Bezos’ Blue Origin Sends Spacecraft Higher Than Ever

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company shot a capsule higher into space Wednesday than it’s ever done before.

The New Shepard rocket blasted off from West Texas on the company’s latest test flight. Once the booster separated, the capsule’s escape motor fired, lifting the spacecraft to an altitude of 389,846 feet. That’s 74 miles or 119 kilometers.

It’s part of a safety system intended to save lives once space tourists and others climb aboard for suborbital hops.

Wednesday’s passenger was Mannequin Skywalker, an instrumented dummy in a blue flight suit that’s flown before, plus science experiments.

The booster and capsule, both repeat fliers, landed successfully. It was the ninth test flight and lasted 11 minutes.

“Crew Capsule looks great even after it was pushed hard by the escape test. Astronauts would have had an exhilarating ride and safe landing,” Bezos said in a tweet. “Great engineering and the lucky boots worked again.”

Blue Origin has yet to announce when it will start selling tickets or how much flights will cost. Launch commentator Ariane Cornell promised it would be soon. “It’s coming,” she said.

Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, aims to send people and payloads into orbit from Cape Canaveral. Those missions will rely on the bigger, more powerful New Glenn rocket still under development.

He’s named his rockets after NASA’s original Mercury astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.

Elon Musk Apologizes for Comments About Cave Rescue Diver

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has apologized for calling a British diver involved in the Thailand cave rescue a pedophile, saying he spoke in anger but was wrong to do so.

There was no immediate public reaction from diver Vern Unsworth to Musk’s latest tweets.

Musk’s initial tweet calling Unsworth a “pedo” was a response to a TV interview Unsworth gave. In it, he said Musk and SpaceX engineers orchestrated a “PR stunt” by sending a small submarine to help divers rescue the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave. Unsworth said the submarine, which wasn’t used, wouldn’t have worked anyway.

“My words were spoken in anger after Mr. Unsworth said several untruths …” Musk tweeted.

“Nonetheless, his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.”

Musk’s Sunday tweet, later deleted, had sent investors away from Tesla stock, which fell nearly 3 percent Monday but recovered 4.1 percent Tuesday. Unsworth told CNN earlier this week that he was considering legal action. He did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

In his latest tweets, Musk said the mini-sub was “built as an act of kindness & according to specifications from the dive team leader.”

Musk has 22.3 million followers and his active social media presence has sometimes worked well for Tesla. The company has said in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it doesn’t need to advertise because it gets so much free media attention.

But straying away from defending his companies into personal insult brought Musk some unfavorable attention at a time when Tesla, worth more than $52 billion, is deep in debt and struggling for profitability. 

In northern Thailand on Wednesday, the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach answered questions from journalists, their first meeting with the media since their rescues last week. Doctors said all are healthy.

Elon Musk Apologizes for Comments About Cave Rescue Diver

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has apologized for calling a British diver involved in the Thailand cave rescue a pedophile, saying he spoke in anger but was wrong to do so.

There was no immediate public reaction from diver Vern Unsworth to Musk’s latest tweets.

Musk’s initial tweet calling Unsworth a “pedo” was a response to a TV interview Unsworth gave. In it, he said Musk and SpaceX engineers orchestrated a “PR stunt” by sending a small submarine to help divers rescue the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave. Unsworth said the submarine, which wasn’t used, wouldn’t have worked anyway.

“My words were spoken in anger after Mr. Unsworth said several untruths …” Musk tweeted.

“Nonetheless, his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.”

Musk’s Sunday tweet, later deleted, had sent investors away from Tesla stock, which fell nearly 3 percent Monday but recovered 4.1 percent Tuesday. Unsworth told CNN earlier this week that he was considering legal action. He did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

In his latest tweets, Musk said the mini-sub was “built as an act of kindness & according to specifications from the dive team leader.”

Musk has 22.3 million followers and his active social media presence has sometimes worked well for Tesla. The company has said in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it doesn’t need to advertise because it gets so much free media attention.

But straying away from defending his companies into personal insult brought Musk some unfavorable attention at a time when Tesla, worth more than $52 billion, is deep in debt and struggling for profitability. 

In northern Thailand on Wednesday, the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach answered questions from journalists, their first meeting with the media since their rescues last week. Doctors said all are healthy.

