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Monthly Archives: April 2017

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 popped again!

Samsung’s fire-prone smartphone that sparked a global crisis is making a comeback.

The world’s largest smartphone maker says it’s resurrecting the Galaxy Note 7 by selling a cheaper, refurbished version in South Korea starting Friday.

Understandably, Samsung (SSNLF) has chosen to change the name of the phone, whose initial incarnation it had to recall and kill off after a some customers reported their devices burst into flames.

The revamped phone is called the Galaxy Note FE, short for Fan Edition. And for those who need a bit of convincing to buy a new version of a device that became synonymous with spontaneous combustion, Samsung has thrown in a few perks.

Most important, the Note FE will come with lower capacity batteries that have undergone the company’s latest safety test. Earlier this year, Samsung blamed poorly designed and manufactured batteries for the overheating problems that caused some of the Note 7 phones to catch fire.

The rejiggered phone will sell for 699,600 won ($610), about 30{4a63b1e9664ba6ed4e66fdcc3a4154087d23751c404ace2df0767d646d11a674} less than the original Note 7. It also comes with updated software and Bixby, Samsung’s new artificial intelligence assistant.

amsung’s fire-prone smartphone that sparked a global crisis is making a comeback. The world’s largest smartphone maker says it’s resurrecting the Galaxy Note 7 by selling a cheaper, refurbished version in South Korea starting Friday. Understandably, Samsung (SSNLF) has chosen to change the name of the phone, whose initial incarnation it had to recall and kill off after a some customers reported their devices burst into flames. The revamped phone is called the Galaxy Note FE, short for Fan Edition. And for those who need a bit of convincing to buy a new version of a device that became synonymous with spontaneous combustion, Samsung has thrown in a few perks. Related: Samsung unveils first new flagship phones since Note 7 debacle Most important, the Note FE will come with lower capacity batteries that have undergone the company’s latest safety test. Earlier this year, Samsung blamed poorly designed and manufactured batteries for the overheating problems that caused some of the Note 7 phones to catch fire. The rejiggered phone will sell for 699,600 won ($610), about 30{4a63b1e9664ba6ed4e66fdcc3a4154087d23751c404ace2df0767d646d11a674} less than the original Note 7. It also comes with updated software and Bixby, Samsung’s new artificial intelligence assistant.

But Note 7 fans outside South Korea will have to wait to get their hands on the new devices. Samsung says it hasn’t made a decision yet on selling the Note FE in other countries. The company has said in the past it has no plans to sell refurbished Note 7 devices in the United States.

Samsung is touting the devices, which are made from unused Note 7 phones and spare parts, as an “eco-friendly” project to avoid waste. It came under pressure from Greenpeace last year to provide detailed information on how it would dispose of the millions of recalled devices.

The Note FE should also help the Samsung recoup some of the financial losses resulting from the fiasco, which wiped out billions in profit.

But with a limited run of 400,000 devices to start, it’s “a drop in the ocean, considering Samsung sells a few million of the phone every time a new version launches,” said Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst with research firm IDC

Samsung is touting the devices, which are made from unused Note 7 phones and spare parts, as an “eco-friendly” project to avoid waste. It came under pressure from Greenpeace last year to provide detailed information on how it would dispose of the millions of recalled devices. The Note FE should also help the Samsung recoup some of the financial losses resulting from the fiasco, which wiped out billions in profit. But with a limited run of 400,000 devices to start, it’s “a drop in the ocean, considering Samsung sells a few million of the phone every time a new version launches,” said Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst with research firm IDC.

The company has shown resilience following the Note 7 debacle, reporting bumper profits of nearly $9 billion for the first quarter of 2017, a jump of almost 50{4a63b1e9664ba6ed4e66fdcc3a4154087d23751c404ace2df0767d646d11a674} from a year ago.

A successful launch of the Note FE would help show Samsung has successfully resolved the problems that bedeviled the Note 7. For the initial recall last year, Samsung offered replacement devices that some customers said also caught fire, deepening the company’s crisis.

The company has shown resilience following the Note 7 debacle, reporting bumper profits of nearly $9 billion for the first quarter of 2017, a jump of almost 50{4a63b1e9664ba6ed4e66fdcc3a4154087d23751c404ace2df0767d646d11a674} from a year ago. A successful launch of the Note FE would help show Samsung has successfully resolved the problems that bedeviled the Note 7. For the initial recall last year, Samsung offered replacement devices that some customers said also caught fire, deepening the company’s crisis.

But if anything goes wrong with the revamped version, “this could just be called a suicide attempt by Samsung,” Kauer said.

The smartphone giant is already taking some heat on social media over its name choice, with some users suggesting FE stands for “Fiery Explosion.”

