Robot created to pour drinks

ROBOT FRIDGEA robot which can pour its master another drink  has been created by scientists.

Researchers at Cornell’s Personal Robotics Lab have taught their creation to forsee human action with the task of refilling a person’s cup when it was nearly empty, without having to be asked – great for the silent and legless types at parties.

However, there are pitfuls. To be able to carry out the task the robot has to plan its movements in advance and then follow the plan. But if a human sitting at the table happens to raise the cup and drink from it,  the robot might pour a drink into a cup that isn’t there.

Nevertheless there’s also benefits. In another test, the robot observed a human carrying an object toward a refrigerator and helpfully opened the refrigerator door.

From a database of 120 3-D videos of people performing common household activities, the robot has been trained to identify human activities by tracking the movements of the body – reduced to a symbolic skeleton for easy calculation – breaking them down into sub-activities like reaching, carrying, pouring or drinking, and to associate the activities with objects. Since each person performs tasks a little differently, the robot can build a model that is general enough to match new events.

Observing a new scene with its Microsoft Kinnect 3-D camera, the robot identifies the activities it sees, considers what uses are possible with the objects in the scene and how those uses fit with the activities.

It then generates a set of possible continuations into the future – such as eating, drinking, cleaning, putting away – and finally chooses the most probable. As the action continues, it constantly updates and refines its predictions.

The research was supported by the U.S. Army Research Office, the Alfred E. Sloan Foundation and Microsoft.

Hema S. Koppula, Cornell graduate student in computer science, and Ashutosh Saxena, assistant professor of computer science, will describe their work at International Conference of Machine Learning, June 18-21 in Atlanta, and the Robotics: Science and Systems conference June 24-28 in Berlin, Germany.

Man squanders million quid with a little help from Nigeria

triggerThe brother of a Lotto winner has managed to squander a million pounds in just five months, thanks to some rather unwise investments and a little help from Nigerian scammers. Denis Ryan, a 51-year-old road sweeper was given £1,000,000 by his brother Dave Dawes, who won a £101 million jackpot in 2011.

Avnet and Macronix sign pan European deal

avnettsAvnet Memec has signed a pan-European agreement with Macronix.

The distie has agreed to help Macronix bring NOR, NAND and ROM technology to its customers across Europe at the earliest stage of their design.

According to Avnet, adding Macronix’ Flash memory products its portfolio will add depth to its line-card and service offering, while the semiconductor company said that the support by its new pal would help it reach those customers early in their design cycle.

Macronix Flash memory devices are available now from Avnet Memec and to help customers select the correct device for their application datasheets and support documentation is available from Macronix.com.

Adata and Etna Technology sign agreement

Craig-Connell-and-Jon-AthertonAdata has signed on the dotted line with distie Etna Technology.

Under the new agreement, which comes into effect as Computex takes place over in Taiwan, the pair will work together to push Adata’s memory products.

Jon Atherton, Commercial Vice President for Enta, said it was looking forward to working with Adata which was “a great brand with an exciting roadmap”.

Craig Connell, head of regional sales for ADATA, said Enta was “exactly the kind of distributor” the company had been looking for.

Asked about the most immediate benefits, Connell said the launch of Intel’s 4th Generation Core Processor family would see a strong surge in demand for very fast memory products, such as the new 2,800MHz DDR3 modules that the company had just launched.

He said Enta had a strong reputation among the kind of stores that would be selling Z87 boards and the company want to make sure that as many as possible came supplied with ADATA DDR3”.

According to analyst house iSuppli, ADATA became the world’s second largest supplier for DDR memory modules in 2010.

High street apocalypse on its way

highstreetThe UK is “facing a crisis,” when it comes to highstreet shopping, a retail group has warned.

According to the Centre of Retail Research, one in five of Britain’s high street shops could close by 2018 as more customers turn to the internet for their shopping. The analyst company warned that, as a result, around 62,000 shops could close in the next five years – putting around 316,000 jobs on the line.

A further 164 major or medium-sized companies were also predicted to go into administration, involving the loss of 22,600 stores and 140,000 employees.

“Many of these companies will survive but at the cost of closing more than half their stores,” the company said.

Retail Futures 2018 forecasts found that consumers were shunning the high street with the share of consumer spending declining from 50 percent in 2000 to a predicted 40.2 percent next year.   As fewer shop in stores, online retail is set to account for 21.5 percent of total retail sales by 2018, from 12.7 percent today, the highest online retail share in the world.

It also pointed out with such a high number of transactions carried out online, retailers with a strong web offering now need just 70 high street stores to create a national presence compared to 250 in the mid 2000’s.

