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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

DNA Robots Designed In Minutes Instead of Days
Researchers have developed a tool that can design complex DNA robots and nanodevices in minutes instead of days. Phys.Org reports: In a paper published today in the journal Nature Materials, researchers from The Ohio State University -- led by former engineering doctoral student Chao-Min Huang -- unveiled new software they call MagicDNA. The software helps researchers design ways to take tiny strands of DNA and combine them into complex structures with parts like rotors and hinges that can move and complete a variety of tasks, including drug delivery. One advantage is that it allows researchers to carry out the entire design truly in 3-D. Earlier design tools only allowed creation in 2-D, forcing researchers to map their creations into 3-D. That meant designers couldn't make their devices too complex. The software also allows designers to build DNA structures "bottom up" or "top down." In "bottom up" design, researchers take individual strands of DNA and decide how to organize them into the structure they want, which allows fine control over local device structure and properties. But they can also take a "top down" approach where they decide how their overall device needs to be shaped geometrically and then automate how the DNA strands are put together. Combining the two allows for increasing complexity of the overall geometry while maintaining precise control over individual component properties. Another key element of the software is that it allows simulations of how designed DNA devices would move and operate in the real world.

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Microsoft Edge 'Performance Mode' Takes the Load Off Your CPU and RAM, Saves Battery
An anonymous reader quotes a report from 9to5Google: The latest addition coming to Microsoft Edge is "performance mode." Rolling out first to the Canary channel, "performance mode" in Microsoft Edge is designed to improve how the browser uses the resources available to it. In practice, Microsoft says the new mode will improve speed and responsiveness overall while "optimizing" the use of battery, CPU, and RAM. Apparently, the mode may adjust based on your browsing habits too. "Performance mode helps you optimize speed, responsiveness, memory, CPU and battery usage," says Microsoft. "Performance improvements might vary depending on your individual specifications and browser habits." One specific change Microsoft notes is that the "Sleeping Tabs" feature in Edge will be locked to five minutes when performance mode is turned on. "Sleeping Tabs" essentially freezes a tab that's left open in the background, saving resources when it's not actively being used. Performance Mode is rolling out now in version 91.0.856.0, available in the Canary channel. The toggle is available in the "System" section of the settings menu.

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No Human Can Match This High-Speed Box-Unloading Robot Named After a Pickle
schwit1 writes: Able to move 1,600 boxes per hour using just one arm, Dill relies on humans to keep it operating efficiently Pickle Robots says that Dill's approach to the box unloading task is unique in a couple of ways. First, it can handle messy trailers filled with a jumble of boxes of different shapes, colors, sizes, and weights. And second, from the get-go it's intended to work under human supervision, relying on people to step in and handle edge cases. We asked Meyer how much Dill costs, and to our surprise, he gave us a candid answer: Depending on the configuration, the system can cost anywhere from $50-100k to deploy and about that same amount per year to operate. Meyer points out that you can't really compare the robot to a human (or humans) simply on speed, since with the robot, you don't have to worry about injuries or improper sorting of packages or training or turnover. While Pickle is currently working on several other configurations of robots for package handling, this particular truck unloading configuration will be shipping to customers next year.

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Nvidia's CEO Predicts a Metaverse Will Transform Our World
"Jensen Huang, the CEO of Nvidia, the nation's most valuable semiconductor company, with a stock price of $645 a share and a market cap of $400 billion, is out to create the metaverse," writes Time magazine. Huang defines it as "a virtual world that is a digital twin of ours."Huang credits author Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, filled with collectives of shared 3-D spaces and virtually enhanced physical spaces that are extensions of the Internet, for conjuring the metaverse. This is already playing out with the massively popular online games like Fortnite and Minecraft, where users create richly imagined virtual worlds. Now the concept is being put to work by Nvidia and others. Partnering with Nvidia, BMW is using a virtual digital twin of a factory in Regensburg, Germany, to virtually plan new workflows before deploying the changes in real time in their physical factory. The metaverse, says Huang, "is where we will create the future" and transform how the world's biggest industries operate... Not to make any value judgments about the importance of video games, but do you find it ironic that a company that has its roots in entertainment is now providing vitally important computing power for drug discovery, basic research and reinventing manufacturing? No, not at all. It's actually the opposite. We always started as a computing company. It just turned out that our first killer app was video games... How important is the advent and the adaptation of digital twins for manufacturing, business and society at large? In the future, the digital world or the virtual world will be thousands of times bigger than the physical world. There will be a new New York City. There'll be a new Shanghai. Every single factory and every single building will have a digital twin that will simulate and track the physical version of it. Always. By doing so, engineers and software programmers could simulate new software that will ultimately run in the physical version of the car, the physical version of the robot, the physical version of the airport, the physical version of the building. All of the software that's going to be running in these physical things will be simulated in the digital twin first, and then it will be downloaded into the physical version. And as a result, the product keeps getting better at an exponential rate. The second thing is, you're going to be able to go in and out of the two worlds through wormholes. We'll go into the virtual world using virtual reality, and the objects in the virtual world, in the digital world, will come into the physical world, using augmented reality. So what's going to happen is pieces of the digital world will be temporarily, or even semipermanently, augmenting our physical world. It's ultimately about the fusion of the virtual world and the physical world. See also this possibly related story, "Nvidia's newest AI model can transform single images into realistic 3D models."

