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Friday, April 29, 2016

Man Builds Working Homemade Hoverbike, Doesn't Die

As reported by The VergeYouTube sensation and inventor Colin Furze is used to making insane things like retractable wolverine claws, working versions of the hidden blade and rope launcher featured in Assassin's Creed games, and even a homemade Iron Man suit. But this time he decided to do something even crazier and build a hoverbike, and surprisingly, he succeeded and didn't die in the process.

Although it's not getting too far off the ground, Furze's hoverbike does legitimately hover for short periods of time. Furze also made a few behind-the-scenes videos detailing how he built the hoverbike, but you probably shouldn't build one yourself — few things are worse than having your family explain how you "died doing something they saw on YouTube."

    Formula E is Getting Electric Trucks From the Creator of Roborace

    As reported by EngadgetElectric truck firm Charge will supply Formula E with several electric trucks, it revealed at last weekend's race in Paris. The trucks will help shuttle equipment around the track. Interestingly, the CEO of Charge is also the CEO of Roborace, a forthcoming driverless racing series. (Curiously enough, Denis Sverdlov is also the CEO behind YotaPhone -- but back to the trucks.) 

    According to The Verge report, investment firm Kinetik has pumped $500 million dollars into Charge -- a firm also run by Sverdlov. While the trucks use some fuel to extend how far they can run on a single charge, the EVs will help to keep with the spirit behind the scenes of the electric-powered races.

    With Sverdlov so heavily involved in several different companies, it seems likely that the Roborace cars could be manufactured at Charge's headquarters in Oxfordshire. At the very least, the two could share some basic technologies. There, the company reportedly has more than 50 automotive and software engineers on staff. It's also conveniently located in what's known as the "Oxford triangle," an area where a number of Formula One team factories are found.

    NASA, FAA Complete Most Complex Drone Traffic Management Test to Date

    As reported by Tech TimesNASA successfully flew 22 drones during a simultaneous testing at FAA test sites across the country.

    The demonstration, which is the first and largest ever launched, is meant to assess NASA's Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) research platform used in rural operations.
    "After so much preparation and practice, it was very rewarding to see all test sites have success with weather, platforms and connectivity," said Director of Operations at NUAIR Tony Basile and manager at New York test site."
    The three-hour test involved a total of 24 drones, of which 22 were flying simultaneously at one point. NASA's UTM research platform checked for conflicts during the flight, gave approval or rejections to flight plans and delivered notifications on constraints to the users. Likewise, engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center were tasked with operations and system load monitoring as well as qualitative feedback gathering in order to identify capability gaps to further refine the UTM research.
    The test also required hours of coordination and logistics to become successful. Weather conditions, such as strong winds and rain forecasts, also became a challenge since drones are not designed to fly in rain or high winds.
    Additionally, NASA Ames launched dozens of virtual aircraft within the same airspace, allowing an interesting mix of live flights and virtual flights that can provide more insight to future demonstrations.
    "We enjoyed working with the NASA UTM team to explore UAS air traffic management concepts through the UTM research platform," said Richard C. Kelley, chief engineer at the Nevada Advance Autonomous Systems Innovation Center.
    Kelley also lauded how the software's performance provided much-needed data and generated open questions that address creating a safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System.
    UTM research is still at a nascent stage. The recent testing involved its Technical Capability on the first level, which addressed UAS operations within line-of-site in the rural areas. This includes potentially using the operations for fire fighting, agriculture and power line monitoring.

    SpaceX Secures $82 Million Military Contract To Launch GPS Navigation Satellite

    As reported by TechTimesElon Musk makes history by breaking a military contract monopoly now that SpaceX won one to launch a global positioning system (GPS satellite).

    Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) has just received a fixed-price military contract worth $82.7 million for a GPS satellite to be brought to space through Falcon 9 sometime in May 2018. The costs will be used to build the rocket and certification for spaceflight, along with operations launch.
    "GPS 3 is the next generation of GPS satellites that will introduce new capabilities to meet the higher demands of both military and civilian users," read the air force's statement.
    The satellite will perform a variety of security-related functions including preventing jamming and improving the precision or accuracy of both navy and air force navigations.
    However, the awarding is currently overshadowed by what analysts call a break of the virtual monopoly by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which together have formed United Launch Alliance (ULA).
    ULA has basically been the leader of expandable launch systems including bringing national security satellites into space, with $70 billion worth of contracts until 2030. Although SpaceX has been in the aerospace business for about 14 years, it was primarily serving NASA. It was only in May 2015 when the air force certified for national security satellites.
    To be fair, ULA didn't try to secure such contact because of accounting system issues, although it could also be because at the time of the bidding, the United States had imposed restrictions on Russian-made engines called RD-180, which are used in some of the ULA's rockets. It's currently unclear whether or not ULA will participate in at least eight more possible launch contracts.
    Further, the government intends to conduct a "competitive" selection process to drive down launch costs. The objective fits well with the business model of SpaceX that desires to spend less on space travel and make it more affordable.
    "This GPS III Launch Services contract award [also] achieves a balance between mission success [and] meeting operational needs," said Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves, air force space's program executive officer.
    SpaceX is also planning to launch the first-ever Red Dragon mission to Mars by 2018 in preparation for possible human colonization in the planet.

