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Businesses

Foxconn Considers $7 Billion Screen Factory In US, Which Could Create Up To 50,000 Jobs (arstechnica.com) 111

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Foxconn, the Taiwanese contract manufacturing company best known for its partnership with Apple, has said that it is mulling a $7 billion investment in U.S. manufacturing that could create between 30,000 and 50,000 jobs. According to The Wall Street Journal, Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou says the company is talking with the state of Pennsylvania among others about getting the land and electricity subsidies it would need to build a factory. "If U.S. state governments are willing to provide these terms, and we calculate and it is cheaper than shipping from China or Japan, then why wouldn't Sharp build a factory in the U.S.?" said Gou. The factory would build flat-panel screens under the Sharp name -- Foxconn bought Sharp around this time last year for $5.1 billion. Sharp President Tai Jeng-wu hinted in October of 2016 that U.S. manufacturing could be a possibility for Sharp, and he also indicated that Apple could begin using OLED display panels in future iPhones. Apple currently uses OLED in the Apple Watch and in the new MacBook Pro's Touch Bar, but otherwise it hasn't pushed to adopt the technology as some Android phone manufacturers have.
Japan

Japan is Testing USB Phone Charging Stations in Public Transport Buses (thenextweb.com) 71

According to Japanese news outlet IT Media, a public transport bus in the Tokyo area has introduced, and is currently testing, USB charging stations for commuter phones and tablets. From a report: While the local Bureau of Transportation hasn't formally announced or confirmed the trials, numerous passengers so far have reported seeing the charging ports. The service runs free of charge, with at least five of these wall-mounted charging hotspots placed inside the bus. According to reports, the service is currently available solely in a single bus. It remains unclear how long testing will continue or whether it will eventually roll out to more buses. Japan isn't the only country to have offered phone charging stations in public transport vehicles. Last September, London also equipped a limited number of busses with USB chargers. Similarly, Singapore ran trials with wall-mounted phone chargers on at least 10 buses in September last year.
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Japan To End Tourists' Toilet Trouble With Standardised Buttons (theguardian.com) 187

The Japan Sanitary Equipment Industry Association, a consortium of companies producing plumbing products has agreed to unify the iconography used on the often baffling control panels for Japanese toilets. From a report on The Guardian: Navigating the array of buttons on Japan's high-tech toilets can be a disconcerting experience for the uninitiated, who, expecting to hear a familiar flushing sound, are instead subjected to a sudden, and unwanted, cleansing of the nether regions. As Japan prepares for an influx of overseas visitors during the 2019 rugby World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics the following year, the country's sanitation industry has agreed to standardize pictograms on toilets so users know for certain if they are about to receive a blast of warm air or a jet of water. Nine manufacturers belonging to the Japan sanitary equipment industry association will soon start using the same eight symbols to explain the buttons found on their state-of-the-art WCs. At a launch event this week, the firms said they had agreed to simplify the pictography in response to complaints from tourists that they are confused by symbols that differ depending on the make of toilet. In a survey of 600 foreign visitors, a quarter said they could not understand some of the symbols that appear on the toilet buttons.
Space

Japanese Spacecraft Spots Massive Gravity Wave In Venus' Atmosphere (theverge.com) 84

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Japanese probe Akatsuki has observed a massive gravity wave in the atmosphere of Venus. This is not the first time such a wave was observed on the Solar System's second planet, but it is the largest ever recorded, stretching just over 6,000 miles from end to end. Its features also suggest that the dynamics of Venus' atmosphere are more complex than previously thought. An atmospheric gravity wave is a ripple in the density of a planet's atmosphere, according to the European Space Agency. Akatsuki spotted this particular gravity wave, described in a paper published today in Nature Geoscience, when the probe arrived at the planet on December 7th, 2015. The spacecraft then lost sight of it on December 12th, 2015, because of a change in Akatsuki's orbit. When the probe returned to a position to observe the bow-shaped structure on January 15th, 2016, the bright wave had vanished. What sets the huge December wave apart from previously discovered ones is that it appeared to be stationary above a mountainous region on the planet's surface, despite the background atmospheric winds. The study's authors believe that the bright structure is the result of a gravity wave that was formed in the lower atmosphere as it flowed over the planet's mountainous terrain. It's not clear how the wave exactly propagates to the planet's upper atmosphere, where clouds rotate faster than the planets itself -- four days instead of the 243 days it takes Venus to rotate once.
Robotics

