********** USA POLITICS **********
return to top
Understanding the Silicon Valley Bank Run
Fri, 17 Mar 2023 10:00:18 +0000
Damon Silvers, deputy chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the 2008 bank bailout, explains how deregulation paved the way for SVB’s collapse.
The post Understanding the Silicon Valley Bank Run appeared first on The Intercept.
With migrant deaths at record highs, researchers say intensified border militarization is making a deadly problem much worse.
The post Mapping Project Reveals Locations of U.S. Border Surveillance Towers appeared first on The Intercept.
Most threats are directed at law enforcement and government officials, report says, after ex-president urged supporters to protest
Lindsey Graham is one of Donald Trump’s allies in the Senate, so it was little surprise that he predicted dire consequences if the former president is indicted, CNN reports:
He also criticized Florida governor and Trump’s chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination next year Ron DeSantis for his comments yesterday about the potential charges. “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I just, I can’t speak to that,” DeSantis said.Continue reading...
Gov. Greg Abbott’s budget cuts led to the release of a man who went on to be accused in the killings.
The post Top Cop Scapegoats Reform DA for Double Murder in Austin appeared first on The Intercept.
Former prime minister says he believes evidence shows he did not recklessly mislead parliament over Partygate
Boris Johnson claims there is no document showing that he was given “any warning or advice” than any No 10 event may have broken Covid rules. He says:
It is clear from that investigation that there is no evidence at all that supports an allegation that I intentionally or recklessly misled the house. The only exception is the assertions of the discredited Dominic Cummings, which are not supported by any documentation.
There is not a single document that indicates that I received any warning or advice that any event broke or may have broken the rules or guidance. In fact, the evidence before the committee demonstrates that those working at No 10 at the time shared my honest belief that the rules and guidance were being followed.
I accept that the House of Commons was misled by my statements that the rules and guidance had been followed completely at No 10. But when the statements were made, they were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time.Continue reading...
Verdict by hardline Tory MPs follows decision by DUP to also oppose Windsor framework
Rishi Sunak is set to push his revamped Northern Ireland protocol through the Commons despite hardline Conservative Brexiters rejecting the plan as an unacceptable failure that does not deliver any of its stated claims.
The verdict of the European Research Group (ERG), which followed a similar rejection by the Democratic Unionist party on Monday, means Sunak is likely to face a Tory rebellion over the revised post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland on Wednesday, although it appears unlikely to be significant.Continue reading...
The officially sanctioned conspiracy theory that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 set a dangerous precedent.
The post Bush’s Iraq War Lies Created a Blueprint for Donald Trump appeared first on The Intercept.
Queensland premier following ‘closely’ after Victoria and Tasmania move to ban public Nazi salutes. Follow the day’s news live
The referendum machinery legislation will set up how the voice referendum will run – the machinery surruounding the vote, if you will.
We’re negotiating in good faith in the Senate that’s being led by Jane Hume who is doing an outstanding job. What we said to the government in the beginning is what we’re saying to them now and that is that we are not prepared to trash decades of referendum precedent, and not do this in a way that Australians expect us to, in their interests, for their information.
We’re asking for a pamphlet to outline the yes and no case, and we’ve talked about that. We’re asking for equal funding of the yes or no case, not the millions of dollars that may go into a public campaign on either side of this debate, but just the administration funding.
Fifty-seven per cent of the population does not want to open new coal and gas mines and I think there’s a very clear message coming through there. Secondly, no, I have got a lot of time for Jacqui Lambie, but we had an emissions trading scheme in this country and she was part of a party that voted to repeal it so let’s let’s not get too carried away with the spin here.
We’re in a climate crisis, as the UN secretary general has made clear. The decisions that we make now will reverberate for generations to come and the big decisions that we’ve got to make, do we open new coal and gas mines or not?Continue reading...
NSW premier says he wasn’t looking for special treatment and doesn’t know if the commissioner personally ordered an ambulance
Premier Dominic Perrottet has denied he called health minister Brad Hazzard in order to receive a faster ambulance response for his sick wife.
Perrottet was grilled on Sky News over a call he made to Hazzard, who was with Ambulance Commissioner Dr Dominic Morgan which resulted in an ambulance being sent to his house.Continue reading...
Rainbow rights group says peaceful protesters were set upon outside a Catholic church in Belfield
A gay and LGBTI rights group says a group attacked peaceful protesters outside a Catholic church in south-west Sydney, where One Nation’s Mark Latham was giving a speech.
Community Action for Rainbow Rights said on Twitter that as they were protesting outside St Michael’s church hall in Belfield, a mob set upon the protesters.
Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundupContinue reading...
The voting machine company is suing the news channel over its disingenuous coverage of various outlandish election claims
Lawyers for Fox News and the voting equipment company Dominion faced off in a Delaware courtroom on Tuesday in the latest phase of Dominion’s closely watched $1.6bn defamation suit against the media company for spreading election lies.
Both sides offered dueling narratives of Fox’s liability for spreading false information. The network presented outlandish claims about Dominion while knowing it was false, lawyers for Dominion said. Fox’s lawyers, by contrast, said that the network was merely airing newsworthy claims by the former president that any reasonable viewer would have understood to be allegations. The judge overseeing the case unexpectedly extended the hearing to Wednesday to give both sides more time to make their case.Continue reading...
President Macron’s decision to force through his pension reforms without a vote damages French democracy
A few months before sweeping to power in the 2017 presidential election, Emmanuel Macron published a memoir-cum-personal manifesto, Revolution. In it, he made the case for rebellion against allegedly outmoded institutions and ideas that were holding back France. Six years on, it is the popular revolts against Mr Macron’s own policies which have taken centre-stage.
Recent months have seen some of the largest protests in the history of the Fifth Republic, as Mr Macron has sought to push through a deeply unpopular plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. On Monday, his government survived a related parliamentary motion of no confidence by the skin of its teeth. This followed the president’s controversial – though constitutional – decision to use executive powers to get his way, bypassing a vote in the national assembly that he thought he might lose.Continue reading...
Defence industry minister Pat Conroy admits ‘scope’ for extra costs and that local shipbuilder ASC may not win contract for British-designed boats
Australian taxpayers may end up spending more than the $3bn initially announced to boost the submarine industrial capacity of the US and the UK under the Aukus deal, a minister has revealed.
The minister for defence industry, Pat Conroy, confirmed there was “scope for additional funding” beyond the first four-year budget period, with the exact amount to depend on negotiations with the two countries.
Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundupContinue reading...
Timing is controversial given actions of Israel’s far-right government towards settlements and judiciary
The UK and Israel have signed a long-term agreement strengthening ties in the fields of defence, security and technology following plans announced last year to put relations between the two countries on an elevated footing.
The timing of Tuesday’s agreement is controversial since it will be seen as a mark of approval for Israel’s far-right government, which has put settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank at the top of its agenda and faces a massive backlash over plans to neuter the role of the judiciary.Continue reading...
At a U.S. base in Syria, some attacks get press while others stay hidden.
The post The Pentagon’s Obsession With Secrecy Protected a Marine Accused of Sexual Assault appeared first on The Intercept.
The U.S. has a long and disturbing habit of ignoring the violence it commits overseas as well as at home.
The post Americans Don’t Care About the Iraqi Dead. They Don’t Even Care About Their Own. appeared first on The Intercept.
The shadow of U.S. war crimes in Iraq hangs over the Pentagon's refusal to support probes into Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
The post Biden Administration Splits on Prosecuting Russia for War Crimes in Ukraine appeared first on The Intercept.
“Miraculously, they still believe in the U.S. justice system and still want to tell their story to a U.S. jury.”
The post Iraqis Tortured by the U.S. in Abu Ghraib Never Got Justice appeared first on The Intercept.
Nearly 90% of the multibillion-dollar federal lobbying apparatus in the United States serves corporate interests. In some cases, the objective of that money is obvious. Google pours millions into lobbying on bills related to antitrust regulation. Big energy companies expect action whenever there is a move to end drilling leases for federal lands, in exchange for the tens of millions they contribute to congressional reelection campaigns.
But lobbying strategies are not always so blunt, and the interests involved are not always so obvious. Consider, for example, a 2013 ...
Falling life expectancy and fears of voter unhappiness thought to be behind rethink about increase to 68 late next decade
Ministers have reportedly delayed plans to bring forward a rise in the state pension age amid falling life expectancy in the UK.
The state pension age, which is currently 66, was due to rise to 68 after 2044 but reports earlier this year suggested ministers had planned to bring the increase forward to between 2037 and 2039.Continue reading...
But SNP candidate adds that if Scotland were independent, ‘a foreign government’ could not ‘veto our legislation’
The Scottish National party leadership candidate Humza Yousaf has appeared to backtrack on his plans to take the UK government to court over Nicola Sturgeon’s self-identification plans, claiming he would need to scrutinise Scottish legal advice.
The frontrunner tipped to replace Sturgeon had previously insisted he would fight the UK government in court over its blocking of the gender recognition reform bill.Continue reading...
Mayor turns on display made up of 30,000 sustainable lights on eve of Muslim month of fasting
Sadiq Khan has switched on the London’s first ever celebratory Ramadan lights, in Piccadilly Circus.
It is the first time a European city has seen such a grand display for the festival, with the installation featuring 30,000 sustainable lights.Continue reading...
Tsai Ing-wen will visit allies Guatemala and Belize after Honduras said last week it would establish ‘official relations’ with China
Taiwan’s president will visit diplomatic allies Guatemala and Belize next week while also making stopovers in the United States, as it aims to shore up ties in Latin America.
Tsai Ing-wen will depart Taiwan on 29 March for the 10-day trip, stopping in New York and Los Angeles while en route to and from the Central American countries, the island’s ministry said on Tuesday.Continue reading...
Strike joined by teachers over better wages and increased staffing closes nation’s second-largest school system
Tens of thousands of workers in the Los Angeles unified school district, accompanied by teachers, walked off the job on Tuesday over stalled contract talks for higher pay and better working conditions, shutting down the nation’s second-largest school system.
The strike, which is expected to last three days, upended the lives of more than 500,000 students and their families from schools in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, as bus drivers, cafeteria workers and teachers demanded more support at a time when educators in the city and elsewhere are struggling to afford to live where they work.Continue reading...
Pair of Eurasian beavers to be introduced at site in Ealing, the first of its kind in an urban setting in UK
Beavers will return to west London for the first time in 400 years after receiving funding from the capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan.
A breeding pair of Eurasian beavers could arrive at their new home in Paradise Fields, Ealing, as soon as this autumn.Continue reading...
Metropolitan police commissioner says ‘institutional’ label is confusing and political as fallout from Casey report continues
Sadiq Khan has publicly clashed with the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, saying he disagrees with Sir Mark Rowley’s refusal to describe his force as institutionally misogynistic, racist and homophobic.
The mayor of London, one of two people who appointed Rowley, spoke as the fallout from Louise Casey’s bombshell report into Scotland Yard continued.Continue reading...
Former PM to argue he did not intend to mislead MPs, at hearing that could lead to suspension from parliament
Boris Johnson faces a battle for his political future on Wednesday after a dossier setting out his defence to the Partygate scandal raised fresh questions about his knowledge of what was happening in Downing Street during the Covid lockdowns.
Giving evidence before the cross-party privileges committee, Johnson will insist he misled the House of Commons unintentionally and that his assurances to MPs that Covid rules had been followed had been made in “good faith”.Continue reading...
When the dust finally clears on Boris’s parties, his lawyer won’t be looking back on this as his finest hour
Just call me Mystic Meg. Why get Lord Pannick, one of the most expensive barristers in the country, to help with your defence when you can have me instead? I’m a lot cheaper for a start. And have far fewer typos in my copy. With me, the privileges committee would have been able to publish Boris Johnson’s Dodgy Dossier on Monday evening. There again, Guardian readers got to read it then anyway.
Mid-morning on Tuesday the Dodgy Dossier was finally released. And it was uncannily similar to the sketch I had written the day before. It just goes to show yet again that you can never go far wrong by thinking the worst of Boris. It also proves that even a £5,000 an hour brief can’t work miracles with duff material. When the dust finally clears on Boris’s parties, Pannick won’t be looking back on his involvement with the Convict as his finest hour. Still. As a brief, you win some, you lose some. And it was the taxpayer who was picking up the tab.Continue reading...
Russian leader reacts to comments by UK defence minister that Britain will supply armour-piercing rounds to Kyiv
Vladimir Putin has sought to exploit a British statement that it would supply Ukraine with tank shells made with depleted uranium, arguing that the delivery of the armour-piercing weapons would prompt a Russian response.
The Russian leader’s comments, made during the visit to Moscow by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, came in response to a parliamentary answer given by a junior British defence minister in the House of Lords on Monday.Continue reading...
Analysis: Tragic story struck a chord with other headteachers increasingly disillusioned with grading regime
Last week, the head of Ofsted and chief inspector of schools in England, took to Twitter. “The ad for my successor is out,” Amanda Spielman wrote. “I’ll be leaving this amazing job at the end of 2023, and if you think you have the experience, the energy and the commitment it needs, and want to work with our fantastic staff, apply here.”
Seven days later, the organisation she has led for six years has found itself at the centre of a public outcry. A headteacher has killed herself, according to her family, after an Ofsted inspection downgraded her school from “outstanding” to “inadequate”.Continue reading...
The focus must be on retaining existing staff and reducing private sector work, writes consultant haematologist John Hanley. Plus letters from Robin Davies, Jo Pike and Orest Mulka
A senior NHS official once told me that “workforce planning in the NHS is like astrology, but nowhere near as reliable”. Now that there is an emerging political consensus that the long-term solution to the NHS workforce crisis will require a better approach to planning, I am more optimistic about the future.
In the short term, the focus has to be on the retention of existing staff. The budget changes on pension rules may help, but the drain of NHS staff to other countries and the private sector is likely to continue unless action is taken. Your article (NHS doctors offered up to £5,000 to recruit colleagues for private hospitals, 17 March) highlights the threat from the private sector, which has long been subsidised by access to staff trained by the NHS at taxpayers’ expense.Continue reading...
Rishi Sunak’s attitude ‘much more responsible’ than that of Boris Johnson, says former EU negotiator
The EU’s former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has praised the agreement on Northern Ireland between the union and the British government as a positive step that turns a page in relations between the two sides.
In an interview with the Guardian, the veteran French politician said the Windsor framework agreement signed by Rishi Sunak and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, last month, “operationalised” the Northern Ireland protocol he had negotiated with the British government in 2019. “There was a spirit of goodwill for the first time in three years, to find solutions that are concrete, operational and realistic.”Continue reading...
Far-right rhetoric and tactics are being imported wholesale from the UK into Ireland. The effects on Irish politics are yet to be seen
After years of bucking the European trend, an organised anti-refugee backlash has finally hit Ireland. Recent protests involved threats to burn down a hotel housing refugees and, in a separate incident, there was a vigilante attack on a homeless migrant camp. These ugly scenes followed months of protests led by the far right and simmering community tensions over the provision of local accommodation to refugees. But where has this come from?
Not previously high on the agenda of voters more concerned with a crumbling, two-tier healthcare system and a chronic housing crisis, a recent poll found that a small majority (56%) of Irish respondents believe the country has accepted too many refugees over the past year.
Colin Gannon is an Irish journalist based in London
Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 300 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at email@example.comContinue reading...
Head of Resolution Foundation says other measures to retain NHS staff could have offered better value for money
Jeremy Hunt’s pensions tax break for the highest 1% of savers in Britain stands to benefit almost as many bankers as doctors, an economist has said, as the government insisted the budget giveaway was designed to cut NHS waiting lists.
On a day of renewed pressure over the £1bn giveaway, Rishi Sunak argued that scrapping the tax-free lifetime allowance on pensions would encourage more doctors to stay in employment rather than taking retirement.Continue reading...
The Booker winner has teamed up with Scottish colourist Rosemary Clunie – to follow in the footsteps of word-and-picture masters Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jenny Holzer
To be an artist in the Lagos of my youth, you had to be multi-disciplinary. Under this democratic artistic spirit, I learned to paint. I did it secretly. At the same time, I was learning to write. Then one day, when it rained, I decided to find out what I wanted to do with my life. It was between art and literature. I put it to the test. I drew what was on the mantlepiece. Then I wrote a poem about the rain. The poem came easily, but I had to work for the drawing. I took the path of literature. Then, about seven years ago, I began painting again.
By then I had already begun collaborating with Rosemary Clunie, the Scottish painter and my long-time friend. In five years, I wrote 25 stories from inside her paintings. The paintings and stories were brought together into a book called The Magic Lamp. We decided to take our collaboration further. It is rare to find someone with whom one can truly collaborate. We began in earnest in 2017. We painted canvases together. She is a wonderful colourist. I would add marks, symbols, abstract shapes, and texts. Sometimes I contributed Nsibidis, the second oldest alphabet system in Africa after hieroglyphics.Continue reading...
