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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

Ford Says You Can Never Own Leased EVs
schwit1 shares a report from The Truth About Cars: Ford Motor Co. will be suspending end-of-lease buyout options for customers driving all-electric vehicles, provided they took possession of the model after June 15, 2022. Those who nabbed their Mach-E beforehand will still have the option of purchasing the automobile once their lease ends. However, there are some states that won't be abiding by the updated rules until the end of the year, not that it matters when customers are almost guaranteed to have to wait at least that long on a reserved vehicle. The change, made earlier in the month, cruised under our radar until a reader asked for our take over the weekend. Ford could be wanting to capitalize on exceptionally high used vehicle prices, ensuring that more vehicles make it back into rotation. The broader industry has likewise been talking about abandoning traditional ownership to transition the auto market into being more service-oriented where manufacturers ultimately retain ownership of all relevant assets. But it may not be that simple as this being another step in the business sector's larger plan to maximize profitability by discouraging private vehicle ownership. [...] While leasing customers will not be able to buy their EV, Ford Credit will allow them to renew an expiring contract in exchange for a brand-new model. Amazingly, the manufacturer is trying to frame this as environmentally responsible. But it smells like planned obsolescence and desperation from where I'm sitting. Ford knows that electrics require far less labor to produce. By also retaining/recycling the most-expensive component (the battery) it can effectively maximize profitability on a three or four-year turnaround. For now, the updated leasing scheme is limited exclusively to all-electric products (e.g. Ford Lightning or Mach-E "Mustang") sold in 37 individual states. But the long wait times for new EVs and Ford's desire to expand the plan through the rest of the year effectively means it'll be national by the time most people take ownership.

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MNT Shrinks Its Open Source Reform Laptop Into a 7-Inch Pocket PC Throwback
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A few months ago, we reviewed the MNT Reform, which attempts to bring the dream of entirely open source hardware to an audience that doesn't want to design and build a laptop totally from scratch. Now, MNT is bringing its open-hardware ethos to a second PC, a 7-inch "Pocket Reform" laptop that recalls the design of old clamshell Pocket PCs, just like the big Reform references the design of chunky '90s ThinkPads. The Pocket Reform borrows many of the big Reform laptop's design impulses, including a low-profile mechanical keyboard and trackball-based pointing device and a chunky, retro-throwback design. The device includes a 7-inch 1080p screen, a pair of USB-C ports (one of which is used for charging), a microSD slot for storage expansion, and a micro HDMI port for connecting to a display when you're at your desk. [...] The version of the Pocket Reform in the announcement isn't ready to launch yet, and MNT says it represents "near-final specs and design." For users interested in the Pocket Reform's imminent early beta program, there's a newsletter sign-up link at the bottom of the announcement. One of the main complaints Ars noted about the big Reform was the "miserably slow ARM processor," which will be included in the Pocket Reform. With that said, MNT has addressed other complaints about the big Reform by "adding reinforced metal side panels to cover the ports and a redesigned battery system that won't let the batteries fully discharge if the laptop is left unplugged."

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Arm's Immortalis GPU is Its First With Hardware Ray Tracing for Android Gaming
Arm is announcing its new flagship Immortalis GPU today, its first to include hardware-based ray tracing on mobile. As PCs and the latest Xbox Series X and PS5 consoles are all gradually moving toward impressive ray-traced visuals, Immortalis-G715 is designed to be the Arm's first GPU to deliver the same on Android phones and tablets. From a report: Built on top of Mali, a GPU that's used by the likes of MediaTek and Samsung, Immortalis is designed with 10-16 cores in mind and promises a boost of 15 percent over the previous generation premium Mali GPUs. Arm sees Immortalis as the start of a transition to ray tracing on mobile following its success with the 8 billion Mali GPUs that have shipped to date. "The challenge is that Ray Tracing techniques can use significant power, energy, and area across the mobile system-on-a-chip (SoC)," explains Andy Craigen, director of product management at Arm. "However, Ray Tracing on Immortalis-G715 only uses 4 percent of the shader core area, while delivering more than 300 percent performance improvements through the hardware acceleration." It's not clear if a 3x speedup over software-based ray tracing will be enough to tempt game developers, but when Nvidia introduced hardware accelerated ray tracing in its RTX 2080, it advertised a 2x-3x boost at the time. "It's the right performance point for now to get this technology into the market," says Arm's Paul Williamson, adding that it may also come in handy in augmented reality applications where RT could be used to match virtual lighting to the real-world environment around you. Arm is already delivering software-based ray tracing in last year's Mali-G710, but the promise of hardware support means we will start to see flagship smartphones with this chip at the beginning of 2023. Samsung also announced its Exynos 2200 chip with hardware-based ray tracing earlier this year, so manufacturers are getting ready for the games to arrive.

