Finally, An Autonomous Backyard Robot For Picking Up Dog Poop

This is a promo video for the development of Beetl, a small autonomous robot that looks like a little tractor and roams your backyard looking for dog turds to pick up like the world’s saddest claw machine. Obviously, it looks like it works best with solid, dry turds — something my dogs know nothing about. They eat weird shit, then shit weird. Also, what if it mistakes an ant hill for a dog turd and starts a war with an ant colony? Whose side do I pick? Besides, who needs a potentially expensive robot to pick up dog turds in your yard when you have perfectly good nieces and nephews who think SweeTARTS prevent worms? Keep going for the video.

Thanks to Charlie H, who agrees just wait a day until they’re dry, then run them over with the lawnmower and fertilizer the rest of your yard.

via Geekologie – Gadgets, Gizmos, and Awesome

October 23, 2019 at 01:04PM

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Axon Brings License Plate Recognition to Cops’ Dash Cams

Axon, a manufacturer of Tasers and police body cameras, announced it is developing a police dash camera that can automatically read license plates, as its ethics board simultaneously released a report that warns of the consequences of this technology.

The weapon and technology developer issued a release on Wednesday claiming it is integrating automated license plate recognition (ALPR) into its next dash camera, Axon Fleet 3. Such a system could automatically run plate numbers through a database without requiring officers to enter those numbers manually.

Law enforcement agencies are already using ALPRs in invasive ways. Last year, Sacramento County officials admitted that the Department of Human Assistance’s welfare fraud investigators use ALPR data to track welfare recipients suspected of fraud. The use and potential abuse of this technology will only accelerate with a major police outfitter like Axon advancing ALPR.

Of course, this capability comes with many ethical concerns and in an effort to prepare for those quandaries—and, likely, to get ahead of the controversy—Axon established an ethical advisory board to assess the implications of the technology it is developing.

In a statement, Axon ethics board member and director of NYU law school’s Policing Project Jacob Fuchsberg said “the danger to our basic civil rights is only increasing” as ALPRs become more common.

“If government is going to continue to abdicate its responsibility to regulate this technology appropriately, and we hope it doesn’t, it is incumbent on companies like Axon to ensure that ALPRs serve the communities who are subject to ALPR usage,” Fuchsberg said in the statement. “This includes guardrails to ensure their use does not compromise civil liberties or worsen existing racial and socioeconomic disparities in the criminal justice system.”

As TechCrunch first pointed out the report issued by Axon’s Policing Technology Ethics Board includes blunt warnings and recommendations about the technology, including:

1) Law enforcement agencies should not acquire or use ALPRs without going through an open, transparent, democratic process, with adequate opportunity for genuinely representative public analysis, input, and objection. To the extent jurisdictions permit ALPR use, they should adopt regulations that govern such use. (This is what we said about face recognition, and it is true as well for ALPRs.)

2) Agencies should not deploy ALPRs without a clear use policy. That policy should be made public and should, at a minimum, address the concerns raised in this report.

3) Vendors, including Axon, should design ALPRs to facilitate transparency about their use, including by incorporating easy ways for agencies to share aggregate and deidentified data. Each agency then should share this data with the community it serves.

The report also states that Axon and other ALPR vendors “must provide the option to turn off immigration-related alerts from the National Crime Information Center so that jurisdictions that choose not to participate in federal immigration enforcement can do so.”

In the announcement, Axon said it is making its intention to use the technology public now, a year before it is launching the new device, in an effort to engage with civil liberty and public safety organizations and establish best practices.

Axon CEO and founder Rick Smith said in a statement that the company “recognize[s] that there are legitimate concerns about privacy protections, constitutionality of search and data security issues that need to be addressed.”

Smith also said the company won’t sell public safety data and his company has an “ethical obligation to develop this technology thoughtfully.”

It is thoughtful for Axon to solicit ethical input for their ALPR systems. However, it also seems likely they are trying to better understand how to respond to whatever backlash comes from building and selling whatever they want, regardless of the consequences.

via Gizmodo

October 23, 2019 at 12:27PM

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Protesters sing ‘Baby Shark’ to toddler in car — and now it’s their theme song

The wildly popular children’s song “Baby Shark” has become a rallying cry in Lebanon after protesters in Beirut spontaneously sang the hit to calm a toddler whose mother’s car was trapped in the middle of a noisy demonstration.

