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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

Intel CEO Blames Company's Obsessive Focus on Capturing 90% CPU Market Share For Missing Out on Other Opportunities
Intel chief executive Bob Swan says he's willing to let go the company's traditional dominance of the market for CPUs in order to meet the rising demand for newer, more specialized silicon chips for applications such as AI and autonomous cars. From a report: Intel's Bob Swan blames being focused on 90% CPU market share as a reason for missing opportunities and transitions, envisions Intel as having 30% of all-silicon TAM instead of majority CPU TAM. Just a few years ago, Intel owned more than 90% of the market share in the x86 CPU market. Many financial models used Intel's revenue as a proxy for the Total Available Market of the CPU sector. With a full-year revenue of $59.4 billion in 2017, you can estimate the total TAM of the CPU side of things at roughly $66 billion (2017 est). Bob Swan believes that this mindset of protecting a majority share in the CPU side has led to Intel becoming complacent and missing out on major opportunities. Bob even went as far as to say that he is trying to "destroy" this thinking of having a 90% market share in the CPU side and instead wants people to come into office thinking Intel has 30% market share in "all Silicon." Swan on how Intel got to the place where it is now: How we got here is really kind of threefold, one we got a lot faster than we expected and the demand for CPUs and servers grew much faster than we expected in 2018. You'll remember we came into 2018 projecting a 10% growth and we grew by 21% growth so the good news problem is that demand for our products in our transformation to a data-centric company was much higher than we expected. Secondly, we took on a 100% market share for smartphone modem and we decided that we would build it in our fabs, so we took on even more demand. And third, to exacerbate that, we slipped on bringing our 10nm to life and when that happens you build more and more performance into your last generation for us -- 14nm -- which means there is a higher core count and larger die size. So those three -- growing much faster than we thought, bringing modems inside and delaying 10nm resulted in a position where we didn't have flexible capacity.

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Will Robots Wipe Out Wall Street's Highest-Paying Jobs?
An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg:Robots have replaced thousands of routine jobs on Wall Street. Now, they're coming for higher-ups. That's the contention of Marcos Lopez de Prado, a Cornell University professor and the former head of machine learning at AQR Capital Management LLC, who testified in Washington on Friday about the impact of artificial intelligence on capital markets and jobs. The use of algorithms in electronic markets has automated the jobs of tens of thousands of execution traders worldwide, and it's also displaced people who model prices and risk or build investment portfolios, he said. "Financial machine learning creates a number of challenges for the 6.14 million people employed in the finance and insurance industry, many of whom will lose their jobs -- not necessarily because they are replaced by machines, but because they are not trained to work alongside algorithms," Lopez de Prado told the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.

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Will Plunging Battery Prices Start a Boom In Electric Power?
An anonymous reader quotes Utility Dive:Average market prices for battery packs have plunged from $1,100 per kilowatt hour in 2010 to $156 per kilowatt hour in 2019, an 87% fall in real terms, according to a report released Tuesday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Prices are projected to fall to around $100 per kilowatt hour by 2023, driving electrification across the global economy, according to BNEF's forecast. BNEF's latest forecast, from its 2019 Battery Price Survey, is an example of how advancements in battery technology have driven down costs at rates faster than previously predicted. Three years ago, when battery prices were around $300 per kilowatt hour, BNEF projected they would fall to $120 per kilowatt hour by 2030... The cost of lithium-ion batteries mandates the cost of electric vehicles for consumers and the ability of battery storage projects to compete in electricity markets. As they get cheaper, batteries will be used in more industry sectors. "For example, the electrification of commercial vehicles, like delivery vans, is becoming increasingly attractive," BNEF said. Earlier this year, Amazon placed an order for 100,000 all-electric delivery vans from Michigan-based start-up manufacturer Rivian. Just this week, Reuters reported that DHL will run pilot programs for its StreetScooter electric delivery vehicles in U.S. cities, starting in 2020.

