Samsung Developing Low-Cost 14nm and High-Performance 10nm Processes

Samsung has revealed its foundry’s roadmap for the next few years, which includes the development of a low-cost 14nm FinFET process (14LPC), with hopes that it can pass on those savings to its customers, and a new 10nm process (10LPP) that increases performance by up to 10% over its previous 10LPE process.

Samsung foundry’s process technology roadmap for the coming years includes:

  • 28nm: addition of RF and eNVM technology to our 28FDS baseline.  RF will be available this year and eNVM will be rolled out in phases in 2017 and 2018;
  • 14nm: 3rd generation 14LPC offering which provides a lower cost option, without design rule changes or performance sacrifice.  To enable connectivity features, we are also introducing RF add-on to 14LPC this year.  We have also expanded solutions on our 14nm FinFET to cover product applications in the Networking/Server and Automotive segments;
  • 10nm:  2nd generation 10nm with higher performance over 10LPE will be introduced.  We call this 10LPP.  10LPP will come with 10% speed boost, maintaining design results with 10LPE;
  • 7nm: we have already begun work on our cost optimized 7LPP node which comes with very competitive PPA scaling;
  • 8” matured node: keeping in mind there are still ample of new designs and applications that can take advantage of 8in technology, we are opening up our differentiated 8in technologies ranging from 180nm to 65nm, covering eFlash, Power devices, Image sensors and High voltage processes.

“There are always concerns about trading off cost versus performance,” Kelvin Low, Samsung’s Senior Director of Foundry Marketing, told EE Times. “LPC has the same PDK of [14nm] LPP. The number of steps has been reduced […]That allows us to achieve a lower cost point on manufacturing and we decide to share that with our customers.”

“We think 10nm will be a much longer node than other foundries are claiming it will be. We think 7nm has to be defined and optimized to be cost effective to the masses, not just the high margin products,” he added. “EUV is an important enabler for a 7m cost affordable node.”

Surprise Telsa Rival Emerges from China

A wild Tesla rival appeared! From nowhere, Chinese electronics company LeEco has unveiled its first electric car, designed to be a direct rival to Tesla Motors’ Model S electric sedan, while adding more self-driving and connectivity features

The vehicle, called the LeSEE (a name that gives me unpleasant flashbacks to Final Fantasy XIII), is only a concept car for the time being, but the ambitious company hopes it will help usher in an age of Chinese dominance in the electric car market, with a number of other local companies set to launch battery-powered cars in the next few years.

“When everyone is questioning us over our ability to develop a car like this and is laughing at us, we are still able to be here and show you this car […] I am so emotional,” said an excited Jia Yueting, co-founder and CEO of LeEco, at a launch event in Beijing on Wednesday (via Reuters).

Jia even claims that LeEco hopes to give its electric cars away for free one day, making its money back on ads delivered to the vehicles through its connectivity platform.

“Our cars’ pricing model will be similar to pricing models for cellphones and TV sets we sell today,” he said. “One day our cars will be free […] We are getting there some day.”

SEGA Launches Mega Drive Classics Hub on Steam

I wish I still had my old SEGA Mega Drive (that’s a Genesis to readers from the Americas). I miss it. But, while I search for an acceptable replacement for my childhood console on eBay, SEGA has been kind enough to launch a new Mega Drive emulator on Steam, bringing with it a whole host of classic games from the early-Nineties.

“The SEGA Mega Drive Classics Hub will be launching on Steam April 28th as a free update & there’s no need to purchase games you already own on Steam to use it,” SEGA has announced.

“The new-look system is based on a bedroom of an early nineties SEGA fan with dynamic time-of-day conditions, retro SEGA paraphernalia, a shelf full of MEGA Drive games (including the ones you own) and of course a CRT TV,” according to SEGA. “That’s not all, every single MEGA Drive game will now feature Steam Workshop support allowing you share modified versions of your favourite retro SEGA titles.”

The SEGA Mega Drive Classics Hub features:

  • Spot-on emulation;
  • Local co-op for games that support it;
  • Optional graphic enhancement filters;
  • The ability to save at any point in the gameplay;
  • Full controller / keyboard support.

Games available for the SEGA Mega Drive Classics Hub include the Streets of Rage trilogy, Ecco the Dolphin, Altered Beast, and forgotten RPG classic Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole.

Opera Browser Introduces Free Integrated VPN

Norwegian internet browser Opera now includes a free, unlimited VPN natively, meaning that its users “don’t have to download VPN extensions or pay for VPN subscriptions to access blocked websites and to shield your browsing when on public Wi-Fi,” according to the official announcement.

Opera’s blog post reads:

According to Global Web Index*, more than half a billion people (24% of the world’s internet population) have tried or are currently using VPN services. According to the research, the primary reasons for people to use a VPN are:

  • To access better entertainment content (38%)
  • To keep anonymity while browsing (30%)
  • To access restricted networks and sites in my country (28%)
  • To access restricted sites at work (27%)
  • To communicate with friends/family abroad (24%)
  • To access restricted news websites in my country (22%)

According to the research, young people are leading the way when it comes to VPN usage, with almost one third of people between 16-34 having used a VPN.

