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12
Jan

My Home Dungeon: An interesting RPG amidst the endless-game craze (review)


my home dungeon

With the increasing amount of “endless” type games that feature almost no story and no progression, it is nice to see more ambitious projects such as My Home Dungeon. Developed by BerryRabbit, the game features an actual story, character progression and more depth than what you normally find these days in the Play Store.

Developer: BerryRabbit

Price: Free

Setup

Just as you open the app, it will ask you for permission for accessing your contacts. It’s like apps don’t even try anymore. I’ve played several hours of the game without one single instance in which my contacts are required for some kind of functionality. Why then? This is a widespread problem across the Play Store and it has no sign of stopping.

Anyways, after this, the game will take you to a short tutorial. The game will teach you in a funny way the basics of the gameplay. Let me take the opportunity to mention that the initial story of this game is hilariously ridiculous. “Oh look, there’s a huge, monster-riddled dungeon just beneath my house! And for some reason I am broke and selling it but I carry a fire-spewing sword with me everyday! And also I can throw fireballs!”

Overview

my home dungeonNot the best way of starting a story.

There are four main on-screen buttons: two at the left, which are used for moving your character, and two on the right. The action of the first right button depends on the circumstances. You have a bar at the top, and if it is filled up, then you launch a very strong special attack. If the bar is not filled up, then you have two medium-powered attacks. After that, you just have a VERY weak sword attack that is better left unused.

The second button is used for generating fireballs. You can hold this button and your character will generate a continuous blast of fireballs. This will turn out to be your primary weapon throughout the game.

Gameplay

Monsters come at you in waves. There are normally three or four waves per level. After clearing each wave, a new section will show up and you progress until you reach a boss level. These bosses can vary from giant variations of the monsters you normally see to thought out, challenging boss fights.

These boss sections are also where the story unfolds. At first, the story is confusing but it starts to make a bit more sense as you keep playing. Something interesting is that the story gives you choices, and the story tends to change a bit depending on what you choose. For example, I managed to make a boss angry at me and increase its powers because of an answer I selected, so be careful about that.

my home dungeonControls are easy to use.

Monsters spawn from the sides of the stage, and thus, you need to carefully plan how you will approach each stage. Since there’s no way of jumping or similar, you can easily get stuck in the middle of two or more monsters without any place to go. If you deplete your three hearts, either by hitting monsters or by touching spikes, it’s instant death. You can either try the level again or watch a 30-second video ad to repeat only the last wave.

When killing monsters, they will throw gold and some energy orbs. Gold can be used for buying new equipment and increasing your character’s level. Also, you can increase the power of your fireballs and sword skills. If you are impatient, you can also buy gold through in-app purchases. The energy orbs will replenish the previously mentioned bar so that you can perform your strong sword attack.

Overall, the game feels very balanced. There’s no instance in which you feel that your death has been unfair or that it gets prohibitively hard just to push you to spending money on gold. It might get a bit repetitive after a while, though.

The way your character moves around the stage is almost as if he was walking on ice (which he actually does, in some stages), so you have to get used to it in order to avoid crashing into a monster by accident just because you moved your character in a wrong way.

Graphics

my home dungeonThere’s a clash between different types of art.

Graphics for this game are weird. On one side, we have pixel-style sprites for the majority of elements in the game, including your character, monsters and scenery. On the other side, the game presents very polished and not-pixelated elements on the main screen. Also, this same line of design is used for sprites and characters when there is on-screen dialogue.

Both elements clash with each other and give the impression of not being cohesive. It’s like two developers didn’t communicate with each other at all and then asked the design team to create assets for each of their parts.

This doesn’t mean that the graphics look bad. I like the polished assets much more than the pixel art (especially because now it seems that every game is trying to do pixel art), and I believe that the game would benefit greatly from either converting everything to pixelated sprites (probably easier, since the majority of elements have been drawn this way) or to polished art.

Sound

Just as with many games nowadays, sound is good enough for what it is intended. Sound effects are there but they don’t excel in any way. Music for the normal levels is the same, so you will probably get tired of it at some point. For some reason, I love the boss music. It is very dramatic and enhances the act of fighting against the boss.