    ISRO’s Seventh Satellite NAVIC Completes India's GPS-like Navigation System

    As reported by the Hindustan Times: India’s network of satellites providing a regional navigation system was complete with the successful launch of the IRNSS-1G at Sriharikota on Thursday.
    This is the seventh satellite in the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) constellation which is designed to provide position information in the Indian region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi christened it NAVIC – Navigation with Indian Constellation after the launch.
    The IRNSS now rivals those of other countries, viz., the US’ Global Position System (GPS), the Russian Glonass, China’s BeiDou and Galileo of Europe.
    In principle, not much is different between these systems, but the US and Russian ones are more global given the higher number of satellites in orbit. The GPS has 31 satellites while 24 comprise the Glonass system.
    India has the least; the Chinese have about 20 satellites and Galileo has 10.
    So how does India’s NAVIC fare in comparison?
    With seven satellites in orbit, its primary focus is to provide information in the Indian region and 1500 kms around the mainland.
    Essentially, it’s the desi version of the GPS, said Dr TK Alex, former director of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) satellite center in Bengaluru, where all of India’s satellites are developed and tested.

    People watch the launch of the the IRNSS-1G from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on Thursday. Part of a regional navigation system, the satellite will provide information in the Indian region and 1500 kms around the mainland. (PTI Photo)

    The country, which has so far depended on the GPS, will be able to collect its own data and not rely on a foreign country.
    During the 1999 Kargil War, India could not access the GPS’ data pertaining to the region as the US administration denied permission.
    Dr Alex said that the Indian system provides two types of services – the Standard Positioning Services (SPS) which will be available to all users (civilians) and the Restricted Services (RS) which will be open to only authorised users such as defence and intelligence agencies.
    “Foreign countries like the US or Russia do not offer the Restricted Services to us when we need them. Having our own navigation service system is good for the country… We do not have to depend on other countries,” he said.

    Thursday, April 28, 2016

    Autonomous Driving Levels 0 to 5: Understanding the Differences

    As reported by Tech RepublicBetween the buzz over self-driving cars at CES 2016 and the Obama administration's announcement to invest almost $4 billion in autonomous vehicle research over the next 10 years, the race to create the best self-driving car has never been hotter.

