Watch SpaceX’s reused Falcon 9 rocket nail the landing a second time

SpaceX has posted a video of the Falcon 9 rocket it used first last year during the CRS-8 mission, and then again just last week during the SES-10 mission. The reuse of the rocket was historic in itself, but the kicker was the successful recovery of the rocket, as documented below.

 

During the actual launch, SpaceX tried to provide live footage of the rocket landing, but the camera on the rocket lost the feed as it returned to Earth’s atmosphere. The camera tracking the drone ship itself also cut out, because it lost the satellite uplink that was connecting it to SpaceX’s mission control. But SpaceX still captured the footage locally, and now it’s made it available for all to see.

 The landing is shot from multiple angles, letting you see that flawless touchdown (with a little hop for stability’s sake) over again a couple of times. It’s still not enough to really savor the significance of the moment: This is SpaceX’s whole business model proven out, basically – provided they can decrease the turnaround time for recovering rockets and getting them back in the air.

Google says its custom machine learning chips are often 15-30x faster than GPUs and CPUs

It’s no secret that Google has developed its own custom chips to accelerate its machine learning algorithms. The company first revealed those chips, called Tensor Processing Units (TPUs), at its I/O developer conference back in May 2016, but it never went into all that many details about them, except for saying that they were optimized around the company’s own TensorFlow machine-learning framework. Today, for the first time, it’s sharing more details and benchmarks about the project.

If you’re a chip designer, you can find all the gory glorious details of how the TPU works in Google’s paper. The numbers that matter most here, though, are that based on Google’s own benchmarks (and it’s worth keeping in mind that this is Google evaluating its own chip), the TPUs are on average 15x to 30x faster in executing Google’s regular machine learning workloads than a standard GPU/CPU combination (in this case, Intel Haswell processors and Nvidia K80 GPUs). And because power consumption counts in a data center, the TPUs also offer 30x to 80x higher TeraOps/Watt (and with using faster memory in the future, those numbers will probably increase).

It’s worth noting that these numbers are about using machine learning models in production, by the way — not about creating the model in the first place.

Google also notes that while most architects optimize their chips for convolutional neural networks (a specific type of neural network that works well for image recognition, for example). Google, however, says, those networks only account for about 5 percent of its own data center workload while the majority of its applications use multi-layer perceptrons.

 Google says it started looking into how it could use GPUs, FPGAs and custom ASICS (which is essentially what the TPUs are) in its data centers back in 2006. At the time, though, there weren’t all that many applications that could really benefit from this special hardware because most of the heavy workloads they required could just make use of the excess hardware that was already available in the data center anyway. “The conversation changed in 2013 when we projected that DNNs could become so popular that they might double computation demands on our data centers, which would be very expensive to satisfy with conventional CPUs,” the authors of Google’s paper write. “Thus, we started a high-priority project to quickly produce a custom ASIC for inference (and bought off-the-shelf GPUs for training).” The goal here, Google’s researchers say, “was to improve cost-performance by 10x over GPUs.”

Google isn’t likely to make the TPUs available outside of its own cloud, but the company notes that it expects that others will take what it has learned and “build successors that will raise the bar even higher.”

OnePlus 2 Receiving OxygenOS 3.5.8 Update; Brings Improvements and Fixes

OnePlus has started rolling out incremental OxygenOS update for the OnePlus 2 smartphone. The new OxygenOS 3.5.8 update for the OnePlus 2 smartphone brings general bug fixes and improvements. The latest OxygenOS update also upgrades the phone with Google’s March Android security update. Apart from the security update, the OxygenOS fixes several issues including echo issue during video calls in Duo app, persistent network drop issues, and data roaming issue in certain countries. The new update for the OnePlus 2 also improves audio compatibility and brings general bug fixes.