The former PM is wheeling out the old clown act to rebuff the Partygate allegations. Let’s hope it’s for the last time
One last heave – in all senses of the word – for Boris Johnson, Britain’s worst ex, who tomorrow flops himself out in front of the privileges committee and asks it to consider an auto-satirical question: did the foremost British liar of the age tell a lie? If you want a sense of our self-respect as a nation, an entire parliamentary investigation has spent 10 months gathering evidence on that question, while £220,000 and rising has been spent by the taxpayer on Johnson’s legal defence. It is, let’s face it, a long way to go to reach the conclusion, “Lol of course he told a lie – it’s BORIS JOHNSON?!?!?!?!?”
Strip away the incidental details of this latest adventure in a career of turbo-fibbing and you are faced with a reality as old as bullshit itself. Johnson, who last told the truth during the Reagan administration – and then only accidentally – has somehow got the government to fund state-of-the-art lawyers to prove he wasn’t aware of parties happening in his own house, attended by his own self, against his own rules, and in at least one case against his own laws, having gone on telly every single night to tell people that compliance to the letter of said rules and laws was a matter of life and death. Please bear this in mind if you tune in to his appearance tomorrow afternoon, along with the question: does our country have a path to dignity? Because this ain’t it.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnistContinue reading...
Ally’s criticism will be hard to dismiss as UK tries to push through £120m migrant scheme
Britain’s closest ally, the US, has criticised Rwanda’s dire human rights record, describing conditions in the country’s detention centres as harsh to life-threatening.
The British home secretary, Suella Braverman, took a group of journalists on a trip last week to reveal details of her £120m scheme to send all migrants arriving in the UK through irregular means to Rwanda whether they claim asylum or not. The legality of the scheme is due to be tested shortly in the UK court of appeal.Continue reading...
The countless victims of the Metropolitan police’s grotesque failures need radical reform unimaginable to this broken force
Say her name, not his. It is such a small thing, an almost helpless gesture in the face of horrors. But Louise Casey’s decision not to name the killer of Sarah Everard, or the fellow officer recently unmasked as a serial rapist, in her devastating account of what went so very wrong inside the Metropolitan police felt like a sign that finally, someone gets it. She understands that this is a story about two men getting their kicks from wielding power over terrified women, who could not have done so without the swaggering rank and status conferred by a police warrant card.
You almost certainly know their names by now. But in the opening pages of her report, they are reduced to faceless nonentities, while she focuses instead on a story of female courage; how hearing Everard’s bereaved mother, Susan, speak about her daughter’s killer prompted a woman she had never met to disclose that she had been raped and tortured by a second Met officer from the same unit, leading ultimately to his unmasking as a multiple sex offender. Finally, the victims take centre stage, as for decades in the Met they plainly have not.Continue reading...
In the summer of 2020, federal law enforcement launched a broad, and until now, secret strategy to infiltrate racial justice groups.
The post The FBI Used an Undercover Cop With Pink Hair to Spy on Activists and Manufacture Crimes appeared first on The Intercept.
Solicitor, 71, had been charged under national security law and was released to be treated for lung cancer
Hong Kong police have arrested a veteran pro-democracy politician who was out on bail for medical treatment after spending more than a year in detention on a subversion charge.
Albert Ho, 71, once led the city’s largest opposition group, the Democratic party, and runs his own law firm. Police handcuffed Ho and took him away from his home in a vehicle on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said.Continue reading...
Home secretary’s claims of ‘constructive’ talks regarding Strasbourg’s injunctions disputed by legal scholars
Legal experts have cast doubt on the UK’s claims of “possible reforms” to European court of human rights procedures that stopped an asylum seeker from being deported to Rwanda last year.
During a two-day visit to the country’s capital, Kigali, Suella Braverman told a selected group of government-friendly papers that she was “encouraged” by the government’s “constructive” talks with Strasbourg to overhaul court injunctions. An ECHR injunction last June prevented an Iraqi national from being deported from the UK to the east African country.Continue reading...
Positive framing of otherwise grim report a counterblast to those who dismiss hopes of limiting global heating to 1.5C
Avoiding the worst ravages of climate breakdown is still possible, and there are “multiple, feasible and effective options” for doing so, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said.
Hoesung Lee, chair of the body, which is made up of the world’s leading climate scientists, made clear that – despite the widespread damage already being caused by extreme weather, and the looming threat of potentially catastrophic changes – the future was still humanity’s to shape.Continue reading...
Michael Aron praised facility part-owned by British American Tobacco at ribbon-cutting event in 2019
A UK ambassador took part in the opening ceremony of a Jordanian cigarette factory part-owned by British American Tobacco (BAT) and praised the new facility in a televised interview, in the latest example of British diplomats breaching strict guidelines against mixing with the tobacco industry overseas.
The envoy stood at the ribbon as it was cut and later appeared in promotional material on the tobacco company’s website, but no record of his presence at the event was kept by the British embassy in Amman because the event was not considered a “formal meeting”.Continue reading...
They’re all doing great, thanks for asking.
The post The Architects of the Iraq War: Where Are They Now? appeared first on The Intercept.
Twenty years after the invasion, veterans struggle to reconcile their sacrifices with the unhappy outcome and the false narratives that started the war.
The post “Trauma Never Goes Away”: As America Forgets, Iraq War Stays With U.S. Veterans appeared first on The Intercept.
A trove of secret intelligence cables obtained by The Intercept reveals Tehran’s political gains in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
The post How Iran Won the U.S. War in Iraq appeared first on The Intercept.
Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.
Enjoy today’s videos!
Inspired by the hardiness of bumblebees, MIT researchers have developed repair techniques that enable a bug-sized aerial robot to sustain severe damage to the actuators, or artificial muscles, that power its wings—but to still fly effectively.
[ MIT ]
This robot gripper is called DragonClaw, and do you really need to know anything else?
“Alas, DragonClaw wins again!”
[ AMTL ]
Here’s a good argument for having legs on a robot:
And here’s a less-good argument for having legs on a robot. But it’s still impressive!
[ ANYbotics ]
Always nice to see drones getting real work done! Also, when you offer your drone up for power-line inspections and promise that it won’t crash into anything, that’s confidence.
[ Skydio ]
Voxel robots have been extensively simulated because they’re easy to simulate, but not extensively built because they’re hard to build. But here are some that actually work.
[ Paper ]
Reinforcement learning (RL) has become a promising approach to developing controllers for quadrupedal robots. We explore an alternative to the position-based RL paradigm, by introducing a torque-based RL framework, where an RL policy directly predicts joint torques at a high frequency, thus circumventing the use of a PD controller. The proposed learning torque control framework is validated with extensive experiments, in which a quadruped is capable of traversing various terrain and resisting external disturbances while following user-specified commands.
[ Berkeley ]
In this work we show how bioinspired, 3D-printed snakeskins enhance the friction anisotropy and thus the slithering locomotion of a snake robot. Experiments have been conducted with a soft pneumatic snake robot in various indoor and outdoor settings.
[ Paper ]
For bipedal humanoid robots to successfully operate in the real world, they must be competent at simultaneously executing multiple motion tasks while reacting to unforeseen external disturbances in real time. We propose Kinodynamic Fabrics as an approach for the specification, solution, and simultaneous execution of multiple motion tasks in real time while being reactive to dynamism in the environment.
The RPD 35 from Built Robotics is the world’s first autonomous piling system. It combines four steps—layout, pile distribution, pile driving, and as-builts—into one package. With the RPD 35, a two-person crew can install pile more productivity than traditional methods.
[ Built Robotics ]
This work contributes a novel and modularized learning-based method for aerial robots navigating cluttered environments containing thin, hard-to-perceive obstacles without assuming access to a map or the full pose estimation of the robot.
[ ARL ]
The video shows a use case developed by the FZI with the assistance of the KIT: the multirobot retrieval of hazardous materials using two FZI robots as well as a KIT virtual-reality environment.
[ FZI ]
[ Soft Robtics ]
A year has passed since the launch of the ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover mission was put on hold, but the work has not stopped for the ExoMars teams in Europe. In this program, the ESA Web TV crew travel back to Turin, Italy, to talk to the teams and watch as new tests are being conducted with the rover’s Earth twin, Amalia, while the real rover remains carefully stored in an ultraclean room.
[ ESA ]
Camilo Buscaron, chief technologist at AWS Robotics, sits down with Ramon Roche in this Behind the Tech episode to share his storied career in the robotics industry. Camilo explains how AWS provides a host of services for robotics developers from simulation and streaming to basic real-time cloud storage.
[ Behind the Tech ]
“I think that we need to see what has actually transpired.”
The post Senators Aren’t Ready to Blame Themselves for Silicon Valley Bank Implosion appeared first on The Intercept.
Uncollected rubbish piled up over half of Paris is but one sign of discontent with a president many think isn’t listening to them
Renaud, 49, leaned out of the window of his Paris bin lorry, which was being held in its depot by a barricade of strikers. “Emmanuel Macron doesn’t seem to be listening to the anger out there,” he said. “People don’t think we’re in a democracy any more.”
A refuse-truck driver for 22 years, Renaud had watched as his garbage processing plant was blocked for the 15th day of a rubbish-collection strike that has all but submerged half of Paris under 10,000 tonnes of waste. He couldn’t afford to strike and risk losing his daily income but understood the rage over Macron’s decision to use executive powers to push through an unpopular rise in the French pension age to 64 without a vote in parliament.Continue reading...
Intel Corp. INTCannounced Tuesday that Stuart Pann will take over as general manager of Intel Foundry Services, a key part of Chief Executive Patrick Gelsinger’s plans to reinvigorate the semiconductor giant. Gelsinger hopes to build out Intel’s chip-manufacturing capabilities over several years, and make semiconductors for other companies. In charge of that effort will be Pann, who started his career with Intel before spending six years at HP Inc. HPQ and returning after Gelsinger came on board in 2021. “With deep expertise in capital and capacity strategies, supply chain management, and sales and operations planning across internal and external manufacturing, Stuart is an ideal leader to accelerate this momentum and drive long-term growth for IFS,” Gelsinger said in a statement. The former president of the foundry business, Randir Thakur, will depart the company at the end of March, and Chief Architect Raja Koduri is also leaving, Gelsinger announced on Twitter. Pann will report directly to Gelsinger, Intel said. Intel shares were down more than 3% in Tuesday afternoon trading, the largest decline of the day for a Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA component.
Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.
Nvidia Corp. NVDA said Tuesday it was launching four new platforms that allowed developers to build specialized artificial intelligence models. At Nvidia’s annual GTC developer conference, Chief Executive Jensen Huang introduced the L4 for AI video, the L40 for image generation, the H100 NVL for large language model deployment, and Grace Hopper for recommendation models. “The rise of generative AI is requiring more powerful inference computing platforms,” said Huang, Nvidia chief executive. “The number of applications for generative AI is infinite, limited only by human imagination.” Inference is the process by which a neural network makes predictions based on its training. Nvidia said that Alphabet Inc.’s GOOGGOOGL Google Cloud Platform is an early adopter of the L4, and was integrating it into its Vertex AI machine-learning platform, making it a “premium Nvidia AI cloud,” Huang said. Grace Hopper and the H100 NVL will be available in the second half of the year, while the L40 is available now, and the L4 is available in a private preview from Google.
Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.
Shares of Liberty Global PLC LBTYA tacked on 0.9% in morning trading Tuesday, putting them on track for a sixth straight gain, after the broadband, video and mobile communications company announced plans to buy the rest of the shares of Belgium-based cable television services company Telenet Group Holdings N.V. BE:TNETTLGHY that it doesn’t already own. Liberty currently owns 59.2% of Telenet’s outstanding shares, while Telenet’s market capitalization was recently EUR1.64 billion ($1.77 billion). Liberty intends to pay EUR22.00 for each share it doesn’t already own, which Liberty said represents a 59% premium to the March 15 closing price. Telenet’s board of directors voted unanimously to support Liberty’s buyout plans. “We believe an offer of EUR 22.00 per share provides a good opportunity for Telenet shareholders to monetize their investment at an attractive premium,” Liberty Chief Executive Mike Fries said. Liberty’s stock, which is headed for the longest win streak since the six-day stretch that ended July 22, 2022, has gained 2.5% year to date, while the S&P 500 SPX has advanced 4.0%.
Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.
U.S. Xpress Enterprises Inc. USX announced Tuesday an agreement to be acquired by Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings Inc. KNX, in a deal that values U.S. Xpress shares at more than four times the latest closing price. Under terms of the deal, which the companies said is valued at $808 million, shareholders of the provider of truckload carrier services will receive $6.15 in cash for each U.S. Xpress share they own, which is 310% above Monday’s close of $1.50. The stock is currently halted for news. The acquisition, which is expected to close in the second quarter or early third quarter of 2023, is expected to add to Knight-Swift’s adjusted earnings starting in 2024, and is expected to boost Knight-Swifts revenue run-rate to nearly $10 billion. U.S. Xpress will continue to operate as a separate brand after the deal closes. “The increased scale, operating expertise and resources of the combined entity will allow U.S. Xpress to pursue new levels of service and efficiency,” U.X. Xpress Chief Executive Eric Fuller said. U.S. Xpress shares have tumbled 17.1% over the past three months through Monday, while Knight-Swift’s stock has gained 1.8% and the S&P 500 SPX has tacked on 1.9%.
Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.
Shares of Citi Trends Inc. CTRN sank 5.9% toward a four-month low in premarket trading Tuesday, after the discount apparel and accessories retailer for African American and multicultural families provided a downbeat sales outlook, while beating fourth-quarter results beat expectations. The company expects first-quarter sales to decline in the low double-digit percentage range, while the FactSet sales consensus of $212.2 million implies a 1.9% increase, as the macroeconomic environment keeps pressure on low income families, which is the bulk of its customer base. “Our customers are expected to remain under pressure through the first half of 2023, impacted by ongoing inflationary factors, in addition to the reduction in SNAP benefits and lower tax refunds,” said Chief Executive David Makuen. “As a result, our first quarter is off to a slow start.” For the fourth quarter, net income fell to $6.6 million, or 81 cents a share, from $9.8 million, or $1.16 a share, in the year-ago period. Excluding nonrecurring items, earnings per share of 83 cents topped the FactSet consensus of 81 cents. Sales fell 13.1% to $209.5 million, but was above the FactSet consensus of $208.8 million. The stock has tumbled 15.0% over the past three months through Monday, while the S&P 500 SPX has gained 1.9%.
Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.
Western governments are telling their staff to remove the popular social media app from their work phones amid security fears. Alex Hern reports on why time could be running out for TikTok’s current ownership model
The UK has joined the US, Canada and the EU in ordering its government officials to remove the TikTok app from their work devices amid fears of a security threat. Government officials in the west say that TikTok’s ownership by the Chinese tech giant ByteDance puts sensitive user data at risk of being accessed by the Chinese government.
As the Guardian’s UK technology editor Alex Hern tells Hannah Moore, the governments are not able to cite specific incidents to back up their ban but it forms part of an overall cooling in relations with China.Continue reading...
Bezalel Smotrich’s comments come as far-right coalition pushes ahead with judiciary overhaul
An Israeli minister has claimed there is “no such thing” as a Palestinian people as Israel’s new coalition government, its most hardline ever, ploughed ahead with a part of its plan to overhaul the judiciary.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition said it was pushing a key part of the overhaul – which would give the coalition control over who becomes a justice or a judge – before the parliament takes a month’s holiday break next week.Continue reading...
Twenty years on from the invasion of Iraq, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad and James Meek describe their chance first meeting and their time reporting on the war together
“My neighbour comes and knocks at the door and says ‘the Americans are here, they’re here down in the street’.”
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad tells Michael Safi about life as an Iraqi when US tanks rolled into Baghdad in April 2003.Continue reading...
D.C. hawks say American military might brought order to the Middle East, but without U.S. meddling, regional rivals finally made a deal.
The post The Key Factor in the Saudi-Iran Deal: Absolutely No U.S. Involvement appeared first on The Intercept.
Nidal Hazem among three men and a boy killed in ‘intelligence-based counter-terrorism activity’
The shooting in the head of a motionless Palestinian militant during an Israeli raid on Jenin in which three other people were killed has enraged Palestinians as images of the incident spread across social media.
Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the PLO executive committee, condemned the shooting on Thursday of Nidal Hazem, who was face down at the time. “This is a crime in the full sense of the word,” he said.Continue reading...
Tesla’s investor day on 1 March began with a rambling, detailed discourse on energy and the environment before transitioning into a series of mostly predictable announcements and boasts. And then, out of nowhere, came an absolute bombshell: “We have designed our next drive unit, which uses a permanent-magnet motor, to not use any rare-earth elements at all,” declared Colin Campbell, Tesla’s director of power-train engineering.
It was a stunning disclosure that left most experts in permanent magnetism wary and perplexed. Alexander Gabay, a researcher at the University of Delaware, states flatly: “I am skeptical that any non-rare-earth permanent magnet could be used in a synchronous traction motor in the near future.” And at Uppsala University, in Sweden, Alena Vishina, a physicist, elaborates, “I’m not sure it’s possible to use only rare-earth-free materials to make a powerful and efficient motor.”