Half the Work People Do Can Be Automated, Says McKinsey (techinasia.com) 409

Half the work people do in their jobs can be automated, according to a study published by McKinsey Global Institute. From a report: Instead of assessing the impact of automation on specific jobs, the study went to a more granular level by looking at the activities involved in various jobs. The logic is that every occupation has a range of activities, each with varying potential for automation. McKinsey found that 49 percent of the activities people are paid to do in the global economy can be automated with "currently demonstrated technology." That involves US$11.9 trillion in wages and touches 1.1 billion people. The study encompassed over 50 countries and 80 percent of the world's workers. China, India, Japan, and the US accounted for half of the total wages and employees. Not surprisingly, the two most populous countries, China and India, could see the largest impact of automation, potentially affecting 600 million workers -- which is twice the population of the US.
Nintendo

Nintendo Switch Will Launch On March 3rd For $299, Won't Feature Region-Locking Software (cnet.com) 167

Nintendo has released more details about its upcoming Nintendo Switch gaming console. We have learned that the console will be launching on March 3rd worldwide, and in North America the console will be available for $299.99. What's more is that it won't feature region-locking for software, meaning you can play games from any region no matter where you buy your console. CNET reports: There will also be a Nintendo Switch online service that will be a paid service. It will launch as a trial with pricing to be announced later in 2017. For fans of imports of Japanese exclusives, it was announced the new system will have no region locking -- a big break from tradition for Nintendo. The Switch itself is said to have battery life from 2.5 to 6 hours and can be charged over USB-C. Nintendo says it will have portable battery accessories also available to charge on the go. The Joy-con is the name for new controller, usable in a combined controller style or separated into two halves to let two players play together. It will also be available in a range of colors for people who want to mix things up. The Joy-con has a whole bunch of clever tricks -- motion control, IR sensor, haptic feedback -- and a series of 'versus' game ideas called "1, 2, Switch" that let you play games (like a quick draw shooting game) without needing to look at the screen, just face each other down with the Joy-con controllers. Other games announced that need you to keep the full Joy-con all to yourself include 'Arms', a robotic boxing battle game, and Splatoon 2. Plus the new Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey, which aims to deliver a 'sandbox' experience across many realms outside the Mushroom kingdom, including the real world. And this time his cap has come to life. For the more serious RPG fans, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was also announced for the Nintendo Switch. Followed by a very small tease for Fire Emblem Warriors. All up, Nintendo says there are over 80 games in development for the Nintendo Switch. If you live in New York, "a limited quantity of pre-orders for the #NintendoSwitch will begin on 1/13 at 9AM while supplies last," Nintendo NY tweeted.
Privacy

Japan Researchers Warn of Fingerprint Theft From 'Peace' Sign (phys.org) 119

Tulsa_Time quotes a report from Phys.Org: Could flashing the "peace" sign in photos lead to fingerprint data being stolen? Research by a team at Japan's National Institute of Informatics (NII) says so, raising alarm bells over the popular two-fingered pose. Fingerprint recognition technology is becoming widely available to verify identities, such as when logging on to smartphones, tablets and laptop computers. But the proliferation of mobile devices with high-quality cameras and social media sites where photographs can be easily posted is raising the risk of personal information being leaked, reports said. The NII researchers were able to copy fingerprints based on photos taken by a digital camera three meters (nine feet) away from the subject.
NES (Games)

Hackers Unlock NES Classic, Upload New Games Via USB Cable (arstechnica.com) 86

Just because Nintendo doesn't officially let their tiny replica NES receive new games doesn't mean hackers won't find a way to add their own. This week, hackers in Japan and Russia figured out soft-mod solutions to adding new games to the NES Classic, meaning you don't need to grab a screwdriver or a soldering iron to mod your own console. Ars Technica reports: According to the whiz kids at Reddit's NESClassicMods community, the solution won't work until you've created a save file in Super Mario Bros' first slot. (Chances are, you've already done this just by playing the game, since creating game saves is so easy with this system.) Once you've done that, connect your NES Classic Edition to a computer via a micro-USB cable, then boot the NES in "FEL" mode. This is done by holding down the system's reset button while pushing down the power button from a powered-off state. While you're booting, you should also run a "sunxi-FEL" interface on your computer. (An open-source version of compatible "USBBoot" software can be found here.) The rest of the steps land firmly in "operate at your own risk" territory, as they require copying your NES Classic's internal data to your computer, then modifying and adding files via an application made by hackers. Doing so, by the way, includes the dubious step of supplying your own ROM files, which you may have either dumped from your own cartridges or downloaded from other Internet users. One tool linked from that Reddit community, however, comes with two open-source NES ROMs that are in the legal free-and-clear to upload to your hardware. Once you've added your own game files, which should also include custom JPGs that will appear in the NES Classic's "box art" GUI, you'll have to repack the hardware's kernel, then fully flash the hardware yourself. Do all of those steps correctly, and you'll see every single game you've added appear in the slick, default interface.
Businesses

