Ford's Badly Needed Plan To Catch Up On Hybrid, Electric Cars ( 105

Ford supposedly has a plan to adapt to the changing world of transportation. The company recently announced that it's "going all-in on hybrids," readying six new battery electric vehicles by 2022, with the first due in 2020, and adding more performance versions of its SUV line up. "Additionally, by the end of 2019, every new Ford will have 4G LTE connectivity, and the company is developing a new cloud platform that will deliver over-the-air updates," reports Ars Technica. From the report: New hybrids: "Hybrids for years have been mostly niche products but are now on the cusp of a mainstream breakout," said Jim Farley, Ford president of global markets. "The valuable capability they offer -- plus fuel efficiency -- is why we're going to offer hybrid variants of our most popular and high-volume vehicles, allowing our loyal, passionate customers to become advocates for the technology." So America's best-selling truck (the F-150) will get the ability to act as a mobile generator, something that should come in handy on job sites. Meanwhile, the Mustang will have performance to match the 5.0L V8 version but with more low-down torque, according to Ford. The company says that these new hybrids will be cheaper and more efficient than its current hybrids, via "common cell and component design and by manufacturing motors, transmissions, and battery packs."

New BEVs: We have to wait for those new BEVs, too. The first of these -- an electric performance SUV -- also shows up in 2020, but with five more planned between then and 2022. Ford says that it's "rethinking the ownership experience" as part of this and that over-the-air software updates to add new features will be part of the $11 billion investment plan.

More SUVs, more commercial vehicles, a super Mustang: Other new vehicles on the way include a reborn Ford Bronco SUV and an as-yet unnamed small SUV, but before then we'll get redesigned Explorers and Escapes, due in 2019. Next year, Ford will also bring a new Transit van to the US, and it says advanced driver-assistance systems, like automatic emergency braking and others, will be added to future commercial vehicles like the future E-Series, F-650, F-750, and F59-based vehicles.


Amazon Alexa's 'Brief Mode' Makes the Digital Assistant Way Less Chatty ( 19

A new update is rolling out to Amazon Echo devices that gives users the option to make Alexa respond with a short, beeping sound rather than her customary "OK." Reddit users reported seeing the new feature this week. CNET reports: You access the Brief Mode in the Amazon Alexa app's Settings Menu under "Alexa Voice Responses." You can also ask your Alexa-enabled device to turn on the Brief Mode. Once the setting is enabled, you can ask Alexa to control devices to which she is connected and she will respond with beeps rather than "OK" to let you know that she received and completed the task. Don't want to completely quiet Alexa down? Amazon also rolled out a "Follow-Up Mode" last week that's designed to let you will let you talk to Alexa more naturally. That mode will let you make successive requests without needing to use Alexa's wake word between each command.

Amazon Is Hiring More Developers For Alexa Than Google Is Hiring For Everything ( 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gadgets Now: Amazon is hiring 1,147 people just for its Alexa business. To put this number in perspective, it has to be mentioned that this number is higher than what Google is hiring for technical and product roles across its Alphabet group of companies including YouTube and Waymo. According to a report published in Forbes, Amazon is hiring engineers, data scientists, developers, analysts, payment services professionals among others. The Forbes report cites information released by Citi Research in association with It's clear that Amazon is betting big on the smartphone speaker market if the hiring numbers are to go by. It was the first major company to come with a smart speaker and has almost 70% market share in the U.S. Google has been making in-roads with Google Home devices but still has a lot of catching up to do. The Citi report further mentions that other notable areas where Amazon is hiring are devices, advertising and seller services. Amazon is looking at hiring a total of about 1,700 employees for other divisions.
Data Storage

Power Outage At Samsung's Fab Destroys 3.5 Percent of Global NAND Flash Output ( 91

An anonymous reader quotes a report from AnandTech: A half-hour power outage at Samsung's fab near Pyeongtaek, South Korea, disrupted production and damaged tens of thousands of processed wafers. Media reports claim that the outage destroyed as much as 3.5% of the global NAND supply for March, which may have an effect on flash memory pricing in the coming weeks. The outage happened on March 9 and lasted for about 30 minutes, according to a news story from Taiwain-based TechNews that cites further South Korean reports. The report claims that the outage damaged 50,000 to 60,000 of wafers with V-NAND flash memory, which represent 11% of Samsung's monthly output. The report further estimates that the said amount equates to approximately 3.5% of global NAND output, but does not elaborate whether it means wafer output or bit output. Samsung uses its fab near Pyeongtaek to produce 64-layer V-NAND chips used for various applications. The fab is among the largest flash production facilities in the world and therefore any disruption there has an effect on the global output of non-volatile memory. Meanwhile, since production lines have not been damaged and the fab is back online, the significance of such an effect is limited.

