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A $245 Million Settlement Has Brought the Waymo v. Uber Legal Battle to a Close

Posted: 10 Feb 2018 07:51 AM PST

Uber Pays for Stolen Secrets

After spending nearly a week in the courtroom, Waymo and Uber came to an agreement on Friday, Feb. 9, in which the latter will pay the Google/Alphabet division a significant sum of money (in our view — perhaps not in Google’s). This development concludes the legal battle that has been raging between the two autonomous-vehicle companies since Waymo claimed that their trade secrets had been stolen for use in Uber’s production of self-driving technology.

In a statement provided to Business Insider, Waymo states that Uber has also agreed to not use any of its hardware or software trade secrets going forward — suggesting that Uber might have done so in the past and Waymo’s suspicions were correct. Additionally, Uber will pay Waymo $245 million in equity.

As reported by Gizmodo, Waymo had a list of more than 100 claims of trade secret violations it was prepared to fight for, though only eight were presented at trial. Matters involving Uber’s acquisition of self-driving truck company Otto — launched by former Google employee Anthony Levandowski — were also of concern to Waymo, as well  Levandowski’s possession of confidential files.

Witnesses like Alphabet CEO Larry Page and Levandowski were expected to appear at some point this week at the federal court session in San Francisco, but the this settlement has put an end to that. The payout likely spared Levandowski from some public scrutiny, as, according to The Verge, he was expected to invoke the Fifth Amendment when he took the stand.

A New Relationship

Uber’s settlement with Waymo has essentially forced parent company Google to become an investor in Uber and its future, which includes the ride-sharing company’s plans to go public. Waymo affirmed the new partnership in their statement, saying “We are committed to working with Uber to make sure that each company develops its own technology.”

In a seperate statement, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi doubled down on the company’s previous defense that it didn’t use any of Waymo’s ideas. However, Khosrowshahi also admitted that Uber's acquisition of Otto “should have been handled differently,” and he acknowledged the new relationship shared by the two companies.

“To our friends at Alphabet: we are partners, you are an important investor in Uber, and we share a deep belief in the power of technology to change people's lives for the better,” Khosrowshahi said in the statement. “Of course, we are also competitors.”

To be partners, yet also direct competitors, is quite a delicate relationship to maintain. The coming years will tell if this development will help or hinder the world’s transition to autonomous vehicles. Khosrowshahi made it clear that he intends to keep competing with Waymo to transform the transportation industry for the benefit of all.

“As we change the way we operate and put integrity at the core of every decision we make, we look forward to the great race to build the future,” he said in the statement. “We believe that race should be fair — and one whose ultimate winners are people, cities, and our environment.

The post A $245 Million Settlement Has Brought the Waymo v. Uber Legal Battle to a Close appeared first on Futurism.

This Week in Tech: Feb 3 – Feb 9, 2018

Posted: 10 Feb 2018 04:00 AM PST

Ehang Air Taxi Takes Flight With Passengers for the First Time

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 01:38 PM PST

EHang’s 184 air taxi is set to begin testing with passengers in Dubai and the state of Nevada.

The post Ehang Air Taxi Takes Flight With Passengers for the First Time appeared first on Futurism.

In the Next Century, Brain Computer Interfaces Could be Mainstream

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 01:24 PM PST

With brain-computer interface technology, we could one day control our devices and our homes using only our thoughts.

The post In the Next Century, Brain Computer Interfaces Could be Mainstream appeared first on Futurism.

Want a World Without Blackouts? Power the Future With Renewable Energy.

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 01:12 PM PST

Renewable and Sustainable

Whether at the national or corporate level, an integral part of most plans to combat climate change is making the shift to renewable energy sources. With solar and wind power leading the charge, renewables are steadily finding their way into the energy infrastructure of a number of countries and companies. Some have already become 100 percent renewable, while others continue to carefully wean themselves from fossil fuel.

There is, however, a sizable hurdle that early renewable energy adapters will inevitably encounter. Energy output from solar and wind, and to a lesser extent hydrogen, are dependent on circumstances beyond human control. An emerging solution to this issue is the use of energy storage devices or commercial-grade batteries like Tesla’s Powerpack.

A new study from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) argues that this hurdle could very well be overcome by a combination of solutions. By making renewable energy completely reliable, it could provide consistent power across all sectors, potentially making blackouts a thing of the past. A manuscript of the study has been published in the journal Renewable Energy.

