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Robot Dog Astro Can Sit, Lie Down, and Save Lives

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Who’s a good boy? Astro, the four-legged seeing and hearing intelligent robodog.

Using deep learning and artificial intelligence, scientists from Florida Atlantic University’s Machine Perception and Cognitive Robotics (MPCR) Laboratory are bringing Astro to life.

A robotic tail wagger is not exactly new: Boston Dynamics has been honing its all-electric Spot lineup for years.

But Astro has a head start—literally.

FAU’s quadruped features a 3D-printed noggin (designed to resemble a Doberman pinscher) that contains a computerized brain.

He doesn’t just look like a dog, though. He learns like one, too: Astro is being trained via deep neural network to learn from experience and perform real-life tasks.

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Built-in sensors, radar imaging, cameras, and a directional microphone help ensure that, just like a flesh-and-blood pooch, he can respond to commands like “sit,” “stand,” and “lie down.”

Eventually, researchers hope Astro will be able to understand hand signals, detect different colors, comprehend various languages, coordinate with drones, distinguish human faces, and recognize other dogs.

“Astro is inspired by the human brain and he has come to life through machine learning and artificial intelligence, which is proving to be an invaluable resource in helping to solve some of the world’s most complex problems,” Ata Sarajedini, dean of FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, said in a statement.

Designed to engage and react to his surroundings in real time, the intelligent machine will be able to navigate rough terrains and respond to dangerous situations.

As an information scout, Astro can assist police, the military, and security personnel in sniffing out guns and explosives. He is also capable of rapidly searching faces in a database, smelling the air for foreign substances, and hearing distress calls well outside a human’s audible range.

As if that weren’t impressive enough, the heartwarming hound may be programmed to work as a service dog for the visually impaired or provide medical diagnostic monitoring.

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BBC’s ‘Own It’ App Aims to Keep Kids Safe Online

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The BBC wants to monitor how young people use the Internet with a new app.

Dubbed Own It, the “wellbeing” program uses artificial intelligence to evaluate a child’s mood and offer advice or encouragement as needed.

“The digital world is a fantastic place for people to learn and share, but we know many young people struggle to find a healthy online balance, especially when they get their first phones,” Alice Webb, director of BBC Children’s, said in a statement.

“Our Own It app gives them a helping hand as they navigate this new experience so that they can make the most of the time they spend on their phones whilst avoiding some of the pitfalls,” she added.

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While kids text with friends, keep a diary of their emotions, and access other BBC-commissioned content, the app’s special keyboard offers real-time help: It may encourage the user to talk to a trusted adult, or simply remind them to think twice before sharing personal details.

“We’re using cutting-edge machine learning technology in a way no one has done before,” Webb said. “Putting help, support, assistance, and a bit of fun, too, directly into young people’s hands at the moments when they need it most.”

Despite encouraging children to pick up their phone, Own It also tries to manage screen time, passing on advice about responsible online behavior.

The app offers advice alongside the text and messages children type (via BBC)

Prince William, a father of three, approves of the application, which he called a “positive and practical” outcome from his Royal Foundation Taskforce on the Prevention of Cyberbullying.

Data from the app is not shared with parents; Own It does not provide reports or feedback to parents. Everything the child types remains private to their phone.

BBC’s kid-friendly platform has been in the works since last year, and has attracted partners like the Mental Health Foundation, the Anti-Bullying Alliance, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), the Diana Award, and Childnet.

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Better, Faster, Stronger Wi-Fi 6 Officially Launches

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Next-generation Wi-Fi is ready and raring to go.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, which oversees implementation of the radio technology, is launching its official Wi-Fi 6 certification program.

Sounds like a snoozefest, I know.

But it means harder, better, faster, stronger access.

Wi-Fi 6 has been percolating for the past year, and now it’s ready to permeate more products, including the Samsung Galaxy Note 10—the first Wi-Fi Certified 6 smartphone.

“High-speed 5G services need Wi-Fi 6 and so do consumers who want to seamlessly share the moments they create on their mobile devices,” according to Inkang Song, vice president of Mobile Tech Strategy and Partnership at Samsung.

Apple’s upcoming iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and Pro Max handsets also support Wi-Fi 6, meaning the new tech will soon reach millions more customers, helping to accelerate adoption.

The central goal of Wi-Fi 6 (or 802.11ax) is to boost connectivity within crowded networks—at home or in the wild.

It is particularly well-suited for airports or sports stadiums, where hundreds of thousands of devices are vying for a spot on the same Wi-Fi wave. Even busy households can benefit; families often have a dozen or more gadgets connected to the same sardined system.

“Wi-Fi Certified 6 is ushering in a new era of Wi-Fi, building on [its] core characteristics to provide better performance in every environment for users, great network capacity for service providers to improve coverage for their customers, and new opportunities for advanced applications,” Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance, said in a statement.

“[It] will deliver improvements in connectivity,” he added, “including in high-density locations and IoT environments.”

The theoretical maximum speed for Wi-Fi is also increasing—from 3.5 Gbps to a whopping 9.6 Gbps. But, as The Verge pointed out, “those numbers don’t really matter since you’ll never get them at home.”

Wi-Fi 6-friendly routers from Cisco, Netgear, Asus, and TP-Link are already rolling out the next-gen technology; mesh options for the Netgear Orbi and TP-Link Deco lineups are expected later this year.

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Audible Claps Back at Publishers Over Copyright Infringement

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In August, seven major book publishers sued Audible over a new caption feature they claim infringes on copyright law.

An Audible countersuit, filed last week, however, argues that the technology is “quintessential fair use.”

Introduced in July, Audible Captions aims to enhance the literacy experience by allowing listeners to follow along with “a few lines of text.”

“We developed this technology because we believe our culture, particularly in under-resourced environments, is at risk of losing a significant portion of the next generation of book readers,” CEO Don Katz wrote in a summer announcement.

A sentiment with which I’m sure the Association of American Publishers (AAP), on behalf of its member companies, agrees.

It’s the underhanded way Audible approached the feature that publishers are not on board with.

The August lawsuit claims “willful copyright infringement,” and highlights Audible’s alleged efforts to “take for itself cross-format features” without authorization from, compensation to, or quality control by intellectual property owners.

Chronicle Books, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishing Group, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and Simon & Schuster argue that Audible is effectively distributing ebooks alongside audio files—which normally requires a separate license and additional royalty payments.

Audible clapped back, asserting that it has agreements with each plaintiff, and has paid, and will continue to pay, royalties and license fees for audiobooks.

“Audible Captions is not a book of any kind, much less a replacement for paper books, ebooks, or cross-format products,” the Amazon-owned company said. “The goal is simple: to help listeners understand and engage with the audiobook they purchased.”

Audible already provides simultaneous text and audio via “Immersion Reading” (read along with the ebook as you listen to the audiobook)—with the AAP said operates lawfully, and without errors.

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