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Technology

    A Tesla that crashed while in Autopilot mode in Utah this month accelerated in the seconds before it smashed into a stopped firetruck, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press. Two people were injured. Data from the Model S electric vehicle show it picked up speed for 3.5 seconds shortly before crashing into a stopped firetruck in suburban Salt Lake City, the report said. The driver manually hit the brakes a fraction of a second before impact. Police suggested that the car was following another vehicle and dropped its speed to 55 mph to match the leading vehicle. They say the leading vehicle then likely changed lanes and the Tesla automatically sped up to its preset of 60 mph (97 kph) without noticing the stopped cars ahead of it. The police report, which was obtained Thursday through an open records request, provides detail about the vehicle's actions immediately before the May 11 crash and the driver's familiarity with its system. The driver of the vehicle, Heather Lommatzsch, 29, told police she thought the vehicle's automatic emergency braking system would detect traffic and stop before the car hit another vehicle. She said she had owned the car for two years and used the semi-autonomous Autopilot feature on all sorts of roadways, including on the Utah highway where she crashed, according to the report. Lommatzsch said the car did not provide any audio or visual warnings before the crash. A witness told police she did not see signs the car illuminate its brake lights or swerve to avoid the truck ahead of it. Lommatzsch did not return a voicemail Thursday. A Tesla spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The car company has said it repeatedly warns drivers to stay alert, keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of their vehicle at all times while using the Autopilot system. Police say car data show Lommatzsch did not touch the steering wheel for 80 seconds before the crash. She told police she was looking at her phone at the time and comparing different routes to her destination. She broke her foot in the crash and this week was charged with a misdemeanor traffic citation. Online court records do not show an attorney listed for her. The driver of the firetruck told police he had injuries consistent with whiplash but did not go to a hospital. Tesla's Autopilot system uses cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar to sense the vehicle's surrounding environment and perform basic functions automatically. Among those functions is automatic emergency braking, which the company says on its website is designed 'to detect objects that the car may impact and applies the brakes accordingly.' Tesla says the system is not designed to avoid a collision and warns drivers not to rely on it entirely. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said it is investigating the May 11 crash. Tesla's Autopilot has been the subject of previous scrutiny following other crashes involving the vehicles. In March, a driver was killed when a Model X with Autopilot engaged hit a barrier while traveling at 'freeway speed' in California. NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating that case. This week, Tesla said Autopilot was not engaged when a Model S veered off a road and plunged into a pond outside San Francisco, killing the driver. Earlier in May, the NTSB opened a probe into an accident in which a Model S caught fire after crashing into a wall at a high speed in Florida. Two 18-year-olds were trapped and died in the blaze. The agency has said it does not expect Autopilot to be a focus in that investigation.
  • A Tesla that crashed while in Autopilot mode in Utah this month accelerated in the seconds before it smashed into a stopped firetruck, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press Thursday. Two people were injured. Data from the Model S electric vehicle show it picked up speed for 3.5 seconds shortly before crashing into a stopped firetruck in suburban Salt Lake City, the report said. The driver manually hit the brakes a fraction of a second before impact. Police suggested that the car was following another vehicle and dropped its speed to 55 mph to match the leading vehicle. They say the leading vehicle then likely changed lanes and the Tesla automatically sped up to its preset of 60 mph (97 kph) without noticing the stopped cars ahead of it. The police report, which was obtained through an open records request, provides detail about the vehicle's actions immediately before the May 11 crash and the driver's familiarity with its system. The driver of the vehicle, Heather Lommatzsch, 29, told police she thought the vehicle's automatic emergency braking system would detect traffic and stop before the car hit another vehicle. She said she had owned the car for two years and used the semi-autonomous Autopilot feature on all sorts of roadways, including on the Utah highway where she crashed, according to the report. Lommatzsch said the car did not provide any audio or visual warnings before the crash. A witness told police she did not see signs the car illuminate its brake lights or swerve to avoid the truck ahead of it. Lommatzsch did not return a voicemail Thursday. A Tesla spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The car company has said it repeatedly warns drivers to stay alert, keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of their vehicle at all times while using the Autopilot system. Police say car data show Lommatzsch did not touch the steering wheel for 80 seconds before the crash. She told police she was looking at her phone at the time and comparing different routes to her destination. She broke her foot in the crash and this week was charged with a misdemeanor traffic citation. Online court records do not show an attorney listed for her. The driver of the firetruck told police he had injuries consistent with whiplash but did not go to a hospital. Tesla's Autopilot system uses cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar to sense the vehicle's surrounding environment and perform basic functions automatically. Among those functions is automatic emergency braking, which the company says on its website is designed 'to detect objects that the car may impact and applies the brakes accordingly.' Tesla says the system is not designed to avoid a collision and warns drivers not to rely on it entirely. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said it is investigating the May 11 crash. Tesla's Autopilot has been the subject of previous scrutiny following other crashes involving the vehicles. In March, a driver was killed when a Model X with Autopilot engaged hit a barrier while traveling at 'freeway speed' in California. NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating that case. This week, Tesla said Autopilot was not engaged when a Model S veered off a road and plunged into a pond outside San Francisco, killing the driver. Earlier in May, the NTSB opened a probe into an accident in which a Model S caught fire after crashing into a wall at a high speed in Florida. Two 18-year-olds were trapped and died in the blaze. The agency has said it does not expect Autopilot to be a focus in that investigation.
