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‘Origins’ concert sets the Big Bang to music

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An artist’s conception shows two “branes” colliding in multidimensional space, creating the Big Bang that gave rise to our own universe 13.8 billion years ago. (Animation by Deep Sky Studios)

The Big Bang never looked, or sounded, so good: The piece de resistance for this week’s SpaceFest in Seattle is a symphonic review of 13.8 billion years of cosmic history, from its expansive beginnings to an unpredictable sonic wave of emergent behavior.

Most of the SpaceFest events take place at the Museum of Flight, but the capper is a concert titled “Origins: Life in the Universe,” unfolding at Benaroya Hall at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“The whole focus is to blow people away with the beauty of astronomy,” said scientist-composer Glenna Burmer, one of the prime movers for “Origins.”

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Let Google’s A.I. bot answer your emails

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Google’s Smart Reply feature analyzes incoming email with an encoder. (Google image)

Weary of spambots, robo-calls and Twitter bots? Google is coming out with an artificial-intelligence tool that’s on your side for a change: Smart Reply, a feature that’s built into its Inbox app for Android and iOS.

Smart Reply is designed to take the thumbwork out of replying to email on a mobile device.

“I get a lot of email, and I often peek at it on the go with my phone. But replying to email on mobile is a real pain, even for short replies,” Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist at Google, writes on the company’s research blog. “What if there were a system that could automatically determine if an email was answerable with a short reply, and compose a few suitable responses that I could edit or send with just a tap?”

Corrado explains at length how Google’s engineers developed a deep neural network that analyzes incoming email and suggests short responses based on context.

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FAA chief wants drone experts to ‘think big’

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Quadcopters are among the types of drones that are expected to be registered. (NASA photo)

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration told the members of a policy task force to “think big, and think outside the box” as they met today for the first time to discuss a system for registering recreational drones.

This week’s three-day meeting in Washington comes against the backdrop of heightened capability, heightened expectations and heightened concerns about remote-controlled and robotic aerial vehicles.

Task force co-chair David Vos – who handles Project Wing for Google’s holding company, Alphabet – told attendees at an air traffic control convention on Monday that his venture could start using drones for commercial deliveries in 2017. Amazon and Walmart are working on similar systems.

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After 15 years, it’s time to remodel space station

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The International Space Station has been continuously occupied since 2000. (NASA photo)

Today marks the 15th anniversary of that first moving-in day for spacefliers living on the International Space Station – and like many places that have been lived in for 15 years, the ISS is in the midst of renovations.

This isn’t your typical “reno,” however: There’s no other place where the doors have to be replaced while the construction site is moving at 18,000 mph, 225 miles above Earth’s surface. That’s basically what’s involved in getting the station ready for the arrival of Boeing and SpaceX crew transport ships in the 2017 time frame.

“To implement it on orbit is extremely complex, and must be orchestrated very carefully,” John Vollmer, Boeing’s chief engineer for the space station project, says in a video marking the anniversary. Boeing is the prime contractor for the station’s U.S. segment.

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Will driverless cars have their own lanes?

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Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University demonstrate a driverless car in 2014. (CMU photo)

“No human drivers wanted”: That just might be the road sign for the high-speed highway transit lanes of the future, if artificial intelligence and driverless cars turn out the way Microsoft Research’s Eric Horvitz expects.

The managing director of Microsoft Research’s Redmond lab sketched out his vision of the future today at MIT’s EmTech conference in Cambridge, Mass., which highlights emerging technologies in computing, biomedicine and other fields. Part of that vision is the creation of “hyper lanes” that would smooth the way for autonomous vehicles, and potentially leave those pesky human drivers behind.

“The Hyperlane idea is just a personal observation Eric’s had recently while driving his Tesla around Seattle,” Travis Reed, a spokesman for Microsoft Research, said in an email to GeekWire.