Apple App Store Developers Earned $20 Billion in 2016, Up 40 Percent Year Over Year (cnbc.com) 26

Apple said Thursday its App Store generated $20 billion for developers in 2016, a 40 percent increase from 2015, helped by the popularity of games such as Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run and increased revenue from subscriptions. From a report on CNBC: "2016 was an amazingly great year for the App Store," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, told CNBC. "We continue to advance what is available for developers to create. And our catalog of apps grew 20 percent to 2.2 million." Schiller said the biggest drivers for the App Store included games such as "Pokemon Go," which was the most downloaded app in 2016; "Super Mario," which was the most downloaded app on Christmas and New Year's days; and subscription-based apps, such as Netflix, Hulu and Time Warner's HBO Go. The tech giant said its biggest day of sales on the App Store was on Jan. 1, 2017, when customers spent a record $240 million. The top grossing markets included the U.S, U.K., Japan and China, which saw 90 percent year-over-year growth.
Power

Tesla Gigafactory Begins Production (reuters.com) 201

Thelasko writes: Right on schedule, Tesla's Gigafactory has begun production of battery cells. The fact that the factory has opened on schedule has surprised many critics of the company. Reuters reports: "Electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc has started mass production of lithium-ion battery cells at its gigafactory in Nevada along with Japan's Panasonic Corp, the company said on Wednesday. The cylindrical '2170 cells,' which will be used to power Tesla's energy storage products and the new Model 3 sedan, have been jointly designed by Tesla and Panasonic, its longstanding battery partner. The gigafactory will initially produce battery cells for the company's Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2 energy products, Tesla said. The factory is expected to drive down the cost of battery packs by more than 30 percent, the company has said. At peak production, the gigafactory is expected to employ 6,500 workers and create between 20,000 and 30,000 additional jobs in the surrounding regions, Tesla said."
AI

Google's AlphaGo AI Secretively Won More Than 50 Straight Games Against World's Top Go Players (qz.com) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: When Google's artificial intelligence program AlphaGo made history by taking down Korea's Lee Sedol -- one of the world's best Go players -- in a landslide 4-1 victory in March, Chinese player Ke Jie was skeptical. He famously wrote on Weibo the next day, "Even if AlphaGo can defeat Lee Sedol, it can't beat me," and has since agreed to take on the AI at an undecided time. But now even Ke, the reigning top-ranked Go player, has acknowledged that human beings are no match for robots in the complex board game, after he lost three games to an AI that mysteriously popped up online in recent days. The AI turned out to be AlphaGo in disguise. On Jan. 4, after winning more than 50 games against several of the world's best Go players, Ke included, a user registered with an ID of "Master" on two Chinese board game platforms came forward to identify itself as AlphaGo. "I'm AlphaGo's Doctor Huang," the user "Master" wrote on foxwq.com, according to screenshots from Chinese media reports. Taiwanese developer Aja Huang is a member of Google's DeepMind team behind the AI. Since Dec. 29, Master has defeated a long list of top Go players including Korea's Park Jung-hwan (world No. 3), Japan's Iyama Yuta (No. 5) and Ke in fast-paced games. He won 51 games straight before his 52nd rival, Chen Yaoye, went offline, forcing the game to be recorded as a tie. By Jan. 4 when the test was completed, Master had racked up 60 wins, plus the one tie, and zero loss, according to numerous reports (link in Chinese).
AI

Japanese White-Collar Workers Are Already Being Replaced by Artificial Intelligence (qz.com) 370

Most of the attention around automation focuses on how factory robots and self-driving cars may fundamentally change our workforce, potentially eliminating millions of jobs. But AI that can handle knowledge-based, white-collar work is also becoming increasingly competent. From a report on Quartz: One Japanese insurance company, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is reportedly replacing 34 human insurance claim workers with "IBM Watson Explorer," starting by this month. The AI will scan hospital records and other documents to determine insurance payouts, according to a company press release, factoring injuries, patient medical histories, and procedures administered. Automation of these research and data gathering tasks will help the remaining human workers process the final payout faster, the release says.
AT&T