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Brain-Machine Interface Helps Man With Paralysis Feed Himself Using Robotic Arms
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Johns Hopkins University-led researchers have developed a new technique that let a partially paralyzed man feed himself using robotic arms connected through a brain-machine interface. He only had to make small movements with his fists at certain prompts (such as "select cut location") to have the fork- and knife-equipped arms cut food and bring it to his mouth. He could have dessert within 90 seconds, according to the researchers. The new method centers on a shared control system that minimizes the amount of mental input required to complete a task. He could map his four-degree freedom of movement (two for each hand) to as many as 12 degrees of freedom for controlling the robot arms. The limbs' prompt-based intelligent responses also reduced the workload. The researchers "want to add touch-like sensor feedback instead of relying exclusively on visuals," the report says. "They also hope to improve the accuracy and efficiency while reducing the need for visual confirmation."

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Electric Fan Car Shatters Goodwood Hill Climb Record
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Drive: AMcMurtry Speirling piloted by former F1 and IndyCar racing driver Max Chilton broke the Goodwood hill record Sunday, crushing the previous record set by the VW ID.R by nearly a full second. The electric fan car rocketed -- almost literally -- up the hill in a staggering 39.08 seconds, compared to the electric prototype's 39.90. The Speirling is the creation of a British-Irish startup that set out to build a ridiculously powerful and lightweight car that could be driven on the track and on the streets (a road-legal version of the Goodwood fan car is in the works). The batmobile-looking machine reportedly weighs less than 1,000 kilograms (less than 2,200 pounds), yet boasts over 1,000 horsepower courtesy of its dual electric motors. While boasting a power-to-weight ratio of 1,000 bhp per ton surely played a role at the Goodwood Festival of Speed over the weekend, it's the car's twin fans hidden within the bespoke chassis that really helped it achieve that record-setting time. Much like Gordon Murray's T.50 supercar, the Speirling's fans essentially suck the car to the ground and provide it with other-worldly downforce. Factor in the massive rear wing and other external bodywork, and the EV is essentially glued to the road while cornering at high speed. You can watch video of the impressive feat here.

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Tesla Pays Powerwall Owners to Form 'Virtual Power Plant' in California
"Tesla has launched a new virtual power plant in partnership with PG&E in California that will pay Powerwalls owners to help stabilize the electric grid and end brownouts in California," reports Electrek.A virtual power plant (VPP) consists of distributed energy storage systems, like Tesla Powerwalls, used in concert to provide grid services and avoid the use of polluting and expensive peaker power plants. PC Magazine notes the program was launched in conjunction with California power utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company:As well as the personal feeling of satisfaction for helping to stabilize California's grid, you'll receive $2 for every additional kilowatt-hour delivered during designated "events," such as any time grid operator CAISO issues an energy alert, warning, or emergency. Contributors will receive push notifications before and during an event with details of its expected start and finish times. Once an event is over, each Powerwall will automatically resume normal operation. Electrek adds that "The $2 per kWh amount is quite significant and reflects just how much value a Virtual Power Plant can add to the grid in case of an emergency event where the grid needs more capacity. Depending on the events and the number of Powerwalls homeowners have, they could earn anywhere from $10 to $60 per event or even more for bigger systems." But in addition, "Tesla will dispatch your Powerwall when the grid is in critical need of additional power. That is when the least efficient generators would typically come online." And you get the distinction of being pat of "the largest distributed battery in the world — potentially over 50,000 Powerwalls.... Tesla said that it has about 50,000 Powerwalls that could be eligible for this VPP, which add up to a significant 500 MWh of energy capacity than can be distributed in any event... [I]t is basically going to turn the company into a major decentralized electric utility. It's already in operation in Australia. Now it's in California, and soon it is going to be in Texas."