The in-browser VPN is only available as part of the most recent developer version, but set to arrive in the release version following successful testing and refinement.

Opera’s in-browser VPN follows its native ad-blocker, released as part of its last developer version last month, in an effort to centralise its user’s needs in one package.

Opera 38 developer version can be downloaded here.

Google Testing 3.5GHz WiFi in Kansas City

Google has been granted approval to test its new 3.5GHz wireless technology within Kansas City, Missouri, using antennae mounted on street lights and other structures to deliver high-speed WiFi to eight areas within the city.

“3.5GHz is pretty innovative and could help Google create a city wide broadband network in KC,” said Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told Computer World.

The trial – part of the Federal Communications Committee’s (FCC) Citizens Broadband Radio Service, which aims to deliver 3.5GHz “innovation band” WiFi to cities across the US, using dynamic spectrum sharing – is set to last up to 18 months and will be placed in areas that cannot be practically reached by Google Fiber connections.

“If Google is successful in the 3.5GHz test and goes on to provide commercial services, KC will become the most wirelessly connected gigabit region to benefit from new advanced wireless services,” Assistant City Manager Rick Usher said.

The Kansas City Council voted 11-2 in favour of the 3.5GHz WiFi trial, with Google granted a discounted rate for maintaining the network during the test period.

“Shared spectrum in the 3.5GHz space has the potential to reduce costs and assist in our efforts to erase the digital divide in KC,” Usher added. “Wireless connectivity is a critical element of smart city success due to the massive amount of data generated and utilized in the networks.”

Apple Denies Handing Over Source Code to China

During an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing earlier this week, entitled “Deciphering the Debate Over Encryption: Industry and Law Enforcement Perspectives,” which discussed the feud between Apple and the FBI over an iPhone tied to the San Bernardino shootings, Indiana State Police Captain Charles Cohen, Commander of the Office of Intelligence and Investigative Technologies, accused the Cupertino company of releasing its iOS source code and user data to China, while refusing to do the same thing for the US.

“I saw several news stories that said Apple provided the source code for the iOS [operating system for iPhone and iPads] to China,” Cohen said.

Following Cohen’s claims, for which he provided no evidence, Bruce Sewell, Apple’s General Counsel, confirmed that the company had “been asked by the Chinese government” for the source code, but that “we refused.”

Apple was also accused of possessing a key to access encrypted user messages and data – which would mean the company’s claims of end-to-end encryption were fraudulent – which it disposed of at the end of 2014.

“We have not provided source code to the Chinese government,” Sewell countered. “We did not have a key 19 months ago that we threw away. Those allegations are without merit.”

Image courtesy of Shelley Palmer.

Apple Pays $25m to Patent Troll

Apple has paid a “patent troll” $24.9 million to settle a lawsuit alleging infringement over its Siri personal assistant. The payment will be split between the Marathon Patent Group – a business whose stock in trade is exploiting patent licences to file lawsuits against infringing companies – and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), from where a professor and student claim they invented the voice recognition and response system that Apple has implemented in Siri.

US Patent No. 7,177,798 describes a “method for processing natural language input,” using a database containing “case information, keywords, information models, and database values.” The lawsuit [PDF] alleged that Siri “processes natural language” in exactly the manner outlined in the patent.

Drs. Cheng Hsu and Veera Boonjing – the former a Professor of Decision Sciences and Engineering at RPI, and latter being a doctoral student at the time the patent was filed in 2000 – assigned their patent to the university, as is the common practice for inventions developed within academic facilities. Professional patent troll Marathon Patent Group – was made aware of the filing via its subsidiary Dynamic Advances and used it to file a lawsuit on behalf of RPI, taking half of any award in return.

“Apple encourages consumers to use Siri as claimed in the ’798 Patent and, in fact, has entire webpages devoted to teaching consumers the benefits of using Siri to process natural language inputs, how to use Siri to process natural language inputs, and encouraging them to buy Apple products so they can use Siri to process natural language inputs,” according to the filed lawsuit.

The plaintiffs were successful, settling the case with Apple for $24.9 million, though reports suggest that RPI was eager to hold out for more money.

“Dynamic Advances believes RPI has unreasonably withheld its consent to the reasonable royalty rate set forth in the settlement agreement between Dynamic Advances and Apple, and that issue may have to be resolved in arbitration,” the company stated.

For Dynamic Advances, though, Apple is but its first victim – the company “believes that other voice recognition products infringe the ‘798 patent.” Is a suit against Microsoft’s Cortana set to follow?