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Three future frontiers for Seattle space ventures

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Jeff Bezos shows off the concept for Blue Origin’s launch system during a September news conference in Florida. Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is headquartered in Kent, Wash. (Blue Origin photo)

What is it about Seattle that’s led some folks to call it the “Silicon Valley of space,”and how far can space entrepreneurs go in the next 20 years? One of the panels at Friday’s Xconomy Seattle 2035 conference tackled those questions – and added a couple of shorter-term predictions as well.

Jason Andrews, the CEO of Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc., listed three reasons why Seattle is up there with Southern California, Silicon Valley, Texas and Florida’s Space Coast when it comes to commercial spaceflight.

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Lithium-air battery nirvana comes nearer

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Researchers say lithium-air batteries could boost the range of electric cars. (Credit: IBM via YouTube)

A decade from now, we could all be driving low-cost electric cars for hundreds of miles without recharging, thanks to an advance in lithium-air battery technology announced today. Or maybe it’ll be some other lithium-air innovation. Or maybe we’ll see batteries with a different chemistry, such as sodium-air or sodium-lithium.

“The battery of the future is going to encompass a lot of these different technologies,” University of Cambridge chemist Clare Grey told GeekWire.

Grey is the senior author of a study describing a technological twist that promises to remove some of the obstacles that have blocked the path to battery nirvana. The research, featured on the cover of this week’s issue of the journal Science, shows how changing the nanostructure of the electrodes and shifting the chemistry can boost a lithium-oxygen battery’s efficiency and make it more stable.

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Amazon gets two spots on drone task force

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Amazon Prime Air is developing drones that could be used for deliveries. (Amazon photo)

The Federal Aviation Administration says the task force charged with drawing up recommendations for registering recreational drones includes two Amazon representatives: Sean Cassidy, a former Alaska Airlines pilot who’s working on the Amazon Prime Air drone venture; and Ben Gielow, who’s a senior manager for public policy at Amazon.

In today’s announcement detailing the task force’s membership, the FAA said the group’s co-chairs are Dave Vos of GoogleX and Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office.

Other task force members include Walmart’s Thomas Head, Best Buy’s Parker Brugge and GoPro’s Tony Bates, as well as representatives of drone manufacturers and operators, aviation associations, surveyors and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Amazon and Walmart are both working on drone delivery systems. GoogleX, which has served as Google’s think tank, is looking into commercial drones as well. Such operations, however, would be covered by a different set of regulations that’s working its way through the FAA system.

The task force is charged with suggesting a system for registering recreational drones by Nov. 20. The group is due to convene formally for the first time next Tuesday, the FAA said.  Public comments are being taken through Nov. 6.

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After Boeing and Ford, Alan Mulally’s a ‘Googler’

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Former Ford CEO Alan Mulally speaks at Seattle University. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

Alan Mulally started out designing Boeing jets in 1969, and eventually made his mark as the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Then he moved on to lead Ford Motor Co.’s revival as president and CEO, inspiring a book titled“American Icon.” Now the 70-year-old management guru has a new allegiance.

“I found a new love in Google,” Mulally told his fans on Wednesday evening, during a talk that kicked off this fall’s Albers Executive Speaker Series at Seattle University. “I’m a Googler now.”

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SpaceX goes slow on Internet satellite plan

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During SpaceX’s Seattle announcement about an Internet satellite network, the company’s logo lit up Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center. (GeekWire photo)

It’s been nine months since SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, announced plans to put up a constellation of 4,000 satellites to provide global Internet service, and scores of employees are being hired in the Seattle area to start making it so. But today SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell signaled that the company is reconsidering those plans.

“I would say that this is actually very speculative at this point,” Space News quoted Shotwell as saying at the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia convention in Hong Kong. “We don’t have a lot of effort going into that right now.”

The project is technically doable, she said. “But can we develop the technology and roll it out with a lower-cost methodology so that we can beat the prices of existing providers like Comcast and Time Warner and other people? It’s not clear that the business case will work,” she said.

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