Posts with «author_name|andrew tarantola» label

'Death Stranding Director's Cut' arrives March 30th on PC

Two and a half years after Death Stranding, the genre-bending action adventure (and spiritual successor to Paperboy) from acclaimed director Hideo Kojima, hit Playstations and PCs the world over, the most definitive version of the game so far has a firm release date for PC. Death Stranding Director's Cut will arrive via Steam March 30th, 2022.

We are pleased to announce that DEATH STRANDING DIRECTOR’S CUT will be coming to PC!
This will launch simultaneously on Steam and the Epic Games store in Spring

— KOJIMA PRODUCTIONS (Eng) (@KojiPro2015_EN) January 4, 2022

Kojima Studios had previously announced that the new version would arrive at some point this spring but with Thursday's news, gamers can start getting their delivery muscles limbered in earnest. Being a Director's Cut doesn't just mean that players will be treated to even longer cutscenes. Existing PS5 players already have access to new weapons, missions, boss battles, and a racing mode while newly-minted PC gamers will get those bonuses as well as be able to leverage Intel's Xe Super Sampling for improved graphics and performance.

Tesla kept its record 2021 profits rolling right through Q4

Following a profitable — and, ahem, notable — 2021, Tesla remains at the forefront of EV production in America as we enter the new year. With deliveries up nearly 90 percent over 2020’s figures, Tesla achieved “the highest quarterly operating margin among all volume OEMs,” during that time frame, according to the company’s Q4 figures released Wednesday The company not only hit $5.5 billion in net income despite a $6.5 billion outlay for new production facilities in Berlin and Austin, Texas, it also exceeded its own revenue goals by a cool billion dollars.

In Q4, 2021, Tesla produced 930,000 electric vehicles (99 percent of which were Xs and Ys) and delivered 936,000 of them to customers around the world. At the same time, the company expanded its proprietary Supercharger network by a third, now totalling 3,476 stations.

Despite widespread supply chain issues impacting the entire automotive industry, Tesla maintained its production capabilities better than virtually any other automaker. The Fremont factory churned out around 600,000 vehicles last year with plans to increase that figure even after the Austin and Berlin plants come online later this year. Production in the Shanghai plant continues to ramp up as well. According to Tesla, it has managed to lower the per unit cost of producing its vehicles to around $36,000 (and did so in both Q3 and Q4, 2021).

Tesla's Q4 investor call happens at 5:30pm ET today, stay tuned for live updates and comment from Tesla executives.


Hitting the Books: What autonomous vehicles mean for tomorrow's workforce

In the face of daily pandemic-induced upheavals, the notion of "business as usual" can often seem a quaint and distant notion to today's workforce. But even before we all got stuck in never-ending Zoom meetings, the logistics and transportation sectors (like much of America's economy) were already subtly shifting in the face of continuing advances in robotics, machine learning and autonomous navigation technologies. 

In their new book, The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines, an interdisciplinary team of MIT researchers (leveraging insights gleaned from MIT's multi-year Task Force on the Work of the Future) exam the disconnect between improvements in technology and the benefits derived by workers from those advancements. It's not that America is rife with "low-skill workers" as New York's new mayor seems to believe, but rather that the nation is saturated with low-wage, low-quality positions — positions which are excluded from the ever-increasing perks and paychecks enjoyed by knowledge workers. The excerpt below examines the impact vehicular automation will have on rank and file employees, rather than the Musks of the world.

MIT Press

Excerpted from The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines by David Autor, David A. Mindell and Elisabeth B. Reynolds. Reprinted with permission from the MIT PRESS. Copyright 2022.


Few sectors better illustrate the promises and fears of robotics than autonomous cars and trucks. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are essentially highspeed wheeled industrial robots powered by cutting-edge technologies of perception, machine learning, decision-making, regulation, and user interfaces. Their cultural and symbolic resonance has brought AVs to the forefront of excited press coverage about new technology and has sparked large investments of capital, making a potentially “driverless” future a focal point for hopes and fears of a new era of automation.

The ability to transport goods and people across the landscape under computer control embodies a dream of twenty-first-century technology, and also the potential for massive social change and displacement. In a driverless future, accidents and fatalities could drop significantly. The time that people waste stuck in traffic could be recovered for work or leisure. Urban landscapes might change, requiring less parking and improving safety and efficiency for all. New models for the distribution of goods and services promise a world where people and objects move effortlessly through the physical world, much as bits move effortlessly through the internet.