  • A jury has decided Samsung must pay Apple $539 million in damages for illegally copying some of the iPhone's features to lure people into buying its competing products. The verdict reached Thursday is the latest twist in a legal battle that began in 2011. Apple contends Samsung wouldn't have emerged as the world's leading seller of smartphones if it hadn't ripped off the technology powering the pioneering iPhone in developing a line of similar devices running on Google's Android software. Previous rulings had already determined that Samsung infringed on some of Apple's patents, but the amount of damages owed has been hanging in legal limbo. Another jury convened for a 2012 trial had determined Samsung should pay Apple $1.05 billion, but U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh reduced that amount to $548 million. The issue escalated to the U.S. Supreme Court , which determined in 2016 that a lower court needed to re-examine $399 million of the $548 million. That ruling was based on the concept that the damages shouldn't be based on all the profits that the South Korean electronics giant rung up from products that copied the iPhone because its infringement may only have violated a few patents. Apple had argued it was owed more than $1 billon while Samsung contended the $399 million should be slashed to $28 million. The revised damages figure represents a victory for Apple, even though it isn't as much as the Cupertino, California, company had sought. 'Today's decision flies in the face of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in favor of Samsung on the scope of design patent damages,' Samsung said in a statement. 'We will consider all options to obtain an outcome that does not hinder creativity and fair competition for all companies and consumers.' An eight-person jury came up with the new amount following a one-week trial and four days of deliberation in a San Jose, California, federal courthouse. Apple expressed gratitude to the jury for agreeing 'that Samsung should pay for copying our products.' 'This case has always been about more than money,' a company statement said. 'Apple ignited the smartphone revolution with iPhone and it is a fact that Samsung blatantly copied our design.
  • An 'unlikely' string of events prompted Amazon's Echo personal assistant device to record a Portland, Oregon, family's private conversation and then send the recording to an acquaintance in Seattle, the company said Thursday. The woman told KIRO-TV that two weeks ago an employee of her husband contacted them to say he thought their device had been hacked. He told them he had received an audio file of them discussing hardwood floors, she said. In a statement Thursday, Amazon confirmed the woman's private conversation had been inadvertently recorded and sent. The company said the device interpreted a word in the background conversation as 'Alexa' — a command that makes it wake up — and then it interpreted the conversation as a 'send message' request. 'At which point, Alexa said out loud 'To whom?'' the statement said. 'At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. 'Alexa then asked out loud, '(contact name), right?' Alexa then interpreted background conversation as 'right.'' The statement continued: 'As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.' The woman, who was identified only by her first name in the news report, said every room in her family's home was wired with the Amazon devices to control her home's heat, lights and security system. She said the family unplugged the devices and contacted Amazon after they learned the recording had been sent. Ryan Calo, a law professor who co-directs the University of Washington's tech policy lab, agreed that the sort of glitch Amazon described is unlikely. But it may trouble customers nevertheless, he said 'What makes it particularly unfortunate is the sense that Amazon Echo users will have that there's any prospect that what they say in their private home might end up outside the home,' Calo said. 'We feel less reassured about the control we assert over it than we once did. It's the feeling you have to watch what you say in front of a device that's supposed to make your life better.' ___ Follow Gene Johnson at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle
  • The Latest on online political ads (all times local): 5:15 p.m. Twitter says it will require U.S. political advertisers to identify themselves and certify that they are in the U.S. by verifying a mailing address. The company says the new rules announced Thursday will apply to any advertising that seeks to influence the outcome of an election. Google and Facebook previously announced similar verification requirements. The move comes as social media companies prepare for the U.S. midterm elections. They are eager to avoid the mess they found themselves in during the 2016 elections. They have been accused of not doing enough to prevent foreign meddling using their services. Twitter's announcement comes a day after the company said it will label the tweets and accounts of U.S. political candidates as such. Also on Thursday, Facebook announced guidelines around political 'issue' ads that don't support a candidate but address polarized issues. Twitter hasn't done this yet. ___ 2:35 p.m. Facebook is expanding its advertising disclosure requirements to cover all U.S. ads on polarized issues such as gun control and abortion rights, even if they don't endorse a particular candidate. Ads coming from specific candidates have already included a disclosure label since October. Facebook has said it would require that of issue ads from outside parties, too. But it hasn't provided details until Thursday. Issue ads played prominently in Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections. Twitter and Google also have been working to prevent elections interference, including by labeling political ads as such. Facebook says that when users click on the label on such an ad, they will be taken to a page with more information, including who paid for it and how many people saw it.