When driver Eliane Jabbour’s car was surrounded by a rally in the capital last weekend, she asked protesters if they could stop shouting as her young son, Robin, was scared in the front passenger seat.

On the spot, the crowd spontaneously broke into a rendition of “Baby Shark,” complete with hand gestures depicting a shark’s bite, and big smiles.

The video shot by Eliane, which has gone viral, shows around 20 people around her car, singing to the surprised toddler as he clutches a bottle. A bearded man is seen dancing, wading in and out of the crowd with fish-like motions.

The original “Baby Shark” video was uploaded to YouTube by a South Korean children’s educational company called Pinkfong in 2016. It has become one of the most-watched videos on the platform, with over 3.7 billion views.

Protesters in Lebanon are angry about the state of the handling of an economic crisis, along with corruption and the state of public services, but the “Baby Shark” episode brought a moment of relief from the wave of dissent. And now it’s a rallying cry — videos of demonstrations (below) showed demonstrators waving Lebanese national flags, letting off flares and singing the catchy song.

Even Robin, who appears wide-eyed and a bit stunned by the all-singing, all-dancing crowd in the video posted by his mother, has become a fan.

“Although he looked confused in the video, right now he starts laughing whenever he watches it,” she told Reuters on Tuesday.

via Autoblog

October 23, 2019 at 10:54AM

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Google And Facebook Are Reading Your License Plates

For years I’ve gone back and forth over the practice of obscuring license plates on photos on the internet. License plates are already publicly-viewable things, so what’s the point in obscuring them, right? Well, now I think there actually is a good reason to obscure your license plates in photos because it appears that Google is actually reading the plates in photos, and then making the actual license plate alphanumeric sequence searchable. I tested it. It works.

The way this works is to search for the license plate number using Google Images. That’s it.

In my testing, I started with my own cars that I know have had images of their license plates in Jalopnik articles. For my Nissan Pao, a search of my license plate number brings up an image of my car, from one of my articles, as the first result:

It’s worth noting that the image search results aren’t even trying to differentiate the search term as a license plate; the number sequence has just been tagged to the photo automatically after whatever hidden Google OCR system reads the license plate. This can mean that someone searching a similar sequence of characters could likely end up with a result for your car if enough of those characters match your license plate.

I tried again with the license number for the Yugo fellow Jalop Mike Ballaban gave me, and was greeted with an even more impressive display of results:

Woah, damn! Because this car has been photographed and written about a good bit, there’s a lot of results here, and my name and other Jalopnik employees’ names show up in those top links, too. Of course, I should mention that at no point did we tag the Yugo’s license plate number to any of these photos—that’s all behind-the-scenes Google black magic.

The license plate reader does not differentiate based on the national origin of plate—whatever that AI is doing, it seems to identify a car and a license plate, and then reads the characters and tags the image with them. Here’s a European plate used on a Mercedes press car:

I also was able to learn that Volkswagen must be re-using plates on their press vehicles, because the VW California camper I just tested had a plate with the number HCA 187:

…and that same plate shows up on a red camper from the previous year:

Since it treats all countries equally, sometimes you can use it to find a car’s foreign license plate-twin, as I did with this V8-swapped Karmann Ghia I spotted on the road, which has an unexpected Eastern Bloc license plate-twin:

I obscured those plates because the Ghia didn’t show up online. Yet.

Back to company-owned press vehicles, here’s the Jeep Gladiator I took on the Rubicon Trail, by license plate:

Now, many plates I searched for from other sources online didn’t come up, but many did. It’s safe to say that if there’s a photo of your car online and the license plate is visible, it will be read and tagged to the photo.

I don’t think there’s really all that much you can do about it. There are some ways you can maintain a bit more privacy, though, if you don’t want your cars, like mine, to pop up immediately when their license number is entered into a Google Image Search.