OnePlus 2 Receiving OxygenOS 3.5.8 Update; Brings Improvements and Fixes

Similar to previous updates, OnePlus says that the OTA will be rolling out gradually, which will mean that it will be available to a small percentage of users starting Wednesday, and a broader rollout to all OnePlus 2 buyers can be expected in a few days. The OnePlus 2 users can manually check for the update by heading to Settings > About Phone > System Update.

The company has been on a roll when it comes to releasing updates for its OnePlus smartphones. Last week, OnePlus rolled out the Android 7.1.1 Nougat-based OxygenOS 4.1.0 update for the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T smartphones. The new OxygenOS update brought several new features to the two smartphones, including the March Android security update.

OnePlus’s OxygenOS 4.1.0 (Android 7.1.1) update added support for expanded screenshots while improving on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. For camera performance, OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T received improvements while taking pictures of moving objects with blur reduction, and also received improved video stability when recording.

EU’s Vestager Says Analysing Facebook Reply to WhatsApp Probe

EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said on Wednesday she was reviewing Facebook’s response to charges the US social network provided misleading information during its bid for messaging service WhatsApp which may result in a hefty fine for the company.

The European Commission in December last year said Facebook’s statements during the regulator’s scrutiny of the $22 billion deal in 2014 were incorrect when it said that it was unable reliably to match the two companies’ user accounts.

EU's Vestager Says Analysing Facebook Reply to WhatsApp Probe

However, this was technically possible at that time, the EU Competition Commissioner said, giving Facebook until Jan. 31 to defend itself.

“We have now got the reply from Facebook and we are now analysing it,” Vestager told lawmakers during a European Parliament hearing.

The company faces a fine of as much as 1 percent of its global turnover, or about $179 million based on 2015 revenues.

Microsoft was hit with a EUR 561 million ($606.44 million) penalty in 2013 for breaking an antitrust promise to regulators, underlining how serious the Commission views procedural breaches.

GoPro will cut 270 more jobs

More tough news for GoPro as it pre-announced its first-quarter earnings earlier today. While the company announced that revenue for the first part of 2017 will hit toward the high end of guidance, the positivity was tempered by its plans to cut 270 more jobs.

That number that comes in addition to the 100 it announced in January 2016 and 200 back in November, amounting to seven- and 15-percent of the company’s workforce, respectively.

The job loss comes as GoPro looks to right the ship following a tough 2016 that found its stock price plummeting, in the wake of weak 2015 holiday sales and a recall of the company’s long-awaited folding Karma drone, which was pulled off the market after “a very small number” lost power while in use. The analogies are tough to avoid.

As ever, the GoPro’s founder and CEO Nick Woodman put a happy face on the company’s prospects moving forward, as he addressed the difficult news.

“We’re determined that GoPro’s financial performance match the strength of our products and brand,” he said in a statement issued alongside the financial news. “Importantly, expense reductions preserve our product roadmap and we are tracking to full-year non-GAAP profitability in 2017.”

 The statement reflects similar comments made by the executive back in January at CES, and there is some manner of silver lining for the company, as stocks rallied a bit in after hours trading.

Forbes cites a source claiming that the cuts have largely targeted the company’s virtual reality and broadcasting wings, claiming that “no one is left” to supervise the departments. Those cuts would certainly reflect Woodman’s CES assertions that GoPro is looking to shift its focus on a core set of products. But even that could prove tricky for a company synonymous with a space that has been flooded with likeminded devices, many managing to undercut its pricing. Not to mention competition in the drone space from one-time partner, DJI.

We reached out to GoPro for further comment, but the company has opted to let its statement speak for itself.

OceanGate plans an expedition to 3D scan the Titanic

Seattle-based OceanGate Inc. this week announced plans for a manned expedition to study the R.M.S. Titanic, the world’s most famous shipwreck. Fewer than 200 people have ever visited the Titanic since it sank in April 1912 according to historians’ estimates. To put that in perspective, more people have scaled the summit of Mt. Everest, or flown in space.

The new expedition, scheduled for May 2018, will mark the first time a team has approached the wreck since 2005. Imaging and navigation technology have advanced significantly since then, and since the famous 1995 expedition when director James Cameron captured footage of the Titanic for his eventual blockbuster.

