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Musk Now Has Real Competition in the Rush to Deploy Internet in Space

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Wyler started OneWeb in 2012 and persuaded Branson to help bankroll it soon after, when the two were palling around on the British mogul’s Necker Island. While satellites have been used to relay internet data for decades, the existing services are slow and expensive, because the conventional sedan-size models are unwieldy, run on outdated technology, and orbit the Earth at about 18,500 miles up, making coverage spotty. Wyler’s pitch: Use more advanced gear to put thousands of cheaper satellites the size of washing machines into orbit 750 miles above the planet. In theory, the larger network of satellites should cover everybody, including the more than 3 billion people who can’t yet be reached by high-speed fiber optics.

The OneWeb founder promised to make low-cost antennas that could be placed on homes, schools, hospitals, and emergency services outposts and pull data down at an incredible clip. For the first time, the world would be surrounded by a type of computing shell that would give a Rwandan high school access to the same information and tools as a school in Mountain View, Calif., and make it possible for a climber to fill her Instagram feed from atop Mount Everest.

The sheer expense of Wyler’s project, including some pricier-than-expected technology, as well as some skeptical investors, have forced him to massage his ambitions for now. In the revised plan, the recently launched satellites will be joined by about 650 more over the next couple years. This first fleet will be aimed at making money by delivering high-speed internet to airplanes, cruise ships, and governments willing to pay to modernize their infrastructure.

Wyler says he hopes such customers will cover the costs of the global network, which will total billions of dollars more than he’s already raised. “This is the world’s largest civilian space project,” he says while driving around the grounds of the Guiana Space Centre. “We are not funded by NASA or a government, and it can’t run at a loss. We want to bring the internet to the poorest people in the world and have built the world’s most expensive system to do it, and the expansion of the service needs to pay for itself.” Branson, flanking Wyler, insists with characteristic optimism that the era of billionaires like him losing money on space ventures is over. “I think the time has come for space companies to succeed,” he says.

Companies with names like Telesat and LeoSat have similar plans for internet-beaming satellite constellations, but Wyler’s biggest competition has been Elon Musk, chief executive officer of SpaceX and Tesla Inc. and a Branson frenemy. (The two play-fight about their respective rocketry achievements while chilling together on Branson’s island.) SpaceX sent two space internet test systems into orbit last year, and its battle with OneWeb is fraught with extra helpings of bitterness and enmity. “My issue with SpaceX is personal,” Wyler says.

The OneWeb founder says he’s the one who has a huge technological lead, citing the low-cost antennas from a company he’s invested in called Wafer. “I haven’t found any other technology that is close,” he says. “It’s at least one to three years ahead of everything else.” (Note: After publication, Wyler said he meant to say the technology is five years ahead.) OneWeb also secured valuable wireless spectrum rights for its service well ahead of its rivals. If the satellites from the recent launch work as billed, the company will hold on to those broadcast frequencies for decades. Competitors will have to find spectrum of their own and persuade the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union that they won’t interfere with OneWeb’s service.

French Guiana provides an all-too-symbolic backdrop for Wyler and Branson’s quest to bring the trappings of modernity to poor and remote locales. The economy of the French territory, located in northeastern South America, is stuck in neutral, with limited farming and a heavy reliance on imports and subsidies from its colonizer. Many people are as likely to get around by canoe as they are on the dilapidated roads. Even the beaches struggle to lure tourists because of their biting sand fleas and murky, mud-colored waters. And the rainforests, which carry a hearty helping of yellow fever, offer more adventure than most outsiders seek.

Built in the 1960s, the Guiana Space Centre presents a study in contradictions with its surroundings. Its home city of Kourou is about an hour’s drive north of the capital, Cayenne, and was once home to the notoriously brutal Devil’s Island penal colony. To reach the spaceport, you travel on two-lane highways past densely packed rainforest and modest, brightly colored houses with tin roofs. Billboards along the highways alternate between plugs for potato chips and satellites. The facility takes up 266 square miles, employs thousands of people, and serves as the launch site for rockets from Europe. Arianespace, a European aerospace company, operates three launchpads: two for its own rockets, and one for a version of the Russian Soyuz, which carried the OneWeb satellites.