The problem here is physics, which not even Tesla can alter.
And at a recent magnetics conference Ping Liu, a professor at the University of Texas, in Arlington, asked other researchers what they thought of Tesla’s announcement. “No one fully understands this,” he reports. (Tesla did not respond to an e-mail asking for elaboration of Campbell’s comment.)
Tesla’s technical prowess should never be underestimated. But on the other hand, the company—and in particular, its CEO—has a history of making sporadic sensational claims that don’t pan out (we’re still waiting for that US $35,000 Model 3, for example).
The problem here is physics, which not even Tesla can alter. Permanent magnetism occurs in certain crystalline materials when the spins of electrons of some of the atoms in the crystal are forced to point in the same direction. The more of these aligned spins, the stronger the magnetism. For this, the ideal atoms are ones that have unpaired electrons swarming around the nucleus in what are known as 3d orbitals. Tops are iron, with four unpaired 3d electrons, and cobalt, with three.
But 3d electrons alone are not enough to make superstrong magnets. As researchers discovered decades ago, magnetic strength can be greatly improved by adding to the crystalline lattice atoms with unpaired electrons in the 4f orbital—notably the rare-earth elements neodymium, samarium, and dysprosium. These 4f electrons enhance a characteristic of the crystalline lattice called magnetic anisotropy—in effect, they promote adherence of the magnetic moments of the atoms to the specific directions in the crystal lattice. That, in turn, can be exploited to achieve high coercivity, the essential property that lets a permanent magnet stay magnetized. Also, through several complex physical mechanisms, the unpaired 4f electrons can amplify the magnetism of the crystal by coordinating and stabilizing the spin alignment of the 3d electrons in the lattice.
Since the 1980s, a permanent magnet based on a compound of neodymium, iron, and boron (NdFeB), has dominated high-performance applications, including motors, smartphones, loudspeakers, and wind-turbine generators. A 2019 study by Roskill Information Services, in London, found that more than 90 percent of the permanent magnets used in automotive traction motors were NdFeB.
So if not rare-earth permanent magnets for Tesla’s next motor, then what kind? Among experts willing to speculate, the choice was unanimous: ferrite magnets. Among the non-rare-earth permanent magnets invented so far, only two are in large-scale production: ferrites and another type called Alnico (aluminum nickel cobalt). Tesla isn’t going to use Alnico, a half-dozen experts contacted by IEEE Spectrum insisted. These magnets are weak and, more important, the world supply of cobalt is so fraught that they make up less than 2 percent of the permanent-magnet market.
There are more than a score of permanent magnets that use no rare-earth elements, or don’t use much of them. But none of these have made an impact outside the laboratory.
Ferrite magnets, based on a form of iron oxide, are cheap and account for nearly 30 percent of the permanent-magnet market by sales. But they, too, are weak (one major use is holding refrigerator doors shut). A key performance indicator of a permanent magnet is its maximum energy product, measured in megagauss-oersteds (MGOe). It reflects both the strength of a magnet as well as its coercivity. For the type of NdFeB commonly used in automotive traction motors, this value is generally around 35 MGOe. For the best ferrite magnets, it is around 4.
“Even if you get the best-performance ferrite magnet, you will have performance about five to 10 times below neodymium-iron-boron,” says Daniel Salazar Jaramillo, a magnetics researcher at the Basque Center for Materials, Applications, and Nanostructures, in Spain. So compared to a synchronous motor built with NdFeB magnets, one based on ferrite magnets will be much larger and heavier, much weaker, or some combination of the two.
To be sure, there are more than a score of other permanent magnets that use no rare-earth elements or don’t use much of them. But none of these have made an impact outside the laboratory. The list of attributes needed for a commercially successful permanent magnet includes high field strength, high coercivity, tolerance of high temperatures, good mechanical strength, ease of manufacturing, and lack of reliance on elements that are scarce, toxic, or problematic for some other reason. All of the candidates today fail to tick one or more of these boxes.
Iron-nitride magnets, such as this one from startup Niron Magnetics, are among the most promising of an emerging crop of permanent magnets that do not use rare-earth elements.Niron Magnetics
But give it a few more years, say some researchers, and one or two of these could very well break through. Among the most promising: iron nitride, Fe16N2. A Minneapolis startup, Niron Magnetics, is now commercializing technology that was pioneered with funding from ARPA-E by Jian Ping Wang at the University of Minnesota in the early 2000s, after earlier work at Hitachi. Niron’s executive vice president, Andy Blackburn, told Spectrum that the company intends to introduce its first product late in 2024. Blackburn says it will be a permanent magnet with an energy product above 10 MGOe, for which he anticipates applications in loudspeakers and sensors, among others. If it succeeds, it will be the first new commercial permanent magnet since NdFeB, 40 years ago, and the first commercial non-rare-earth permanent magnet since strontium ferrite, the best ferrite type, 60 years ago.
Niron’s first offering will be followed in 2025 by a magnet with an energy product above 30 MGOe, according to Blackburn. For this he makes a rather bold prediction: “It’ll have as good or better flux than neodymium. It’ll have the coercivity of a ferrite, and it’ll have the temperature coefficients of samarium cobalt”—better than NdFeB. If the magnet really manages to combine all those attributes (a big if), it would be very well suited for use in the traction motors of electric vehicles.
There will be more to come, Blackburn declares. “All these new nanoscale-engineering capabilities have allowed us to create materials that would have been impossible to make 20 years ago,” he says.
Why did Eleanor Williams, a young woman from a remote coastal town in England, pretend she was a victim of a grooming gang?
In lockdown a Facebook post by Eleanor Williams went viral. In it the young woman showed her badly beaten face, injured hand – and claimed she was the victim of a grooming gang run by Asian men. Her post caught the attention not just of her local community in Barrow-in-Furness, but people across the country.
A campaign was launched, tens of thousands of pounds were raised and people started displaying purple elephants to show their support for “justice for Ellie”. Rallies began, then reprisals. A list circulating on social media with names and businesses said to be linked to Williams’ “ordeal” led to homes and Asian-owned businesses being attacked. Hate crimes tripled in the area.Continue reading...
Com a saída de Amoedo para salvar sua biografia e a contratação de Leandro Narloch, partido mostra que quer abertamente se abraçar com a ultradireita.
The post O Novo não precisa mais disfarçar: já pode alinhar os sapatênis com os coturnos appeared first on The Intercept.
At least three of the California governor's wine companies are held by SVB, and a bank president sits on the board of his wife’s charity.
The post Cheering Silicon Valley Bank Bailout, Gavin Newsom Doesn’t Mention He’s a Client appeared first on The Intercept.
On 1 May the IEEE Board of Directors is scheduled to announce the candidates to be placed on this year’s ballot for the annual election of officers—which begins on 15 August.
The ballot includes IEEE president-elect candidates and other officer positions up for election.
The Board of Directors has nominated IEEE Fellow Roger U. Fujii and IEEE Senior Member Kathleen A. Kramer as candidates for 2024 IEEE president-elect. Visit the IEEE elections page to learn about the candidates.
The ballot includes nominees for delegate-elect/director-elect openings submitted by division and region nominating committees, IEEE Technical Activities vice president-elect, IEEE-USA president-elect, IEEE Standards Association president-elect, IEEE Women in Engineering Committee chair-elect, and board of governors members-at-large.
IEEE members who want to run for an office but who have not been nominated need to submit their petition intention to the IEEE Board of Directors by 15 April. Petitions should be sent to the IEEE Corporate Governance staff: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those elected take office on 1 January 2024.
To ensure voting eligibility, members are encouraged to review and update their contact information and communication preferences by 30 June.
Given ever-changing global conditions, members might wish to vote electronically instead of by mail.
For more information about the offices up for election, the process of getting on the ballot, and deadlines, visit the IEEE elections page or write to email@example.com.
A covert team of Israeli contractors who claim to have manipulated more than 30 elections around the world using hacking, sabotage and automated disinformation on social media have been exposed in a new investigation. The unit is run by Tal Hanan, a former Israeli special forces operative who now works privately using the pseudonym 'Jorge'. In more than six hours of secretly recorded meetings, Hanan and his team explained how they could gather intelligence on rivals, including by using hacking methods to access Gmail and Telegram accounts
For Synopsys Chief Executive Aart de Geus, running the electronic design automation behemoth is similar to being a bandleader. He brings together the right people, organizes them into a cohesive ensemble, and then leads them in performing their best.
De Geus, who helped found the company in 1986, has some experience with bands. The IEEE Fellow has been playing guitar in blues and jazz bands since he was an engineering student in the late 1970s.
Much like jazz musicians improvising, engineers go with the flow at team meetings, he says: One person comes up with an idea, and another suggests ways to improve it.
“There are actually a lot of commonalities between my music hobby and my other big hobby, Synopsys,” de Geus says.
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
Synopsys is now the largest supplier of software that engineers use to design chips, employing about 20,000 people. The company reported US $1.36 billion in revenue in the first quarter of this year.
De Geus is considered a founding father of electronic design automation (EDA), which automates chip design using synthesis and other tools. It was pioneered by him and his team in the 1980s. Synthesis revolutionized digital design by taking the high-level functional description of a circuit and automatically selecting the logic components (gates) and constructing the connections (netlist) to build the circuit. Virtually all large digital chips manufactured today are largely synthesized, using software that de Geus and his team developed.
“Synthesis changed the very nature of how digital chips are designed, moving us from the age of computer-a ided design (CAD) to electronic design automation (EDA),” he says.
During the past three and a half decades, logic synthesis has enabled about a 10 millionfold increase in chip complexity, he says. For that reason, Electrical Business magazine named him one of the 10 most influential executives in 2002, as well as its 2004 CEO of the Year.
Born in Vlaardingen, Netherlands, de Geus grew up mostly in Basel, Switzerland. He earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1978 from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, known as EPFL, in Lausanne.
In the early 1980s, while pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, de Geus joined General Electric in Research Triangle Park, N.C. There he developed tools to design logic with multiplexers, according to a 2009 oral history conducted by the Computer History Museum. He and a designer friend created gate arrays with a mix of logic gates and multiplexers.
That led to writing the first program for synthesizing circuits optimized for both speed and area, known as SOCRATES. It automatically created blocks of logic from functional descriptions, according to the oral history.
“The problem was [that] all designers coming out of school used Karnaugh maps, [and] knew NAND gates, NOR gates, and inverters,” de Geus explained in the oral history. “They didn’t know multiplexers. So designing with these things was actually difficult.” Karnaugh maps are a method of simplifying Boolean algebra expressions. With NAND and NOR universal logic gates, any Boolean expression can be implemented without using any other gate.
SOCRATES could write a function and 20 minutes later, the program would generate a netlist that named the electronic components in the circuit and the nodes they connected to. By automating the function, de Geus says, “the synthesizer typically created faster circuits that also used fewer gates. That’s a big benefit because fewer is better. Fewer ultimately end up in [a] smaller area on a chip.”
With that technology, circuit designers shifted their focus from gate-level design to designs based on hardware description languages.
Eventually de Geus was promoted to manager of GE’s Advanced Computer-Aided Engineering Group. Then, in 1986, the company decided to leave the semiconductor business. Facing the loss of his job, he decided to launch his own company to continue to enhance synthesis tools.
He and two members of his GE team, David Gregory and Bill Krieger, founded Optimal Solutions in Research Triangle Park. In 1987 the company was renamed Synopsys and moved to Mountain View, Calif.
De Geus says he picked up his management skills and entrepreneurial spirit as a youngster. During summer vacations, he would team up with friends to build forts, soapbox cars, and other projects. He usually was the team leader, he says, the one with plenty of imagination.
“An entrepreneur creates a vision of some crazy but, hopefully, brilliant idea,” he says, laughing. The vision sets the direction for the project, he says, while the entrepreneur’s business side tries to convince others that the idea is realistic enough.
“The notion of why it could be important was sort of there,” he says. “But it is the passion that catalyzes something in people.”
That was true during his fort-building days, he says, and it’s still true today.
“Synthesis changed the very nature of how digital designs are being constructed.”
“If you have a good team, everybody chips in something,” he says. “Before you know it, someone on the team has an even better idea of what we could do or how to do it. Entrepreneurs who start a company often go through thousands of ideas to arrive at a common mission. I’ve had the good fortune to be on a 37-year mission with Synopsys.”
At the company, de Geus sees himself as “the person who makes the team cook. It’s being an orchestrator, a bandleader, or maybe someone who brings out the passion in people who are better in both technology and business. As a team, we can do things that are impossible to do alone and that are patently proven to be impossible in the first place.”
He says a few years ago the company came up with the mantra “Yes, if …” to combat a slowly growing “No, because …” mindset.
“‘Yes, if …’ opens doors, whereas the ‘No, because …’ says, ‘Let me prove that it’s not possible,’” he says. “‘Yes, if … ’ leads us outside the box into ‘It’s got to be possible. There’s got to be a way.’”
De Geus says his industry is going through “extremely challenging times—technically, globally, and business-wise—and the ‘If … ’ part is an acknowledgment of that. I found it remarkable that once a group of people acknowledge [something] is difficult, they become very creative. We’ve managed to get the whole company to embrace ‘Yes, if …’
“It is now in the company’s cultural DNA.”
One of the issues Synopsys is confronted with is the end of Moore’s Law, de Geus says. “But no worries,” he says. “We are facing an unbelievable new era of opportunity, as we have moved from ‘Classic Moore’ scale complexity to ‘SysMoore,’ which unleashes systemic complexity with the same Moore’s Law exponential ambition!”
He says the industry is moving its focus from single chips to multichip modules, with chips closely placed together on top of a larger, “silicon interposer” chip. In some cases, such as for memory, chips are stacked on top of each other.
“How do you make the connectivity between those chips as fast as possible? How can you technically make these pieces work? And then how can you make it economically viable so it is producible, reliable, testable, and verifiable? Challenging, but so powerful,” he says. “Our big challenge is to make it all work together.”
Pursuing engineering was a calling for de Geus. Engineering was the intersection of two things he loved: carrying out a vision and building things. Notwithstanding the recent wave of tech-industry layoffs, he says he believes engineering is a great career.
“Just because a few companies have overhired or are redirecting themselves doesn’t mean that the engineering field is in a downward trend,” he says. “I would argue the opposite, for sure in the electronics and software space, because the vision of ‘smart everything’ requires some very sophisticated capabilities, and it is changing the world!”
During the Moore’s Law era, one’s technical knowledge has had to be deep, de Geus says.
“You became really specialized in simulation or in designing a certain type of process,” he says. “In our field, we need people who are best in class. I like to call them six-Ph.D.-deep engineers. It’s not just schooling deep; it’s schooling and experientially deep. Now, with systemic complexity, we need to bring all these disciplines together; in other words we now need six-Ph.D.-wide engineers too.”
To obtain that type of experience, he recommends university students should get a sense of multiple subdisciplines and then “choose the one that appeals to you.”
“For those who have a clear sense of their own mission, it’s falling in love and finding your passion,” he says. But those who don’t know which field of engineering to pursue should “engage with people you think are fantastic, because they will teach you things such as perseverance, enthusiasm, passion, what excellence is, and make you feel the wonder of collaboration.” Such people, he says, can teach you to “enjoy work instead of just having a job. If work is also your greatest hobby, you’re a very different person.”
De Geus says engineers must take responsibility for more than the technology they create.
“I always liked to say that ‘he or she who has the brains to understand should have the heart to help.’” With the growing challenges the world faces, I now add that they should also have the courage to act,” he says. “What I mean is that we need to look and reach beyond our field, because the complexity of the world needs courageous management to not become the reason for its own destruction.”
He notes that many of today’s complexities are the result of fabulous engineering, but the “side effects—and I am talking about CO2, for example—have not been accounted for yet, and the engineering debt is now due.”
De Geus points to the climate crisis: “It is the single biggest challenge there is. It’s both an engineering and a social challenge. We need to figure out a way to not have to pay the whole debt. Therefore, we need to engineer rapid technical transitions while mitigating the negatives of the equation. Great engineering will be decisive in getting there.”
Not all technological innovation deserves to be called progress. That’s because some advances, despite their conveniences, may not do as much societal advancing, on balance, as advertised. One researcher who stands opposite technology’s cheerleaders is MIT economist Daron Acemoglu. (The “c” in his surname is pronounced like a soft “g.”) IEEE Spectrum spoke with Agemoglu—whose fields of research include labor economics, political economy, and development economics—about his recent work and his take on whether technologies such as artificial intelligence will have a positive or negative net effect on human society.
IEEE Spectrum: In your November 2022 working paper “Automation and the Workforce,” you and your coauthors say that the record is, at best, mixed when AI encounters the job force. What explains the discrepancy between the greater demand for skilled labor and their staffing levels?
Acemoglu: Firms often lay off less-skilled workers and try to increase the employment of skilled workers.
“Generative AI could be used, not for replacing humans, but to be helpful for humans. ... But that’s not the trajectory it’s going in right now.”
