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Is Hyperloop Transportation Ahead of its Time?

Hyperloop-Transportation

SAN FRANCISCO – In a white-board world, Hyperloop sounds ideal.

Take a sleek pod, place it in a vacuum-sealed tube and let it float frictionless above its rails using tested magnetic levitation, or maglev, technology at speeds up to 800 mph. Picture a puck effortlessly racing across an air hockey table and you have the idea, one that can already be seen in action on Shanghai's speedy maglev train.

By erasing the vehicle-clogged arteries of our national highway system and those aging miles of transcontinental railroad track, commute times get slashed and fossil fuel gets saved. What’s not to like?

Yet moving this transportation alternative from sci-fi vision to real-world ubiquity involves financial and logistical roadblocks that call into question its wisdom, according to technology and transportation experts.

The issues raised include Hyperloop’s cost (a 350-mile run between Los Angeles and San Francisco has been estimated at $6 billion or more), technological demands (tubes would have to be straight and vacuum-tight to keep speeds high), practicality (short hops would not make sense) and comfort (humans might not go for travel that feels like a roller coaster ride lodged in tunnels).

“I sense a bit of hucksterism right now that’s helping companies raise money,” says Ralph Hollis, a research professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University who is an expert on maglev tech.

His concerns range from whether endless links of welded tubes can retain the vacuum integral to maintaining high speeds given the inevitable geological shifts in California's earthquake country, to the physiological impact on passengers of speeds that approach the supersonic.

“A lot of different things have to go right for this to really work, business, legal, technical,” says Hollis. “Demonstrating that it runs isn’t really enough.”

Premise is solid, promise is murky

"That it runs" refers to a recent demo in the Nevada desert, where Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One successfully launched its maglev-enabled sled across a 100-yard track. The company plans to build a five-mile enclosed loop by year’s end. More boldly, last week it announced a Russian partnership to explore a new Silk Road route across Asia.

Hyperloop One has taken the lead in this tube race, raising $90 million and boasting investors such as GE Ventures and SNCF, the French national railway company. A rival concern, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, announced in March that its futuristic pods could appear first in Slovakia, where officials are studying a proposal.

Do we want Hyperloop?

Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing Hyperloop is the poor reception offered to its slower cousin, high-speed rail.

Consider that for its size, the U.S. has only one such run – Amtrak’s Acela Express line along the Northeast Corridor — while smaller England and France each have an example, the Eurostar and TGV respectively.

In 2008, California voters approved $10 billion in funding for an ambitious San Francisco to Los Angeles bullet train akin to Japan's Shinkansen, but it has yet to make headway. The $68 billion effort, which uses an alternative to maglev technology, was able to gain some initial traction thanks to billions in federal funding, but has been bogged down in lawsuits from aggrieved communities and by cumbersome land acquisition deals.

“Just getting a maglev train here would be great, but the U.S. is a strange place. Most people consider high-speed rail a boondoggle," said Jim Mathews, spokesman for the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Mathews, a former Aviation Week editor, says he's learned not to bet against Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX and Tesla Motors and drew up the concept of Hyperloop in a white paper three years ago.

But he's not the only one doubting appetite for such projects, especially in the U.S.

John Macomber, senior lecturer on infrastructure and urbanization issues at Harvard University, says he remains unclear "why Hyperloop would be more valuable than trains or airplanes. I know speed matters, but maybe not that much.”

Macomber considers Hyperloop a fascinating but likely money-losing proposition that "could show up in a Gulf nation eager to try something new, where it could stand as a technological proof of concept but not an economic one,” he says. “Here in the U.S., it’s easier to make incremental improvements to the systems we have, like going to self-driving cars, than leaping to Hyperloop.”

Even when a high-speed train does pique interest, investors seem to get cold feet.

Tony Morris, CEO of American Maglev, an Atlanta-based company that has developed a small maglev train that could soon make its U.S. debut in Orlando, where it will run between airport and convention center. But first, officials there would need to opt for that variant over traditional trains.

“Maglev trains use 60% less energy than their steel-wheeled counterparts, but even though we say maglev’s time has come, the people making the decisions to build new lines aren’t all about taking risks,” says Morris. “The good news is this is new technology, and that’s also the bad news.”

Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd is unfazed by suggestions that Hyperloop One is a moonshot or boondoggle, preferring instead to call it simply ahead of its time. It's focused on developing a proof of concept that can be licensed to investors with the cash and desire to build Hyperloop.

Transportation shifts inevitable

Hyperloop or not, something does have to give on the transportation landscape.