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Scientists Propose Using Mountains To Build a New Type of Battery For Long-Term Energy Storage
An anonymous reader quotes a report from IEEE Spectrum: One of the big challenges of making 100 percent renewable energy a reality is long-term storage," says Julian Hunt, an engineering scientist at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. Hunt and his collaborators have devised a novel system to complement lithium-ion battery use for energy storage over the long run: Mountain Gravity Energy Storage, or MGES for short. Similar to hydroelectric power, MGES involves storing material at elevation to produce gravitational energy. The energy is recovered when the stored material falls and turns turbines to generate electricity. The group describes its system in a paper published November 6 in Energy. "Instead of building a dam, we propose building a big sand or gravel reservoir," explains Hunt. The key to MGES lies in finding two mountaintop sites that have a suitable difference in elevation -- 1,000 meters is ideal. "The greater the height difference, the cheaper the technology," he says. The sites will look similar, with each comprised of a mine-like station to store the sand or gravel, and a filling station directly below it. Valves release the material into waiting vessels, which are then transported via cranes and motor-run cables to the upper site. There, the sand or gravel is stored -- for weeks, months, or even years -- until it's ready to be used. When the material is moved back down the mountain, that stored gravitational energy is released and converted into electrical energy. Not only is the system more environmentally friendly than pumped-storage hydropower and dams, but it's more flexible to meet varying energy demands. "Hunt estimates that the annual cost of storing energy via this system will vary between $50 to $100 per megawatt hour (MWh)," the report adds. "And he says that the energy expended to transport materials to the upper sits will be offset by the amount of gravitational energy the system produces."

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Apple May Use Carbon-Free Aluminum In New iPhones
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple is taking delivery this month of the first batch of carbon-free aluminum produced by a Montreal-based venture, helping move the iPhone maker closer to its greenhouse-gas reduction goal. Elysis, a joint venture between Rio Tinto Group and Alcoa Corp. backed by Apple, uses new technology that emits pure oxygen when producing aluminum. Apple has said in an environment report that 80% of its emissions from an iPhone 8 came during the production phase. The metal is also used in iPads, Macs and Apple watches. Rio's commercial network is handling the first delivery to Apple, a Rio spokesman said in an email. The metal being shipped to Apple was produced at the Alcoa Technical Center in Pittsburgh. "This first sale is tangible evidence of our revolutionary work to transform and disrupt the conventional smelting process by making a process that is both more efficient and more sustainable," Benjamin Kahrs, an Alcoa executive vice president and Chief Innovation Officer, said in a statement.

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Magic Leap, a Startup That Has Raised Over $2.3 Billion, Has Sold Just 6,000 Units of Its $2,300 VR Headset -- Far Below 1 Million Units Its CEO Initially Hoped
Magic Leap just announced that they're in the midst of closing a Series E round of funding, but it sounds like they're going to have to clinch that investment with some pretty troubling sales numbers for their only device on the market. From a report: The Information is reporting [paywalled] that Magic Leap managed to sell just 6,000 units of its $2,300 Magic Leap One headset in its first six months on sale, a figure made worse by CEO Rony Abovitz's internal claims that he wanted the startup to sell at least one million units of the device in the first year, a goal the report states he was later convinced to rethink -- Abovitz later projected the company would sell 100,000 units in the first year. The report adds that Magic Leap's second-generation VR headset is "years away from launch" and the startup recently laid off dozens of employees. Magic Leaps counts Google, VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, Alibaba, Qualcomm, AT&T, Japan's NTT Docomo, and the government of Saudi Arabia among its investors. Further reading: Magic Leap Finally Demoed Its Headset And It Is 'Disappointing'; Magic Leap is a Tragic Heap, Says Oculus Cofounder; Oculus CTO Carmack Downplays Consumer AR, Calls Magic Leap Overhyped; and The Magic Leap Con.