Apple Poaches Telsa’s Engineering VP

Apple, hard at work developing its own electric car – codenamed Project Titan, and rumoured to be undergoing R&D at a secret facility in Berlin, Germany – has poached Telsa Motors’ Vice President of Engineering Chris Porritt to work on a “special project”, according to Electrek. I wonder what that could be..?

The move follows reports that former Project Titan lead Steve Zadesky has left Apple, with Porritt appearing to be his natural replacement. Porritt’s CV includes a stint as Aston Martin’s Chief Engineer, a period during which he helped develop the One-77 supercar, V12 Zagato, and Aston Martin DB9 before leaving in 2013. Do you know who one of the biggest Aston Martin fanboys is? Jony Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer, who famously owns both a DB9 and a Vanquish.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has previously joked about his company’s employees moving to Apple, calling the company the “Tesla graveyard”.

“They have hired people we’ve fired,” Musk said. “We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’ If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple. I’m not kidding.”

While much of the design work for the Apple Car is said to be handled from its Cupertino headquarters, the Berlin lab is handling the development side, while the vehicle is due to be built in Austria by automotive engineering outfit Magna Steyr. The car is expected to hit the market in either 2019 or 2020.

Journalist Files FOIA Request for Obama’s Game of Thrones Screeners

The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was designed to facilitate transparency in matters of government, allowing members of the public to access to Federal agency records in order to hold the ruling classes accountable. An American journalist, though, is seeking to push the boundaries of the FOIA (or exploit them, depending on your perspective) to get her hands on episodes of the new season of Game of Thrones, set to premiere this Sunday (24th April).

Last week, Game of Thrones co-creator D.B. Weiss let slip that President Barack Obama was in possession of a number of episode screeners for new season, the only person outside of HBO allowed to see them. “He’s the leader of the free world,” Weiss revealed. “When the commander-in-chief says, ‘I want to see advanced episodes,’ what are you gonna do?”

Armed with this knowledge, Refinery29 writer Vanessa Golembewski decided to “test the limits of the Freedom of Information Act.” As she puts it, “If the president — and by extension, our government — is in possession of a file, surely that file is subject to my request to see it as a U.S. citizen.”

While Golembewski admits that she “know[s] it’s a stretch,” acknowledging that she’s “not entirely sure where the Game of Thrones screeners fall in the grey area that is personal property of a government figure,” she thinks that “there’s a lot of evidence that makes me think Obama […] will be delighted to help a girl out.”

When asked what fee she would be willing to pay for the FOIA request, Golembewski told the government to stick it on her student loans tab:

‘Click Farms’ to Inflate Online Popularity Exposed

How do you get a few hundred people to like your “Why are courgettes* so neglected?” page? Paid advertisements? Viral publicity? Trusting in the innate power of that most underestimated of Summer squashes? With the success of such options being variable at best – leaving much to chance – there are some who would rather try to cheat the system, paying for likes, followers, and other quantifiable indicators of popularity.

The “Why are courgettes so neglected?” Facebook is one of many that has been exposed as paying for likes, using companies that hire ‘click farms’ – low-paid workers tasked with clicking on the appropriate button (‘Like’, ‘Follow’, ‘Retweet’), over and over, via a series of fake accounts – to inflate their popularity. This particular page paid a team in Dhaka, Bangladesh for its measly half-a-thousand likes.

Dispatches, a Channel 4 investigative journalism show in the UK, has exposed just how prevalent this underhanded practice really is. The reveal is sure to hurt the veracity of social media platforms and their accidental involvement in misleading their users.

“There’s a real desire amongst many companies to boost their profile on social media, and find other customers as well as a result,” Graham Cluley, an independent security consultant, told The Guardian.

Using ‘click farms’ is not limited to pages about green vegetables, though – Dispatches found an online casino, which had licensed the Monopoly brand from owner Hasbro, was also guilty of the practice. Hasbro ordered that the page be closed following the deception’s reveal, saying that it was “appalled to hear of what had occurred.”

“Potentially, a number of laws are being breached – the consumer protection and unfair trading regulations. Effectively it’s misleading the individual consumers,” Sam DeSilva, IT and Outsourcing Law lawyer for Manches LLP, added.

An undercover sting also exposed the middlemen who act as agents for ‘click farms’, with Dispatches secretly recording its meeting with Sharaf al-Nomani, owner of Shareyt.com, which offers likes, follows, and other indicators of popularity on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube, for a fee.

While the site claims that it is “a crowd-sourcing platform to help you improve social media presence and search engine ranking FREE,” al-Nomani, in meeting with undercover Dispatches reporters, revealed that “around 30% or 40% of the clicks will come from Bangladesh” as part of a deliberate, organised strategy.

*That’s a zucchini to anyone from the Americas.

Researchers Double WiFi Capacity at Half the Size

Last year, researchers from the University of Columbia invented a full-duplex radio IC (integrated circuit) for super-fast WiFi reception and transmission using two antennae. Now, the same team have developed their system to function on a single antenna, which delivers the same wireless speeds but at half the size, marking the first time that anyone has integrated a non-reciprocal circulator and a full-duplex radio on a nanoscale silicon chip. The team’s work is showcased in a new Nature paper entitled “Magnetic-free non-reciprocity based on staggered commutation”.

