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Topics - fahad.faisal

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So what's next after making a million Teslas? According to Elon Musk, a Cybertruck gigafactory that could be placed in "central USA," and Model Y production "for East Coast too." These tweets came just hours after the exec polled followers on whether or not the Berlin factory Tesla is building should include a "mega rave cave" so we'll see what, if any, of these things come true.

A tweet in February polled people on the question of building a factory in Texas, so it's hard to tell what to take seriously, although the possibility of Musk going on an Amazon HQ2-like quest collecting bids to put down roots seems like something that could happen.

The Model Y already landed as Tesla's milestone vehicle yesterday and shipments are scheduled to begin any day now. Meanwhile, the electric truck is a bit further off -- you can get Mattel's version sooner if you're in a hurry -- with production scheduled to start in late 2021. We'll see if that's long enough to keep Tesla's options opens on where to build its polarizing, angular pickup.

Source: Ellon Mask (Twitter)

BMW's first all-electric crossover isn't coming to the US in 2021 -- in fact, it's not coming to the US at all. The automaker first mentioned that the BMW iX3 is "not currently planned for the US market" in a press release for the Concept i4 published a few days ago. Since the gas-powered SUV the iX3 is based on is one of BMW's most popular vehicles in the US, that may sound unbelievable. But now a spokesperson has confirmed to Automotive News that it does "not have plans to bring the iX3 to the US market."

The spokesperson didn't elaborate on the company's decision, but as the publication explains, automakers other than Tesla are having a hard time selling their electric vehicles in the country. There's a bigger demand for EVs in Europe and China due to stricter emissions regulations, so they're choosing to concentrate their efforts in those regions. Mercedes, for instance, moved the US launch of its EQC all-electric SUV from this year to 2021.

In addition to choosing to focus on other regions, another possible reason behind BMW's decision is the fact that the iX3 is powered by a 74-kWh lithium-ion battery. That could make its range quite limited, seeing as the Audi e-tron's 95-kWh battery can only last up to 204 miles. Meanwhile, Tesla's cars are known for having impressive range, with the Model S edging closer and closer to lasting 400 miles on a single charge. BMW might have realized how important range is for American buyers, which is why the vehicles it's preparing to release in the US, the i4 and the iNext, will have a range of more than 370 miles.

Source: Automotive News

Checkout-free, cashless supermarkets -- a novelty shopping experience or the future of bricks and mortar retail? According to Amazon -- which turned the concept into a 10,400-square-foot reality -- it's the latter. After announcing its plans to license its automated checkout technology to other retailers, the company has revealed it has "several" signed deals with customers, and has launched a new website inviting inquiries from others interested in the "Just Walk Out" experience.

Amazon has been operating a number of these cashless convenience stores in the US since 2018. Shoppers download the Amazon Go app, beep themselves into the store using a QR code, then simply pick up whatever they want and leave. The store's item-tracking system knows what they've selected, and bills them automatically via the app. Last month, Amazon launched the first Go supermarket, where the concept has been applied to a significantly larger store and visitors are able to do an entire weekly shop, rather than just picking up necessities on the move.

So it's clear the concept works (indeed, Reuters reports that the market for cashier-less retail could grow to $50 billion). And now, instead of keeping it for itself, Amazon plans to share it with other retailers (for a price, of course) -- no doubt in a move to position itself ahead of future competition.

The venture will operate under the name "Just Walk Out." Rather than relying on an app, shoppers will inset a credit card into a gated turnstile, which will display a "Just Walk Out technology by Amazon" logo -- all other aspects of branding will be controlled by the retailer. As with Amazon Go stores, the system will recognize items picked up by customers, and bill them once they leave.

According to the Just Walk Out website, the tech can be incorporated into new build stores or retrofitted into existing spaces in a matter of weeks. Amazon will take care of the installation process, and there will be a 24/7 support line for businesses adopting the service.

In an interview with Reuters, Dilip Kumar, Amazon's vice president of physical retail and technology, kept schtum about which companies have signed up to the service -- he didn't reveal anything on pricing, either, simply noting that "a lot of those are bespoke deals." However, he did reiterate that Amazon's role in the Just Walk Out experience starts and ends with the technology -- the retailer is still responsible for its customers and indeed, the staff that would otherwise be operating its checkouts. Cashier-less tech has come under fire for its potential threat to jobs, but the Just Walk Out website claims the system only means that "their roles have simply shifted to focus on more valuable activities."