—Daron Acemoglu, MIT
In theory, high demand and tight supply are supposed to result in higher prices—in this case, higher salary offers. It stands to reason that, based on this long-accepted principle, firms would think ‘More money, less problems.’
Acemoglu: You may be right to an extent, but... when firms are complaining about skill shortages, a part of it is I think they’re complaining about the general lack of skills among the applicants that they see.
In your 2021 paper “Harms of AI,” you argue if AI remains unregulated, it’s going to cause substantial harm. Could you provide some examples?
Acemoglu: Well, let me give you two examples from Chat GPT, which is all the rage nowadays. ChatGPT could be used for many different things. But the current trajectory of the large language model, epitomized by Chat GPT, is very much focused on the broad automation agenda. ChatGPT tries to impress the users…What it’s trying to do is trying to be as good as humans in a variety of tasks: answering questions, being conversational, writing sonnets, and writing essays. In fact, in a few things, it can be better than humans because writing coherent text is a challenging task and predictive tools of what word should come next, on the basis of the corpus of a lot of data from the Internet, do that fairly well.
The path that GPT3 [the large language model that spawned ChatGPT] is going down is emphasizing automation. And there are already other areas where automation has had a deleterious effect—job losses, inequality, and so forth. If you think about it you will see—or you could argue anyway—that the same architecture could have been used for very different things. Generative AI could be used, not for replacing humans, but to be helpful for humans. If you want to write an article for IEEE Spectrum, you could either go and have ChatGPT write that article for you, or you could use it to curate a reading list for you that might capture things you didn’t know yourself that are relevant to the topic. The question would then be how reliable the different articles on that reading list are. Still, in that capacity, generative AI would be a human complementary tool rather than a human replacement tool. But that’s not the trajectory it’s going in right now.
“Open AI, taking a page from Facebook’s ‘move fast and break things’ code book, just dumped it all out. Is that a good thing?”
—Daron Acemoglu, MIT
Let me give you another example more relevant to the political discourse. Because, again, the ChatGPT architecture is based on just taking information from the Internet that it can get for free. And then, having a centralized structure operated by Open AI, it has a conundrum: If you just take the Internet and use your generative AI tools to form sentences, you could very likely end up with hate speech including racial epithets and misogyny, because the Internet is filled with that. So, how does the ChatGPT deal with that? Well, a bunch of engineers sat down and they developed another set of tools, mostly based on reinforcement learning, that allow them to say, “These words are not going to be spoken.” That’s the conundrum of the centralized model. Either it’s going to spew hateful stuff or somebody has to decide what’s sufficiently hateful. But that is not going to be conducive for any type of trust in political discourse. because it could turn out that three or four engineers—essentially a group of white coats—get to decide what people can hear on social and political issues. I believe hose tools could be used in a more decentralized way, rather than within the auspices of centralized big companies such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
Instead of continuing to move fast and break things, innovators should take a more deliberate stance, you say. Are there some definite no-nos that should guide the next steps toward intelligent machines?
Acemoglu: Yes. And again, let me give you an illustration using ChatGPT. They wanted to beat Google [to market, understanding that] some of the technologies were originally developed by Google. And so, they went ahead and released it. It’s now being used by tens of millions of people, but we have no idea what the broader implications of large language models will be if they are used this way, or how they’ll impact journalism, middle school English classes, or what political implications they will have. Google is not my favorite company, but in this instance, I think Google would be much more cautious. They were actually holding back their large language model. But Open AI, taking a page from Facebook’s ‘move fast and break things’ code book, just dumped it all out. Is that a good thing? I don’t know. Open AI has become a multi-billion-dollar company as a result. It was always a part of Microsoft in reality, but now it’s been integrated into Microsoft Bing, while Google lost something like 100 billion dollars in value. So, you see the high-stakes, cutthroat environment we are in and the incentives that that creates. I don’t think we can trust companies to act responsibly here without regulation.
Tech companies have asserted that automation will put humans in a supervisory role instead of just killing all jobs. The robots are on the floor, and the humans are in a back room overseeing the machines’ activities. But who’s to say the back room is not across an ocean instead of on the other side of a wall—a separation that would further enable employers to slash labor costs by offshoring jobs?
Acemoglu: That’s right. I agree with all those statements. I would say, in fact, that’s the usual excuse of some companies engaged in rapid algorithmic automation. It’s a common refrain. But you’re not going to create 100 million jobs of people supervising, providing data, and training to algorithms. The point of providing data and training is that the algorithm can now do the tasks that humans used to do. That’s very different from what I’m calling human complementarity, where the algorithm becomes a tool for humans.
“[Imagine] using AI... for real-time scheduling which might take the form of zero-hour contracts. In other words, I employ you, but I do not commit to providing you any work.”
—Daron Acemoglu, MIT
According to “The Harms of AI,” executives trained to hack away at labor costs have used tech to help, for instance, skirt labor laws that benefit workers. Say, scheduling hourly workers’ shifts so that hardly any ever reach the weekly threshold of hours that would make them eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance coverage and/or overtime pay.
Acemoglu: Yes, I agree with that statement too. Even more important examples would be using AI for monitoring workers, and for real-time scheduling which might take the form of zero-hour contracts. In other words, I employ you, but I do not commit to providing you any work. You’re my employee. I have the right to call you. And when I call you, you’re expected to show up. So, say I’m Starbucks. I’ll call and say ‘Willie, come in at 8am.’ But I don’t have to call you, and if I don’t do it for a week, you don’t make any money that week.
Will the simultaneous spread of AI and the technologies that enable the surveillance state bring about a total absence of privacy and anonymity, as was depicted in the sci-fi film Minority Report?
Acemoglu: Well, I think it has already happened. In China, that’s exactly the situation urban dwellers find themselves in. And in the United States, it’s actually private companies. Google has much more information about you and can constantly monitor you unless you turn off various settings in your phone. It’s also constantly using the data you leave on the Internet, on other apps, or when you use Gmail. So, there is a complete loss of privacy and anonymity. Some people say ‘Oh, that’s not that bad. Those are companies. That’s not the same as the Chinese government.’ But I think it raises a lot of issues that they are using data for individualized, targeted ads. It’s also problematic that they’re selling your data to third parties.
In four years, when my children will be about to graduate from college, how will AI have changed their career options?
Acemoglu: That goes right back to the earlier discussion with ChatGPT. Programs like GPT3and GPT4 may scuttle a lot of careers but without creating huge productivity improvements on their current path. On the other hand, as I mentioned, there are alternative paths that would actually be much better. AI advances are not preordained. It’s not like we know exactly what’s going to happen in the next four years, but it’s about trajectory. The current trajectory is one based on automation. And if that continues, lots of careers will be closed to your children. But if the trajectory goes in a different direction, and becomes human complementary, who knows? Perhaps they may have some very meaningful new occupations open to them.
The beleaguered Caribbean nation has been without a single democratically elected government official since the start of the year, when its last 10 senators left office. Since the assassination of the former president, Jovenel Moïse, in July 2021, gangs have gained control of territories across the country, including 60% of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. Civilians living in gang-controlled territories face daily violence on the streets, while thousands have attempted to flee. In recent months, Haiti's humanitarian crisis has worsened, with cases of cholera on the rise and almost half the population facing acute hungerContinue reading...
Elon Musk, step aside. You may be the richest rich man in the space business, but you’re not first. Musk’s SpaceX corporation is a powerful force, with its weekly launches and visions of colonizing Mars. But if you want a broader view of how wealthy entrepreneurs have shaped space exploration, you might want to look at George Ellery Hale, James Lick, William McDonald or—remember this name—John D. Hooker.
All this comes up now because SpaceX, joining forces with the billionaire Jared Isaacman, has made what sounds at first like a novel proposal to NASA: It would like to see if one of the company’s Dragon spacecraft can be sent to service the fabled, invaluable (and aging) Hubble Space Telescope, last repaired in 2009.
Private companies going to the rescue of one of NASA’s crown jewels? NASA’s mantra in recent years has been to let private enterprise handle the day-to-day of space operations—communications satellites, getting astronauts to the space station, and so forth—while pure science, the stuff that makes history but not necessarily money, remains the province of government. Might that model change?
“We’re working on crazy ideas all the time,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s space science chief. "Frankly, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
It’s only a six-month feasibility study for now; no money will change hands between business and NASA. But Isaacman, who made his fortune in payment-management software before turning to space, suggested that if a Hubble mission happens, it may lead to other things. “Alongside NASA, exploration is one of many objectives for the commercial space industry,” he said on a media teleconference. “And probably one of the greatest exploration assets of all time is the Hubble Space Telescope.”
So it’s possible that at some point in the future, there may be a SpaceX Dragon, perhaps with Isaacman as a crew member, setting out to grapple the Hubble, boost it into a higher orbit, maybe even replace some worn-out components to lengthen its life.
Aerospace companies say privately mounted repair sounds like a good idea. So good that they’ve proposed it already.
The Chandra X-ray telescope, as photographed by space-shuttle astronauts after they deployed it in July 1999. It is attached to a booster that moved it into an orbit 10,000 by 100,000 kilometers from Earth.NASA
Northrop Grumman, one of the United States’ largest aerospace contractors, has quietly suggested to NASA that it might service one of the Hubble’s sister telescopes, the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Chandra was launched into Earth orbit by the space shuttle Columbia in 1999 (Hubble was launched from the shuttle Discovery in 1990), and the two often complement each other, observing the same celestial phenomena at different wavelengths.
As in the case of the SpaceX/Hubble proposal, Northrop Grumman’s Chandra study is at an early stage. But there are a few major differences. For one, Chandra was assembled by TRW, a company that has since been bought by Northrop Grumman. And another company subsidiary, SpaceLogistics, has been sending what it calls Mission Extension Vehicles (MEVs) to service aging Intelsat communications satellites since 2020. Two of these robotic craft have launched so far. The MEVs act like space tugs, docking with their target satellites to provide them with attitude control and propulsion if their own systems are failing or running out of fuel. SpaceLogistics says it is developing a next-generation rescue craft, which it calls a Mission Robotic Vehicle, equipped with an articulated arm to add, relocate, or possibly repair components on orbit.
“We want to see if we can apply this to space-science missions,” says Jon Arenberg, Northrop Grumman’s chief mission architect for science and robotic exploration, who worked on Chandra and, later, the James Webb Space Telescope. He says a major issue for servicing is the exacting specifications needed for NASA’s major observatories; Chandra, for example, records the extremely short wavelengths of X-ray radiation (0.01–10 nanometers).
“We need to preserve the scientific integrity of the spacecraft,” he says. “That’s an absolute.”
But so far, the company says, a mission seems possible. NASA managers have listened receptively. And Northrop Grumman says a servicing mission could be flown for a fraction of the cost of a new telescope.
New telescopes need not be government projects. In fact, NASA’s chief economist, Alexander MacDonald, argues that almost all of America’s greatest observatories were privately funded until Cold War politics made government the major player in space exploration. That’s why this story began with names from the 19th and 20th centuries—Hale, Lick, and McDonald—to which we should add Charles Yerkes and, more recently, William Keck. These were arguably the Elon Musks of their times—entrepreneurs who made millions in oil, iron, or real estate before funding the United States’ largest telescopes. (Hale’s father manufactured elevators—highly profitable in the rebuilding after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.) The most ambitious observatories, MacDonald calculated for his book The Long Space Age, were about as expensive back then as some of NASA’s modern planetary probes. None of them had very much to do with government.
To be sure, government will remain a major player in space for a long time. “NASA pays the cost, predominantly, of the development of new commercial crew vehicles, SpaceX’s Dragon being one,” MacDonald says. “And now that those capabilities exist, private individuals can also pay to utilize those capabilities.” Isaacman doesn’t have to build a spacecraft; he can hire one that SpaceX originally built for NASA.
“I think that creates a much more diverse and potentially interesting space-exploration future than we have been considering for some time,” MacDonald says.
So put these pieces together: Private enterprise has been a driver of space science since the 1800s. Private companies are already conducting on-orbit satellite rescues. NASA hasn’t said no to the idea of private missions to service its orbiting observatories.
And why does John D. Hooker’s name matter? In 1906, he agreed to put up US $45,000 (about $1.4 million today) to make the mirror for a 100-inch reflecting telescope at Mount Wilson, Calif. One astronomer made the Hooker Telescope famous by using it to determine that the universe, full of galaxies, was expanding.
The astronomer’s name was Edwin Hubble. We’ve come full circle.
In 2001, a team of engineers at a then-obscure R&D company called AC Propulsion quietly began a groundbreaking experiment. They wanted to see whether an electric vehicle could feed electricity back to the grid. The experiment seemed to prove the feasibility of the technology. The company’s president, Tom Gage, dubbed the system “vehicle to grid” or V2G.
The concept behind V2G had gained traction in the late 1990s after California’s landmark zero-emission-vehicle (ZEV) mandate went into effect and compelled automakers to commercialize electric cars. In V2G, environmental-policy wonks saw a potent new application of the EV that might satisfy many interests. For the utilities, it promised an economical way of meeting rising demand for electricity. For ratepayers, it offered cheaper and more reliable electricity services. Purveyors of EVs would have a new public-policy rationale backing up their market. And EV owners would become entrepreneurs, selling electricity back to the grid.
AC Propulsion’s experiment was timely. It occurred in the wake of the California electricity crisis of 2000 and 2001, when mismanaged deregulation, market manipulation, and environmental catastrophe combined to unhinge the power grid. Some observers thought V2G could prevent the kinds of price spikes and rolling blackouts then plaguing the Golden State. Around the same time, however, General Motors and other automakers were in the process of decommissioning their battery EV fleets, the key component of V2G.
AC Propulsion’s president, Tom Gage, explains the company’s vehicle-to-grid technology at a 2001 conference in Seattle. Photo-illustration: Max-o-matic; photo source: Alec Brooks
The AC Propulsion experiment thus became an obscure footnote in the tortuous saga of the green automobile. A decade later, in the 2010s, the battery EV began an astounding reversal of fortune, thanks in no small part to the engineers at ACP, whose electric-drive technology informed the development of the Roadster, the car that launched Tesla Motors. By the 2020s, automakers around the world were producing millions of EVs a year. And with the revival of the EV, the V2G concept was reborn.
If a modern electronics- and software-laden car can be thought of as a computer on wheels, then an electric car capable of discharging electricity to the grid might be considered a power plant on wheels. And indeed, that’s how promoters of vehicle-to-grid technology perceive the EV.
Keep in mind, though, that electricity’s unique properties pose problems to anyone who would make a business of producing and delivering it. Electricity is a commodity that is bought and sold, and yet unlike most other commodities, it cannot easily be stored. Once electricity is generated and passes into the grid, it is typically used almost immediately. If too much or too little electricity is present in the power grid, the network can suddenly become unbalanced.
At the turn of the 20th century, utilities promoted the use of electric truck fleets to soak up excess electricity. Photo-illustration: Max-o-matic; photo source: M&N/Alamy
Some operators of early direct-current power plants at the turn of the 20th century solved the problem of uneven power output from their generators by employing large banks of rechargeable lead-acid batteries, which served as a kind of buffer to balance the flow of electrons. As utilities shifted to more reliable alternating-current systems, they phased out these costly backup batteries.
Then, as electricity entrepreneurs expanded power generation and transmission capacity, they faced the new problem of what to do with all the cheap off-peak, nighttime electricity they could now produce. Utilities reconsidered batteries, not as stationary units but in EVs. As the historian Gijs Mom has noted, enterprising utility managers essentially outsourced the storage of electricity to the owners and users of the EVs then proliferating in northeastern U.S. cities. Early utility companies like Boston Edison and New York Edison organized EV fleets, favoring electric trucks for their comparatively capacious batteries.
In the early years of the automobile, battery-powered electric cars were competitive with cars fueled by gasoline and other types of propulsion.Photo-illustration: Max-o-matic; image source: Shawshots/Alamy
The problems of grid management that EVs helped solve faded after World War I. In the boom of the 1920s, U.S. utility barons such as Samuel Insull massively expanded the country’s grid systems. During the New Deal era, the federal government began funding the construction of giant hydropower plants and pushed transmission into rural areas. By the 1950s, the grid was moving electricity across time zones and national borders, tying in diverse sources of supply and demand.
The need for large-scale electrochemical energy storage as a grid-stabilizing source of demand disappeared. When utilities considered storage technology at all in the succeeding decades, it was generally in the form of pumped-storage hydropower, an expensive piece of infrastructure that could be built only in hilly terrain.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the electric car reemerged as a possible solution to problems of grid electricity. In 1997, Willett Kempton, a professor at the University of Delaware, and Steve Letendre, a professor at Green Mountain College, in Vermont, began publishing a series of journal articles that imagined the bidirectional EV as a resource for electricity utilities. The researchers estimated that, if applied to the task of generating electricity, all of the engines in the U.S. light-duty vehicle fleet would produce around 16 times the output of stationary power plants. Kempton and Letendre also noted that the average light vehicle was used only around 4 percent of the time. Therefore, they reasoned, a fleet of bidirectional EVs could be immensely useful to utilities, even if it was only a fraction the size of the conventional vehicle fleet.