    And, the rise of self-driving cars is going to have a major impact on businesses and professionals. Automated vehicles could replace corporate fleets for deliveries or transporting employees, for example. And workers could gain productive hours in the day by working instead of driving during daily commutes. It is also poised to completely change the car insurance industry by reducing accidents—a new report predicts that accidents will drop by 80% by 2040.
    But, what does "autonomous driving" really mean? In 2013, the US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defined five different levels of autonomous driving. And on January 15, the NHTSA updated their policy to reflect that "the widespread deployment of fully-autonomous vehicles is now feasible," According to the document, the NHTSA will provide "best-practice guidance to industry on establishing principles of safe operation for fully-autonomous vehicles"—in other words, vehicles at level 4—in the next six months.
    The NHTSA is "working to transform government for the 21st century, harnessing innovation and technology that will improve people's lives," according to a representative. "This is an area of rapid change, which requires the DOT and NHTSA to remain flexible and adaptable as new information and technologies emerge. Amid that rapid change, the North Star for DOT and NHTSA remains safety."
    Here's what you need to know about levels 0-5.
    Level 0: This one is pretty basic. The driver (human) controls it all: steering, brakes, throttle, power. It's what you've been doing all along.
    Level 1: This semi-autonomous level means that most functions are still controlled by a driver, but some (like braking) can be done automatically by the car.
    Level 2: In level 2, at least 2 functions are automated, like cruise control and lane-centering. It means that the "driver is disengaged from physically operating the vehicle by having his or her hands off the steering wheel AND foot off pedal at the same time." The driver must be still always be ready to take control of the vehicle, however. So, level 2 means two functions automated. Easy to remember, right?
    Level 3: Drivers are still necessary in level 3 cars, but are able to completely shift "safety-critical functions" to the vehicle, under certain traffic or environmental conditions. It means that the driver is still present, but is not required to monitor the situation in the same way it does for previous levels. Jim McBride, autonomous vehicles expert at Ford, said, "the biggest demarcation is between Levels 3 and 4." He's focused on getting Ford straight to Level 4, since Level 3, which involves transferring control from car to human, can often pose difficulties. "We're not going to ask the driver to instantaneously intervene—that's not a fair proposition."
    Level 4: This is what is meant by "fully autonomous." According to the DOT, level 4 vehicles are "designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip." It's what Tesla says will be available by 2018.
    *Level 5: It should be noted that some organizations, like the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), have their own charts that refer to "Level 5" vehicles. This refers to a fully-autonomous vehicle that does not have any option for human driving—no steering wheel or controls.
    Why it matters
    So why are the levels important? They serve as general guidelines for how technologically advanced a vehicle is. In terms of what consumers need to know, Thilo Koslowski, Vice President and Lead Automotive Analyst at Gartner Inc., thinks that ultimately, there are three stages that will be relevant: "automated, autonomous, and driverless." It's important to distinguish between "autonomous" and "driverless," he said: "driverless is a more advanced stage of autonomous."
    But while drivers themselves may be less concerned with the distinctions, they could be significant when it comes to issues like car insurance, which is expected to change radically in the era of self-driving cars.
    KPMG, a consulting firm, has issued a report on how the car insurance business will be affected, since the number of accidents are predicted to go down 80% by 2040. The different levels are important because they "change the risk profile of the car," according to KPMG expert Jerry Albright. "Insurance companies need to understand how these new capabilities affect driving risk." Joe Schneider, also with KPMG, put it this way: "It's like a baby, going from crawling to walking to running."
    Albright said, "The car becomes safer and safer as it moves towards fully-autonomous driving."

    Tuesday, April 26, 2016

    Tesla Will Install More Energy Storage with SolarCity in 2016 Than the USA Installed in 2015

    As reported by Electrek: It looks like Tesla is about to change the battery game – this time by installing more energy storage capacity in 2016 with SolarCity alone than all of the USA installed in 2015. In a recent filing with the SEC, it was found that Tesla foresees an almost 10X increase in sales to SolarCity for behind the meter storage.
    We recognized approximately $4.9 million in revenue from SolarCity during fiscal year 2015 for sales of energy storage products governed by this master supply agreement, and anticipate recognizing approximately $44.0 million in such revenues during fiscal year 2016.
    According to an analysis by GTM’s Ravi Manghan this revenue projection means Tesla expects to install approximately 116 MWh of behind the meter storage. In all of 2015, the United States installed about 76 MWh of behind the meter. Starting from a very low base, SolarCity and Tesla Energy doubled their battery installation volume last year. These were small installations at test locations for special customers, but that wall of ‘start up’ is already starting to fall.

    Of course, this number – 116 MWh – does not include the largest storage project on SolarCity’s horizon – Kauai Island’s coming 52 MWh system.  The State of Hawaii, in aiming for 100% renewable energy by 2045, has contracted with SolarCity to balance the two 12MW Solar Power plants with the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC).

    This is just the beginning. With Tesla CTO JB Straubel saying things like “I really love batteries. I might love batteries more than cars” – we should expect so much more in the future. A presentation by Straubel at the EIA Conference in July of 2015 outlined a vision for adding significant volumes of battery storage to the grid via EVs like the Tesla vehicles.

    By 2020 – there will be 70 GWh of Tesla battery storage on the road, and – as you can see in the slide below – Straubel expects there to be 10 GWh of controllable load in those cars. This means, instead of spinning up gas turbine power plants to balance out grid imbalances, the power companies will be able to tap into your car.
    Tesla Connected Fleet

    Battery storage, much like residential solar power, will offer private individuals the ability to control their energy future. I expect Tesla & SolarCity to release a highly integrated Solar Power + Powerwall + Tesla vehicle system for a residential home. It makes too much sense – and there is too much demand.

