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GM shares fuel cell research to US Navy to develop unmanned undersea vehicles

6/23/2016 8:35pm

General Motors, the Office of Naval Research, and the US Naval Research Laboratory announce Thursday, June 23, 2016, they are cooperating to incorporate automotive hydrogen fuel cell systems into a next generation of Navy unmanned undersea vehicles, or UUVs. Hydrogen fuel cells convert high-energy hydrogen efficiently into electricity, resulting in vehicles with greater range and endurance than those powered with batteries. (credit: Office of Naval Research File Photo)

On Thursday, Detroit automaker General Motors and the US Navy announced a partnership in which the Navy would be able to take advantage of hydrogen fuel cell research from GM to develop a long-endurance unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV).

According to Karen Swider-Lyons, the head of the Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) Chemistry Division of its Alternative Energy Section, the Navy is looking for “weeks if not months of endurance” from a UUV. She stressed that research and testing is still in early stages and that the Navy had not yet pinpointed a single application it wanted to apply fuel-cell powered underwater drones to. “As the technology becomes available, we’ll see,” Swider-Lyons said on a conference call this morning. “You can look at the history of unmanned air vehicles and guess.”

Fuel cell technology has been lauded as a potentially revolutionary energy source for zero-emissions vehicles, using hydrogen to create electricity and emitting H2O as waste. While fuel-cells are more energy dense than batteries, batteries have generally won out when it comes to building zero-emissions cars because hydrogen refueling centers are scarce, and storing hydrogen itself can require a high-pressure container or very cold temperatures.

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“Godless” apps, some found in Google Play, can root 90% of Android phones

6/23/2016 7:52pm

(credit: greyweed)

Researchers have detected a family of malicious apps, some that were available in Google Play, that contain malicious code capable of secretly rooting an estimated 90 percent of all Android phones.

In a recently published blog post, antivirus provider Trend Micro said that Godless, as the malware family has been dubbed, contains a collection of rooting exploits that works against virtually any device running Android 5.1 or earlier. That accounts for an estimated 90 percent of all Android devices. Members of the family have been found in a variety of app stores, including Google Play, and have been installed on more than 850,000 devices worldwide. Godless has struck hardest at users in India, Indonesia, and Thailand, but so far less than 2 percent of those infected are in the US.

Once an app with the malicious code is installed, it has the ability to pull from a vast repository of exploits to root the particular device it's running on. In that respect, the app functions something like the many available exploit kits that cause hacked websites to identify specific vulnerabilities in individual visitors' browsers and serve drive-by exploits. Trend Micro Mobile Threats Analyst Veo Zhang wrote:

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What if we treated online harassment the same way we treat spam?

6/23/2016 7:04pm

Ars Technica Live #3. Filmed by Chris Schodt, edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

In our third episode of Ars Technica Live, your intrepid hosts Annalee Newitz and Cyrus Farivar talked to journalist Sarah Jeong about online harassment. Jeong is the author of The Internet of Garbage, a book about how companies and online communities are using technology to cope with harassment and bullying. Watch the video, filmed before a live audience of Ars readers in Oakland, California at Longitude Bar.

Editor's Note: Our apologies for the sound issues. You can hear everything, but there are some crackles and annoyances. We promise to have that fixed for our episode next month.

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Pluto might have a semi-frozen ocean lurking under its icy shell

6/23/2016 6:04pm

(credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

The pictures that came from New Horizons' flyby of Pluto have set off a scramble to make sense of the dwarf planet's terrain. Pluto's clearly geologically active, with mountains and fresh surfaces that haven't been pummeled by impacts yet. One of those features, Sputnik Planum, appears to be an ocean of frozen nitrogen, fed by nitrogen glaciers that line its shores. But a new analysis suggests that this isn't the only ocean on the dwarf planet.

An analysis of the internal structure and heating of Pluto indicates that there are two likely probabilities: either it has a deep ocean of liquid water, or the water on Pluto has frozen solid and compacted into a dense form of ice called ice II. And the authors of the analysis suggest that the liquid ocean makes more sense given Pluto's surface features.

