Largest US Employer Adopts Virtual Reality Training

By Jeremy Hsu | June 14, 2017 10:16 pm
A Walmart employee experiences virtual reality training. Credit: STRIVR

A Walmart employee experiences virtual reality training. Credit: STRIVR

Virtual reality technology that has helped train NFL quarterbacks could also soon provide virtual training experiences for hundreds of thousands of Walmart associates. By the end of 2017, Walmart plans to roll out virtual reality training to the 140,000 associates who complete the retail giant’s training academy program each year. The move by the largest private employer of American workers may represent the biggest step yet for virtual reality training.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

Lost Bomber of World War II Rediscovered

By Jeremy Hsu | May 31, 2017 11:11 pm
The underwater wreckage of a B-25 Mitchell bomber from World War II near Papua New Guinea. Credit: Project Recover

The underwater wreckage of a B-25 Mitchell bomber from World War II near Papua New Guinea. Credit: Project Recover

About 75 years ago, the North American B-25 Mitchell bomber became famous as the twin-engined plane that helped the United States launch the first retaliatory attack on the Imperial Japanese homeland during World War II. The medium bombers mainly deployed in the Pacific theater of war, where they often served as low-flying gunships that attacked both land and sea targets with bombs and machine gun strafing. But not all of the bombers and their six-man crews returned home from those missions, as evidenced by the recently announced discovery of a lost bomber after it had gone missing for the better part of a century. Read More

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Hacking and Doomsday Top Self-Driving Car Fears Online

By Jeremy Hsu | May 30, 2017 11:58 pm
A color-coded view from a self-driving car operated by Waymo. Credit: Waymo

A color-coded view from a self-driving car operated by Waymo. Credit: Waymo

Silicon Valley tech giants and Detroit automakers have to convince people to trust self-driving cars before they can sell the futuristic technology to customers. That may prove tricky considering the public’s lingering fears and concerns regarding self-driving cars. A recent AI-assisted analysis of more than one trillion social posts revealed that scared-face emoticons related to self-driving cars rose from 30 percent of all emoticons used on the topic to 50 percent by 2016. Top concerns mentioned in social media included self-driving car fears of being hacked and “robot apocalypse” scenarios of technological change. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

Memorial Day Parade 1922: Runaway Tank Kills Veteran

By Jeremy Hsu | May 30, 2017 12:04 am
American troops on Renault FT tanks going forward to the battle line in the Forest of Argonne. France, September 26, 1918. Credit: U.S. National Archives

American troops on Renault FT tanks going forward to the battle line in the Forest of Argonne. France, September 26, 1918. Credit: U.S. National Archives

New York City Memorial Day celebrations have featured parades of military hardware almost since the earliest commemorations following the U.S. Civil War. Barely 15 years after that war’s end, Union Army veterans from New Jersey marched alongside a battery of rapid-fire Gatling guns in a New York City parade described as being “intended to eclipse all former demonstrations.” As World War I loomed just beyond the horizon in 1914, crowds cheered a “wicked looking battery of machine gun troop of New York Cavalry” and the “brave array of war equipment” on parade. But in 1922, one unfortunate military veteran was crushed to death between two light “whippet” tanks on parade after one of the armored vehicles’s engines started up for unknown reasons.

The sergeant of the Bronx National Guardsmen of the 27th Tank Company who died in that freak Memorial Day incident was named Julian Stahlschmidt. A board of inquiry later awarded him a posthumous medal of valor for trying to “stop a tank which had run amuck, threatening the lives of throngs who lined the sidewalks watching the parade.” It’s not clear from the initial New York Times story whether or not the tank had actually been threatening to crush crowds of spectators lining Riverside Drive along Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But it does seem that Stahlschmidt was trying to switch off the runaway tank’s motor when he slipped and fell between the armored vehicle and the tank lined up ahead of it.