AC Propulsion cofounder Wally Rippel converted a Volkswagen microbus into an electric vehicle while he was still a student at Caltech. Photo-illustration: Max-o-matic; photo source: Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
The engineers at AC Propulsion (ACP) were familiar with the basic precepts of bidirectional EV power. The company was the brainchild of Wally Rippel and Alan Cocconi, Caltech graduates who had worked in the late 1980s and early 1990s as consultants for AeroVironment, then a developer of lightweight experimental aircraft. The pair made major contributions to the propulsion system for the Impact, a battery-powered concept car that AeroVironment built under contract for General Motors. Forerunner of the famous EV1, the Impact was regarded as the most advanced electric car of its day, thanks to its solid-state power controls, induction motor, and integrated charger. The vehicle inspired California’s ZEV mandate, instituted in 1990. As Cocconi told me, the Impact was bidirectional-capable, although that function wasn’t fully implemented.
AeroVironment had encouraged its engineers to take creative initiative in developing the Impact, but GM tightly managed efforts to translate the idiosyncratic car into a production prototype, which rankled Cocconi and Rippel. Cocconi was also dismayed by the automaker’s decision to equip the production car with an off-board rather than onboard charger, which he believed would limit the car’s utility. In 1992, he and Rippel quit the project and, with Hughes Aircraft engineer Paul Carosa, founded ACP, to further develop battery electric propulsion. The team applied their technology to a two-seat sportscar called the tzero, which debuted in January 1997.
Electric Car tzero 0-60 3.6 sec faster than Tesla Roadster www.youtube.com
Through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, ACP sold its integrated propulsion systems to established automakers, including Honda, Volkswagen, and Volvo, for use in production models being converted into EVs. For car companies, this was a quick and cheap way to gain experience with battery electric propulsion while also meeting any quota they may have been subject to under the California ZEV mandate.
By the turn of the millennium, however, selling EV propulsion systems had become a hard way to make a living. In early 2000, when GM announced it had ceased production of the EV1, it signaled that the automaking establishment was abandoning battery electric cars. ACP looked at other ways of marketing its technology and saw an opportunity in the California electricity crisis then unfolding.
Traditionally, the electricity business combined several discrete services, including some designed to meet demand and others designed to stabilize the network. Since the 1930s, these services had been provided by regulated, vertically integrated utilities, which operated as quasi-monopolies. The most profitable was peaking power—electricity delivered when demand was highest. The less-lucrative stabilization services balanced electricity load and generation to maintain system frequency at 60 hertz, the standard for the United States. In a vertically integrated utility, peaking services essentially subsidized stabilization services.
With deregulation in the 1990s, these aggregated services were unbundled and commodified. In California, regulators separated generation from distribution and sold 40 percent of installed capacity to newly created independent power producers that specialized in peaking power. Grid-stabilization functions were reborn as “ancillary services.” Major utilities were compelled to purchase high-cost peaking power, and because retail prices were capped, they could not pass their costs on to consumers. Moreover, deregulation disincentivized the construction of new power plants. At the turn of the millennium, nearly 20 percent of the state’s generating capacity was idled for maintenance.
General Motors’ Impact debuted at the 1990 Los Angeles Auto Show. It was regarded as the most advanced electric vehicle of its era.Photo-illustration: Max-o-matic; photo source: Alec Brooks
The newly marketized grid was highly unstable, and in 2000 and 2001, things came to a head. Hot weather caused a demand spike, and the accompanying drought (the beginning of the multidecade southwestern megadrought) cut hydropower capacity. As Californians turned on their air conditioners, peaking capacity had to be kept in operation longer. Then market speculators got into the act, sending wholesale prices up 800 percent and bankrupting Pacific Gas & Electric. Under these combined pressures, grid reliability eroded, resulting in rolling blackouts.
With the grid crippled, ACP’s Gage contacted Kempton to discuss whether bidirectional EV power could help. Kempton identified frequency regulation as the optimal V2G market because it was the most profitable of the ancillary services, constituting about 80 percent of what the California Independent System Operator, the nonprofit set up to manage the deregulated grid, then spent on such services.
The result was a demonstration project, a task organized by Alec Brooks, manager of ACP’s tzero production. Like Rippel and Cocconi, Brooks was a Caltech graduate and part of the close-knit community of EV enthusiasts that emerged around the prestigious university. After earning a Ph.D. in civil engineering in 1981, Brooks had joined AeroVironment, where he managed the development of Sunraycer, an advanced solar-powered demonstration EV built for GM, and the Impact. He recruited Rippel and Cocconi for both jobs. During the 1990s, Brooks formed a team at AeroVironment that provided support for GM’s EV programs until he too tired of the corporate routine and joined ACP in 1999.
Before cofounding AC Propulsion, Alan Cocconi worked on Sunraycer, a solar-powered car for GM. Here, he’s testing the car’s motor-drive power electronics.Photo-illustration: Max-o-matic; photo source: Alec Brooks
Working with Gage and Kempton, and consulting with the ISO, Brooks set out to understand how the EV might function as a utility resource.
ACP adapted its second-generation AC-150 drivetrain, which had bidirectional capability, for this application. As Cocconi recalled, the bidirectional function had originally been intended for a different purpose. In the 1990s, batteries had far less capacity than they do today, and for the small community of EV users, the prospect of running out of juice and becoming stranded was very real. In such an emergency, a bidirectional EV with charge to spare could come to the rescue.
With funding from the California Air Resources Board, the team installed an AC-150 drive in a Volkswagen Beetle. The system converted AC grid power to DC power to charge the battery and could also convert DC power from the battery to AC power that could feed both external stand-alone loads and the grid. Over the course of the project, the group successfully demonstrated bidirectional EV power using simulated dispatch commands from the ISO’s computerized energy-management system.
This pair of graphs shows how AC Propulsion’s AC-150 drivetrain performed in a demonstration of grid frequency regulation. The magenta line in the upper graph tracks grid frequency centered around 60 hertz. The lower graph indicates power flowing between the grid and the drivetrain; a negative value means power is being drawn from the grid, while a positive value means power is being sent back to the grid. Photo-illustration: Max-o-matic; photo source: Alec Brooks
The experiment demonstrated the feasibility of the vehicle-to-grid approach, yet it also revealed the enormous complexities involved in deploying the technology. One unpleasant surprise, Brooks recalled, came with the realization that the electricity crisis had artificially inflated the ancillary-services market. After California resolved the crisis—basically by re-regulating and subsidizing electricity—the bubble burst, making frequency regulation as a V2G service a much less attractive business proposition.
The prospect of integrating EV storage batteries into legacy grid systems also raised concerns about control. The computers responsible for automatically signaling generators to ramp up or down to regulate frequency were programmed to control large thermoelectric and hydroelectric plants, which respond gradually to signals. Batteries, by contrast, respond nearly instantaneously to commands to draw or supply power. David Hawkins, an engineer who served as a chief aide to the ISO’s vice president of operations and advised Brooks, noted that the responsiveness of batteries had unintended consequences when they were used to regulate frequency. In one experiment involving a large lithium-ion battery, the control computer fully charged or discharged the unit in a matter of minutes, leaving no spare capacity to regulate the grid.
In principle, this problem might have been solved with software to govern the charging and discharging. The main barrier to V2G in the early 2000s, it turns out, was that the battery EV would have to be massively scaled up before it could serve as a practical energy-storage resource. And the auto industry had just canceled the battery EV. In its place, automakers promised the fuel-cell electric car, a type of propulsion system that does not easily lend itself to bidirectional power flow.
The dramatic revival of the battery EV in the late 2000s and early 2010s led by Tesla Motors and Nissan revived prospects for the EV as a power-grid resource. This EV renaissance spawned a host of R&D efforts in bidirectional EV power, including ECOtality and the Mid-Atlantic Grid Interactive Cars Consortium. The consortium, organized by Kempton in conjunction with PJM, the regional transmission organization responsible for much of the eastern United States, used a car equipped with an AC-150 drivetrain to further study the use of V2G in the frequency-regulation market.
Over time, however, the research focus in bidirectional EV applications shifted from the grid to homes and commercial buildings. In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, for instance, Nissan developed and marketed a vehicle-to-building (V2B) charging system that enabled its Leaf EV to provide backup power.
In 2001, AC Propulsion engineers installed an AC-150 drivetrain in a Volkswagen Beetle to demonstrate the feasibility of V2G technology for regulating frequency on the power grid.Photo-illustration: Max-o-matic; photo source: Alec Brooks
The automaker later entered an R&D partnership with Fermata Energy, a Virginia-based company that develops bidirectional EV power systems. Founded by the entrepreneur and University of Virginia researcher David Slutzky in 2010, Fermata considered and then ruled out the frequency-regulation market, on the grounds that it was too small and unscalable.
Slutsky now believes that early markets for bidirectional EV power will emerge in supplying backup power and supplementing peak loads for individual commercial buildings. Those applications will require institutional fleets of EVs. Slutzky and other proponents of EV power have been pressing for a more favorable regulatory environment, including access to the subsidies that states such as California offer to users of stationary storage batteries.
Advocates believe that V2G can help pay for EV batteries. While interest in this idea seems likely to grow as EVs proliferate, the prospect of electric car owners becoming power entrepreneurs appears more distant. Hawkins, the engineer who advised Brooks, holds that the main barriers to V2G are not so much technological as economic: Viable markets need to emerge. The everyday participant in V2G, he argues, would face the difficult task of attempting to arbitrage the difference between wholesale and retail prices while still paying the retail rate. In principle, EV owners could take advantage of the same feed-in tariffs and net-metering schemes designed to enable homeowners to sell surplus solar power back to the grid. But marketing rooftop solar power has proven more complicated and costly for suburbanites than initially assumed, and the same would likely hold true for EV power.
Another major challenge is how to balance the useful lifetime of EV batteries in transportation and non-vehicle applications. That question turns on understanding how EV batteries will perform and age in stationary-power roles. Users would hardly be further ahead, after all, if they substantially degraded their batteries in the act of paying them off. Grid managers could also face problems if they come to depend on EV batteries that prove unreliable or become unavailable as driving patterns change.
In short, the core conundrum of V2G is the conflict of interest that comes from repurposing privately owned automobiles as power plants. Scaling up this technology will require intimate collaboration between automaking and electricity-making, enterprises with substantially different revenue models and systems of regulation. At the moment, the auto industry does not have a clear interest in V2G.
On the other hand, rising electricity demand, concerns about fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, and climate change, and the challenges of managing intermittent renewable energy have all created new justifications for bidirectional EV power. With the proliferation of EVs over the last decade, more demonstrations of the technology are being staged for a host of applications—sometimes expressed as V2X, or vehicle-to-everything. Some automakers, notably Nissan and now Ford, already sell bidirectional EVs, and others are experimenting with the technology. Enterprises are emerging to equip and manage demonstrations of V2B, V2G, and V2X for utilities and big institutional users of electricity. Some ambitious pilot projects are underway, notably in the Dutch city of Utrecht.
Back in 2002, at the end of their experiment, the engineers at AC Propulsion concluded that what V2G really needed was a powerful institutional champion. They went on to make further important contributions to EV technology. Brooks and Rippel worked for the nascent Tesla Motors, while Cocconi continued at ACP until a cancer diagnosis led him to reevaluate his life. In the mid-2000s, Cocconi sold his stake in the company and devoted himself to aviation, his first love, developing remote-controlled solar-powered aircraft. The rebirth of the battery electric car in the 2010s and 2020s reaffirmed the efforts of these three visionary pioneers.
A strong V2G patron has yet to emerge. Nevertheless, the idea of an off-the-shelf energy storage unit that also provides transportation and pays for itself is likely to remain attractive enough to sustain ongoing interest. Who knows? The electric car might still one day become a power plant on wheels.
The author thanks Alec Brooks, Alan Cocconi, David Hawkins, David Slutzky, and Wally Rippel for sharing their experiences. Parts of this article are adapted from the author’s new book, Age of Auto Electric (MIT Press, 2022).
Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.
Enjoy today’s videos!
Agilicious is a co-designed hardware and software framework tailored to autonomous, agile quadrotor flight, which has been developed and used since 2016 at the Robotics and Perception Group of the University of Zurich. Agilicious is completely open-source and open hardware and supports both model-based and neural-network-based controllers!
[ Agilicious ]
Flexiv’s adaptive robot masseur fuses force control, computer vision, and artificial intelligence to emulate the skill and dexterity of a human massage therapist.
[ Flexiv ]
Freely inspired by Jean de la Fontaine’s “The Wolf and the Lamb”, Coperni’s fashion show in Paris. features the Spot robots from Boston Dynamics in relation with human beings. Unlike the original fable written in the 17th century, which raises questions relating to the balance of power between the human groups that make up society, Coperni reinterprets the story and transposes it to the year of 2023 with a positive vision of the future. The figure of the wolf is replaced by Spot robots, whereas the lambs by human beings. The fashion show tells the story of their meeting, their mutual taming and their cohabitation. The show presents Coperni’s vision which is that there is neither a dominant nor a dominated, but that the mankind and machine live in harmony.
[ Coperni ]
Meet the third-generation prototype Honda Autonomous Work Vehicle (AWV), a new category of capable work vehicle that can operate autonomously in a variety of dynamic work environments. The Honda AWV has the potential to bring greater efficiencies, enhanced workforce productivity, and better environmental performance to the construction industry, and to other industries seeking an autonomous off-road solution.
[ Honda ]
Skydio’s partnership with WeRobotics provides microgrant scholarships to Flying Labs across the globe, with Nepal Flying Labs being selected as a recipient for their project to create a digital twin of Changu Narayan Temple, the oldest temple in Kathmandu Valley, dating back to the 5th Century.
[ Skydio ]
This is perhaps the jauntiest gait I have ever seen in a humanoid robot.
[ GitHub ]
Interesting “autoloader” for Wing delivery drones.
[ Wing ]
In this video, we showcase how robots can learn from human experts to master complex task sequencing in various manufacturing processes, such as surface finishing and composite layup. We demonstrate how robots can learn the expert’s task sequencing policies for composite layup task and perform execution on a brand new test part.
[ USC Viterbi ]
We present a sim-to-real learning-based approach for real-world humanoid locomotion. We do not use state estimation, dynamics models, trajectory optimization, reference trajectories, or pre-computed gait libraries. Our controller is trained with large-scale model-free reinforcement learning on an ensemble of randomized environments in simulation and deployed to the real world in a zero-shot fashion. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a fully learning-based method for real-world full-sized humanoid locomotion.
[ Paper ]
[ Texas A&M ]
This work addresses the problem of active collaborative localization of robot teams with unknown data association. In particular, it involves positioning a small number of identical unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) at desired positions so that an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can, through unlabelled measurements of UGVs, uniquely determine its global pose. This work enables robust localization in perceptually challenged GPS-denied environments, thus paving the road for large-scale multi-robot navigation and mapping.
[ UPenn ]
This work presents a multi-segment vine robot that can navigate complex paths without interacting with its environment. This is achieved by a new steering method that selectively actuates each single pouch at the tip, providing high degrees of freedom with few control inputs.
[ Paper ]
TBNET and DEEP Robotics deployed Jueying X20 quadruped robot with two high-precision surveying and mapping equipment. It has completed on-site data collection in the complex terrain of real scenes such as indoor and outdoor construction sites, electric tower groups, railways, underground garages, and ancient buildings.
[ DeepRobotics ]
Here’s a quick look at RoMeLa’s novel robotic limb EEMMMa (Elastic Extending Mechanism for Mobility and Manipulation), a long-reach steel tentacle that can both extend and bend. It can be used to deploy grappling hooks for climbing, and morph its shape to bend around obstacles. This can allow it to place cameras and retrieve samples from hard-to-reach places. The limb’s unique tape spring construction results in a versatile, lightweight, and compact system. This can enable future mobile robots to move easily and safely through highly unstructured terrain such as forests or cave systems.
[ RoMeLa ]
Micro Robots are a revolutionary new technology that could change how we interact with the world around us. For the first time, a collaborative research team of electrical and computer engineers, with support from NSF, has installed electronic brains on solar-powered microbots the size of a human hair. One of the biggest challenges is their small size-requiring external control, such as a computer or smartphone, limiting their range and making the bots difficult to manipulate remotely until now.
[ NSF ]
A team of scientists, engineers, and designers embark on an Arctic expedition to test space technology. The MIT Space Exploration Initiative expedition in Svalbard was not simply a space analog mission, but an experience to learn how to help enable better access to remote regions from the far corners of planet Earth, to the Moon, and Mars.
[ MIT ]
The Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February 2021, has the most advanced autonomous driving capability ever flown to Mars. Having such an advanced capability contributes to the rover’s challenging mission to discover signs of life that may have existed on Mars in a distant past. This talk provides an overview on the current research and development efforts on robotics autonomy at JPL, with an emphasis on enhancing the safety, efficiency, and performance of robotic mobility through the applications of risk-aware decision making and machine learning.