The analysis was done in a similar manner to the ones that tackled Sputnik Planum: figure out Pluto's composition and its heat budget and trace the effects of the heat as it escapes to the surface. The heat itself comes from Pluto's rocky core, which carries some of the same radioactive isotopes that help keep the Earth's core nice and toasty. Above that, however, Pluto is mostly water, with difficult-to-determine fractions of things like ammonia and methane.

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Dealmaster: Get a Dell Inspiron 3650 desktop with Core i7 for just $579

6/23/2016 5:17pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, we have a bunch of deals to share today. Of note, we have a bestseller from earlier this month—you can still get the redesigned Dell Inspiron 3650 PC with Core i7 Skylake processor, 16GB of RAM, and an AMD R9 360 GPU for just $579. That's over $300 off its original price of $899, so if you're on the market for a new desktop, this is one you should consider.

Also check out the rest of the deals below.


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Huawei hedges bet on Google’s Android, plans in-house OS

6/23/2016 5:07pm

The default theme on the Huawei Honor 5X. Of course a gold phone needs a gold interface.

A report from The Information (subscription required) claims that Huawei is building its own in-house OS as a possible "Plan B" to Android. To spearhead the development of an in-house operating system—and improve its Android skin—Huawei has hired former Apple designer Abigail Brody. The report says that the non-Android OS "isn’t far along" and is a "contingency measure" in case Google's current Android terms become undesirable to Huawei.

Huawei is the number three smartphone OEM, behind Samsung and Apple. The Chinese company isn't a huge deal in the West, though—a big portion of those sales come from Huawei's home turf. Huawei is often seen as being in a position similar to Samsung's, just at an earlier stage of development. Like Samsung, Huawei is a massive company. It's the world's largest telecom equipment manufacturer, and it designs its own SoCs. Now Huawei is taking another page from the Samsung playbook and is trying to develop an Android alternative.

Samsung's homegrown operating system is Tizen, a Linux-based OS that works a lot like Android (especially Samsung's Android phones) but lacks the app ecosystem and developer support of Android. That's the challenge with creating an Android alternative—can you make something that's so much better than Android that the lack of apps becomes acceptable for consumers?

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Supreme Court sends off patent troll that challenged review rules with an 8-0 slapdown

6/23/2016 4:45pm

19-year-old Giuseppe Cuozzo's drawing of his idea, from 2000. (credit: USPTO)

Patent trolls don't fare well at the Supreme Court. When they show up, their cases tend to result in decisions that are ruinous for the profit margins of their industry. Two prominent examples: the 2006 eBay v. MercExchange case effectively ended trolls' abilities to get injunctions, and the 2014 Alice Corp. case made it far easier for patent defendants to invalidate abstract software patents.

And yet, the cases keep coming. The most recent example is Cuozzo Speed Technologies LLC v. Lee, a case that was resolved earlier this week with an 8-0 opinion dismantling arguments presented by Cuozzo, a patent-holding entity controlled by two New York patent lawyers, Daniel Mitry and Timothy Salmon. The two attorneys own dozens of other patent shell companies through their consultancy, Empire IP.

What were Mitry and Salmon hoping for? Using the Cuozzo case as their vehicle, they hoped to tweak changes in the rules for "inter partes reviews," or IPRs, a proceeding created by Congress in 2012 that allows the patent office to take a second look at patents to see if they should never have been issued in the first place. While the tech sector still seeks legislative reform to end the spate of "patent troll" lawsuits, IPRs have been an effective way to shut down some patent cases at a fraction of the cost of a full-blown court trial.

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Man beats murder rap because DNA expert illegally testified via Skype

6/23/2016 3:54pm

(credit: Jorge Correa)

There's this pesky thing called the US Constitution, and sometimes there's a price to be paid when it's subverted.

That's what is happening in New Mexico, where a convicted murderer serving a life term won a new trial because a DNA prosecution expert in the prosecution's case testified via Skype, denying the defendant Truett Thomas' Sixth Amendment rights to confront witnesses in court, according to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

The case against Thomas began in 2010 when Albuquerque police discovered Guadalupe Ashford's body behind a trash can in a small parking lot. The woman was assaulted and sustained significant head injuries, "including lacerations, skull fractures and a dislodged tooth." Police found blood on the scene that didn't match the woman's and ran it through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database, which matched the defendant. The defendant denied he knew the woman.