Ads

my home dungeon🙁

One of the good points of this game is that ads and other ways of monetizing the game are not intrusive. You never feel like the game is pushing you to buy gold, and there are no ads thrown at your face for no reason. Instead, the developer has made them optional, and you can totally do without them.

For example, if you lost all of your hearts at the last wave of monsters and you are too lazy to repeat the whole level, then after a 30-second video ad, you are back at the same wave. You could also repeat the whole level if you wish, and thus avoid the ad.

There’s also a way of earning gold by watching 30-second videos. If you don’t want to, then you can always repeat previous levels and earn gold that way. It’s your choice, and not the developer’s, if you want to go through ads or not. This is something increasingly uncommon in the Play Store, and for that, I applaud and thank the developer.

Conclusion

My Home Dungeon combines RPG elements with a very simple gameplay and controls to make an appealing game that can keep you entertained for a while. With the different options to increase your character’s strength, monsters getting gradually stronger, and no ads being forced down your throat, you can be confident that My Home Dungeon is worthy of being in your Android’s internal storage.

Download My Home Dungeon from the Google Play Store.

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12
Jan

Baby’s first CES: Experiencing the world’s largest tech show for the first time


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When I was a kid and my parents could still stand being within a city block of one another, I was often dragged along on incredibly long car trips to furniture and fireplace tradeshows, the largest being High Point Market in North Carolina.

Every time we went, my parents would pack armfuls of pamphlets and paper into the car, picking up samples and arguing pros and cons of one unit over another. Simply put, it was business. I wouldn’t wander around with them much, though; normally I’d be dumped in a kid’s area with plenty of other snot-nosed children whose parents tugged them along to these big grown-up hullaballoos.

There wasn’t much for kids to do at these things, my parents said.

But High Point wasn’t just some big, boring, adult convention, my dad explained. It’s actually the largest furnishings industry trade show in the world with over 11 million square feet of show space and over 2,000 exhibitors, and when he told kid me that, I was like,

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“Wow. That’s… Really, really big? Cool?”

When I turned 23 (and my parents could absolutely, positively no longer stand being within a city block of on another), I was given the opportunity to experience my first tech trade show, the largest being the Consumer Electronics Show (or CES) in Las Vegas.

While High Point Market is big, CES is gigantic. At literally double the size, there are nearly 22.5 million square feet of show-space, and the city of Las Vegas becomes an inevitable black hole of technological advances for a full 3+ days with companies like Samsung and LG showing off their most innovative, eye-catching, multimillion dollar projects.

I spent some time browsing through old CES articles and websites that detailed high-points of past CES’s. There were ground-breaking, futuristic wearables like Google Glass, surgeon-steady drones that precisely hovered over their intended targets, and artificially intelligent robots that would adapt and teach its human master new foreign words every day.

“Like the world’s coolest show and tell, but like… Really, really big? Cool!”

I asked a few of my editors if they had any advice.

“Whatever you think it is, times ten,” said Derek Kessler. “Bring good, already-broken-in shoes for walking. Pack light. Have a spare battery pack (or two). Hydrate. Don’t be afraid to say no.”

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Other people echoed the same thoughts, and so I packed a comfortable pair of boots, made room in my clear, CES-issued backpack for bottles of water, made sure my backup battery was charged, and set off on a plane ride from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to Las Vegas, Nevada (side note: I should have taken the pack light note a bit more seriously. RIP the backpack I had to leave behind in lieu of those overalls I never wore).

It was my first time at a tradeshow as a grown-up. Weird.

You know that scene from Annie where she first gets introduced to everyone at Daddy Warbucks’ mansion and they sing ‘I think I’m going to like it here’? When I got to CES, that scene essentially happened, but it was with a lot more robots, VR headsets, and 3D cameras (and it was entirely in my head, but that’s neither here nor there).

The entire show was overwhelming, whimsical and fantastic. Every massive aisle had something new and mind-bending to offer, with passionate vendors looking to offer it (some even trick you into watching virtual reality pornography, but that’s a story for VR Heads).

