Facebook Drone Crash Under NTSB Investigation

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Aquila, Facebook’s ambitious drone that could bring high-speed internet to remote parts of the world, is being investigated by a government agency for an accident that took place during a test flight in June.

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The social media giant downplayed this “structural failure” in the aftermath of the initial test, and did not disclose that they were being investigated.facebook-has-said-internet-speeds-from-its-aquila-drone-will-be-similar-to-what-youd-find-over-fib-png

Bloomberg reports that the National Transportation Safety Board has been engaged in a previously undisclosed investigation into the accident, which took place as the done was landing on the morning of June 28.

The unmanned drone, which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing Co. 737, suffered a “structural failure” as it was coming in for a landing after an otherwise successful test. The NTSB as classified the incident as an accident, which means the damage was “substantial,” according to Bloomberg. There were no injuries on the ground.

 

Neither Facebook nor the NTSB have released further details about the accident.

With the exception of half a sentence in the eighth paragraph of a post on Facebook’s engineering blog in July, the company didn’t address this failure. Mark Zuckerberg was exclusively positive when he wrote about the test on his blog in July. Facebook didn’t disclose the NTSB investigation, nor did anyone at the company mention the extent of the damage in multiple interviews, according to The Verge.

Aquila certainly seems like a noble endeavor, and it’s understandable (if more than a little shady) that Facebook would want to focus on the positive aspects of the test rather than a crash landing. But, as we’re learning, you can’t always believe what you read on Facebook.

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Apple Developing Smart Glasses

Apple Inc. is weighing an expansion into digital glasses, a risky but potentially lucrative area of wearable computing, according to people familiar with the matter.

While still in an exploration phase, the device would connect wirelessly to iPhones, show images and other information in the wearer’s field of vision, and may use augmented reality, the people said. They asked not to be identified speaking about a secret project.

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Apple has talked about its glasses project with potential suppliers, according to people familiar with those discussions. The company has ordered small quantities of near-eye displays from one supplier for testing, the people said. Apple hasn’t ordered enough components so far to indicate imminent mass-production, one of the people added.

Should Apple ultimately decide to proceed with the device, it would be introduced in 2018 at the earliest, another person said. The Cupertino, California-based company tests many different products and is known to pivot, pause, or cancel projects without disclosing them. Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment.

apple-conference-wwdc-2014-ceo-tim-cookChief Executive Officer Tim Cook is under pressure to deliver new products amid slowing sales of the iPhone, which accounts for two-thirds of Apple’s revenue. In July, he expressed enthusiasm for augmented reality after the rise of Pokemon Go, a location-based game that uses the technology. AR, as it’s known, adds images and other digital information to people’s view of the real world, while virtual reality completely surrounds them with a computer-generated environment.

The glasses may be Apple’s first hardware product targeted directly at AR, one of the people said. Cook has beefed up AR capabilities through acquisitions. In 2013, Apple bought PrimeSense, which developed motion-sensing technology in Microsoft Corp.’s Kinect gaming system. Purchases of software startups in the field, Metaio Inc. and Flyby Media Inc., followed in 2015 and 2016.

“AR can be really great, and we have been and continue to invest a lot in this,” Cook said in a July 26 conference call with analysts. “We are high on AR for the long run. We think there are great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity.”

Apple has AR patents for things like street view in mapping apps. It was also awarded patents for smart glasses that make use of full-fledged virtual reality. Apple is unlikely to leverage VR in a mass-consumer product, Cook suggested in October.

“I can’t imagine everyone in here getting in an enclosed VR experience while you’re sitting in here with me, but I could imagine everyone in here in an AR experience right now,” he said during an onstage discussion in Utah.

Apple’s challenge is fitting all the technology needed into a useful pair of internet-connected glasses that are small and sleek enough for regular people to wear.

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Google’s attempt to develop internet-connected eye wear flopped in part because its tiny battery ran out quickly. Google Glass, as it was called, also suffered a privacy backlash and poor public perception of its external design.

After that disappointment, technology companies largely turned their immediate focus to VR and away from AR. Google recently introduced a VR headset alongside its Pixel smartphone, and Facebook Inc.’s Oculus VR unit has teamed up with Samsung Electronics Co. on a similar headset. Microsoft has the most public AR offering. Its HoloLens product shows holographic images in a user’s field of vision.

Apple’s effort may be more difficult because the chips, batteries and other components that will be available in a year or two may still not be small enough and powerful enough to build slim glasses capable of handling compelling AR experiences.

However, given time, technical challenges may play to Apple’s strengths. The company specializes in turning technology that others have struggled with into easy-to-use devices for the masses. For example, Apple simplified fingerprint technology into an unlocking mechanism for the iPhone and took touch screens mainstream with the original iPhone.

Augmented reality “is going to take a while, because there are some really hard technology challenges there, but it will happen in a big way, and we will wonder when it does, how we ever lived without it,” Cook said last month. “Like we wonder how we lived without our phone today.”

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U.S. Navy Deploys First Laser Weapon

While the days of a science-fiction future full of fury at the hands of James Cameron looking robots wielding weapons of untold lethality remains a distant thought… deployment of the first laser weapon (LaWS) into combat by the U.S. Navy is a sign we are getting closer.  120730-N-PO203-076

The futuristic weapon has boosted the arsenal of the Fifth Fleet’s command vessel in the Persian Gulf. The laser is said to be effective against numerous small targets, such as Iran’s gunboats.

A 30-kilowatt-class Laser Weapon System has been equipped on the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship since late August, Navy officials told Bloomberg.

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USS Ponce

The device is capable of focusing beams from six solid-state commercial welding lasers into a single strong beam, which can be used both as a blinding warning shot and as a weapon capable of setting fire to a drone or small boat.

It took Naval Sea Systems Command technicians seven years and $40 million to develop the technology to the current stage. The tour in the Gulf is more of a trial continuation than regular duty, as the Navy wants to learn more about its new tool.

The technology’s big advantage is its operational efficiency, as firing one shot costs just around $1, the Navy stressed. But lasers have their own peculiarities, with their efficiency depending on weather conditions, the presence of dust and vapors in the air, and other factors. The range of the laser, which is limited by those factors, remains classified.

There is also the issue of power, which the laser weapon requires in abundance – hence its deployment by the Navy on a warship with powerful generators.

Back in April, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, called the deployment of the laser on the USS Ponce “a worthwhile experiment” because “it’ll help us feel out the operational limitations” such as power constraints.

It was crucial to learn how the system would operate in the environment and how much energy it would consume, Kendall added.

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The fact that the USS Ponce is stationed in the Persian Gulf “provides a unique platform” to deploy the laser “in an operationally relevant region,” Fifth Fleet commander Vice Admiral John Miller told Bloomberg in an email.

The US Navy has been boosting its presence in the area since 2011. The US targeted Iran’s oil industry and financial sector with economic sanctions aimed to put leverage on Tehran over its controversial nuclear program.

Amid the tensions, Iran threatened to close the Persian Gulf’s bottleneck, the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the global oil trade passes. Washington’s response was that it would use its Navy to prevent such a blockade.

Iran’s supposed plan to stifle the oil trade of its Gulf rival relied on large US warships with swarms of fast, small boats. Incidentally, the Pentagon’s new weapon is designed to destroy small, fast-moving targets.

However, in an interview earlier this year, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert stressed that the laser does not specifically target Iran.

“I wouldn’t target a country for a weapon, nor would I preclude putting together a weapons system for a country by itself,” Greenert said.

|  Read More About This Advanced Weapons System 

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