    Friday, April 22, 2016

    Convoys of Automated Trucks Set to Point Way to Driverless Cars

    Platooning: Two trucks follow a lead driver in a semiautonomous convoy from Stuttgart to Rotterdam.
    As reported by BloombergMichael Kropp typically spends his days behind the wheel of a big, freight-hauling truck, navigating the high-speed curves, offramps, and stop-and-go traffic typical of European highways. On a recent trip to Rotterdam, he was able to relax and take in the sights. Kropp was one of about 30 drivers participating in a test of a new automated driving technology called platooning, which links trucks via Wi-Fi, GPS, sensors, and cameras so they can travel semi-autonomously behind one another. The leading rig dictates speed and direction, while the rest automatically steer, accelerate, and brake in a closely spaced convoy. “It was a little eerie to hand over part of my role as driver,” says Kropp, a 55-year-old test driver for Daimler who piloted the second vehicle in the caravan. “But it was really comfortable, especially in heavy traffic or boring stretches of road.”
    Although driverless cars grab headlines, it may take decades before truly autonomous vehicles rule the road. In the meantime, semiautomated convoys can help manufacturers hone the technology while cutting emissions and fuel consumption, says Anders Kellström, who managed Volvo’s test run to Rotterdam. “Platooning is one of the first steps toward automated driving,” he says. “The technology is mature.”
    Drivers will still be needed—by law they’ll have to keep their hands on the wheel. But letting the rig do some of the work will result in less passing, quicker braking, and fuel savings of about 10 percent for the following trucks and a smaller gain for the lead vehicle, according to Daimler. And it will help reduce congestion. When a human is at the wheel, a truck in some countries must maintain a distance of about half a football field from the vehicle in front of it to stop safely in an emergency. With automation, that distance shrinks to about 50 feet. “Traffic on the whole will become calmer,” says Andreas Renschler, who heads the Scania and MAN truck brands for Volkswagen.
    Manufacturers expect platooning to start taking off in 2020. Most trucks made in the past decade have sensors that alert drivers when they wander out of a lane or get too close to the vehicle ahead of them, relying on cameras and radar similar to those found in high-end Mercedes-Benz and BMW sedans. Adding automated steering and braking wouldn’t be complicated, vehicle makers say. Lori Tavasszy, a logistics professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, says half the European fleet of big rigs—750,000 trucks—could be platoon-ready by 2025. “The technology for this is there,” says Erik Jonnaert, secretary general of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. “The bottleneck is regulation and how it can be deployed commercially so freight companies pick it up.”
    In Brussels, lawmakers are considering Europewide regulations for things such as the minimum legal distance between vehicles—164 feet in Germany, but simply “a safe distance” in the Netherlands—and adopting standard rules about dissolving platoons at busy highway junctions. On April 14 transport ministers, the European Commission, and industry representatives agreed to cooperate on connected and automated driving, focusing on traffic rules and making testing easier. Close cooperation “is needed if we want a wide-scale introduction of platooning,” says Harrie Schippers, who heads DAF Trucks, the European unit of Paccar, a manufacturer based near Seattle.
    In April’s dry run, six convoys of two or three trucks each—including Kropp’s—traveled to Rotterdam from Sweden, Germany, and Belgium. Three Scania trucks covered the longest distance, starting near Stockholm, crossing the 10-mile Oresund Bridge and tunnel to Denmark, heading south to Germany and then into the Netherlands. Each caravan in the test completed the journey as a unit, but manufacturers envision convoys forming on an ad hoc basis, with drivers following a leader for anywhere from a few exits to hundreds of miles as individual vehicles pull off to make deliveries or take alternate routes to their final destinations. Daimler says cars seeking to leave the highway can effectively nudge their way into a convoy: The truck behind recognizes the interloper and increases its distance accordingly, then closes the gap once the car exits. If a vehicle pulls out in front of the first truck, the lead driver hits the brakes and the followers begin to slow almost immediately.
    Even though the initiative started in Europe, the manufacturers say platooning may be even more relevant in places with wide-open roads such as Australia or the western U.S., where distances traveled are greater. “The event in Rotterdam really broke the ice,” says Odile Arbeit de Chalendar, an official of the Conference of European Directors of Roads, who helped set up the April test. “For the first time, we put platoons on the road, in real traffic, across borders, and long distance.”

    Tuesday, April 19, 2016

    Tesla Autopilot Saves Driver From Collision

    As reported by MashableTesla's Autopilot feature is often mentioned in the context of the vehicle driving itself, but it's actually much more of an assistance for the driver — and in certain situations, it can save you from an imminent crash.
    That's what happened to Model S driver Joshua Brown, whose car automatically moved out of the way of a truck that nearly collided with the Tesla. 
    Brown posted a YouTube video of the incident and described it. 
    "I was driving down the interstate and you can see the boom lift truck in question on the left side of the screen on a joining interstate road. Once the roads merged, the truck tried to get to the exit ramp on the right and never saw my Tesla. I actually wasn't watching that direction and Tessy (the name of my car) was on duty with autopilot engaged. I became aware of the danger when Tessy alerted me with the 'immediately take over' warning chime and the car swerving to the right to avoid the side collision," he wrote. 
    The video did not escape the attention of Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, who shared it on Twitter on Monday. 
    Ever the prolific tweeter, Musk recently focused on SpaceX's successful drone ship landing. We'd be surprised, though, if he doesn't soon reveal the current number of Tesla Model 3 pre-orders, which is now likely very near (or even past) 400,000. 

