Education

Are Girl-Focused Engineering Toys Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes? 490 490

theodp writes: VentureBeat's Ruth Read casts a skeptical eye at the current rage of toy segregation meant to inspire tomorrow's leaders in STEM: "Toys geared at girls serve to get them interested in coding and building when they're young, hopefully inspiring their educational interests down the road. But these gendered toys may be hurting women by perpetuating a divide between men and women." Read concludes, "Ultimately, girls (who will become women) are going to have to learn and work in a world where genders are not segregated; as will men. That means they need to learn how to interact with one another as much as they need to be introduced to the same educational opportunities. If STEM education is as much for girls as it is for boys, perhaps we should be equally concerned with getting boys and girls to play together with the same toys and tools, as we are with creating learning opportunities for girls."
Power

Energy Harnessed From Humidity Can Power Small Devices 41 41

sciencehabit writes: Scientists have built small devices that generate electricity by harnessing changes in the ambient humidity. This is done through the use of dormant bacterial spores which expand when they absorb moisture from the air. To prove the concept, researchers attached the spores to one side of a curved polymer sheet, and when the spores absorbed humidity from the air, the sheet straightened out. Coupling this movement with an electromagnetic generator allowed them to harvest enough energy to power small devices like an LED and a 100-gram toy car.
Security

Opening Fixed-Code Garage Doors With a Toy In 10 Seconds 105 105

Trailrunner7 writes: It may be time to upgrade your garage door opener. Security researcher Samy Kamkar has developed a new technique that enables him to open almost any garage door that uses a fixed code–and he implemented it on a $12 child's toy. The attack Kamkar devised, known as OpenSesame, reduces the amount of time it takes to guess the fixed code for a garage door from several minutes down to less than 10 seconds. Most openers in commercially available garage door openers have a set of 12 dip switches, which are binary, and provide a total of 4,096 possible code combinations. This is a highly limited keyspace and is open to brute-force attacks. But even on such a small keyspace, those attacks take some time.

With a simple brute-force attack, that would take 29 minutes, Kamkar said. To begin reducing that time, he eliminated the retransmission of each code, bringing the time down to about six minutes. He then removed the wait period after each code is sent, which reduced the time even further, to about three minutes. Looking to further reduce the time, Kamkar discovered that many garage door openers use a technique known as a bit shift register. This means that when the opener receives a 12-bit code, it will test that code, and if it's incorrect, the opener will then shift out one bit and pull in one bit of the next code transmitted.

Kamkar implemented an algorithm known as the De Bruijn sequence to automate this process and then loaded his code onto a now-discontinued toy called the Mattel IM-ME. The toy was designed as a short-range texting device for kids, but Kamkar reprogrammed it using the GoodFET adapter built by Travis Goodspeed. Once that was done, Kamkar tested the device against a variety of garage door openers and discovered that the technique worked on systems manufactured by several companies, including Nortek and NSCD. It also works on older systems made by Chamberlain, Liftmaster, Stanley, Delta-3, and Moore-O-Matic.
Power

Ask Slashdot: What Interesting Things Can I Power With an External USB Battery? 133 133

New submitter expert464 writes: I just purchased an external USB battery for the main purpose of charging smartphones. I've also thought of using it to power a USB lamp and charge a bluetooth speaker. What other things am I missing that would be useful and/or interesting to power when not near an electrical outlet?
Businesses

Hot Topic To Buy ThinkGeek Parent Company Geeknet 107 107

jones_supa points out the news (also at Ars Technica, and -- paywalled -- at the Wall Street Journal) that clothing and music retailer Hot Topic has announced plans to buy Geeknet, parent company of ThinkGeek and ThinkGeek Solutions, for $117.3 million. ThinkGeek Solutions is a distributor of video-game themed merchandise through licensed web stores. Hot Topic Inc. will pay $17.50 per Geeknet share. Privately held Hot Topic, based in Los Angeles, has more than 650 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Geeknet will become a Hot Topic subsidiary. This news inspires some nostalgia here; ThinkGeek was for a long time one of Slashdot's sister sites under the umbrella of VA Linux, and I had some fun years back helping to set up the ThinkGeek booth at LinuxWorld in New York.
AI

New 'Deep Learning' Technique Lets Robots Learn Through Trial-and-Error 65 65

jan_jes writes: UC Berkeley researchers turned to a branch of artificial intelligence known as deep learning for developing algorithms that enable robots to learn motor tasks through trial and error. It's a process that more closely approximates the way humans learn, marking a major milestone in the field of artificial intelligence. Their demonstration robot completes tasks such as "putting a clothes hanger on a rack, assembling a toy plane, screwing a cap on a water bottle, and more" without pre-programmed details about its surroundings. The challenge of putting robots into real-life settings (e.g. homes or offices) is that those environments are constantly changing. The robot must be able to perceive and adapt to its surroundings, so this type of learning is an important step.
Google