As recently as a decade ago, it was common to dismiss the notion of driverless cars coming to roads in any form. Federally supported university research in robotics and autonomy had evolved for two generations and had just begun to yield advances in military robotics. Yet today, virtually every carmaker in the world, plus many startups, have engaged to redefine mobility. The implications for job disruption are massive. The auto industry itself accounts for just over 5 percent of all private sector jobs, according to one estimate. Millions more work as drivers and in the web of companies that service and maintain these vehicles.

Task Force members John J. Leonard and David A. Mindell have both participated in the development of these technologies and, with graduate student Erik L. Stayton, have studied their implications. Their research suggests that the grand visions of automation in mobility will not be fully realized in the space of a few years.15 The variability and complexity of real-world driving conditions require the ability to adapt to unexpected situations that current technologies have not yet mastered. The recent tragedies and scandals surrounding the death of 346 people in two Boeing 737 MAX crashes stemming from flawed software and the accidents involving self-driving car-testing programs on public roads have increased public and regulatory scrutiny, adding caution about how quickly these technologies will be widely dispersed. The software in driverless cars remains more complex and less deterministic than that in airliners; we still lack technology and techniques to certify it as safe. Some even argue that solving for generalized autonomous driving is tantamount to solving for AGI.

Analysis of the best available data suggests that the reshaping of mobility around autonomy will take more than a decade and will proceed in phases, beginning with systems limited to specific geographies such as urban or campus shuttles (such as the recent product announcement from Zoox, an American AV company). Trucking and delivery are also likely use cases for early adoption, and several leading developers are focusing on these applications both in a fully autonomous mode and as augmented, “convoy” systems led by human drivers. In late 2020, in a telling shift for the industry from “robotaxis” to logistics, Uber sold its driverless car unit, having spent billions of dollars with few results. The unit was bought by Amazon-backed Aurora to focus the technology on trucking. More automated systems will eventually spread as technological barriers are overcome, but current fears about a rapid elimination of driving jobs are not supported.

AVs, whether cars, trucks, or buses, combine the industrial heritage of Detroit and the millennial optimism and disruption of Silicon Valley with a DARPA-inspired military vision of unmanned weapons. Truck drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, auto mechanics, and insurance adjusters are but a few of the workers expected to be displaced or complemented. This transformation will come in conjunction with a shift toward full electric technology, which would also eliminate some jobs while creating others. Electric cars require fewer parts than conventional cars, for instance, and the shift to electric vehicles will reduce work supplying motors, transmissions, fuel injection systems, pollution control systems, and the like. This change too will create new demands, such as for large scale battery production (that said, the power-hungry sensors and computing of AVs will at least partially offset the efficiency gains of electric cars). AVs may well emerge as part of an evolving mobility ecosystem as a variety of innovations, including connected cars, new mobility business models, and innovations in urban transit, converge to reshape how we move people and goods from place to place.


The narrative on AVs suggests the replacement of human drivers by AI-based software systems, themselves created by a few PhD computer scientists in a lab. This is, however, a simplistic reading of the technological transition currently under way, as MIT researchers discovered through their work in Detroit. It is true that AV development organizations tend to have a higher share of workers with advanced degrees compared to the traditional auto industry. Even so, implementation of AV systems requires efforts at all levels, from automation supervision by safety drivers to remote managing and dispatching to customer service and maintenance roles on the ground.

Take, for instance, a current job description for “site supervisor” at a major AV developer. The job responsibilities entail overseeing a team of safety drivers focused in particular on customer satisfaction and reporting feedback on mechanical and vehicle-related issues. The job offers a mid-range salary with benefits, does not require a two- or four-year degree, but does require at least one year of leadership experience and communication skills. Similarly, despite the highly sophisticated machine learning and computer vision algorithms, AV systems rely on technicians routinely calibrating and cleaning various sensors both on the vehicle and in the built environment. The job description for field autonomy technician to maintain AV systems provides a mid-range salary, does not require a four-year degree, and generally requires only background knowledge of vehicle repair and electronics. Some responsibilities are necessary for implementation — including inventorying and budgeting repair parts and hands-on physical work—but not engineering.

The scaling up of AV systems, when it happens, will create many more such jobs, and others devoted to ensuring safety and reliability. Simultaneously, an AV future will require explicit strategies to enable workers displaced from traditional driving roles to transition to secure employment.

