News & Updates

Tony Fadell. (credit: BBC News)

After six years at the smart home company Nest, Tony Fadell will be stepping down as CEO. He announced his decision via a Nest blog post, which details that Fadell will be transitioning to an advisory role at Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Google bought Nest back in 2014.

The new Nest CEO will be Marwan Fawaz, who previously worked at Motorola Mobility as executive vice president. The blog post sites Fawaz’s engineering and connected home background as well as his “experience with global service providers” as credentials for his leadership role at Nest. It also stated that Nest has a two-year product roadmap already in place for Fawaz to take over as he begins.

Fadell’s transition has been in the works since “late last year,” and his new role at Alphabet will give him the flexibility to dabble in other fields. Here’s Fadell’s statement:

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Concept image of a harvester for Deep Space Industries. (credit: Deep Space Industries)

Luxembourg, a small European country about the size of Rhode Island, wants to be the Silicon Valley of the space mining industry. The landlocked Grand Duchy announced Friday it was opening a €200 million ($225 million) line of credit for entrepreneurial space companies to set up their European headquarters within its borders.

Luxembourg has already reached agreements with two US-based companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, to open offices in Luxembourg and conduct major research and development activities. “We intend to become the European center for asteroid mining,” said Étienne Schneider, deputy prime minister and minister of the economy, during a news conference Friday.

The mining of space resources is a long bet. Although some deep-pocketed investors from Google and other companies have gotten behind Planetary Resources, and people like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have speculated that within a couple of decades most manufacturing and resource gathering will be done off Earth, there is precious little activity today. Humans have never visited an asteroid, and NASA is only just planning to launch its first robotic mission to visit and gather samples from an asteroid, OSIRIS-REx, this summer.

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Enlarge / Poor little Ron the Drone. Something bad is beyond this door and he’s going to have to face it by himself.

My ship is docked at one end of an abandoned space station, and I’m staring intently at a flickering schematic view of the facility. Jill, one of my three squatty remote maintenance drones, is funneling energy into a power inlet so I can operate a few doors. Twiki is gathering scrap in what looks like an abandoned corridor—scrap I desperately need in order to repair my ship’s video system, which has been on the fritz. Ron is carefully scanning rooms for hidden materials for Twiki to gather up.

The situation is tense but manageable. This outpost showed an unknown infestation type, but I’m being careful, closing doors behind my drones, making sure to not leave a drone for too long in a room with a vent—because things can crawl out of vents.

Without warning, a door flashes red. “DOOR 22 IS BEING ATTACKED” appears on the console. It’s the door to the room where Jill is powering the ship, and I quickly decide it’s time to get the hell out.

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Depending on one’s life view, the character Qyburn in the HBO hit series Game of Thrones is evil, a genius, or an evil genius.

The former “maester” of the Citadel engaged in vivisecting people, and he holds the power to bring back the dead (or at least the moribund). Qyburn once famously brought back a poisoned and moribund Gregor Clegane, the character referred to as “The Mountain.”  In short, he has mad, resurrection-like skills—and this fact didn’t go unnoticed by a US federal appeals court on Thursday.

Qyburn’s name, or at least a play off it, has officially entered the US law books. In a published concurring opinion by the nation’s largest federal appeals court, two judges from the San Francsico-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the majority’s opinion “comes very close to a qyburnian resurrection (PDF) of the Jiffy June standard.”

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A Google self-driving car. (credit: Google)

According to Google’s May 2016 Self-Driving Car report (PDF), the company has been teaching its self-driving prototype “bubble cars” how to honk. A human driver can be easily distracted, says Google, and if a bubble car encounters a distracted driver on the road, it should have a mechanism to get that driver’s attention back on driving.

“The human act of honking may be (performance) art,” says Google, “but our self-driving cars aim to be polite, considerate, and only honk when it makes driving safer for everyone.” (That’s what Google says now, but just wait until its cars achieve sentience and have something to celebrate. Or when another autonomous vehicle goes off the rails and two self-driving cars get caught in an endless honking loop.)

Prototype bubble cars equipped with internal horns can now honk when they see another car backing out of a driveway or swerving into their lane. Why no external horn? Untrained software that honks at a bad time is more likely to confuse or distract nearby drivers with an external horn than an internal one. Over the course of 10,000 to 15,000 test-driven miles per week, Google engineers noted when the cars honked appropriately and when they honked inappropriately and trained the software to become more accurate.

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(credit: Adrien Hebert)

Want to set your time machine to catch a solar eclipse with a group of curious Mesopotamians in the year 700 BCE? It’s not as simple as you think. You need to adjust for the subtle slowing of Earth’s rotation over time and know the history of sea level change—and even those bits of knowledge might not be able to get you there on time. That’s the conclusion that a team led by Harvard’s Carling Hay reached when they looked at what the ancient astronomical record tells us about our planet’s timekeeping.