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Fukushima Melted Fuel Removal Begins 2021, End State Unknown
Japan's economy and industry ministry said Monday that it will start removing melted fuel from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2021. The milestone step of debris removal is considered the most difficult part of cleaning up the crisis-hit facility. ABC News reports: Nearly nine years after [the Fukushima nuclear power plant was wrecked by a massive earthquake and tsunami], the decommissioning of the plant, where three reactors melted, remains largely an uncertainty. The revised road map, to be formally approved later this month, lacks details on how the complex should look at the end but maintains a 30- to 40-year target to finish. By far the toughest challenge is to remove the 800 tons of nuclear fuel in the three reactors that melted, fell from the cores and hardened at the bottom of their primary containment vessels. In the past two years, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), has made progress in gathering details mainly from two of the three reactors. In February, a small telescopic robot sent inside Unit 2 showed that small pieces of debris can come off and be lifted out. The milestone step of debris removal is scheduled to begin at Unit 2 by the end of 2021. [...] TEPCO started removing the fuel rods from the Unit 3 pool in April 2019 and aims to get all 566 removed by March 2021. Removal of the rods from Units 1 and 2 is to begin in 2023. By 2031, TEPCO also plans to remove thousands at two other units that survived the tsunami to be stored in dry casks on the compound. More than 6,300 fuel rods were in six reactor cooling pools at the time of the accident, and only the Unit 4 pool has been emptied. "Japan has yet to develop a plan to dispose of the highly radioactive waste that will come out of the reactors," the report adds. "Under the road map, the government and TEPCO will compile a plan sometime after the first decade of debris removal ending in 2031." "Experts say a 30- to 40-year completion target for the decommissioning is too optimistic. Some have raised doubts if removing all of the melted fuel is doable and suggest an approach like Chernobyl -- contain the reactors and wait until radioactivity naturally decreases."

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Snapdragon XR2 Chip To Enable Standalone Headsets With 3K x 3K Resolution, 7 Cameras
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Road to VR: Qualcomm today announced Snapdragon XR2 5G, its latest chipset platform dedicated to the needs of standalone VR and AR headsets. The new platform is aimed at high-end devices with support for 3K x 3K displays at 90Hz, along with integrated 5G, accelerated AI processing, and up to seven simultaneous camera feeds for user and environment tracking. While XR1 was made for low-end devices, XR2 5G targets high-end standalone headsets, making it a candidate for Oculus Quest 2, Magic Leap 2, and similar next-gen devices. XR2 offers up notable improvements over Snapdragon 835 (one of the most common chipsets found in current standalone headsets, including Quest); Qualcomm claims 2x performance in CPU & GPU, 4x increase in pixel throughput for video playback, and up to 6x resolution per-eye compared to Snapdragon 835 -- supporting up to 3K x 3K displays at 90Hz. [...] Notably, XR2 supports up to seven simultaneous camera feeds (up from four in prior platforms). This is key for advanced tracking, both of the environment and the user. [...] Qualcomm also says that XR2 offers low-latency pass-through video which could improve the pass-through video experience on headsets like Quest, and potentially enable a wider range of pass-through AR use-cases. Additionally XR2 boasts significantly accelerated AI processing; 11x compared to Snapdragon 835, which could greatly benefit the sort of operations used for turning incoming video feeds into useful tracking information.

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Qualcomm's Snapdragon 765 Chip Could Usher In the First Affordable 5G Phones
In addition to the flagship Snapdragon 865 processor, Qualcomm announced details about its other new chip, the midrange Snapdragon 765. "The 765 might actually be the more interesting of the two, thanks to its integrated 5G modem and its likely future of powering cheaper, midrange devices," reports The Verge. From the report: Right now, there's not a lot of 5G devices out there, and the ones that are around tend to be very expensive. The upcoming 865 might help with that. By default, it'll only work with the X55 5G modem, meaning every Android flagship with a Snapdragon 865 (i.e., nearly all of them) will, in theory, be a 5G phone next year. But even cheaper Android phones with Qualcomm's top processor tend to cost upwards of $750. 700-series chips, on the other hand, are found in far cheaper phones, like HMD's Nokia phones, which hit much lower prices. It's a much lower barrier to entry for 5G than anything currently available, and it could be a big part of making the next-generation network accessible to more customers, not just those who are willing to shell out for the top phones. In fact, it's possible that the Snapdragon 765 will enable better 5G experiences than phones with the 865. That's because, unlike the Snapdragon 865, the 765 has a less powerful X52 modem. It's capable of lower speeds (maxing out at 3.7 Gbps, instead of the 7 Gbps the X55 is theoretically capable of). But it has a big advantage: that 5G modem is integrated directly in the 765 chipset, meaning it should offer improved power efficiency (and, therefore, battery life) than the X55, which is its own separate chip. It'll also support a wider range of 5G standards than the current X50 modem, with Qualcomm promising support for mmWave and sub-6GHz, standalone and non-standalone 5G, and TDD and FDD with Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) network types. Both the Snapdragon 765 and 765G, which features a new Qualcomm Adreno 620 GPU, are expected to come to market in the first quarter of 2020.