Wales and the North West are predicted to see the highest number of closures, with nearly one in three expected to fold, while the South East is expected to see a 13 percent decrease in the number of shops by 2018.

SMB managers don’t take BYOD seriously

kasperskylogoA survey by TNS Infratest commissioned by Kaspersky Lab claims that just 35 percent of IT managers have admitted having strict rules in place to understand and control company information on personal devices – despite the upsurge in BYOD corporate policy.

Many SMBs are not taking the implications that come with BYOD serious enough, the report suggests. More and more employees are using their own devices in the workplace, and the study points to the over 500,000 mobiles stolen in 2011/2012 as reason enough management should be making more considerations. “Businesses can face company data falling into the wrong hands if not effectively managed,” TNS says.

Because smartphones and tablets are a desirable target for pickpockets and thieves, IT managers must know precisely what corporate information is on their employees’ devices. A sandbox style approach to operating systems can help here.

Kaspersky’s senior security researcher David Emm said in a statement that “only when clear BYOD rules are in place can adequate steps be taken to build robust security, should a device be lost or stolen”.

“To best protect data a policy should include file encryption, blocking access to the corporate network and, in the best case, wiping all data on the device,” Emm said.

This survey questioned 1,762 IT decision makers all over Europe. Companies with 10-500 employees were surveyed.

Samsung Young in shops this weekend

Samsung rules the roostSamsung’s Galaxy Young, an Android smartphone running Jelly Bean, will be available through retail channels and networks this weekend.

The Young is a 1Ghz device with a 3.2″ HVGA TFT display and a 3 megapixel camera. It will ship with the usual torrent of Samsung extras loaded into Jelly Bean including TouchWiz, Kies, Apps and Hub, but where the company wants to differentiate is with its integration with Dropbox.

Of course, there are other cloud services available, including Google Drive, and Dropbox is available to download for free from the Google Play store anyway.

The device comes with 4GB internal storage and will be available in different colours.

The mid-range smartphone is not exactly a flagship device but is more affordable for those who can’t justify splashing out on an S4. Samsung has said it will be available from a “number of networks and online retailers”, but the Carphone Warehouse and O2 are the ones it specifically mentions.

Store stays as hub for connected customers

highA pan-European retail survey commissioned by Fujitsu reveals that most retailers believe stores are still important despite the fact that online shopping is going mainstream.

Even in the age of multichannel, 65 percent of Europear retailers interviewed said they believe the importance of stores is rising rather than diminishing. However, eight out of ten believe online is the top distribution model for the future.

The survey found that the humble store will continue to serve as a hub for retail engagement with “connected” consumers. Ongoing competitive pressures and the widespread adoption of smartphones will force retailers to combine the efficiency of online, while at the same time delivering a good in-store customer experience.

It echoes the findings of a recent Google survey, which concluded smartphones are slowly starting to improve the shopper experience both at home and in actual retail stores. In other words, retailers cannot afford to ignore either component of their multichannel approach.  Fujitsu’s survey also stresses the importance of a unified view of all customers across all channels, on top of technology innovations designed to deliver new multichannel solutions.

Retail managers in some countries believe the importance of stores is going up, especially in France and to some extent in Italy, which is also betting on hypermarket and supermarket models. However, German retailers believe online shopping is currently more attractive to their customers. In the UK, however, there is a greater balance across all models.

“It is clear the store remains the shopping ‘hub’ for the majority of consumers across Europe, but the store operating model is changing rapidly to meet the needs of the multichannel shopper.” said Richard Clarke, Vice-President, Global Retail at Fujitsu. “Fujitsu helps retailers to achieve this goal by simplifying their technology deployments and radically increasing agility and customer intimacy.”

Although e-taliers and m-commerce are still on the rise, the study found that traditional retailers are still convinced there is plenty of room for brick-and-mortar stores in the future of retail, no matter how connected it might be. However, service is slowly becoming a key value-add for the store, and some hybrid services such as click and collect are also emerging. Interestingly, British retailers lead the way when it comes to their confidence in traditional stores and their role as a shopping point.

Cloud integration platform spending to soar

clouds3Cloud integration is one of the hottest tech trends around and spending on cloud-based services is set to continue for years to come.

Ovum predicts worldwide spending on cloud integration platforms will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 31 percent between 2012 and 2018. It is expected to hit $3.7 billion by the end of 2018.

Spending in America will grow at 27 percent, while EMEA should see a rate of 34 percent. Spending on cloud-based integration platforms in the UK and Ireland should grow even faster, at a CAGR of 36 percent, eventually reaching $170 in 2018. Other parts of Western Europe, such as Benelux and DACH regions will grow at 32 and 36 percent.