Intel Says 'Partitions' in New Chips Will Correct the Design Flaw that Created Spectre and Meltdown ( 67

Intel said on Thursday it is introducing hardware protections against the Spectre CPU flaw that was discovered last year. From a report: Starting with the Cascade Lake version of its Xeon server processors later this year, Intel will incorporate "protective walls" in its hardware that prevent malicious hackers from using speculative execution techniques to steal private information from the secure part of the processor. These fixes will also ship with the PC version of the Cascade Lake chips, but the tech industry has been much more concerned about the effect of these design flaws on server processors running in data centers and cloud vendors.

The new fixes allow Intel to still benefit from the performance advantages of speculative execution -- in which a processor guesses which upcoming instructions it will need to execute in order to speed things up -- without the security risks. The hardware changes address Variants 2 and 3 of the Spectre and Meltdown issues first disclosed in early January, and software fixes should continue to address Variant 1, Intel said.


Samsung Will Begin Offering Same-Day Repairs On Galaxy Phones This Week ( 19

hyperclocker shares a report from BGR: Samsung announced on Wednesday that it is partnering with uBreakiFix to bring same-day, in-person phone repairs to Galaxy device owners across the United States. Starting on March 15th, Samsung customers will be able to bring their phones to any of more than 300 uBreakiFix service locations and have their devices repaired on the spot and usually within two hours or less. Samsung plans to expand the program throughout 2018 as well. Galaxy owners will have the option to either schedule an appointment at a uBreakiFix location, or just drop the phone off without calling ahead. Samsung assures customers that all uBreakiFix repair centers will have genuine Samsung parts, proprietary Samsung tools for the repairs, and conduct repairs by Samsung certified pros.

Jewelry Site Leaks Personal Details, Plaintext Passwords of 1.3 Million Users ( 37

Chicago-based MBM Company's jewelry brand Limoges Jewelry has accidentally leaked the personal information for over 1.3 million people. This includes addresses, zip-codes, e-mail addresses, and IP addresses. The Germany security firm Kromtech Security, which found the leak via an unsecured Amazon S3 storage bucket, also claims the database contained plaintext passwords. The Next Web reports: In a press release, Kromtech Security's head of communicationis, Bob Diachenko, said: "Passwords were stored in the plain text, which is great negligence [sic], taking into account the problem with many users re-using passwords for multiple accounts, including email accounts." The [MSSQL database] backup file was named "MBMWEB_backup_2018_01_13_003008_2864410.bak," which suggests the file was created on January 13, 2018. It's believed to contain current information about the company's customers. Records held in the database have dates reaching as far back as 2000. The latest records are from the start of this year. Other records held in the database include internal mailing lists, promo-codes, and item orders, which leads Kromtech to believe that this could be the primary customer database for the company. Diachenko says there's no evidence a malicious third-party has accessed the dump, but that "that does not mean that nobody [has] accessed the data."

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ Launched ( 160

New submitter stikves writes: The Raspberry foundation has launched an incremental update to the Raspberry Pi 3 model B: Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ . In addition to slight increase (200MHz) in CPU speed, and upgraded networking (802.11ac and Gigabit, albeit over USB2), one big advantage is the better thermal management which allows sustained performance over longer load periods. Further reading: TechRepublic, and Linux Journal.

Amazon Recalls 260,000 Portable Power Banks For Fire Hazard ( 31

Amazon is recalling 260,000 AmazonBasics portable power banks that can "overheat and ignite," according to a release by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The company has received more than 50 reports of the power banks overheating in the U.S., causing chemical burns and property damage. CNBC reports: "Consumers should immediately unplug and stop using the recalled power banks and contact Amazon for instructions on how to return the unit and receive a full refund," the release says. Amazon is contacting everyone who purchased one of the affected devices. The recall covers six versions of the AmazonBasics portable battery: 16,100 mAh; 10,000 mAh; 5,600 mAh; 2,000 mAh with micro USB cable; 3,000 mAh; and 3,000 mAh with USB micro cable.

