Thursday, April 21, 2016

Opera is the first big web browser with a built-in VPN


If you've wanted to use a virtual private network to improve your web privacy or (let's be honest) dodge content restrictions, you've usually had to either install a third-party client or use a relatively niche browser with the feature built-in. As of today, though, you have a more mainstream option: Opera has released a developer version of its desktop web browser with native VPN support. You only have to flick a virtual switch to get a 256-bit encrypted connection that hides your connection details and prevents sites or governments from blocking content they don't want you to see.

The preview version only gives you three simulated locations for the VPN (Canada, Germany and the US), so this won't give you access to a whole lot until the finished browser is ready. However, the VPN is free. If all you want is to access a forbidden streaming service or make it harder for snoops to monitor your traffic, this might be your easiest and most affordable solution.

Source: Opera


Monday, April 18, 2016

Flexible lens sheets could change way cameras see


Cameras are already embedded in a lot of devices, but what you could wrap them around things like a "skin?" That's the premise of "flexible sheet cameras" developed by scientists at Columbia University. Rather than having just a single sensor, the devices use an array of lenses that change properties when the material is bent. The research could lead to credit card-sized, large-format cameras that you zoom by bending, or turn objects like cars or lamp posts into 360-degree VR cameras.

In order to create a wraparound camera, the team first considered attaching tiny lenses to single pixel-sized sensors, a tact that's been tried before on curved surfaces. However, they realized that when bent, such an array would have gaps between sensors that would produce artifacts in the final image. Instead, they created flexible silicon sheets with embedded lenses that distort and change their focal lengths when bent. The resulting prototype has no blank spots, even with significant curvature, so it can capture images with no aliasing.

The team flexed the prototype sheet -- with a 33x33 lens array -- in a predictable way, allowing them to produce clean (though low resolution) images. However, if the amount of deformation isn't known, the system produces random and irregular images. For instance, they created a simulated camera based on a larger, more flexible sheet that produces a hilariously distorted image (above) when when draped on an object.

However, the goal is to eventually measure the amount of deformation with built-in stress sensors, then calculate the sheet's geometry to produce a clean image. While the current prototype is very low-res, it proves that the concept is viable, so the team plans to "develop a high resolution version of the lens array and couple it with a large format image sensor." Eventually, the sheet camera could result in sensitive large format cameras that produce very high dynamic range images. If you want to be more futuristic, the tech could even turn household objects and wearables into giant image sensors. Invisibility cloaks for all?

Via: Digital Trends

Source: Columbia University


AI-powered cameras make thermal imaging more accessible


As cool as thermal cameras may be, they're not usually very bright -- they may show you something hiding in the dark, but they won't do much with it. FLIR wants to change that with its new Boson thermal camera module. The hardware combines a long wave infrared camera with a Movidius vision processing unit, giving the camera a dash of programmable artificial intelligence. Device makers can not only use those smarts for visual processing (like reducing noise), but some computer vision tasks as well -- think object detection, depth calculations and other tasks that normally rely on external computing power.

You'll have to wait for companies to integrate Boson before you see it in products you can buy. However, its mix of AI and compact size could bring smart thermal imaging to gadgets where it's not normally practical, such as home security systems, drones and military gear. You may well see a surge in devices that can recognize the world around them in any lighting condition -- even in total darkness.

Source: FLIR, MarketWired (Yahoo)


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Experts crack nasty ransomware that locks your PC and your backup


Petya, a brutal piece of malware, surfaced two weeks ago. It's a mean bit of crypto-extortion that hits its victims where it hurts: right in your startup drive. Because it encrypts your master boot file, if attacked, not only will you be unable to start up your PC and not even access your startup disk. Eeesh. Fortunately, there's help. Leostone has come up with a tool that creates the password needed to unlock your startup disk. It's not all that simple, however.

You'll need to remove the startup drive and connect it to a separate (not infected) Windows PC, and then pull some specific bits of data to plug into this web app — and craft your password. (There's also another free tool that can grab the necessary data nuggets here.) From there, you'll be able to decrypt that all-important master boot file — and forever learn the lesson of vigilance when it comes to possibly fake CHKDSK antics.

Source: Ars Technica, Twitter (@Leo_and_stone)


Monday, April 11, 2016

Solar cell generates power from raindrops


Rain is normally a solar energy cell's worst nightmare, but a team of Chinese scientists could make it a tremendous ally. They've developed a solar cell with an atom-thick graphene layer that harvests energy from raindrops, making it useful even on the gloomiest days. Water actually sticks to the graphene, creating a sort of natural capacitor -- the sharp difference in energy between the graphene's electrons and the water's ions produces electricity.

The catch is that the current technology isn't all that efficient. It only converts about 6.5 percent of the energy it gets, which pales in comparison to the 22 percent you see among the world's better solar panels. If the creators can improve the performance of this graphene-coated cell, though, they could have a dream solution on their hands -- you wouldn't have to live in a consistently sunny part of the world to reduce your dependency on conventional power.

Via: Science News Journal

Source: Wiley Online Library