From the practical smart tech that seemed like something out of a sci-fi flick like smart umbrellas, skin-scanning, moisture-measuring devices, and self-driving cars, to the silliness of iPhone cases that resemble butts and a $200 smart hairbrush (not everything needs to be smart, k?), the 2.5 million feet of showspace presented itself like a twisting hedge maze of innovation and blossoming creativity.

Looking for a home beer brewery? That exists. What about a wheelchair that helps the user stand and and reposition themselves? That was there at CES, too, and it won an innovation award. Looking for a Star Wars’ video game that literally lets you use the Force (aka your mind) to take down bad guys? Yup. That’s for real.

@hellorousseau cheerily rode around on motorized scooters and hover boards while I stood comfortably behind the camera. #zoomzoom #ces2017 #gocellago

A video posted by Mikah Sargent 📎 (@mikahsargent) on Jan 7, 2017 at 4:45pm PST

And as I wove in and out of aisles last weekend, pushing passed the tens of thousands of people that had descended onto Vegas for this massive techy trade show, it hit me: no matter what you’re looking for – whether you’re dealing solely with smartphones or smart home tech, drones or 3D printers, virtual reality or artificial intelligence – there was something for you at CES.

If you’re a kid being dragged to the show by your parents, there are incredible new toys being made that can let you scan your creations into digital existence. If you’re a teenager, there are incredible social media tools like 3D cameras and action cams to record your weekend shenanigans and action shots.

If you’re a young professional, there are electric bikes and scooters to get you to work on time while still saving the environment and itty-bitty storage devices that store HUUUUGE amounts of data, and if you’re anyone of any age, there are drones and self-driving cars to ogle over and dream about.

If you’re a grandparent, there are attention-grabbing toys that are bound to keep any grandchild’s fascination, and if you’re looking for something to help monitor your heart, health, and safety, you bet your bottom dollar there’s something there for you, too.

CES isn’t just a massive show and tell, it’s an experience – it’s a great big place to explore, regardless of your age or what you do for a living.

CES is an adventure, and I’m so happy that I got to explore.

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12
Jan

Google’s Toontastic 3D app lets kids create 3D movies


Google’s latest kids app can conjure up stories, science reports and more!

Google’s longstanding focus on educational apps has taken a turn towards fun with the launch of the company’s latest kids app, Toontastic 3D. Available from today on Android and iOS, the app lets kids create their own animated 3D movies, choosing from “dozens” of characters, story types and settings, add their own voiceovers and mix background music, before exporting and sharing with the world.

It’s designed to be a powerful yet approachable creative tool, and can be used for a both storytelling and school projects like science reports, with 3D drawing tools for an extra personal touch.

As the official site explains, the app aims to help kids express their creativity and develop their digital skills, as they build their creations and share them with friends and family. The new app is free to download (and free of in-app purchases too), and supports phones and tablets running Android 5.0 Lollipop and up.

12
Jan

Now you can easily hail a ride from Uber or Lyft inside Google Maps


Why did it take so long for this kind of functionality to come to Google Maps?

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Google has announced that you can now hail a ride from your preferred ride-sharing service directly through the Maps app. Tap on the icon of the guy hailing a ride and Maps will offer you a complete list of ride options, including special offers and promotions for both Uber and Lyft.

The Google Maps update actually shows you where your car is, compared to the older version that merely offered a link to launch the app in another window. You don’t even have to have the Uber or Lyft apps to hail a ride, though you will need an active account.

The new version is rolling out through Google Play starting today.

12
Jan

Are drones in trouble? Now Lily autonomous drone is shutting down


Yesterday, Google killed its Titan Aero-based drone program, and now the crowd-funded Lily camera drone has shut down.

The two are unrelated, but we’re beginning to wonder if the drone market is consolidating or simply dying. It’s too early to tell, of course, but two companies in two days could signal an industry downturn. On Thursday, after raising more than $34 million in pre-orders from 60,000 customers, the company behind Lily announced it still didn’t have the finances to do full-scale production.

Lily founders Antoine Balaresque and Henry Bradlow posted a blog, called The Adventure Comes to an End, to apologise and reassure customers that they would refund everyone: “We have been racing against a clock of ever-diminishing funds,” they said. “Over the past few months, we have tried to secure financing in order to unlock our manufacturing line and ship our first units — but have been unable to do this.