[ JPL ]
An interactive webinar discussing the potential and the path toward general-purpose robotic manipulation. This will be the first in a series, hosted by Northwestern’s Center for Robotics and Biosystems, devoted to this grand challenge of robotics.
[ Northwestern ]
Are you looking for a new graphic design tool? Would you like to read a detailed review of Canva? As it's one of the tools I love using. I am also writing my first ebook using canva and publish it soon on my site you can download it is free. Let's start the review.
Canva has a web version and also a mobile app
Canva is a free graphic design web application that allows you to create invitations, business cards, flyers, lesson plans, banners, and more using professionally designed templates. You can upload your own photos from your computer or from Google Drive, and add them to Canva's templates using a simple drag-and-drop interface. It's like having a basic version of Photoshop that doesn't require Graphic designing knowledge to use. It’s best for nongraphic designers.
Canva is a great tool for small business owners, online entrepreneurs, and marketers who don’t have the time and want to edit quickly.
To create sophisticated graphics, a tool such as Photoshop can is ideal. To use it, you’ll need to learn its hundreds of features, get familiar with the software, and it’s best to have a good background in design, too.
Also running the latest version of Photoshop you need a high-end computer.
So here Canva takes place, with Canva you can do all that with drag-and-drop feature. It’s also easier to use and free. Also an even-more-affordable paid version is available for $12.95 per month.
The product is available in three plans: Free, Pro ($12.99/month per user or $119.99/year for up to 5 people), and Enterprise ($30 per user per month, minimum 25 people).
To get started on Canva, you will need to create an account by providing your email address, Google, Facebook or Apple credentials. You will then choose your account type between student, teacher, small business, large company, non-profit, or personal. Based on your choice of account type, templates will be recommended to you.
You can sign up for a free trial of Canva Pro, or you can start with the free version to get a sense of whether it’s the right graphic design tool for your needs.
When you sign up for an account, Canva will suggest different post types to choose from. Based on the type of account you set up you'll be able to see templates categorized by the following categories: social media posts, documents, presentations, marketing, events, ads, launch your business, build your online brand, etc.
Start by choosing a template for your post or searching for something more specific. Search by social network name to see a list of post types on each network.
Next, you can choose a template. Choose from hundreds of templates that are ready to go, with customizable photos, text, and other elements.
You can start your design by choosing from a variety of ready-made templates, searching for a template matching your needs, or working with a blank template.
Inside the Canva designer, the Elements tab gives you access to lines and shapes, graphics, photos, videos, audio, charts, photo frames, and photo grids.The search box on the Elements tab lets you search everything on Canva.
To begin with, Canva has a large library of elements to choose from. To find them, be specific in your search query. You may also want to search in the following tabs to see various elements separately:
The Photos tab lets you search for and choose from millions of professional stock photos for your templates.
You can replace the photos in our templates to create a new look. This can also make the template more suited to your industry.
You can find photos on other stock photography sites like pexel, pixabay and many more or simply upload your own photos.
When you choose an image, Canva’s photo editing features let you adjust the photo’s settings (brightness, contrast, saturation, etc.), crop, or animate it.
When you subscribe to Canva Pro, you get access to a number of premium features, including the Background Remover. This feature allows you to remove the background from any stock photo in library or any image you upload.
The Text tab lets you add headings, normal text, and graphical text to your design.
When you click on text, you'll see options to adjust the font, font size, color, format, spacing, and text effects (like shadows).
Canva Pro subscribers can choose from a large library of fonts on the Brand Kit or the Styles tab. Enterprise-level controls ensure that visual content remains on-brand, no matter how many people are working on it.
Create an animated image or video by adding audio to capture user’s attention in social news feeds.
If you want to use audio from another stock site or your own audio tracks, you can upload them in the Uploads tab or from the more option.
Want to create your own videos? Choose from thousands of stock video clips. You’ll find videos that range upto 2 minutes
You can upload your own videos as well as videos from other stock sites in the Uploads tab.
Once you have chosen a video, you can use the editing features in Canva to trim the video, flip it, and adjust its transparency.
On the Background tab, you’ll find free stock photos to serve as backgrounds on your designs. Change out the background on a template to give it a more personal touch.
The Styles tab lets you quickly change the look and feel of your template with just a click. And if you have a Canva Pro subscription, you can upload your brand’s custom colors and fonts to ensure designs stay on brand.
If you have a Canva Pro subscription, you’ll have a Logos tab. Here, you can upload variations of your brand logo to use throughout your designs.
With Canva, you can also create your own logos. Note that you cannot trademark a logo with stock content in it.
With Canva, free users can download and share designs to multiple platforms including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Slack and Tumblr.
Canva Pro subscribers can create multiple post formats from one design. For example, you can start by designing an Instagram post, and Canva's Magic Resizer can resize it for other networks, Stories, Reels, and other formats.
Canva Pro subscribers can also use Canva’s Content Planner to post content on eight different accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Slack, and Tumblr.
Canva Pro allows you to work with your team on visual content. Designs can be created inside Canva, and then sent to your team members for approval. Everyone can make comments, edits, revisions, and keep track via the version history.
When it comes to printing your designs, Canva has you covered. With an extensive selection of printing options, they can turn your designs into anything from banners and wall art to mugs and t-shirts.
Canva Print is perfect for any business seeking to make a lasting impression. Create inspiring designs people will want to wear, keep, and share. Hand out custom business cards that leave a lasting impression on customers' minds.
The Canva app is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play. The Canva app has earned a 4.9 out of five star rating from over 946.3K Apple users and a 4.5 out of five star rating from over 6,996,708 Google users.
In addition to mobile apps, you can use Canva’s integration with other Internet services to add images and text from sources like Google Maps, Emojis, photos from Google Drive and Dropbox, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, Bitmojis, and other popular visual content elements.
In general, Canva is an excellent tool for those who need simple images for projects. If you are a graphic designer with experience, you will find Canva’s platform lacking in customization and advanced features – particularly vectors. But if you have little design experience, you will find Canva easier to use than advanced graphic design tools like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator for most projects. If you have any queries let me know in the comments section.
The European Commission wants Europe to boost its share of global semiconductor production to 20 percent by 2030, from 10 percent today. To that end, it is forwarding plans for more than €43 billion in public and private investment through a European Chips Act. To accomplish that increase in chip capacity, the legislation will approve appropriations for R&D, incentivize manufacturing, and take steps to make the supply chain more secure. Jo De Boeck, chief strategy officer and executive vice president at the Belgium-based nanoelectronics R&D center Imec, explained a proposed R&D structure and its likely impact to engineers at the 2023 IEEE International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) last month in San Francisco. The R&D segment relies on the establishment of advanced pilot line facilities, to enable a path from laboratory breakthrough to fab production, and a network of competence centers, to build up capacity for semiconductor design. De Boeck spoke with IEEE Spectrum’s Samuel K. Moore at ISSCC.
IEEE Spectrum: What would you say are Europe’s strengths today in semiconductor manufacturing?Jo De Boeck: Well, manufacturing holds quite a few things. So first and foremost, I think of semiconductor manufacturing equipment and materials. Think of [Netherlands-based extreme-ultraviolet lithography maker], ASML. If you move up to the manufacturing part, you have some of our integrated device manufacturers [IDMs] in analog and analog mixed-signal and power devices, which is, of course, quite a very important area of devices and production to be in. But clearly—and that’s part of the reason for the Chips Act—there’s no European manufacturing presence at the most advanced technology nodes.
That said, how much of the focus should be on getting that cutting-edge logic versus building on the strengths that you already have?
De Boeck: Well, if it means focusing on one is losing on the other, I think that’s a bad choice to make. I think it’s important, first of all, to keep a long enough view in mind. 2030 is like tomorrow in this industry. So if we’re looking at getting 20 percent production in Europe by 2030 and you would aim that toward being leading edge, you’re in a hard place already. Before fabs are built and technology is transferred, it will be close to the end of the decade. So we need to look further out whilst continuing to build on the strengths that are there, such as the IDMs that are producing the goodies that we just discussed.
I think the important part is to find a way to keep up the capacity of the R&D and to start training people on the design of the leading-edge nodes. If there’s no demand [from chip-design firms], there will be no economical reason to build a fab [in Europe].
You talked about building “capacity to innovate.” Could you just start by explaining what’s meant by that?
De Boeck: The capacity for innovation in the case of our industry means two things—the design and the technology. And they need to go hand in hand. They need to be really close to each other. One area of the capacity will be on the design platform, and that design platform will be in the cloud, accessible from many places. The idea is that there will be design capacity in each and every member state through competence centers.
The design capacity is then balanced by the innovation in semiconductor technology. That will be carried out in larger facilities, because there needs to be focused investments there. These will be connected to competence centers for specific expertises and for design enablement on a pilot line. So the pilot line/competence center combination is the innovation capacity.
You also mentioned virtual prototyping as part of the plan. Please explain what you mean by that and what its role is.
De Boeck: I can explain by the example of back-side power delivery network technology. [Ed: This is a technology expected to debut in two or three years that delivers power to transistors from beneath the silicon instead of from above as is done now.] It’s something where the design community needs to get its hands on to do system-level exploration to see how, for instance, a back-side power distribution network could help the performance of a circuit improve. All of this requires this interplay between technology, electronic design automation vendors, and the design community. This has to be done first at a modeling and virtual prototyping phase, before you can make full silicon.
You stressed the importance of full-stack innovation. Please explain.
De Boeck: Full-stack means different things to different disciplines. But take, for example, the interplay between sensing and compute in the car of the future. That, of course, will involve a high-performance computer that needs to talk to the environment whether we’re talking to the other traffic elements—pedestrians, bicycles, cars, etc.—or understanding weather conditions That will require a lot of sensors in the car whose data must be fused by the computer. If you don’t know how this data will enter the sensor fusion engine, how much preprocessing you want to do on the sensor, you may be focusing on a suboptimal solution when developing your sensor or system architecture. Maybe you need to have a neural network on your radar to convert the raw data to early information before sending it to the central engine where it’s going to be combined with the camera input and whatever else is needed to build a full picture around the car or in its environment. A situation like that will require every element of that full stack to be co-optimized.
How can the EU Chips Act actually help make that happen?
De Boeck: Well, I think in general terms, it could stimulate collaboration. It could help to create awareness and start training people in this context because you need youngsters to start looking at the challenges in this particular way.
On a gin-clear December day, I’m sitting under the plexiglass bubble of a radically new kind of aircraft. It’s a little past noon at the Byron Airport in northern California; in the distance, a jagged line of wind turbines atop rolling hills marks the Altamont Pass, blades spinning lazily. Above me, a cloudless blue sky beckons.
The aircraft, called BlackFly, is unlike anything else on the planet. Built by a Palo Alto, Calif., startup called Opener, it’s an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft with stubby wings fore and aft of the pilot, each with four motors and propellers. Visually, it’s as though an aerial speedster from a 1930s pulp sci-fi story has sprung from the page.
There are a couple of hundred startups designing or flying eVTOLs. But only a dozen or so are making tiny, technologically sophisticated machines whose primary purpose is to provide exhilarating but safe flying experiences to people after relatively minimal training. And in that group, Opener has jumped out to an early lead, having built dozens of aircraft at its facilities in Palo Alto and trained more than a score of people to fly them.
My own route to the cockpit of a BlackFly was relatively straightforward. I contacted the company’s CEO, Ken Karklin, in September 2022, pitched him on the idea of a story and video, and three months later I was flying one of his aircraft.
Well, sort of flying it. My brief flight was so highly automated that I was more passenger than pilot. Nevertheless, I spent about a day and a half before the flight being trained to fly the machine manually, so that I could take control if anything went wrong. For this training, I wore a virtual-reality headset and sat in a chair that tilted and gyrated to simulate flying maneuvers. To “fly” this simulation I manipulated a joystick that was identical to the one in the cockpit of a BlackFly. Opener’s chief operating officer, Kristina L. Menton, and engineer Wyatt Warner took turns patiently explaining the operations of the vehicle and giving me challenging tasks to complete, such as hovering and performing virtual landings in a vicious crosswind.
The BlackFly is entirely controlled by that joystick, which is equipped with a trigger and also topped by a thumb switch. To take off, I squeeze the trigger while simultaneously pushing forward on the switch. The machine leaps into the air with the sound of a million bees, and with a surge of giddy elation I am climbing skyward.
Much more so than an airplane or helicopter, the BlackFly taps into archetypal human yearnings for flight, the kind represented by magic carpets, the flying cars in “The Jetsons,” and even those Mountain Banshees in the movie “Avatar.” I’ve had several unusual experiences in aircraft, including flying on NASA’s zero-gravity-simulating “Vomit Comet,” and being whisked around in a BlackFly was definitely the most absorbing and delightful. Gazing out over the Altamont Pass from an altitude of about 60 meters, I had a feeling of joyous release—from Earth’s gravity and from earthly troubles.
For technical details about the BlackFly and to learn more about its origin, go here.
The BlackFly is also a likely harbinger of things to come. Most of the startups developing eVTOLs are building vehicles meant to carry several passengers on commercial runs of less than 50 kilometers. Although the plan is for these to be flown by pilots initially, most of the companies anticipate a day when the flights will be completely automated. So specialized aircraft such as the BlackFly—designed to be registered and operated as “ultralight” aircraft under aviation regulations—could provide mountains of invaluable data on highly and fully automated flying and perhaps even help familiarize people with the idea of flying without a pilot. Indeed, during my flight, dozens of sensors gathered gigabytes of data, to add to the large reservoir Opener has already collected during many hundreds of test flights so far.
As of late February 2023, Opener hadn’t yet announced a retail price or an official commercial release date for the aircraft, which has been under development and testing for more than a decade. I’ll be keeping an eye out for further news of the company. Long after my flight was over I was still savoring the experience, and hoping for another one.
Special thanks to IEEE.tv for collaborating on production of this video.
For about as long as engineers have talked about beaming solar power to Earth from space, they’ve had to caution that it was an idea unlikely to become real anytime soon. Elaborate designs for orbiting solar farms have circulated for decades—but since photovoltaic cells were inefficient, any arrays would need to be the size of cities. The plans got no closer to space than the upper shelves of libraries.
That’s beginning to change. Right now, in a sun-synchronous orbit about 525 kilometers overhead, there is a small experimental satellite called the Space Solar Power Demonstrator One (SSPD-1 for short). It was designed and built by a team at the California Institute of Technology, funded by donations from the California real estate developer Donald Bren, and launched on 3 January—among 113 other small payloads—on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
“To the best of our knowledge, this would be the first demonstration of actual power transfer in space, of wireless power transfer,” says Ali Hajimiri, a professor of electrical engineering at Caltech and a codirector of the program behind SSPD-1, the Space Solar Power Project.
The Caltech team is waiting for a go-ahead from the operators of a small space tug to which it is attached, providing guidance and attitude control. If all goes well, SSPD-1 will spend at least five to six months testing prototype components of possible future solar stations in space. In the next few weeks, the project managers hope to unfold a lightweight frame, called DOLCE (short for Deployable on-Orbit ultraLight Composite Experiment), on which parts of future solar arrays could be mounted. Another small assembly on the spacecraft contains samples of 32 different types of photovoltaic cells, intended to see which would be most efficient and robust. A third part of the vehicle contains a microwave transmitter, set up to prove that energy from the solar cells can be sent to a receiver. For this first experiment, the receivers are right there on board the spacecraft, but if it works, an obvious future step would be to send electricity via microwave to receivers on the ground.
Caltech’s Space Solar Power Demonstrator, shown orbiting Earth in this artist’s conception, was launched on 3 January.Caltech
One can dismiss the 50-kilogram SSPD-1 as yet another nonstarter, but a growing army of engineers and policymakers take solar energy from space seriously. Airbus, the European aerospace company, has been testing its own technology on the ground, and government agencies in China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States have all mounted small projects. “Recent technology and conceptual advances have made the concept both viable and economically competitive,” said Frazer-Nash, a British engineering consultancy, in a 2021 report to the U.K. government. Engineers working on the technology say microwave power transmissions would be safe, unlike ionizing radiation, which is harmful to people or other things in its path.
No single thing has happened to start this renaissance. Instead, say engineers, several advances are coming together.
For one thing, the cost of launching hardware into orbit keeps dropping, led by SpaceX and other, smaller companies such as Rocket Lab. SpaceX has a simplified calculator on its website, showing that if you want to launch a 50-kg satellite into sun-synchronous orbit, they’ll do it for US $275,000.
Meanwhile, photovoltaic technology has improved, step by step. Lightweight electronic components keep getting better and cheaper. And there is political pressure as well: Governments and major companies have made commitments to decarbonize in the battle against global climate change, committing to renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels.
Most solar power, at least for the foreseeable future, will be Earth-based, which will be cheaper and easier to maintain than anything anyone can launch into space. Proponents of space-based solar power say that for now, they see it as best used for specialty needs, such as remote outposts, places recovering from disasters, or even other space vehicles.
But Hajimiri says don’t underestimate the advantages of space, such as unfiltered sunlight that is far stronger than what reaches the ground and is uninterrupted by darkness or bad weather—if you can build an orbiting array light enough to be practical.
