Shell and Airflow create Starship 18-wheeler to further shake up the segment

Shell and Airflow create Starship 18-wheeler to further shake up the segment

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We need to add another high-tech 18-wheeler entry to the growing list of players at the table: Shell collaborated with AirFlow Truck Company the truck you see above, dubbed Starship. The tractor-trailer combo isn’t the wildest rival in the bunch, but it features the best of current technology aided by a host of major and minor tweaks from stem to stern. Shell considers the the Class 8 Truck equivalent of the Project M T25 city car it worked on with legendary English designer Gordon Murray.

Starship’s tractor shell is entirely carbon fiber, from the hood to the side skirts shielding the drive axles. A six-cylinder diesel with 400 horsepower and 1,850 pound-feet of torque gets the load moving; the press release didn’t mention the brand, but it’s likely a Cummins ISX 15 motor. The engine and automated-manual transmission have been calibrated to run as low as 800 rpm, a fuel-saving tweak called “downspeeding.” The idea is that for every reduction of 100 rpm at a given road speed, a truck gets one-percent more fuel efficient. Active grille shutters in the nose do their part for a few more tenths in mpg, as do low-viscosity Shell lubricants and Shell synthetic base oils.

A 5,000-watt solar array on top of the trailer supplies power to a 48-volt battery system, robust enough to run the truck’s usual electrical load from lights to A/C to microwave. Eventually, AirFlow and Shell plan to fit the non-driven rear axle on the tractor with an electric motor, capturing regen during braking and providing a boost during acceleration and climbing hills.

Before that, Starship will go on a public, coast-to-coast run to measure its efficiency. Fully loaded to 80,000 pounds, Starship will from run from California to Florida in May, hauling clean reef material for a new reef installation off the coast of The Sunshine State. A third party, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, will keep track of both fuel efficiency and freight ton efficiency — essentially miles per gallon times payload weight, a more effective way to gauge efficiency considering payload variables.

Starship joins the Tesla Semi, the Nikola One and Thor Trucks among the upstarts trying to overhaul an industry that Shell says “accounts for more than one quarter of the world’s total energy use and one-fifth of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.” With road transportation said to be responsible for 72 percent of those emissions, the quicker the industry overhaul, the better. No, the Starship isn’t zero-emissions like those other trucks, but if it can prove itself, it might offer solutions that can be quickly converted to the booming current truck fleet while we wait on the zero-emissions superstars.

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April 23, 2018 at 12:58PM

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Thermal Imaging Cameras Could Keep Self-Driving Cars Safe

Thermal Imaging Cameras Could Keep Self-Driving Cars Safe

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After Uber’s fatal self-driving crash last month in Tempe, Arizona, most observers had two basic question: Why did the car not see Elaine Herzberg crossing the street and stop before hitting her? And how can we stop this happening again, to someone else?

The ride-hailing company has indefinitely suspended its testing program, and is cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the crash. The NTSB hasn’t revealed any findings yet, but the lidar—the laser-shooting sensor that should have spotted Herzberg, even in the dark—is an obvious focus. Maybe it had a blind spot, or lacked the resolution to identify Herzberg as a pedestrian. Maybe the car’s software failed to translate those data points into a decision to slam on the brakes or swerve around her.

Whatever happened, the crash makes a life-and-death argument for anything that could make self-driving systems safer. Which is why a company called Flir has spotted a new market opportunity: equipping self-driving cars with heat-seeking cameras.

“Thermal cameras are really good at seeing the things you most don’t want to hit,” says Mike Walters, the head of product for the Oregon-based company. “Humans, of course.” Where conventional cameras look at visible light, Flir’s sensor focuses on the infrared bit of the spectrum. It can detect tiny differences in temperature—as little as 0.1 degrees Fahrenheit—so something like the cold metal of a bicycle stands out, even on a chilly night. It can do it from up to 240 meters away, a range that matches some of the most capable lidar sensors on the market. And, unlike lidar systems, these sensors don’t sweat fog or direct sunlight.

The temperature-sensitive sensors have popped up in all sorts of places: putting the heat-seeking in heat-seeking missiles, detecting corroded fuses in electronics, spotting people in burning buildings. Flir’s not the only company working to make thermal imaging cameras more robust. “We made it to have the durability of automotive, the battery consumption so I can clip it onto a phone, the shock resistance calibration so it can go on a gun scope, the heat so it can deal with things like fire,” says Tim LeBeau, who oversees corporate strategy for Seek Thermal, a Santa Barbara-based Flir competitor. So putting the things in cars, even with their bumpy outdoor lifestyle, doesn’t seem too tough.