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Here Come the Solar-Powered Cars
The Guardian reports on the "world's first production-ready solar car", a streamlined and energy-efficient sedan-style vehicle covered with curved solar panels called "the Lightyear 0." The Dutch company Lightyear hopes to be shipping the vehicle by November, priced at about $264,000 (€250,000 or £215,000) — though the company plans another solar-assisted car priced at $32,000 (€30,000) as early as 2025. Lead engineer Roel Grooten credits their car's efficiency to things like the "low-rolling resistance of the tyres, of the bearing s and the motor."It is this streamlined design that the company credits for allowing it to muscle its way into a space long overlooked by most car manufacturers...."If we would have the same amount of energy that we harvest on these panels on any other car that uses three times the amount of energy to drive, it becomes useless. It becomes a very expensive gimmick," said Grooten. "You have to build this car from the ground up, to make it as efficient as possible, to make it this feasible." In optimal conditions, the solar panels can add up to 44 miles a day to the 388-mile range the car gets between charges, according to the company. Tests carried out by Lightyear suggest people with a daily commute of less than 22 miles could drive for two months in the Netherlands without needing to plug in, while those in sunnier climes such as Portugal or Spain could go as long as seven months.... In an effort to use as much of this solar energy as possible, the windswept design eschews side-view mirrors for cameras and runs off lightweight electric motors tucked into its wheels. The body panels are crafted from reclaimed carbon fibre and the interiors are fashioned from vegan, plant-based leather with fabrics made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate bottles. The article notes that Mercedes-Benz also plans rooftop solar panels for an upcoming electric car, while Toyota's Prius hybrids also sometimes offer limited-capacity panels as add-ons. Other companies planning solar-assisted vehicles include Sono Motors and Aptera Motors.

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A Garage-Sized Reactor Could Provide Limitless Energy With Magnet-Free Technology
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Interesting Engineering: Seattle-based Zap Energy is using a lesser-known approach to nuclear fusion to build modular, garage-sized reactors. They are cheaper and don't require the large, incredibly powerful magnets used in traditional fusion experiments. Ultimately, they may also provide a quicker route to achieving commercially viable nuclear fusion, a press statement reveals. Nuclear fusion has the potential to remove our reliance on fossil fuels by providing a practically limitless energy source that produces power in a similar way to the Sun and the stars. Fusion experiments, such as Europe's ITER, typically rely on large donut-shaped tokamak reactors using extremely powerful magnets to control the plasma generated during the fusion reaction. Zap Energy has developed a different approach with its Z-pinch technology. The company uses an electromagnetic field instead of the expensive magnetic coils and shielding materials used in tokamaks. This, they say, pins the plasma inside a relatively small space and "pinches" it until it becomes hot and dense enough for the required reaction to take place. Z-pinch technology was first thought up in the 1950s, but until recently, instability problems meant that research had been largely focused on the more stable tokamak technology. In 2019, a group of researchers from the University of Washington proposed the use of sheared axial flow to smooth the plasma streams, preventing distortions that previously led to instability. One of the authors of that study, Uri Shumlak, co-founded Zap Energy in 2017 in a bid to leverage the sheared axial flow technique to make Z-pinch technology commercially viable. Just last week, Zap Energy reached a key milestone by creating the first plasmas inside its prototype reactor, called the FuZE-Q. The Zap Energy team also just closed a $160-million Series C funding round, which will help it to further develop its Z-pinch technology and hopefully bring it to the market. The company says its reactors could be small enough to fit inside a garage, meaning it could give both micro nuclear reactor and nuclear fusion firms a run for their money.

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Apple Rumored To Announce 'Game-Changer' AR/VR Headset In January 2023
Apple is "likely" to announce its long-rumored mixed-reality headset as soon as January 2023, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has reiterated. MacRumors reports: In a detailed post on Medium, Kuo explained that Apple's headset will be a "game-changer" for the augmented-reality and virtual-reality market. Describing some of the headset's functionality, Kuo said that while Apple has repeatedly touted its focus on AR, the headset will "offer an excellent immersive experience" and a "video see-thru" mode. The headset is expected to boost demand for immersive gaming and multimedia entertainment experiences. Kuo said that the device is "the most complicated product Apple has ever designed," leading Apple to use components from many of its existing suppliers. Kuo also believes that Apple will be an industry leader in the headset space, has "significant competitive advantages," and does not need to join the Metaverse Standards Forum. Notably, Kuo thinks that rivals will race to imitate Apple's headset once it launches, "leading the headset hardware industry to the next stage of rapid growth."