A swelling and aging population is straining a highway ecosystem that President Eisenhower inaugurated 60 years ago this month. In Los Angeles, commuters waste a record 81 hours a year in traffic, according to transportation data company Inrix. The National Safety Council reports that traffic deaths jumped 8% in 2015 to 38,300.

“The terrain ahead for transportation is an increasing demand for mobility, especially from boomers who won’t want to drive as they age,” says Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research at Trips, a non-profit transportation advocacy group.

Moretti says that transportation officials from every state met this spring to discuss how to tackle these challenges, and the conclusion was to “make the best use of the resources available” while paying close attention to the growing progress made by tech and auto companies alike on self-driving cars.

And Hyperloop?

“We see a lot of changes coming, so I suppose anything’s possible,” he says. “I’d say the biggest demand isn’t so much to make the system faster, but safer.”

Read Article (Marco della Cava | usatoday.com | 06/25/2016)

Whether you agree with the article (the Hyperloop is too much too soon) or not, it going to happen. Once you give society a glimpse of the future, they will have it no matter the cost or danger. So hang on tight and get ready for the Hyperloop tax we are gonna pay.

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BlackBerry Does Still Exist and It’s Doing Fine

BlackBerry-Still-Exists

TORONTO (Reuters) - BlackBerry Ltd broke even in the first quarter, topping expectations, and forecast a smaller-than-expected annual loss on Thursday, even as its revenue fell sharply. Shares of the smartphone industry pioneer rose more than 4 percent in premarket trading.

The Canadian company, which has shifted focus from its once-dominant smartphones to the software that companies and governments need to manage their devices, said it expects to post an adjusted annual loss of around 15 cents per share.

Analysts had estimated a fiscal 2017 loss of 33 cents per share.

“They have not put figures behind some of their forecasts in quite some time, and hopefully that speaks to improved visibility into the business,” said Morningstar analyst Brian Colello.

Excluding one-time items, the company posted profit of $14 million, or nil per share. Adjusted revenue totaled $424 million. Analysts, on average, expected a loss of 8 cents a share on revenue of $470.9 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company reported a net loss of $670 million, or $1.28 cents a share, as it ran up costs to restructure operations and wrote down the value of some assets.

A year ago, it reported a profit of $68 million, or 10 cents a share.

BlackBerry said the net loss reflected a $501 million impairment charge, a $57 million goodwill impairment charge, and a $41 million writedown of inventory and other charges.

Software and licensing revenue was $166 million in the quarter ended May 31, just below the growth rate they have targeted for the full year.

Colello said a better selling smartphone could make the segment profitable.

“They have done a really good job of cutting operating expenses and shrinking the cost side of the business as revenue has fallen over the past couple years. The problem seems to be that hardware keeps falling faster,” he said.

Read Article (Sharp & Martell | huffingtonpost.com | 06/23/2016)

Internet availability and access is important without a doubt, but knowing how to fully utilize the constantly evolving devices that connect to it and the Internet itself, is an issue just as important if not more.  Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

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Why This Year’s iPhone May be Kinda Lame

Kinda-Lame

Rumor has it that Apple’s going to seriously shake up the way it updates the iPhone — and you probably won’t like it that much.

For nearly a decade, Apple has alternated between releasing big overhauls and smaller upgrades to its phones. Citing a top Apple analyst, the Wall Street Journal reported that the firm will follow up last year’s incremental upgrades to the iPhone with even more incremental upgrades — breaking its established update schedule.

That means consumers waiting to upgrade until this year’s expected major revamp will have to either bite the bullet and get the iPhone 6s or 6s Plus, or wait an extra year and hope that rumors of a really big revamp for 2017 are true.

The reported decision — Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment — comes as the company faces mounting questions about slowing iPhone sales. The iPhone is at the heart of Apple’s revenue, but sales numbers have started falling. That’s bad news for the Cupertino company.

The smartphone market as a whole has slowed down a bit, with more consumers saying they’re happy to hang on to their phones for a little longer than they have in the past. It’s hard to say what, exactly, is causing that shift. But one theory is that companies aren’t able to offer the same scale of advances that they used to because the technology isn’t there yet.

“Look at it from the vantage point of innovation,” said IDC analyst William Stofega. “Part of the slowdown of the industry is there’s just very incremental updates and upgrades. The technology to really push the smartphone forward isn’t quite developed yet.”

In other words, Apple may have an innovation problem, but it’s not alone. Companies are continually making phones thinner and lighter for their power levels, but at a certain point consumers will be looking for breakthrough battery technology, flexible screens or something more drastic to reinvent the smartphone. And those advances, while in the works at various companies, aren’t yet ready for prime time.