  • The autonomous Uber SUV that struck and killed an Arizona pedestrian in March spotted the woman about six seconds before hitting her, but did not stop because the system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially dangerous situations had been disabled, according to federal investigators. In a preliminary report on the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that emergency braking is not enabled while Uber's cars are under computer control, 'to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.' Instead, Uber relies on a human backup driver to intervene. The system, however, is not designed to alert the driver. The findings, which are not final, should be a warning to all companies testing autonomous vehicles to check their systems to make sure they automatically stop when necessary in the environment where they are being tested, said Alain Kornhauser, faculty chairman of autonomous vehicle engineering at Princeton University. Uber, he said, likely determined in testing that its system braked in situations it shouldn't have, possibly for overpasses, signs and trees. 'It got spoofed too often,' Kornhauser said. 'Instead of fixing the spoofing, they fixed the spoofing by turning it off.' In the Tempe, Arizona, crash, the driver began steering less than a second before impact but didn't brake until less than a second after impact, according to the NTSB, which has yet to determine fault. A video of the crash showed the driver looking down just before the vehicle struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in what is believed to be the first death involving a self-driving test vehicle. Uber said in a company release that it has worked closely with the NTSB and is doing an internal review of its self-driving vehicle program. The company also has brought in former NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart as a safety advisor. 'We look forward to sharing more on the changes we'll make in the coming weeks,' the release said. The company declined further comment. The report comes a day after Uber pulled its self-driving cars out of Arizona, eliminating the jobs of about 300 people who served as backup drivers and performed other jobs connected to the vehicles. Uber had suspended testing of its self-driving vehicles in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto while regulators investigated the cause of the March 18 crash. Sensors on the fully autonomous Volvo XC-90 SUV spotted Herzberg while the car was traveling 43 miles per hour and determined that braking was needed 1.3 seconds before impact, according to the report. A diagram in the NTSB report shows that the Uber system determined that the SUV needed to brake when it was at least 20 meters (65.6 feet) from Herzberg; it was traveling 39 mph (63 kilometers per hour) at impact. Kornhauser said that was enough distance for the SUV to stop, or slow considerably to mitigate damage from the crash. Herzberg was pushing a bicycle across a boulevard in the darkness when the crash occurred on a part of the road that had no crosswalk and was not lighted, the report said. She was wearing dark clothing and did not look in the direction of the vehicle until just before impact. A toxicology report showed that she tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana, according to the NTSB. Also, the bicycle had no side reflectors. Uber also disabled the Volvo's factory-equipped automatic emergency braking system when the vehicle is in autonomous mode, the report said. In an interview with the NTSB, Uber's backup driver said she had been monitoring the 'self-driving interface.' While her personal and business telephones were in the vehicle, she said neither was in use at the time of the crash. The NTSB said that all other aspects of the SUV's self-driving system were running normally at the time, and there were no faults or diagnostic trouble messages. The agency, which can make safety recommendations to other federal agencies, said information in the preliminary report can change as the investigation progresses and that no conclusions should be drawn from the report. The report doesn't provide 'any decisive findings or conclusions,' said Daniel Scarpinato, spokesman for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. 'We await the more thorough and final investigative report. Uber's self-driving vehicle suspension remains in place.' Tempe police turned their investigation over to prosecutors on Wednesday. Amanda Jacinto, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, said no decision has yet been made on charges against the driver or the ride-sharing company. She wouldn't comment on the NTSB report. No deadline has been set by the prosecutorial agency for deciding whether to bring charges, though typically those decisions are made within 30 days after getting cases from police, Jacinto said. _______ Associated Press writers Paul Davenport and Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report.
