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Fully Autonomous Car Still Not Ready for Prime Time

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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has confirmed what many people already know: Current autonomous vehicle systems aren’t ample substitutes for human drivers.

For a recent “Reality Check” study, the nonprofit tested five driver-assist systems from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, and Volvo.

The results are, well … varied.

“We have found situations where the vehicles under semi-automated control may do things that can put you and your passengers at risk, and so you really need to be on top of it to prevent that from happening,” IIHS chief research officer David Zuby said in a statement, as reported by the Associated Press.

Humans have a love-hate relationship with technology. While devices like computers, smartphones, and interactive speakers have made our lives better, they’ve also opened the door to new risks. The same goes for autonomous cars.

According to the Virginia-based nonprofit, when test vehicles didn’t perform as expected, the outcomes ranged from “the irksome” (too-cautious braking) to “the dangerous” (veering toward the shoulder because sensors didn’t detect lane lines).

IIHS focused its evaluations on adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping—each with consumer pros and cons.

Adaptive cruise control (ACC) maintains a set speed and following distance, slowing for cars ahead, or coming to a full stop when necessary. Unfortunately, it may not react to already-stopped vehicles.

During an experiment with ACC turned off and autobrake turned on, Tesla’s Model S and Model 3 vehicles (moving at 31 miles per hour) were the only two cars that failed to stop in time, embarrassingly hitting a stationary balloon.

How does your favorite autonomous system stack up? (via Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

But when the same test was repeated—this time with ACC engaged—the Model S and Model 3 braked earlier and avoided the target.

On the road, test engineers found that all vehicles except Tesla’s Model 3 failed to respond to stopped vehicles ahead.

The five vehicles—BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Volvo S90, and two Teslas—each have automatic emergency braking systems rated “superior” by IIHS.

“At IIHS we are coached to intervene without warning, but other drivers might not be as vigilant,” senior research engineer Jessica Jermakian said. “ACC systems require drivers to pay attention to what the vehicle is doing at all times and be ready to brake manually.”

Manufacturers are careful to remind drivers that the shorthand “hands off” shouldn’t be taken literally. But titles like “Autopilot” (Tesla) or “Pilot Assist” (Volvo) can give people a false sense of security.

“They will help you with some steering or speed control but you really better be paying attention because they don’t always get it right,” Zuby said.

Especially BMW owners: In active lane-keeping challenges, the 5-series “steered toward or across the lane line regularly,” IIHS revealed, forcing drivers to override the steering support. The car failed to stay in the lane on all 14 trials.

This doesn’t spell doom for autonomous vehicles, though. The Institute continues to run tests and compile its consumer rating system for advanced driver assistance systems.

“We’re not ready to say yet which company has the safest implementation of Level 2 driver assistance, but it’s important to note that none of these vehicles is capable of driving safely on its own,” Zuby said.

“A production autonomous vehicle that can go anywhere, anytime isn’t available at your local car dealer and won’t be for quite some time,” he added. “We aren’t there yet.”

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Streaming Media Player Showdown: Fire TV vs. Fire TV Stick

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The sky’s the limit for digital entertainment. We have films, TV shows, and exclusive programs right at our fingertips, thanks to streaming technology. Within a few clicks and voice commands, we can instantly launch content on our screens with minimal effort.

When it comes to binge-watching our favorite flicks though, we don’t want a stressful setup. Pesky annoyances, including poor Wi-Fi connection, streaming service bills, and fuzzy screens can instantly kill our streaming game. Even though we can’t always control these issues, investing in a good streaming media player can be a major help.

Amazon, a leader in the tech space, offers a robust lineup of streaming media players, including the Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick. Both devices have similar names, but each are recognized for their different entertainment perks.

If you’re ready to take your binge-watching to the next level, you’ve come to the right place. From basic specifications to streaming benefits, here’s what you need to know if you’re deciding between the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick for your home entertainment needs.

Basic Specifications

The Fire TV is a streaming media player with all the high-tech entertainment fixings. Key features of the device include 4K Ultra HD streaming, access to over 500,000 types of digital content, and advanced voice control features with an Alexa Voice Remote (First Generation). If you’re over the basic streaming features and want an advanced binge-watching experience, the Fire TV might be your best pick.

At 3.1 ounces, the Fire TV doesn’t weigh much and its dimensions (2.6 inches x 2.6 inches x 0.6 inches) make it fit nicely behind your TV. Its slim square shape, standard HDMI Male, and micro USB port won’t be an eyesore when you’re watching movies, TV episodes, or streaming series in your living room. Plus, you don’t have to worry about any wires or cords sticking out. 