“This technology could revolutionize the field of telecommunications,” Harish Krishnaswamy, Electrical Engineering Associate Professor at Columbia University’s School of Engineering and director of the Columbia High-Speed and Mm-wave IC (CoSMIC) Lab, said in a press release. “Our circulator is the first to be put on a silicon chip, and we get literally orders of magnitude better performance than prior work. Full-duplex communications, where the transmitter and the receiver operate at the same time and at the same frequency, has become a critical research area and now we’ve shown that WiFi capacity can be doubled on a nanoscale silicon chip with a single antenna. This has enormous implications for devices like smartphones and tablets.”

The technology has been years in the making, with the researchers struggling to “break” what is known as Lorentz Reciprocity, which restricts to electromagnetic waves travel in two directions.

“Reciprocal circuits and systems are quite restrictive because you can’t control the signal freely,” PhD student Negar Reiskarimian, lead author of the Nature Communications paper and developer of the circulator, added. “We wanted to create a simple and efficient way, using conventional materials, to break Lorentz Reciprocity and build a low-cost nanoscale circulator that would fit on a chip. This could open up the door to all kinds of exciting new applications.”

In order to break Lorentz Reciprocity, the team eschewed the usual use of magnetic materials – which are effective but either are expensive or are incompatible with silicon chip technology – in favour of a new design of miniature circulator that is able to rotate signals around the capacitors, via switches, to lose reciprocity.

“Being able to put the circulator on the same chip as the rest of the radio has the potential to significantly reduce the size of the system, enhance its performance, and introduce new functionalities critical to full duplex,” PhD student Jin Zhou, responsible for integrating the circulator with the full-duplex receiver, said.

The researchers are currently working on improving the system in anticipation of any potential implementation in, say, smartphones and computers.

“What really excites me about this research is that we were able to make a contribution at a theoretically fundamental level, which led to the publication in Nature Communications, and also able to demonstrate a practical RF circulator integrated with a full-duplex receiver that exhibited a factor of nearly a billion in echo cancellation, making it the first practical full-duplex receiver chip and which led to the publication in the 2016 IEEE ISSCC,” Krishnaswamy said. “It is rare for a single piece of research, or even a research group, to bridge fundamental theoretical contributions with implementations of practical relevance. It is extremely rewarding to supervise graduate students who were able to do that!”

 

GoPro Unveils New VR Platform and Rigs

GoPro is riding the virtual reality wave hard, revealing its new VR video platform, alongside its six-camera and sixteen-camera VR rigs. The GoPro VR app – available for free from today on PC, Android, and iOS – is effectively a rebranding of Kolor Eyes, the website and software inherited by GoPro following its acquisition of French VR outfit Kolor. “The platform allows users to experience the immersive world of 360˚ video and transforms users’ screens into a virtual portal, showcasing original content from GoPro and a global community of artists,” according to GoPro.

To make the most of this new VR platform, GoPro has launched two VR camera rigs; one designed to be entry-level, and another aimed at professional photographers and filmmakers. The entry-level model, the Omni (pictured above), features six GoPro HERO4 Black cameras, capable of “over-capture” at 8K resolution, stung together in the shape of a cube, to create 360˚ videos. The Omni is priced at $5,000 and is available for pre-order from today.

The Odyssey (above) – available only through GoPro’s Limited Access Program, the company’s professional-only scheme – sports sixteen HERO4 Black cameras, synchronised down to the pixel, aligned in a carousel. Images shot by the Odyssey are stitched together in Google’s cloud-based Jump Assembler software to construct 8K30, stereoscopic panoramic videos that can then be uploaded to YouTube. Priced at $15,000, the Odyssey is available to film professionals now.

Wendy’s to Introduce More Automation to Dodge Paying Minimum Wage

US fast food chain Wendy’s has admitted that, rather than maintain its current staffing levels at the new minimum wage rate, it will seek to replace staff with self-ordering kiosks and back-of-house automated systems, and cover wage hikes of existing staff by raising its prices.

During a sales call, Wendy’s Chief Financial Officer Todd Penegor admitted that the company will “continue to look at initiatives and how we work to offset any impacts of future wage inflation through technology initiatives, whether that’s customer self-order kiosks, whether that’s automating more in the back of the house in the restaurant. And you’ll see a lot more coming on that front later this year from us.”

CEO Emil Brolick added that “our franchisees will likely look at the opportunity to reduce overall staff, look at the opportunity to certainly reduce hours and any other cost reduction opportunities, not just price. You know there are some people out there who naively say that these wages can simply be passed along in terms of price increases. I don’t think that the average franchisee believes that.”