  • Facebook is expanding its advertising disclosure requirements to cover all U.S. ads on polarized issues such as gun control and abortion rights, even if they don't endorse a particular candidate. Ads coming from specific candidates have already included a disclosure label since October. Facebook has said it would require that of issue ads from outside parties, too, but it didn't provide details until Thursday, when the expanded requirements took effect. Such issue ads played prominently in Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections. Twitter and Google also have been working to prevent elections interference, including by labeling political ads as such and requiring advertisers to disclose their funders. On Thursday, Twitter said buyers of U.S. political ads will have to identify themselves and certify that they are in the U.S. by verifying a mailing address. The company said the new rules will apply to any advertising that seeks to influence the outcome of an election. A day earlier, the company said it will label the tweets and accounts of U.S. political candidates as such. As for Facebook's disclosure, Facebook said that when users click on the label on such an ad, they will be taken to a page with more information, including who paid for it and how many people saw it. Defining what counts as an issue ad won't be easy. While both education and immigration can be political issues, for example, ads for a university or an immigration lawyer would not be considered political. Facebook says it's starting with a list of 20 issues, including immigration and foreign policy, and will target ads 'with the goal of either influencing public debate, promoting a ballot measure or electing a candidate.' Facebook has already said it would require anyone who wants to buy issue ads in the U.S. to confirm their identity and location. Facebook said it is investing in more workers and technology to identify potential abuse. The company is urging users to report ads that have political content but are not labeled. Violators will be banned from running political ads, the company says.
  • Baseballs really have been getting extra lift since 2015, and it's not from the exaggerated uppercuts batters are taking, according to a 10-person committee of researchers hired by the commissioner's office. 'The aerodynamic properties of the ball have changed, allowing it to carry farther,' said committee chairman Alan Nathan, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But the panel, which includes professors specializing in physics, mechanical engineering, statistics and mathematics, struck out trying to pinpoint the cause. The committee's 84-page report was released Thursday by Major League Baseball. There was no evidence of meaningful change in the bounciness of the balls, formally called coefficient of restitution (COR), or alteration in batters' swings, such as uppercutting. As for what caused of the change in aerodynamic properties, it remains baseball's great mystery, the sport's equivalent of the search for the Loch Ness Monster. 'We have to admit and we do admit that we do not understand it. We know the primary cause is the change in the drag but we just simply cannot pinpoint what feature of the ball would lead to it,' Nathan said during a conference call Wednesday ahead of the report's release. 'Therefore it was probably is something very, very subtle in the manufacturing process but again it has to be pretty subtle, because if it weren't, we would have found it.' Physicist Leonard Mlodinow, in an executive summary accompanying the report, speculated 'manufacturing advances that result in a more spherically symmetric ball could have the unintended side effect of reducing the ball's drag.' The major league average of home runs per game for both teams combined climbed from 1.90 before the 2015 All-Star break to 2.17 in the second half, then rose to 2.31 in 2016 and a record 2.51 last season. The percentage of batted balls resulting in home runs rose from 3.2 percent in 2014 to 3.8 percent in 2015 to 4.4 percent in 2016 and 4.8 percent in 2017. 'We found a consistent picture that the drag coefficient is a little bit smaller as we progressed through 2015 into '16 into '17,' Nathan said. 'Finally, we used our physics expertise to conclude that the small change we found in the average drag coefficient going throughout the period 2015 to 2017 was completely consistent with the change in the number of home runs per batted ball. 'So you're using partly pure physics, partly a model, partly statistical data about home run distances and things like that, but it all hung together very, very well. So all four of those things point to the fact that it's the aerodynamic properties of the ball that have changed. So that much we know. What we do we not know? Well, what we do not know is what specific measurable property of the ball has led to this change,' he said. The committee inspected the Rawlings factory that manufactures the balls in Turrialba, Costa Rica, analyzed test data from 2010-17 compiled by Rawlings and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, which has analyzed balls for MLB. The group tested 15 dozen unused balls from 2013-17 and 22 dozen game-used balls from 2012-17. The committee devised new tests