One way is to get an all-numeric license plate. Because numbers show up in so many contexts, an all-numeric plate search will likely be diluted by other results, making your car harder—if not impossible—to find.

Counterintuitively, the same goes for personalized license plates, too.

For example, I tried to search for this car’s plate, which was a personalized plate that used a normal, English word with a number replacing a letter. This alternate version of the word was common enough that a search was flooded with other, unrelated examples, making any possible images of this Viper very difficult to find.

Look, here’s a DKW from the Lane Museum, found via its license plate.

Anecdotal reports have suggested that Facebook and Instagram do this as well, and we may as well go ahead and accept this as true. If Google is doing it, there’s little reason to assume others aren’t.

The takeaway here is that you should just assume your license plate is known and tagged to pictures of your car. Even if you obscure your plate in every image you yourself post, there’s no way to know what images your car and its license plate may be in the background of, meaning if it’s not searchable yet, it likely will be.

I suppose the positive side is that if you see a hit and run or someone’s blocking you in, it’s a lot easier to find out who’s being the jerk. On the negative side, it’s just a reminder that privacy in so many ways is eroding away, and there’s damn little we can do about it.

Oh well. It’s not like I was being particularly sneaky in my Pao, anyway.

via Gizmodo

October 22, 2019 at 01:36PM

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Honda Aircraft expansion could lead to increased jet production

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Nearly four years after delivering its first jet, Honda is facing decisions as the company better known for cars and lawnmowers considers whether to sink billions more into its decades-in-the-making aircraft division.

Honda Aircraft CEO Michimasa Fujino said in an interview that a current plant expansion aimed at improving efficiency is part of the aviation division’s long-term strategy and should also slightly increase production of the seven-seat, $5.2 million HondaJet Elites.

“We are looking at this aviation business long-term, not quarterly or annual basis,” Fujino said at the company’s Greensboro, North Carolina, headquarters. “Our goal is to create new value and new technology … as a personal mobility company.”

But amid environmental concerns about the impact of hydrocarbons burned by jets, fears of a possible global recession and declining profits that have led Honda to retrench its automobile offerings, analysts say the Tokyo-based corporation faces decisions about how much to build its aircraft division.

Whether Honda expands, maintains its current footprint or even scraps its aircraft division is “very much their choice,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at Teal Group.

“They could just stay where they are, say, ‘we’ve got a position in the market, it won’t make us much money, but it’s good for branding.’ Or they could grow an aviation-market presence, and there are many ways they could take that. Or somebody could decide that this thing’s a money loser and shut it down,” said Aboulafia, who added that he consulted for Honda nearly two decades ago.

It would cost Honda billions of dollars to expand into a family of light jets or establish a sales and support network to match competing jet-makers, Aboulafia said. But such a move would be necessary for growth in an industry where — much like automakers offer models in different sizes and prices — wealthy customers who like Honda’s planes may want to buy something nicer, said aviation business analyst Brian Foley, who thinks Honda could announce a new model soon.

“In this industry, you need to have a step up for customers. Just like boat owners, airplane owners — when they’re ready to trade in and move up — do that. They move up. They don’t move laterally,” he said. “So since HondaJet doesn’t have a move-up airplane from the current Honda jet that would force the customer to have to jump over into a competitor’s airplane.”

The company is recruiting engineers with expertise in wing, fuselage and systems design, which indicates they could be developing new models, Foley said.

Meanwhile, Honda reported a 29% profit decline in the quarter ending in June and lowered its profit forecasts for the fiscal year. In May, the company announced it would streamline its auto product offerings, consolidating model variations, and increase parts-sharing to cut costs. The warning signs come as Honda has invested billions in the past year in General Motorsautonomous vehicle unit as automakers look to the future.

On the plus side for its planes, Honda has deep pockets, a history of long-term planning and has stuck with the project despite repeated delays before the first deliveries in December 2015. The company has delivered at least 140 planes since the first model, about the size of two mini-vans, was cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Sales in China, the world’s No. 2 economy, began two years ago, and Honda is slated to make its first three jet deliveries into China in the coming months. The trade war and escalating tariffs between the U.S. and China has so far “had a modest impact,” which the company wouldn’t specify.