Stahlschmidt, described as a veteran who served in the tank company of the 27th Division for three years, may have survived World War I only to have been killed by “friendly” war machines during his hometown Memorial Day parade. If he was indeed a tanker veteran from the Great War, he was probably among the first group of American soldiers to witness firsthand the rise of tanks as a battlefield technology.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

An IBM Patent on Midair Handoffs for Delivery Drones

By Jeremy Hsu | May 6, 2017 4:13 pm
The IBM invention described in US Patent No. 9,561,852: In flight transfer of packages between aerial drones helps to extend the range of drones that are delivering packages from a warehouse to a customer's home. Credit: IBM

The IBM invention described in US Patent No. 9,561,852: In flight transfer of packages between delivery drones helps to extend the range of drones that are delivering packages from a warehouse to a customer’s home. Credit: IBM

Amazon and Google’s dreams of delivery drones dropping off packages or pizza still face the problem of short delivery ranges. Most drones have limited battery life that restricts their services to less than a 10-mile delivery radius. A recently-approved IBM patent offers an unusual way to extend delivery ranges by having drones transfer packages in midair. Read More

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Any Ban on Killer Robots Faces a Tough Sell

By Jeremy Hsu | April 29, 2017 5:11 pm
The Harpy drone made by Israel Aerospace Industries can autonomously loiter in the air until it detects a radar target below. Credit: Israel Aerospace Industries

The Harpy drone made by Israel Aerospace Industries can autonomously loiter in the air until it detects a radar target below. Credit: Israel Aerospace Industries

Fears of a Terminator-style arms race have already prompted leading AI researchers and Silicon Valley leaders to call for a ban on killer robots. The United Nations plans to convene its first formal meeting of experts on lethal autonomous weapons later this summer. But a simulation based on the hypothetical first battlefield use of autonomous weapons showed the challenges of convincing major governments and their defense industries to sign any ban on killer robots.

In October 2016, the Chatham House think tank in London convened 25 experts to consider how the United States and Europe might react to a scenario in which China uses autonomous drone aircraft to strike a naval base in Vietnam during a territorial dispute. The point of the roleplaying exercise was not to predict which country would first deploy killer robots, but instead focused on exploring the differences in opinion that might arise from the U.S. and European side. Members of the expert group took on roles representing European countries, the United States and Israel, and certain institutions such as the defense industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the European Union, the United Nations and NATO.

The results were not encouraging for anyone hoping to achieve a ban on killer robots. Read More

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The Electric Lilium Jet Hints at Future Air Taxis

By Jeremy Hsu | April 28, 2017 11:40 pm
A prototype of the Lilium Jet takes off on a vertical takeoff and landing test flight. Credit: Lilium

A prototype of the Lilium Jet takes off on a vertical takeoff and landing test flight. Credit: Lilium

The old science fiction fantasy of a flying car that both drives on the ground and flies in the air is unlikely to revolutionize daily commutes. Instead, Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs and aerospace companies dream of electric-powered aircraft that can take off vertically like helicopters but have the flight efficiency of airplanes. The German startup Lilium took a very public step forward in that direction by demonstrating the first electric-powered jet capable of vertical takeoff and landing last week.

The Lilium Jet prototype that made its maiden debut resembles a flattened pod with stubby thrusters in front and a longer wing with engines in back. The final design concept shows two wings hold a combined 36 electric turbofan engines that can tilt to provide both vertical lifting thrust and horizontal thrust for forward flight. Such electric engines powered by lithium-ion batteries could enable a quieter breed of aircraft that someday cut travel times for ride-hailing commuters from hours to minutes in cities such as San Francisco or New York. On its website, Lilium promises an air taxi that could eventually carry up to five people at speeds of 190 miles per hour: about the same speed as a Formula One racing car. And it’s promising that passengers could begin booking the Lilium Jet as part of an air taxi service by 2025.