Verizon and AT&T Prepare to Bring 5G To (Select) Markets In 2017 (ieee.org) 53

An anonymous reader quotes IEEE Spectrum: This year, Verizon and AT&T plan to deliver broadband internet to select homes or businesses using fixed wireless networks built with early 5G technologies. These 5G pilot programs will give the public its first glimpse into a wireless future that isn't due to fully arrive until the early 2020s. With 5G, carriers hope to deliver data to smartphone users at speeds 10 times as fast as on today's 4G networks, and with only 1 millisecond of delay... Over the past year, companies have completed a flurry of lab tests and trials to figure out what types of radios, antennas, and signal processing techniques will work best to deliver 5G in hopes of bringing those technologies and their capabilities to market as soon as possible.
The article notes that standards groups are halfway through their eight-year process of finalizing technical specifications (set to finish in 2020), but "With so much cash on the line, and facing pressure from data-hungry customers, carriers are moving fast." In Japan, NTT Docomo has even tested dozens of programmable antennas simultaneously transmitting signals, resulting in transmissions at 20 gigabits per second. "At that speed, a complete 2-hour, 1080p, high-definition movie can be transmitted in a second and a half."
Businesses

Toshiba Is 'Burning Cash At An Alarming Rate' (reuters.com) 103

bsharma quotes a report from Reuters: Faced with the prospect of a multibillion-dollar write-down that could wipe out its shareholders' equity, Japan's Toshiba is running out of fixes: It is burning cash, cannot issue shares, and has few easy assets left to sell. The Tokyo-based conglomerate, which is still recovering from a $1.3 billion accounting scandal in 2015, dismayed investors and lenders again this week by announcing that cost overruns at a U.S. nuclear business bought only last year meant it could now face a crippling charge against profit. Toshiba says it will be weeks before it can give a final number, but a write-down of the scale expected -- as much as 500 billion yen ($4.3 billion), according to one source close to Toshiba -- would leave the group scrambling to plug the financial hole and keep up hefty investments in the competitive memory chip industry, which generates the bulk of its operating profit. "Toshiba's immediate problem is that it is burning cash at an alarming rate, and this will be more than challenging," said Ken Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings. "I see little option but to sell a slew of non-core assets."One source in the semiconductor industry said Toshiba could revive plans to list a slice of the memory chip business, which though highly profitable burns through cash for reinvestment. "Toshiba will probably need to sell 30-40 percent of the NAND business in an IPO to secure enough cash," the source said, adding China's aggressive drive into NAND flash memory chips could make the timing reasonable. The group has already said it could reconsider the "positioning" of its nuclear business, deemed core last year, and has signaled it could trim an 87 percent stake.
Robotics

Mining Companies Are Using Autonomous Trucks, Drills and Trains To Boost Efficiency, Reduce Employees (technologyreview.com) 94

schwit1 quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Mining companies are rolling out autonomous trucks, drills, and trains, which will boost efficiency but also reduce the need for human employees. Rio Tinto uses driverless trucks provided by Japan's Komatsu. They find their way around using precision GPS and look out for obstacles using radar and laser sensors. The company's driverless trucks have proven to be roughly 15 percent cheaper to run than vehicles with humans behind the wheel -- a significant saving since haulage is by far a mine's largest operational cost. Trucks that drive themselves can spend more time working because software doesn't need to stop for shift changes or bathroom breaks. They are also more predictable in how they do things like pull up for loading. "All those places where you could lose a few seconds or minutes by not being consistent add up," says Rob Atkinson, who leads productivity efforts at Rio Tinto. They also improve safety. The driverless locomotives, due to be tested extensively next year and fully deployed by 2018, are expected to bring similar benefits. They also anticipate savings on train maintenance, because software can be more predictable and gentle than any human in how it uses brakes and other controls. Diggers and bulldozers could be next to be automated.
Businesses

Panasonic To Invest Over $256 Million In Tesla's US Plant For Solar Cells (reuters.com) 30