From a physics standpoint, Kourou has a lot going for it. It’s on the coast just 300 miles north of the equator, which means the rockets receive an added boost—the Earth spins fastest at its midpoint—and that most debris from a mishap is likely to fall into the ocean. In a typical year, Arianespace will send up about one rocket a month, although keeping up with OneWeb will require it to work faster. OneWeb has contracted with the company for more than 20 launches. By October, Wyler expects to witness one every three weeks or so, with each rocket carrying about 34 OneWeb satellites. If he’s right, he’ll quickly break by a wide margin the record number of satellites launched by a single company.

Launch days remain a special occasion here, even though they’ve been taking place for decades. Before blastoff, the French Foreign Legion clears the forest and seas and provides security on-site. As the event draws near, hundreds of people, including men in uniform and women in bright sundresses, arrive at a theater attached to the glass-enclosed mission control while an announcer delivers play-by-play commentary. Branson found himself taking selfies near a concession stand doling out fruit juices, finger sandwiches, and desserts.

When the launch happens, everyone runs out to a balcony to watch as a giant rocket streaks across the sky and to listen as its thunderous rumble cuts through the humid air. The event has the feel of game day in a small Texas town that runs on football.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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Lamborghini’s latest Huracán is a supercar with a supercomputer

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Over the past few decades, technology has made vehicles safer and easier to drive. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, torque vectoring and other bits of tech keep cars on the road instead of flying into a ditch when things get hairy. It’s why newer cars typically handle corners better than older cars.

At Lamborghini, they’ve taken things further with their new Lamborghini Dinamica Veicolo Integrata or LDVI system. The Engine Control Unit (ECU) takes data from the entire car and uses it to adjust how the new Huracán EVO Spyder drives in real time (actually in less than 20 milliseconds. But that’s about as close as you can get to real time). Cars have been doing some form of this for a while but the Italian automaker needs to be able to do this at incredible speeds and in environments your typical sedan or SUV doesn’t encounter.

At Lamborghini, they’ve taken things further with their new Lamborghini Dinamica Veicolo Integrata or LDVI system. The Engine Control Unit (ECU) takes data from the entire car and uses it to adjust how the new Huracán EVO Spyder drives in real time (actually in less than 20 milliseconds. But that’s about as close as you can get to real time). Cars have been doing some form of this for a while but the Italian automaker needs to be able to do this at incredible speeds and in environments your typical sedan or SUV doesn’t encounter.

With this technology, Lamborghini is able to take the raw power of an all-wheel-drive supercar with a V10 engine and 630 horsepower and tame it, just enough, so your average driver (who can shell out $287,400) can enjoy themselves behind the wheel of the all-wheel-steering vehicle without, you know, flying into a ditch.

To achieve this, the LVDI is actually a super fast central processing unit that takes in data about the road surface, the car’s setup, the tires and how the driver is driving the vehicle. It then uses that info to control various aspects of the Huracan.

The system works in concert with the Lamborghini Piattaforma Inerziale (LPI) version 2.0 hardware sensors. This system uses gyroscopes and accelerometers located at the car’s center of gravity. It measures the vehicle’s movements and shares that data with the LVDI computer.

Lamborghini says the system is so in tune with all aspects of a drive that it can actually predict the best driving setup for the next moment. In other words, if you’re behind the wheel flying around corners on a back road, the system will recognize your behavior as you enter a corner and adjust itself.

“Where it’s possible to do a bigger jump in the future is with the intelligent use of four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering and the movement and control of the torque wheel by wheel in a way that can be more predictable and that is what we have with the Huracan EVO,” said Maurizio Reggiani, chief technology officer of Automobili Lamborghini.

Lamborghini is thinking about a world beyond a completely gas-powered engine though — it has a pipeline for hybrid and electric vehicles. But Reggiani notes that Lamborghini will probably be the last automaker to leave behind a large growling power plant.

Putting all that power to the ground in a controllable way requires an incredible amount of technology — that’s where LVDI and other pieces of technology come in. The automaker believes the result is a driving experience that matches exactly what the driver wants, regardless of the mode the car is in. Whether it be Strada, Sport, or the track ready Corsa, the vehicle (in a controlled way) should deliver.

