Google offers a quadrillion bytes of satellite views

An image from the Sentinel-2 satellite shows the Australian city of Brisbane and its surroundings. (Credit: ESA / Google)

How do you channel a flood of almost 5 million images into useful applications? Google Cloud is doing it with more than 30 years’ worth of satellite imagery from the Landsat and Sentinel-2 missions, for free.

Satellite views have long been part of Google’s global mapping operation, of course. But putting them on the cloud is a different matter.

One of the newly added data sets draws upon the complete catalog of pictures from Landsat 4, 5, 7 and 8, amounting to 1.3 petabytes of data that go back to 1984. The other data set takes advantage of more than 430 terabytes’ worth of multispectral imaging from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite, which is part of the Copernicus program to monitor global environmental indicators.

The Landsat database keeps track of 4 million scenes, while the Sentinel-2 set offers 970,000 images. More pictures are being added daily.

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Project Wing drones get boost from White House

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Members of the Project Wing team test automated flight in California. (Credit: Project Wing / X)

The White House says it’s taking steps to speed up the development of civil and commercial applications for drones – including the experimental deployment of Google’s Project Wing, a delivery service that could rival what Amazon has in mind.

Today’s announcement comes a week after Amazon indicated that it would be shifting the focus of its own drone delivery tests from the United States to Britain. Amazon Prime Air may benefit indirectly from the Project Wing experiment as well – but if there is any benefit, Project Wing will get it first.

The Project Wing study is just one of more than a dozen public-private initiatives announced today to coincide with a workshop on drones and the future of aviation, organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Another initiative opens the way for Bloodworks Northwest to deliver blood medicine and medical products to remote communities in the San Juan Islands via drones.

The White House said the National Science Foundation would set aside $35 million in funding over the next five years for research into how drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems, can be used to inspect infrastructure and farm fields, monitor the weather and respond to disasters.

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Google’s Larry Page puts $100M into flying cars

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A drawing from a patent application shows Zee Aero’s flying car parked alongside other vehicles.

Google co-founder Larry Page is reportedly funding not just one, but two competing teams to turn the decades-old vision of flying cars into reality … to the tune of $100 million.

That’s the top line from Bloomberg Businessweek’s lengthy report about the race to field flying-car concepts. The claim is based on interviews with people familiar with Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk, the two Silicon Valley operations linked to Page. The bottom line is just as intriguing: The flying-car race pits those two ventures against slightly less stealthy companies such as Joby Aviation, Terrafugia, E-volo,AeroMobil and Airbus.

The ultimate Jetsons dream seems to be coming closer to reality. “Over the past five years, there have been these tremendous advances in the underlying technology,” NASA engineer Mark Moore is quoted as saying. “What appears in the next five to 10 years will be incredible.”

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AI program wins $1 million prize in Go showdown

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South Korean champion Lee Sedol (upper right) contemplates a move during his game against Google DeepMind’st AlphaGo artificial intelligence program. (Credit: Google DeepMind via YouTube)

Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo artificial intelligence program will take home the $1 million prize after winning the first three games in its Go showdown with South Korean champion Lee Sedol.

“Folks, you saw history made here today,” webcast host Chris Garlock said.

But today’s third win isn’t the end of the historic match in Seoul: The last two games will still be played, with Lee hoping to demonstrate that it’s possible for a human to beat the computer program.

“I think it’s going to be tough going,” match commentator Michael Redmond said during today’s webcast. Lee was never able to achieve an advantage in the third game, which lasted more than four hours. More than 65,000 viewers watched the YouTube webcast at its peak.

After today’s game, DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis paid tribute to Lee, and particularly to the “really huge ko fight” that the champion executed during the endgame.

“To be honest, we are a bit stunned and speechless,” Hassabis told reporters. “Lee Sedol put up an incredible fight again.”

Lee apologized for his performance, and said he let the pressure get to him during the third game. “I should have shown a better outcome. … I kind of felt powerless,” he said.

The duel marks a milestone for AI, and for the millennia-old game of Go. Comparisons have been drawn to chess champion Garry Kasparov’s defeat in a 1997 match against IBM’s Deep Blue computer, and the triumph of IBM’s Watson computer over human champions in the “Jeopardy” TV quiz show.

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Go champion loses to AI program in historic duel

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Go champion Lee Sedol (seated at right) reviews the final moves after surrendering his first game to Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo artificial intelligence program. (Credit: Google DeepMind via YouTube)

Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo artificial intelligence program won the first of five Go games in a milestone million-dollar match against South Korean champion Lee Sedol today – marking another milestone for machine learning.

“I am in shock. … But I am looking forward to tomorrow,” Sedol was quoted as saying afterward.

AlphaGo notched its first victories against a professional Go player in October when it beat European champion Fan Hui, five games out of five. But experts in the centuries-old game thought the AI program would have a harder time with Sedol, who is more highly ranked on the Go circuit.

Sedol ran out of options for the endgame and surrendered after about three and a half hours of play. “A big surprise, I think,” commentator Michael Redmond said during the webcast from Seoul.

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Go players gear up for man-vs.-machine match

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After winning its matches against European Go champion Fan Hui, the A.I. program AlphaGo is taking on South Korea’s Lee Sedol, a legendary figure in the game of Go. (Credit: Google DeepMind)

This month’s human-vs.-machine Go match between South Korean legend Lee Sedol and Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo AI program is a teachable moment – not only for experts in the field of artificial intelligence, but for aficionados of the millennia-old game of Go as well.

The five games in the $1 million challenge will be streamed live online from Seoul, with the first game due to begin at 8 p.m. PT Tuesday.

There’ll be online commentary, but if you’re looking for more of the human touch, show up at the Seattle Go Center, at 700 NE 45th St. in the University District. The center will be streaming each match on a big screen, and if you’re a newbie, you can learn how to play the game while Sedol contemplates his moves.

“This is the ‘John Henry’ moment for the 21st century,” Brian Allen, manager of the Seattle Go Center, told GeekWire in an email. He’s referring to the 19th-century folk tale about a “steel-drivin’ man” who was pitted against a steam-powered hammer.

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Google tests Internet drones at spaceport

Image: Titan drone
Titan Aerospace, which was acquired by Google in 2014, has been working on solar-powered drones that could provide high-speed Internet access from a high altitude. (Credit: Titan file)

The latest twist in the race to provide high-speed Internet access from above comes in the form of a report in The Guardian, to the effect that a hush-hush Google project called SkyBender is testing drones in the skies above Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The Guardian says it’s obtained documents laying out how high-altitude drones could relay gigabits of data per second, using millimeter-wave, phased-array transmissions. Jacques Christophe Rudell, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Washington, is quoted as saying that “the huge advantage is access to new spectrum, because the existing cellphone spectrum is overcrowded.”

Millimeter-wave communications could open the way for 5G wireless service that’s 40 times faster than the current 4G LTE standard. But millimeter-wave signals have a relatively short range: According to The Guardian, Project SkyBender would have to use thousands of transceiver-equipped aerial vehicles to knit together the network.

The system is reportedly being tested using Aurora Flight Sciences’ Centaur optionally piloted aircraft as well as the solar-powered drones made by Titan Aerospace, which was acquired by Google in 2014 after a fling with Facebook.

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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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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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