Ovum senior analyst Saurabh Sharma said the emergence of integration-as-a-service ushers in a new era – “middleware-as-a-service”. He pointed out that such services are focused on enabling faster SaaS integration at a lower cost of ownership, reports Cloud Pro.

“Integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) is an extension of the functionality provided by [integration-as-a-service]. iPaaS solutions enable users to create, manage, and govern integration flows connecting a wide range of applications or data sources,” he said.

Sharma said most organisations originally adopted iPaaS as a tool to achieve SaaS integration, but eventually extended it to on-premise and B2B integration.

Seagate clears out salesfolk

seagate-longmontSeagate has shaken up its sales and marketing organisation in EMEA.

The company says that it has made the changes to ensure that it was “optimally positioned” to work with its customers to best address evolving market opportunities across the region. In particular, it wants to take full advantage of its potential in areas such as cloud computing, solid state drives and branded storage solutions.

Joe Fagan has been appointed senior director, Cloud Initiatives, EMEA. In this newly created position he will be responsible for shaping Seagate’s Cloud strategy and engagement in the region.

Fagan joins Seagate from UK storage distributor CMS Peripherals where he was responsible for shaping and delivering the company’s B2B and enterprise storage strategy Seagate said that here he developed and launched the company’s cloud initiative “Cloud Made Simple” in 2009.

He previously held EMEA-wide sales and marketing positions at Maxtor and Adaptec. Fagan will report to Mark Whitby, Seagate’s vice president of EMEA Sales & Marketing and Global Channel Sales.

Bernd Breinbauer has been appointed to the newly created role of director of EMEA SSD Sales with responsibility for developing sales of the company’s comprehensive solid state drive portfolio across the region. Breinbauer was previously sales director for Seagate’s Central Europe region and has also held positions in OEM sales management. Prior to joining Seagate, he worked with Hitachi.

Henk van den Berg, sales director, will take on leadership of Seagate’s Central Europe region in addition to his existing responsibility for Northern Europe in a new combined Northern and Central Europe region.

The company has also named Dimitri Galle as senior director of Sales and Marketing, Branded Products, EMEA. In his new position he will be responsible for sales and marketing of all Seagate-branded retail products across the region. He was previously senior manager, Sales and Marketing, for branded products in the central Europe region.

Separately, Mark Whitby, Seagate’s vice president of EMEA Sales and Marketing since 2009, has also been charged with responsibility for the company’s global distribution channel sales, developing and leading strategy and delivery of the business worldwide.

In his new role as vice president, EMEA Sales & Marketing and Global Channel Sales, Whitby leads a matrix team spread across sales, marketing, product management, pricing and finance to deliver on Seagate’s goals, as well as working to define longer term business planning.

Halfords reports crash

halfsHalfords has seen a steep drive down in profits.

The company, which is mainly known for its bike and car part offerings, as well as staff who aren’t at all driven in helping their customers, reported a drop of 25 percent to £71 million in pretax profits for the 12 months to March 2013.

Despite it seeing a small profit in the group revenues, which were up by one percent, and a surge in cycling sales following the success of London 2012 and Sir Bradley Wiggins’ victory in the Tour de France, the company admitted it had seen a “demanding” trading environment.

It also admitted that its car repair arm, Autocentres, which in my opinion is regarded with as much trust as an Only Fools and Horses product, had seen a decline in profit.

However, this didn’t put the company off with it announcing it had opened 23 new Autocentres as investment for long-term growth continues

It has also tried to rectify its losses and appease shareholders,  with chief exec Matt Davies announcing an investment plan – codenamed the very original Getting Into Gear 2016 – which will aim to reposition the retail arm of the company and focus on sales growth to support “ongoing sustainable profitability”.

The company has also pledged to improve customer service as well as refit its shops.

Nissan recalls 841,000 cars

nissan-qashqai-steeringNissan said that it is planning to recall 841,000 vehicles worldwide due to a faulty steering wheel. The recall will affect thousands of Micras, Qashqais and Cubes. But Nissan is trying to downplay the problem, but then again it would, wouldn’t it?

Although a faulty steering wheel does sound a bit alarming in case you’ve grown overly attached to your limbs, the company claims there is no danger of sudden failure. It seems that the culprit was a simple bolt used to secure the steering wheel and it can be sorted out with a bit of elbow grease, or quick replacement of the entire unit. In any case Nissan says the fix should take less than 20 minutes and the recall is voluntary, which means most cars will be sorted out during routine inspection.

