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Spray-on cement increases the resistance of existing buildings to earthquakes

Why it matters to you

This new spray-on cement could help retrofit existing buildings to survive earthquake damage. Earthquakes[1] can cause massive amounts of devastation. Using modern building materials and designs, architects have created a number of impressively reinforced buildings[2] around the world which are able to survive quakes that would level many structures.

However, what can you do to earthquake-proof an existing building? That’s a question that civil engineering researchers at the University of British Columbia took on in a recent project. As a result of the researcht, they’ve developed a brand-new type of concrete, which can be sprayed onto walls, and will successfully protect buildings from being damaged in the event of even major quakes.

This is possible thanks to a fiber-reinforced design which allows the concrete to bend, rather than fracture, when it is violently shaken. In simulation tests, the “eco-friendly ductile cementitious composite” (EDCC) was able to withstand an earthquake with a magnitude equal to the 9.0 – 9.1 quake that hit Tohoku, Japan back in 2011. “We sprayed a number of walls with a 10-millimeter thick layer of EDCC, which is sufficient to reinforce most interior walls against seismic shocks,” Salman Soleimani-Dashtaki, a civil engineering PhD candidate, who worked on the project, said in a statement[3]. “Then we subjected them to Tohoku-level quakes and other types and intensities of earthquakes and we couldn’t break them.”

The strong-but-malleable material the UBC researchers developed is likened to steel in terms of many of its properties, but actually takes advantage of polymer-based fibers, industrial additives, and an industrial byproduct called flyash.

Flyash makes the material environmentally friendly, too, since it reduces the amount of cement required — thereby helping cut down on the amount of carbon dioxide released into the environment as a byproduct of cement manufacturing. Next up, the researchers plan to use it to treat the walls of Vancouver’s Dr. Annie B.

Jamieson Elementary School, as well as a school in northern India. (The research was funded by the Canada-India Research Center of Excellence IC-IMPACTS[4], which promotes research collaboration between Canada and India.) In the future, the hope is that the material can be used in a variety of applications — including homes, pipelines, pavements, offshore platforms, and more.


  1. ^ Earthquakes (www.digitaltrends.com)
  2. ^ impressively reinforced buildings (www.digitaltrends.com)
  3. ^ said in a statement (news.ubc.ca)
  4. ^ Canada-India Research Center of Excellence IC-IMPACTS (ic-impacts.com)

Intel says its computer chips will accelerate AI revolution

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich speaks at a 2016 AI event.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Intel might be an old-school computing company, but the chipmaker thinks the latest trends in artificial intelligence[1] will keep it an important part of your high-tech life. AI technology called machine learning today is instrumental to taking good photos[2], translating languages, recognizing your friends on Facebook[3], delivering search results, screening out spam and many other chores. It usually uses an approach called neural networks that works something like a human brain, not a sequence of if-this-then-that steps as in traditional computing.

Lots of companies, including Apple[4], Google, Qualcomm and Nvidia, are designing chips to accelerate this sort of work. But on Tuesday, Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich[5] promised a major speed increase through its own chips, designed from the ground up for neural processing. “We have a goal by 2020 to be 100 times better than the best AI systems out there today using this neural processing,” Krzanich said at the Wall Street Journal D.Live conference.

Intel faces plenty of business challenges. The PC market is flat, Intel failed to secure a place inside mobile devices, and its server stronghold is under threat as Qualcomm tries challenges Intel’s stronghold in data center technology. That’s why Intel is betting on new directions like chips for self-driving cars, superfast 5G networking and artificial intelligence[6].

Intel will ship its Nervana chip for neural network-based artificial intelligence computing this year.


Its products in the AI market include the Movidius Myriad X chip[7], geared for running computer vision and other machine-learning tasks, and the Nervana Neural Network Processor[8], which is aimed at data centers that train AI systems so they can later be used in the real world.