That could be because light business aircraft — the class which includes the HondaJet Elite — haven’t sold well there, Aboulafia said.

The ongoing 83,000-square-foot plant expansion of Honda Aircraft’s headquarters, which borders Greensboro’s airport, is designed less to increase output than production efficiency, which drives down per-plane costs, Fujino said.

“But also, if you have good efficiency, we can build more” if demand jumps, he said, adding that production should increase slightly from the current rate of four a month.

And Honda’s aviation gamble, three decades in the making, is transferring new know-how into other divisions, Fujino said, adding that — as with autonomous vehicles — designing an airplane is only half the task.

The “other 50 percent is how you can prove the safety in case one sensor failed, or if some connector failed,” Fujino said. “That kind of technology may not be visible from the general public but that kind of know-how or technology is very critical for Honda to grow in the future.”

via Autoblog

October 21, 2019 at 03:09PM

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Finally, An Electric Crate Motor You Can Drop Into Your Old Car

The idea of converting classic cars to EVs has been around a while, and a number of companies, including some major automakers, have been retrofitting old, classic cars with all-new EV drivetrains. Individual tinkerers have been doing this as well, but it’s not as easy as you’d hope. Dealing with salvaged EV drivetrains is difficult, with complex control and cooling systems. Now it finally looks like there’s going to be an easier way, as Swindon Powertrain is planning on introducing an all-in-one compact EV crate motor next year.

The exciting thing about the motor, which they call their High Power Density EV powertrain, is that it’s remarkably compact and powerful for its size. To give an idea of how small it is, it’s essentially the same drivetrain used in their EV-converted classic Mini, so if it fits under a Mini’s hood, it should fit almost anywhere.

More specifically, the drivetrain measures 23.6 inches wide, 17.3 inches deep, and only 11.02 inches tall. We’re talking about a box that’s two feet by a foot and a half by a foot here. That’s pretty damn tiny.

It weighs only around 154 pounds and makes around 110 horsepower—a pretty decent number considering how compact this thing is, and that includes everything: motor, single-speed transmission, cooling system, and power inverter.

The drivetrain includes multiple mounting points and it’s designed to be flexible enough to be mounted by either axle of the car, front or rear.

A drawing on Swindon’s website shows it mounted in the front of a van or a classic Mini, or at the rear of a Caterham Seven.

I haven’t found details about what sorts of battery packs it’s designed to work with, but ideally, it’ll be able to be adapted to work with battery packs from Leafs or Bolts or Teslas or whatever you can find in your local junkyards.

It’s expected to be available around June of 2020, and as of yet, no pricing has been announced.

It’s a very exciting idea, the promise of a drop-in ICE replacement, helping to keep classic cars on the road. I’ll admit I like this idea as a way to get my old Scimitar back on the road, and if I stuck one in my Beetle, I’d come close to almost doubling my horsepower.

I suspect you could use two in one car for all-wheel drive and more power, though Swindon doesn’t show that example specifically. I wonder if you could rotate it sideways and have it driving a driveshaft to a differential, using one of the axle output shafts?

This is potentially very good news for hobbyists and small manufacturers. A true, drop-in EV crate motor that just works has been desired for a while, so it’s nice to see this finally happening.

(Thanks to Evan W for showing me this!)

via Gizmodo

October 18, 2019 at 02:18PM

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Holy Smokes: Video Demonstration Of Company’s Impressive Invisibility Shield

This is a video demonstration of the ‘Quantum Stealth’ material developed by Canadian camouflage manufacturer Hyperstealth Biotechnology. It works by bending light around an object to make it effectively invisible to the human eye. Unsurprisingly, the technology was developed for military applications and not for me to sneak into the adults only section of the video rental store like I plotted every day of my life until video rental stores didn’t exist anymore. Too little too late, Hyperstealth Biotechnology!
Keep going for the full video demo.

Thanks to Greenphant, who agrees it’s easy to feel invisible in today’s world, but it’s much harder to actually be invisible, which is why you should never leave the house naked.

via Geekologie – Gadgets, Gizmos, and Awesome

October 18, 2019 at 03:59PM

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