Apple Is Letting Companies Make 3.5mm To Lightning Cables Now ( 109

Apple has updated the specs for its Made-For-iPhone accessories program, letting accessory makers put USB-C ports on licensed devices, as well as create 3.5mm to Lightning cables for the first time. 9to5Mac reports: With the new specs, companies in the MFi program can now include USB-C receptacles on their officially certified iOS and Mac accessories for charging. That allows users to charge MFi accessories with a USB-C cable and or power adapter they might already have, for example, and also draw power from the USB port on a Mac using the same cable. It also has other advantages for manufacturers. Apple's documentation for the new specs lists battery packs and speakers as products that could benefit from using a USB-C receptacle. Products are also allowed to bundle USB-C cables with the MFi accessories, but manufacturers can opt to not include a cable or adapter and reduce their costs and or price in the process. Unlike with Lightning receptacles, Apple does not allow the port to be used for passthrough charging or sync of an iOS device. Also, new for accessory makers is the ability to create a Lightning to 3.5mm stereo analog audio output plug, which would allow users to go direct from the Lightning port to a 3.5mm input on another device.

Google To Reveal 'World's Highest Resolution OLED-On-Glass Display' For VR Headsets ( 77

An anonymous reader writes: Last year at SID Display Week 2017, Google's VP of VR/AR teased a "secret project" that the company was working on -- a VR-optimized OLED panel capable of 20 megapixels per eye -- which was being undertaken with "one of the leading OLED manufacturers." This year, the schedule for SID Display Week 2018 indicates that Google plans to reveal its made-for-VR panel on May 22nd, which it calls the "world's highest resolution (18 megapixel, 1443 ppi) OLED-on-glass display." The company plans to detail the display in a presentation at the event, which will be co-presented with engineers from LG, suggesting the identity of the second partner on the project. Ideal for VR, the 4.3-inch panel is capable of 120Hz refresh rate and is expected to have a resolution of some 5,500 by 3,000, representing a massive leap over today's leading VR panels which offer 1,600 by 1,440 resolutions at 90Hz.

ACLU Sues TSA Over Electronic Device Searches ( 115

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration over its alleged practices of searching the electronic devices of passengers traveling on domestic flights. "The federal government's policies on searching the phones, laptops, and tablets of domestic air passengers remain shrouded in secrecy," ACLU Foundation of Northern California attorney Vasudha Talla said in a blog post. "TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search," Talla added. "We don't know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don't know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices. Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant." TechCrunch reports: The lawsuit, which is directed toward the TSA field offices in San Francisco and its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, specifically asks the TSA to hand over records related to its policies, procedures and/or protocols pertaining to the search of electronic devices. This lawsuit comes after a number of reports came in pertaining to the searches of electronic devices of passengers traveling domestically. The ACLU also wants to know what equipment the TSA uses to search, examine and extract any data from passengers' devices, as well as what kind of training TSA officers receive around screening and searching the devices. The ACLU says it first filed FOIA requests back in December, but TSA "subsequently improperly withheld the requested records," the ACLU wrote in a blog post today.

Tesla Raises Prices At Its Supercharger Stations 166

Tesla is increasing the cost of the paid Supercharger access, but a spokesperson for the company says that it "will never be a profit center." Electrek reports: When introducing the program, Tesla said that it aimed to still make the cost of Supercharging cheaper than gasoline and that it doesn't aim to make its Supercharger network a profit center. Instead, they want to use the money to keep growing the network which now consists of over 1,180 stations and close to 9,000 Superchargers. But this week, the rates were updated across the U.S. Some states saw massive increases of as much as 100 percent -- though most regions saw their rates increase by 20 to 40 percent. For example, Oregon saw an increase of $0.12 to $0.24 per kWh, while California, Tesla's biggest market in the U.S., got an increase from $0.20 to $0.26 kWh and New York's rate went from $0.19 to $0.24 per kWh. A spokesperson for Tesla said in a statement: "We occasionally adjust rates to reflect current local electricity and usage. The overriding principle is that Supercharging will always remain significantly cheaper than gasoline, as we only aim to recover a portion of our costs while setting up a fair system for everyone. This will never be a profit center for Tesla."

