Uber Hires Veteran NASA Engineer to Develop Flying Cars

In 2010, an advanced aircraft engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center named Mark Moore published a white paper outlining the feasibility of electric aircrafts that could take off and land like helicopters but were smaller and quieter. The vehicles would be capable of providing a speedy alternative to the dreary morning commute.

Uber Hires Veteran NASA Engineer to Develop Flying CarsMoore’s research into so-called VTOL-short for vertical takeoff and landing, or more colloquially, flying cars-inspired at least one billionaire technologist. After reading the white paper, Google co-founder Larry Page secretly started and financed two Silicon Valley startups, Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk, to develop the technology, Bloomberg Businessweek reported last summer.

Now Moore is leaving the confines of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he has spent the last 30 years, to join one of Google’s rivals: Uber Technologies. Moore is taking on a new role as director of engineering for aviation at the ride-hailing company, working on a flying car initiative known as Uber Elevate. “I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real,” he says.

Uber isn’t constructing a flying car yet. In its own white paper published last October, the company laid out a radical vision for airborne commutes and identified technical challenges it said it wanted to help the nascent industry solve, like noise pollution, vehicle efficiency and limited battery life. Moore consulted on the paper and was impressed by the company’s vision and potential impact.

Moore acknowledged that many obstacles stand in the way, and they’re not only technical. He says each flying car company would need to independently negotiate with suppliers to get prices down, and lobby regulators to certify aircrafts and relax air-traffic restrictions. But he says Uber, with its 55 million active riders, can uniquely demonstrate that there could be a massive, profitable and safe market. “If you don’t have a business case that makes economic sense, than all of this is just a wild tech game and not really a wise investment,” Moore says.

Uber’s vision is a seductive one, particularly for sci-fi fans. The company envisions people taking conventional Ubers from their homes to nearby “vertiports” that dot residential neighborhoods. Then they would zoom up into the air and across town to the vertiport closest to their offices. (“We don’t need stinking bridges!” says Moore.) These air taxis will only need ranges of between 50 to 100 miles, and Moore thinks that they can be at least partially recharged while passengers are boarding or exiting the aircraft. He also predicts we’ll see several well-engineered flying cars in the next one to three years and that there will be human pilots, at least managing the onboard computers, for the foreseeable future.

His move to Uber is a risky one. Moore says he’s leaving NASA one year before he’s eligible for retirement and walking away from a significant percentage of his pension and free health care for life “to be in the right place at the right time to make this market real.” (Though it’s probably safe to say that Uber, with some $11 billion on its balance sheet, is making it worth his while.) Moore seems to be disillusioned with NASA, saying the agency is leaving promising new aviation markets to the private industry. “It’s the federal government who is best positioned to overcome extremely high levels of risks,” he says.

While NASA is larded with layers of bureaucracy and management, Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick has been closely involved in hatching his company’s flying car plans, Moore says. That is, when he’s not distracted with his own political crises, such as his role on President Donald Trump’s advisory council, which he relinquished last week after criticism from customers, drivers and employees.

Kalanick’s bet on Uber Elevate is another indication that while Silicon Valley seems on the surface to be consumed with politics and protests these days, the march into the future continues apace.

Amazon Rebrands Gift Card Balance as ‘Amazon Pay’ Balance, Touts Faster Checkout

Amazon has quietly made a change on Wednesday where it rebranded its Gift Card balance as Amazon Pay, which the company is touting as the fastest way to pay. It’s essentially the same as gift card balance – and unlike wallets, there are no limits on how much you can transact in a day, and the money stored in your Amazon Pay balance is only valid for one year, post which it will expire – but instead of having to purchase gift cards, you can simply top it up directly on the Amazon website.

Amazon Rebrands Gift Card Balance as 'Amazon Pay' Balance, Touts Faster CheckoutThe new Amazon Pay balance is handy if you shop a lot on Amazon, and don’t want to enter your OTP regularly when shopping – once you’ve filled up some balance, you can just use that money to complete shopping with a single click. There are some restrictions – you can’t buy gift cards, gold coins, or bank cards, on Amazon.in using the Pay balance – but otherwise, you can use it to buy all other items on the website. “We are happy to launch Amazon Pay Balance. All customers have to do is load their balance; a friction-free payment experience awaits them,” added Sriram Jagannathan Vice President Payments, Amazon India.

Your remaining gift card balance is automatically transferred to Amazon Pay, and for refunds on cash on delivery items, you have the option of choosing Amazon Pay to receive the money, which Amazon says is much faster than choosing a refund to your bank.