Flir has been applying machine learning techniques to infrared readouts, helping the computer learn to identify things like pedestrians and cyclists.

FLIR

Indeed, Flir has already put its cameras into half a million cars in the past decade, on models like the BMW 7 Series. In the dark, when animals or people might be hard to spot, drivers would see a bright white human- or deer- or whatever-shaped blog appear on the dashboard screen.

The next logical step—the one Flir has already started to take—is teaching the car’s computer to pick out those obstacles. The company has been applying machine learning techniques to infrared readouts, helping the computer learn to identify things like pedestrians and cyclists, just as others do with conventional camera data. Flir hopes to produce a system that can use thermal imaging to automatically spot problems up ahead, alerting the driver or even applying the brakes as needed.

From that kind of driver assistance feature, it’s easy to imagine a thermal image sensor for a fully self-driving vehicle. It wouldn’t replace today’s radars, cameras, and lidars, but complement them—one more way to spot things that need spotting.

“A key benefit of thermal imagers are their complementary nature,” says Karl Iagnemma, CEO of Nutonomy, a Boston-based self-driving car company acquired by automotive supplier Delphi last year. “They can perform in dark environments and during harsh weather conditions.”

The heat-sensitive cameras are not, of course, perfect. First, they’re expensive. Seek Thermal’s cameras, for example, cost around $2,500 a piece, though it’s working to drop the price to about $1,000. That’s a ton of money compared to regular cameras (that’s why you’ll find this kind of thing in a BMW 7 Series and not a Nissan Sentra), though it’s still a chunk cheaper than lidar.

Plus, Iagnemma notes that their resolution isn’t as good as that of a conventional camera. And the infrared waves they look for don’t penetrate glass, so if the pope rolls by in his bullet-proof enclosure, no thermal camera would be able to spot him. But hey, that’s what regular cameras (and the Swiss Guards) are for.


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April 21, 2018 at 06:18AM

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Augmented Reality Is Transforming Museums

Augmented Reality Is Transforming Museums

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New York’s Museum of Modern Art is under siege. Well, a virtual siege, at least. A group of renegade artists has co-opted the brightly-lit Jackson Pollock gallery on the museum’s fifth floor, turning it into their personal augmented reality playground.

To the uninitiated, the gallery remains unchanged; Pollock’s distinctive drip paintings are as prominent and pristine as ever. But to those that have downloaded the MoMAR Gallery app on their smartphones, the impressionist’s iconic paintings are merely markers—points of reference telling the app where to display the guerilla artists’ works. Viewed through the app, Pollock’s paintings are either remixed beyond recognition or entirely replaced. One artist has framed a Pollock painting in an interactive illustration of a smartphone running Instagram, allowing viewers to “heart” the work over and over again. Another has overwritten Pollack’s imagery with an artistic interpretation of the many conspiracy theories peddled by Q, a mainstay of the far-right on 4chan. Together, the eight works form a virtual exhibition dubbed “Hello, we’re from the internet,” which uses AR to challenge MoMA’s gatekeepers and museum curators at large.

“When you think that art defines our cultural values, you also have to accept that those values are defined by a certain part of society—call it the elite,” says Damjan Pita, who, along with David Lobser, is the brains behind MoMAR.

MoMA, for its part, has stayed quiet about the app, and did not respond to a request for comment on this story. But the movement is about to go global: Lobser and Pita have heard from artists in Los Angeles, China, Germany, and Serbia, all hoping to use MoMAR’s open-source software to enact virtual takeovers of major museums in their own cities. Meanwhile, in recent months, art enthusiasts in Boston have used AR to “return” stolen artworks to their frames without the holding institution’s cooperation, and, in a particularly meta twist, an artist virtually vandalized a virtual work of art. The potential AR has to shake up the art world is slowly taking shape—and right now, it’s a lawless free-for-all.

Museums have long dealt with unauthorized augmentations of their exhibitions, such as unofficial tours, but technology has opened up new possibilities for activists and art enthusiasts eager to have a part in shaping the museum-going experience. Back in 1991, a project called “Masterpieces Without the Director” distributed cassette tapes on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, offering an alternative audio guide to the one provided by the Met itself and, as one of its creators told the New York Times at the time, “democratiz[ing] the viewing process.” Even MoMA itself is no stranger to AR interlopers: In 2010, artists Sander Veenhof and Mark Skwarek took over multiple floors of the museum, scattering virtual works throughout its various galleries and inviting visitors to spot them through their then-clunky smartphones. But with tools like Apple’s AR kit and Google’s ARCore have made it easier than ever for developers to build and distribute AR apps, and that newfound accessibility is raising a host of new questions for the art world. Who owns virtual space, and what recourse does a museum have if an outside party “trespasses” on its virtual space? Moreover, is it even in a museum’s best interest to retaliate against unauthorized virtual augmentations—or should they be embraced as a new, if uninvited, tool for visitor engagement?

