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Let’s save the bees with machine learning – TechCrunch

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Machine learning and all its related forms of “AI” are being used to work on just about every problem under the sun, but even so, stemming the alarming decline of the bee population still seems out of left field. In fact it’s a great application for the technology and may help both bees and beekeepers keep hives healthy.

The latest threat to our precious honeybees is the Varroa mite, a parasite that infests hives and sucks the blood from both bees and their young. While it rarely kills a bee outright, it can weaken it and cause young to be born similarly weak or deformed. Over time this can lead to colony collapse.

The worst part is that unless you’re looking closely, you might not even see the mites — being mites, they’re tiny: a millimeter or so across. So infestations often go on for some time without being discovered.

Beekeepers, caring folk at heart obviously, want to avoid this. But the solution has been to put a flat surface beneath a hive and pull it out every few days, inspecting all the waste, dirt and other hive junk for the tiny bodies of the mites. It’s painstaking and time-consuming work, and of course if you miss a few, you might think the infestation is getting better instead of worse.

Machine learning to the rescue!

As I’ve had occasion to mention about a billion times before this, one of the things machine learning models are really good at is sorting through noisy data, like a surface covered in random tiny shapes, and finding targets, like the shape of a dead Varroa mite.

Students at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland created an image recognition agent called ApiZoom trained on images of mites that can sort through a photo and identify any visible mite bodies in seconds. All the beekeeper needs to do is take a regular smartphone photo and upload it to the EPFL system.

The project started back in 2017, and since then the model has been trained with tens of thousands of images and achieved a success rate of detection of about 90 percent, which the project’s Alain Bugnon told me is about at parity with humans. The plan now is to distribute the app as widely as possible.

“We envisage two phases: a web solution, then a smartphone solution. These two solutions allow to estimate the rate of infestation of a hive, but if the application is used on a large scale, of a region,” Bugnon said. “By collecting automatic and comprehensive data, it is not impossible to make new findings about a region or atypical practices of a beekeeper, and also possible mutations of the Varroa mites.”

That kind of systematic data collection would be a major help for coordinating infestation response at a national level. ApiZoom is being spun out as a separate company by Bugnon; hopefully this will help get the software to beekeepers as soon as possible. The bees will thank them later.

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Years after Google and Apple, Samsung finally gets eSIM working in the US

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Samsung

Samsung is finally starting to support eSIM in the US. XDA Developers reports the first working combo is the Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra on T-Mobile. You’ll need an update to enable the feature, but then you’ll be able to throw off the shackles of your ancient plastic SIM card. Samsung flagships began shipping with eSIM starting with the Galaxy S20 in March 2020, but it never got US carrier support. With T-Mobile now supporting the Note 20, hopefully other carriers and models will follow suit.

Samsung has been pretty slow on the eSIM uptake overall. The world’s first eSIM phone was the Google Pixel 2, which launched in 2017 and was quickly supported on Google Fi. Apple started supporting eSIM with the iPhone XS in 2018, and carriers quickly enabled support.

eSIM removes the need for plastic, physical SIM cards that link your phone to your phone bill and get you up and running on the cellular network. Physical SIM cards are one of the many ways carriers cling to outdated technology. In order to be identified for service, carriers demand we reserve space in our phones for a 12×9 mm plastic card that holds 256KB of information. This might have sounded like a good idea in the ’90s when carriers cooked up the SIM card standard. But today, when a similarly sized (15×11 mm) MicroSD card can hold 1TB of data—or about 4.2 million times more data—SIM cards seem laughably out of date.

eSIM, if the mobile industry would just adopt it and abandon SIM cards altogether, would allow for easier carrier switching, since you would only have to download an app to switch service instead of having to buy a physical piece of plastic. It would let manufacturers save space inside a device, since an on-motherboard eSIM chip is much smaller than a SIM card, a SIM card tray, and an ejection system. Eliminating the slot entirely would result in one less place for dust and water ingress, too.

For phones with both eSIM and a physical SIM slot, eSIM often leads to “dual-SIM” support, allowing users to subscribe to two carriers at once. This is good for people who want to juggle multiple numbers or for someone who wants to combine the best coverage of two carriers. This is enabled on the Note 20 on T-Mobile, by the way, which lists “Dual SIM Dual Standby (DSDS) support,” meaning you’ll be on both networks at once.

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Liveblog—All the news from Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event (Tuesday, 4/20 at 1p ET)

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Enlarge / The event invitation that went out to members of the press and Apple’s partners.

