "picture" of what is happening to the building. It would be much simpler to point a video camera at the building and use motion magnification software to really see the vibrations and this is exactly what the team is trying out. Yes you can see the building move — in real time — and it seems to be a good match to what traditional monitoring methods say is happening. The next stage is to use the method to monitor MIT's Green Building, the Zakim Bridge and the John Hancock Tower in Boston.
Intel

Intel Showcases RealSense 3D Camera Applications and Technologies In New York 17

Posted by samzenpus
from the showing-it-off dept.
MojoKid writes: Intel gathered a number of its OEM and software partners together in New York City recently to showcase the latest innovations that the company's RealSense 3D camera technology can enable. From new interactive gaming experiences to video collaboration, 3D mapping and gesture controls, Intel's front-facing RealSense technology holds promise that could someday reinvent how we interact with PCs. The F200 RealSense camera module itself integrates a depth sensor and a full color 1080p HD camera together with standard technologies like dual array mics, but with an SDK, on-board processing engine and 3rd party software that can allow the camera module to sense numerous environmental variables, much more like a human does. In the demos that were shown, RealSense was used to create an accurate 3D map of a face, in a matter of seconds, track gestures and respond to voice commands, allow touch-free interaction in a game, and remove backgrounds from a video feed in real-time, for more efficient video conferencing and collaboration.
Space

Cosmologists Find Eleven Runaway Galaxies 52

Posted by samzenpus
from the I'm-outta-here dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Discovery News reports that 11 homeless galaxies have been identified by Igor Chilingarian, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and Moscow State University, and his fellow astronomers. "The 11 runaway galaxies were found by chance while Chilingarian and co-investigator Ivan Zolotukhin, of the L'Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie and Moscow State University, were scouring publicly-available data (via the Virtual Observatory) from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the GALEX satellite for compact elliptical galaxies."
Government

Woman Behind Pakistan's First Hackathon, Sabeen Mahmud, Shot Dead 392

Posted by samzenpus
from the trying-to-silence-the-future dept.
An anonymous reader sends word that Sabeen Mahmud, a prominent Pakistani social and human rights activist, has been shot dead. The progressive activist and organizer who ran Pakistan's first-ever hackathon and led a human rights and a peace-focused nonprofit known as The Second Floor (T2F) was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Karachi. Sabeen Mahmud was leaving the T2F offices with her mother some time after 9pm on Friday evening, reports the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. She was on her way home when she was shot, the paper reports. Her mother also sustained bullet wounds and is currently being treated at a hospital; she is said to be in critical condition.
Businesses

Apple's Next Frontier Is Your Body 87

Posted by samzenpus
from the i-and-you dept.
Lashdots writes: Amid the unveiling of the Apple Watch, Tim Cook's wrist distracted from another new product last month: ResearchKit, an open source iOS platform designed to help researchers design apps for medical studies—and reach millions of potential research subjects through their iPhones. Alongside the company's new frontiers, like the car and the home, Cook told Jim Cramer last month that health "may be the biggest one of all." As Fast Company reports, Cook says Apple's devices could could help pinpoint diseases within decades—and position the company at the center of a "significantly underestimated" mobile-health industry.
Facebook

Nepal Earthquake: Facebook To Google, How Tech Is Helping Survivors Reach Out 39

Posted by samzenpus
from the safe-status-update dept.
An anonymous reader writes: In the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Nepal, many social media sites and mobile applications have come up with features that could help locate friends and loved ones. From the Times of India: "Social networking website Facebook, and Google's Person Finder have helped locate the whereabouts of those stranded in quake-hit areas. For instance, members of one Himmatramka family residing in Birgunj in Nepal marked themselves safe on Facebook. 'Our relatives back in India were worried about our safety. So, we marked ourselves safe to inform them,' said Nitesh Himmatramka.
Robotics

Tiny Robots Climb Walls Carrying More Than 100 Times Their Weight 17

Posted by samzenpus
from the carrying-a-heavy-load dept.
schwit1 writes: Mighty things come in small packages. The little robots in this video can haul things that weigh over 100 times more than themselves. The super-strong bots — built by mechanical engineers at Stanford — will be presented next month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle, Washington. The secret is in the adhesives on the robots' feet. Their design is inspired by geckos, which have climbing skills that are legendary in the animal kingdom. The adhesives are covered in minute rubber spikes that grip firmly onto the wall as the robot climbs. When pressure is applied, the spikes bend, increasing their surface area and thus their stickiness. When the robot picks its foot back up, the spikes straighten out again and detach easily.