Some projects, like MoMAR, are explicitly antagonistic to the institutions whose works they’re augmenting. But others fall into more of a grey area that comes from a lack of any precedent for how museums should handle these sorts of virtual intrusions. The latter was the experience of Cuseum, a Boston-based startup that helps museums use technology to boost visitor engagement. Last month, Brendan Ciecko and Dan Sullivan, respectively the startup’s CEO and head of partnerships and growth, used AR Kit to enhance a museum that they had long loved: the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, a staple of the Boston arts scene. That museum is renowned in part because of what isn’t on display: In 1990, thieves stole 13 works of art valued at $500 million, and to date, the orchestrators of the heist have not been caught. Cuseum had been experimenting with AR for a while, helping the Perez Art Museum Miami launch its first-ever AR exhibition last winter, and in early 2018 when Apple released an AR Kit update that made it easier to work with vertical surfaces, Ciecko and Sullivan were inspired. They could use AR, they thought, to “restore” the missing paintings to their frames.

It just so happened that AR Kit’s new vertical capabilities coincided nearly perfectly with the 28th anniversary of the infamous heist. And so Ciecko and Sullivan scrambled to put together a functional app that would virtually return the stolen works by March 18. They spent hours in the gallery, and, on the weekend of the heist’s anniversary, they published a website featuring previews of the app and detailing how they went about “hacking the heist.”

Local press picked up the story, and by all accounts, the experiment was a grand success. But soon after the anniversary, Cuseum received what Ciecko describes as a “a very surprised inquiry from an individual at the museum that was not very happy about this.” Cuseum had informed the Isabella Stewart Gardner about its plans, and had hoped to work on the project cooperatively; Ciecko and Sullivan had even been given a soft green light by a museum staffer who stopped them in the gallery one day to ask what they were doing, before telling them that they weren’t breaking any rules. But the museum’s less-than-enthusiastic response to the project stopped Ciecko and Sullivan in its tracks. They’d hoped to release Hacking the Heist as an app available for public download. But they didn’t want to burn any bridges. And so, for now, the project is on hold.

Some projects are explicitly antagonistic to the institutions whose works they’re augmenting. But others fall into more of a grey area that comes from a lack of any precedent for how museums should handle these sorts of virtual intrusions.

Ciecko says now he gets a dozen emails a day from people eager to use the app; one person emailed to say that he and his wife met at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and were flying to Boston to celebrate, and wanted to see the stolen works. “I had to write back, ‘I’m so sorry, it’s not available to the public, but congrats on your anniversary,” Ciecko says. “It’s a weird place to be, between people being really excited about something and folks on the other side not being as excited. What’s the diplomatic thing to do?” A spokesperson for the museum says that though the Gardner was not involved in Cuseum’s project “the concept of using AR to see something that you can’t actually see while you are visiting the museum (like the stolen works) is something we have been discussing.”

Ciecko and Sullivan may have been crossing their own moral boundary by releasing Hacking the Heist to the public—but they wouldn’t have been breaking any laws, even though they didn’t have the museum’s cooperation. The works are in the public domain, and as long as the app didn’t purport to be sponsored by the museum, Cuseum would have been in the legal clear. MoMAR, too, doesn’t appear to be breaking any laws: As an explicit commentary on museums’ institutional power, it falls pretty squarely under fair use. But the law around AR and art is fuzzy, at best.

“At the moment, there’s no such thing as a recognized right to control the space or virtual augmentations of your work,” says Alexia Bedat, an attorney specializing in AR and VR.

“Virtual trespassing” is a new, ill-defined concept, though ongoing class action against Pokémon Go could begin to clarify the legal limits of augmentation—that is, whether it’s legal for someone to place a virtual object on private property. The litigation around Pokémon Go has also brought up the idea that, even if the AR itself doesn’t constitute trespassing, it could prompt users of the app to trespass and cause a nuisance to the unwitting hosts of AR Charmanders and Squirtles. So far, none of the AR intrusions in museums have summoned crowds that could be deemed a “nuisance,” though MoMAR’s gallery opening, hosted on a Friday afternoon (when MoMA offers free admission), did attract some 50 visitors to crowd inside a typically modestly occupied gallery.

Traditionally, the museum experience was one-directional: Curators conceived of and executed an exhibit, which visitors then enjoyed. Now, that’s all starting to change.