When you buy the Fire TV set, you’ll receive the following: a Fire TV streaming media player, an Alexa Voice Remote (First Generation), a USB cable and power adapter, two AAA batteries, a quick start guide, and a product guide for $50 on Amazon.

Screenshot of the Fire TV (Photo Credit: Amazon)

Streaming media players don’t come cheap, but the Fire TV Stick offers good binge-watching perks at an affordable price. High-quality pictures, access to over 500,000 films, TV episodes, and programs, and the option launch and play content with the Alexa Voice Remote (First Generation).

Its dimensions are 3.4 inches x 1.2 inches x 0.5 inches and it only weighs 1.1 ounces, so it’s slightly smaller than the Fire TV. Unlike the Fire TV, the Fire TV Stick comes in a shape similar to a USB port. If you have a tight space between your wall and TV, the Fire TV Stick will fit there nicely without disrupting your entertainment setup.

Each Fire TV stick set comes with a Fire TV Stick streaming media player, an Alexa Voice Remote, a USB cable and power adapter, an HDMI extender, two AAA batteries, and a quick start guide for $40 on Amazon.

Screenshot of the Fire TV Stick (Photo Credit: Amazon)

Ease of Setup

If you’re concerned about streaming media player setup, no need to worry. The Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick only take a few minutes to adjust to your TV.

To use the fire TV, plug the Fire TV into your HDTV’s HDMI port, insert its USB cable into a wall outlet, and then connect to the internet via Wi-Fi or an optional Amazon Ethernet Adapter to watch films, TV episodes, and exclusive series.

Like the Fire TV, the Fire TV Stick setup is an easy three-step process. First, plug the Fire TV Stick into your HDTV, attach the power adapter and connect it to a wall outlet, connect to your Wi-Fi, and then you’re good to start streaming.

Streaming Differences

All right, it’s now time to get into the good stuff: the streaming perks. Amazon doesn’t disappoint when it comes to high-tech streaming, and both the Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick can step up your binge-watching game. There are slight differences for picture quality and audio support.

For a theater-like experience, the Fire TV will make you feel like you’re right in the action. It’s compatible with some 4K ultra high-definition TV models, including those from LG, Samsung, and Sony. Unlike other streaming devices, the Fire TV delivers advanced picture quality in HDR (higher dynamic range) and 4K Ultra HD. It supports Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Digital Plus for crystal clear sound too.

If you don’t want to fork over a ton of cash, the Fire TV Stick is a good streaming choice. It works with some high-definition TV models from JVC, LG, Panasonic, and other companies. Unlike the Fire TV, you won’t have HDR and 4K Ultra HD settings, but the Fire TV Stick still ups the ante for conventional streaming. It has an output resolution of up to 60 fps, so you’ll still get vibrant images on your screen. Audio wise, the Fire TV Stick only supports Dolby Audio, 2ch stereo, HDMI audio pass through up to 7.1, and 5.1 surround sound. Regardless though, you won’t have to worry about muffled noises when you’re binge-watching flicks.

Screenshot of the Alexa Voice Remote feature (Photo Credit: Amazon)

Streaming Similarities

The Fire TV and Fire TV Stick might be different devices, but they share the same perks for digital content access and Alexa Voice Remote capabilities.

Can’t find something to watch? Amazon has your back. When you buy the Fire TV or the Fire TV Stick, you’ll have access to more than 500,000 movies, TV episodes, exclusive series, and more. If you’re trying to sever ties with your cable company, both devices allow you to do that too. You can watch content without cable by using a HD antenna connected directly to your TV for broadcast network access or streaming content via Hulu, PlayStation Vue, and Sling TV subscriptions.

Alexa, Amazon’s virtual voice assistant, is also available to help you with your binge-watching needs and more. The Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick come with an Alexa Voice Remote (First Generation), which can help you find, launch, and play content on your TV.  Use simple voice commands like, “Alexa find horror movies,” or “Alexa, next episode,” to make watching content a breeze. Another bonus is that you can connect the Fire TV or Fire TV Stick with other Alexa-enabled devices, such as the Amazon Echo, to have Alexa go above streaming help. You can ask her to order pizza, dim the lights, or check the weather, thanks to her far-field voice recognition technology. You’ll be one step step closer to creating the ultimate smart home environment.

The Bottom Line

Still torn between the Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick? Here are some important factors to consider.