Cute Or Creepy? Google's Plan For a Sci-Fi Teddy Bear 102 102

HughPickens.com writes: Time Magazine reports that Google has designed and patented an "anthropomorphic device" that could take the form of a "doll or toy" and interact both with people as well as tech gadgets echoing the "super toy" teddy bear featured in Stephen Spielberg's 2001 movie AI. This could be one of Google's creepiest patents yet — especially if movies like "Chuckie" still give you nightmares. The patent filing diagrams a stuffed teddy bear and a bunny rabbit outfitted with microphones, speakers, cameras and motors as well as a wireless connection to the internet. If it senses you're looking at it, the fuzzy toy will rotate its head and look back at you. Once it receives and recognizes a voice command prompt, you can then tell it to control media devices in your home (e.g. turn on your music or TV). According to the patent filing: "To express interest, an anthropomorphic device may open its eyes, lift its head, and/or focus its gaze on the user or object of its interest. To express curiosity, an anthropomorphic device may tilt its head, furrow its brow, and/or scratch its head with an arm. To express boredom, an anthropomorphic device may defocus its gaze, direct its gaze in a downward fashion, tap its foot, and/or close its eyes. To express surprise, an anthropomorphic device may make a sudden movement, sit or stand up straight, and/or dilate its pupils."

The patent adds that making the device look "cute" should encourage even the youngest members of a family to interact with it. But Mikhail Avady, from SmartUp, said he thought it belonged in "a horror film", and the campaign group Big Brother Watch has also expressed dismay. "When those devices are aimed specifically at children, then for many this will step over the creepy line," says Avady. "Children should be able to play in private and shouldn't have to fear this sort of passive invasion of their privacy."
Businesses

FTC Recommends Conditions For Sale of RadioShack Customer Data 54 54

itwbennett writes: The FTC has weighed in on the contentious issue of the proposed sale of consumer data by RadioShack, recommending that a settlement with failed online toy retailer Toysmart.com be adopted as a model for dealings going forward. Director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection Jessica L. Rich wrote in a letter to a court-appointed consumer privacy ombudsman that the agency's concerns about the transfer of customer information inconsistent with RadioShack's privacy promises "would be greatly diminished if certain conditions were met." These include: that the data was not sold standalone, and if the buyer is in the same lines of business, they agree to be bound by the same privacy policies.
Ubuntu

Ubuntu May Beat Windows 10 To Phone-PC Convergence After All 125 125

An anonymous reader writes with news that Mark Shuttleworth plans to have a Ubuntu smartphone that can be used as a PC out sometime this year. "Despite the recent announcement that Windows 10 phones will be able to be used as PCs when connected to an external monitor, Ubuntu—the first operating system to toy with the idea—hasn't conceded the smartphone-PC convergence race to Microsoft just yet. 'While I enjoy the race, I also like to win,' Ubuntu Foundation founder Mark Shuttleworth said during a Ubuntu Online Summit keynote, before announcing that Canonical will partner with a hardware manufacturer to release a Ubuntu Phone with smartphone-PC convergence features this year.
Toys

Dad and Daughter Recreate Jurassic Park With $100,000 In Lego Pieces 52 52

mpicpp writes Animator Paul Hollingsworth and his daughter Hailee, along with some help from a few "master builders" — decided to Jurassic Park using only Lego pieces. More than $100,000 in Lego were used, according to the video's description. The result is a surprisingly stunning and hilarious version of the 1993 dino-thriller. The team behind the film also released an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the production.
Businesses

Amazon Robot Contest May Accelerate Warehouse Automation 56 56

moon_unit2 writes Amazon is organizing an event to spur the development of more nimble-fingered product-packing robots. Participating teams will earn points by locating products sitting somewhere on a stack of shelves, retrieving them safely, and then packing them into cardboard shipping boxes. Robots that accidentally crush a cookie or drop a toy will have points deducted. The contest is already driving new research on robot vision and manipulation, and it may offer a way to judge progress made in the past few years in machine intelligence and dexterity. Robots capable of advanced manipulation could eventually take on many simple jobs that are still done by hand.
Nintendo

Nintendo Finally Working On Games for Smartphones 86 86

Several readers sent word that Nintendo is finally bringing its games to mobile devices. It's partnering with Japanese game publisher DeNA to develop games for phones and tablets based on Nintendo's popular game IPs. (Existing games will not get mobile ports, however.) DeNA first approached Nintendo about using the company's characters in mobile games back in 2010, Iwata said, and has been passionately pursuing talks on the alliance ever since. Iwata acknowledged that the transition from the Wii and DS lines to the Wii U and 3DS lines has not gone "as smoothly as we had expected," but he maintained that industry watchers predicting the death of dedicated video game consoles are being too pessimistic. Iwata tied the move to smartphones to Nintendo's historical embrace of TV gaming after decades as a physical toy and card game company during a time when TVs didn't exist. "Now that smart devices have grown to become the window for so many people to personally connect with society, it would be a waste not to use these devices."
Cloud