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Watch Boston Dynamics’ newest robodog fetch a soda and slip on a banana peel

6/23/2016 3:45pm

Boston Dynamics, the high-profile robotics company that Alphabet reportedly doesn't want, has released a video of its latest robot: SpotMini. SpotMini is a four-legged robot that weighs just 55lbs and has an all-electric locomotion system.

SpotMini is one of the quietest robots Boston Dynamics has ever built. In the past, the company has used gas engines and hydraulics in its robots, making loud, outdoor-only bots that sound like dirtbikes or chainsaws. Boston Dynamics' Alphadog was a much larger four-legged robot, but it was deemed too loud by the US Marines when they tested it as a pack mule last year.

The goal with the SpotMini seems to have been to build a robot quiet enough, small enough, and clean enough that it can be used as a house robot. The robot is shown indoors walking up steps and ducking under tables. It even  has an attachable arm that lets it do useful things like fetching a soda or cleaning the dishes (well, moving a dish from the sink to the washing machine, but that's a start!).

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Crook who left his phone at the scene has “no reasonable expectation of privacy”

6/23/2016 3:24pm

(credit: Kārlis Dambrāns)

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Attorney Thomas Johnson came ready to defend a novel legal theory in court. Earlier this year his client had abandoned a Samsung Galaxy phone at a burglary crime scene, which allowed authorities to find the device, call 911 from the lock screen, and acquire the phone's actual number. Law enforcement soon determined the phone’s owner, Matthew Muller, and arrested him days later.

But while executing that arrest, authorities found materials related to a separate kidnapping case reported earlier in the year. The kidnapping case was a wild and harrowing account. A Vallejo woman and her boyfriend were bound with zip-ties and made to wear blackened swimming goggles. The man was instructed to send $15,000 to secure her release, while she was eventually driven to her hometown in Southern California and released two days later. As the Sacramento Bee reported, investigators initially believed that the kidnapping story that the couple told was a hoax—until the victims spoke out in public and the kidnappers contacted the Vallejo Police Department to insist the story was authentic.

Muller eventually pleaded guilty to the burglary, but he denied any role in the kidnapping. And according to his attorney Johnson, this whole thing should have been avoided. When law enforcement grabbed the Samsung Galaxy and acted on that fateful day, the attorney believes they engaged in an unconstitutional search against his client.

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White House warns Congress not to kill net neutrality and cable box rules

6/23/2016 3:08pm

Pro-net neutrality rally at the White House. (credit: Joseph Gruber)

The White House has urged Republican lawmakers to give up efforts to strip the Federal Communications Commission of regulatory powers and tens of millions of dollars in budget funding. President Obama's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the House of Representatives' budget bill for fiscal 2017 because of these and other provisions.

The Republican budget proposal "includes highly problematic ideological provisions," like ones that "prevent the Federal Communications Commission from promoting a free and open Internet and encouraging competition in the set-top box market, impacting millions of broadband and cable customers," the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement of administration policy yesterday.

The budget plan includes sections delaying or preventing implementation of the FCC's net neutrality rules, which were just upheld by an appeals court despite a lawsuit filed by broadband providers. With the case possibly heading to the Supreme Court, a budget rider would prevent enforcement of net neutrality rules until broadband providers have exhausted all appeals. The budget plan would also prevent the FCC from stopping unjust and unreasonable pricing and data cap practices, regardless of the lawsuit's outcome.

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People want other people’s self-driving cars to keep pedestrians safe

6/23/2016 2:52pm

(credit: Ford Motor Company)

Autonomous vehicles will likely become available in the near future. A new article published in Science raises a classical ethical question about how these cars should be programmed: should a car sacrifice its driver if doing so will save the lives of many pedestrians?

The article found that participants generally do want cars to be programmed in this way for other drivers, but they don’t want their own cars to work this way. It’s a potentially lethal form of “Not-In-My-Backyard” for our more automated future.

For this paper, researchers conducted six online surveys between June and November of 2015. Participants were recruited through the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform. Each of the six online surveys included approximately 200 to 450 participants.