OceanGate CEO and co-founder Stockton Rush says his company is hoping, along with its tech and research partners, to document the decay of the ship and to create high-definition, 3-D images of objects underwater there that were never possible before.

“Documenting history is important in and of itself,” Rush said, “but on the geeky side of this, it’s also a real challenge to understand things like the decay rates of metals in deep sea environments. With fuel and munitions and other things from WWII, we need to understand the interaction between currents, oxygen content, bacteria, the nature of a given material and so on to know if a hull might collapse and you end up with an oil spill from something that sank in 1944.”

A rendering of Cyclops 2 deep sea submersible developed by OceanGate.

The Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory (AIVL) at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a non-profit, will be sending experts down on OceanGate’s submersible during the seven-week long expedition. They will help OceanGate’s team employ optical laser scanning, sonar and photogrammetry techniques to create images of the wreck in multiple formats. Eventually, OceanGate wants to be able to dispatch observation-class ROV’s (remotely-operated underwater vehicles) inside the hull of the Titanic, and to livestream video or even VR content from the wreck to audiences and researchers back on land.

To make the deep-sea journey next spring, OceanGate has developed a new submersible called the Cyclops 2, made primarily of carbon fiber and titanium. The manned submersible carries five people. Each trip down will include a pilot and mission specialist in the vehicle, along with subject matter experts like marine biologists, nautical archaeologists and others who apply and pay to go along.

 The price of an “SME” ticket is $105,129. The odd number is the inflation-adjusted cost of a first-class ticket to stay in the Vanderbilt suite of the Titanic on its maiden voyage ($4,350). The 54 positions that were open for next year have already been filled, Rush said, representing over $5 million in revenue for OceanGate.

Of all the advanced technologies OceanGate had to develop and test to make this expedition possible, Rush said building a submersible that can withstand the pressures of the deep, especially as a privately-held company, has been most exhilarating. The company has developed a hull made primarily of filament-lined carbon fiber to withstand 6,000 psi at depth.

“Everyone said you couldn’t build with this with carbon fiber. We found a way to make it work,” Rush said. To monitor the integrity of the Cyclops 2, the company relies on acoustic sensors. Snaps, crackles and pops of a certain timbre indicate problems, and would allow OceanGate enough time to abort their mission, if needed.

Besides maintaining structural integrity of its submersible under millions of pounds of pressure, there are many high-tech elements that go into a deep ocean expedition. The Titanic wreck is located 380 nautical miles from St. John’s in Newfoundland, so OceanGate has to commission a vessel from which to launch the Cyclops 2, and figure out what kind of aircraft works to bring passengers out to the ship and back to shore. Even though they’re going in the calmest season, OceanGate will also have to monitor weather and currents very closely to avoid going off course.

Finally, once they’re in the water Rush said, “There are all kinds of currents on the wreck and those are different than the currents on the way down. So navigation can be very challenging throughout.” The company will be testing its Cyclops 2 this November.

Virgin’s newest company is Virgin Orbit, a small satellite specialist

Virgin’s business in space just got a little busier – the company founded by Richard Branson just launched a new operation called Virgin Orbit, which becomes its own subsidiary company alongside Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company in Virgin’s space roster. Virgin Orbit will focus on dedicated launches of small satellites (smallsats), and will be headed up by Dan Hart, a longtime Boeing vet who acted as VP of Government Satellite Systems at his last gig.

Virgin Orbit isn’t the group’s first crack at the can when it comes to launching small satellites, which are a relatively new category of device that offer advantages in terms of cost, production time and launch volume and that can operate in low Earth orbit (LEO) for functions like setting up a communications network, space-based imaging and more.

The new company was operating under Virgin Galactic as LauncherOne, the namesake of the small satellite launch system that Virgin has been working on, and which is already in the “advanced phase of hardware testing for every subsystem and major component of the vehicle,” according to the company’s press release announcing the news.