Cute Robots Invade Smithsonian Museum

Known as the largest education, and research complex in the world, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC is a collection of 19 museums that house more than 140 million unique items. It’s no wonder it’s been called “the nation’s attic.” But there’s a novel addition to the venerable complex — a smart new technology that interacts with visitors. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti introduces us to the Smithsonian’s newest resident.

Cute Robots Invade Smithsonian Museum

Known as the largest education, and research complex in the world, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC is a collection of 19 museums that house more than 140 million unique items. It’s no wonder it’s been called “the nation’s attic.” But there’s a novel addition to the venerable complex — a smart new technology that interacts with visitors. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti introduces us to the Smithsonian’s newest resident.

Cute Robots Invade the Smithsonian

Known as the largest education, and research complex in the world, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC is a collection of 19 museums that house more than 140 million unique items. It’s no wonder it’s been called “the nation’s attic.” But there’s a novel addition to the venerable complex — a smart new technology that interacts with visitors. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti introduces us to the Smithsonian’s newest resident.

Cute Robots Invade the Smithsonian

Known as the largest education, and research complex in the world, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC is a collection of 19 museums that house more than 140 million unique items. It’s no wonder it’s been called “the nation’s attic.” But there’s a novel addition to the venerable complex — a smart new technology that interacts with visitors. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti introduces us to the Smithsonian’s newest resident.

Why is Facebook Keen on Robots? It’s Just the Future of AI

Facebook announced several new hires of top academics in the field of artificial intelligence Tuesday, among them a roboticist known for her work at Disney making animated figures move in more human-like ways.

 

The hires raise a big question — why is Facebook interested in robots, anyway?

 

It’s not as though the social media giant is suddenly interested in developing mechanical friends, although it does use robotic arms in some of its data centers. The answer is even more central to the problem of how AI systems work today.

 

Today, most successful AI systems have to be exposed to millions of data points labeled by humans — like, say, photos of cats — before they can learn to recognize patterns that people take for granted. Similarly, game-playing bots like Google’s computerized Go master AlphaGo Zero require tens of thousands of trials to learn the best moves from their failures.

 

Creating systems that require less data and have more common sense is a key goal for making AI smarter in the future.

 

“Clearly we’re missing something in terms of how humans can learn so fast,” Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief AI scientist, said in a call with reporters last week. “So far the best ideas have come out of robotics.”

 

Among the people Facebook is hiring are Jessica Hodgins , the former Disney researcher; and Abhinav Gupta, her colleague at Carnegie Mellon University who is known for using robot arms to learn how to grasp things.

 

Pieter Abbeel, a roboticist at University of California, Berkeley and co-founder of the robot-training company Covariant.ai, says the robotics field has benefits and constraints that push progress in AI. For one, the real world is naturally complex, so robotic AI systems have to deal with unexpected, rare events. And real-world constraints like a lack of time and the cost of keeping machinery moving push researchers to solve difficult problems.

 

“Robotics forces you into many reality checks,” Abbeel said. “How good are these algorithms, really?”

 

There are other more abstract applications of learnings from robotics, says Berkeley AI professor Ken Goldberg. Just like teaching a robot to escape from a computerized maze, other robots change their behavior depending on whether actions they took got them closer to a goal. Such systems could even be adapted to serve ads, he said — which just happens to be the mainstay of Facebook’s business.

 

“It’s not a static decision, it’s a dynamic one,” Goldberg said.

In an interview, Hodgins expressed an interest in a wide range of robotics research, everything from building a “compelling humanoid robot” to creating a mechanical servant to “load and unload my dishwasher.”

 

While she acknowledged the need to imbue robots with more common sense and have them learn with fewer examples, she also said her work in animation could lead to a new form of sharing — one in which AI-powered tools could help one show off a work of pottery in 3-D, for example.

 

“One thing I hope we’ll be able to do is explore AI support for creativity,” she said.

 

For Facebook, planting a flag in the hot field also allows it to be competitive for AI talent emerging from universities, Facebook’s LeCun said.

 

Bart Selman, a Cornell computer science professor AI expert, said it’s a good idea for Facebook to broaden its reach in AI and take on projects that might not be directly related to the company’s business — something that’s a little more “exciting” — the way Google did with self-driving cars, for example.

