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Former Google self-driving car engineer charged with stealing trade secrets

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A former Google self-driving car engineer was charged Tuesday with 33 counts of stealing or trying to steal the company’s trade secrets related to the technology, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.

The initial accusation that Anthony Levandowski stole secret materials from Google in 2015 rocked Silicon Valley and led to a blockbuster civil trial last year.

Levandowski, who is expected to appear in San Jose federal court Tuesday, could face years in prison if convicted. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

“All of us, generally speaking, are free to move from job to job, but what we cannot do is stuff our pockets on the way out the door,” U.S. Attorney David Anderson said at a press conference in San Jose.

Levandowski, 39, was allowed to self-surrender, which he did at the San Jose federal courthouse. Anderson would not comment on the Justice Department probe of Uber.

Miles Ehrlich and Ismail Ramsey, lawyers for Levandowski, said they will fight the charges.

“This cash rehashes claims already discredited in a civil case that settled more than a year and a half ago,” the lawyers said in a written statement handed out at the courthouse. “The downloads at issue occurred while Anthony was still working at Google — when he and his team were authorized to use the information.”

In 2017, Waymo — Google’s self-driving car operation — sued Uber, and while Levandowski never testified at the trial the following year, his absence loomed large over it.

The fight began in February 2017, when Waymo publicly alleged that former star engineer Levandowski “downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems,” including a crucial laser-based system known as LiDAR.

In federal charges unsealed Tuesday, the government claims that in December 2015, Levandowski took nearly 10 gigabytes of secret data from his employer.

“Silicon Valley is not the Wild West,” said John Bennett, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Francisco bureau, at the same press conference. “The fast-paced and competitive environment does not mean that federal laws can be ignored.”

Levandowski abruptly left Google early in 2016, founding the company Otto, which was quickly acquired by Uber for $680 million — an astonishing amount for a company that was only several months old.

In 2017, during hearings in the run-up to the civil trial, Levandowski fought hard to keep silent. He repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment, protecting himself against self-incrimination and was threatened with being fired rather than comply with court orders.

According to former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s July 2017 deposition, Levandowski downloaded the files as an “insurance policy” to protect a $120 million bonus from Google. But Kalanick was blunt with his analysis of his then-employee’s behavior: “That’s pretty f—ing dumb.”

After four days of trial in February 2018, the lawsuit ended in a surprise settlement.

Anderson said Uber and Google’s Waymo were both supportive of the investigation and provided materials to the government

Since being fired from Uber in May 2017, Levandowski has gone on to found a related company called Pronto, which he announced in December 2018. Its top executives include veterans from Uber, Otto and Google.

Pronto announced on Tuesday that Robbie Miller, the company’s chief safety officer, would be taking over as chief executive.

U.S. to test mirrorless, camera-based systems in autos

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The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to test how drivers could use cameras to replace traditional rearview mirrors in automobiles, a technology already allowed in other countries, the agency said on Tuesday.

The planned test by the agency known as NHTSA would examine “driving behaviour and lane change manoeuvre execution” in cars with traditional mirrors and camera-based visibility systems, the department said in a notice offering the public a chance to comment.

In March 2014, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — a trade group representing General Motors Co, Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE), Toyota Motor Corp and others, along with Tesla Inc, petitioned NHTSA to use camera-based rear or side-vision systems. A similar petition was filed by Daimler AG in 2015 seeking approval for camera use instead of rearview mirrors in heavy-duty trucks. Those petitions are still pending.

NHTSA said in a report last year it was still studying the issue. The new testing would initially focus on passenger vehicles and later on larger vehicles.

Auto manufacturers have commonly added front and rear cameras to assist with manoeuvres like parking, but some are now adding side cameras to provide visibility without traditional mirrors in other markets.

Toyota began selling a Lexus ES in Japan last year with cameras replacing side mirrors and was followed by Volkswagen, which began selling its Audi e-tron model with cameras instead of side mirrors in Europe in December.

Both sell versions in the United States with traditional mirrors.

Honda Motor Co Ltd will have the technology standard on its Honda e when the model goes on sale in Europe later this year or early next year, a spokeswoman said.

The technology is already approved in Europe and Japan.

Mirrorless systems are “an example of where automotive technology is ahead of the legislative curve” in the United States, said Mark Dahncke, an Audi of America spokesman.

The test comes as automakers are investing in technology and autonomous driving capability.

Tesla said in October it had made all eight external cameras on its Model S, Model X and Model 3 cars active, providing a “360-degree visualization of surrounding vehicles,” though the cars still have traditional mirrors.

Koji Igarashi tries Castlevania-inspired indie game

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Castlevania-inspired action game, Minoria is a 2.5D side-scrolling action game for PC, developed by Brazillian studio Bombservice and published by Japanese company Dangen.

As a spiritual successor to the Momodora series, Minoria is said to be a more aggressive take on the Castlevania genre offering a mix of weapon-based combat and magic.

“I’d say it’s a lot like [Castlevania] Symphony of the Night,” Igarashi says in the new video.