However, you can’t transfer money from your Amazon Pay balance to your bank account – this means that the money is effectively locked into Amazon’s ecosystem. Amazon plans to incentivise usage of Amazon Pay by giving special offers to use it. You can add up to Rs. 10,000 at one time, though there is no limit on the number of transactions you can make.

Amazon had earlier launched Pay with Amazon in India – it has not linked the two yet, but it would be an interesting way for the company to expand into payments, at a time when other e-commerce companies are investing in areas such as UPI (Flipkart), or have their own wallets (Snapdeal, Paytm).

Demonetisation: This Website Can Help You Find Nearby ATMs With Cash

Demonetisation: This Website Can Help You Find Nearby ATMs With CashIn what can be a breather for people waiting outside the ATMs to withdraw cash, here comes a website that can help you locate an ATM with cash in your vicinity.

Cashnocash.com claims to update real time statistics based on user feedback and lets you know which ATM has cash, which has long queues, and which has gone cash-dry.

Just log in and type in your area code. The website will display which ATM has cash and which doesn’t.

Since the website updates data based on users’ feedback, one can update the status by clicking the ATM venue link and then selecting one of the three options – cash, long wait and no cash – to help the website get updated for other users.

Another alternative is to use crowdsourced websites such as ATM Search to check if there’s any cash in ATMs near you. We warn against trusting any of this data without verifying it. Always ask around before you head to a remote location just for an ATM.
Social media is also a great tool for crowdsourcing information on working ATMs and it’s not surprising to see people helping others out on these platforms. The good people of Twitter and Facebook are helping out once again. Three main hashtags are being used on Facebook and Twitter – #WorkingATMs, #ATMsWithCash, and #ATMsNearYou.

Facebook is bringing more 3D Touch features to its iOS app

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One of the most popular features of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus is their 3D Touch functions. With a light press, users can preview all kinds of content and even act on it without having to actually open it up. Facebook introduced 3D Touch support to its iOS app last October, but it was only used to access some quick actions from the homescreen. Now, however, the social network is bringing Peek and Pop controls into the app itself.

Facebook said that 3D Touch will work with “web links, profiles, pages, groups, events, photos, profile pictures and cover photos.” The idea is that previewing content in this way should let users know whether or not something is worth opening.

Facebook is also adding another quick action shortcut to the homescreen icon. Right now, the quick actions are mostly used to perform tasks such as writing a post and uploading or taking photos/videos, but the company is introducing a new action that will take users directly to their timeline.

Facebook says it’ll be rolling out these new features today, but only to a “small group of people.” All other iPhone 6s and 6s Plus users won’t get the updated 3D Touch support for a few more months.

It’s heavily rumored that Samsung’s next flagship Galaxy smartphone – the S7 – will have a pressure sensitive screen to give it the same functionality as the latest iPhones.

At the start of last month, it was reported that Instagram briefly tested a feature on the Android platform that imitated 3D Touch. By holding down on a thumbnail, it was possible to preview a photo without having to open the image up to the entire screen.

The Internet Archive breathes new life into more than 1,000 classic Windows 3.x games

The work at the Internet Archive is never-ending. After adding nearly 2,400 classic MS-DOS games and a collection of nostalgia-inducing interactive viruses to its collection, the tireless team has turned its attention to Windows 3.x games.

As Jason Scott from the Internet Archive recounts in a blog post Thursday, Windows 3.x was a pivotal product for Microsoft in the early ’90s as it helped cement the dominant desktop paradigms that are still in use today. The era churned out some incredible and memorable software, many of which were games.

Now, more than a thousand classic Windows 3.x games (1,067, to be exact as of writing) can be relived right in your web browser. Many of the classics you know and love are there including Wheel of Fortune, Monopoly Deluxe, Hearts for Windows and two of my personal favorites, JezzBall and The Even More! Incredible Machine.

If you’re “new” to Windows 3.x, the archive’s Showcase category is a good place to get started. It features 49 pieces of popular Windows 3.x software such as MIDI Made Music for Windows Shareware version 2.11, Roulette, Windows Speed v1.0 and Election ’92, an arcade-style game that lets players influence the outcome of the year’s presidential election.

There’s even a stock installation of Windows 3.11 and a demo of Windows 95 if you want to relive what the early days of Windows looked like.

Twitter continues to wage war on abuse, announces new Trust and Safety Council

twitter, harassment, abuse, dick costolo, trust and safety council, patricia cartes

Twitter has been a haven for hateful and abusive behavior for years (the company’s former CEO admitted as much a year ago). Despite efforts to the contrary, Twitter hasn’t been very successful in quelling the abuse but that doesn’t mean it should stop trying.