“From a technology point of view, there is not a challenge that cannot be solved,” says Patrick Nathen, a cofounder and head of calculation and design for Lilium. “The biggest challenge right now is to build the company as fast as possible in order to catch that timeline.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

Meet Uber’s Partners Creating Flying Taxis for 2020

By Jeremy Hsu | April 25, 2017 6:59 pm
A conceptual illustration of the view from a flying car taxi service. Credit: Bell Helicopter

A conceptual illustration of the view from a flying car taxi service. Credit: Bell Helicopter

Uber sees no need for startups to bet on a risky “if you build it, they will come” strategy for flying taxis. Instead, the tech giant believes the demand for a faster aerial commuting option already exists among its 60 million monthly users–especially if the flying taxi service can cost about the same as hailing an UberX car. As a result, Uber has partnered with several companies to help build a “flying car” service that could begin public trials in the city of Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates by 2020.

The announcement for the ambitious 2020 goal kicked off the start of the Uber Elevate Summit being held in Dallas from April 25-27. Besides naming partner cities, Jeff Holden, Chief Product Officer at Uber, introduced the companies partnering with Uber to make those early demonstrations of the “Uber Elevate Network” happen within three years. Such partners include one of the U.S. makers of the military’s tiltrotor V-22 Osprey, the Brazilian aerospace company Embraer that produces both military aircraft and commercial jetliners, and a small Slovenian aircraft manufacturer that is already making and selling electric aircraft.

“Urban Aviation is a natural next step for Uber in this pursuit, which is why we are working to make push a button, get a flight a reality,” Holden said in a statement. “This is Uber Elevate, and we are excited to announce the first group of Elevate partners – a group of visionary industry and government leaders – with whom we will work closely to take that idea off of paper and into reality.”

But first, Uber seems eager to ditch the term “flying car” altogether in favor of more technical terminology. The company’s motivation is understandable given that its flying taxi vision is definitely not about a science fiction vehicle that can go from driving on roads to flying in the air. In any case, having road capability would be redundant and unnecessarily complex from the perspective of developing air taxis that could hop over traffic snarls below.

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Panther Drone Delivers Package by Air and Land

By Jeremy Hsu | March 30, 2017 3:59 pm
A Panther drone en route during a delivery trial run. Credit: Advanced Tactics Inc.

A Panther drone en route during a delivery trial run. Credit: Advanced Tactics Inc.

A four-wheeled drone’s first aerial package delivery test showed off a special touch by also driving up to the doorstep of its pretend customer. That capability to deliver by both air and land makes the Panther drone an unusual competitor in the crowded drone delivery space. But the drone’s limited delivery range may pose a challenge in competing against the delivery drones of Google and Amazon. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

‘Logan’ Is a Western Wandering the Sci-Fi Frontier

By Jeremy Hsu | March 24, 2017 12:13 pm
"We don't like strangers in these parts." Credit: 20th Century Fox

“We don’t like strangers in these parts.” Credit: 20th Century Fox

The X-Men films have consistently shown their mutant superheroes as powerful but misunderstood outcasts living in the shadows. One of the loneliest and angriest of them all has been Wolverine: the seemingly ageless mutant played by Hugh Jackman whose superhuman healing powers and retractable metal claws enable him to literally tear through squads of gun-toting enemies. But the third and last film of the standalone Wolverine trilogy, titled “Logan” in a nod to the mutant’s other nickname, finds a weary Logan fending off cyborg gunslingers and eking out an isolated life by the Texas-Mexico border. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts
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Lovesick Cyborg

Lovesick Cyborg examines how technology shapes our human experience of the world on both an emotional and physical level. I’ll focus on stories such as why audiences loved or hated Hollywood’s digital resurrection of fallen actors, how soldiers interact with battlefield robots and the capability of music fans to idolize virtual pop stars. Other stories might include the experience of using an advanced prosthetic limb, whether or not people trust driverless cars with their lives, and how virtual reality headsets or 3-D film technology can make some people physically ill.
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