Minoria is out for PC now, with release dates for console ports to be announced at a later date.

‘My Word Means Something’: Indie Dev Elaborates On His Viral Decision To Reject Epic Store Exclusivity

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In late July, Wlad Marhulets, the solo developer behind just-released horror game Darq, received the golden ticket: an email from Epic Games asking if he’d like Darq sold on their hugely popular online store.

It’s a deal a lot of other game developers have taken. Steam’s game store takes 30 percent of games’ sales and gives developers 70 percent; Epic takes just 12 percent. Epic also offers a cash advance to devs. Despite those favorable numbers, the downsides have been huge.

Epic often asks smaller studios for the exclusive right to sell their games, to the great chagrin of some gamers, who loathe the store’s lack of features relative to Steam and its upstart, money-fueled entry into the PC marketplace. Some just call the whole store “evil.” And after Ooblets developer Ben Wasser announced that the game would be sold exclusively on the Epic Games Store, and not on Steam, where fans had excitedly preordered the game, Wasser was attacked by what he called an “internet hate mob.” He’s not the only one. Metro Exodus, Borderlands 3 and other games’ exclusive deals with Epic Games have incited bubbling-over ire, too.

After all this, Marhulets’ golden ticket was looking more like a red mark. It didn’t help that the email arrived the the day before Ooblets’ exclusivity announcement, although Marhulets said in an email that his decision was “not based in fear.” After asking whether Epic Games’ offer necessitated exclusivity, and hearing that it did, Marhulets turned down the deal before even discussing money. Darq had been on Steam since November, 2018, and is also for sale on GOG. The horror adventure game was within the top 50 most wishlisted games on the platform before launch. “I felt going for an exclusivity deal would show that my word means nothing (as I just had promised the game would launch on Steam),” wrote Marhulets on Reddit. The positive response from fans was huge.

In a Medium post, Marhulets explained that he “never intended to become the face of the Epic Store exclusivity controversy.” Noting that accepting Epic’s offer might be right for other game studios, he expressed concern that bringing his game exclusively to Epic’s store would “forever ruin the credibility of my studio.” Marhulets also says he wishes that the Epic Store would let indie devs, and especially those with smaller teams, sell their games on their platform non-exclusively. Marhults posted an email exchange with an Epic rep saying that “We aren’t in a position to open the store up to games that simship,” shorthand for “simultaneous shipment.”

“I wish there wasn’t a double standard and indie developers were given an equal oportunity [sic] to sell their games across multiple store fronts, so the players can enjoy what they seem to want the most: a choice,” wrote Marhulets.

Reached for comment, an Epic representative told Kotaku that “We work with developers and publishers on a one-on-one basis and every situation is unique. We have a number of games from independent developers that are exclusive to our store, as well as a number of games that are available on other digital storefronts, including Steam. We have very limited release bandwidth and are definitely prioritizing games with opportunities for exclusivity and therefore significant Epic dev/marketing assistance. We consider many other factors as well, so there is no set formula.”

Marhulets said he “I never intended to become actively involved in the exclusivity discussion / controversy,” but wrote his Medium post to ensure his comments on Reddit weren’t taken out of context. He described all that’s been going on as “a lot of pressure.”

Darq’s Steam comments are dominated by grateful messages from fans and some derision for Epic. “I purchased a copy of DARQ to support this fine developer’s ethical business practices. Thank you for keeping your promises and taking a stand against store exclusivity. The world needs more folks like yourselves,” wrote one. “Support devs who keep their promises and stand up against evil. It also happens to be a great game so.. what are you waiting for?” said another.

“I intend to work in this industry for a long time and it’s important to me that my customers have the confidence that my word means something,” said Marhulets in an email. “As for harassing developers and sending them death threats for accepting exclusivity deals: there’s no excuse for it.”

Oculus Go Price Crash: Dive into Netflix VR and more for less than £150

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Going for the new low price of just £149.99, that’s a slick saving of £49 to be had on top of knowing that you’re bagging one of the best VR headsets on the market for its lowest possible price.

If you’re the type of person who’s intrigued by VR, but isn’t a serious gamer, then the Oculus Go headset is made specifically with you in mind. Coming in at a super affordable price point, the Oculus Go is designed as an accessible gateway into the world of VR entertainment by containing everything you need within the headset itself.

Gone are the days of having to hook up your VR headset to a high-end computer, the Oculus Go offers cable-free VR that makes it an ideal gadget for kids and adults alike.

When put through the ringer at Trusted Reviews, we bestowed the Oculus Go with a hearty 8/10 rating, declaring: “You should buy the Oculus Go if you want a budget-friendly way to get into VR, and you don’t have a phone that supports a mobile VR solution such as the Gear VR or Google Daydream.”

At this point, there’s no shortage of apps available on the Oculus store, with popular mainstays including Netflix, YouTube VR and even National Geographic VR. Of course, there are plenty of VR games available too if you fancy hitting some high scores.