Last week, California and New York became the first states to agree to a $15/hr minimum wage rise by 2022, with campaigners fighting to have the policy adopted across the United States.

New Ghostbusters Game Won’t Feature Reboot Film Cast

Activision has unveiled a new Ghostbusters game, billed as a tie-in to the up-coming all-female movie reboot, directed by Paul Feig, and yet it doesn’t feature any of the cast members from said film. Rather than focus on the new cast of characters, played by Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, the game – confusingly titled just Ghostbusters – introduces a new team of two guys and two girls.

The game is a third-person action RPG, featuring Diablo-esque four-player co-op, and is set for release on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. An additional mobile game, Ghostbusters: Slime City, is being released on iOS and Android.

“This July, Ghostbusters returns to screens both big and small,” the Activision announcement reads. “That’s right, in addition to the new film from Sony Pictures, this July we’re introducing two all-new Ghostbusters adventures for consoles and mobile devices — Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters: Slime City, respectively. Both games will feature new casts of rookies as they fight rogue sprits while the now-famous Ghostbusters are off stopping high-profile poltergeists.”

“On PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, there’s Ghostbusters, a third-person action role-playing game with up to four-player local co-op,” the Activision blog adds. “Each player can level up their character’s gear and abilities by battling ghosts, completing objectives, or discovering hidden collectibles. Players will have four heroes to choose from, each with their own unique personality and play style that benefit the overall team.”

Ghostbusters is set for release on the same day as the film reboot, 15th July.

Google Plans to Build its Own City

As part of its reorganisation last year, Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. converted its private city planning outfit Sidewalk Labs – tasked with modernising US cities to help integrate new technologies – into its own subdivision. The mission statement of this new subsidiary, though, appears to be more than just guiding existing cities into the future, with plans revealed that it is seeking to create its own “digital districts”; in effect, new, Google-built cities.

“The idea under consideration is for Sidewalk to create an area in the U.S. that serves as a testbed for new technologies from superfast Internet to autonomous cars, according to several people involved in the effort,” reports The Information (paywalled, via re/code). “Some 100 city planning experts, researchers and technologists have been involved with the project, including Stuart Miller, the CEO of home builder Lennar, Anthony Townsend, research director of Institute of the Future, Stanford professor Balaji Prabhakar and Harvard economist Ed Glaeser. The consulting firm McKinsey has also been advising.”

When approached for comment, a representative of Sidewalk Labs called the plan “speculation,” while Alphabet refused to comment.

Sidewalk Labs’ major contribution to US city modernisation thus far is the LinkNYC free WiFi network established in New York last Summer.

San Bernardino iPhone Proves Useless Following Decryption

After a lengthy court battle, lasting months, that sought to compel Apple to compromise the security on an iPhone belonging to San Bernardino shooting suspect Syed Rizwan Farook, the FBI finally achieved the feat on its own. The result? Absolutely nothing of use was gleaned from the device, according to an anonymous source within US law enforcement.

“A law enforcement source tells CBS News that so far nothing of real significance has been found on the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone, which was unlocked by the FBI last month without the help of Apple,” CBS News reports. “It was stressed that the FBI continues to analyze the information on the cellphone seized in the investigation.”

It is still unclear who was responsible for bypassing the encryption of Farook’s iPhone 5c, nor the mean by which it was achieved. Multiple sources, however, suggest that the FBI enlisted the help of a private group of “grey hat” hackers to help crack the device.

“The FBI cracked a San Bernardino terrorist’s phone with the help of professional hackers who discovered and brought to the bureau at least one previously unknown software flaw, according to people familiar with the matter,” according to the Washington Post. “[…] The people who helped the U.S. government come from the sometimes shadowy world of hackers and security researchers who profit from finding flaws in companies’ software or systems.”

“The company that helped the FBI unlock a San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone to get data has sole legal ownership of the method, making it highly unlikely the technique will be disclosed by the government to Apple or any other entity, Obama administration sources said this week,” Reuters revealed. “[…]The sources said the technology used to get into the phone was supplied by a non-U.S. company that they declined to identify.”

Regardless, FBI Director James Comey has suggested that the FBI will likely keep the exploit it used to access the iPhone to themselves, lest Apple attempt to patch the vulnerability. “If we tell Apple, they’re going to fix it and we’re back where we started,” Comey said. “As silly as it may sound, we may end up there. We just haven’t decided yet.”

Microsoft’s ‘CaptionBot’ Adds Incorrect Captions to Your Favourite Pictures

Microsoft, as part of its new research into storytelling by artificial intelligence, has released CaptionBot, an AI designed to recognise images and add an appropriate descriptive caption. However, like its previous attempt at AI – chatbot Tay – CaptionBot isn’t entirely successful. As with Tay, though, the results are hilarious (and without any fascistic or incestuous overtones).