If you’re all about the 4K Ultra HD streaming experience, the Fire TV might work best for you. You’ll have HDR and 4K Ultra HD picture quality and suburb sound for a binge-watching experience that’s almost like the movies. Even though you’ll be paying $50 for the Fire TV set, it’s worth it if you want access to over 500,000 movies, TV episodes, and programs, a cable-less viewing experience, and the ability to use the Alexa Voice Remote (First Generation) for streaming and beyond.

At $40, the Fire TV Stick is a steal compared to other streaming media players. Even though it doesn’t offer the same 4K Ultra HD streaming perks as the Fire TV, you’ll still receive an above-average binge-watching session with high-quality picture and audio. Plus, you can still have access to 500,000 types of digital content, streaming sans cable, and the Alexa Voice Remote for times when you want to watch something ASAP and manage other smart home settings.

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MIT Earmarks $1B to Further Artificial Intelligence Education

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a $1 billion investment in the future of computing and artificial intelligence.

At the heart of this new initiative is the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing: an interdisciplinary hub for work in computer science, AI, data science, and related fields.

This addition—made possible by a $350 million donation from Schwarzman himself, the chairman, CEO, and co-founder of global asset manager Blackstone—will be headquartered at MIT’s Cambridge campus.

“As computing reshapes our world, MIT intends to help make sure it does so for the good of all,” President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement. “In keeping with the scope of this challenge, we are reshaping MIT.”

Slated to open in September 2019, the academy promises 50 new faculty positions—25 dedicated spots at the College, and another 25 spread across the wider institution.

“Computing is no longer the domain of the experts alone,” according to Reif. “It’s everywhere, and it needs to be understood and mastered by almost everyone.”

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MIT faculty, staff, students, and alumni are invited to a series of forums (beginning this week), where folks can provide feedback and learn about the College.

More information is available online via MIT’s FAQ page, as well as published letters from Reif and Provost Martin Schmidt.

“Advances in computing—and in AI in particular—have increasing power to alter the fabric of society,” Schwarzman said.

Nary a day goes by without a headline (or seven) boasting another breakthrough in artificial intelligence—from medical research and social networks to outer space and sex robots.

“But left unchecked, these technologies could ultimately hurt more people than they help,” Schwarzman warned. “We need to do everything we can to ensure all Americans can share in AI’s development.”

On top of the CEO’s “gift,” MIT raised an additional $300 million, for a current total $650 million—still $350 million short of the $1 billion required for the College.

Construction of a new building is scheduled to be complete by 2022.

MIT’s CSAIL used machine learning to determine if a news source is accurate or politically biased. And an algorithm can predict whether a book will become a bestseller on Amazon. Keep up with the latest news about artificial intelligence here.

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See Spot Twerk: Boston Dynamics’ Robo Dog Gets Its Groove On

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Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini has a bright future in construction, delivery, security, home assistance, and … dance?

The engineering and robotics design company on Tuesday released a short video of its droid dog shimmying along to a cover of “Uptown Funk.”

With no explanation (and frankly, none needed), the one-minute-eight-second clip is a feast for the eyes. (I’ve watched it at least six times already.) SpotMini side-steps, twerks, and does the best mechanized Running Man YouTube has ever seen.

Small and nimble, the 2.75-foot-tall, four-legged machine inherited the mobility of big brother Spot, with an added ability to pick up and handle objects using its claw-like arm and perception sensors.

Considered Boston Dynamics’ “quietest robot” yet, SpotMini can carry a 30-pound payload while operating for up to 90 minutes on a single charge.

That’s an hour and a half of shredding it on the dancefloor.

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If this robot revolution thing doesn’t work out, the cyborg can take its show on the road; I’d pay to watch its little legs and distressingly anthropomorphic claw-head do the Charleston.

Boston Dynamics in August announced plans to launch its canine-like SpotMini bot next year. By July 2019, the Massachusetts-based firm will be on pace to annually produce 1,000 of man’s mechanical best friends.

The first 100 commercial robots will begin production later this year.

There is no word yet on pricing. But co-founder Marc Raibert boasted that the current prototype’s manufacturing costs are about 10 times less than its previous iteration.

“And we think we can go further,” he said at the time, adding that the arm extension is an additional cost. “There’s a lot of factors that make this successful as a product, and we’re working on all of those.”

During an on-stage demo with TechCrunch, Raibert wowed the audience, showing off cameras in SpotMini’s face and butt, and embedded on both sides, so the robot can see where it’s going and detect obstacles to avoid.

This week’s dancing queen clip was released just days after Boston Dynamics revealed footage of Atlas humanoid doing parkour.

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