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Sources say Volkswagen will pay diesel owners $1,000-$7,000 in settlement

6/23/2016 2:20pm

2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen photographed in Washington, DC, USA. (credit: IFCAR)

Sources speaking to Bloomberg and the Associated Press have said that Volkswagen Group will propose a $10.2 billion settlement in federal court next week. The settlement will reportedly include payouts of $1,000 to $7,000 for owners of certain diesel vehicles that included illegal software to help the company cheat on US emissions tests.

VW Group is facing over 600 lawsuits from customers, consumer protection agencies, and regulators. The suits are being overseen by US District Judge Charles Breyer in Northern California District Court.

In April, Judge Breyer said that VW Group would buy the 482,000 affected 2.0L diesel engines in the US back from owners in addition to paying out “substantial compensation” to affected customers. According to the AP, Volkswagen and Audi owners will be able to choose between having VW Group buy their car back for whatever the car was worth before the scandal broke last summer or keeping their car and letting the manufacturer fix it. It’s unclear whether VW Group will be able to find suitable fixes to make the affected diesel vehicles EPA-compliant. The source speaking to the AP said “any fix would be expensive and likely would require a bigger catalytic converter or injection of the chemical urea into the exhaust to help neutralize the pollution.”

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Jury says Led Zeppelin did not rip off “Stairway to Heaven”

6/23/2016 1:42pm

(credit: vinylmeister)

A federal jury in Los Angeles on Thursday cleared Led Zeppelin of allegations that the band infringed the opening of the classic rock song "Stairway to Heaven."

The jury deliberated for less than a day after a trial that began June 14. The trial was based on claims that the famous intro to the 1971 song infringed the 1968 instrumental song "Taurus" from the band Spirit.

The case, in which tens of millions of dollars were at stake, was brought by the trust of Randy Wolfe, aka Randy California. The suit claimed Zep's opening to "Stairway to Heaven"—an acoustic guitar arpeggiating chords in a descending pattern—was a complete ripoff of California's "Taurus," which he wrote for the band Spirit. Zeppelin toured with Spirit in 1968, and California's complaint alleges that Zep guitarist/songwriter Jimmy Page had heard "Taurus" before the debut of "Stairway to Heaven," which appeared on Led Zeppelin IV in 1971.

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Team creates system to give fast response to “was that climate change?”

6/23/2016 1:41pm

(credit: Antoine Thibaud)

In the immediate wake of a weather disaster, people like to wonder whether climate change is partly to blame for the disaster's severity. The problem is that any meaningful, serious answer to that question takes time—so much time that public attention has moved on before we get an answer.

For one group of climate scientists, that unfortunate problem sounded more like a challenge. With a good plan and the right setup, the team figured it could quickly run the necessary climate model simulations and spit out some basic results. By comparing a virtual world where humans didn’t drive up concentrations of greenhouse gases to the one we live in, the models can be used to see whether there's any change in the weather patterns associated with the latest disaster.

At the end of May, the team got a chance to take its system for a test drive. Weather linked to a lingering low pressure system dumped rain on France and Germany. Three days of steadily heavy rain, following a wet spring, caused flooding on the Seine and Loing rivers upstream of Paris. In Paris, the water level in the Seine rose more than 6 meters (over 20 feet), prompting the evacuation of art from basement levels of the Louvre. In other areas, thousands of human beings were evacuated as well.

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PSA: This year’s Steam Summer Sale is the first to offer deep VR discounts

6/23/2016 1:35pm

We can only imagine the Steam Summer Sale's header image will be loaded with more characters and activity by the time the sale closes on July 4. (credit: Steam)

Ladies and gentlemen, start your game-buying wallets: The annual Steam Summer Sale has arrived.

The online game shop's bandwidth is currently being slammed thanks to the popularity of this sale, but should you be able to load its launch page, you'll see an advertised discount on a whopping 5,199 games until the sale ends on July 4. Thanks to the launch of VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, that makes this the first Steam Summer Sale to reduce prices on virtual reality games.

Not every major SteamVR game is getting a discount during this sale, but if you're considering throwing down hundreds of dollars on compatible hardware, you may appreciate saving a few bucks on such solid VR fare as the music-punching gem Audioshield, the stellar VR deathmatch game Hover Junkers, the must-own arcade shooter Space Pirate Trainer, the sword-and-shield quest game Vanishing Realms, the plane-management challenge of Final Approach, and the two-player puzzle fun of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. (That last one works fine without VR, as well, and we heartily recommend it.)