None of the affected cars have been involved in crashes due to faulty steering and Nissan claims drivers should notice if their steering wheel starts to go loose. It will not fail catastrophically, or at least that’s what Nissan is betting on.

Although it doesn’t sound too scary, it is more bad PR for the company, as Nissan was already forced to recall 500,000 vehicles earlier this year due to an airbag defect.

Mothercare gets fatter

Leon bw article1Mothercare has seen a better than average full year profit.

The baby brand, which in April last year saw tumbling profits, which it blamed on online sales, has reported a pretax profit of £8.3 million for the year to the end of March. This was a rise from the £1.6 million a year earlier.

However, the company also saw UK sales fall 10.8 percent to £499.7 million in the year, while UK like-for-like sales were down 3.6 percent, an improvement on the 6.2 percent decline a year earlier.

Last year the company made moves to try and fix the brand, putting in place a three year plan and hiring ex Amazon “guru” Simon Calver as its new head honcho. At the time it slashed 56 UK stores in the year to the end of March, ahead of its target of 50 closures.

However, it seems the company could also be riding high off the back of the baby boom. Despite being criticised last year by mums as being “pricey” and “outdated”, it seems some are being coaxed back.

“Mothercare is offering better prices and cute clothing recently,” one mum told ChannelEye, while another pointed out staff had become “better” trained.

“It seems they are a lot more knowledgeable now,” she told ChannelEye. “I went in asking about buggies and had a full hour demo of all the ones suitable.”

And it also seems the brand’s line of maternity clothing is also making a stance with the company offering reasonably priced style.

According to the founder of maternity fashion website – that’s me by the way –  Does My Bump Look Good in This? the trend of wearing stylish maternity clothes has grown.

“With high profile celebrities, namely Kate Middleton, showing off their bumps in stylish clothing, regular mums-to-be are taking more notice of what the maternity fashion world has to offer,” Andrea-Marie Rankine said.

“It’s no longer about floaty blouses or dresses.

“Mothercare offers average priced on-trend  maternity clothing, which appeals to women in all demographics. In most stores they are placed strategically next to new baby products, which is a perfect pitch for mums-to-be,” Rankine continued.

Chip revenues down

arm_chipRevenues for the global semiconductor market dropped two percent year on year to $295 billion in 2012, IDC’s latest semiconductor application forecast reports.

Consumer spending slumped in the second half of the year which had a significant impact, but this was also combined with a slowing down in industrial and other market segments too. Europe’s economic crisis leaned on the PC market and China, too, was not spending as much as had been hoped. IDC notes the “lackluster” Windows 8 launch did not prove to be the boon for PC sales manufacturers were praying for.

Cheaper Chinese suppliers pressured average selling prices and dragged down overall revenues.

Just 17 companies with revenues of a billion or more, of the 120 that IDC tracks, managed growth of over five percent for 2012. Most saw declining revenues, including the majority in the top ten. Qualcomm, Broadcom, NXP, Nvidia, MediaTek, Apple and Sharp were the few in the 25 largest companies that registered positive growth.

Intel, IDC points out, saw revenues plunge $50 billion for the year, a drop of three percent, attributed mainly to weak PC demand and failing to make significant inroads into the tablet and smartphones market. Samsung saw revenues fall six percent. Texas Instruments , at number four, saw a decline of six percent.

Qualcomm, however, was a winner – ranking third in 2012 and growing revenues 34 percent to reach $13.2 billion. IDC states that this is largely due to Snapdragon and its prevalance in modem technology.

Altogether, the top ten vendors – including Broadcom, Renesas, Hynix, STMicro and Micron, held 52 percent of global semiconductor revenues, seeing a three percent decline compared to the previous year. The top 25 companies overall declined three percent, bringing in revenue of $206 billion.

Semiconductor device types were a mixed bag. Fastest growing were sensors and actuators, but these made up just two percent of overall revenues. ASSPs represented 32 percent of overall revenues and grow four percent thanks to media, graphics, and application processors, as well as RF and mixed signal ASSPs. Optoelectronics made up six percent of the revenues, growing five person on the back of image sensors and LEDs. Microcomponents declined five percent, while memory declined ten percent, holding 17 percent of all industry revenues. Analogue declined by seven percent to account for seven percent of all revenues.

IDC’s semiconductors research manager Michael J Palma said in a statement that the challenge is to “zero in on their key value propositions”.

“Whether that is in modem or connectivity technologies, sensors, mixed-signal processing or power management, there are areas of the market showing strong potential,” Palma said. “However, competing in crowded segments with little differentiation has contributed to the slowdown in semiconductor revenues”.