But if anything goes wrong with the revamped version, “this could just be called a suicide attempt by Samsung,” Kauer said. The smartphone giant is already taking some heat on social media over its name choice, with some users suggesting FE stands for “Fiery Explosion.”

Games Can Change Your Brain

Scientists have collected and summarized studies looking at how video games can shape our brains and behavior. Research to date suggests that playing video games can change the brain regions responsible for attention and visuospatial skills and make them more efficient. The researchers also looked at studies exploring brain regions associated with the reward system, and how these are related to video game addiction.

Do you play video games? If so, you aren’t alone. Video games are becoming more common and are increasingly enjoyed by adults. The average age of gamers has been increasing, and was estimated to be 35 in 2016. Changing technology also means that more people are exposed to video games. Many committed gamers play on desktop computers or consoles, but a new breed of casual gamers has emerged, who play on smartphones and tablets at spare moments throughout the day, like their morning commute. So, we know that video games are an increasingly common form of entertainment, but do they have any effect on our brains and behavior?

Over the years, the media have made various sensationalist claims about video games and their effect on our health and happiness. “Games have sometimes been praised or demonized, often without real data backing up those claims. Moreover, gaming is a popular activity, so everyone seems to have strong opinions on the topic,” says Marc Palaus, first author on the review, recently published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Palaus and his colleagues wanted to see if any trends had emerged from the research to date concerning how video games affect the structure and activity of our brains. They collected the results from 116 scientific studies, 22 of which looked at structural changes in the brain and 100 of which looked at changes in brain functionality and/or behavior.

The studies show that playing video games can change how our brains perform, and even their structure. For example, playing video games affects our attention, and some studies found that gamers show improvements in several types of attention, such as sustained attention or selective attention. The brain regions involved in attention are also more efficient in gamers and require less activation to sustain attention on demanding tasks.

There is also evidence that video games can increase the size and efficiency of brain regions related to visuospatial skills. For example, the right hippocampus was enlarged in both long-term gamers and volunteers following a video game training program.

Video games can also be addictive, and this kind of addiction is called “Internet gaming disorder.” Researchers have found functional and structural changes in the neural reward system in gaming addicts, in part by exposing them to gaming cues that cause cravings and monitoring their neural responses. These neural changes are basically the same as those seen in other addictive disorders.

So, what do all these brain changes mean? “We focused on how the brain reacts to video game exposure, but these effects do not always translate to real-life changes,” says Palaus. As video games are still quite new, the research into their effects is still in its infancy. For example, we are still working out what aspects of games affect which brain regions and how. “It’s likely that video games have both positive (on attention, visual and motor skills) and negative aspects (risk of addiction), and it is essential we embrace this complexity,” explains Palaus.

Latest Battery Free Battery Using Ambient Power

University of Washington researchers have invented a cellphone that requires no batteries — a major leap forward in moving beyond chargers, cords and dying phones. Instead, the phone harvests the few microwatts of power it requires from either ambient radio signals or light.

The team also made Skype calls using its battery-free phone, demonstrating that the prototype made of commercial, off-the-shelf components can receive and transmit speech and communicate with a base station.

The new technology is detailed in a paper published July 1 in the Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

“We’ve built what we believe is the first functioning cellphone that consumes almost zero power,” said co-author Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the UW. “To achieve the really, really low power consumption that you need to run a phone by harvesting energy from the environment, we had to fundamentally rethink how these devices are designed.”

The team of UW computer scientists and electrical engineers eliminated a power-hungry step in most modern cellular transmissions — converting analog signals that convey sound into digital data that a phone can understand. This process consumes so much energy that it’s been impossible to design a phone that can rely on ambient power sources.

Instead, the battery-free cellphone takes advantage of tiny vibrations in a phone’s microphone or speaker that occur when a person is talking into a phone or listening to a call.

An antenna connected to those components converts that motion into changes in standard analog radio signal emitted by a cellular base station. This process essentially encodes speech patterns in reflected radio signals in a way that uses almost no power.

To transmit speech, the phone uses vibrations from the device’s microphone to encode speech patterns in the reflected signals. To receive speech, it converts encoded radio signals into sound vibrations that that are picked up by the phone’s speaker. In the prototype device, the user presses a button to switch between these two “transmitting” and “listening” modes.

Using off-the-shelf components on a printed circuit board, the team demonstrated that the prototype can perform basic phone functions — transmitting speech and data and receiving user input via buttons. Using Skype, researchers were able to receive incoming calls, dial out and place callers on hold with the battery-free phone.