    Monday, April 18, 2016

    GPS 2.0 Outline Calls for Open Interfaces

    As reported by The RegisterThe group that created GPS wants it opened up so it's easier for people to compete on its individual components.

    Californian nonprofit The Aerospace Corporation also wants to address the weaknesses that have emerged in GPS in the decades since it was first created – things like jamming and resiliency – without compromising accuracy.

    Its so-called “Project Sextant” – outlined in detail in this document (PDF) obtained by Breaking Defense– also notes that while there are many alternative PNT (position, navigation and timing) proposals around, the vertically-integrated nature of GPS makes it hard to adopt them.

    For example, there are lots of potential sources of position information that could supplement GPS, for example if the satellite signal is degraded: the world's full of terrain maps, cell towers, Wi-Fi hotspots, individual smartphones, or inertial guidance systems.

    In the absence of APIs and interfaces that let this information be plugged into the GPS environment, what happens instead is that others (for example Google and Apple) take the GPS data and try to supplement it with (say) Wi-Fi base station locations.

    The paper proposes instead that the individual components of GPS (image below) could be decomposed to allow competing systems to slot into each layer of GPS 2.0.

    This would come from the creation of an “open source PNT”, which would “distribute PNT over many devices, technologies and phenomenology” (the latter referring to the phenomena that lies beneath timing, such as atomic clocks).

    Another piece of the GPS 2.0 proposal is to give users something analogous to the signal strength indicator they get for mobile signals. That way, the end user can tell (for example) whether a system is operating at degraded accuracy, or even in the presence of a suspected jammer.

    Project Sextant's authors say a new, independent body should be put in charge of evaluating and coordinating alternative PNTs for critical applications.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2016

    SpaceX is Planning to Reuse the Rocket it Just Landed on a Barge in the Ocean — Here’s Why That’s a Huge Deal

    As reported by Business Insider:On April 8, SpaceX made history, landing its Falcon 9 rocket on a lonely barge in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

    After three failed attempts, the landing marks SpaceX’s first successful attempt at guiding a 229-foot-tall rocket to a vertical landing on a floating target.
    Rockets like the Falcon 9 play an integral role in launching satellites into space and sending supplies to the International Space Station. But the rockets we use today cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make. And as of right now, these rockets have a very short shelf-life. After their brief moment in the sun, they're essentially sent to a great junkyard, never again to be seen.
    Now, private spaceflight companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are racing to design and build rockets that could be reused anywhere from 10 to 100 times.
    Last November, Blue Origin became the first company to successfully land a reusable rocket. But this rocket was much less powerful than SpaceX' Falcon 9, traveling slower and less high.
    While Blue Origin only plans to use suborbital rockets to carry tourists for very short periods of times, SpaceX uses its rockets to transport supplies to the International Space Station into low Earth orbit. The company celebrated its first safe return of a rocket to a site on land last December

    One small step for a Falcon 9 and one giant leap for the future of reusable rockets

    spacex landing padTech Insider
    Unlike the first Falcon 9 that SpaceX succesfully landed, the oceanfaring Falcon 9 is already being prepared for its second trip. CEO Elon Musk has announced that they expect to reuse the Falcon 9 from the barge landing within two months, making it the first orbital rocket to make a second venture into space.
    The plan to reuse rockets is far from perfect. And the news that SpaceX is planning on reusing this rocket — the first one it's successfully landed at sea — comes as a bit of a surprise. 
    In practice, withstanding the drastic temperature changes and the intense pressure and winds of the atmosphere would leave the rockets with a few scrapes and bruises. NASA’s Space Shuttle, which was also designed to be reusable, ended up being more trouble than it was worth, costing up to over a billion dollars per launch. The rocket would probably need to be refurbished before its next launch.
    But the Falcon 9 is much less complex than the Space Shuttle. Even with the cost of refurbishment, reusable rockets like the Falcon 9 would slash the toll of spaceflight significantly. And they could cut the time between launches from a few months to a few weeks. CEO Elon Musk has announced that they expect to reuse the Falcon 9 from the barge landing within two months.
    The landing of the Falcon 9 was an important milestone in rocket technology, signifying one small step for a Falcon 9 and one giant leap for the future of reusable rockets.