Lead author Mark Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford, also lead a recent study that presented a roadmap to 100 percent renewable energy dependence for 139 nations. In the new study, the researchers completed the roadmap, suggesting three scenarios that would maximize renewable energy output and sustain power to supply the grid.

Three Solutions

Using a combination of computer modeling programs that can predict global weather patterns from 2050 to 2054, Jacobson and his colleagues constructed scenarios where 139 nations, grouped into 20 world regions, had converted all sectors into renewable energy by 2050. The team also factored in the effect on energy output from solar and wind power sources. Using another model, the team then calculated the energy produced by more stable renewable sources, such as geothermal and hydrogen.

"One of the biggest challenges facing energy systems based entirely on clean, zero-emission wind, water and solar power is to match supply and demand with near-perfect reliability at reasonable cost," co-author Mark Delucchi, a UCB research scientist, said in a statement. "Our work shows that this can be accomplished, in almost all countries of the world, with established technologies."

The results described three scenarios in which nations struck a proper balance between energy output from renewables and predicted energy demand for 2050. Of note, in all three scenarios, blackouts at low energy costs were avoided for a five-year period. The researchers noted that having various energy storage options available was an important factor in that outcome.

For the 20 regions in CASE A, concentrated solar power (CSP) storage, batteries and thermal energy storage proved to be crucial — however, the study noted that “no hydropower turbines beyond current capacity or heat pumps were added.”

Similarly, the 20 regions in CASE B, also found that thermal energy storage and CSP-with-storage were key; the only difference was the addition of hydropower turbines. Though, the study noted that these didn’t increase annual hydrogen power output.

In the third scenario — CASE C — things played out a little differently. CSP and commercial grade batteries were the dominant energy storage options for the regions in the scenario (14 instead of 20),  but no hydropower turbines were included. However, the study noted that “heat pumps with no storage replaced all cold and low-temperature heat thermal energy storage.”

Jacobson summarized the results of the study, saying:

Our main result is that there are multiple solutions to the problem. This is important because the greatest barrier to the large-scale implementation of clean renewable energy is people's perception that it's too hard to keep the lights on with random wind and solar output.

Jacobson also noted that an important consideration for all three scenarios, in terms of creating a roadmap that works, is political cooperation between the 139 nations. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise, though — considering how clean energy programs and climate deals often depend quite heavily on the politics of the nations involved.

"Ideally, you'd have cooperation in deciding where you're going to put the wind farms, where you're going to put the solar panels, where you're going to put the battery storage," Jacobson explained. "The whole system is most efficient when it is planned ahead of time as opposed to done one piece at a time."

Having a road-tested roadmap, so to speak, should at the very least help guide these nations — and the researchers hope they’ll be confident to take action sooner rather than later. If warnings about the rate of global warming are to be heeded, we need a stable renewable energy infrastructure in place well before 2050.

The post Want a World Without Blackouts? Power the Future With Renewable Energy. appeared first on Futurism.

Researchers Put 3D Glasses on Praying Mantises and Discovered a New Type of Vision

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 11:51 AM PST

Scientists have gained new insight into the way praying mantises see the world, and this knowledge could potentially open up new avenues for computer vision.

Unlike other insects, praying mantises have a pair of large, forward-facing eyes. Humans and other primates use this kind of stereo sight setup to compare two slightly different viewpoints in order to gauge depth. However, it seems that praying mantises see things differently than we do.

Using beeswax as an adhesive, a team led by Vivek Nityananda at the University of Newcastle affixed lenses to praying mantises’ faces, being careful not to cause injury. One lens was green and the other was blue, a setup that allowed the scientists to control what each eye could see.

The scientists then projected films onto a screen in front of the insects. The first film featured a moving dot, which the mantises attacked, demonstrating that they could perceive depth if an object moved. Then, the dot was manipulated to move in two different directions, a disparity that would prevent human eyes from comprehending the image, but the mantises still attacked it.

This suggests that mantises have a previously unknown type of vision. It relies on targets moving around, but those movements don’t necessarily have to match between one eye and the other. It’s based on motion over time, rather than a direct comparison.

Being insects, mantises have fewer than a million neurons, far fewer than the 85 billion possessed by humans. However, thanks to this unique form of vision they use, they can still see in three dimensions, just like we can.

The researchers noted in a press release that their discovery could lead to the development of an algorithm based on mantis vision. Small robots, such as those used to respond to disasters, could use this algorithm to assess their surroundings without the need for a sophisticated “brain.”