Most past designs, dictated by the technology of their times, included impossibly large truss structures to hold solar panels and wiring to route power to a central transmitter. The Caltech team would dispense with all that. An array would consist of thousands of independent tiles as small as 100 square centimeters, each with its own solar cells, transmitter, and avionics. They might be loosely connected, or they might even fly in formation.
Time-lapse images show the experimental DOLCE frame for an orbiting solar array being unfolded in a clean room.Caltech
“The analogy I like to use is that it’s like an army of ants instead of an elephant,” says Hajimiri. Transmission to receivers on the ground could be by phased array—microwave signals from the tiles synchronized so that they can be aimed with no moving parts. And the parts—the photovoltaic cells with their electronics—could perhaps be so lightweight that they’re flexible. New algorithms could keep their signals focused.
“That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about,” said Harry Atwater, a coleader of the Caltech project, as SSPD-1 was being planned. “Really gossamer-like, ultralight, the limits of mass-density deployable systems.”
If it works out, in 30 years maybe there could be orbiting solar power fleets, adding to the world’s energy mix. In other words, as a recent report from Frazer-Nash concluded, this is “a potential game changer.”
If electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft do manage to revolutionize transportation, the date of 5 October 2011, may live on in aviation lore. That was the day when a retired mechanical engineer named Marcus Leng flew a home-built eVTOL across his front yard in Warkworth, Ont., Canada, startling his wife and several of his friends.
“So, take off, flew about 6 feet above the ground, pitched the aircraft towards my wife and the two couples that were there, who were behind automobiles for protection, and decided to do a skidding stop in front of them. Nobody had an idea that this was going to be happening,” recalls Leng.
But as he looked to set his craft down, he saw a wing starting to dig into his lawn. “Uh-oh, this is not good,” he thought. “The aircraft is going to spin out of control. But what instead happened was the propulsion systems revved up and down so rapidly that as the aircraft did that skidding turn, that wing corner just dragged along my lawn exactly in the direction I was holding the aircraft, and then came to a stable landing,” says Leng. At that point, he knew that such an aircraft was viable “because to have that sort of an interference in the aircraft and for the control systems to be able to control it was truly remarkable.”
It was the second time anyone, anywhere had ever flown an eVTOL aircraft.
Today, some 350 organizations in 48 countries are designing, building, or flying eVTOLs, according to the Vertical Flight Society. These companies are fueled by more than US $7 billion and perhaps as much as $10 billion in startup funding. And yet, 11 years after Leng’s flight, no eVTOLs have been delivered to customers or are being produced at commercial scale. None have even been certified by a civil aviation authority in the West, such as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration or the European Union Aviation Safety Agency.
But 2023 looks to be a pivotal year for eVTOLs. Several well-funded startups are expected to reach important early milestones in the certification process. And the company Leng founded, Opener, could beat all of them by making its first deliveries—which would also be the first for any maker of an eVTOL.
Today, some 350 organizations in 48 countries are designing, building, or flying eVTOLs, according to the Vertical Flight Society.
As of late October, the company had built at its facility in Palo Alto, Calif., roughly 70 aircraft—considerably more than are needed for simple testing and evaluation. It had flown more than 30 of them. And late in 2022, the company had begun training a group of operators on a state-of-the-art virtual-reality simulator system.
Opener’s highly unusual, single-seat flier is intended for personal use rather than transporting passengers, which makes it almost unique. Opener intends to have its aircraft classified as an “ultralight,” enabling it to bypass the rigorous certification required for commercial-transport and other aircraft types. The certification issue looms as a major unknown over the entire eVTOL enterprise, at least in the United States, because, as the blog Jetlaw.com noted last August, “the FAA has no clear timeline or direction on when it will finalize a permanent certification process for eVTOL.”
Opener’s strategy is not without risks, either. For one, there’s no guarantee that the FAA will ultimately agree that Opener’s aircraft, called BlackFly, qualifies as an ultralight. And not everyone is happy with this approach. “My concern is, these companies that are saying they can be ultralights and start flying around in public are putting at risk a $10 billion [eVTOL] industry,” says Mark Moore, founder and chief executive of Whisper Aero in Crossville, Tenn. “Because if they crash, people won’t know the difference” between the ultralights and the passenger eVTOLs, he adds. “To me, that’s unacceptable.” Previously, Moore led a team at NASA that designed a personal-use eVTOL and then served as engineering director at Uber’s Elevate initiative.
A BlackFly eVTOL took off on 1 October, 2022, at the Pacific Airshow in Huntington Beach, Calif. Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Opener’s aircraft is as singular as its business model. It’s a radically different kind of aircraft, and it sprang almost entirely from Leng’s fertile mind.
“As a kid,” he says, “I already envisioned what it would be like to have an aircraft that could seamlessly do a vertical takeoff, fly, and land again without any encumbrances whatsoever.” It was a vision that never left him, from a mechanical-engineering degree at the University of Toronto, management jobs in the aerospace industry, starting a company and making a pile of money by inventing a new kind of memory foam, and then retiring in 1996 at the age of 36.
The fundamental challenge to designing a vertical-takeoff aircraft is endowing it with both vertical lift and efficient forward cruising. Most eVTOL makers achieve this by physically tilting multiple large rotors from a vertical rotation axis, for takeoff, to a horizontal one, for cruising. But the mechanism for tilting the rotors must be extremely robust, and therefore it inevitably adds substantial complexity and weight. Such tilt-rotors also entail significant compromises and trade-offs in the size of the rotors and their placement relative to the wings.
Opener’s BlackFly ingeniously avoids having to make those trade-offs and compromises. It has two wings, one in front and one behind the pilot. Affixed to each wing are four motors and rotors—and these never change their orientation relative to the wings. Nor do the wings move relative to the fuselage. Instead, the entire aircraft rotates in the air to transition between vertical and horizontal flight.
To control the aircraft, the pilot moves a joystick, and those motions are instantly translated by redundant flight-control systems into commands that alter the relative thrust among the eight motor-propellers.
Visually, it’s an astounding aircraft, like something from a 1930s pulp sci-fi magazine. It’s also a triumph of engineering.
Leng says the journey started for him in 2008, when “I just serendipitously stumbled upon the fact that all the key technologies for making electric VTOL human flight practical were coming to a nexus.”
The journey that made Leng’s dream a reality kicked into high gear in 2014 when a chance meeting with investor Sebastian Thrun at an aviation conference led to Google cofounder Larry Page investing in Leng’s project.
Leng started in his basement in 2010, spending his own money on a mélange of home-built and commercially available components. The motors were commercial units that Leng modified himself, the motor controllers were German and off the shelf, the inertial-measurement unit was open source and based on an Arduino microcontroller. The batteries were modified model-aircraft lithium-polymer types.
“The main objective behind this was proof of concept,” he says.“I had to prove it to myself, because up until that point, they were just equations on a piece of paper. I had to get to the point where I knew that this could be practical.”
After his front-yard flight in 2011, there followed several years of refining and rebuilding all of the major components until they achieved the specifications Leng wanted. “Everything on BlackFly is from first principles,” he declares.
The motors started out generating 160 newtons (36 pounds) of static thrust. It was way too low. “I actually tried to purchase motors and motor controllers from companies that manufactured those, and I specifically asked them to customize those motors for me, by suggesting a number of changes,” he says. “I was told that, no, those changes won’t work.”
So he started designing his own brushless AC motors. “I did not want to design motors,” says Leng. “In the end, I was stunned at how much improvement we could make by just applying first principles to this motor design.”
Eleven years after Leng’s flight, no eVTOLs have been delivered to customers or are being produced at commercial scale.
To increase the power density, he had to address the tendency of a motor in an eVTOL to overheat at high thrust, especially during hover, when cooling airflow over the motor is minimal. He began by designing a system to force air through the motor. Then he began working on the rotor of the motor (not to be confused with the rotor wings that lift and propel the aircraft). This is the spinning part of a motor, which is typically a single piece of electrical steel. It’s an iron alloy with very high magnetic permeability.
By layering the steel of the rotor, Leng was able to greatly reduce its heat generation, because the thinner layers of steel limited the eddy currents in the steel that create heat. Less heat meant he could use higher-strength neodymium magnets, which would otherwise become demagnetized. Finally, he rearranged those magnets into a configuration called a Halbach array. In the end Leng’s motors were able to produce 609 newtons (137 lbs.) of thrust.
Overall, the 2-kilogram motors are capable of sustaining 20 kilowatts, for a power density of 10 kilowatts per kilogram, Leng says. It’s an extraordinary figure. One of the few motor manufacturers claiming a density in that range is H3X Technologies, which says its HPDM-250 clocks in at 12 kw/kg.
The brain of the BlackFly consists of three independent flight controllers, which calculate the aircraft’s orientation and position, based on readings from the inertial-measurement units, GPS receivers, and magnetometers. They also use pitot tubes to measure airspeed. The flight controllers continually cross-check their outputs to make sure they agree. They also feed instructions, based on the operator’s movement of the joystick, to the eight motor controllers (one for each motor).
Equipped with these sophisticated flight controllers, the fly-by-wire BlackFly is similar in that regard to the hobbyist drones that rely on processors and clever algorithms to avoid the tricky manipulations of sticks, levers, and pedals required to fly a traditional fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft.
That sophisticated, real-time control will allow a far larger number of people to consider purchasing a BlackFly when it becomes available. In late November, Opener had not disclosed a likely purchase price, but in the past the company had suggested that BlackFly would cost as much as a luxury SUV. So who might buy it? CEO Ken Karklin points to several distinct groups of potential buyers who have little in common other than wealth.
There are early tech adopters and also people who are already aviators and are “passionate about the future of electric flight, who love the idea of being able to have their own personal vertical-takeoff-and-landing, low-maintenance, clean aircraft that they can fly in rural and uncongested areas,” Karklin says. “One of them is a business owner. He has a plant that’s a 22-mile drive but would only be a 14-mile flight, and he wants to install charging infrastructure on either end and wants to use it to commute every day. We love that.”
Others are less certain about how, or even whether, this market segment will establish itself. “When it comes to personal-use eVTOLs, we are really struggling to see the business case,” says Sergio Cecutta, founder and partner at SMG Consulting, where he studies eVTOLs among other high-tech transportation topics. “I’m not saying they won’t sell. It’s how many will they sell?” He notes that Opener is not the only eVTOL maker pursuing a path to success through the ultralight or some other specialized FAA category. As of early November, the list included Alauda Aeronautics, Air, Alef, Bellwether Industries, Icon Aircraft, Jetson, Lift Aircraft, and Ryse Aero Technologies.
What makes Opener special? Both Karklin and Leng emphasize the value of all that surrounds the BlackFly aircraft. For example, there are virtual-reality-based simulators that they say enable them to fully train an operator in 10 to 15 hours. The aircraft themselves are heavily instrumented: “Every flight, literally, there’s over 1,000 parameters that are recorded, some of them at 1,000 hertz, some 100 Hz, 10 Hz, and 1 Hz,” says Leng. “All that information is stored on the aircraft and downloaded to our database at the end of the flight. When we go and make a software change, we can do what’s called regression testing by running that software using all the data from our previous flights. And we can compare the outputs against what the outputs were during any specific flight and can automatically confirm that the changes that we’ve made are without any issues. And we can also compare, to see if they make an improvement.”
Ed Lu, a former NASA astronaut and executive at Google, sits on Opener’s safety-review board. He says what impressed him most when he first met the BlackFly team was “the fact that they had based their entire development around testing. They had a wealth of flight data from flying this vehicle in a drone mode, an unmanned mode.” Having all that data was key. “They could make their decisions based not on analysis, but after real-world operations,” Lu says, adding that he is particularly impressed by Opener’s ability to manage all the flight data. “It allows them to keep track of every aircraft, what sensors are in which aircraft, which versions of code, all the way down to the flights, to what happened in each flight, to videos of what’s happening.” Lu thinks this will be a huge advantage once the aircraft is released into the “real” world.
Karklin declines to comment on whether an ultralight approval, which is governed by what the FAA designates “ Part 103,” might be an opening move toward an FAA type certification in the future. “This is step one for us, and we are going to be very, very focused on personal air vehicles for recreational and fun purposes for the foreseeable future,” he says. “But we’ve also got a working technology stack here and an aircraft architecture that has considerable utility beyond the realm of Part-103 [ultralight] aircraft, both for crewed and uncrewed applications.” Asked what his immediate goals are, Karklin responds without hesitating. “We will be the first eVTOL company, we believe, in serial production, with a small but steadily growing revenue and order book, and with a growing installed base of cloud-connected aircraft that with every flight push all the telemetry, all the flight behavior, all the component behavior, all the operator-behavior data representing all of this up to the cloud, to be ingested by our back office, and processed. And that provides us a lot of opportunity.”
This article appears in the January 2023 print issue as “Finally, an eVTOL You Can Buy Soonish.”
Top Tech 2023: A Special Report
Preview exciting technical developments for the coming year.
Can This Company Dominate Green Hydrogen?
Fortescue will need more electricity-generating capacity than France.
Pathfinder 1 could herald a new era for zeppelins
A New Way to Speed Up Computing
Blue microLEDs bring optical fiber to the processor.
The Personal-Use eVTOL Is (Almost) Here
Opener’s BlackFly is a pulp-fiction fever dream with wings.
Baidu Will Make an Autonomous EV
Its partnership with Geely aims at full self-driving mode.
China Builds New Breeder Reactors
The power plants could also make weapons-grade plutonium.
Economics Drives a Ray-Gun Resurgence
Lasers should be cheap enough to use against drones.
A Cryptocurrency for the Masses or a Universal ID?
What Worldcoin’s killer app will be is not yet clear.
The company’s Condor chip will boast more than 1,000 qubits.
Vagus-nerve stimulation promises to help treat autoimmune disorders.
New satellites can connect directly to your phone.
The E.U.’s first exascale supercomputer will be built in Germany.
A dozen more tech milestones to watch for in 2023.
Three days before astronauts left on Apollo 8, the first-ever flight around the moon, NASA’s safety chief, Jerome Lederer, gave a speech that was at once reassuring and chilling. Yes, he said, the United States’ moon program was safe and well-planned—but even so, “Apollo 8 has 5,600,000 parts and one and one half million systems, subsystems, and assemblies. Even if all functioned with 99.9 percent reliability, we could expect 5,600 defects.”
The mission, in December 1968, was nearly flawless—a prelude to the Apollo 11 landing the next summer. But even today, half a century later, engineers wrestle with the sheer complexity of the machines they build to go to space. NASA’s Artemis I, its Space Launch System rocket mandated by Congress in 2010, endured a host of delays before it finally launched in November 2022. And Elon Musk’s SpaceX may be lauded for its engineering acumen, but it struggled for six years before its first successful flight into orbit.
Relativity envisions 3D-printing facilities someday on the Martian surface, fabricating much of what people from Earth would need to live there.
Is there a better way? An upstart company called Relativity Space is about to try one. Its Terran 1 rocket, the company says, has about a tenth as many parts as comparable launch vehicles do, because it is made through 3D printing. Instead of bending metal and milling and welding, engineers program a robot to deposit layers of metal alloy in place.
Relativity’s first rocket, the company says, is ready to go from launch complex 16 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. When it happens, the company says it will stream the liftoff on YouTube.
Artist’s concept of Relativity’s planned Terran R rocket. The company says it should be able to carry a 20,000-kilogram payload into low Earth orbit.Relativity
“Over 85 percent of the rocket by mass is 3D printed,” said Scott Van Vliet, Relativity’s head of software engineering. “And what’s really cool is not only are we reducing the amount of parts and labor that go into building one of these vehicles over time, but we’re also reducing the complexity, we’re reducing the chance of failure when you reduce the part count, and you streamline the build process.”
Relativity says it can put together a Terran rocket in two months, compared to two years for some conventionally built ones. The speed and cost of making a prototype—say, for wind-tunnel testing—are reduced because you tell the printer to make a scaled-down model. There is less waste because the process is additive. And if something needs to be modified, you reprogram the 3D printer instead of slow, expensive retooling.
Investors have noticed. The company says financial backers have included BlackRock, Y Combinator and the entrepreneur Mark Cuban.
“If you walk into any rocket factory today other than ours,” said Josh Brost, the company’s head of business development, “you still will see hundreds of thousands of parts coming from thousands of vendors, and still being assembled using lots of touch labor and lots of big-fix tools.”
Terran 1 Nose Cone Timelapse Check out this timelapse of our nose cone build for Terran 1. This milestone marks the first time we’ve created this unique shape ...
Terran 1, rated as capable of putting a 1,250-kilogram payload in low Earth orbit, is mainly intended as a test bed. Relativity has signed up a variety of future customers for satellite launches, but the first Terran 1 (“Terran” means “earthling”) will not carry a paying customer’s satellite. The first flight has been given the playful name “Good Luck, Have Fun”—GLHF for short. Eventually, if things are going well, Relativity will build a larger booster, called Terran R, which the company hopes will compete with the SpaceX Falcon 9 for launches of up to 20,000 kg. Relativity says the Terran R should be fully reusable, including the upper stage—something that other commercial launch companies have not accomplished. In current renderings, the rocket is, as the company puts it, “inspired by nature,” shaped to slice through the atmosphere as it ascends and comes back for recovery.