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Power Plants Become Bitcoin-Mining Operations. Are There Alternatives?
The New York Focus site writes:A decade ago, the bankrupt owner of the Greenidge power plant in Dresden, New York, sold the uncompetitive coal-fired relic for scrap and surrendered its operating permits. For the next seven years, the plant sat idle on the western shore of Seneca Lake, a monument to the apparent dead end reached by the state's fossil fuel infrastructure. But today, Greenidge is back up and running as a Bitcoin mining operation. The facility hums with energy-hungry computers that confirm and record Bitcoin transactions, drawing power from the plant's 106-megawatt generator now fueled by natural gas. The mining activity is exceptionally profitable, thanks to an 800 percent rise in Bitcoin's price since last April. Seeking to ride the boom, the plant's new owners plan to quadruple the power used to process Bitcoin transactions by late next year. Environmental advocates view Greenidge's ambitions, if left unchecked, as an air emissions nightmare. And they fear that dozens of other retired or retiring fossil-fueled power plants across New York could follow Greenidge's example, gaining new life by repurposing as Bitcoin miners or other types of energy-intense data centers. The New York Times recently touted an alternative to bitcoin mining: the "proof of stake" method, which "instead awards miners new blocks based on how much cryptocurrency they already own."The world's second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, Ethereum, has said it is moving toward proof of stake (that switch is likely to take up to another year). Though some critics say Bitcoin will eventually need to follow, particularly if an environmental backlash grows, there are no current plans to do so and such a move is unpopular within the Bitcoin community. "That reduces your emissions to almost nothing," said Joseph Pallant, Blockchain for Climate's founder and executive director. Cryptocurrency platforms like Tezos or Near Protocol already use proof of stake and have vastly lowered their energy use.

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PS5 Breaks Another Huge US Sales Record
An anonymous reader quotes a report from IGN: In its first five months on the market, The PlayStation 5 has become the fastest-selling console in U.S. history in both unit and dollar sales. As revealed by The NPD Group's Mat Piscatella, this news arrives one month after the PS5 became the fastest-selling console in U.S. history in dollar sales. Despite that new record, the Nintendo Switch has continued its reign as the best selling hardware platform in both units and dollars during March 2021. However, the PS5 did rank first in hardware dollar sales in Q1 2021.

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Bezos Says Amazon Workers Aren't Treated Like Robots, Unveils Robotic Plan To Keep Them Working
In his final letter to shareholders as Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos said that the company has to "do a better job for our employees." But, as The Verge points out, the outlined strategy includes "a robotic scheme that will develop new staffing schedules using an algorithm." From the report: Bezos pushed back on the idea that, according to news reports, Amazon doesn't care for its employees. "In those reports, our employees are sometimes accused of being desperate souls and treated as robots. That's not accurate,â he wrote. To address concerns about working conditions, Bezos said the company will develop new staffing schedules "that use sophisticated algorithms to rotate employees among jobs that use different muscle-tendon groups to decrease repetitive motion and help protect employees from MSD risks." The technology will roll out throughout 2021, he said. In addition to giving a nod to working conditions at Amazon, the letter is the first time Bezos has publicly addressed the failed union drive at its Bessemer, Alabama plant. "Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn't," Bezos wrote. "I think we need to do a better job for our employees. While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it's clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees -- a vision for their success."

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Intel, Nvidia, TSMC Execs Agree: Chip Shortage Could Last Into 2023
How many years will the ongoing chip shortage affect technology firms across the world? This week, multiple tech executives offered their own dismal estimates as part of their usual public financial disclosures, with the worst one coming in at "a couple of years." From a report: That nasty estimate comes from Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, who offered that vague timeframe to The Washington Post in an interview on Tuesday. He clarified that was an estimate for how long it would take the company to "build capacity" to potentially address supply shortages. The conversation came as Intel offered to step up for two supply chains particularly pinched by the silicon drought: medical supplies and in-car computer systems. In previous statements, Gelsinger pointed to Intel's current $20 billion plan to build a pair of factories in Arizona, and this week's interview added praise for President Joe Biden's proposed $50 billion chip-production infrastructure plan -- though Gelsinger indicated that Biden should be ready to spend more than that. TSMC CEO C.C. Wei offered a similarly dire estimate to investors on Thursday, saying that the Taiwan-based company hoped to "offer more capacity" for meeting retail and manufacturing demand "in 2023." TSMC, coincidentally, is moving forward with a manufacturing plant of its own in Arizona, which Bloomberg claims could cost "up to $12 billion," despite the company clarifying that it intends to prioritize research, development, and production in its home nation.