"Hello Barbie" Listens To Children Via Cloud 163 163

jones_supa writes For a long time we have had toys that talk back to their owners, but a new "smart" Barbie doll's eavesdropping and data-gathering functions have privacy advocates crying foul. Toymaker Mattel bills Hello Barbie as the world's first "interactive doll" due to its ability to record children's playtime conversations and respond to them, once the audio is transmitted over WiFi to a cloud server. In a demo video, a Mattel presenter at the 2015 Toy Fair in New York says the new doll fulfills the top request that Mattel receives from girls: to have a two-way dialogue. "They want to have a conversation with Barbie," she said, adding that the new toy will be "the very first fashion doll that has continuous learning, so that she can have a unique relationship with each girl." Susan Linn, the executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, has written a statement in which she says how the product is seriously creepy and creates a host of dangers for children and families. She asks people to join her in a petition under the proposal of Mattel discontinuing the toy.
Toys

1950s Toy That Included Actual Uranium Ore Goes On Display At Museum 286 286

hypnosec writes: The Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab — dubbed the world's most dangerous toy — has gone on display at the Ulster Museum in Northern Ireland. The toy earned the title because it includes four types of uranium ore, three sources of radiation, and a Geiger counter that enables parents to measure just how contaminated their child have become. The Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab was only available between 1951 and 1952 and was the most elaborate atomic energy educational kit ever produced. The toy was one of the most costly toys of the time, retailing at $50 — equivalent to around $400 today.
Robotics

Drone, Drone, Everywhere a Drone -- at CES (Video) 37 37

One thing Timothy noticed at CES was that there were drone vendors all over the place. Drones are obviously one of the hot-hot toy/gadget trends of the moment. The Drone that won 'Best Robot or Drone in Show' was the camera-carrying, "follows you like a dog on a (Bluetooth 3) leash" AirDog. They already had a crazy-sucessful KickStarter campaign that led to a large stack of pre-orders, so don't count on getting your very own AirDog right away, even if you have $1300 to spend on one.
Toys

LEGO Contraption Allows Scientists To Safely Handle Insects 93 93

sciencehabit writes Researchers have built contraption from LEGOs that can move and rotate insects every which way while keeping them stable and positioned under a microscope. The design improves on previous insect manipulators because it's cheap, customizable, and easy to build. As natural history museums work on digitizing their voluminous collections—taking high-resolution photographs of each precious beetle, bee, and dragonfly in their possession—they have to handle insects repeatedly. Now the job will be easier on the entomologists, and more insect specimens will be able to hang on to their wings—all thanks to LEGOs.
Star Wars Prequels

Homemade RC Millennium Falcon Is the Drone You've Always Dreamed of Flying 51 51

MojoKid writes Here's a dose of Rebel goodness to tide you over while you wait for the next Star Wars trailer. A drone enthusiast in France recently graced the web with a few videos of a self-built quadcopter with a shell designed to look like the Millennium Falcon. It's enough to make a Star Wars fan tear up. The drone features a blue thruster light, just like the real Millennium Falcon, and has bright front lights as well. Its creator, who goes by "Oliver C", has some serious modding skills. The shape of the Millennium Falcon presented Oliver with some challenges, but he has the balance more or less handled by the time the spaceship (or quadcopter) takes its first flight outside.
Businesses

Smartphones, Tablets and EBay Send SkyMall To Chapter 11 65 65

alphadogg writes SkyMall, the quirky airline catalog, looks as though it may be grounded before long. Parent company Xhibit has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and seeks to sell its assets. In an SEC filing, Xhibit explains that it has fallen victim to an "intensely competitive" direct marketing retail industry that now includes the likes of eBay and Amazon.com. Smartphones and tablets are largely to blame for SkyMall's downfall, according to the SEC filing. "Historically, the SkyMall catalog was the sole in-flight option for potential purchasers of products to review while traveling. With the increased use of electronic devices on planes, fewer people browsed the SkyMall in-flight catalog."
Privacy

Being Pestered By Drones? Buy a Drone-Hunting Drone 151 151

schwit1 writes, "Are paparazzi flying drones over your garden to snap you sunbathing? You may need the Rapere, the drone-hunting drone which uses 'tangle-lines' to quickly down its prey." From The Telegraph's article: It has been designed to be faster and more agile than other drones to ensure that they can't escape - partly by limiting flight time and therefore reducing weight. “Having worked in the UAS industry for years, we've collectively never come across any bogus use of drones. However it's inevitable that will happen, and for people such as celebrities, where there is profit to be made in illegally invading their privacy, there should be an option to thwart it,” the group say on their website. This seems more efficient than going after those pesky paparazzi drones with fighting kites (video), but it should also inspire some skepticism: CNET notes that the team behind it is anonymous, and that "Rapere works in a lab setting, however there aren't any photos or videos of the killer drone in action. The website instead has only a slideshow of the concept."