According to Reuters, Panasonic will invest more than $256 million (30 billion yen) in a New York production facility of Elon Musk's Tesla Motors to make photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules. Reuters reports: Japan's Panasonic, which has been retreating from low-margin consumer electronics to focus more on automotive components and other businesses targeting corporate clients, will make the investment in Tesla's factory in Buffalo, New York. The U.S. electric car maker is making a long-term purchase commitment from Panasonic as part of the deal, besides providing factory buildings and infrastructure. In a statement on Tuesday, the two companies said they plan to start production of PV modules in the summer of 2017 and increase to one gigawatt of module production by 2019. The plan is part of the solar partnership that the two companies first announced in October, but which did not disclose investment details. Tesla is working exclusively with longtime partner Panasonic to supply batteries for its upcoming Model 3, the company's first mass-market car. Panasonic is also the exclusive supplier of batteries to Tesla's Model S and Model X.
Businesses

Amazon Prime Video's Global Launch Looks Soft, But It's Just a First Step (variety.com) 19

Earlier this month, Amazon announced that it is expanding its Prime Video on-demand video streaming service to over 200 countries and territories. But how good is the content catalogue? A report on Variety explores: In several countries looked at by Variety, the company hasn't even bothered to translate the PrimeVideo.com website's interface from English into the local language. And its content offerings seem scant and lacking in local flavor. Amazon's strategy appears to be a two-step process: first establish a global footprint, then go back and build out more tailored platforms in key new markets with better-curated and more local-language content, similar to what the company has already done in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Austria, and Japan. In India, they set up a local operation prior to their Dec. 14 launch there. "We are just getting started. It's still day one for us," Roy Price, Vice President, Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Studio, wrote in emailed comments to Variety. "Like everything we do at Amazon, we are focused on continuously improving the customer experience, including adding content and localizing features over time," Price said, noting that Prime will be adding new Amazon originals as well as licenced and localized programming in the future. To do this, Amazon will likely start cutting larger acquisition deals with prominent local players, including leading broadcasters.
China

Power Surge: Chinese Electric Car Battery Maker Charges For Global Market (reuters.com) 28

A dusty village on the outskirts of Ningde, a third-tier city in China's southeast, seems an unlikely place for the headquarters of a potential global leader in future automotive technology. Reuters writes about a promising company from China that is eyeing global expansion. From the article: Yet China's top-down industrial policy diktats - move up the value chain, clean up polluted urban skies, and shift to plug-in cars -- have Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd poised to go from hometown hero to national champion, and beyond. China's answer to Japan's Panasonic Corp and South Korea's LG Chem Ltd has tripled its production capacity for lithium-ion car batteries in the past year to keep up with a surge in China's sales of electric cars. After a second major funding round completed in October, the company's value quadrupled to 80 billion yuan ($11.5 billion), CEO Huang Shilin said last week. CATL, which hopes to list on Beijing's over-the-counter exchange as part of plans to raise at least another 30 billion yuan by 2020, could be a dominant force globally.
Nintendo

Nintendo Plans To Release 2 or 3 Mobile Games a Year After Super Mario Run's Success (macworld.com) 46

In an interview with Japan-based Kyoto NP, Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima revealed that Super Mario Run is just the start of a new strategy for mobile gaming. From an article on MacWorld: The company plans to release two or three new games next year, and continue that pattern beyond 2017, he said. Previously it was reported that popular titles Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing were on tap for a mobile release. Kimishima offered no information on whether future games will release simultaneously in the App Store and Play Store, but Nintendo has already said it is working on bringing Super Mario Run to Android phones. The iPhone-exclusive side-runner has amassed some 50 million downloads in its first week, making it the fastest-downloaded app in Apple's history. However, the game's $10 price tag and relatively simple formula has riled some users, and despite its popularity, it only has a 2-star rating in the App Store.
Nintendo

Nintendo's Mobile Mario Game Sets Download Record But Pricing Proves Sticking Point (reuters.com) 92

Nintendo's first Mario smartphone game has set a download record but gamers baulked at the one-time cost of unlocking content, prompting investors to push the Japanese game makers' stock to a one-month low. From a report on Reuters: Super Mario Run hit 25 million downloads just four days after its Dec. 15 release in 151 countries on Apple's App Store, earning gross sales of about $21 million, showed data from app analyst Sensor Tower. But Nintendo shares have lost 11 percent since the launch as the latest game to feature Nintendo's princess-rescuing Italian plumber received negative reviews from users mainly complaining about its $9.99 one-time cost, rather than the usual model of paying small amounts for special features. "Mario is arguably the most popular gaming franchise in the world, yet we see only about 8 percent of those who try the game actually purchasing it," said Sensor Tower analyst Spencer Gabriel. Super Mario Run is free to download on the App Store where, in Japan, it is rated 2.5 stars out of 5 based on 1,095 reviews.

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