They continued: “As a result, we are deeply saddened to say that we are planning to wind down the company and offer refunds to customers.” Customers will get their refunds over the next 60 days, but they’ll need to fill out a form if they want the funds returned to a different card that wasn’t used to preorder the $499 Lily, which supposed to be autonomous, waterproof, and offer battery life of up to 20 minutes.

Keep in mind Lily and Titan aren’t the only drone projects to be shuttered in recent months. Zano is known as one of Europe’s biggest Kickstarter failures, and even Parrot, a major player in the commercial drone space, recently announced it is cutting a third of its drone staff.

12
Jan

Twitter to stream PBS live coverage of Inauguration Day


Just like it did with the conventions, Presidential debates and election night, Twitter will livestream President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20th. The social network is teaming up with PBS for six hours worth of coverage hosted by NewsHour managing editor Judy Woodruff. PBS will also have reporters stationed at the US Capitol and the National Mall in addition to a panel of guests to discuss all of the proceedings.

When the time comes, you can access the stream at inauguration.twitter.com or on the PBS NewsHour page (@NewsHour). What’s more, you will be able to watch even if you aren’t logged in to a Twitter account. Coverage begins at 11AM ET next Friday and you can expect to see the inaugural address, parade and the arrival of the 45th President of the United States at the White House before the stream concludes at 5PM ET.

Source: PR Newswire

12
Jan

Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem is exploding, for better and worse


The Internet of Things still mostly feels like the Internet of Crap, but there’s one ray of hope in the connected home on which plenty of companies are jumping aboard: Amazon’s Alexa. In particular, I’m talking about the voice-powered ecosystem that’s quickly grown around the company’s virtual assistant. At CES, we saw Alexa integration in Dish’s upcoming Hopper, washing machines and, much to our delight, a dancing robot. It’s even heading outside the home: Both Ford and Volkswagen are bringing Alexa to their cars for hands-free commands.

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In a little over two years, Alexa has gone from being a baffling product (a connected speaker from Amazon, really?!) to an essential feature for any connected device. It’s no wonder why. With more than 7,000 Alexa Skills — what Amazon calls third-party integrations — it’s the most robust voice platform around. And as we move into 2017, you can expect Alexa’s capabilities to grow even further. Tech companies are thirsty for a ubiquitous and reliable voice platform, although based on what we’ve seen at CES, there are signs they may be getting a bit too thirsty.

Take LG’s new smart refrigerator, for example. It has a giant screen on one of its doors, it can show you what’s inside the fridge without opening the door, and, most importantly, it’s a full-fledged Alexa device. Like the Echo, it can tell you the weather, add things to your shopping list or tap into any Alexa Skill. It sounds cool on paper, but considering that LG’s previous smart fridge launched at a whopping $4,600 last year, we don’t have much faith in this one being affordable. And seriously, doesn’t it make more sense to shell out $50 for an Echo Dot or $180 for an Echo and put it in your kitchen?

What’s notable this year is that developers no longer seem afraid to jump on the Alexa bandwagon. Even Mattel is joining in with Aristotle, a $300 device that starts out as a connected baby monitor but grows with your kids as a learning device as well. While Mattel has put together its own voice-powered service to make Aristotle easy to use for kids, it also functions as an Alexa device for adults. It’s hard not to notice that the winds have changed for voice-powered computing when you see a major toy company trying to get kids into it.

I’ve written plenty about my love for Alexa. The Echo is still something I rely on daily, especially as its capabilities continue to evolve. At first I started out by asking it the weather and playing NPR; now it can control the lighting in my living room. The smaller Echo Dot has also been a useful addition to my bedroom, where it’s connected to an aging Logitech speaker. And now that the Echo Dot is only $50, I’m tempted to get another one for my office.

With the Alexa ecosystem growing at a rapid clip, it’s worth looking back and considering how Amazon managed to outpace Apple, Google and Microsoft in the voice arena. One reason: It released a device that’s primarily controlled with your voice. The Echo doesn’t have a screen; you’re forced to start talking to it as soon as you set it up. While you can control some aspects of the Echo with your phone (it also works as a Bluetooth speaker), that all feels secondary.