The Oculus Go also comes with a handy remote (similar to the Wii’s Nunchuk controller if you can remember it), allowing you to interact with the VR worlds you’ll be exploring in the comfort of your own home.

At such a cheap price, we can’t imagine that this Oculus Go deal will stick around for too long, so if you want to delve into the incredible possibilities of VR without breaking the bank, there’s never been a better time to do so.

Canon announces 32-megapixel 90D DSLR and mirrorless M6 Mark II

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Canon has announced two new enthusiast-grade cameras that are similar in capability but very different in form. Whether you’d get along better with the EOS 90D or the EOS M6 Mark II will entirely depend on your feelings about the never-ending DSLR-versus-mirrorless debate.

Both cameras have a new 32.5-megapixel APS-C image sensor, a DIGIC 8 image processor, an electronic shutter capable of speeds up to 1/16000, uncropped 4K/30 video recording, dual-pixel autofocus in live view with 5,481 selectable points, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and USB-C. But the 90D looks like every other mid-range Canon DSLR, while the M6 Mark II’s compact form is essentially unchanged from the original M6 from 2017.

There are a few differences in performance. The M6 Mark II is capable of shooting 14 frames per second with AF and AE tracking, for example, while the 90D goes up to 10 fps. That’s an increase from 7 fps on 2016’s 80D, however, and a lot of sports photographers would prefer the traditional DSLR-style optical viewfinder and 45-cross-type-point AF system over the extra frames.

Otherwise, the biggest difference is price. Both cameras will be available next month, but the 90D will cost $1,199 body-only versus $849.99 for the M6 Mark II. There are lens kits available for each, and while most 90D buyers will probably have a bunch of Canon lenses already, the M6 Mark II bundles are particularly worth looking at: $1,099 gets you the 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens along with the useful EVF-DC2 electronic viewfinder accessory, while the $1,349 kit swaps out that lens for an 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3.

Canon is also announcing two L-class lenses today for its new EOS R full-frame mirrorless system. The RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS USM is a fast ultrawide-to-wide zoom, while the RF 24-70mm f/2.8 L IS USM is a standard zoom with a classic speed and focal length. Both lenses will ship next month for $2,299, and Canon pledges to complete its pro zoom “trinity” with a 70-200mm f/2.8 by the end of the year.

Want an ethical smartphone? Fairphone 3 is on the way – but tiny market share suggests few care

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Fairphone, whose devices are designed to be sustainable and made in exploitation-free factories, will kick out its third unit in mid-September, priced at €450.00 including VAT.

The business, which describes itself as a social enterprise, is based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and has 70+ employees around the world. Its approach is based on fairness in the supply chain – avoiding conflict minerals (minerals mined in the context of armed conflict or human rights abuse), using suppliers where workers are treated fairly, and sourcing from Fairtrade certified companies, designing for repairability and long life, and using recycled materials where possible.

The first Fairphone was released in 2013 and sold around 60,000 units. FairPhone 2 followed in 2015 and featured a modular design, to improve repairability and enable upgrades, though in practice the only upgraded module to be released was for the camera. The repairability benefit was real though, and teardown site iFixit awarded the device a repairability score of 10 out of 10 – in contrast to, say, the Samsung Galaxy S10, which scores 3, or a score of 6 for an Apple iPhone XR. Fairphone 2 sold over 40,000 units, and the business reported selling the last of its stock in April 2019.

That was more than Google achieved for its own modular phone, Project Ara, which was cancelled before anything was launched.

In the case of the Fairphone 2, the company published a list of all its 103 suppliers, including information where possible on smelters and refiners involved in the supply chain. The latter were audited for conformance with RMAP (Responsible Minerals Assurance Process).

Fairphone 3 runs Android 9 Pie and has a decent specification:

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 with 64-bit processor, speed up to 2.2 GHz, and Adreno 506 GPU
  • 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. MicroSD card
  • 5.65″ screen, 2160x 1080 Full HD+ resolution
  • 12MP rear and 8MP front camera
  • Dual SIM with 4G (LTE)
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • 3.5mm headphone socket
  • Screwdriver for self-repairs

What you are really paying for, though, is the ethical approach. There is up to €40 cashback for grabs for recycling your old phone. No charger, earphones or USB C cable is included, on the basis that you can likely reuse what you already have; if not, you can purchase these separately.

Despite these worthy objectives, Fairphone’s success to date is modest. The company has sold over 100,000 devices, but Samsung ships around 75 million smartphones every quarter and the total mobile phone market is over 1.5 billion annually.

This does not mean that Fairphone is not making any impact; but does suggest that its work is more about demonstrating an alternative approach and putting pressure on industry leaders than about the difference made by the mobile devices themselves.

It appears that for the majority of people and businesses, concerns about sustainable design are some way down the list of priorities when sourcing new devices. Another way to put this is that it is regulation rather than consumer choice that has the most impact on sustainability.

That said, the fact that Fairphone has survived six years and gets to launch a new phone is at least a crumb of comfort.

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