University of Arizona Tracks Student ID Card Swipes To Detect Who Might Drop Out ( 103

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The University of Arizona is tracking freshman students' ID card swipes to anticipate which students are more likely to drop out. University researchers hope to use the data to lower dropout rates. (Dropping out refers to those who have left higher-education entirely and those who transfer to other colleges.) The card data tells researchers how frequently a student has entered a residence hall, library, and the student recreation center, which includes a salon, convenience store, mail room, and movie theater. The cards are also used for buying vending machine snacks and more, putting the total number of locations near 700. There's a sensor embedded in the CatCard student IDs, which are given to every student attending the university. Researchers have gathered freshman data over a three-year time frame so far, and they found that their predictions for who is more likely to drop out are 73 percent accurate. They also have plans to give academic advisers an online dashboard to look at student data in real time. "By getting their digital traces, you can explore their patterns of movement, behavior and interactions, and that tells you a great deal about them," Sudha Ram, a professor of management information systems who directs the initiative, said in a press release.

Apple Must Explain Why It Doesn't Want You To Fix Your Own iPhone, California Lawmaker Says ( 195

A California state lawmaker says she hopes to make Apple explain specifically why it has opposed and lobbied against legislation that would make it easier for you to repair your iPhone and other electronics. Motherboard reports: Last week, California assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman announced that she plans to introduce right to repair legislation in the state, which would require companies like Apple, Microsoft, John Deere, and Samsung to sell replacement parts and repair tools, make repair guides available to the public, and would require companies to make diagnostic software available to independent shops. Public records show that Apple has lobbied against right to repair legislation in New York, and my previous reporting has shown that Apple has privately asked lawmakers to kill legislation in places like Nebraska. To this point, the company has largely used its membership in trade organizations such as CompTIA and the Consumer Technology Association to publicly oppose the bill. But with the right to repair debate coming to Apple's home state, Talamantes-Eggman says she expects the company to show up to hearings about the bill.

"Apple is a very important company in the state of California, and one I have a huge amount of respect for. But the onus is on them to explain why we can't repair our own things and what damage or danger it causes them," Talamantes-Eggman told me in a phone interview. Talamantes-Eggman told me that the bill she plans to introduce will apply to both consumer electronics as well as agricultural equipment such as tractors. Broadly speaking, the electronics industry has decided to go with an "authorized repair" model in which companies pay the original device manufacturer to become authorized to fix devices.

Hardware Hacking

ESR's Newest Project: An Open Hardware/Open Source UPS ( 231

An anonymous reader writes: Last month Eric S. Raymond complained about his choices for a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply), adding that "This whole category begs to be disrupted by an open-hardware [and open-source] design that could be assembled cheaply in a makerspace from off-the-shelf components, an Arduino-class microcontroller, and a PROM...because it's possible, and otherwise the incentives on the vendors won't change." It could be designed to work with longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly batteries, using "EV-style intelligent battery-current sensors to enable accurate projection of battery performance" (along with a text-based alert system and a USB monitoring port).

Calling the response "astonishing," Raymond noted the emergence within a week of "the outlines of a coherent design," and in an update on GitLab reported that "The response on my blog and G+ was intense, almost overwhelming. It seems many UPS users are unhappy with what the vendors are pushing" -- and thus, the UPSide project was launched. "We welcome contributors: people with interest in UPSes who have expertise in battery technology, power-switching electronics, writing device-control firmware, relevant standards such as USB and the DMTF battery-management profile. We also welcome participation from established UPS and electronics vendors. We know that consumer electronics is a cutthroat low-margin business in which it's tough to support a real R&D team or make possibly-risky product bets. Help us, and then let us help you!"