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At 10am Pacific time (1pm Eastern) on Tuesday, April 20, Apple will host its first live product launch event since the company’s three-event gauntlet late last year. Tim Cook and co. are expected to put much of the focus on the iPad lineup—but other announcements, like Apple Silicon Macs, are also possible.

As longtime Ars Technica readers expect, we’ll be liveblogging the event and publishing stories about the new announcements as everything unfolds.

If there’s one thing people are confident of going into this event, it’s the fact that Apple will announce new iPad Pro models. Leaks and rumors have claimed that the new iPad Pro will look quite similar to its immediate predecessor but that it will have a faster chip, improved cameras, and (at least in the larger 12.9-inch model) a Mini LED display.

Apple may also be ready to release a new version of the Apple Pencil peripheral; if so, it would be the third iteration of the product. While we don’t expect Macs to be the event’s main focus, Apple may introduce a low-end iMac with the M1 chip, or perhaps other Apple Silicon-equipped Macs.

Other possibilities include an updated Apple TV 4K, the long-delayed Tile competitor (probably called AirTags), or new audio products like a screen-equipped HomePod speaker or a new version of Apple’s wildly popular AirPods wireless earbuds.

It’s also likely that Apple will use the stage this event provides to make the case for its upcoming privacy changes like App Tracking Transparency, which has drawn intense ire from some app developers and advertisers as well as threats of antitrust lawsuits from rivals like Facebook.

Bookmark this page and plan on returning here at 1pm EST on April 20 to see all the latest updates.

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Fitbit announces new style-focused Luxe smartband

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Enlarge / Lifestyle photo of Fitbit Luxe.

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Fitbit has just announced its first fashion-focused, bangle-style tracker—the Fitbit Luxe. True to its luxurious name, the stainless-steel Luxe will come in a $200 special edition, styled with Gorjana jewelry as its band (coming in June) but the $150 silicon band version is available for pre-order now.

Both will come with six months of the Fitbit Premium membership (usually $10 a month or $80 per year), which affords users some guided fitness programs, over 200 workout videos, deeper sleep analysis, about 60 nutrition articles and recipes, and other resources to learn about and improve health and wellness. Of course, getting people healthier has always been the name of the game for Fitbit, so with the Luxe, the company is attempting to strike a better balance between style, price, and casual activity tracking.

Sporting an OLED color touchscreen, the Luxe is the company’s first fitness band, not smartwatch, to add this bit of flair and functionality. You can swipe through your latest activity metrics, notifications from your phone (you can receive texts, calls, emails, etc. but cannot reply to them on the band), stress stats, menstrual cycle information, or do guided breath work and start tracking a workout.

The Luxe tracks sleep, offers more than 20 different exercises (some automatically), and boasts 5ATM waterproof resistance for use during swims. If you want GPS tracking, you’ll need to bring your phone along, though, as the Luxe doesn’t have GPS built in. Otherwise, the heart rate monitor, blood oxygen sensor (functionality “coming soon”), gyroscope, and accelerometer will do the rest for your fitness-tracking needs. Skin temperature sensors also help measure your stress levels, along with data from your breathing rate and heart rate variability.

All of this is used to provide context for your fitness, whether it be through measuring your activity minutes for the week, seeing if you’re hitting recommended goals, or letting you know your stress levels and offering you guided meditations from Deepak Chopra, among others, to impact it. The Luxe introduces deeper insights into this with seven-day trends that were previously reserved for Fitbit Premium members, and subscribers will still get longer 30-day trend reports. Logging other health metrics manually, like blood glucose, in the Fitbit app is an option, and such metrics will then be included in your reports.

Like almost every Fitbit, the Luxe is rated for multi-day battery life, up to five days. This should help facilitate its endeavor to be worn casually and not thought about daily. With its light fitness character (perhaps more accurately described as “wellness”-focused), the Luxe is aimed at taking care of the basics and doing so stylishly. It’s not the tracker you’ll want to train with for a half-marathon, but its standard-level activity tracking paired with Fitbit’s well-organized app and wellness insights therein should be enough to satisfy those looking for a more “set it and forget it” (and then check in on and learn from it from time to time) approach to wellness tracking.

If that’s right up your alley, then all you have to do is forget that it looks like a medical bracelet (a very fancy one, especially with optional gorjana metal and leather bracelet-styled bands) and place a preorder on Fitbit’s website. Orders start shipping “this spring” for the Luxe and in June for the Luxe Special Edition.

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