Despite the current lack of of clear laws around what can and cannot be done to virtually augment art, museums aren’t entirely powerless. When visitors enter a museum, they agree to whatever rules that institution has set out—no photography, for instance, or no touching the paintings. Museums could begin to add “no AR apps” to their rules, or ban the use of phones outright—though doing so might seem like a step backwards, considering that many museums only recently began embracing smartphones as a way to engage their visitors. Artists, too, could begin negotiating more complex contracts with museums, spelling out what can and cannot be done to augment their works. The latter may become more common as museums follow in the Perez Art Museum Miami’s footsteps, experimenting with their own AR exhibitions. “There are a lot of interesting IP questions we have to navigate,” says Christina Boomer Vasquez, deputy director of marketing and public engagement at PAMM. “There’s also the issue of respecting the artists that are on view and the impact that [augmentation] would have on that artist and that work. [Augmentation] can alter the whole context and conversation of that artist’s work.”

But so far, the Isabella Stewart Gardner and MoMA have remained quiet about their AR interlopers; neither has tried to take legal action against the unauthorized augmentations. It’s a smart approach. React too quickly, or too defensively, and they might wind up doing themselves a disservice in the long run. AR—no matter the source—could be a great thing for museums, bringing in new visitors eager to experiment with the new technology. It could also pique younger visitors’ interest in older works. But it all comes down to a question of authority. Traditionally, the museum experience was one-directional: Curators conceived of and executed an exhibit, which visitors then enjoyed. Now, that’s all starting to change.

“Museums are obviously striving for relevance, because the world is increasingly splintered and competing at offerings, and a static object finds itself competing for our attention more and more,” says Maxwell Anderson, an art historian and former director at the Whitney, Dallas Art Museum, and other instutions. Exhibitions like the Museum of Ice Cream and the Rain Room at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art rely on interactivity and Instagram-friendliess to draw crowds—and AR is yet another play for engagement. That quest for relevance, Anderson posits, is what’s leading museums to both adopt and be co-opted by AR—and even unauthorized AR intrusions like MoMAR and Hacking the Heist can be a boon for institutions eager to avoid obsolescence.

“From my perspective, it’s not really worth fighting against it, because gravity is not working on our favor,” says Loic Tallon, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s digital chief. The Met doesn’t currently have any of its own AR projects underway; Tallon says that he doesn’t think most visitors feel that anything is missing from the museum as is, and he wants to be very purposeful in how the museum adopts new technology, lest it winds up doing so just for the sake of novelty. But the Met, too, has experienced AR invasions, such as one project that animated Van Gogh’s First Steps, after Millet, and Tallon welcomes those augmentations with open arms.

“The museum’s mission is to collect, preserve, and study works of art,” he says. “If someone is making an AR experience out of the collection, I see it as pure mission fulfillment.”

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April 23, 2018 at 11:03AM

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Netflix Apparently Wants to Buy Its Own Theaters, and That’s Honestly a Good Idea

Netflix Apparently Wants to Buy Its Own Theaters, and That’s Honestly a Good Idea

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Photo: cielodlp (Flickr), Illustration: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

Netflix wants to get into the movie theater business, according to a new report from The Los Angeles Times. Anonymous sources told the paper that the Los Gatos-based entertainment giant pursued a deal to buy the Mark Cuban-owned Landmark Theaters but ultimately backed out due to a high sale price. While it might sound wild that a company that got its start sending DVDs by mail now wants to sell popcorn and movie tickets, the idea actually makes a lot of sense.

Look at it this way: Last year, Netflix spent over $8 billion producing its own content—movies and TV shows that can only be watched on Netflix—but the fact that there are no theater runs for the feature films disqualifies Netflix from winning major awards like an Oscar. This is a big deal for Netflix, which said it would release 80 movies in 2018 alone, not only because Oscars are prestigious but also because prestige wins new customers. No awards might also discourage talented people from signing up for a Netflix flick, since they could be winning awards with other projects.

“We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos recently told Variety. “There’s a risk in us going in this way and having our films and filmmakers treated disrespectfully at the festival.”

That’s only part of the equation, though. Netflix is also leaving a lot of money on the table, when its films can’t be shown in theaters. The theater lockout isn’t just because Netflix is Netflix, either. Sarandos and his Netflix buds won’t budge on their idea that movies should be released on streaming services the same day they’re released in theaters. Theaters won’t agree to this, thus no Netflix movies in theaters. If Netflix owned its own theaters, however, the company could do a big theatrical release for those who love the big screen and a streaming release for lazy people who love convenience.

