UW’s first Nobel laureate dies at 94

Hans Dehmelt

UW physicist Hans Dehmelt holds one of his early ion traps. (UW Photo / Davis Freeman)

The University of Washington says the first Nobel laureate in its history, Hans Georg Dehmelt, has passed away in Seattle at the age of 94 after a long illness.

Dehmelt won a share of the Nobel physics prize in 1989 for his work with ion traps, a type of apparatus that uses an array of electromagnetic fields to isolate electrically charged atoms and subatomic particles, and hold them in place for highly accurate measurements.

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$75 million turns Rocket Lab into a unicorn

Electron rocket

Rocket Lab is developing the low-cost Electron rocket. (Rocket Lab Photo)

Rocket Lab says it has closed a $75 million Series D financing round for production of its low-cost Electron rocket, which is expected to see its maiden launch within the next couple of months. The round was led by Data Collective, with additional new funding from Promus Ventures and an undisclosed investor, plus fresh funding from Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and K1W1. Rocket Lab, now headquartered in Huntington Beach, Calif., has received $148 million in funding to date for a valuation in excess of $1 billion. That qualifies the company as a “unicorn,” in tech parlance.

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Caution signals seen for Amazon Go store

Outside Amazon’s first “Amazon Go” retail store in the Denny Triangle neighborhood of Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Amazon Go, the online retailer’s “Just Walk Out” convenience store in downtown Seattle, is still in private beta mode three and a half months after its unveiling – and some reports suggest the concept is facing tougher sledding than anticipated.

The checkout-free store is just one of several brick-and-mortar experiments under way at Amazon. A different drive-up concept, AmazonFresh Pickup, seems nearly ready for its debut in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and SoDo district.

Unlike AmazonFresh Pickup, Amazon Go envisions a system where customers can walk in off the street, pick up anything they want, and “just walk out.” Their purchases would be tracked using high-tech object recognition and inventory management systems, matched up with the customers’ mobile app and automatically charged to their Amazon account.

Since December, Amazon has been testing the system at an 1,800-square-foot store on Seventh Avenue. Only employees are allowed to enter the store, but when the store was unveiled, Amazon promised that it’d be open to the public in early 2017.

Amazon has issued no updates since December, and this week, Bloomberg News reported that Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” just isn’t ready for prime time yet.

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Drone show wows Amazon’s MARS attendees

Drone display

Intel’s swarm of light-equipped drones arrange themselves to create an American flag in the sky above Amazon’s MARS conference. (Caleb Harper via Twitter)

The synchronized drone display that accompanied Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show may have been recorded in advance, but a similar “droneworks” show wowed a crowd in real time at Amazon’s MARS 2017 conference in Palm Springs, Calif.

“If you thought the Super Bowl drone light show was cool, this tops it,” Sasha Hoffman wrote in a tweet.

Like the Super Bowl’s display, March 20’s evening show was presented by Intel. The company’s CEO, Brian Krzanich, reportedly played a personal part in “bringing out the drones.”

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SpaceX puts Arcadia on the map for Mars


This color-coded elevation map of Mars’ equatorial region shows Arcadia Planitia at upper left, northwest of Olympus Mons and the Tharsis shield volcanoes. (USGS)

SpaceX’s current favorite place to land on Mars is reportedly Arcadia Planitia, which combines flat terrain, potential deposits of water ice and an equatorial region well-suited for solar power. According to Space News, that’s the word from SpaceX’s Paul Wooster, who’s working with NASA to identify potential landing sites for the privately held company’s Red Dragon missions to Mars.

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Jeff Bezos gets his bearings on rocket engine

BE-4 rocket engine testing

The BE-4 rocket engine’s powerpack is installed on a stand at Blue Origin’s West Texas proving ground for startup transient testing. (Blue Origin Photo)

What’s the difference between ball bearings and hydrostatic bearings? You should have more of an inkling after checking out Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ latest update on the development of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine.

The engine is undergoing testing for use not only on the New Glenn rocket that Bezos’ space venture is planning, but also on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket.

The BE-4 is designed to provide 550,000 pounds of thrust, propelled by liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas. Bezos says that kind of thrust should be enough to send a payload on the first leg of a trip to the moon when seven of them are firing together.

But that kind of performance can involve a lot of wear and tear, particularly if you’re using traditional ball and roller bearings. To maximize the engine’s reusability, Blue Origin’s team is taking a different approach. To keep the BE-4 running smoothly, Bezos says the turbine at the heart of the engine’s turbopump will use a thin film of the fluid propellants as its bearings.

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Amazon delivery drone goes public in U.S.

Amazon delivery drone

An Amazon delivery drone flies around the MARS conference. (Jason Johnson via Periscope

Amazon’s Prime Air drone made its first package delivery in December, in England, but regular folks haven’t seen it in action out in the open here in the States. Until today.

The drone demonstrated its delivery technique during Amazon’s MARS 2017 conference at a resort in Palm Springs, Calif. The merchandise? A box containing sunscreen for the sunny California weather, of course.

Amazon has been providing glimpses of its prototype drones for well more than a year, and the testing continues in the U.S. and Britain as well as other countries. However, the previous peeks we’ve gotten have been professionally packaged videos, created by Amazon.

In contrast, today’s video was basically a smartphone clip shot by Jason Johnson, who’s the founder and CEO of August Home (and an attendee at MARS 2017).

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