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Farming Startup Unveils Self-Driving Robot That Uses AI To Zap Weeds
Carbon Robotics, a Seattle company led by Isilon Systems co-founder Paul Mikesell, is unveiling its self-driving robot that uses artificial intelligence to identify weeds growing in fields of vegetables, then zaps them with precision thermal bursts from lasers. GeekWire reports: [W]hat farmers need is less a revolution in farming methods than a revolutionary tool that fits into their current farming patterns, Mikesell said. Carbon worked closely with farmers in eastern Oregon and southern Idaho, he said. As a result, Carbon's robot system -- the Autonomous Weeder -- was built about the size of a medium tractor so it would fit in the furrows between rows of common crops like onions and sweet potatoes. It can cover up to 16 acres of cropland a day, zapping as many as 100,000 weeds an hour, Mikesell said. And since it's self-driving, all a farmer has to do is take it to the field in the morning and turn it on. "We're really intent on not making farmers have to change how they're doing things," Mikesell said. "That's been a key to our success. We fit right into their operations." Carbon has sold out all the robots it built for the 2021 planting season, and is looking for an industrial partner who could help it build more units for 2022, Mikesell said. The company is looking to get into the hundreds of units built and shipped for next year, he said. "There's a demand for a lot more than that, tens or hundreds of thousands of them."

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Korean Workers Need To Make Space For Robots, Minister Says
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: South Koreans must learn how to work alongside machines if they want to thrive in a post-pandemic world where many jobs will be handled by artificial intelligence and robots, according to the country's labor minister. "Automation and AI will change South Korea faster than other countries," Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Jae-kap said in an interview Tuesday. "Not all jobs may be replaced by machines, but it's important to learn ways to work well with machines through training." While people will have to increase their adaptability to work in a fast-changing high-tech environment, policy makers will also need to play their part, Lee said. The government needs to provide support to enable workers to move from one sector of the economy to another in search of employment and find ways to increase the activity of women in the economy, he added. The minister's remarks underline the determination of President Moon Jae-in's government to press ahead with a growth strategy built around tech even if it risks alienating the country's unions -- an important base of support for the ruling camp -- in the short term. "New jobs will be created as technology advances," Lee said. "What's important in policy is how to support a worker move from a fading sector to an emerging one." The government is looking to help with this transition by expanding its employment insurance program to 21 million people, or more than 40% of the population, by 2025. "The program is part of a government initiative to provide financial support in the form of insurance for every worker in the country, whether they are artists, freelancers or deliverymen on digital platforms," adds Bloomberg. "Separately, the government is providing stipends for young people to encourage them to keep searching for work, as their struggle to stay employed amid slowing economic growth has been made tougher by the pandemic."

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Israel May Have Destroyed Iranian Centrifuges Simply by Cutting Power
An anonymous reader shares a report: The explosion and blackout at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran over the weekend raised the specter of past sabotage -- including the Stuxnet cyberattack that took out some of Natanz's centrifuges between 2007 and 2010 as well as an explosion and fire that occurred there last July -- destroying about three-fourths of a newly opened plant for the assembly of centrifuges. Government officials and news reports gave conflicting accounts of what caused the latest blasts, the extent of damage, and Iran's capacity to quickly recover. Initial reports said there was no harm to the Natanz facility, but Iranian officials later acknowledged damage to its centrifuges. And while media accounts have suggested saboteurs focused on taking out the facility's electric supply, David Albright, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C., believes the aim was to destroy centrifuges. Power is easy to restore even when electrical equipment is damaged, allowing enrichment work to quickly resume. But an abrupt blackout that also takes out backup power would have destroyed some centrifuges, Albright says, since they need to be powered down slowly. Failure to do so leads to vibrations that can cause centrifuge rotors and bellows to become damaged and in some cases disintegrate, which is what Albright suspects occurred.

