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Amazon announces Astro butler bot, home drone, and more • The Register

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Video Amazon has created another custom chip capable of speeding up artificial intelligence in home electronics.

On Tuesday the online souk and cloud computing giant introduced a host of new gadgets, including a robot and a wall-mount home-organizing computer, with AI hardware acceleration that can personalize the equipment to your daily routines and habits.

The latest chip in question is the AZ2 “neural edge” processor, which will be in the company’s new Amazon Echo Show 15 touchscreen device, a 15.6-inch smart display for your wall that can be a digital organizer or a TV. The AZ2 will help the computer recognize your face, and immediately load up a personalized screen for you that may include to-do-lists, sticky notes, calendars and more. The display will also have voice recognition features accelerated by Amazon’s silicon.


Facial recognition for the kitchen … The Echo 15 in stand mode. Source: Amazon. Click to enlarge

The AZ2 apparently performs calculations 22 times faster than its predecessor, the AZ1, which was made in partnership with MediaTek and included in the Echo Show 10. The AZ2 will be fast enough to process AI applications like voice recognition locally without relying on cloud servers, Amazon said. The ability to process voice operations on the device gives users more control over data privacy options, which was a recurring theme at today’s big launch event.

The custom AI accelerator will be paired with an Amlogic PopcornA octa-core system-on-chip in the gizmo; Amlogic is an Arm licensee. As far as we can tell the Echo Show 15 is the only product right now to use the AZ2, though we expect to see it in more gear.

The Echo Show 15 is priced at $249.99 and will be available later this year.

Alexa goes mobile with the Astro

Amazon also introduced Astro, an 11lb autonomous camera-fitted Alexa-powered robot with a 1280 x 800-resolution touchscreen that swivels as required. It is loaded with AI hardware and software that fuses computer vision, autonomous navigation systems, and voice recognition into a box-on-wheels, we’re told.

The robot, like regular Echo devices, can respond to voice commands and do regular Alexa things, like show the weather and play music. It can also can map out a house and navigate to rooms and deliver up to 2kg of cargo at a time as ordered. In the default spec, two cupholders are built in for this task. For navigation, the system has SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) and obstacle avoidance systems to create a rough 3D map of its surroundings to chart a route through your home.

The robot moves at human speeds, and can be used to patrol the place at night to some degree, check on an elderly person, or help you keep an eye on your stuff while you’re away.


Robot guard dog checks the house, or one floor of your house … The Astro. Source: Amazon. Click to enlarge

The robot sports a 42-inch periscope camera that can be raised as needed and used to, say, check if a stove is shut off.

Like the Echo Show 15, the robot also uses computer vision to recognize faces and load personalization features. It can also interface with Amazon’s Ring home security systems and be controlled remotely via a phone app. It’s driven by two Qualcomm QCS605 system-on-chips, one Qualcomm SDA660, and the earlier AZ1 component.

“Astro will get smarter and more capable over time,” Dave Limp, senior vice president at Amazon, promised during a webcast.

Astro will be priced at $1,499.99, and has an introductory price at $999. Users can sign up to request an invite to buy it. Amazon plans to start shipping the device later this year.

And the rest

For those that want a mobile camera that can handle stairs, Amazon also shared more details about its Always Home Cam, teased last year as a security drone with a camera that can fly around the house. It will ship soon starting at $249.99, and users can sign up for an invite to receive the product early, which you can see in action below.

Youtube Video

Amazon also announced other devices including the Amazon Glow, a $249.99 gadget with an eight-inch screen and a 19-inch flatboard on which kids can remotely play games and learn.

The Halo View is a fitness band that can display health metrics and workout tracking, and is priced starting at $79.99.

The internet giant also announced new Ring products, including Ring Alarm Pro, an alarm system that tries to protect against break-ins, and has a built in Eero Wi-Fi router that can provide backup internet connectivity via the cellular network.

All major hardware makers, including Amazon, Microsoft, Intel, and Google are developing AI chips for different applications. Expect to see more of this stuff in the run up to Christmas. ®

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Chinese could hack data for future quantum decryption, report warns | Hacking

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Chinese hackers could target heavily encrypted datasets such as weapon designs or details of undercover intelligence officers with a view to unlocking them at a later date when quantum computing makes decryption possible, a report warns.

Analysts at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm, say Chinese hackers could also steal pharmaceutical, chemical and material science research that can be processed by quantum computers – machines capable of crunching through numbers at unprecedented speed.

In a report titled “Chinese threats in the quantum era”, the consultancy says encrypted data could be stolen by “Chinese threat groups”. It says quantum-assisted decryption will arrive faster than quantum-assisted encryption, giving hackers an edge.

“Encrypted data with intelligence longevity, like biometric markers, covert intelligence officer and source identities, social security numbers, and weapons’ designs, may be increasingly stolen under the expectation that they can eventually be decrypted,” the report says. It says “state-aligned cyber threat actors” will start to steal or intercept previously unusable encrypted data.

However, it adds there is a “very small” likelihood that quantum computing could break the latest encryption methods before 2030. The analysts say quantum computing’s advantages over classical computing – the computing used in everything from laptops to mobile phones – are at least a decade away.