Meanwhile, when it comes to data -- another commonly-cited area of concern for checkout-free tech -- Amazon says it only collects the information needed to provide shoppers with an accurate receipt. Who specifically owns this data, and what it could be used for, is not clear.

It does seem, however, that while Amazon wants to get ahead in a market it has arguably created for itself, it will do so with carefully-considered parameters. At this juncture, it seems that its focus for Just Walk Out technology is smaller convenience stores, such as airport shops and arena kiosks, rather than major retailers such as Walmart and Target.

While Kumar didn't rule out the possibility of selling the tech to these kinds of rivals, it seems likely the company will want to better establish its own Just Walk Out supermarkets first before it makes the concept available to competitors. That being said, though, there are already a number of other vendors offering automated checkout systems to retailers, such as AiFi and Grabango. If cashier-less stores really are the future of retail, then other major chains won't need Amazon's tech to enjoy a slice of the pie.

Source: Just Walk Out

If you think Clearview's AI-powered facial recognition is a major problem, buckle up. An artificial intelligence company called Banjo has agreement with Utah that gives it real-time access to traffic cameras, CCTV/public safety cameras, 911 systems and other data. Banjo says it can combine all of that with info from social media, apps and satellites to "detect anomalies." Basically, the company claims it can alert law enforcement to a crime while it's happening. It also says the system strips all personal details so it's able to assist without sacrificing privacy. Motherboard has more on the agreement and how it's working so far.

Two years after Uber suspended all self-driving car tests following the death of a pedestrian, it is creeping back onto San Francisco's streets. Today, Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) resumed testing its autonomous vehicles in the city, TechCrunch reports.

The company will reportedly limit testing to a few weeks with two Volvo XC90 vehicles. It will only test during daylight, and a safety driver and co-pilot will be present in each vehicle. Uber is clearly, and understandably, proceeding with caution.

Uber ATG was granted a permit to resume testing in California last month. It's also testing in Dallas, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Washington DC. Drivers are present in all of those tests, and after the fatal accident, Uber added additional safety features, including a real-time driver monitoring system, which sends an alert if it detects the "mission specialists" aren't paying full attention.

"We are excited to resume autonomous testing in Uber's home city this week," an Uber spokesperson said in a statement shared with TechCrunch. "Our testing area will be limited in scope to start, but we look forward to scaling up our efforts in the months ahead and learning from the difficult but informative road conditions that the Bay Area has to offer."

Source: TechCrunch

NASA's Curiosity rover has sent the highest-resolution panorama of Mars ever taken back to Earth. Now, you can explore the Martian surface by zooming in on the giant 2GB image or cruising around in a 360-degree video that NASA shared on YouTube.

The panorama contains nearly 1,200 individual images taken over four days. The photos were snapped around Thanksgiving when Curiosity had some time to sit still. The final product contains nearly 1.8 billion pixels, which allows viewers to zoom in on details way in the distance. You can see the rim of the crater that Curiosity is inside of and another 3-mile-wide crater inside of that.

You can also take a look at Curiosity. You might notice a radiation sensor, tubes used during its flight to Mars and a sundial. In the distance, you'll also see the tracks Curiosity has made on the surface of the planet. Even after seven years, NASA says, Curiosity is a "window to another world."

Source: NASA

World View wants to occupy the sky. Its sensor-packed balloons sit in the stratosphere, taking in data and imaging the ground. The company completed test flights to tweak flight and navigation issues, and is now ready for its balloons to operate in the stratosphere on a long-term basis. A preliminary fleet of Stratolites -- equipped with various sensors -- will be released over North and Central America this summer, helping scientists, meteorologists and governments to gather data that is more accurate than that of typical satellites.

Stratolites are positioned at a lower altitude than most other satellites. This helps them get better readings, especially when it comes to imaging the ground. The current equipment takes photos of the Earth at a ground sample distance (GSD) of 15 centimeters, meaning each pixel in the resulting image represents 15 centimeters of space. Future Stratolites will be upgraded to capture images at a GSD of just 5 centimeters.

World View says that this summer's launch is for its first wave of Stratolites -- the full fleet is expected to be released by the middle of 2021. The startup is taking a different tack than SpaceX and its fleet of Starlink satellites, which are positioned much further away from the Earth -- World View's Stratolites will be about 10 to 30 kilometers up, whereas SpaceX's satellites are 1,000 kilometers from the ground.