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Clinton’s private e-mail was blocked by spam filters—so State IT turned them off

6/23/2016 12:33pm

Part of an e-mail thread discussing workarounds to keep Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server from being blocked by security filters at the State Department.

2 more images in gallery

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Documents recently obtained by the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch show that in December 2010, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staff were having difficulty communicating with State Department officials by e-mail because spam filters were blocking their messages. To fix the problem, State Department IT turned the filters off—potentially exposing State's employees to phishing attacks and other malicious e-mails.

The mail problems prompted Clinton Chief of Staff Huma Abedin to suggest to Clinton, "We should talk about putting you on State e-mail or releasing your e-mail address to the department so you are not going to spam." Clinton replied, "Let's get [a] separate address or device but I don't want any risk of the personal [e-mail] being accessible."

The mail filter system—Trend Micro's ScanMail for Exchange 8—was apparently causing some messages from Clinton's private server ( to not be delivered. Some were "bounced;" others were accepted by the server but were quarantined and never delivered to the recipient. According to the e-mail thread published yesterday by Judicial Watch, State's IT team turned off both spam and antivirus filters on two "bridgehead" mail relay servers while waiting for a fix from Trend Micro.

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Edge lasts longer on battery? Not so fast, says Opera

6/23/2016 11:59am

(credit: Opera)

Earlier this week, Microsoft made some bold claims about the battery life of its Edge browser, saying that laptops running Edge lasted much longer during video playback and used less energy during normal browsing operations than Chrome and Opera.

Opera, however, disagrees. The company has run its own tests and has written up the results: with power saving mode, Opera offered 22 percent more battery life than Edge and 35 percent more than Chrome. Unlike Microsoft, Opera has provided a lot more information about what its test did and how someone might replicate it. The test loaded a number of pages into different tabs and simulated button presses to scroll up and down.

While Microsoft hasn't yet formally responded, Edge Program Manager Kyle Pflug tweeted to point out that Opera's testing enabled not just power saving mode but also its built-in ad blocker, which is off by default. The test also compares Opera's latest developer build to Edge's current stable build. The latest Edge developer build supports ad blocking (through its extension mechanism) and makes a number of optimizations to further reduce battery drain.

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Photonic crystal club will no longer admit only puny lasers

6/23/2016 11:30am

Crystal growth, imaged using a CARS microscope. (credit: Martin Jurna, Optical Sciences Group, University of Twente)

Research is like any other human endeavor, as subject to trends and fads as the fashion industry. Everyone wants to jump on the latest new thing. In the world of optics, that means photonics. I'll explain photonics in a second, because it's cool and everyone should be able to talk knowledgeably about photonics to their older relatives.

Photonics involves carefully structuring materials to bend light to the experimenter's will. But photons don't always cooperate. They're a bit like ants—while one photon doesn't do much, several photons carry off all your breadcrumbs and threaten the honey, and the entire photon colony will repossess your fridge, contents included. In other words, photonics labs are filled with the burnt remains of experiments because careless researchers cranked up the laser power.

This is kind of sad, because photonic crystals are incredibly useful, and the world of high power lasers is missing out on all the cool tricks that have been developed by the photonics community. Until now, that is.

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Cable company overcharges might be even worse than you realized

6/23/2016 11:27am

That's your money, just flying away. (credit: Getty Images | Colin Anderson)

Charter and its new subsidiary Time Warner Cable (TWC) have been overcharging customers at least $7.2 million per year for equipment and service, a US Senate investigation has found.

Time Warner Cable over-billed customers nationwide an estimated $639,948 between January and April of this year, which projects to a yearly total of $1,919,844. Charter, meanwhile, "informed the [Senate's investigative] Subcommittee that it over-billed customers by at least $442,691 per month," the report said. That works out to overcharges of at least $5,312,292 per year. When added to Time Warner Cable's overcharges, that's $7.2 million that customers paid in erroneous charges over and above the already high prices of cable TV.

The report was released today as senators grilled cable company executives from Charter, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, AT&T-owned DirecTV, and Dish on customer service and billing problems. The Senate report, as well as video of the hearing and transcripts of cable executive testimony, is available here.

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