There's already a Wiki with design documents -- plus a process document -- and Raymond says the project now even has a hardware lead with 30 years experience as a power and signals engineer, plus "a really sharp dev group. Half a dozen experts have shown up to help spec this thing, critique the design docs, and explain EE things to ignorant me." And he's already touting "industry participation! We have a friendly observer who's the lead software architect for one of the major UPS vendors." Earlier Raymond identified his role as "basically, product manager -- keeper of the requirements list and recruiter of talent" -- though he admits on his blog that he's already used a "cute hack" to create a state/action diagram for the system, "by writing a DSL to generate code in another DSL and provably correct equivalent C application logic."

He adds to readers of the blog that if that seems weird to you, "you must be new here."


MIT Plans To Build Nuclear Fusion Plant By 2033 167

Mallory Locklear reports via Engadget: MIT announced yesterday that it and Commonwealth Fusion Systems -- an MIT spinoff -- are working on a project that aims to make harvesting energy from nuclear fusion a reality within the next 15 years. The ultimate goal is to develop a 200-megawatt power plant. MIT also announced that Italian energy firm ENI has invested $50 million towards the project, $30 million of which will be applied to research and development at MIT over the next three years. MIT and CFS plan to use newly available superconducting materials to develop large electromagnets that can produce fields four-times stronger than any being used now. The stronger magnetic fields will allow for more power to be generated resulting in, importantly, positive net energy. The method will hopefully allow for cheaper and smaller reactors. The research team aims to develop a prototype reactor within the next 10 years, followed by a 200-megawatt pilot power plant.

'Flippy,' the Fast Food Robot, Turned Off For Being Too Slow ( 126

He was supposed to revolutionize a California fast food kitchen, churning out 150 burgers per hour without requiring a paycheck or benefits. But after a single day of working as a cook at a Caliburger location in Pasadena this week, Flippy the burger-flipping robot has stopped flipping. From a report: In some ways, Flippy was a victim of his own success. Inundated with customers eager to see the machine in action this week, Cali Group, which runs the fast food chain, quickly realized the robot couldn't keep up with the demand. They decided instead to retrain the restaurant staff to work more efficiently alongside Flippy, according to USA Today. Temporarily decommissioned, patrons encountered a sign Thursday noting that Flippy would be "cooking soon," the paper reported. "Mostly it's the timing," Anthony Lomelino, the Chief Technology Officer for Cali Group told the paper. "When you're in the back, working with people, you talk to each other. With Flippy, you kind of need to work around his schedule. Choreographing the movements of what you do, when and how you do it."

Apple Files Patent For a Crumb-Resistant MacBook Keyboard ( 91

According to a patent application made public on Thursday, March 8, Apple could be developing a new MacBook keyboard designed to prevent crumbs and dust from getting those super-shallow MacBook keys stuck. "Liquid ingress around the keys into the keyboard can damage electronics. Residues from such liquids may corrode or block electrical contacts, getting in the way of key movement and so on," the patent application reads. Digital Trends reports: The application goes on to describe how those problems might be remedied: With the careful application of gaskets, brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps beneath keycaps. One solution would include a membrane beneath each key, effectively insulating the interior of the keyboard from the exterior, while another describes using each keypress as a "bellows" to force contaminants out of the keyboard. "A keyboard assembly [could include] a substrate, a key cap, and a guard structure extending from the key cap that funnels contaminants away from the movement mechanism," the patent application reads.

Intel Launches Mainstream Optane SSD 800P Series Based On 3D Xpoint Memory ( 36

MojoKid writes: Intel just launched a new family of consumer-targeted Optane solid state drives today, dubbed the Intel Optane SSD 800P. Unlike Intel Optane Memory sticks, which accelerate hybrid storage configurations with hard drives through intelligent data caching, or Intel's flagship Optane SSD 900P that's aimed squarely at hardcore enthusiasts with big budgets, these M.2 form factor Intel Optane 800P SSDs target the meat of the mobile and desktop markets, with higher capacities than Optane Memory but more affordable pricing than the 900P. In the benchmarks, the Optane SSD 800P series drives offered a mixed-bag of performance, with sequential transfers that top out at about 1.4GB/s, but with small file transfers, 4K random and mixed workloads, latency, and overall QoS looking strong. Intel will initially be offering two drives in the Optane SSD 800P series, with M.2 80mm 58GB and 118GB models. Suggested pricing for the drives is $129 for the 58GB capacity and $199 for the 118GB drive.

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