Furthermore, changes in the way that mobile carriers have designed their contracts could also be changing the mental calculus for consumers considering whether to upgrade their phones. Today’s plans separate the cost of a phone from the cost of wireless service, which gives customers the option to upgrade their device every year. But, Stofega said, the new payment scheme encourages people to hold onto their phones longer, especially once the devices are paid off.

A change in how Apple manages its upgrade cycle would be acknowledging that its next big developments are still in the research and development lab. While the firm still has its eye on creating markets for its phones in places such as China and India, it’s also clearly looking to pull back its dependence on hardware. Focusing on services — Apple Music, iCloud, Siri — and other products such as the Apple Watch has been a big trend out of Apple in the past year. And Apple has been letting rumors about even crazier projects, such as the Apple Car, circulate unchecked.

At the end of the day, Apple may be betting that it is better to release a truly innovative smartphone later and disappoint some fans now, even if such a strategy could open the door for Samsung as well as budget-friendly firms such as Xiaomi and Huawei to grab market share.

Stofega thinks this approach could work in the long run, if properly executed. “People may start looking for a slower cycle,” he said. “And, in thinking about it, that could get all the fanboys and fangirls a better boom for their buck.”

Read Article (Hayley Tsukayama | washingtonpost.com | 06/22/2016)

Smartphone innovation seems to have stalled or reached some kind of standstill. New releases look very much like their predecessor or some other device with not much difference in features or originality.

HTC One M9 really looks like a make-over of an M7, M8. Sure, it comes with a new paint job, camera, processor, RAM and interface but they all look basically the same.

From a distance the Samsung Galaxy S6 could be mistaken for an iPhone 6, with the rounded silver border, antenna markers on the bottom, the drilled speaker holes, even the Touch ID fingerprint scanner appears replicated.

Concept Video: Here

This overview does beg the question, has the hyper-activity of smartphone innovation and design finally burnt itself out?

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Tesla Offers $2.79b for SolarCity & Shares Drop

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Elon Musk called the proposed marriage of Tesla Motors Inc. and SolarCity Corp. a “no brainer,” saying his $2.86 billion plan to combine the companies would benefit both.  Tesla investors didn’t seem so sure. While SolarCity shares rose as much as 29 percent in extended trading, Tesla fell as much as 14 percent.

Oppenheimer & Co. analysts including Colin Rusch downgraded Tesla to perform from outperform in a research note published late Tuesday, saying they expect “a robust shareholder fight over this acquisition centered on corporate governance.”

“We believe investors are likely to view this transaction as a bailout for SCTY and a distraction to Tesla’s own production hurdles,” said Rusch in the note.

Credit Suisse Group AG analysts including Patrick Jobin said in a separate note that they expect “resistance from Tesla shareholders” and warned of “many corporate governance challenges.”

“Investors expect Tesla to keep all its focus on completing the gigafactory and on quickly ramping up production of Model 3 in 2018,” said Salim Morsy, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Both of these goals are existential for Tesla. A SolarCity acquisition doesn’t help execute these critical milestones.”

Musk -- who is chief executive officer of Tesla, chairman of solar-panel maker SolarCity and the largest shareholder of each -- was upbeat. “In my personal opinion, this is obviously something that should happen,” the billionaire said on a conference call Tuesday.

Tesla plans to hold a conference at 7:30 a.m. New York time to discuss the rationale surrounding the offer to acquire SolarCity.

Tesla announced its bid for SolarCity in a blog post, saying the acquisition would “complete the picture.” The move comes as Tesla prepares for production of the Model 3, its more affordable electric car late next year and completes construction of its battery-manufacturing gigafactory east of Reno, Nevada.

If the deal is approved, SolarCity would become a part of Tesla. It’s already part of the family: SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive and co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Peter Rive are Musk’s first cousins. The idea for SolarCity was hatched during a trip the three made to the Burning Man arts festival in the Nevada desert over a decade ago.

According to Tesla, the all-stock deal is worth $26.50 to $28.50 for each SolarCity share. That calculates to a premium of as much as 35 percent from Tuesday’s closing price. The average 12-month price target among analysts surveyed by Bloomberg is $29.82.

‘Room for a Deal’

“It’s clearly not a ‘done deal,’ but rather just an offer for now,” said Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James. “I think there is room for a deal, but likely at a higher level, maybe in the $30s.”

With 100.2 million SolarCity shares outstanding, the proposal is worth as much as $2.86 billion.

Musk said he and Antonio Gracias -- a member of both boards -- would recuse themselves from voting on the takeover offer. JB Straubel, Tesla’s CTO, is also a SolarCity director.

Tesla shareholders will likely look askance at taking on more debt by combining the money-losing companies, said Morsy, the BNEF analyst.