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Rivers Could Generate 2,000 Nuclear Power Plants Worth of Energy With 'Blue' Membrane
sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Green energy advocates may soon be turning blue. A new membrane could unlock the potential of 'blue energy,' which uses chemical differences between fresh- and saltwater to generate electricity. If researchers can scale up the postage stamp -- size membrane in an affordable fashion, it could provide carbon-free power to millions of people in coastal nations where freshwater rivers meet the sea. Blue energy's promise stems from its scale: Rivers dump some 37,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater into the oceans every year. This intersection between fresh- and saltwater creates the potential to generate lots of electricity -- 2.6 terawatts, according to one recent estimate, roughly the amount that can be generated by 2,000 nuclear power plants. By pumping positive ions to the other side of a semipermeable membrane, researchers can create two pools of water: one with a positive charge, and one with a negative charge. If they then dunk electrodes in the pools and connect them with a wire, electrons will flow from the negatively charged to the positively charged side, generating electricity.

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Apple's Activation Lock Will Make It Very Difficult To Refurbish Macs
Apple's Activation Lock is an anti-theft feature built into iOS, watchOS, and macOS Catalina that prevents people from restoring your Apple devices without your permission. "With the release of macOS Catalina earlier this fall, any Mac that's equipped with Apple's new T2 security chip now comes with Activation Lock," writes iFixit's Craig Lloyd. What this means is that there will likely be thousands of perfectly good Macs being parted out or scrapped instead of being put into the hands of people who could really use them. From the report: Activation Lock was designed to prevent anyone else from using your device if it's ever lost or stolen, and it's built into the "Find My" service on iPhones, iPads, and other Apple devices. When you're getting rid of an old phone, you want to use Apple's Reset feature to wipe the phone clean, which also removes it from Find My iPhone and gets rid of the Activation Lock. But if you forget, and sell your old iPhone to a friend before you properly wipe it, the phone will just keep asking them for your Apple ID before they can set it up as a new phone. In other words, they won't be able to do much with it besides scrap it for parts. That seems like a nice way to thwart tech thieves, but it also causes unnecessary chaos for recyclers and refurbishers who are wading through piles of locked devices they can't reuse. This reduces the supply of refurbished devices, making them more expensive -- oh, and it's an environmental nightmare. [...] The T2 security chip, however, erases any hope and makes it impossible to do anything on a Mac without the proper Apple ID credentials. Attempting any kind of hardware tinkering on a T2-enabled Mac activates a hardware lock, which can only be undone by connecting the device to Apple-authorized repair software. It's great for device security, but terrible for repair and refurbishment. While recyclers may not be dealing with as many locked Macs as locked iPhones (especially since Activation Lock on Macs is still very new, and there are specific software criteria that need to be met), it's only a matter of time before thousands upon thousands of perfectly working Macs are scrapped or shredded, for lack of an unknown password.

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Study That Argued EVs Aren't Cleaner Gets an Update
An anonymous reader shares an update to a 2017 study from the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute that claimed the manufacturing of big batteries for electric vehicles generates so much emissions that all later savings are canceled out. "Based on the data that it had to work with, the institute's study put the emissions at 150-200 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of lithium-ion battery capacity -- one of the highest estimates that has been published," reports Ars Technica. "But IVL recently took another pass at this effort, incorporating newer data and some slightly different methods. This new study puts the emissions at 61-106kg, depending on the energy sources and efficiencies of different manufacturing plants. That cuts the estimate in half and puts it much more in line with other studies." From the report: So what accounts for the change, exactly? A few things are going on here. The first is a simple methodological change -- this study leaves out emissions associated with recycling the battery, which accounted for 15kg of CO2 in the 2017 estimate. There are different ways to define the boundaries of such a life-cycle analysis, including "cradle-to-grave" methods that cover disposal and "cradle-to-gate" methods that cover up to the point you receive the car. To make apples-to-apples comparisons, you have to know what kind of estimate you're looking at. More importantly, the study took advantage of more recent data that measures emissions during critical steps in the manufacturing process. As the battery manufacturing industry matures, plants are running closer to capacity and with efficiency improvements. Battery chemistry, too, is shifting. [...] The cathodes and anodes of these batteries are made by mixing materials in a solvent (water or otherwise) and then evaporating the solvent to leave a powder behind. This drying dominates the energy use of the manufacturing process. More recent measurements of this process in operating plants are a major source of the difference between the new study and the 2017 study, which estimated 1.6 time to 3 times greater energy use for drying. The new version also acknowledges that the electricity used in the manufacturing process is coming from cleaner sources and could potentially come entirely from renewables. That helps bring the low end of the estimated range down. Of the estimated 61-106kg of CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour of battery capacity, 59kg comes from the raw materials used in the battery. Then, the manufacturing process accounts for 2-47kg, depending on the mix of energy sources used. The 2017 study used a slightly higher number for raw materials -- 60-70kg of CO2 -- but estimated manufacturing emissions at 70-110kg. Then, it added emissions associated with recycling.