 

This attracts not just attention, but students, too. The broader the research agenda, the better the labs become, he said.

Why is Facebook Keen on Robots? It’s Just the Future of AI

Facebook announced several new hires of top academics in the field of artificial intelligence Tuesday, among them a roboticist known for her work at Disney making animated figures move in more human-like ways.

 

The hires raise a big question — why is Facebook interested in robots, anyway?

 

It’s not as though the social media giant is suddenly interested in developing mechanical friends, although it does use robotic arms in some of its data centers. The answer is even more central to the problem of how AI systems work today.

 

Today, most successful AI systems have to be exposed to millions of data points labeled by humans — like, say, photos of cats — before they can learn to recognize patterns that people take for granted. Similarly, game-playing bots like Google’s computerized Go master AlphaGo Zero require tens of thousands of trials to learn the best moves from their failures.

 

Creating systems that require less data and have more common sense is a key goal for making AI smarter in the future.

 

“Clearly we’re missing something in terms of how humans can learn so fast,” Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief AI scientist, said in a call with reporters last week. “So far the best ideas have come out of robotics.”

 

Among the people Facebook is hiring are Jessica Hodgins , the former Disney researcher; and Abhinav Gupta, her colleague at Carnegie Mellon University who is known for using robot arms to learn how to grasp things.

 

Pieter Abbeel, a roboticist at University of California, Berkeley and co-founder of the robot-training company Covariant.ai, says the robotics field has benefits and constraints that push progress in AI. For one, the real world is naturally complex, so robotic AI systems have to deal with unexpected, rare events. And real-world constraints like a lack of time and the cost of keeping machinery moving push researchers to solve difficult problems.

 

“Robotics forces you into many reality checks,” Abbeel said. “How good are these algorithms, really?”

 

There are other more abstract applications of learnings from robotics, says Berkeley AI professor Ken Goldberg. Just like teaching a robot to escape from a computerized maze, other robots change their behavior depending on whether actions they took got them closer to a goal. Such systems could even be adapted to serve ads, he said — which just happens to be the mainstay of Facebook’s business.

 

“It’s not a static decision, it’s a dynamic one,” Goldberg said.

In an interview, Hodgins expressed an interest in a wide range of robotics research, everything from building a “compelling humanoid robot” to creating a mechanical servant to “load and unload my dishwasher.”

 

While she acknowledged the need to imbue robots with more common sense and have them learn with fewer examples, she also said her work in animation could lead to a new form of sharing — one in which AI-powered tools could help one show off a work of pottery in 3-D, for example.

 

“One thing I hope we’ll be able to do is explore AI support for creativity,” she said.

 

For Facebook, planting a flag in the hot field also allows it to be competitive for AI talent emerging from universities, Facebook’s LeCun said.

 

Bart Selman, a Cornell computer science professor AI expert, said it’s a good idea for Facebook to broaden its reach in AI and take on projects that might not be directly related to the company’s business — something that’s a little more “exciting” — the way Google did with self-driving cars, for example.

 

This attracts not just attention, but students, too. The broader the research agenda, the better the labs become, he said.

Fashion Firms Upend Design Routine to Focus on Speed, Trends

Prototypes? Passe. Fashion company Betabrand saw that knitwear was a hot style in sneakers and wanted to quickly jump on the trend for dressier shoes. It put a poll up on its website asking shoppers what style they liked, and based on that had a shoe for sale online in just one week.

 

What web shoppers saw was a 3-D rendering — no actual shoe existed yet. Creating a traditional prototype, tweaking the design and making a sample would have taken six to nine months, and the company might have missed out on the interest in knit.

 

“The web attention span is short,” said Betabrand CEO Chris Lindland. “So if you can develop and create in a short time, you can be a real product-development machine.”

Shoppers looking at the shoe online could examine the peekaboo detail or check out how the sole was put together, as they would from photos of a real product. They don’t get the actual shoes instantaneously — they have to wait a few months. But the use of digital technology in designing and selling means hot trends are still getting to people far faster than under the old system.

 

“Retailers and brands who are embracing this are going to be winners of the future,” said David Bassuk, managing director of consulting group AlixPartners. “This is flipping the business model on its head.”