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Biden Rushes To Protect the Power Grid as Hacking Threats Grow
A White House plan to rapidly shore up the security of the U.S. power grid will begin with a 100-day sprint, but take years more to transform utilities' ability to fight off hackers, Bloomberg reported Wednesday, citing a draft version of the plan confirmed by two people. From the report: The plan is the policy equivalent of a high-wire act: it provides incentives for electric companies to dramatically change the way they protect themselves against cyber-attacks while trying to avoid political tripwires that have stalled previous efforts, the details suggest. Among its core tenets, the Biden administration's so-called "action plan" will incentivize power utilities to install sophisticated new monitoring equipment to more quickly detect hackers, and to share that information widely with the U.S. government. It will ask utilities to identify critical sites which, if attacked, could have an outsized impact across the grid, according to a six-page draft of the plan, which was drawn up by the National Security Council and described in detail to Bloomberg News. And it will expand a partially classified Energy Department program to identify flaws in grid components that could be exploited by the country's cyber-adversaries, including Russia, Iran and China.

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Inspur, China's Largest Cloud Hardware Vendor, Joins Open-Source Patent Consortium
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: The Open Invention Network (OIN) defends the intellectual property (IP) rights of Linux and open-source software developers from patent trolls and the like. This is a global fight and now the OIN has a new, powerful allied member in China: Inspur. Inspur is a leading worldwide provider and China's leading data center infrastructure, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence (AI) server providers. While not a household name like Lenovo, Inspur ranks among the world's top-three server manufacturers. Inspur is only the latest of many companies to join the OIN. Besides such primarily hardware-oriented companies as Inspur, Baidu, China's largest search engine company, and global banks such as Barclays and the TD Bank Group, have joined the OIN. In 2021, companies far removed from traditional Linux companies such as Canonical, Red Hat, and SUSE all recognize Linux and OSS's importance. Donny Zhang, VP of Inspur information, said, "Linux and open source are critical elements in technologies which we are developing and provisioning. By joining the Open Invention Network, we are demonstrating our continued commitment to innovation, and supporting it with patent non-aggression in core Linux and adjacent open-source software." "Linux is rewriting what is possible in infrastructure computing," says OIN CEO Keith Bergelt. "OSS-based cloud computing and on-premise data centers are driving down the cost-per-compute while significantly increasing businesses' ability to provision AI and machine-learning (ML) capabilities. We appreciate Inspur's participation in joining OIN and demonstrating its commitment to innovation and patent non-aggression in open source."

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Global PC Market Swells by 55% in Q1 2021 To 82.7 Million
The latest data from research firm Canalys shows continued strength in the worldwide PC market in the first quarter of 2021, with shipments of desktops and notebooks, including workstations, up 55% year on year. From the report: Though this growth rate was buoyed by a weak Q1 2020, total shipments of 82.7 million units is still impressive, and the highest Q1 shipment number since 2012. Backlogs on orders from 2020, particularly for notebooks, were a key driver, though new demand is also a factor as smaller businesses begin their recoveries. Shipments of notebooks and mobile workstations increased 79% year on year to reach 67.8 million units. Desktops improved slightly at the start of 2021 after a string of poor quarters in 2020, with the level of shipment decline easing. Shipments of desktop and desktop workstations fell 5% year on year to 14.8 million units. The strong recovery from a weak Q1 2020 saw all vendors in the top five achieve double-digit year-on-year shipment growth. Lenovo maintained pole position in the PC market, securing a 25% market share and posting year-on-year growth of 61%, with shipments of 20.4 million units. HP, spurred by strong Chromebook shipments, came second with total shipments of 19.2 million units, a 64% increase on Q1 2020. Dell lost market share against Q4, but took third place in the rankings, growing shipments 23% year on year to hit 12.9 million units. Apple and Acer made up the rest of the top five, shipping 6.6 million and 5.7 million units to enjoy the highest and second-highest annual growth respectively. Cumulatively, the top five vendors accounted for 78.5% of all PC shipments in Q1 2021.

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Tesla Drastically Increases Price of Solar Roof
Tesla appears to have drastically increased the price of its Solar Roof tiles in an update to its configurator and quote estimates. Electrek reports: After years of delays, the Tesla Solar Roof is finally gaining momentum with a sharp rise in installations over the last few quarters. The increased deployment came after Tesla launched version 3 of its Solar Roof tiles, which brought a significant price decrease through optimization and faster installation process. Tesla kept refining the product and changed its online cost estimates a few times, decreasing the price again last summer. But now Tesla appears to have changed course and significantly increased the price of its solar roof in its online configurator. Several Electrek readers and prospective solar roof buyers reached out this weekend to let us know that they are seeing higher prices for the same quotes. Last summer, a quote for a 3,947-square-foot roof with a 12,3 kW solar roof tile system was $54,966 before incentives. Now the Tesla Solar Roof configurator shows prices between $79,938 and $100,621 for the same size roof. While this is a sharp increase in price, Tesla also appears to try to make its online quotes more accurate with a new "roof complexity" factor. [...] However, in this case, the least to the most complex options all result in higher prices than previously quoted for the same address with the same square footage.

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