Tesla Model 3 electric car gets a 5-star reveal

The Model 3 electric car will become Tesla Motors’ most affordable model. (Credit: Tesla Motors)

Tesla Motors’ Model 3 electric sedan may be geared for mass-market affordability, but CEO Elon Musk made it clear at tonight’s unveiling that he doesn’t intend it to be a third-rate car.

“It will be five-star in every category,” Musk told a standing-room-only, occasionally raucous crowd at Tesla’s warehouse-sized design studio at Hawthorne, Calif.

The $35,000 Model 3’s promised capabilities were arguably the biggest surprise of the evening: Musk said the scaled-down sedan would still have ample room for five people, thanks to a design that moves the instrument panel farther forward than the panel in the $70,000 Model S.

Even the base model will go from zero to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, Musk said. And the driving range will be at least 215 miles on a charge.

“These are minimum numbers,” Musk said. “We hope to exceed them.”

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How androids will become part of our lives

Image: Albert Hubo and David Hanson
Roboticist David Hanson faces the camera with a robot named Albert Hubo, which was developed with the assistance of South Korean scientists. Hanson is the one on the right. (Credit: Hanson Robotics)

Artificial intelligence and robots are hot topics right now, but will we ever get to the stage we saw 50 years ago on “The Jetsons,” where your typical household could have a robotic maid named Rosie?

Robotics pioneer David Hanson says yes, and he thinks it’ll take less than 50 more years. That’s the prediction he delivered on Wednesday during a Skype-enabled panel presentation on the future of AI and robotics in Seattle, sponsored by the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Northwest.

A veteran of Disney’s imagineering operation, Hanson has produced custom-made robot heads that are capable of eerily humanlike expressions. Now Hanson has relocated to Hong Kong, where he’s gearing up to unveil a line of production-model robots that take advantage of recent AI advances as well as the toymaking prowess of the Pearl River Delta.

He’s not yet ready to say how much those robots will cost. That will come later this year. But he foresees a day when humanoid robots will cost as much as cars.

“It is possible that we can get the cost down to tens of thousands of dollars for walking, humanoid robots that can grasp and manipulate,” he said from Hong Kong. “They can perform as well as the robots like the KAIST DARPA Robotics Challenge grand prize winner.”

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Bat-killing disease make the leap to the West

Image: Afflicted bat
This little brown bat with white nose syndrome was found near North Bend, Wash. (Credit: PAWS)

Researchers are dismayed by the first-ever case of the bat-killing disease known as white nose syndrome in Washington state, more than 1,000 miles west of where it’s been detected before.

The illness is linked to a fungus that’s primarily spread from bat to bat, but the fungus can also be transmitted via the shoes, clothes and gear of cave visitors.

Although it’s not harmful to humans, pets, livestock or most wildlife, the fungus is devastating for the bats. White nose syndrome has killed more than 6 million bats in North America since it was first documented nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says.

White nose syndrome was first detected in New York, and until now, it was thought to have spread only as far west as Nebraska.

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Hundreds line up to sign up for Tesla’s latest car

Image: Sid Bharadwaj
Sid Bharadwaj, the first buyer in line at Tesla Motors’ Bellevue Square store, has his picture taken after putting down a $1,000 deposit for a Model 3 electric car. (Credit: Sid Bharadwaj / Tesla Motors)

BELLEVUE, Wash. – As the clock counted down to the big reveal for the Tesla Model 3 electric sedan, would-be buyers lined up by the hundreds today to put down a deposit, sight unseen.

The phenomenon was reminiscent of the hullabaloo that typically accompanies Apple’s launch of a new iPhone.

The Model 3 is way more expensive than an iPhone: List price, before tax incentives, is expected to be around $35,000. But that’s low for a Tesla, and that’s the point. All those folks who have been salivating over a $70,000 Model S sedan or an $80,000 Model X SUV are finally seeing something in a lower price range.

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SETI Institute searches for red-dwarf aliens

Image: Red dwarf planetary system
An artist’s conception shows a planetary system around a red dwarf star. (Credit: ESO)

The SETI Institute is shifting the focus of its search for extraterrestrial intelligence to places that could harbor life that’s not as we know it: 20,000 red-dwarf star systems.

“Red dwarfs – the dim bulbs of the cosmos – have received scant attention by SETI scientists in the past,” SETI Institute engineer Jon Richard said today in a news release announcing the initiative. “That’s because researchers made the seemingly reasonable assumption that other intelligent species would be on planets orbiting stars similar to the sun.”

Red dwarfs are nothing like the sun: The brightest of the breed are a tenth as luminous as the sun, and some are just 0.01 percent as bright. But astronomers say they account for three-quarters of all stars.

The star that’s closest to our sun, Proxima Centauri, is a red dwarf. A variety of observing efforts, including the Pale Red Dot initiative, are looking for planets around Proxima Centauri.

