Select Bose smart speakers get Google Assistant

A week after Sonos added long-promised Google Assistant integration to a pair of speakers, Bose is following suit. The company’s bringing the popular smart home AI to a trio of existing models, the Home Speaker 500 and Soundbar 500 and 700. The forthcoming, pint-sized Home Speaker 300 will be hitting the market with the feature built-in.

Like Sonos, you’ll get your standard array of Assistant queries, including music playback, Chromecast TV control and the ability to control connected home features like smart lighting. All of that will be accessible through the built-in speaker array. Like Sonos, the aforementioned speakers are also compatible with Alexa.

It’s clearly in the best interest of these third-party manufacturers not to have to play sides. For Google and Amazon, it means bringing their respective smart home ecosystems to a pair of well-regarded brands. Also like Sonos, setup happens in the company’s music app, which means, unfortunately, that you won’t have the full suite of setup options you get with Google’s own Home speakers.

The upgrade is available starting today. Additional features, including news and podcasts, are coming this summer. Ditto for the Home Speaker 300, which is arriving this summer.

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Apple announces new MacBook Pros with a keyboard fix, oh, and more powerful processors

Apple is updating its 15” MacBook Pro with new 8-core and 6-core processors and its 13” MacBook Pro with Touch Bar with 8th-gen quad-core processors. Apple says that these boosts mean the 15” MacBook Pro will run at double the speed of the previous quad-core models and hit 40% improvements over the 6-core MacBook Pro model.

Apple says this is its fastest Mac notebook ever.

Oh, and there is that keyboard update.

Speed bump

The $2,399 config of the 15″ MacBook Pro is getting a 2.6GHz 6-core i7 that boosts to 4.5ghz, a 400 MHz increase in turbo speed. The top end $2,799 config is now standard with an 8-core i9, two more cores and a 500 MHz increase over the current 6-core config.

The 13″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar gets boosted 2.4GHz quad-core processors, standard, which will turbo boost to speeds up to 4.7GHz. The configure-your-own option gets a 200MHz bump, making it a full 2x faster from the dual-core 13”.

The speed boosts of the MacBook Pro and the keyboard changes come after a year of boosts for the flagship notebook. It got an update last July, a graphics update in October and now the i9 update. Amidst a shift in Apple’s business driven by smartphone market saturation, the Mac has continued to grow out-sized to the industry and still acts as a beachhead for Apple in many enterprise businesses.

The new MacBook Pro models will be available for purchase today.

About the keyboard

Apple also told me that it is making three announcements about the MacBook Pro keyboard situation. Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’re aware that the current generation of MacBook Pro (and MacBook Air) models have had issues with keys either not firing or firing twice, resulting in no letter or double … Read the rest

Why is Facebook doing robotics research?

It’s a bit strange to hear that the world’s leading social network is pursuing research in robotics rather than, say, making search useful, but Facebook is a big organization with many competing priorities. And while these robots aren’t directly going to affect your Facebook experience, what the company learns from them could be impactful in surprising ways.

Though robotics is a new area of research for Facebook, its reliance on and bleeding-edge work in AI are well known. Mechanisms that could be called AI (the definition is quite hazy) govern all sorts of things, from camera effects to automated moderation of restricted content.

AI and robotics are naturally overlapping magisteria — it’s why we have an event covering both — and advances in one often do the same, or open new areas of inquiry, in the other. So really it’s no surprise that Facebook, with its strong interest in using AI for a variety of tasks in the real and social media worlds, might want to dabble in robotics to mine for insights.

What then could be the possible wider applications of the robotics projects it announced today? Let’s take a look.

Learning to walk from scratch

“Daisy,” the hexapod robot

Walking is a surprisingly complex action, or series of actions, especially when you’ve got six legs, like the robot used in this experiment. You can program in how it should move its legs to go forward, turn around, and so on, but doesn’t that feel a bit like cheating? After all, we had to learn on our own, with no instruction manual or settings to import. So the team looked into having the robot teach itself to walk.

This isn’t a new type of research — lots of roboticists and AI researchers are into it. Evolutionary algorithms (different but … Read the rest

When will customers start buying all those AI chips?

It’s the best and worst time to be in semiconductors right now. Silicon Valley investors are once again owning up to their namesakes and taking a deep interest in next-generation silicon, with leading lights like Graphcore in the United Kingdom hitting unicorn status while weirdly named and stealthy startups like Groq in the Bay Area grow up.

Growth in chips capable of processing artificial intelligence workflows is expected to swell phenomenally over the coming years. As Asa Fitch at the Wall Street Journal noted yesterday, “Demand for chips specialized for AI is growing at such a pace the industry can barely keep up. Sales of such chips are expected to double this year to around $8 billion and reach more than $34 billion by 2023, according to Gartner projections.”

Yet, all those rosy projections don’t suddenly make the financial results of companies like Nvidia any easier to swallow. The company reported its quarterly earnings last week, and the results were weak — pretty much across the board.

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This clever transforming robot flies and rolls on its rotating arms

There’s great potential in using both drones and ground-based robots for situations like disaster response, but generally these platforms either fly or creep along the ground. Not the “Flying STAR,” which does both quite well, and through a mechanism so clever and simple you’ll wish you’d thought of it.

Conceived by researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, the “flying sprawl-tuned autonomous robot” is based on the elementary observation that both rotors and wheels spin. So why shouldn’t a vehicle have both?

Well, there are lots of good reasons why it’s difficult to create such a hybrid, but the team, led by David Zarrouk, overcame them with the help of today’s high-powered, lightweight drone components. The result is a robot that can easily fly when it needs to, then land softly and, by tilting the rotor arms downwards, direct that same motive force into four wheels.

Of course you could have a drone that simply has a couple of wheels on the bottom that let it roll along. But this improves on that idea in several ways. In the first place, it’s mechanically more efficient because the same motor drives the rotors and wheels at the same time — though when rolling, the RPMs are of course considerably lower. But the rotating arms also give the robot a flexible stance, large wheelbase and high clearance that make it much more capable on rough terrain.

You can watch FSTAR fly, roll, transform, flatten and so on in the following video, prepared for presentation at the IEEE International Convention on Robotics and Automation in Montreal:

The ability to roll along at up to 8 feet per second using comparatively little energy, while also being able to leap over obstacles, scale stairs or simply ascend and fly to a new location, give FSTAR considerable … Read the rest