The accompanying academic paper, titled Visual Storytelling [PDF], describes how the Microsoft Sequential Image Narrative Dataset (SIND) applies value judgements to picture content, setting, composition, and human expression in an attempt to describe the scene. The paper adds:

“There is a significant difference, yet unexplored, between remarking that a visual scene shows “sitting in a room” – typical of most image captioning work – and that the same visual scene shows “bonding”. The latter description is grounded in the visual signal, yet it brings to bear information about social relations and emotions that can be additionally inferred in context.”

To set CaptionBot’s base level, 10,117 CC-licensed Flickr albums were ploughed through by Amazon Mechanical Turks, who assigned tradition captions to a series of pictures. An ‘average’ description of each picture was derived by the multitude of entries, and that average was reduced to an algorithm that CaptionBot could apply to fresh images in order to evaluate them.

“Captioning is about taking concrete objects and putting them together in a literal description,” Margaret Mitchell, lead researcher on the project, said in a Microsoft blog post. “What I’ve been calling visual storytelling is about inferring conceptual and abstract ideas from those concrete objects.”

Faraday Future Pins Hope of Beating Tesla on “Extreme” Electric Supercar

A mysterious US-based, Chinese-backed electric car manufacturer has opened up to provide us with a glimpse of its future – a stunning new electric supercar, and an equally impressive new factory complex – as it attempts to position itself above Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors as the premier electric vehicle maker in the world.

Faraday Future, after the showing off its beautiful FFZero1 concept car earlier this year, has unveiled its new factory, which has begun construction in Las Vegas, Nevada, the same state as Telsa’s Gigafactory. The Apex Industrial Park – a 3-million square-foot facility, which will handle the manufacture the company’s series of as-yet-unknown electric car fleet – is due to be completed in 2018, backed by $335 million of incentives from the state of Nevada.

‘”Our aim is to complete a program that would normally take four years and do it in half the time, while still doing it right,” Dag Reckhorn, Faraday Future global manufacturing Vice President, told the Daily Mail.

“We are moving extremely quickly for a project of this size,” Reckhorn added. “We have received tremendous support from local government officials and the community, and look forward to making a significant, positive impact on the local economy.”

Faraday Future revealed its remarkable new concept car, the FFZero1, at CES 2016 back in January, where it earned comparisons to the Batmobile and was described by the company as “the most extreme iteration of what it can build.”

“To be like the Batmobile is not a bad thing right?’ Chief Designer Richard Kim said. ‘If Batman wants to drive this then tell him to come and talk to me.”

Kim revealed that its first production car is being road-tested and will be revealed “very soon”.

Oculus “Doesn’t Condone” Actions of HTC Vive Hackers

Yesterday, an industrious coder released a homebrew software package that allows HTC Vive users to play the demos for Lucky’s Tale and Oculus Dreamdeck, both titles exclusive to the Oculus Rift. The an alpha build of the software – “a proof-of-concept compatibility layer between the Oculus SDK and OpenVR” – was released on GitHub by reddit user CrossVR to much buzz amongst VR users, but Oculus is understandably miffed about the matter.

“This is a hack, and we don’t condone it. Users should expect that hacked games won’t work indefinitely, as regular software updates to games, apps, and our platform are likely to break hacked software,” Oculus told GamesIndustry.biz.

While Oculus is unhappy about the “hack”, the software – named Revive – remains available on GitHub. It remains to be seen whether it will be subject to a cease and desist order, or a DMCA takedown, from the aggrieved company.

“It may work with plenty of other games, but that hasn’t been tested by myself. It’s still early days for this project, since it’s only been in development for a few weeks. In the future more games will be supported, but I’m glad to see such swift progress already,” CrossVR explained in his reddit post. Indicating a determination to continue work on the project, he added, “this is version 0.2 and there will be many more as there is still plenty of work to do.”

Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking Unveil $100m Voyage to the Stars

Eminent astrophysicist Professor Stephen Hawking has joined forces with science investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner to launch a revolutionary $100m “moonshot” which aims to send a miniature spacecraft hurtling across the galaxy, propelled by lasers. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also joined the board of the organisation, known as Breakthrough Starshot.

“Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for light-propelled nanocrafts,” the official press release reads. “These could fly at 20 percent of light speed and capture images of possible planets and other scientific data in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, just over 20 years after their launch.”

Breakthrough Starshot aims to send Nanocrafts – tiny robotic spaceships with a gram-scale mass and tiny lightsails, propelled using a 100 billion-watt laser – on a twenty-year journey, at one-fifth the speed of light, 25 trillion miles (4.37 light years) across the Milky Way to the Alpha Centauri star system.

The announcement coincides with the 55th Anniversary of the first orbit of the Earth by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, after whom Milner is named.

“The human story is one of great leaps,” Milner said. “55 years ago today, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Today, we are preparing for the next great leap – to the stars.”

“Earth is a wonderful place, but it might not last forever,” added Stephen Hawking, “Sooner or later, we must look to the stars. Breakthrough Starshot is a very exciting first step on that journey.”