“Although quantum computers’ current abilities are more demonstrative than immediately useful, their trajectory suggests that in the coming decades quantum computers will likely revolutionize numerous industries – from pharmaceuticals to materials science – and eventually undermine all popular current public-key encryption methods,” the report says.

Quantum computing is viewed as an exciting development. For example, experts say it could predict accurately what a complex molecule might do and thus pave the way for new drugs and materials.

China is already a strong player in the field, and Booz Allen Hamilton says it expected the country to surpass Europe and the US – where IBM recently made the most powerful quantum processor – in quantum-related research and development.

“Chinese threat groups will likely soon collect encrypted data with long-term utility, expecting to eventually decrypt it with quantum computers,” the report says. “By the end of the 2020s, Chinese threat groups will likely collect data that enables quantum simulators to discover new economically valuable materials, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.”

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UK Space Agency asks kids to make a logo for first launches • The Register

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Good news for those in the UK with primary school-aged kids and wondering what to do when the next bout of home-schooling hits: design a logo for the first UK satellite launches.

2022 could be a big year for launching satellites from Blighty’s shores as the first launchers gear up for a historic blast-off. Assuming the facilities have been built and all the necessary consents given and boxes ticked.

There are currently seven possible spaceport sites across the UK, from Cornwall in England through Llanbedr in Wales and up to the Western Isles in Scotland. Cash has been lobbed Cornwall’s way to support a horizontal launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall and more toward Scotland for Orbex’s ambitions to launch vertically from Sutherland.

Should all the approvals happen and construction be completed, there is every chance the UK might host its first launch at some point in 2022.

Hence the need for a logo and thus a competition aimed at inspiring kids to consider a career in the space industry. And, of course, it is all worthy stuff: “Logo designs,” intoned the UK Space Agency, “should reflect how data from small satellites can help inform solutions to climate change as well as generate a source of pride in the UK’s space ambitions.”

What, we wondered, could possibly go wrong?

We put this question to Rob Manuel, one of those behind web stalwart B3ta has a long history of (among other things) image challenges, the results of which tend to pop up, often unattributed, in timelines around the world. Now heading into its third decade, the site continues to push out a weekly Friday newsletter to email subscribers.

In terms of how to engage participants, Manuel said: “If anyone asks me, and they rarely do, I encourage competitions to be as open as possible – publish the results as they’re coming in. Try and create a buzz that something is happening rather than everything going in the bin.”

“As for things going wrong,” he went on, “well, there’s always an element who’ll want to subvert it.”

The competition is open to children aged 4-11 and will run until 11 March 2022. There are two age categories (4-7 and 7-11) over 12 regions in the UK. Designs can be drawn, painted, or created on a computer and either submitted on the site or via post. Some basic questions also need to be answered, and children can work on their own or in a team of up to four.

We asked the UK Space Agency if it would take Manuel’s advice and post entries ahead of the competition close. We will update should it respond. ®

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Video analytics platform RugbySmarts named ‘most investable’ at SportX

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The Galway tech start-up was one of two winners at the sport-focused pre-accelerator programme.

A start-up developing real-time video analytics for sports has been named ‘most investable’ at SportX, a new pre-accelerator in Ireland for founders with sports and wellness business ideas.

RugbySmarts took the title at the inaugural SportX showcase last week, securing a cash prize.

The Galway-based start-up aims to automate and simplify sports analytics using AI,  machine learning and computer vision, helping coaches to improve player and team performance with a platform that could also be transferred to other sports.

RugbySmarts was founded last year by CTO William Johnstone, who has previously worked with Connacht Rugby, and CEO Yvonne Comer, who is a former Ireland international rugby player.

Meanwhile, the award of ‘best impact on sport’ was given to TrojanTrack. This start-up, founded in 2021 by Dublin-based Stephen O’Dwyer, is looking to combine quantitative biomechanical analysis with deep neural network tech in the equine industry.

The aim is to gain feedback on a horse’s injury or gait imbalance without using invasive technology, such as motion-tracking software that requires markers to be attached to the animal’s skin.

‘Next-gen sports-tech entrepreneurs’

SportX was launched earlier this year by advisory firm Resolve Partners, Sport Ireland and ArcLabs – the research and innovation centre at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The aim of the pre-accelerator programme was to build on tech and business ideas for the sport and wellness industries, giving founders access to academic, clinical and commercial resources.

The six-week programme involved workshops and engagement with advisers, entrepreneurs, subject experts and investors. Participants also had the opportunity to pitch to the US-based Techstars Sports Accelerator.

At the SportX showcase last week, nine teams had five minutes each to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.

The two winners were selected by the panel, which featured Gary Leyden of the ArcLabs Fund 1 GP, Sport Ireland’s Benny Cullen and Niall McEvoy of Enterprise Ireland.

At the launch of SportX earlier this year, Leyden said the goal of the programme was to find “the next generation of sports-tech entrepreneurs who can leverage the amazing enterprise and sports-related supports within the south-east of Ireland”.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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