That training process, called inference, is extremely computationally intense, and Intel rival Nvidia leads the market today. Intel said last year its Nervana chip should arrive in 2017[9], and Krzanich said Tuesday it will meet that deadline[10]. “The potential benefits from self-learning chips are limitless as these types of devices can learn to perform the most complex cognitive tasks, such as interpreting critical cardiac rhythms, detecting anomalies to prevent cyberhacking and composing music,” Intel said in a statement. Intel acquired the Nervana startup in 2016.

Facebook is evaluating the first Nervana chips, Krzanich said. “This is the first piece of silicon. We have a whole family of chips planned. Think of a new chip every year,” Krzanich said. “They’re helping us think about where is that going.”

Krzanich is particularly excited about AI’s uses in medicine. “Where we are starting to see it break through that’s really exciting is healthcare,” for example using machine learning to detect Alzheimer’s disease by looking at MRI scans, Krzanich said. “If it can be detected five to ten years earlier, we can profoundly affect people.” And Intel itself relies on AI and machine learning for its own chipmaking business.

“Intel is one of the largest manufacturers in the world. We produce about a million chips a day. For each one of those million chips, we take about 1.6 million pictures as it progresses through the production line,” he said.

When there’s a defect, “We now use AI … to go through those 1.6 million images. What used to take three weeks now takes a couple hours.” The Smartest Stuff[11]: Innovators are thinking up new ways to make you, and the things around you, smarter.

iHate[12]: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.


  1. ^ artificial intelligence (www.cnet.com)
  2. ^ taking good photos (www.cnet.com)
  3. ^ Facebook (www.cnet.com)
  4. ^ Apple (www.cnet.com)
  5. ^ Brian Krzanich (www.cnet.com)
  6. ^ artificial intelligence (newsroom.intel.com)
  7. ^ Movidius Myriad X chip (newsroom.intel.com)
  8. ^ Nervana Neural Network Processor (www.zdnet.com)
  9. ^ Intel said last year its Nervana chip should arrive in 2017 (www.cnet.com)
  10. ^ will meet that deadline (newsroom.intel.com)
  11. ^ The Smartest Stuff (www.cnet.com)
  12. ^ iHate (www.cnet.com)

Apple HomePod: Everything we know about the launch date, specs and price

We’re now through the second act of 2017’s smart speaker drama. In the spring came Google Home[1]. Then, in the fall, we got a rash of entrants from Amazon[2], who first staked out the market in 2014, Sonos[3], and, yes, more from Google[4].

Now, we await the final major debut of the year from a smart speaker upstart based in Cupertino, Calif.

Coming soon: Apple’s HomePod smart speaker.

James Martin/CNET

Apple’s HomePod, due out in December, will help define the high-end of the market. Priced at £350 (?270 and AU£465), the company’s characteristically premium take on a voice-assistant speaker[5] costs £100-plus more than Amazon’s most expensive Alexa device, the Echo Show[6], and £150 more than its Sonos One[7] frenemy, which will add support for Apple’s Siri virtual assistant in 2018. Only Google’s Home Max[8], at £400, costs more.

Quiz: Which smart-home speaker is right for you?[9] Despite Apple’s long corporate tradition of extreme secrecy, we know much more about the HomePod than its price tag. After some early rumors published by The Information[10] and CNET[11] suggesting that the company was developing a standalone Siri-powered speaker, this summer Apple acknowledged its existence — and shared some additional key details.

At the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference[12] in June, Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, confirmed[13] the launch date, price and a handful of specs.

Now Playing: Watch this: New iPhone 8, Apple TV and Apple Watch details from Apple…

And then came the firmware scandal[14]. In July, Apple released a software update for the HomePod, which, of course, was not yet available, that was chock full of dirt. Developers dug into the code and uncovered a breathtaking amount of previously unknown information about iOS 11[15], both the iPhone 8[16] and iPhone X[17] and also the HomePod.

So, even before it launches officially, we know how the HomePod stacks up — at least on paper — against other major smart speakers already on the market. We’ll need to fully review the HomePod before making any final conclusions, but here’s an overview of what we know — and what we think we know — based on rumors and confirmed information. Read: Apple HomePod vs.