“We take inspiration from Vostok, Voyager, Apollo and the other great missions,” said Pete Worden, former director of NASA AMES Research Center and advisor to Breakthrough Starshot. “It’s time to open the era of interstellar flight, but we need to keep our feet on the ground to achieve this.”

Image courtesy of The Guardian.

Host of Potential Yahoo Buyers Emerge – Major Companies Linked

Yahoo is up for sale, and some of the major players in media and technology are keen to pick over the bones of the once-great company, with Microsoft, Google, Verizon, Time, and the Daily Mail all indicating an interest in future bids.

“Media companies, such as the Daily Mail and Time Inc., are reportedly thinking of making an offer,” reports CNN Money. “A Daily Mail spokesman confirmed to CNN Money that the company is looking at bidding for Yahoo.”

Yahoo is currently valued at around $34b – a shadow of its value in late-2000, when the company was worth closer to $255b – with the company’s Asian stock accounting for the bulk of that valuation, indicating that the company’s internet business is practically worthless.

Google and Microsoft have also been linked with purchases of pieces of Yahoo’s business, though the former is unlikely to make any such deals over concerns of breaking antitrust laws. Microsoft, however, already has a close relationship with Yahoo, and previously attempted a $45b takeover of the company back in 2008.

“Verizon could also be a player,” CNN Money adds. “It owns Yahoo rival AOL and other media assets, and the company has publicly expressed interest in taking a look at Yahoo. AOL is like a mini version of Yahoo, with a sizable digital advertising and online content business. Verizon bought AOL last year for more than $4 billion.”

“Private equity firms General Atlantic, TPG and KKR are also widely reported to be considering buying Yahoo,” CCN Money reveals.

Former Vice President of Google Product Search Marissa Mayer was appointed CEO of Yahoo in 2012, tasked with changing the fortunes of the ailing business. After a promising start, Mayer soon proved impotent in her efforts to stop the rot that had already decimated Yahoo, with her cost-cutting measures of sub-division closures and staff redundancies designed to keep the company ticking over until it could find a new owner.

Oculus Pre-Order Deliveries Delayed by up to Two Months

Due to an “unexpected component shortage”, reported last week, some early pre-orders of the Oculus Rift have had their shipping dates delayed by up to two months, with one buyer – who pre-ordered 33 minutes after the VR device was made available on 6th January – being informed that he will have to wait until the end of May, at the earliest, for his order, reports RoadtoVR.

Another customer, commenting on reddit, revealed that, despite pre-ordering within 1 hour and 40 minutes of availability on 6th January, Oculus has delayed shipping their Rift, with an estimated delivery of between 13th-23rd June.

While pre-orderers have seen their order delayed by up to two months, all subsequent orders have been put back even further, with shipping of new orders pushed back until August.

Responding to numerous complaints on the Oculus subreddit, a customer support representative wrote:

“Kickstarter Backers, we’re changing your Order History to show “TBD” instead of the date as that date was applicable to the time in which we imported the orders. We’ve already fulfilled a large number of the orders and more are being fulfilled on a regular cadence.”

Also, in response to the furore, Oculus has begun refunding shipping costs on orders placed before 2nd April.

Diamonds Could Help Unlock Quantum Computing

The stumbling block when it comes to quantum computing – which aims to use the quantum-mechanical phenomena of entanglement and superposition in order to perform superfast computational operations without electronic transistors – is maintaining superposition (i.e. more than one physical state, simultaneously; think Schrödinger’s cat), but a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) thinks the secret behind sustaining that state can be found in diamonds.

The MIT researchers have developed a feedback-control system, utilising synthetic diamonds, which can successfully maintain a quantum superposition, the process of which is detailed in a paper entitled “Coherent feedback control of a single qubit in diamond,” published in Nature.

“Instead of having a classical controller to implement the feedback, we now use a quantum controller,” Paola Cappellaro, Esther and Harold Edgerton Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT (pictured above), told ComputerWorld. “Because the controller is quantum, I don’t need to do a measurement to know what’s going on.”

The artificial diamonds used featured a “vacancy” – essentially, a missing carbon nucleus within the structural lattice of the jewel – which was exploited by swapping an adjacent carbon atom for a nitrogen atom, resulting in a nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centre. If the NV is exposed to a strong magnetic field – the MIT team fixed a magnet to the diamond – the centre’s electronic spin can then maintain a superposition of up and down at the same time. In this case, the NV centre was able to maintain its superposition for 1,000 times as long as previous experiments.

Restaurants in China Fires Robot Staff for Incompetence

It seems we shouldn’t worry about automation taking away jobs from us humans just yet, with one restaurant in Guangzhou, China being forced to “fire” its robotic staff members for incompetence, while two others with robot waiters going out of business.

Human staff members, who worked alongside the inept machines, had nothing positive to say about their robotic colleagues, unsurprisingly.

