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GeekWire

Play a game with AI to boost your public speaking

Six months after coming out of stealth mode, a Seattle AI startup called Yoodli is raising the curtain on a free website that’s designed to improve your public speaking.

And as if that’s not enough, Yoodli is throwing in some free games as well. “Think of these as Wordle, but for communication skills,” Yoodli co-founder Varun Puri said in an introductory video.

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GeekWire

Boeing hires three giants to build its billion-dollar cloud

The billion-dollar competition to provide Boeing with cloud computing services is finished, and the winner is … a three-way split. Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft are all getting a share of the business, Boeing announced today.

In a LinkedIn post, Susan Doniz, Boeing’s chief information officer and senior VP for information technology and data analytics, called it a “multi-cloud partnership.”

“This represents a significant investment in the digital tools that will empower Boeing’s next 100 years,” she wrote. “These partnerships strengthen our ability to test a system — or an aircraft — hundreds of times using digital twin technology before it is deployed.”

Doniz said that becoming more cloud-centric will provide Boeing with “global scalability and elasticity without having to predict, procure, maintain and pay for on-premises servers.” Financial details relating to the multi-cloud partnership were not disclosed.

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GeekWire

Overwatch raises $11M for airborne imaging with AI

Overwatch Imaging, an Oregon venture that makes airborne imaging systems for piloted aircraft and drones, has closed on an $11.15 million investment round led by Squadra Ventures and Shield Capital.

Other participants in the round include the Portland Seed Fund and two strategic investors, L3Harris and Bridger Aerospace.

Overwatch said the fresh funding will be used to accelerate the company’s growth and enhance its automation and image analytics software. The company plans to hire 15 to 20 more engineers and business development professionals this year.

Founded in 2016, the Hood River, Ore.-based startup specializes in precision imaging systems equipped with onboard AI software. The dual-use systems can be used for defense applications as well as for civilian applications including search-and-rescue, wildfire mapping, disaster response and infrastructure inspections.

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GeekWire

Where’s my jetpack? Check Amazon’s MARS meeting

Billionaire Jeff Bezos missed out on his usual chauffeuring duties at the West Texas launch orchestrated today by his Blue Origin space venture, but he had a good excuse: He was presiding over Amazon’s MARS 2022, an invitation-only conference held this week in California.

His successor as Amazon’s CEO, Andy Jassy, was there as well.

The hush-hush MARS conference had its first annual run back in 2016, and spawned a public event called re:MARS in 2019. The acronym stands for Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space — and it also evokes Bezos’ long-term goal of having millions of people living and working in space.

MARS is an opportunity for the compu-cognoscenti to rub elbows (but our invitation must have gotten lost in the mail … again). It’s also a photo opportunity for Bezos: Who can forget the shots of “Buff Bezos” striding alongside a robo-dog, or Bezos at the controls of a giant robot, or trying out a hexacopter?

The 2020 and 2021 conferences had to be called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, but based on the tweets and Instagram posts emanating from this year’s site in Ojai, Calif., MARS was back in full force in 2022.

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Fiction Science Club

Sci-fi author blends magical myths and raw reality

The near-future world created by Bangladeshi science-fiction writer Saad Z. Hossain turns up the dial on trends we’re seeing in the now-present world — the snowballing effects of climate change and urbanization, the rise of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, and the potential for the metaverse that everyone’s talking about to turn into an opiate for the masses.

And then there are the djinns — that is, supernatural beings who turn up in Arabian mythology, and have served as the inspiration for genies like the wisecracking character in Disney’s “Aladdin” movies.

“They are the big mythical creatures of our culture, as fairies are to Europe, or dwarves and giants to Norse mythology,” Hossain explains in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast. “So, yeah, it’s something we should use.”

But there’s a facet of South Asian culture that’s even more central to Hossain’s literary universe: the sharp division between the moguls who hold all the wealth and the power (including the power of technology), and the “zeroes” who are just trying to get by.

That’s no sci-fi fantasy, Hossain told us over a Zoom connection from his home in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

“All over the world, and especially in Dhaka, actually you have these pockets of palatial places that are ultra-luxurious and absolutely beautiful to live in. … And then, of course, there are large parts which are in comparison completely unlivable,” he said.

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GeekWire

Microsoft says it’s made a crucial quantum leap

Microsoft says its researchers have found evidence of an exotic phenomenon that’s key to its plans to build general-purpose quantum computers.

The phenomenon, known as a Majorana zero mode, is expected to smooth the path for topological quantum computing — the technological approach that’s favored by Microsoft’s Azure Quantum program.

Quantum computing is a weird enough concept by itself: In contrast with the rigid one-or-zero world of classical computing, quantum computing juggles quantum bits, or qubits, that can represent ones and zeroes simultaneously until the results are read out.