Google Home vs. Amazon Echo[18]

Say hello to Apple’s HomePod smart speaker

Confirmed: It will be available in December in the US, UK and Australia

Apple confirmed three geographical regions during the WWDC keynote and promised wider global availability in 2018. In contrast, Amazon has released only a few Echo models outside of the US (i.e. the UK and Germany), though we expect the company to expand its offerings in the UK and add availability in Australia in 2018.

Sonos says the One will be available globally starting on Oct.


Confirmed: It will cover the basics

We know the HomePod will provide voice-activated access to Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, who will be the conduit for hands-free messaging, controlling Apple’s Music app, setting reminders and getting news updates and weather reports.

Siri: liberated from the iPhone and iPad for the first time.


These types of things are table stakes for smart speakers in 2017. Amazon’s Alexa has been steadily building its arsenal of skills since 2014, and has a very deep bench[19] of integrations with third-party developers and support for smart home technologies. Though it’s newer to the smart speaker market, the Sonos One promises compatibility with Alexa as well as Google Assistant and, coming in 2018, Siri, making it the first multiplatform player.

Apple will be playing catchup, but with an install base of roughly 700 million iPhone users[20], Siri comes out of the gate with tons of momentum and unlimited upside.

Confirmed: It will be compatible with HomeKit

Ultimately, the HomePod will serve as the hardware headquarters for Apple’s smart-home platform, HomeKit[21]. Until now, HomeKit apps have been confined to the iPhone and iPad, so the standalone speaker will make them more accessible and surely more plentiful. Apple had previously required a specific chip[22] be added to each HomeKit-enabled device for certification, but discontinued that policy in June[23], paving way for greater developer and manufacturer uptake.

Though Sonos and especially Amazon are compatible with an array of smart home devices, neither has its own platform. Advantage: Apple. Read: What is HomeKit?[24]

The list of smart things that use Apple HomeKit gets longer at CES

Confirmed: It will have “spatial awareness”

Schiller said the HomePod will be able to adjust audio based on the environment, and that multiple HomePods will automatically work together to shape sound using its six integrated microphones.

A number of Amazon’s smart speakers have Echo Spatial Perception (ESP), which makes it so that only the Echo device that’s closest to you responds to your command. Two interesting and distinct takes on spatial awareness. Read: Amazon’s ‘ESP’ is here to make Alexa a better listener[25]

Confirmed (preliminarily): It will sound good

In his keynote, Schiller played up the HomePod’s “incredible acoustic properties,” ticking off a laundry list of specs like real-time acoustic modelling, audio beam-forming and multi-channel echo cancellation.

CNET editor Scott Stein, received a brief demo[26] and deemed the sound quality “vivid and crisp, more so than the Sonos and Amazon comparisons on-hand.”

Apple emphasized the HomePod’s quality of sound.

James Martin/CNET

Still, the Google Home Max has two woofers and two tweeters, compared to the one onboard the HomePod and Echo Plus; it also has more ports than the Echo Plus, with a SB© USB-C and a 3.5-millimeter audio jack. We don’t know what ports and connectors the HomePod will have. We’ll need to complete a full review before we can make a conclusive determination.

Read: Apple HomePod: A first listen[27]

Rumor: It has some sort of a screen

Steve Troughton-Smith[28], the developer who first discovered many of the juiciest bits hiding in the firmware leak, tweeted[29] that the HomePod has an “LED matrix” that could “perhaps display shapes/symbols.” Another developer, Avery Magnotti[30], followed that up with a screenshot of the code that refers to a 272×340 resolution. Such a display could go the minimalist route, simply confirming that Siri is listening to your command, our occupy more integral ground, offering virtual volume control buttons or other navigational or UI elements. Of course, if true, the HomePod won’t be alone in the visuals department.

