ZDNet


My week with Harman Kardon's Cortana-powered Invoke speaker

ZDNet

During the past week, I've said "Hey Cortana" more times than I have over the past couple of years combined. I've been testing the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker, which is powered by Cortana and includes a custom version of Linux inside. The Invoke speaker will go on sale in the US on October 22. While I've played a bit with a family member's Amazon Echo Dot, I never bought a voice-activated speaker for use at home. I was curious if, after using the Invoke for a week to do everything from set timers, to add items to my calendar, to play music would change my mind and make me want one.


Scientists built this Raspberry Pi-powered, 3D-printed robot-lab to study flies

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Researchers have created a Raspberry Pi-powered robotic lab that detects and profiles the behaviour of thousands of fruit-flies in real-time. The researchers, from Imperial College London, built the mini Pi-powered robotics lab to help scale up analyses of fruit flies, which have become popular proxy for scientists to study human genes and the wiring of the brain. The researchers call the lab an ethoscope, an open-source hardware and software platform for "ethomics", which uses machine vision to study animal behaviour. And while computer-assisted analysis promises to revolutionize research techniques for Drosophila (fruit fly) neuroscientists, the researchers argue its potential is constrained by custom hardware, which adds cost and often aren't scalable. The Raspberry Pi-based ethnoscope offers scientists a modular design that can be built with 3D-printed components or even LEGO bricks at a cost of €100 per ethoscope.


This robot-run 3D printing farm is the future of light manufacturing

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A 3D printing farm in Brooklyn needed to scale up to handle large production runs and better compete with injection molding. Until recently, that would have required investing in more 3D printers and additional manpower to run the machines, eliminating many of the cost advantages inherent in 3D printing. Voodoo Manufacturing invested in a single robot, which it leaves running all night--what's known as "lights-out" manufacturing. It's an elegant display of a model that will soon be commonplace: Through its automation efforts, Voodoo is showing how even small businesses are beginning to run fully-automated, lights-out operations. It's also an illustration of the calculus business owners are now engaging in when deciding whether to invest in personnel or technology.


Cisco snaps up machine learning outfit Perspica

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Cisco has revealed plans to acquire San Jose startup Perspica to bolster the firm's previous purchase of AppDynamics in the data analytics arena. On Thursday, Cisco said in a blog post that Perspica is "the first acquisition to support and accelerate the AppDynamics vision." Financial details were not disclosed. The network equipment maker snapped up AppDynamics in January this year in a deal valued at $3.7 billion. AppDynamics is the developer of an enterprise platform suitable for monitoring application performance and business metrics.


Boeing invests in autonomous flight technology maker Near Earth Autonomy

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Boeing's venture capital unit HorizonX is continuing its investment in autonomous technologies, recently backing Near Earth Autonomy, a Pittsburgh-based company that develops technologies to enable safe and reliable autonomous flights. The aerospace giant announced the investment on Thursday, but did not disclose the amount it has invested in the company. Near Earth Autonomy, which was spun out of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, develops software and sensor technology for three-dimensional mapping and survey, motion planning, and landing zone assessment, among others. Its products are aimed at enabling aircraft to operate autonomously. According to a Washington Post report, the company has developed self-piloting surveillance drones that can navigate underground pathways, and is exploring ways for autonomous planes to navigate without reliance on GPS satellites.


Australian government awards AU$5.9m in R&D grants to support defence operations

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The Australian government has announced awarding five organisations with Defence Innovation Hub grants worth AU$5.9 million. Western Australia-based L3 Oceania has secured a AU$2.9 million contract to explore the development of an underwater acoustic sensor, while the University of Newcastle will explore the development of virtual reality-based resilience training programs for Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel under a AU$2.2 million contract. Agent Oriented Software from Victoria has been awarded a AU$378,000 grant to explore the concept of an "autonomous teamed intelligent software agent capability resilient to cyber-attacks"; Explosive Protective Equipment from Queensland received a AU$242,000 grant to explore the integration of a Cobham Amulet Ground Penetrating Radar into an existing unmanned ground vehicle for the detection of improvised explosive devices; and Griffith University received a AU$183,000 grant to explore the development of a portable device that enables real-time detection of airborne biological threats. "These investments will drive growth in defence industry and innovation whilst focusing on the capability needs required to ensure Australia's national security now and into the future," Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne said in a statement on Friday. Launched in December last year, the Defence Innovation Hub has invested about AU$20 million to industry and research organisations, Pyne said.


How AI and robots are eating desperately-needed jobs in India

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If I were under the age of 40, a category that encompasses approximately 65 percent of Indians, I would be absolutely terrified right about now. For that matter, if I were below or above those ages, I would also be petrified. If ever a country faced the prospect of a dystopian future marked by gangs of unemployed youth in the millions wandering about creating mayhem, pillaging and plundering for lack of anything else to do, it's India -- unless it is able and willing to do something about it very quickly and efficiently. Sophia got to share her views with some powerful leaders. AI and robotics are part of this story but to understand the gigantic swamp of quicksand that India is in, we have to go back a little.


Alphabet leads $1B investment round in Lyft

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CapitalG, Alphabet's growth investment fund, is leading a $1 billion financing round in Lyft, the rid hailing company announced Thursday, bringing its valuation to $11 billion. Additionally, the company announced that CapitalG Partner David Lawee is joining Lyft's board. The big investment adds another strand to the complicated web of alliances and rivalries developing in the emerging self-driving car market. Firstly, it reinforces Alphabet's existing relationship with Lyft. Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving car division, already has a partnership with Lyft to test self-driving cars.


Intel unveils SDK for third party Alexa devices

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Intel unveiled a new software development kit that aims to bring voice-control capabilities from Amazon's Alexa to more third-party smart home devices. The chip giant said the Speech Enabling Developer Kit provides a complete audio front-end solution for far-field voice control. The SDK includes Intel's dual digital signal processor with an interference engine and an eight-mic circular array. The system also utilizes algorithms for acoustic echo cancellation, noise reduction, beamforming and custom wake word engine tuned to "Alexa." "There's a lot of engineering involved in getting speech recognition at high degrees of speed and accuracy to deliver the best customer experiences," Miles Kingston, general manager of Intel's smart home group, said in a statement: "The Intel Speech Enabling Developer Kit is based on a new architecture that delivers high-quality far-field voice even in the most acoustically challenging environments."


Chipmakers find new ways to move forward

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Chip designers face a daunting task. The tool that they have relied on to make things smaller, faster and cheaper, known as Moore's Law, is increasingly ineffective. At the same time, new applications such as deep learning are demanding more powerful and efficient hardware. It is now clear that scaling general-purpose CPUs alone won't be sufficient to meet the performance per watt targets of future applications, and much of the heavy lifting is being offloaded to accelerators such as GPUs, FPGAs, DSPs and even custom ASICs such as Google's TPU. The catch is that these complex heterogeneous systems are difficult to design, manufacture and program.