The proliferation of satellites should net useful data and insights. However, it remains to be seen how these companies will keep dead hardware out of the sky and space.

Source: World View

Latest Technology / The next Mars rover will be named 'Perseverance'
« on: March 06, 2020, 09:49:09 PM »
During a live webcast on Wednesday, NASA administrators unveiled the official name of the upcoming Mars 2020 Rover mission. Say hello to Perseverance.

The name was selected as part of a nationwide contest held throughout 2019 by the space administration, drawing more than 29,000 submissions from k-12 students across the country. A team of 4,700 volunteer judges helped whittle those entries down to 155 semifinalists before a round of public voting produced the 9 finalists. Those submissions were then vetted by a panel of NASA administrators before NASA's associate administrator, Thomas Zurbuchen, made the final selection.

Alex Mather, a middle school student from Fairfax County, Virginia, came up with the winning submission. He was honored onstage by NASA admins as well as his school district's superintendent and school board members during the reveal. Perseverance is scheduled to set off for the Red Planet this July where it will seek out, collect, and store notable soil and rock cores for later retrieval and eventual study back here on Earth.

Source: NASA

The red romaine lettuce astronauts grew on the ISS a few years ago aren't just as good as Earth-grown lettuce, they're also as nutritious. NASA's Gioia Massa, Christina Khodadad and their colleagues examined and analyzed three batches of lettuce grown on the space station between 2014 and 2016. They compared it to lettuce that they grew here at home under similar conditions -- in the same relative humidity, carbon dioxide concentration and temperature, among other things -- and determined that the level of nutrients between them is very similar.

The main difference between the two is that the ISS vegetables have more microorganisms, but that's probably just because of the microflora that live on the space station. None of them, however, are harmful to humans, such as E. coli and Salmonella. The scientists' findings are significant, because they tell us that we can grow food in space for long journeys. NASA regularly sends supplies to the ISS, so the station's crew isn't at risk of food shortages. For trips to the moon and Mars in the future, though, NASA needs to find a way to supplement pre-packaged food.

Massa and Khodadad explained:

"Right now we cannot guarantee that we will have a diet to meet the needs of the crew for these longer, deep space missions, so one potential solution will be to supplement the packaged diet with fresh produce. This [space-grown lettuce] will provide additional vitamins and other nutrients, flavors, textures and variety to the packaged diet. Growing plants may also help with menu fatigue and provide psychological benefits when astronauts are far from home. In the long term, if we ever want to have space colonization, growth of crops will be crucial for establishing any level of sustainability and self-sufficiency.

In addition to providing food, plants may also play a role in future Life Support Systems needed for long-duration missions. Plants generate oxygen as well as remove and fix carbon dioxide, which is critical in closed systems like the ISS or future moon/Mars facilities."

Since humans can't live on lettuce alone, NASA also sent kale and cabbage to the ISS to figure out if astronauts can grow them for long trips in the future.

Source:  Frontiers in Plant Science

Security researchers have discovered another flaw in recent Intel chips that, while difficult to exploit, is completely unpatchable. The vulnerability is within Intel's Converged Security and Management Engine (CSME), a part of the chip that controls system boot-up, power levels, firmware and, most critically, cryptographic functions. Security specialists Positive Technologies have found that a tiny gap in security in that module that could allow attackers to inject malicious code and, eventually, commandeer your PC.

The vulnerability is another in a string of Intel chip flaws that have damaged the chipmaker's reputation of late. In 2018, Intel faced heavy criticism over the Meltdown and Spectre flaws in Intel chips that could have allowed attackers to steal data.

CSME, which has its own 486-based CPU, RAM and boot ROM, is the first thing that runs when you boot up your computer. One of the first things it does is protect its own memory, but before that happens, there's a brief moment when it's vulnerable. If hackers have local or physical access to a machine, they might be able to fire off a DMA transfer to that RAM, overwriting it and hijacking code execution.

Since the ROM vulnerability allows seizing control of code execution before the hardware key generation mechanism in the SKS is locked, and the ROM vulnerability cannot be fixed, we believe that extracting this key is only a matter of time. When this happens, utter chaos will reign. Hardware IDs will be forged, digital content will be extracted, and data from encrypted hard disks will be decrypted.

