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Top Stories for the Week of January 13, 2015

  • Episode 382
  • January 13, 2015

Here are the stories we're following for the week of Tuesday January 13, 2015

From the "why didn't I think of that" files, a 9-volt battery that adds wifi functionality to any smoke alarm.

One of the smartest ideas out of CES this year is a 9-volt battery that converts any old dumb smoke alarm into a smart alarm.

There’s an enormous amount of connected home devices being shown off at CES this year, but one of our favourites is also one of the simplest.

The Roost smart battery is the size and shape of a normal 9V battery – the type that smoke detectors use – but with a built-in WiFi chip that allows it to communicate with your phone.

Until now, if your smoke alarm went off when you weren’t at home, you’d have no way of knowing unless a kindly (or angry) neighbour gave you a call. With the Roost battery, you’ll get a notification (as well as the usual ear-shattering noise from the alarm itself) and can turn the alarm off directly from your phone. Which means no more climbing up on chairs desperately trying to pull the cover off while also covering your ears, and hopefully the end of the dangerous practice of taking the battery out of the alarm to cook.

The really excellent thing about the Roost is that it fits into any existing smoke alarm that takes a 9V battery – you don’t need a whole new system to use it. That’s a real plus for renters, who wouldn’t be able to install something like Nest Protect.

The battery uses lithium-ion power rather than the usual alkaline, which means it’ll also last 5 years instead of a typical 9V battery’s 1-year lifespan. The app is available on iOS and Android, and the Roost battery is available to preorder worldwide for about $40 or £26 (depending on how many you order) for delivery in the second quarter of this year.


Toyota is releasing nearly 6,000 patents covering hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Toyota wants to push hydrogen fuel cell technology by collaborating, so they're opening up their patent portfolio to anyone who wants it.

Car maker Toyota has announced that it will freely share almost 6,000 patents it owns covering hydrogen fuel cell technology.

It said it took the step in a bid to drive development of cars that use the alternative fuel source.

The announcement was made soon after it showed off its Mirai hydrogen-driven car in Las Vegas.

The patents will be made available free of charge to anyone wanting to use them. The patent portfolio covers fuel cell stacks, high-pressure hydrogen tanks, software control systems and the industrial processes involved in generating and supplying the gas.

Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota said, "When good ideas are shared, great things can happen".

He added that the first generation of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which are expected to be launched over the next five years, would require "unconventional collaboration" among car makers, governments, power firms and researchers.

Toyota's move follows that of Tesla motors which shared its patent portfolio in 2014.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Bluetooth wearables for babies.

A baby's cries may no longer be a parent's first clue that something is wrong. Bluetooth and wireless equipped pacifiers, patches and bottles are lining up for the job.

A baby's cries may no longer be a parent's first clue that something is wrong. Bluetooth and wireless equipped pacifiers, patches and bottles were on show at CES.

The futuristic parenting aids will fit in mom and dad's pocket.

Want to monitor the temperature of a sick child? Just fasten the TempTraq, a flexible patch that works as a digital thermometer.

For 24 hours, the patch will send temperature updates to any smartphone — yours, grandma's or the babysitter's — connected to its accompanying app. If the child surpasses a pre-set fever level, the app will send an alert.

Matt Ream, the company's vice-president of marketing said, "In the middle of the night, if your child's temperature is spiking, it can alert you to that".

That's just one of many new or improved baby wearable technologies showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.


Think you're good at poker? Try playing against an opponent who cannot lose. That's what Canadian researchers have created.

A computer has been created in Canada specifically to become the ultimate poker player.

A team of researchers from the University of Alberta, Canada have claimed they have solved the simplest form of poker with the creation of an algorithm to make sure they could not lose. The researchers do not claim they have created a constant winning formula, only that the computer program performs moves designed not to allow it to lose, a strategy the researchers claim is closer to a break even version of the game.

Publishing their research in the popular Science journal the researchers claim the poker playing community could rethink some unpopular strategies they have proven create a higher winning percentage.

Not all the revelations uncovered by the creation of the Cepheus algorithm were shocking, with the research team proving the dealer does hold an advantage over all other players. The research team believes this is the first time a computer has been developed that is capable of playing a perfect game in an imperfect environment, problems for the program include not knowing which cards an opponent holds.

The research team has placed the algorithm Online for the public to challenge and play against, following the rules laid out by Cepheus should lead to no player losing until another makes a mistake they can capitalize upon.


An extra second on the clock this June may cause problems with computer systems. We'll tell you what to expect in a moment.

The Earth's rotation has slowed ever so slightly, enough that an extra second must be added to the clock later this year. Find out how that could affect computer systems, coming up.

June 30 will be a second longer than any other day this year.

A "leap second" needs to be added in 2015 to make sure the time on atomic clocks stays in sync with Earth's rotational time, but some Internet companies are dreading the day.

Earth's rotation has been slowing down by about two thousandths of a second every day. But atomic clocks, which are now accurate up to quadrillionths of a second, don't change pace. While this situation isn't an immediate problem, it would eventually cause clocks to become so out of sync with Earth's rotation that they would read noon during the dead of night.

The solution that the International Earth Rotation Service (IERS) came up with is to add a second every now and then to keep the standard atomic time in sync with Earth's time. This year, the extra second is scheduled for the midway point in the year, at 11:59.59 p.m. Coordinated Universal Time on June 30.

This will be the 26th leap second added to a calendar year since the practice began in 1972. In the past, the extra second has messed with computer systems. The last leap second was added in 2012, and it caused problems for big companies like Reddit, LinkedIn, Gizmodo and FourSquare.

The problem is that during the leap second, the computer clock shows 60 seconds instead of simply rolling over to the next minute, or shows the 59th second twice. The computer sees a leap second as time going backward. The machine registers this as a system error, and the CPU can overload.

There are subtle irregularities in the Earth's orbit from year to year on the millisecond level. Every few years some fine-tuning is needed, and a leap second is added in June or December. This is why June 30 this year will have 86,401 seconds instead of 86,400.



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