 

It’s a big cultural change for clothing makers. For decades, the process meant designers sketched ideas on paper, a design got approved, and the sketches went to a factory that created prototypes. Designers and product developers made tweaks and sent prototypes back and forth. Once a final version was approved, it was sent to the factory to be copied for mass production. Getting something from design to a store could take at least a year.

Now, some companies have designers sketching on high-resolution tablets with software that can email 3-D renderings of garments with specifications straight to factories, as better technology makes the images look real and the pressure to get shoppers new products swiftly intensifies. The goal is to reduce to six months or less the time it takes to get to store shelves.

 

Even chains like H&M, which once set the standard for speed by flying in frequent small batches, are realizing that’s not fast enough. H&M, which has seen sales slow, is starting to digitize certain areas of its manufacturing process.

 

For clothing makers and retailers, the shift means design decisions can happen closer to when the fashions actually hit the shelves or website. That means less guessing so stores aren’t stuck with piles of unsold clothes that need to be discounted.

 

The 3-D technology is used in just 2 percent of the overall supply networks, estimates Spencer Fung, group CEO of Li & Fung, which consults with more than 8,000 retailers including Betabrand and 15,000 suppliers globally. But he believes that will change as retailers begin prioritizing speed and realize that cutting down on design time and prototypes saves money.

 

“You can actually essentially create an entire collection before you even cut one garment,” said Whitney Cathcart, CEO of the Cathcart Technologies consulting firm. “So it reduces waste, it reduces lead times, it allows decision making in real time, so the entire process becomes more efficient.”

 

Fung imagines a scenario where a social media post with a celebrity in a red dress gets 500,000 “likes.” An alert goes to a retailer that this item is trending. Within hours, a digital sample of a similar dress is on its website. A factory can start to produce the dress in days.

 

“Consumers see it and they want it now,” says Michael Londrigan of fashion college LIM in New York. “How do you bring it to market so you don’t miss those dollars?”

 

Nicki Rector of the Sonoma Valley area in California bought a pair of Betabrand’s Western-style boots last summer based on the 3-D rendering.

 

“It looked real,” said Rector, who examined the images of the heel and the insoles. She didn’t worry about buying off a digital image, reasoning that if you’re buying online you can’t really know how something’s going to fit until you put it on your feet. She said knowing it was designed from customer input also helped make the wait OK.

 

Betabrand has sold 40,000 pairs of shoes priced from $128 to $168 over the past year, all from digital renderings, and plans to add 15 to 20 such projects this year.

At a Levi Strauss & Co. research and development facility in San Francisco, designers use programs that offer the look of a finished garment and let them make changes like adding pockets quickly, rather than requiring a new prototype. When they’re set, they can send a file to the factory for mass production. Using digital samples can shorten the design time to one week or less from an eight-week timeframe, Levi’s says.

 

Few companies are yet selling directly to shoppers off digital renderings like Betabrand, and are instead showing them to store buyers or to factories rather than using traditional samples.

 

Xcel Brands uses them for its own brand of women’s tops and for the company’s Judith Ripka jewelry line. The company, which also makes clothes for Isaac Mizrahi and Halston, will start using them for other brands within the year. CEO Robert D’Loren hopes to start putting 3-D samples on its website next year.

 

Tommy Hilfiger has an interactive touchscreen table where buyers can view every item in the collection and create custom orders. And Deckers Brands, the maker of Ugg boots, is using digital renderings of the classic boot in 10 colors, eliminating the need for 10 prototypes for store buyers. That helps reduce cost and increases speed.

 

Using digital designs also mean the exact specifications for different Levi’s design finishes can be uploaded to a machine that uses lasers to scrape away at jeans. No need to teach employees how to execute a designer’s vision, in a minute and a half the lasers have given the jeans the exact weathered look that took workers wielding pumice stones twenty minutes to half an hour.

 

“Thirty years ago, jeans were only available in three shades — rinse, stonewash and bleach,” said Bart Sights, head of the Levi’s Eureka lab. “Our company now designs 1,000 finishes per season.” Such a long lead time “pushes production and creation too far away.” Levi’s latest technology alleviates this issue, he said.