 Small satellite operations are quickly becoming big business, with many small private participants emerging. Alternatives like World View are also taking different approaches to similar market needs, and legacy players like Boeing are reimagining aspects of their operation to stay more competitive with new entrants in this space.

Uber loses legal challenge against English tests for London drivers

The bad news just keeps piling up for Uber. The ride-hailing giant has lost a court battle against London’s transport regulators which have been seeking to raise the level of English spoken by private hire vehicles on safety grounds.

The new rules mean all private hire drivers in London who have been licensed since October 2016 will have to prove their ability to speak English — up to level B1 of the UK Home Office standard — through a test that includes a verbal language exam but also reading and writing components. Details of the test requirements can be found here.

Drivers can also prove proficiency to this level by showing relevant qualification documentation they already possess, such as a GCSE in English at any level.

The test itself costs between £180 and £200. And the obvious fear here for Uber is that its London business will lose a lot of drivers as a result. (Although an initial March 31 deadline for tests has been pushed out to September 30, 2017 — so there’s a little more time for drivers to prepare.)

Uber challenged Transport for London’s plans in court in August, arguing that the standard of reading and writing being required by the regulator was too high. However, today the judge disagreed, with Reuters reporting Judge John Mitting’s conclusion that: “TfL are entitled to require private hire drivers to demonstrate English language compliance.”

A Transport for London spokesman said Uber had challenged whether there was a need for the reading and writing element of the test, and also whether this should be at the B1 level. “But the judge agreed with us that it was appropriate to have a reading and writing test as well as speaking and listening, and that it be at that level,” he added.

Uber confirmed to TechCrunch it will be appealing the ruling. Commenting in a statement, London general manager Tom Elvidge described the outcome as “deeply disappointing” — claiming “tens of thousands of drivers” will “lose their livelihoods because they cannot pass an essay writing test.”

“We’ve always supported spoken English skills, but writing an essay has nothing to do with communicating with passengers or getting them safely from A to B,” he said. “Transport for London’s own estimates show that their plans will put more than 33,000 existing private hire drivers out of business. That’s why we intend to appeal this unfair and disproportionate new rule.”

TfL’s guidelines for the test do indeed include a requirement to “write a short letter or story (about 100-150 words) on a given topic” — so it’s a pretty short “essay writing test,” as Uber couches it — along with other components such as reading statements and saying whether they are true or false, and filling in word gaps in sentences.

 Uber suffered another setback in London in October last year when an employment tribunal brought by two Uber drivers ruled they are workers, rather than self-employed contractors as Uber had tried to claim — making the company liable for paying holiday pay, paid rest breaks and the National Minimum Wage. Although Uber said it would appeal that case too.

While Uber lost its argument against stricter English tests today, the ruling was not all bad news for the ride-hailing giant, which did prevail in defeating three other TfL proposals — namely:

  • a requirement that it have a 24/7 phone line;
  • a requirement for private hire drivers to pay for commercial insurance at all times (i.e. even during periods when they are not using the car for ride-hailing);
  • a requirement that TfL must be notified by private hire vehicle operators of “material changes to their operating model that may affect their compliance with the statutory and regulatory framework for operators or any conditions of their licence”

Uber has also previously succeeded in challenging TfL’s original English Language requirement, which was initially targeted at drivers born in “non majority English speaking countries;” the regulator had to rewrite the rules to cover all drivers on the grounds that targeting drivers from only a sub-set of countries was discriminatory.

In a statement about today’s ruling, TfL’s director of service operations, Peter Blake, said: “The judgment today means that we can ensure that all licensed drivers have the right level of English, which is vital for customer safety.

“The court also recognised the need for passengers to be able to contact the private hire company they’re using should an emergency arise. We will reflect on today’s judgment and consider how best to deliver the further improvements we want to see to passenger safety and to standards across the industry.”