Amazon solved a lot of problems with voice commands that have plagued the computing world for years. The Echo uses far-field microphones with built-in noise cancellation to pick up your commands in loud rooms. It’s circular, so it works equally well from any angle, and Amazon wasn’t afraid to work with third parties to make its Alexa virtual assistant more useful. Also, Amazon was able to focus and improve its voice-recognition capabilities by limiting the Echo to English speakers in the US for its first two years (it only recently made its way to the UK).

While Siri, Google Now and Cortana were all available on phones before the Echo, they also rely on less-capable microphones. And it’s often easier to simply swipe and tap over to whatever you want on your phone rather than hope and pray your voice command gets picked up. In this respect, Amazon’s choice to limit the Echo’s input mostly to voice seems even wiser in retrospect.

The competition, on the other hand, is still trying to make sense of voice computing. Siri has been notoriously finicky since its release, and Apple also dragged its heels on third-party integration. Google Now long seemed like an experimental feature in Android, only recently evolving into something as consumer friendly as Google’s Assistant. Together with the Google Home stand-alone speaker, Assistant might actually give Amazon a run for its money.

Microsoft’s Cortana has actually been a pretty useful addition to Windows 10, and we’re also seeing plenty of companies adopting it as well. But the failure of the Xbox One’s Kinect, which was the gateway to Cortana voice commands on that console, and Windows Mobile left Cortana mostly relegated to the desktop. Still, you can expect to see Microsoft’s assistant on roads as part of its new connected car platform, which Volvo, Toyota and BMW are looking into.

Given that hands-free commands aren’t at all new for cars, it only makes sense to see virtual assistants headed there. “We know that voice interfaces have been a part of cars for a long time, primarily to support safe operations,” Amazon’s Automotive Lead, CJ Frost, told Engadget at CES. “When you look at how easily you can engage — order a pizza in five to six seconds, check the weather — it’s a very easy, safe and consistent interaction and it adds functionality to the car. You can bring your phone to the car, but depending on how the consumer uses it, it can add a level of risk as well. But finding a way to converse without being distracted, with your hands still on the steering wheel, becomes a positive experience.”

Both Ford and Volkswagen plan to use Alexa in their cars for the voice commands you already know — asking for the weather or what’s on your calendar — along with things that are actually useful for driving, such as dealing with navigation. But Frost eventually sees Alexa going even further. “What’s big this year is vehicle-to-vehicle communication and data-sharing between cars,” he said. “Not an active data sharing or interaction between consumers but cars talking to each other. What happens in the near future when a car can detect snow on the road and tell 15 cars behind it, ‘Hey, there’s snow on the road’?”

Here’s one thing we know for sure about voice computing this year: The competition will only heat up. And hopefully, that will make all the offerings even better. Amazon wants to eventually turn Alexa into something like the ubiquitous ship-wide computer in Star Trek, that can answer any question and take care of your every need. There’s no guarantee it will be the company to accomplish that, but so far, it’s the closest.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2017.

12
Jan

Google’s new image compression tech is actually pretty cool


In a bid to save you precious mobile data, Google has developed a technique that improves image quality without taking up more bandwidth. Entitled RASIR (Rapid and Accurate Super Image Resolution) this impressive software quickly reads large photos and manages to replicate them using a quarter of the pixels.

RASIR achieves this by analyzing both low and high-quality versions of the same image. As it reads the image, it learns from the superior version and applies filters to its low-res counterpart that simulate extra detail, creating a convincing data-friendly replica of the original high-res photo.

Unfortunately for the majority of smartphone users, the bespoke tech is currently only available on Google+. The company has rolled out the tech to a subset of Android devices, and claims to be upscaling over a billion images per week. Impressively, Google states that thanks to RASIR, it has used 75% less bandwidth per image its upscaled.

For those not interested in Google+, Google aims to expand its use of the tech more broadly across its many apps and services over the coming weeks and months.