On Tuesday, Twitter’s head of global policy outreach, Patricia Cartes, announced the formation of the Twitter Trust & Safety Council. Described as a part of its foundational strategy to ensure people feel safe expressing themselves on Twitter, the council consists of more than 40 organizations and experts from 13 regions tasked with reviewing the products, policies and programs that Twitter rolls out.

Inaugural members include safety advocates, academics and researchers that specialize in the fields of minors, media literacy and digital citizenship, grassroots advocacy organizations that use Twitter to build movements and momentum and community groups designed to prevent abuse, harassment and bullying.

Other organizations, Cartes added, focus on mental health and suicide prevention.

The new council is the latest step by Twitter to combat a serious problem. Last year, then-CEO Dick Costolo told employees in an internal memo that Twitter flat out sucked at dealing with abuse and trolls and they’ve sucked at it for years.

Later that year, Twitter required Tor users to provide a phone number when opening an account and rolled out a “quality filter” to help remove tweets thought to contain threats, offensive or abusive language or those coming from suspicious accounts. In December, the microblogging platform updated its terms of service to further combat abusive and hateful conduct.

Only time will tell how effective the Trust & Safety Council is at further curbing such behavior.

France tells Facebook it must stop tracking non-users and sending data to the US

facebook, france, privacy, tracking, cnil, cookies, safe harbor, data protection agency, ecj

Facebook has become the first major company to feel the fallout from the Safe Harbor agreement being ruled invalid last year after the French data protection authority gave the social networking site three months to stop some transfers of personal data to the United States. It also ordered the firm to stop tracking the browsing habits of non-users.

The 15-year old Safe Harbor agreement, which allowed US companies to easily receive information from European servers and avoid cumbersome EU data transfer rules, was ruled illegal in October amid concerns over US government spying.

The European Court of Justice gave companies certified under Safe Harbor three months to come up with an alternative data transfer pact – a deadline that expired last week. This means regulators – in this case it’s the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) – can start taking legal action against companies that still rely on Safe Harbor.

“Facebook transfers personal data to the United States on the basis of Safe Harbour, although the Court of Justice of the European Union declared invalid such transfers in its ruling of October 6, 2015,” the CNIL said in a statement.

The CNIL also said that Facebook’s use of cookies to track non-members of its site without informing them was a violation of French privacy law.

Facebook has claimed that it no longer uses Safe Harbor and added that it “has set up alternative legal structures to continue its transfers in line with EU law.” It seems that the CNIL isn’t convinced; the data protection agency has given Facebook three months to comply with its request or it could be fined.

“Protecting the privacy of the people who use Facebook is at the heart of everything we do. We … look forward to engaging with the CNIL to respond to their concerns,” a Facebook spokeswoman said.

Facebook isn’t having an easy time in Europe at the moment; in addition to mounting problems in Germany, the CNIL’s anti-tracking order follows a similar demand made by a Belgian court last November.

The growing choices in wireless connectivity

lte, wireless, wifi, next-gen, 802.11, opinion, guest, connectivity, 802.11ax, wifi ax, wifi ad, 802.11ad

Sometimes in order to see the big picture, you have to start with a deep dive.

At a recent two-day workshop on connectivity hosted by modem and radio chipmaker Qualcomm, I was bombarded with technical minutiae on everything from the role of filters in the RF front end of a modern modem, to the key elements of 3GPP Release 13, and the usage of carrier aggregation-like functions in upcoming technologies that leverage unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum.

What really hit me about the discussion, though, was how many different ways are now available to wirelessly connect—and how many more are still to come. In addition to the more common forms of WiFi and LTE, there is a tremendous range of new varieties of both standards, either already in place or being developed. These additions are adapting to and adjusting for the real-world limitations that earlier iterations of these technologies still have, and will help us fill in the gaps of our current coverage. Put simply, it’s Connectivity 2.0 (or 5.0 or whatever number you choose to assign to this technology maturation process).

In these days of 4K video streaming and our seemingly insatiable thirst for wireless broadband connections, that’s important. Connectivity has become the lifeblood for our devices—as essential to them as water is to us—and the need to have faster, more consistent connections is only going to grow.

In addition to the more common forms of WiFi and LTE, there is a tremendous range of new varieties of both standards, either already in place or being developed.

In the case of WiFi, the next standard we have to look forward to is 802.11ad. Think of it as the firehose of WiFi—it can’t deliver water very far, but within that confined area, it delivers the water fast—really fast. The 802.11ad standard uses radio waves at 60 GHz to communicate—much different than the typical 2.4 or 5 GHz used by other versions of WiFi—and by doing so it can deliver speeds as fast as most wired network connections (5 Gbps), but you’re limited to being in the same room as the router/access point that’s sending out those signals.