Scientists say the quantum approach can solve certain types of problems — for example, network optimization or simulations of molecular interactions — far more quickly than the classical approach. Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and other cloud-based services are already using hybrid systems to bring some of the benefits of the quantum approach to applications ranging from drug development to traffic management.

At the same time, Microsoft and other companies are trying to build the hardware and software for “full-stack” quantum computing systems that can take on a far wider range of applications. Microsoft has chosen a particularly exotic technological strategy, which involves inducing quantum states on topological superconducting wires. To keep those quantum states stable, the wires would host Majorana zero modes localized at each end.

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GeekWire

Researchers may have to pay $6.5M in trade secrets case

An arbitrator has awarded Intellectual Ventures more than $6.5 million in attorney’s fees and other costs in a case involving two of the company’s former researchers who were accused of improperly sharing trade secrets.

The ruling by the arbitrator, George Finkle, was issued last month and included in documents filed last week in King County Superior Court by Intellectual Ventures’ attorneys. They’re asking the court to affirm the award and direct entry of judgment. Meanwhile, attorneys for the researchers say they’ll contest Finkle’s award.

Finkle ruled that the two researchers, Fred Sharifi and Rachel Cannara, improperly used confidential information they had developed while working for Intellectual Ventures’ Advanced Physics Lab in Bellevue, Wash.

The information focused on a technology known as cold electron field emission. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where the pair had worked before joining Intellectual Ventures, the technology could be used to create higher-efficiency electron sources for applications ranging from microwave communications and radar systems to X-ray imaging systems.

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GeekWire

Stratolaunch flexes mammoth plane’s landing gear

Stratolaunch, the air-launch venture created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen a decade ago, successfully conducted a full test of the landing gear on its mammoth Roc carrier aircraft today.

Today’s outing at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port was the fourth test flight for the plane, which is named after a mythical giant bird and ranks as the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan. Its 385-foot spread is more than half again as wide as the wings of a Boeing 747.

Allen never got to see Roc take to the air: He died in 2018 at the age of 65, just months before the plane’s first flight. But under new ownership, Stratolaunch is following through on Allen’s efforts to develop the plane as a flying launch pad.

A month ago, Stratolaunch’s test pilots retracted and extended the plane’s left mid-main landing gear. Today’s follow-up test validated full landing gear operations, including door functionality and alternate gear extension. Pilots also evaluated Roc’s general performance during a flight that reached an altitude of 16,000 feet and lasted for an hour and 43 minutes.

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GeekWire

‘Downfall’ recounts 737 MAX mess as a tech tragedy

The missteps traced in “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing” — Netflix’s new documentary about Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX jet — are the stuff of Greek tragedy.

Under the direction of filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the youngest child of Robert F. Kennedy, “Downfall” recounts how the aerospace giant cut corners in a race to compete against Airbus, and pressed mightily to minimize the known problems with a computerized flight control system that was capable of causing the 737 MAX to go into a fatal dive.

The result? Not just one, but two catastrophic crashes — first in Indonesia, in 2018, and only months later in Ethiopia. The combined death toll amounted to 346 people. The jets were grounded for nearly two years while Boeing worked on a fix to the control system.

When the Indonesian crash occurred, the root cause seemed to be shrouded in uncertainty. But subsequent investigations showed that Boeing knew the cause had to do with tweaks in an automated software routine known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.

In the early stages of those investigations, I struggled to explain what MCAS was supposed to do (keep planes from stalling under extreme conditions) and what it ended up doing (forcing planes into a dive). “Downfall” uses graphics and re-enactments to show how MCAS and other points of failure on the 737 MAX figured in the tragedy.

The film also lays out evidence from emails and other documents showing that when the 737 MAX was undergoing certification for flight, Boeing was desperate to avoid providing pilots with extra training, at extra cost — so desperate that the company hid the MCAS software’s capabilities from pilots, airlines and regulators.

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GeekWire

Public-private partnership builds quantum supply chain

Dare we say it? Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has teamed up with IonQ to come up with a method for producing barium ions for quantum computing that could lead to … yes, that’s right, a quantum leap.

The public-private partnership could open up a new avenue for developing more resilient, more powerful hardware for trapped-ion quantum computers. The key technology involves using barium ions as the foundation for qubits, the quantum equivalent of binary bits in classical computing.

“IonQ’s work with PNNL to secure the domestic supply chain of IonQ’s quantum computing qubits is a fundamental step in the mass commercialization of quantum computing,” IonQ’s president and CEO, Peter Chapman, said today in a news release. “Qubits are at the core of our quantum computers, and this collaboration with PNNL lays the foundation for us to scale manufacturing of our systems.”

The partners say PNNL’s production process will provide a steady supply of barium-based qubits, using a microscopic smidgen of source material. That should make it possible for IonQ to reduce the size of core system components, which should in turn make it easier to network quantum computers.