“The robots weren’t able to carry soup or other food steady and they would frequently break down,” one employee of the unnamed restaurant that fired its robot staff told Workers’ Daily (translation via ShanghaiList). “The boss has decided never to use them again.”

“Their skills are somewhat limited,” another waitress said, accusing the automatons of failing to perform tasks vital for restaurant waiting staff. “They can’t take orders or pour hot water for customers.”

“The robots can attract plenty of customers, but they definitely can’t reduce the need for human labor,” the restaurant’s owner added.

“Zhang Yun, vice-principal of Guangdong University of Technology, explained that while robots were excellent at improving productivity in the manufacturing industry where tasks are repetitive, they were unable to perform well in fields where frequent human interaction was necessary,” ShanghaiList explained.

Despite reports that automation could render half the world’s population unemployed within 30 years, a number of companies are moving away from using robotic workers in favour of human input, with Mercedes, for example, hiring more human workers to implement its customised car program.

Real Handgun Transformed into Nintendo Zapper

A US company has transformed a Glock pistol into a Nintendo Zapper, the light gun used with NES classic Duck Hunt. The makeover, though, is merely cosmetic; rather than turning the semi-automatic pistol into a light gun, it remains a standard handgun, only with a nifty repaint.

Images of the modified gun came to light after being shared by Texas-based machine prototype Precision Syndicate LLC, who created the custom gun for an unnamed customer, on its Facebook page. “Finally… We were waiting for someone to let us do this,” the post reads. “We weren’t the first to do it but WOW, this glock turned out good!”

The Nintendo Zapper first launched in 1984, allowing NES gamers to aim and shoot at their TV screen, most famously in Duck Hunt:

https://youtu.be/EaPs_SLO-88

While the design itself is impressive, some people have taken exception to a lethal weapon being made to appear like a toy.

“I hope Nintendo lawyers shut this s*** down,” one Facebook commenter wrote. “This is NOT within the ideals of the company (Nintendo actually asks game designers to tone down violence because its audience is the entry market… Aka, young children). These guys need to grow the f*** up.”

“The fact that this exists is why cops don’t have the time to make the decision of its a toy or a gun,” another complained.

Precision Syndicate responded to criticism, posting the following to Facebook:

NVIDIA DRIVE PX2 Powered by Two GP106 Chips

NVIDIA showed of its DRIVE PX 2 system – the new iteration of its autonomous and driver assistance AI platform – at last week’s GTC 2016 conference, and eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed that the board shown to the audience by CEO Jen-Hsun Huang was sporting a pair of integrated GP106 GPUs, eschewing the two Maxwell-based NVIDIA Tegra X1 chips that powered the original DRIVE PX, and confirming a rumour that we reported last week.

The GP106 runs on NVIDIA’s new Pascal architecture – set to hit the market in the latest line of GeForce graphics cards this Summer – which can perform at 24 DL TOPS or 8 TFLOPS, and features up to 4GB GDDR5.

NVIDIA hopes that the new DRIVE PX 2 will power the next generation of driverless cars – the DRIVE PX has so far only be used to power the ‘infotainment’ system on-board a Tesla, for example – and has already shipped to a number of unnamed Tier 1 customers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnVVJSIiKpY

“DRIVE PX platforms are built around deep learning and include a powerful framework (Caffe) to run DNN models designed and trained on NVIDIA DIGITS,” according to NVIDIA. “DRIVE PX also includes an advanced computer vision (CV) library and primitives. Together, these technologies deliver an impressive combination of detection and tracking.”

Each Final Fantasy VII Remake Episode Will be as Long as Final Fantasy XIII

Reception was mixed when Square Enix announced that its remake of Final Fantasy VII was to be split into episodes, with some fans accusing the developer of milking the game’s release. However, Final Fantasy VII Remake producer Yoshinori Kitase has revealed that each episode will be the length of a single game, comparing the length of each instalment to Final Fantasy XIII.

“It will essentially be a full-scale game for each part of the multi-part series. In XIII, each installment told the story from a different angle,” Kitase told Game Informer’s Joe Juba (via TechRadar). “It was kind of like approaching an unknown territory in a sense.”

“Whereas with Final Fantasy VII Remake, we already have a pre-existing story, so it wouldn’t really make sense if that isn’t encompassed in a multi-part series […] So, if we’re just looking at each of these parts, one part should be on par with the scale of one Final Fantasy XIII game,” Kitase added.

Kitase is a Final Fantasy veteran, having been involved in the franchise since the very first release, plus RPG classic Chrono Trigger.

“I, along with [Tetsuya] Nomura-san and [Kazushige] Nojima-san – who are involved with the remake – were also involved with the original Final Fantasy,” Kitase said. “We were the people who created it, so in that sense, we don’t think anything is untouchable. That isn’t to say we’re changing everything!”

While the release date for the first episode of Final Fantasy VII Remake has not been revealed, it’s a safe bet that more details will be revealed at this Summer’s E3.