“The company just raised $1.4 billion from an equity issuance in May to finance an accelerated production ramp of Model 3,” he said in an e-mail. “Investors will have trouble looking past the $3.2 billion in debt that Tesla moves on to its own balance sheet for a SolarCity enterprise value of just $5.8 billion.”

Musk owns 22 percent of SolarCity and 21 percent of Tesla, the youngest and smallest publicly held U.S. automaker. The two companies work closely together: SolarCity picked batteries made by Tesla to provide 13 megawatts of electric storage for an array of solar panels to be built on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

“Tesla customers can drive clean cars and they can use our battery packs to help consume energy more efficiently, but they still need access to the most sustainable energy source that’s available: the sun,” Musk said in the blog post.

“Most of our customers have an interest in solar,” he said on the conference call. “But a small percentage actually have it.”

Read Article (Dana Hull | Bloomberg.com | 06/21/2016)

Merging these two seems to be a very logical move. Everyone will benefit, including technology. We are still looking for that leap in energy storage and this may signal something big on the horizon.

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AI: We’re Children Playing with a Bomb (4 of 4)

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“Maybe. At any time in history it seems to me there can only be one official global concern. Now it is climate change, or sometimes terrorism. When I grew up it was nuclear Armageddon. Then it was overpopulation. Some are more sensible than others, but it is really quite random.”

Bostrom’s passion is to attempt to apply some math’s to that randomness. Does he think that concerns about AI will take over from global warming as a more imminent threat any time soon?

“I doubt it,” he says. “It will come gradually and seamlessly without us really addressing it.”

If we are going to look anywhere for its emergence, Google, which is throwing a good deal of its unprecedented resources at deep learning technology (not least with its purchase in 2014 of the British pioneer DeepMind) would seem a reasonable place to start. Google apparently has an AI ethics board to confront these questions, but no one knows who sits on it. Does Bostrom have faith in its “Don’t be evil” mantra?

“There is certainly a culture among tech people that they want to feel they are doing something that is not just to make money but that it has some positive social purpose. There is this idealism.”

Can he help shape the direction of that idealism?

“It is not so much that one’s own influence is important,” he says. “Anyone who has a role in highlighting these arguments will be valuable. If the human condition really were to change fundamentally in our century, we find ourselves at a key juncture in history.” And if Bostrom’s more nihilistic predictions are correct, we will have only one go at getting the nature of the new intelligence right.

Last year Bostrom became a father. (Typically his marriage is conducted largely by Skype – his wife, a medical doctor, lives in Vancouver.) I wonder, before I go, if becoming a dad has changed his sense of the reality of these futuristic issues?

“Only in the sense that it emphasizes this dual perspective, the positive and negative scenarios. This kind of intellectualizing, that our world might be transformed completely in this way, always seems a lot harder to credit at a personal level. I guess I allow both of these perspectives as much room as I can in my mind.”

At the same time as he entertains those thought experiments, I suggest, half the world remains concerned where its next meal is coming from. Is the threat of superintelligence quite an elitist anxiety? Do most of us not think of the longest-term future because there is more than enough to worry about in the present?

“If it got to the point where the world was spending hundreds of billions of dollars on this stuff and nothing on more regular things then one might start to question it,” he says. “If you look at all the things the world is spending money on, what we are doing is less than a pittance. You go to some random city and you travel from the airport to your hotel. Along the highway you see all these huge buildings for companies you have never heard of. Maybe they are designing a new publicity campaign for a razor blade. You drive past hundreds of these buildings. Any one of those has more resources than the total that humanity is spending on this field. We have half a floor of one building in Oxford, and there are two or three other groups doing what we do. So I think it is OK.”

And how, I ask, might we as individuals and citizens think about and frame these risks to the existence of our species? Bostrom shrugs a little. “If we are thinking of this very long time frame, then it is clear that very small things we do now can make a significant difference in that future.”

A recent paper of Bostrom’s, which I read later at home, contains a little rule of thumb worth bearing in mind. Bostrom calls it “maxipok”. It is based on the idea that “the objective of reducing existential risks should be a dominant consideration whenever we act out of an impersonal concern for humankind as a whole.” What does maxipok involve? Trying to “maximize the probability of an ‘OK outcome’ where an OK outcome is any outcome that avoids existential catastrophe.”

It certainly sounds worth a go.

Read Article (Tim Adams | theguardian.com | 06/12/2016)

It really seems that as we push digital evolution into the future we are unwittingly pushing our own mental evolution along with it. Wow, wrap your brain around that! Maybe one day we will clone a human brain as the CPU of a super-computer.

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