That control allows a driver to do something that typically takes months if not years to master: drifting. It goes against what the car wants to do — lose traction. But in Sport mode it’s possible. To do that, the vehicle has to figure out (in real time and safely) things like what angle it wants to slide. The Huracán EVO Spyder has to understand that you want to drift and not fight that. If it does, it will jerk the car (and driver) back into alignment.

Lamborghini Huracan EVO Spyder

To relive your Fast and Furious dreams, the automaker started where lots of companies start with new technology: In the simulator. But a computer can’t faithfully reproduce the real world. Mostly that has to do with tires, a variable that’s tough to predict because of the density of the rubber’s compound and its wear.

Then, of course, there’s the driver. We all drive differently but the experience must be the same for everyone. It’s important that even with all that technology, it’s still a driving experience. “We don’t want to have something that substitutes the driver. We want to have a car that is able to understand what the driver wants to do,” Reggiani said.

Lamborghini is known for large engines, intense growls, striking design and bank-busting prices. But the reality is all that power would be useless if drivers couldn’t actually control the car. The automaker’s latest system makes that possible for everyone. Sure, only a select few can own a Lamborghini, but everyone can appreciate a system that makes driving safer while simultaneously more fun.

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This device makes it easy for the elderly to stay in touch with their loved ones

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Only 20 percent of over-75s in the UK have a smartphone compared to 95 percent of 16-to-24-year-olds. Digital technologies change fast, become obsolete quickly and usually need you to spend a bit of time learning how to use them.

This helps explain why most older adults tend to use what they know best when it comes to communicating, which usually means a phone call via a landline or basic mobile, instead of a quick text or social media update.

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But it doesn’t have to be this way. My colleague Massimo Micocci and I have recently designed a more modern device we hope will help older people stay in more frequent touch with instant updates, but that has a familiar feel to it. By drawing on smart materials and what we call “design metaphors”, we hope to make new technology more accessible.

When older people don’t have access to instant messaging, a phone call or a visit may be the only way for friends and family to check their loved ones are well. And doing so more than (or even) once a day might not be feasible or wanted.

Similarly, older people might feel that ringing their relatives morning and night just to let them know they’re OK would be an inconvenience. And while you can buy specialized monitoring devices that record people’s movements around their home, these often feel like an invasion of privacy.

With this in mind, we developed something that lets older people broadcast their status to their families like a social media update. Our device (which is designed for research purposes rather than commercial development) looks like an analogue radio. But it lets users transmit information about their activity captured from a wearable heartbeat sensor in a way that is entertaining and intuitive, and only shared with selected group of followers.

The keep-in-touch. Author provided

The information includes how energetic their current activity is, for example whether they are conducting an active task such as gardening, or a relaxing and restful one such as reading a book.

By designing the device to evoke technology with which people will feel instantly familiar, we’re using the principle of design metaphor. Most people find it easier to interact with devices that resemble products they have already used.

In cognitive psychology, this is known as inferential learning, referring to when someone applies established knowledge in their brain to a new context. The design of our “radio” device makes it easier for users to work out how to use it, based on their previous interactions with traditional radios – even though it has a very different function.

Giving users control

There are plenty of systems that enable people to monitor older family members. But usually these are fully passive, where the older adults are observed directly through cameras and sensors around their homes. Or they are fully active, for example mobile phones that require the older adults to stop what they’re doing and respond right away.

Instead, our device lets people choose the level of communication they want. It runs in the background and doesn’t transmit detailed information such as images of people in their homes. This makes it a much less intrusive way of letting someone know you’re OK.

We also wanted to make the device very easy to understand, interpret and remember. So rather than having an information screen that showed text or images, we wanted to create a display that used so-called smart materials to convey what the user was doing.

In this context, smart materials are those that can change color, shape, viscosity or how much light they emit. Our research showed that light-emitting materials were the best way of conveying messages without words for both under and over-60s.

The “radio” is just a research prototype but it has allowed us to understand that the combination of innovative materials and familiar artefacts can be a successful way to encourage aging users to adopt new technologies. In this way, smart materials and design metaphors could help bridge the digital gap and promote innovation among older consumers.

This article is republished from The Conversation by Gabriella Spinelli, Reader in Design Innovation, Brunel University London under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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