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Dutch Join Germany, Austria, In Reverting To Coal
The Dutch joined Germany and Austria in reverting to coal power on Monday following an energy crisis provoked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. France 24 reports: The Netherlands said it would lift all restrictions on power stations fired by the fossil fuel, which were previously limited to just over a third of output. Berlin and Vienna made similar announcements on Sunday as Moscow, facing biting sanctions over Ukraine, cuts gas supplies to energy-starved Europe. "The cabinet has decided to immediately withdraw the restriction on production for coal-fired power stations from 2002 to 2024," Dutch climate and energy minister Rob Jetten told journalists in The Hague. The Dutch minister said his country had "prepared this decision with our European colleagues over the past few days." Germany however said it still aimed to close its coal power plants by 2030, in light of the greater emissions of climate-changing CO2 from the fossil fuel. "The 2030 coal exit date is not in doubt at all," economy ministry spokesman Stephan Gabriel Haufe said at a regular news conference. The target was "more important than ever," he added. Austria's government meanwhile announced Sunday that it would reopen a mothballed coal power station because of power shortages arising from reduced deliveries of gas from Russia. The authorities would work with the Verbund group, the country's main electricity supplier, to get the station in the southern city of Mellach back in action, said the Chancellery. The European Commission noted Monday that "some of the existing coal capacities might be used longer than initially expected" because of the new energy landscape in Europe.

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Scientists Unveil Bionic Robo-fish To Remove Microplastics From Seas
Scientists have designed a tiny robot-fish that is programmed to remove microplastics from seas and oceans by swimming around and adsorbing them on its soft, flexible, self-healing body. From a report: Microplastics are the billions of tiny plastic particles which fragment from the bigger plastic things used every day such as water bottles, car tyres and synthetic T-shirts. They are one of the 21st century's biggest environmental problems because once they are dispersed into the environment through the breakdown of larger plastics they are very hard to get rid of, making their way into drinking water, produce, and food, harming the environment and animal and human health. "It is of great significance to develop a robot to accurately collect and sample detrimental microplastic pollutants from the aquatic environment," said Yuyan Wang, a researcher at the Polymer Research Institute of Sichuan University and one of the lead authors on the study. Her team's novel invention is described in a research paper in the journal Nano Letters. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first example of such soft robots." Researchers at Sichuan University have revealed an innovative solution to track down these pollutants when it comes to water contamination: designing a tiny self-propelled robo-fish that can swim around, latch on to free-floating microplastics, and fix itself if it gets cut or damaged while on its expedition.

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NASA Taps Three Companies To Design Nuclear Power Plants For the Moon
NASA announced on Tuesday that it's contracting three suppliers to provide concept designs for nuclear fission energy systems designed for use on the moon. TechCrunch reports: The winning bids for this award came from Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse and IX (a joint venture from Intuitive Machines and X-Energy). Each will be working with a few partners to develop their systems, which will be "initial concepts" only for the purposes of satisfying this particular contract, and each will receive roughly $5 million for their work, expected to take around 12 months. NASA is aptly partnering with the Department of Energy (DOE) on this project, and the specs include a 40-kilowatt power generation capability, capable of generating that for at least a decade. That's about what a full charge on a current entry-level Nissan Leaf contains -- but as a fission generator it would obviously provide that continuously. It may not seem like much, but deployed singularly or in groups to support a lunar base, it could solve a lot of the challenges of the kind of prolonged occupancy of the moon that NASA plans to eventually establish through its Artemis program, which seeks to return humans to our largest natural satellite for ongoing science missions. NASA also notes that the work done for this contract could have other future applications for propulsion systems for long-range spacecraft for deep space explorations.