conducted at Washington State and examined MLB StatCast data from 2015-17 that included pitch type, exit velocity, launch angle, spray angle, spin rate, spin axis and distance. MLB announced five steps in response to the report: —Monitor temperature and humidity of ball storage areas at all 30 ballparks this year and will work with the committee to determine whether to mandate humidors throughout the major leagues in 2019; —Update production specifications with Rawlings and add specs for aerodynamic properties; —Develop aerodynamic tests; —Create standards for mud rubbing, to be enforced by the umpires; —Form a scientific advisory council. Balls have been stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment at Denver's mile-high Coors Field since 2002 and in the desert at Phoenix's Chase Field starting this season. The Official Baseball Rules state balls must be 5-5¼ ounces and 9-9¼ inches in circumference. Major league balls have rubber pills at the center, wound over by three layers of yarn that is 85 percent wool and 15 percent synthetic, and then a thin layer of cotton. The cover of hide from Tennessee dairy cows is hand-sewn with 108 stitches. 'Rawlings makes baseballs with a much, much, much tighter spec than they are required to do by the actual spec itself,' Nathan said. 'So we recommended altering that and tightening up the spec, and so that when you say the ball is within spec, it has some meaning to it, and they followed that recommendation.' Application of the Lena Blackburne Original Baseball Rubbing Mud, which comes from the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, was not examined. The mud is used by clubhouse attendants to make the balls less slippery. 'There could be some non-uniformity there,' Nathan said. 'One of the things that is known to affect the flight of the ball, the carry of the ball, is the roughness of the surface of the ball. That's why the seams matter, but also the leather part, the white part matters, too, and differences in how that mud is applied could possibly provide a clue to it.' Nathan would like additional tests on surface roughness and whether pills are off-center. 'There are some smart people who are looking into this drag business, and the hope is that it will be uncovered and we will understand things better,' he said. In addition to Nathan the committee included Bowling Green statistics professor Jim Albert, Southern California mathematics professors Jay Bartro and Larry Goldstein, Stanford school of Humanities professor Roger Blandford, MIT mechanical engineering and mathematics professor Anette (Peko) Hosoi, CalTech mathematics professor emeritus Gary Lorden, Washington State mechanical and materials engineering professor Lloyd Smith, Dan Brooks of the Brooks Baseball website and Southern Cal Ph.D. student Josh Derenski. ___= More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
  • Facebook said Thursday it will not compensate users in the scandal over the misuse of their personal data by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. The company made the statement in a list of written replies to questions by European Union lawmakers. The answers were promised after testimony earlier this week by CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Brussels had left EU lawmakers frustrated about a lack of responses. Cambridge Analytica used the data of millions of Facebook users to target ads during political campaigns, including allegedly the U.S. presidential vote. EU lawmakers said that would make Facebook liable for compensation toward EU users. Facebook said the misuse of data was a 'breach of trust,' but noted that no bank account or credit card details had been shared. And it said there was no evidence EU user data had been involved. Facebook has said previously that it first learned of the breach of privacy more than two years ago, but hadn't mentioned it publicly until when the scandal broke out in March. The data was originally pulled together by an app, called 'This Is Your Digital Life,' created by researcher Aleksandr Kogan. He paid about 270,000 people to take part in it. Cambridge Analytica later obtained information from the app for as many as 87 million Facebook users, as the app also vacuumed up data on people's friends — including those who never downloaded the app or gave explicit consent. It is unclear how many of the users were in Europe. Facebook said Thursday that it is conducting a 'forensic audit of Cambridge Analytica.
  • A U.S. cybersecurity company says the hacking group behind a worrying breed of destructive software is operating well beyond the Middle East, raising the possibility that it is laying the groundwork for dangerous cyberattacks around the world. Dragos Inc. said in a blog post Thursday that the group, which it dubs Xenotime, was behind the Trisis brand of malware that targets a special subset of industrial equipment tasked with keeping machinery operating safely. Dragos first described how Trisis worked in a blog post published in December. Reporting by CyberScoop and The New York Times later tied the malware to the closure of an energy plant in Saudi Arabia. Dragos offers virtually no detail to support its new warning, but the Maryland-based company is well known in the industrial cybersecurity space.