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Microsoft, NASA create HoloLens Mars tour

Image: Mars tour
Erisa Hines, a driver for the Mars Curiosity rover, talks to participants during the “Destination: Mars” mixed-reality tour. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Microsoft)

Microsoft and NASA are bringing HoloLens to the masses – and bringing the masses to Mars – with a mixed-reality experience that will make its debut this summer.

“Destination: Mars,” an exhibit opening at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida this summer, takes regular folks on a virtual guided tour to sites visited by the Curiosity rover on the Red Planet.

Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin serves as one of the “holographic tour guides,” along with Curiosity rover driver Erisa Hines of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The experience lets the public explore Mars in an entirely new way,” JPL visualization producer Doug Ellison said March 30 in a news release. “To walk through the exact landscape that Curiosity is roving across puts its achievements and discoveries into beautiful context.”

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Boeing will trim 4,000 jobs, and maybe more

Image: Boeing 777 assembly
A Boeing 777 jet is assembled at the company’s plant in Everett, Wash. (Credit: Boeing)

Boeing Commercial Airplanes says it’s following through on its job reduction plan with the target of reducing its workforce by 4,000 positions by midyear.

So far, there have been no involuntary layoffs, company spokesman Doug Alder told GeekWire in an email today. But he said that may have to come as a “last resort” in order to reduce costs and remain competitive with Airbus, Boeing’s European rival.

In addition to the workforce reduction, Boeing has been trying to save on non-labor costs and supply chain expenses, Alder said.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes employs about 82,000 people worldwide, accounting for more than half of the Boeing Co.’s total job count. Boeing’s employment in Washington state, including employees in the company’s defense and administrative units as well as commercial airplanes, amounts to about 78,000.

The Seattle Times, which first reported the numbers behind the company’s job reduction plan, cited Boeing documents suggesting that the reductions could total 8,000 jobs, or 10 percent, by the end of the year.

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Elon Musk’s Mars plan sparks a nerd fight

Image: Musk in Dragon
SpaceX’s Elon Musk sits in a Crew Dragon capsule during its unveiling in 2014. (Credit: SpaceX)

Is SpaceX founder Elon Musk crazy to press ahead with plans to send people to Mars? Or crazy like a fox? A rehash of discouraging words from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has sparked a renewed debate over Musk’s grand plan.

Tyson’s pronouncements actually date back to last November, when he told The Verge in an interview that people were deluding themselves if they thought private enterprise alone could send people to Mars.

“The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier,” Tyson said. “That’s just not going to happen.”

He explained that interplanetary spaceflight is just too expensive and risky, with too little of an initial return on investment, to make sense as a private venture. “A government has a much longer horizon over which it can make investments,” Tyson said. (He told Larry King pretty much the same thing months earlier.)

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Microsoft shows off ‘Star Wars’ holoportation

Image: HoloLens demo
Microsoft Research’s Shahram Izadi shows how a clip of his HoloLens-facilitated interactions with his daughter in a remote environment can be played back in 3-D. (Credit: Microsoft Research)

As Microsoft gets set to ship its HoloLens development kit, it’s previewing a “Star Wars” application called holoportation that takes full advantage of the mixed-reality headset.

The effect is like that scene in the original Star Wars movie, where Princess Leia pops up in a hologram and tells Obi-Wan Kenobi he’s her “only hope.” (The same concept is behind other holo-conferences sprinkled throughout the sequels and prequels.)

In a demo video, Microsoft Research’s Shahram Izadi shows how it works.

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Alaska volcano erupts – and disrupts flights

Image: Pavlof eruption
Colt Snapp captured a picture of the ash plume emanating from Mount Pavlof on Sunday evening as he was flying to Anchorage from Dutch Harbor. (Credit: Colt Snapp via Twitter)

The spectacular eruption of Alaska’s Mount Pavlof had a not-so-spectacular effect on airline schedules today: Alaska Airlines said it had to cancel 41 flights to and from six cities in northern Alaska due to the massive ash cloud emanating from Pavlof.

More than 3,000 passengers were affected by today’s cancellations, Alaska Airlines said in a travel advisory. Flights to Barrow, Bethel, Fairbanks, Kotzebue, Nome and Prudhoe Bay are suspended until the airline can assess weather reports after dawn Tuesday.

Anchorage’s KTVA TV said Bering Air, PenAir and Ravn Alaska canceled flights this morning, but at least some of those airlines returned to normal schedules later in the day.

Mount Pavlof, 600 miles southwest of Anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula, is one of the state’s most consistently active volcanoes. The 8,261-foot peak began erupting on Sunday afternoon, sending ash to heights in excess of 20,000 feet.

KTVA quoted public safety officer Barrett Taylor as saying more than an eighth of an inch of ash had blanketed much of the Aleutian community of Nelson Lagoon. “It was basically raining ash,” Taylor said.

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