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Amazon Proposes a Home Robot that Asks You Questions When It's Confused
An anonymous reader shares a report: AI models invariably encounter ambiguous situations that they struggle to respond to with instructions alone. That's problematic for autonomous agents tasked with, say, navigating an apartment, because they run the risk of becoming stuck when presented with several paths. To solve this, researchers at Amazon's Alexa AI division developed a framework that endows agents with the ability to ask for help in certain situations. Using what's called a model-confusion-based method, the agents ask questions based on their level of confusion as determined by a predefined confidence threshold, which the researchers claim boosts the agents' success by at least 15%. "Consider the situation in which you want a robot assistant to get your wallet on the bed ... with two doors in the scene and an instruction that only tells it to walk through the doorway," wrote the team in a preprint paper describing their work. "In this situation, it is clearly difficult for the robot to know exactly through which door to enter. If, however, the robot is able to discuss the situation with the user, the situational ambiguity can be resolved." The team's framework employs two agent models: Model Confusion, which mimics human user behavior under confusion, and Action Space Augmentation, a more sophisticated algorithm that automatically learns to ask only necessary questions at the right time during navigation. Human interaction data is used to fine-tune the second model further so that it becomes familiar with the environment.

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In a First, Amazon Launches a Battery-powered Portable Echo Speaker in India
After launching nearly a dozen Echo speaker models in India in two years, Amazon said on Wednesday it is adding a new variant to the mix that addresses one of the most requested features from customers in the nation: Portability. From a report: The e-commerce giant today unveiled the Echo Input Portable Smart Speaker Edition, a new variant in the lineup that includes a built-in battery. The 4,800mAh enclosed battery will offer up to 10 hours of continuous music playing or up to 11 hours of stand-by life, the company said. "Portability has been one of the most requested features in India," said Miriam Daniel, VP of Alexa Devices. "You want to be able to carry Alexa with you from room to room within your homes. So we have designed something just for you."

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Huawei Manages To Make Smartphones Without American Chips
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal: Huawei's latest phone, which it unveiled in September -- the Mate 30 with a curved display and wide-angle cameras that competes with Apple's iPhone 11 -- contained no U.S. parts, according to an analysis by UBS and Fomalhaut Techno Solutions, a Japanese technology lab that took the device apart to inspect its insides. In May, the Trump administration banned U.S. shipments to Huawei as trade tensions with Beijing escalated. That move stopped companies like Qualcomm Inc. and Intel Corp. from exporting chips to the company, though some shipments of parts resumed over the summer after companies determined they weren't affected by the ban. While Huawei hasn't stopped using American chips entirely, it has reduced its reliance on U.S. suppliers or eliminated U.S. chips in phones launched since May (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source), including the company's Y9 Prime and Mate smartphones, according to Fomalhaut's teardown analysis. Similar inspections by iFixit and Tech Insights Inc., two other firms that take apart phones to inspect components, have come to similar conclusions. With the Mate 30, audio chips supplied in older versions came from Cirrus Logic. In the newer Mate 30 models, chips were provided by NXP Semiconductors NV, a Dutch chip maker, according to Fomalhaut. Power amplifiers provided by Qorvo or Skyworks were replaced with chips from HiSilicon, Huawei's in-house chip design firm, the teardown analysis showed. A Huawei spokesman said it is the company's "clear preference to continue to integrate and buy components from U.S. supply partners. If that proves impossible because of the decisions of the U.S. government, we will have no choice but to find alternative supply from non-U.S. sources."

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