Technology


Auto Consultant Lawrence Burns Dishes the Dirt on Waymo

IEEE Spectrum

The genesis of the modern self-driving car across three Darpa challenges in the early 2000s has been well documented, here and elsewhere. Teams of universities, enthusiasts and automakers struggled to get cars to drive themselves through desert and city conditions. In the process, they kick-started the sensor, software and mapping technologies that would power today's self-driving taxis and trucks. A fascinating new book, "Autonomy" by Lawrence Burns, explores both the Darpa races and what happened next--in particular, how Google's self-driving car effort,now spun out as Waymo, came to dominate the field. Burns is a long-time auto executive, having come up through the ranks at GM and spent time championing that company's own autonomous vehicle effort, the impressive but ill-fated EN-V urban mobility concept.


Daimler and Bosch to Test Self-Driving Taxis Next Year

IEEE Spectrum

Daimler and Bosch say they'll test a self-driving car in a ride-hailing service in California in 2019. The two German companies didn't say which model Mercedes car or SUV they'll use, only that the first self-driving taxis will put safety drivers behind the wheel, just in case, and will incorporate Pegasus, Nvidia's self-driving hardware and software package. According to Automotive News, later iterations of the car will use a Bosch system based on Nvidia hardware. There's a lot the companies didn't say. For one, they haven't selected the city in California where the program is to roll out.


Chip Hall of Fame: Nvidia NV20

IEEE Spectrum

Many researchers have co-opted powerful graphics processing units, or GPUs, to run climate models and other scientific programs, while tech and financial giants use large banks of these processors to train machine-learning algorithms. They all have video-game players to thank for the emergence of these workhorse processors: It was gamers who stoked the original demand for chips that could do the massive amounts of parallel number crunching required to produce rich graphics quickly enough to keep up with fast-paced action. By 1995, movies like Pixar's Toy Story, the first full-length digitally animated movie, had demonstrated the potential of high-quality computer animation. But gamers drove the technology in a very specific direction. Pixar had created Toy Story's graphics by slowly rendering each frame individually and then stitching it all together.


Robot heads for North Sea oil rigs in 'world first' scheme

IOM3

An autonomous robot will be deployed to an offshore oil and gas platform in the North Sea later this year, in a first for the sector. The £4m project's backers said the move was designed to take humans out of dangerous and dull jobs, and reinvent oil and gas as an industry of the future. Under the pilot scheme, the robot will initially be deployed at the French oil firm Total's gas plant on Shetland before being sent to join the 120 workers on the company's Alwyn platform, 440km north-east of Aberdeen. The machine, made by Austrian firm Taurob and supported on the software side by German university TU Darmstadt, will be used for visual inspections and detecting gas leaks. Rebecca Allison, asset integrity solution centre manager at the publicly-funded Oil and Gas Technology Centre, insisted autonomous robots would not be used to cut the wage burden of offshore workers who are paid a premium for working in tough, remote conditions.


Transforming Robotic Steering Wheel Is a Reminder That Your Car Needs You

IEEE Spectrum

Most of the autonomous vehicles that you're likely to encounter in the near future are either Level 2 or Level 4 autonomous. Level 2, which you'll find in a Tesla on the highway, means that the car drives itself in specific situations but expects you to be paying attention the entire time. Level 4 y...


New dog-like robot from Boston Dynamics can open doors – video

The Guardian - Technology (UK)

Ground-breaking robotics engineering and design company Boston Dynamics have released footage of the SpotMini, a dog-like robot that can open doors in the most unsettling manner possible. The four-legged robot uses a mechanical arm with a pincer on the end to grasp and turn the handle and then hold open the door.


Waymo v Uber: Who stole what?

BBC News - Technology

Waymo, the self-driving car company spun out of Google, is locked in a legal battle with Uber, alleging the cab company stole its key technology.


Drone hit newly erected crane during Kent site survey - report

BBC News - Technology

A pilot has flown a drone into a crane, according to an air-accident report. The pilot had planned the drone flight in Kent with four reference points, all at 400ft above ground level - higher than three existing cranes on the site. But another crane was erected after his site safety visit, and on take-off the drone crashed into the jib of the new structure, damaging the unmanned craft. The crash, in June last year, is listed in the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) update this month. The incident report was picked up by The Register.


How smart speakers stole the show from smartphones

The Guardian - Technology (UK)

The battle now raging between the big technology companies for consumer cash is focused on the voice-controlled smart speaker. Having already conquered the pocket with the ubiquitous smartphone, big tech has been struggling to come up with the next must-have gadget that will open up a potentially lucrative new market – the home. A pilot light was lit when Amazon's Echo launched in 2014 and became a sleeper hit. Now the voice controlled smart speaker is rapidly becoming the next big thing, capable of answering questions, setting timers, playing music, controlling other devices about the home, or even potentially selling products. "The last 12 months have been explosive for smart speakers, which have surged into the mass market for two reasons.


Zipline Expands Its Medical Delivery Drones Across East Africa

IEEE Spectrum

While companies like Amazon pour considerable resources into finding ways of using drones to deliver such things as shoes and dog treats, Zipline has been saving lives in Rwanda since October 2016 with drones that deliver blood. Zipline's autonomous fixed-wing drones now form an integral part of Rwanda's medical-supply infrastructure, transporting blood products from a central distribution center to hospitals across the country. And in 2018, Zipline's East African operations will expand to include Tanzania, a much larger country. Delivering critical medical supplies in this region typically involves someone spending hours (or even days) driving a cooler full of life-saving medicine or blood along windy dirt roads. Such deliveries can become dangerous or even impossible to make if roads and bridges get washed out.