Since the boot code and RAM are hard coded into Intel's CPUs, they can't be patched or reset without replacing the silicon. That makes it impossible for Intel or computer makers to mitigate, let alone completely fix, the vulnerability.

The CSME's security functions allow the operating system and apps to securely store file encryption keys using a master "chipset key." If an attacker could access that key by executing malicious code, they could gain access to core parts of the operating system along with apps, and potentially do serious damage.

"This [chipset] key is not platform-specific. A single key is used for an entire generation of Intel chipsets," explains Mark Ermolov from Positive Technologies. "And since... the ROM vulnerability cannot be fixed, we believe that extracting this key is only a matter of time. When this happens, utter chaos will reign. Hardware IDs will be forged, digital content will be extracted, and data from encrypted hard disks will be decrypted."

That sounds dramatic, but exploiting the vulnerability would require major technological know-how, specialized equipment and physical access to a machine. Once hackers were inside a system, though, they could feasibly gain persistent remote access.

The vulnerability applies to machines with Intel chips built over the last five years or so. Intel said that it was notified of the vulnerabilities and released mitigations in May 2019 to be incorporated into firmware updates for motherboards and computer systems.

The chip giant told Ars Technica on background that those updates "should" mitigate local attacks. However, physical attacks (where attackers have possession of a targeted computer) might still be possible if attackers can roll back BIOS versions. As such, Intel said in a support document that "end users should maintain physical possession of their platforms.'

Source: Positive Technologies

There's no question that robots will play an increasingly central role in our lives in the future, but to get to a stage where they can be genuinely useful there are still a number of challenges to be overcome -- including navigation without human intervention. Yes, we're at a stage where algorithms will allow a robot to learn how to move around, but the process is convoluted and requires a lot of human input, either in picking up the robot when it falls over, or moving it back into its training space if it wanders off. But new research from Google could make this learning process a lot more straightforward.

By successfully tweaking existing algorithms, researchers from Google Robotics were able to get a four-legged robot to learn how to walk forwards and backwards and turn, all by itself and in a matter of a few hours. First of all, they did away with environment modelling. Typically, before a robot gets the opportunity to learn to walk, algorithms are tested in a virtual robot in a virtual environment. While this helps prevent damage to the actual robot, emulating things like gravel or soft surfaces is extremely time-consuming and convoluted.

So the researchers began training in the real world from the get-go, and because the real world provided natural environment variation, the robot could more quickly adapt to variants such as steps and uneven terrain. However, human intervention was still necessary, with researchers having to handle the robot hundreds of times during its training. So they set about solving this issue, and did so by restricting the robot's territory and having it learn multiple maneuvers at once. If the robot made it to the edge of its territory while walking forward, it would recognize its position and start walking backwards instead, thereby learning a new skill while mitigating human intervention.

With this system, the robot was able to use trial and error to eventually learn how to autonomously navigate a number of different surfaces, ultimately removing the need for human involvement -- a significant milestone in making robots more useful. However, the research is not without its limitations. The current setup uses an overhead motion capture system to allow the robot to identify its location -- not something that could be replicated in any real-world robot applications. Nonetheless, the researchers hope to adapt the new algorithms to different types of robots, or even multiple robots in the same learning environment, thereby creating a body of knowledge and understanding that will help advance robotics in all fields.

Source:  Arxiv

IBM and Microsoft have signed the Vatican's "Rome Call for AI Ethics," a pledge to develop artificial intelligence in a way that protects all people and the planet, Financial Times reports. Microsoft President Brad Smith and John Kelly, IBM's executive vice-president, are among the first global tech leaders to sign the document.

The pledge, presented to Pope Francis today, calls for AI that safeguards the rights of all humans, especially the underprivileged, and for new regulations in areas like facial recognition. It asks tech leaders to "humanise technology and not 'technologise' humanity," Novena News reports.

"The Vatican is not an expert on the technology but on values," Francesca Rossi, IBM's global AI ethics leader, said in a statement. "The collaboration is to make the Vatican and the whole society understand how to use this technology with these values."

The pledge is part of a larger workshop on ethical AI led by the Pontifical Academy for Life in the Vatican this week. The Academy hopes governments, NGOs, industry leaders and other associations will join the "Rome Call for AI Ethics," along with tech companies like IBM and Microsoft.