A number of Relativity’s top people came from Musk’s SpaceX or Jeff Bezos’s space company, Blue Origin, and, like Musk, they say their vision is a permanent presence on Mars. Brost calls it “the long-term North Star for us.” They say they can envision 3D-printing facilities someday on the Martian surface, fabricating much of what people from Earth would need to live there. “For that to happen,” says Brost, “you need to have manufacturing capabilities that are autonomous and incredibly flexible.”
Relativity’s fourth-generation Stargate 3D printer.Relativity
Just how Relativity will do all these things is a work in progress. The company says its 3D technology will help it work iteratively—finding mistakes as it goes, then correcting them as it prints the next rocket, and the next, and so on.
“In traditional manufacturing, you have to do a ton of work up front and have a lot of the design features done well ahead of time,” says Van Vliet. “You have to invest in fixed tooling that can often take years to build before you’ve actually developed an article for your launch vehicle. With 3D printing, additive manufacturing, we get to building something very, very quickly.”
The next step is to get the first rocket off the pad. Will it succeed? Brost says a key test will be getting through max q—the point of maximum dynamic pressure on the rocket as it accelerates through the atmosphere before the air around it thins out.
“If you look at history, at new space companies doing large rockets, there’s not a single one that’s done their first rocket on their first try. It would be quite an achievement if we were able to achieve orbit on our inaugural launch,” says Brost.
“I’ve been to many launches in my career,” he says, “and it never gets less exciting or nerve wracking to me.”
Armageddon ruined everything. Armageddon—the 1998 movie, not the mythical battlefield—told the story of an asteroid headed straight for Earth, and a bunch of swaggering roughnecks sent in space shuttles to blow it up with a nuclear weapon.
“Armageddon is big and noisy and stupid and shameless, and it’s going to be huge at the box office,” wrote Jay Carr of the Boston Globe.
Carr was right—the film was the year’s second biggest hit (after Titanic)—and ever since, scientists have had to explain, patiently, that cluttering space with radioactive debris may not be the best way to protect ourselves. NASA is now trying a slightly less dramatic approach with a robotic mission called DART—short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test. On Monday at 7:14 p.m. EDT, if all goes well, the little spacecraft will crash into an asteroid called Dimorphos, about 11 million kilometers from Earth. Dimorphos is about 160 meters across, and orbits a 780-meter asteroid, 65803 Didymos. NASA TV plans to cover it live.
DART’s end will be violent, but not blockbuster-movie-violent. Music won’t swell and girlfriends back on Earth won’t swoon. Mission managers hope the spacecraft, with a mass of about 600 kilograms, hitting at 22,000 km/h, will nudge the asteroid slightly in its orbit, just enough to prove that it’s technologically possible in case a future asteroid has Earth in its crosshairs.
“Maybe once a century or so, there’ll be an asteroid sizeable enough that we’d like to certainly know, ahead of time, if it was going to impact,” says Lindley Johnson, who has the title of planetary defense officer at NASA.
“If you just take a hair off the orbital velocity, you’ve changed the orbit of the asteroid so that what would have been impact three or four years down the road is now a complete miss.”
So take that, Hollywood! If DART succeeds, it will show there are better fuels to protect Earth than testosterone.
The risk of a comet or asteroid that wipes out civilization is really very small, but large enough that policymakers take it seriously. NASA, ordered by the U.S. Congress in 2005 to scan the inner solar system for hazards, has found nearly 900 so-called NEOs—near-Earth objects—at least a kilometer across, more than 95 percent of all in that size range that probably exist. It has plotted their orbits far into the future, and none of them stand more than a fraction of a percent chance of hitting Earth in this millennium.
The DART spacecraft should crash into the asteroid Dimorphos and slow it in its orbit around the larger asteroid Didymos. The LICIACube cubesat will fly in formation to take images of the impact.Johns Hopkins APL/NASA
But there are smaller NEOs, perhaps 140 meters or more in diameter, too small to end civilization but large enough to cause mass destruction if they hit a populated area. There may be 25,000 that come within 50 million km of Earth’s orbit, and NASA estimates telescopes have only found about 40 percent of them. That’s why scientists want to expand the search for them and have good ways to deal with them if necessary. DART is the first test.
NASA takes pains to say this is a low-risk mission. Didymos and Dimorphos never cross Earth’s orbit, and computer simulations show that no matter where or how hard DART hits, it cannot possibly divert either one enough to put Earth in danger. Scientists want to see if DART can alter Dimorphos’s speed by perhaps a few centimeters per second.
The DART spacecraft, a 1-meter cube with two long solar panels, is elegantly simple, equipped with a telescope called DRACO, hydrazine maneuvering thrusters, a xenon-fueled ion engine and a navigation system called SMART Nav. It was launched by a SpaceX rocket in November. About 4 hours and 90,000 km before the hoped-for impact, SMART Nav will take over control of the spacecraft, using optical images from the telescope. Didymos, the larger object, should be a point of light by then; Dimorphos, the intended target, will probably not appear as more than one pixel until about 50 minutes before impact. DART will send one image per second back to Earth, but the spacecraft is autonomous; signals from the ground, 38 light-seconds away, would be useless for steering as the ship races in.
The DART spacecraft separated from its SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, 55 minutes after liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California, 24 November 2021. In this image from the rocket, the spacecraft had not yet unfurled its solar panels.NASA
What’s more, nobody knows the shape or consistency of little Dimorphos. Is it a solid boulder or a loose cluster of rubble? Is it smooth or craggy, round or elongated? “We’re trying to hit the center,” says Evan Smith, the deputy mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is running DART. “We don’t want to overcorrect for some mountain or crater on one side that’s throwing an odd shadow or something.”
So on final approach, DART will cover 800 km without any steering. Thruster firings could blur the last images of Dimorphos’s surface, which scientists want to study. Impact should be imaged from about 50 km away by an Italian-made minisatellite, called LICIACube, which DART released two weeks ago.
“In the minutes following impact, I know everybody is going be high fiving on the engineering side,” said Tom Statler, DART’s program scientist at NASA, “but I’m going be imagining all the cool stuff that is actually going on on the asteroid, with a crater being dug and ejecta being blasted off.”
There is, of course, a possibility that DART will miss, in which case there should be enough fuel on board to allow engineers to go after a backup target. But an advantage of the Didymos-Dimorphos pair is that it should help in calculating how much effect the impact had. Telescopes on Earth (plus the Hubble and Webb space telescopes) may struggle to measure infinitesimal changes in the orbit of Dimorphos around the sun; it should be easier to see how much its orbit around Didymos is affected. The simplest measurement may be of the changing brightness of the double asteroid, as Dimorphos moves in front of or behind its partner, perhaps more quickly or slowly than it did before impact.
“We are moving an asteroid,” said Statler. “We are changing the motion of a natural celestial body in space. Humanity’s never done that before.”
The race to deliver cellular calls from space passes two milestones this month and saw one major announcement last month. First, Apple will offer emergency satellite messaging on two of its latest iPhone models, the company announced on Wednesday. Second, AST SpaceMobile plans a launch on Saturday, 10 September, of an experimental satellite to test full-fledged satellite 5G service. In addition, T-Mobile USA and SpaceX intend to offer their own messaging and limited data service via the second generation of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation, as the two companies announced on 25 August.
Each contender is taking a different approach to space-based cellular service. The Apple offering uses the existing satellite bandwidth Globalstar once used for messaging offerings, but without the need for a satellite-specific handset. The AST project and another company, Lynk Global, would use a dedicated network of satellites with larger-than-normal antennas to produce a 4G, 5G, and someday 6G cellular signal compatible with any existing 4G-compatible phone (as detailed in other recent IEEE Spectrum coverage of space-based 5G offerings). Assuming regulatory approval is forthcoming, the technology would work first in equatorial regions and then across more of the planet as these providers expand their satellite constellations. T-Mobile and Starlink’s offering would work in the former PCS band in the United States. SpaceX, like AST and Lynk, would need to negotiate access to spectrum on a country-by-country basis.
Apple’s competitors are unlikely to see commercial operations before 2024.
“Regulators have not decided on the power limits from space, what concerns there are about interference, especially across national borders. There’s a whole bunch of regulatory issues that simply haven’t been thought about to date.”
—Tim Farrar, telecommunications consultant
The T-Mobile–Starlink announcement is “in some ways an endorsement” of AST and Lynk’s proposition, and “in other ways a great threat,” says telecommunications consultant Tim Farrar of Tim Farrar Associates in Menlo Park, Calif. AST and Lynk have so far told investors they expect their national mobile network operator partners to charge per use or per day, but T-Mobile announced that they plan to include satellite messaging in the 1,900-megahertz range in their existing services. Apple said their Emergency SOS via Satellite service would be free the first two years for U.S. and Canadian iPhone 14 buyers, but did not say what it would cost after that. For now, the Globalstar satellites it is using cannot offer the kind of broadband bandwidth AST has promised, but Globalstar has reported to investors orders for new satellites that might offer new capabilities, including new gateways.
Even under the best conditions—a clear view of the sky—users will need 15 seconds to send a message via Apple’s service. They will also have to follow onscreen guidance to keep the device pointed at the satellites they are using. Light foliage can cause the same message to take more than a minute to send. Ashley Williams, a satellite engineer at Apple who recorded the service’s announcement, also mentioned a data-compression algorithm and a series of rescue-related suggested auto-replies intended to minimize the amount of data that users would need to send during a rescue.
Meanwhile, AST SpaceMobile says it aims to launch an experimental satellite Saturday, 10 September, to test its cellular broadband offering.
Last month’s T-Mobile-SpaceX announcement “helped the world focus attention on the huge market opportunity for SpaceMobile, the only planned space-based cellular broadband network. BlueWalker 3, which has a 693 sq ft array, is scheduled for launch within weeks!” tweeted AST SpaceMobile CEO Abel Avellan on 25 August. The size of the array matters because AST SpaceMobile has so far indicated in its applications for experimental satellite licenses that it intends to use lower radio frequencies (700–900 MHz) with less propagation loss but that require antennas much larger than conventional satellites carry.
The size of the array will also make it more reflective, which has raised concerns among astronomers. The size of Starlink’s planned constellation has already provoked complaints among astronomers because it will interfere with their ability to observe space. Sky & Telescope magazine published on 1 September a call for both professional and amateur astronomers to observe the growing constellations of satellites to document the interference. Professional astronomy societies have lobbied U.S. government agencies and Congress on the issue and met with SpaceX officials in May to discuss a recent change that brightened satellites by 0.5 visual magnitudes.
So far government agencies have issued licenses for thousands of low-Earth-orbiting satellites, which have the biggest impact on astronomers. Even with the constellations starting to form, satellite-cellular telecommunications companies are still open to big regulatory risks. “Regulators have not decided on the power limits from space, what concerns there are about interference, especially across national borders. There’s a whole bunch of regulatory issues that simply haven’t been thought about to date,” Farrar says.
For a hiker with a twisted ankle, a messaging service that takes a while to connect and twinkles in and out of service as satellites fly by may be better than nothing, but early space-based cellular will not be a seamless way to connect to video calls from out at sea.
“User cooperation is in my view the single most critical aspect of whether this service will attract mass-market usage or people willing to pay a significant amount for this service,” Farrar says.
Update 5 Sept.: For now, NASA’s giant Artemis I remains on the ground after two launch attempts scrubbed by a hydrogen leak and a balky engine sensor. Mission managers say Artemis will fly when everything's ready—but haven't yet specified whether that might be in late September or in mid-October.
“When you look at the rocket, it looks almost retro,” said Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA. “Looks like we’re looking back toward the Saturn V. But it’s a totally different, new, highly sophisticated—more sophisticated—rocket, and spacecraft.”
Artemis, powered by the Space Launch System rocket, is America’s first attempt to send astronauts to the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972, and technology has taken giant leaps since then. On Artemis I, the first test flight, mission managers say they are taking the SLS, with its uncrewed Orion spacecraft up top, and “stressing it beyond what it is designed for”—the better to ensure safe flights when astronauts make their first landings, currently targeted to begin with Artemis III in 2025.
But Nelson is right: The rocket is retro in many ways, borrowing heavily from the space shuttles America flew for 30 years, and from the Apollo-Saturn V.
Much of Artemis’s hardware is refurbished: Its four main engines, and parts of its two strap-on boosters, all flew before on shuttle missions. The rocket’s apricot color comes from spray-on insulation much like the foam on the shuttle’s external tank. And the large maneuvering engine in Orion’s service module is actually 40 years old—used on 19 space shuttle flights between 1984 and 1992.
“I have a name for missions that use too much new technology—failures.”
—John Casani, NASA
Perhaps more important, the project inherits basic engineering from half a century of spaceflight. Just look at Orion’s crew capsule—a truncated cone, somewhat larger than the Apollo Command Module but conceptually very similar.
Old, of course, does not mean bad. NASA says there is no need to reinvent things engineers got right the first time.
“There are certain fundamental aspects of deep-space exploration that are really independent of money,” says Jim Geffre, Orion vehicle-integration manager at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The laws of physics haven’t changed since the 1960s. And capsule shapes happen to be really good for coming back into the atmosphere at Mach 32.”
Roger Launius, who served as NASA’s chief historian from 1990 to 2002 and as a curator at the Smithsonian Institution from then until 2017, tells of a conversation he had with John Casani, a veteran NASA engineer who managed the Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini probes to the outer planets.
“I have a name for missions that use too much new technology,” he recalls Casani saying. “Failures.”
The Artemis I flight is slated for about six weeks. (Apollo 11 lasted eight days.) The ship roughly follows Apollo’s path to the moon’s vicinity, but then puts itself in what NASA calls a distant retrograde orbit. It swoops within 110 kilometers of the lunar surface for a gravity assist, then heads 64,000 km out—taking more than a month but using less fuel than it would in closer orbits. Finally, it comes home, reentering the Earth’s atmosphere at 11 km per second, slowing itself with a heatshield and parachutes, and splashing down in the Pacific not far from San Diego.
If all four, quadruply redundant flight computer modules fail, there is a fifth, entirely separate computer onboard, running different code to get the spacecraft home.
“That extra time in space,” says Geffre, “allows us to operate the systems, give more time in deep space, and all those things that stress it, like radiation and micrometeoroids, thermal environments.”
There are, of course, newer technologies on board. Orion is controlled by two vehicle-management computers, each composed of two flight computer modules (FCMs) to handle guidance, navigation, propulsion, communications, and other systems. The flight control system, Geffre points out, is quad-redundant; if at any point one of the four FCMs disagrees with the others, it will take itself offline and, in a 22-second process, reset itself to make sure its outputs are consistent with the others’. If all four FCMs fail, there is a fifth, entirely separate computer running different code to get the spacecraft home.
Guidance and navigation, too, have advanced since the sextant used on Apollo. Orion uses a star tracker to determine its attitude, imaging stars and comparing them to an onboard database. And an optical navigation camera shoots Earth and the moon so that guidance software can determine their distance and position and keep the spacecraft on course. NASA says it’s there as backup, able to get Orion to a safe splashdown even if all communication with Earth has been lost.
But even those systems aren’t entirely new. Geffre points out that the guidance system’s architecture is derived from the Boeing 787. Computing power in deep space is limited by cosmic radiation, which can corrupt the output of microprocessors beyond the protection of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field.
Beyond that is the inevitable issue of cost. Artemis is a giant project, years behind schedule, started long before NASA began to buy other launches from companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab. NASA’s inspector general, Paul Martin, testified to Congress in March that the first four Artemis missions would cost US $4.1 billion each—“a price tag that strikes us as unsustainable.”
Launius, for one, rejects the argument that government is inherently wasteful. “Yes, NASA’s had problems in managing programs in the past. Who hasn’t?” he says. He points out that Blue Origin and SpaceX have had plenty of setbacks of their own—they’re just not obliged to be public about them. “I could go on and on. It’s not a government thing per se and it’s not a NASA thing per se.”
So why return to the moon with—please forgive the pun—such a retro rocket? Partly, say those who watch Artemis closely, because it’s become too big to fail, with so much American money and brainpower invested in it. Partly because it turns NASA’s astronauts outward again, exploring instead of maintaining a space station. Partly because new perspectives could come of it. And partly because China and Russia have ambitions in space that threaten America’s.
“Apollo was a demonstration of technological verisimilitude—to the whole world,” says Launius. “And the whole world knew then, as they know today, that the future belongs to the civilization that can master science and technology.”
Update 7 Sept.: Artemis I has been on launchpad 39B, not 39A as previously reported, at Kennedy Space Center.
RSS Rabbit links users to publicly available RSS entries.
Vet every link before clicking! The creators accept no responsibility for the contents of these entries.
We're not prepared to take user feedback yet. Check back soon!