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Israel Ministry of Defense To Test Drone-Packing Advanced Robotic Tank
The Israeli Ministry of Defense plans to begin testing of a Medium Robotic Combat Vehicle (M-RCV) next year. New Atlas reports: Developed by the Ministry of Defense's Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), the Tank and APC Directorate, and Israeli security industries, the robotic tank is based on a new robotic platform type BLR-2 made by Israeli firm BL. It features a 30-mm autonomous turret originally developed by the Tank and APC Directorate for the Eitan armored personnel carrier; the Elbit Iron Fist Active Protection System, which is a smaller, mountable version of the Iron Dome anti-projectile defense system; fire control and mission management systems; a robotic autonomous operations kit; and active and passive sensors for situational awareness. In addition, the robotic vehicle carries a capsuled drone that it can deploy and retrieve for forward reconnaissance missions. It can also carry a variety of heavy loads, as well as an Israeli Aerospace Industries missile launcher and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Spike missiles. According to Elbit, the robot can operate in all weathers in a largely autonomous mode and can integrate with uncrewed battlefield arrays. Field tests in representative scenarios are scheduled to start in 2023. You can view the M-RCV in action here.

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DRAM Prices To Drop 3-8% Due To Ukraine War, Inflation
Taiwanese research firm TrendForce said Monday that DRAM pricing for commercial buyers is forecast to drop around three to eight percent across those markets in the third quarter compared to the previous three months. Even prices for DDR5 modules in the PC market could drop as much as five percent from July to September. The Register reports: This could result in DRAM buyers, such as system vendors and distributors, reducing prices for end users if they hope to stimulate demand in markets like PC and smartphones where sales have waned. We suppose they could try to profit on the decreased memory prices, but with many people tightening their budgets, we hope this won't be the case. The culprit for the DRAM price drop is one that we've been hearing a great deal about in the past few months: weaker demand for consumer electronics, including PCs and smartphones, as a result of high inflation and Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, according to TrendForce. The weaker consumer demand means DRAM inventories are building up at system vendors and distributors, which means they don't need to buy as much in the near future. This, in turn, is why memory prices are dropping, the research firm said. On the PC side, DDR4 memory pricing is expected to drop three to eight percent in the third quarter of 2022 after only seeing a zero to five percent decline in the second quarter. DDR5 pricing, on the other hand, is set to drop by only zero to five percent in Q3 after seeing a three to eight percent plummet in the previous quarter. For certain DRAM products, prices could see a steeper decline of more than eight percent, according to TrendForce, though the firm didn't say which products this would include. TrendForce said PC makers are focused on getting rid of their existing DRAM inventories, and a continuously "sluggish" market means they'll be reticent to buy much more memory.

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Eric Schmidt Urges US To Lean On TSMC, Samsung For Chip Security
An anonymous reader quotes a report from the Indian Express: The US should do more to attract overseas chipmakers to build plants on its territory as a matter of national security, former Google chief Eric Schmidt wrote in an opinion piece published Monday.Pointing to China's accelerating investment in chip fabrication technology and capacity, Schmidt urged the US to reduce its dependence on Taiwan and South Korea for the most advanced semiconductors powering everything from smartphones to ballistic missiles and build out its own capabilities. Instead, it should be incentivizing national champions Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Samsung Electronics Co. to partner with US chip designers and build more on US soil, he said. International relations scholar Graham Allison, who shares the byline on the Wall Street Journal article with Schmidt, previously warned that the US and China could be on a path to war that neither country wants. The two men set out policy recommendations for improving American competitiveness in the chipmaking race so as to avoid a drastic imbalance between the two superpowers. "If Beijing develops durable advantages across the semiconductor supply chain, it would generate breakthroughs in foundational technologies that the U.S. cannot match," they wrote. "The U.S. can't spend its way out of this predicament." In addition to President Joe Biden's proposed $52 billion investment plan -- which is still under consideration by US legislators -- the US should lean into its strengths of research and development, manufacturing less-advanced but more widely used slower chips through the likes of Intel Corp. and GlobalFoundries Inc., and redouble its efforts to bring TSMC and Samsung on shore. Both Asian companies are constructing fabs in the US, but Schmidt and Allison's message is that more needs to be done to ensure long-term US prosperity. "America is on the verge of losing the chip competition," they said, urging that "the U.S. government mobilizes a national effort similar to the one that created the technologies that won World War II."

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