The post Researchers Put 3D Glasses on Praying Mantises and Discovered a New Type of Vision appeared first on Futurism.

We Just Found Out Asteroids Are Flying by Earth This Week — Here’s How Worried You Should Be

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 11:39 AM PST

Things fall from the sky. It happens. Rain, snow, sleet, and hail, maybe even birds, or the occasional clumsy squirrel. Asteroids, on the other hand — those generate some interest. Which is why when NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) reported that not one, but two small asteroids will come within a Moon’s distance of Earth this week, people took notice.

Obviously, humans are not destined to go the way of the dinosaurs before month’s end. But there are Things To Know about what’s to come. For example:

How close will these asteroids come to Earth?

Kind of. Relatively. One of the asteroids, 2018 CC (named for the year and month in which researchers discovered it), already came and went — on February 6 around 3:10 p.m. EST, it soared past about 184,000 kilometers (114,000 miles) above Earth.

The second asteroid, 2018 CB, will swing by Earth today, February 9, at approximately 5:30 p.m. EST. At its closest, it’ll be 64,000 kilometers (39,000 miles) away — just 16 percent of the distance between the Earth and the Moon, which is 384,472 kilometers (238,900 miles) away. That’s pretty darn close. Still, the asteroid is very unlikely to actually make contact with the Earth’s atmosphere, much less its surface.

How do we know that for sure?

Because the scientists at NASA are sure, and, they’re the people one should trust with this kind of thing. But if you want to know why they’re so sure, it’s because the JPL's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) monitors asteroids that come anywhere near Earth.

The organization’s Sentry Impact Monitoring System tracks and analyzes information on asteroids that could collide with the Earth. These appropriately-named “near-Earth asteroids” (NEAs) are left on Sentry’s list until an impact can be ruled out. Once the system confirms that the asteroids pose no threat, they’re removed. 2018 CB? Already removed.

An animation of asteroid 2018 CB missing Earth. Image Credit: NASA

But why did NASA only discover these asteroids four days ago?

NASA probably gets this question often, given that they address it on their Planetary Defense FAQ page. In short, it takes time to observe asteroids and comets, and the ground-based telescopes used to track them down can only be used at night and in clear skies.

Once researchers detect these near-Earth objects (NEOs), they predict their trajectories based on early observations. Establishing a good model can take anywhere from a week to a month, according to NASA’s web site. So it’s actually pretty impressive that NASA confirmed that 2018 CC and 2018 CB wouldn’t hit Earth did it even faster, within a week of spotting them.

Okay, I can relax for now. But what would we do if an asteroid was expected to hit Earth?

The government has a protocol in place to handle threats on a case-by-case basis. NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) in Washington, D.C., is responsible for detecting potentially hazardous objects (PHOs), tracking them, providing accurate and up-to-the-minute information, and coordinating with the U.S. government to plan a response to realistic threats. You can read the agency’s breakdown of a hypothetical scenario presented at the 2017 IAA Planetary Defense Conference (PDC), and you can also check out the app to see exactly what we’d need to do to deflect an asteroid.

One thing we can’t do? Shoot asteroids out of the sky as they approach Earth, according to NASA’s FAQ page: “No known weapon system could stop the mass because of the velocity at which it travels — an average of 12 miles per second.”

Will any asteroid ever hit Earth?

Unlikely. One of the few asteroids that could hit Earth is Bennu, and CNEOS predicts it won’t come close to Earth again until 2135. That approach could change Bennu’s course, putting it in a position to make impact on Earth between 2175 and 2199. There’s only a 0.037 percent chance that impact happens. In other words, there’s more than a 99 percent chance it doesn’t hit.

Still, NASA isn’t taking any chances. In September 2016, the agency launched the OSIRIS-REx mission, a probe expected to reach Bennu in 2018 and return to Earth with a sample from the asteroid in 2023. Researchers will use information gathered through that mission to update their predictions.

So, yeah, it’s true that 2018 CB is swinging by Earth today, but there’s no reason to let it ruin your Friday via fear of oncoming obliteration. Just keep looking forward to the weekend with the comfort in mind that, at the very least, an astroid impact isn’t coming, let alone, interrupt your ability to see it.

The post We Just Found Out Asteroids Are Flying by Earth This Week — Here’s How Worried You Should Be appeared first on Futurism.