“The cellphone is the device we depend on most today. So if there were one device you’d want to be able to use without batteries, it is the cellphone,” said faculty lead Joshua Smith, professor in both the Allen School and UW’s Department of Electrical Engineering. “The proof of concept we’ve developed is exciting today, and we think it could impact everyday devices in the future.”

The team designed a custom base station to transmit and receive the radio signals. But that technology conceivably could be integrated into standard cellular network infrastructure or Wi-Fi routers now commonly used to make calls.

“You could imagine in the future that all cell towers or Wi-Fi routers could come with our base station technology embedded in it,” said co-author Vamsi Talla, a former UW electrical engineering doctoral student and Allen School research associate. “And if every house has a Wi-Fi router in it, you could get battery-free cellphone coverage everywhere.”

The battery-free phone does still require a small amount of energy to perform some operations. The prototype has a power budget of 3.5 microwatts.

The UW researchers demonstrated how to harvest this small amount of energy from two different sources. The battery-free phone prototype can operate on power gathered from ambient radio signals transmitted by a base station up to 31 feet away.

Using power harvested from ambient light with a tiny solar cell — roughly the size of a grain of rice — the device was able to communicate with a base station that was 50 feet away.

Many other battery-free technologies that rely on ambient energy sources, such as temperature sensors or an accelerometer, conserve power with intermittent operations. They take a reading and then “sleep” for a minute or two while they harvest enough energy to perform the next task. By contrast, a phone call requires the device to operate continuously for as long as the conversation lasts.

“You can’t say hello and wait for a minute for the phone to go to sleep and harvest enough power to keep transmitting,” said co-author Bryce Kellogg, a UW electrical engineering doctoral student. “That’s been the biggest challenge — the amount of power you can actually gather from ambient radio or light is on the order of 1 or 10 microwatts. So real-time phone operations have been really hard to achieve without developing an entirely new approach to transmitting and receiving speech.”

Next, the research team plans to focus on improving the battery-free phone’s operating range and encrypting conversations to make them secure. The team is also working to stream video over a battery-free cellphone and add a visual display feature to the phone using low-power E-ink screens.

Train Robot with Brain Oops Signals

Baxter the robot can tell the difference between right and wrong actions without its human handlers ever consciously giving a command or even speaking a word. The robot’s learning success relies upon a system that interprets the human brain’s “oops” signals to let Baxter know if a mistake has been made.

The new twist on training robots comes from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Boston University. Researchers have long known that the human brain generates certain error-related signals when it notices a mistake. They created machine-learning software that can recognize and classify those brain oops signals from individual human volunteers within 10 to 30 milliseconds—a way of creating instant feedback for Baxter the robot when it sorted paint cans and wire spools into two different bins in front of the humans.

“Imagine being able to instantaneously tell a robot to do a certain action, without needing to type a command, push a button or even say a word,” said Daniela Rus, director of CSAIL at MIT, in a press release. “A streamlined approach like that would improve our abilities to supervise factory robots, driverless cars and other technologies we haven’t even invented yet.”

The human volunteers wore electroencephalography (EEG) caps that can detect those oops signals when they see Baxter the robot making a mistake. Each volunteer first underwent a short training session where the machine-learning software learned to recognize their brains’ specific “oops” signals. But once that was completed, the system was able to start giving Baxter instant feedback on whether each human handler approved or disapproved of the robot’s actions.

It’s still far from a perfect system, or even a 90-percent accuracy system when performing in real time. But researchers seem confident based on the early trials.

The MIT and Boston University researchers also discovered that they could improve the system’s offline performance by focusing on stronger oops signals that the brain generates when it notices so-called “secondary errors.” These errors came up when the system misclassified the human brain signals by either falsely detecting an oops signal when the robot was making the correct choice, or when the system failed to detect the initial oops signal when the robot was making the wrong choice.

By incorporating the oops signals from secondary errors, researchers succeeded in boosting the system’s overall performance by almost 20 percent. The system cannot yet process the oops signals from secondary errors in actual live training sessions with Baxter. But once it can, researchers expect to boost the overall system accuracy beyond 90 percent.

The research also stands out because it showed how people who had never tried the EEG caps before could still learn to train Baxter the robot without much trouble. That bodes well for the possibilities of humans intuitively relying on EEG to train their future robot cars, robot humanoids or similar robotic systems. (The study is detailed in a paper that was recently accepted by the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) scheduled to take place in Singapore this May.)

Such lab experiments may still seem like a far cry from future human customers instantaneously correcting their household robots or robot car chauffeurs. But it could become a more practical approach for real-world robot training as researchers tweak the system’s accuracy and EEG cap technology becomes more user-friendly outside of lab settings. Next up for the researchers: Using the oops system to train Baxter on making right choices with multiple choice situations.