Source: Google Blog

12
Jan

Uber rival Karhoo back from the dead thanks to Renault


Make no mistake, it’s hard going up against Uber. Traditional taxi companies have been forced to evolve or die, while other startups like Hailo have found it difficult to compete the ride-hailing service’s incredible growth. Karhoo, a price comparison service for hailing black cabs and the like, also found this out the hard way.

Despite raising tens of millions of pounds and enjoying a splashy launch last May, the company quickly burned through its investment and closed in November as it looked “at the next steps for the business.” Administrators got involved and employees suddenly found themselves without a job. However, two months later, Karhoo is making a return, thanks to the financial arm of French car giant Renault.

In a statement, RCI Bank and Services confirmed that it had taken a majority holding in Flit Technologies Ltd, a company formed by former Karhoo employees that bought the remaining assets of the liquidated company.

“The acquisition of the start-up Karhoo appeared as a sudden opportunity that we did not want to miss and the acquisition was completed rapidly,” said Gianluca De Ficchy, CEO of RCI Bank and Services. “We have met the highly-motivated teams, and I have every confidence in Karhoo’s business model; it is innovative and underpinned by a first-class technological platform. We will also be able to capitalize on this platform as part of our activities for the Alliance brands.”

Renault becomes the latest car maker to sink money into on-demand transport. Daimler owns the majority of Hailo, Volkswagen has poured $300 million into Gett and General Motors has invested $500 million into Lyft. Karhoo operates a little differently to many of its rivals in that it doesn’t operate its own cars, it simply provides a platform for taxi and private hire firms to feed ride pricing into its app, allowing users to choose the provider that suits their needs.

Before the company shut down last year, Karhoo employees Boris Pilichowski and Nicolas Andine ran operations following the departure of founder Daniel Ishag. Pilichowski and Andine have become co-CEOs of the new entity and hope to relaunch the service, which is based in London but also has operations in New York, later this year.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Renault

12
Jan

Chrysler pulls a VW, cheats emissions tests


The Environmental Protection Agency has just notified Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) that the carmaker has violated the Clean Air Act, alleging that it installed software in some of its diesel vehicles that increased emissions beyond what the company claimed. Specifically, the EPA says that “light-duty model year 2014, 2015 and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0 liter diesel engines sold in the United States” are releasing excess nitrogen oxide emissions.

This move has likely been brewing for a bit — several class action lawsuits against FCA said that some of the company’s vehicles were using defeat devices to cheat emissions tests. But now the federal government is getting involved (although it hasn’t yet determined if FCA was indeed using a defeat device), and that can’t be good news for FCA.

Just look at what happened to Volkswagen after it was revealed the company was engaging in widespread cheating on emissions test: The company was hit with a $4.3 billion fine, the largest given to an automaker in the US. The EPA is additionally working with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which has also accused FCA of violating clean air laws.

FCA’s transgressions appear to be on a smaller scale than VW’s, at least at this point. The EPA alleges that approximately 104,000 vehicles were covered in the claim, whereas VW’s covered nearly 500,000 cars. Still, it’s rather troubling that another automaker has been lying about emissions — but on the positive side, the EPA says that FCA’s alleged cheating was discovered thanks to enhanced testing following the VW fiasco.

“Once again, a major automaker made the business decision to skirt the rules and got caught,” said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols said in a press release. “CARB and US EPA made a commitment to enhanced testing as the Volkswagen case developed, and this is a result of that collaboration.”

At this point, FCA is denying wrongdoing and appears to be looking to the Trump administration for shelter — a reasonable tactic given Trump’ pro-business, anti-environmental standpoint. “FCA US intends to work with the incoming administration to present its case and resolve this matter fairly and equitably and to assure the EPA and FCA US customers that the company’s diesel-powered vehicles meet all applicable regulatory requirements,” FCA said in a statement posted by CNBC. “FCA US looks forward to the opportunity to meet with the EPA’s enforcement division and representatives of the new administration to demonstrate that FCA US’s emissions control strategies are properly justified and thus are not ‘defeat devices’ under applicable regulations and to resolve this matter expeditiously.”

The initial evidence against FCA looks pretty convincing, however — the EPA says that it has found at least eight pieces of undisclosed software in the vehicles that alter how much pollution these vehicles emit.

Via: CNBC

Source: EPA

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