It's unclear what this means in the long run, but this is an interesting symbolic move for IBM and Microsoft as they pledge to make ethical AI. Last year, Facebook backed an independent AI ethics research center, and Google has formed an external council to guide "responsible development and use."

The European Union has released its own guidelines for ethical AI development, and Canada and France are tackling the issue. Meanwhile, the White House has cautioned against over-regulating AI.

Source: The Financial Times

Boeing Starliner's first unmanned flight failed in December, because the aerospace giant divided its tests in small chunks instead of conducting longer tests that simulate the whole process from launch to docking. Starliner program manager John Mulholland has revealed at a teleconference that the company thought it would be "more logical to break the mission phases into chunks and do a lot of testing in those smaller chunks." Doing a single test run from launch to docking takes over 25 hours, after all.

If you'll recall, the Starliner crew capsule that was designed to ferry astronauts to the ISS failed to enter the right orbit and dock with the station during its first test flight. Turned out the spacecraft's onboard computer time was miscalibrated by 11 hours, so it wasn't able to fire the thrusters that would send on the correct path. In addition, its ground team wasn't able to establish a connection before it had already burned too much fuel. The company would've discovered the mistake if it ran a longer test.

NASA and Boeing formed a team to investigate what happened, and a report recently published by Orlando Sentinel said that the fact that the company didn't do an end-to-end test took NASA by surprise. Mulholland defended Boeing at the conference, telling reporters:

"...I really don't want anyone to have the impression that this team tried to take shortcuts. They didn't. They did an abundance of testing. And in certain areas obviously we have some gaps to fill."

Aside from not conducting a launch-to-docking simulation, Boeing also didn't test the Starliner's software against its service module. Boeing scheduled the spacecraft's software test and a "hot fire" test of the module's thrusters at the same time. That's why the service module was in a different location, and the company had to use an emulator in its place. The emulator turned out to be flawed, though, and the investigation team found a critical software defect that could've led to "loss of vehicle."

Mulholland said that going forward, Boeing will continue doing tests in smaller chunks, but it will also conduct longer end-to-end testing. According to The Washington Post, NASA is still thinking whether to allow Boeing to proceed with its first manned flight to prevent delays or to require the company to successfully complete an unmanned flight first.

Source: The Washington Post

Another SpaceX test ended in failure this past weekend. A prototype of the company's Starship rocket, SN1, imploded in a pressure test late Friday night. Elon Musk acknowledged the incident on Twitter, sharing a video and writing, "It's fine, we'll just buff it out."

The prototype caved in on itself after being filled with super-cold, liquid nitrogen propellant, The Verge reports. In a tweet, Musk said it had to do with a "puck" at the base of the vehicle. "Don't shuck the puck!" he joked.

Musk said the company plans to strip the next Starship rocket prototype, SN2, to the bare minimum and test its puck under pressure, first with water, and then with the cryo propellant. It could be ready to test in just a few days.

SN1 was the first of a series of test articles that SpaceX is building and testing in order to refine the systems needed for a fully functional Starship, according to "Each SN will have at least minor improvements, at least through SN20 or so of Starship V1.0," Musk tweeted in December.

SpaceX revealed the first full Starship prototype, Starship Mk1, last fall. A couple months later, its bulkhead blew off during a pressure test. The company has already moved on to the second- and third-generations, Mk2 and Mk3. But with these test failures, it's hard to say if it's still on track to meet the ambitious timeline Musk once promised.

Source: Elon Musk

NASA is enlisting whatever help it can get to make sure its crewed Moon and Mars missions go smoothly, and that might include help from schools. The agency is running a new round of its Moon to Mars Exploration Systems and Habitation Academic Innovation Challenge (M2M X-Hab if you want a much shorter name) that encourages university students to study and develop spacefaring tech. The challenge will reward work on habitation, vehicles, robotic advance missions, "foundational systems" (think autonomous mission tech and remote manufacturing) and human spaceflight architecture focused on the lunar Gateway.

The awards will be relatively modest at $15,000 to $50,000, but NASA stressed that this doesn't necessarily involve tangible products. It can also involve research that fills "knowledge gaps" or reduces risks, for instance. Proposals are due by April 24th.

The competition may not lead to a major breakthrough in NASA's Moon and Mars expeditions. However, competitions like this have developed inflatable airlock modules and other concepts that could play important roles. M2M X-Hab could let NASA focus on the broader problems involved with traveling to and surviving in places beyond Earth.

Source: NASA

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