Tidal forces caused by the gravitational pull of the Sun and Moon act like a brake on the spinning Earth, gradually increasing the length of the day. It takes a long time for this to add up to anything meaningful, but the Earth has been around a long time: 400 million years ago, each year contained 400 days. At the current rate, days are growing just a couple milliseconds longer per century, so it would take more than 3.5 million years to add a minute.

This is not the answer to your plea for more time in the day to tackle your workload.

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Imagine if Chevrolet handed you the keys to a new Camaro and told you to turn the sports car into something more environmentally friendly while still keeping the fun-to-drive aspect. Well, that’s exactly what happened for the student teams that are participating in the EcoCAR 3 competition. It’s the third in a series of competitions organized by the US Department of Energy and General Motors meant to provide experience and training to young engineers and other students at the 16 universities that take part.

EcoCAR 3 is now in the middle of its four-year run, and the teams recently finished putting their creations through the paces at GM’s Desert Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona. The Ohio State University took top honors, making it three victories in three years for the Buckeyes (they won the first EcoCar 3 competition and the final EcoCar 2 competition). Virginia Tech and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University took second and third.

According to Trevor Thomkins (The Ohio State University), the team decided to convert its Camaro into a performance plug-in hybrid after conducting market research in several regions around Columbus, Ohio. That meant ripping out the 3.6L V6 and replacing it with a 160hp (119kW) 2.0L, four-cylinder engine that runs on E85 gasoline, coupled to a 200hp (150kW) electric motor from Parker Hannifin powered by an 18.9kWh battery from A123. The plug-in hybrid Camaro is able to do 45 miles (72km) on battery power alone and should be capable of 65MPGe.

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Welp, looks like I won’t be needing this for my games anymore.

We’re looking forward to spending some time with Dangerous Golf, the destruction-focused, ball-bouncing “simulation” that just launched on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 courtesy of some veteran developers from Burnout Paradise-maker Criterion Games. Still, we’re a little surprised by a prominent missing feature from the PC version. As the game’s Steam page now notes quite prominently, “Dangerous Golf requires a controller to play.”

A lack of keyboard and/or mouse support is more than just a rarity in PC games; it’s practically unheard of. Even when games are specifically designed for a handheld controller on another platform, the PC port usually offers some sort of option for the two input methods that have been standard on practically every home PC for the past two or three decades. Console games that would be functionally impossible to control or feel incredibly compromised without a controller (EA’s Skate series comes to mind) usually just don’t end up with PC ports in the first place.

Aside from some recent virtual reality games (which might as well be considered a separate platform), the only PC game we can think of that officially requires a controller is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (players report there is some basic, barely functional keyboard support anyway). That game was explicitly designed to use a console controller’s dual analog sticks to allow for simultaneous, separate control of two protagonists. It would at the very least be extremely awkward to control without those sticks. Dangerous Golf, on the other hand, could probably have implemented the same basic keyboard/mouse-based control scheme that dozens of other PC golf games has used for decades without too much trouble.

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(credit: Mark Walton)

Inside the surprisingly humble cafeteria on the ground floor of London’s Framestore, one of the world’s biggest visual effects studios, friends, colleagues, and journalists have gathered to hear a talk from its co-founder and chief creative director, Mike McGee. But rather than wax lyrical about Framestore’s latest Hollywood accomplishments—from which it can count the Oscar-winning VFX in Gravity and the vast CGI sets of The Martian—or its commercial endeavours such as the famous Audrey Hepburn Galaxy chocolate TV advert, McGee is talking about virtual reality. Or rather, how Framestore is already on its way to becoming one of the biggest players in the industry.

Framestore’s bullish attitude to VR—it has already developed experiences for the Oculus, HTC Vive, and Samsung Gear VR, and is working on projects for PlayStation VR and Microsoft HoloLens—stands in stark contrast to that of the games industry, which has thus far remained largely nonchalant about the platform outside of smaller developers. Just yesterday, Take-Two (the publisher of Grand Theft Auto amongst other games) CEO Strauss Zelnick said that the company simply wasn’t “incentivised to be at the frontline of [VR] development,” because of the high asking price and the need for a dedicated play space. Both EA and Activision are taking a “wait and see” attitude to the platform.

It’s an odd turn of events given that the original VR posterboy, the Oculus Rift, was pitched (and still is pitched) as a device primarily designed for playing video games. Meanwhile, the HTC Vive is powered by Steam, the biggest PC gaming platform in the world. As Ars’ own Kyle Orland pointed out, the lack of investment from games companies runs the risk of turning one of the most exciting and promising technologies of the last decade into little more than a niche fad. After all, without that killer app, what reason is there for people to pay for a headset? Conversely, without headsets—just roughly 30,000 Vive units have been sold to consumers according to Steam estimates—why should game companies invest?

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