Private hire drivers in London are required by the regulator to renew their licence every three years — hence the September deadline only applying to relatively recently licensed drivers, as others will soon need to renew their licence anyway.

NASA Asked by Trump Administration to Explore Placing Crew on SLS Rocket’s Debut Flight

 The Trump administration has directed NASA to study whether it is feasible to fly astronauts on the debut flight of the agency’s heavy-lift rocket, a mission currently planned to be unmanned and targeted to launch in late 2018, officials said on Friday.The study marks President Donald Trump’s first step in shaping a vision for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

NASA Asked by Trump Administration to Explore Placing Crew on SLS Rocket's Debut Flight

Under former President Barack Obama, the US space agency was working on the heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion deep-space capsule with the aim of sending astronauts to rendezvous with an asteroid in the mid-2020s, followed by a human expedition to Mars in the 2030s.

The request for the study from the new Republican president’s administration tweaks that plan by exploring whether to add a crew to an earlier test flight and perhaps setting the stage for a human return to the moon.

NASA officials said they do not feel compelled to fly the test mission with crew aboard, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s head of human space flight, told reporters on a conference call.

“There’s not pressure to go do this,” Gerstenmaier said. “I find it encouraging that we were asked to go do this feasibility study.”

The study is expected to take about a month. Engineers are assessing hardware changes, schedule delays, additional costs and increased risks of flying a two-member crew on the first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, which is about four times bigger and more powerful than any current US booster.

 A NASA safety oversight panel on Thursday cautioned that the agency should have compelling reasons for adding crew to justify the extra cost, risk to human life and schedule delays.

“If the benefits warrant assumption of additional risk, we expect NASA to clearly and openly articulate their decision-processing rationale,” Patricia Sanders, head of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said at a meeting at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

If approved, the astronauts would fly aboard an Orion capsule, under development by Lockheed Martin Corp , and swing around the moon during an eight- to nine-day mission, similar to what the Apollo 8 crew accomplished in 1968.

Gerstenmaier said adding crew to the mission would not be worthwhile if it forced the flight to be delayed more than about a year.

The rocket’s second flight, which is to include crew, is targeted for August 2021. The study will explore what would be gained technically by having a crew aboard sooner.

US FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to Block Stricter Broadband Data Privacy Rules

 The US Federal Communications Commission will block some Obama administration rules that subject broadband providers to stricter scrutiny than websites, a spokesman said on Friday, in a victory for internet providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications.

US FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to Block Stricter Broadband Data Privacy Rules

The rules approved by the FCC in October in a 3-2 vote were aimed at protecting sensitive personal consumer data. Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman appointed by President Donald Trump, believes all companies in the “online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government should not favor one set of companies over another,” said FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield.

Pai plans by March 2 to delay the implementation the data security rules, Wigfield said. Some other aspects of the rules are under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. A temporary stay is a first step toward permanently blocking the rules, analysts said Friday.

The rules would subject broadband Internet service providers to more stringent requirements than websites like Facebook, Twitter or Alphabet Inc’s Google.

Providers would need to obtain consumer consent before using precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information and Web browsing history for advertising and internal marketing.

For less sensitive information such as email addresses or service tiers, consumers would be able to opt out.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in a statement Friday that “Chairman Pai is determined to take action that leaves consumers without a cop on the beat protecting their personal information from misuse by their broadband service provider.”

 Republican commissioners including Pai, said in October the rules unfairly give websites the ability to harvest more data than service providers and dominate digital advertising.

Pai said in October the FCC “adopted one-sided rules that will cement edge providers’ dominance in the online advertising market.” Google and Facebook account for about two-thirds of all digital ad revenue.

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who authored the privacy rules, said on Friday that they are necessary because consumers have few options when it comes to broadband providers. “The fact of the matter is it’s the consumer’s information,” he said. “It’s not the network’s information.”

Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, said Pai’s decision was a good move because “because the real question isn’t a policy question but a legal one: does the FCC even have authority to regulate broadband privacy?”