A number of Amazon Echo devices have a light ring that serves as an indicator of sorts, and the Echo Spot and Echo Show both have full-fledged displays. Photos: Apple’s HomePod smart speaker[31].

Rumor: It runs a full version of iOS — just like the iPhone and iPad

Troughton-Smith discovered that the HomePod runs a full version of Apple’s iOS mobile operating system — just like the iPhone and iPad. Though the device appears to support Accessibility features like VoiceOver, it does not seem to accommodate the installation of apps or extensions — for now.

Looks like the ‘shell’ app on HomePod is called SoundBoard.

It runs a full iOS stack, unsurprisingly. Its apps are prefixed with ‘Air’ pic.twitter.com/IPFF0vV3UT[32]

— Steve T-S (@stroughtonsmith) July 28, 2017[33]

In contrast, Amazon’s smart speakers support third-party extensions[34], allowing third-party developers to create apps without needing native support. We assume Apple will eventually follow suit.

Read: iOS 11: Release date, best features, tips and download[35].

Rumor: It will be as powerful as a iPhone 6

Developers also found evidence suggesting that the HomePod will come equipped with 1GB of RAM and an Apple A8 processor — making it as about as powerful as an iPhone 6[36] or 6 Plus[37] in terms of hardware. If true, the HomePod will be the most powerful speaker of its kind, with more processing firepower than any model in Amazon’s[38] or Google’s[39] portfolios. We’ll continue to keep an eye on news and rumors in the run up to the HomePod’s official debut in December 2017.

Editors’ note: This article was originally published on Aug.

12, 2017 and has been periodically updated as more information comes to light. It was most recently updated on October 17, 2017.


  1. ^ Google Home (www.cnet.com)
  2. ^ rash of entrants from Amazon (www.cnet.com)
  3. ^ Sonos (www.cnet.com)
  4. ^ Google (www.cnet.com)
  5. ^ a voice-assistant speaker (www.cnet.com)
  6. ^ Echo Show (www.cnet.com)
  7. ^ Sonos One (www.cnet.com)
  8. ^ Home Max (www.cnet.com)
  9. ^ Which smart-home speaker is right for you? (www.cnet.com)
  10. ^ The Information (www.cnet.com)
  11. ^ CNET (www.cnet.com)
  12. ^ Worldwide Developers Conference (www.cnet.com)
  13. ^ confirmed (www.cnet.com)
  14. ^ firmware scandal (www.cnet.com)
  15. ^ iOS 11 (www.cnet.com)
  16. ^ iPhone 8 (www.cnet.com)
  17. ^ iPhone X (www.cnet.com)
  18. ^ Apple HomePod vs. Google Home vs.

    Amazon Echo (www.cnet.com)

  19. ^ a very deep bench (www.cnet.com)
  20. ^ roughly 700 million iPhone users (fortune.com)
  21. ^ HomeKit (www.cnet.com)
  22. ^ required a specific chip (www.cnet.com)
  23. ^ discontinued that policy in June (www.cnet.com)
  24. ^ What is HomeKit? (www.cnet.com)
  25. ^ Amazon’s ‘ESP’ is here to make Alexa a better listener (www.cnet.com)
  26. ^ received a brief demo (www.cnet.com)
  27. ^ Apple HomePod: A first listen (www.cnet.com)
  28. ^ Steve Troughton-Smith (twitter.com)
  29. ^ tweeted (twitter.com)
  30. ^ Avery Magnotti (twitter.com)
  31. ^ Apple’s HomePod smart speaker (www.cnet.com)
  32. ^ pic.twitter.com/IPFF0vV3UT (t.co)
  33. ^ July 28, 2017 (twitter.com)
  34. ^ third-party extensions (www.cnet.com)
  35. ^ iOS 11: Release date, best features, tips and download (www.cnet.com)
  36. ^ iPhone 6 (www.cnet.com)
  37. ^ 6 Plus (www.cnet.com)
  38. ^ Amazon’s (www.cnet.com)
  39. ^ Google’s (www.cnet.com)

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