Though the standards committees are still finalizing details, fierce competitors Intel and Qualcomm just publicly demonstrated compatibility between their two offerings last week, ensuring we’ll see the first 802.11ad-equipped products later this year.

Another forthcoming WiFi improvement that’s a bit further out (think 1-2 years) is 802.11ax (don’t even get me started on these crazy naming conventions…), which you might want to think of as the sprinkler system of WiFi.

We’ve all been to conventions, concerts, sporting events and other large venues that, while they technically offer WiFi, don’t exactly offer a great experience to everyone. Sometimes you connect, sometimes you don’t, but the speed is never great. The goal of 802.11ax is to deliver consistent quality connections and speeds in these congested environments, as well as places like multi-unit housing complexes, shopping malls, etc.

We are also starting to see efforts to extend LTE for applications like these. Key suppliers to the telecommunications industry are making an effort to use what is called unlicensed spectrum—that is, radio bands that are not specifically purchased and used by telco carriers for their own networks—to carry broadband data and, equally important, not interfere with existing WiFi traffic. Qualcomm is working with a variety of other major players including Nokia, Ericsson and Intel, on something they’ve dubbed MulteFire, which they hope will bring LTE-like performance with WiFi-like simplicity, into the mainstream over the next few years. These companies are expected to make more announcements at the upcoming Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

Barcelona will also be the site of more news on the granddaddy of all connectivity developments—5G. Though real-world implementations probably won’t happen in the US until about 2020, many developments from test beds, to radio technologies, to infrastructure elements to applications are expected to be announced at the show. 5G is being specifically designed to handle extreme variations in waveform frequencies—from the low MHz to millimeter wave 50 GHz plus—as well as enormous ranges in power consumption, all with the hope of covering every application from low-power IOT to enormous, real-time data transfers.

Keeping track of all these new connectivity options certainly won’t be easy, and getting access to them will require buying devices that specifically support the new standards. The range of options we can look forward to is impressive, however, and will help wireless connectivity become an even more ubiquitous and reliable part of our everyday lives.

Kickstarter celebrates 100,000 successfully funded campaigns with 100 fun facts

kickstarter, projects, crowdfunding, campaign, crowdfunding platform, creators

For all of the negative press that Kickstarter has received since its inception nearly seven years ago, the platform deserves a bit of recognition for all of the good it has done in helping thousands of people achieve their dreams.

Just recently, Kickstarter surpassed a major milestone: 100,000 campaigns funded. Aphotography project called Falklands / Malvinas: One War, all Wars by Adriana Groisman became the 100,000th project successfully funded on Kickstarter late Sunday night.

Kickstarter shared several other fun facts in a post announcing the achievement. For example, there are a total of 165 categories and subcategories that the 100,000 successfully funded campaigns represent. What’s more, it took 121 days to fund the first 100 projects and only three days to fund the final 100.

Some of Kickstarters creators could be described as serial inventors. Kickstarter said its 100,000 projects were created by just 86,101 people and that 8,539 creators have launched more than one successfully funded project. One person has even created a whopping 94 successfully funded projects.

Other random nuggets include the fact that 11 Kickstarter-funded film projects have been nominated for an Oscar (with one actually winning the award), four that have won a Grammy and that there are 150 Kickstarter-funded video games that can be played right now on Steam.

Wired: stop blocking our ads, pay for an ad-free version or go elsewhere

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Wired Magazine is taking a bold step into the unknown. Starting next week, the site will give its readers who use an ad blocker an ultimatum: either stop blocking their ads, pay to view an ad-free version of the site or turn to a different source for technology news.

As Bloomberg notes, Wired is planning to charge readers $3.99 for four weeks of ad-free access to its website. Mark McClusky, head of product and business development for Wired Magazine, acknowledged there are legitimate reasons that people use ad blockers such as wanting to speed up the browsing experience or not wanting their web activity to be tracked.

At the end of the day, however, Wired has to pay the bills just like every other major site on the Internet and outside of donations, the only real way to do that today is through advertising revenue or subscriptions.

McClusky believes that the portion of Wired’s readership that uses ad blockers (roughly 20 percent of its readership) are likely to be receptive to a discussion about their responsibility to support the businesses they rely on for information online. I, for one, am not nearly as confident in their reception as McClusky but I digress.

Most sites have been offering their content for “free” through ad-supported methods and any pushback against what the general population sees as the norm will no doubt create backlash. That said, Wired’s buck-a-week rate isn’t set in stone, however, as the publication says it could change based on reader response.