But wait, there’s more. Owning and operating movie theaters also means you can sell concessions—in some states, that includes food and alcohol—to movie-goers. Netflix could also woo its subscribers into the seats by offering discounts on tickets and food. That would also become an incentive for more people to pay for Netflix subscriptions.

If you’re thinking that no fool would pay money to see a movie they could watch at home through their Netflix subscription, you’re being closed-minded. Sometimes it’s just more fun to go to the theater, and oftentimes, watching movies on the big screen is a far superior experience than watching it on your flatscreen TV. Heck, Netflix could even offer binge-watching sessions and screen its very good shows. Have you ever seen Altered Carbon, a show that is one of the most expensive and visually stunning shows ever? That would look amazing in the theater!

No matter what happens, Netflix will be fine. The company pulled in $2.67 billion in revenue last year, including a $66 million profit. Maybe it will spend some of that cash on some brick-and-mortar theaters. Maybe Netflix will just keep making great content and not worry about awards. Or maybe we’ll all be watching movies through virtual reality headsets soon, and nothing will even matter.

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April 19, 2018 at 02:12PM

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ASUS made a sub-$200 smartphone to fight Xiaomi in India

ASUS made a sub-$200 smartphone to fight Xiaomi in India

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ASUS

Having surpassed the US to become the second largest smartphone market after China, India is now the latest battleground for some of the top mobile brands. According to Canalys, even Samsung lost its top position there to Xiaomi as of Q4 2017, followed by Vivo, Oppo and Lenovo. Meanwhile, ASUS is continuing its fight over there by announcing the ZenFone Max Pro (M1), an India-centric mid-ranger that’s priced competitively — even more so than Xiaomi’s recently launched Redmi Note 5 Pro. This also happens to be ASUS’ first stock Android device, which is partly why it’s able to be shipped with Android 8.1.

According to ASUS, pretty much everything about the ZenFone Max Pro was based on a survey — conducted by market research firm Ipsos — of over 2,000 Indian consumers. The result was a product that’s somewhat similar to the Redmi Note 5 Pro, but with slight advantage over certain specs. And ultimately, this ZenFone starts at 10,999 rupee (about $170; 3GB RAM plus 32GB storage), thus undercutting the Redmi’s 13,999 rupee base price (about $210; 4GB + 64GB). The ZenFone also offers a 4GB RAM plus 64GB storage configuration, but at 12,999 rupee (about $200) it’s still slightly cheaper. It’s clear that ASUS is really trying to put up a good fight here.

Both devices feature a 6-inch 2,160 x 1,080 IPS LCD, a nice mid-range Snapdragon 636 processor plus a rear fingerprint reader (face unlock is available, too), but the ZenFone Max Pro’s display has a higher 450-nit brightness plus a higher 1500:1 contrast ratio. Other goodies include a larger 5,000 mAh battery, a dedicated microSD card slot alongside dual SIM slots, a supposedly louder speaker and a newer version of Android (the Redmi Note 5 Pro comes with Android 7.1 customized by Xiaomi’s MIUI 9). All of this while managing the same 180 gram weight, but with a gentle bump to 8.46mm on its thickness.

Photography-wise, the ZenFone Max Pro has a 13MP + 5MP pairing for the bokeh-enabled main camera, and on the other side there’s an 8MP front camera plus an LED flash for easier selfies. While the main camera has a slightly higher resolution than its Redmi counterpart, its selfie camera is much weaker than the Redmi’s 20MP offering. Obviously, it’s not always about quantity, so we shall see when the comparison tests come out.

The good news for some of us outside of India is that the ZenFone Max Pro will likely make it to other markets, albeit with slightly different specs. For now, this phone will be launched in Indonesia via Lazada on April 25th, followed by India’s Flipkart on May 3rd. This may not immediately put a dent on Xiaomi’s marketshare in these regions, but we won’t be surprised if it decides to throw a big flash sale around the same time just to bite back.

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April 23, 2018 at 05:24AM

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Why Apollo Flew in a Figure 8

Why Apollo Flew in a Figure 8

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If you’ve ever looked at a schematic for an Apollo flight like the one on the left, you’ll notice right away that it traces out a figure 8, which leads many to wonder why? Surely it’s easier to go in a straight line, right? Turns out, it was the safest way to travel.
There are a few things at play here that come together to make it a figure 8, so let’s start with a quick video explainer that has some visuals that will help. And then we can jump into the mission in more detail starting from a

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April 21, 2018 at 03:51PM

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Facebook removes 1.5 billion users from protection of EU privacy law

Facebook removes 1.5 billion users from protection of EU privacy law

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Mark Zuckerberg in 2017.

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April 20, 2018 at 06:50AM

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