A rapid emergence of AVs would be highly disruptive for workers since the US has more than three million commercial vehicle drivers. These drivers are often people with high school or lower education or immigrants with language barriers. Leonard, Mindell, and Stayton conclude that a slower adoption timeline will ease the impact on workers, enabling current drivers to retire and younger workers to get trained to fill newly created roles, such as monitoring mobile fleets. Again, realistic adoption timelines provide opportunities for shaping technology, adoption, and policy. A 2018 report by Task Force Research Advisory Board member Susan Helper and colleagues discusses a range of plausible scenarios and found the employment impact of AVs to be proportional to the time to widespread adoption. Immediate, sudden automation of the fleet would, of course, put millions out of work, whereas a thirty-year adoption timeline could be accommodated by retirements and generational change.

Meanwhile, car-and-truck makers already make vehicles that augment rather than replace drivers. These products include high-powered cruise control and warning systems frequently found on vehicles sold today. At some level, replacement-type driverless cars will be competing with augmentation-type computer-assisted human drivers. In aviation, this competition went on for decades before unmanned aircraft found their niches, while human-piloted aircraft became highly augmented by automation. When they did arrive, unmanned aircraft such as the US Air Force’s Predator and Reaper vehicles required many more people to operate than traditional aircraft and offered completely novel capabilities, such as persistent, twenty-four-hour surveillance.

Based on the current state of knowledge, we estimate a slow shift toward systems that require no driver, even in trucking, one of the easier use cases, with limited use by 2030. Overall shifts in other modes, including passenger cars, are likely to be no faster.

Even when it’s achieved, a future of AVs will not be jobless. New business models, potentially entirely new industrial sectors, will be spurred by the technology. New roles and specialties will appear in expert, technical fields of engineering of AV systems and vehicle information technologies. Automation supervision or safety driver roles will be critical for levels of automation that will come before fully automated driving. Remote management or dispatcher, roles will bring drivers into control rooms and require new skills of interacting with automation. New customer service, field support technician, and maintenance roles will also appear. Perhaps most important, creative use of the technology will enable new businesses and services that are difficult to imagine today. When passenger cars displaced equestrian travel and the myriad occupations that supported it in the 1920s, the roadside motel and fast-food industries rose up to serve the “motoring public.” How will changes in mobility, for example, enable and shape changes in distribution and consumption?

Equally important are the implications of new technologies for how people get to work. As with other new technologies, introducing expensive new autonomous cars into existing mobility ecosystems will just perpetuate existing inequalities of access and opportunity if institutions that support workers don’t evolve as well. In a sweeping study of work, inequality, and transit in the Detroit region, Task Force researchers noted that most workers building Model T and Model A Fords on the early assembly lines traveled to work on streetcars, using Detroit’s then highly developed system. In the century since, particularly in Detroit, but also in cities all across the country, public transit has been an essential service for many workers, but it has also been an instrument facilitating institutional racism, urban flight to job-rich suburbs, and inequality. Public discourse and political decisions favoring highway construction often denigrated and undermined mass transit, with racial undertones. As a result, Black people and other minorities are much more likely to lack access to personal vehicles.

“Technology alone cannot remedy the mobility constraints” that workers face, the study concludes, “and will perpetuate existing inequities absent institutional change.” As with other technologies, deploying new technologies in old systems of transportation will exacerbate their inequalities by “shifting attention toward what is new and away from what is useful, practical, and needed.” Innovating in institutions is as important as innovating in machines; recent decades have seen encouraging pilot programs, but more must be done to scale those pilots to broader use and ensure accountability to the communities they intend to serve. “Transportation offers a unique site of political possibility.”

German Bionic's connected exoskeleton helps workers lift smarter

We’re still quite a ways away from wielding proper Power Loaders but advances in exosuit technology are rapidly changing how people perform physical tasks in their daily lives — some designed to help rehabilitate spinal injury patients, others created to improve a Marine’s warfighting capabilities, and many built simply to make physically repetitive vocations less stressful for the people performing them. But German Bionic claims only one of them is intelligent enough to learn from its users’ mistaken movements: its 5th-generation Cray X.

The Cray X fits on workers like a 7kg backpack with hip-mounted actuators that move carbon fiber linkages strapped to the upper legs, allowing a person to easily lift and walk with up to 30kg (66 lbs) with both their legs and backs fully supported. Though it doesn’t actively assist the person’s shoulders and arms with the task, the Cray X does offer a Smart Safety Companion system to help mitigate common lifting injuries.

“It's a real time software application that runs in the background and can warn the worker when the ergonomic risk is getting too high,” Norma Steller, German Bionic’s Head of IoT, told Engadget. “For example, recommending a break because we know that… the repetition and the overall stress can lead to fatigue, and fatigue can lead to injuries. This is something we want to prevent.”

The SSC not only collects granular telemetry information — what load is being lifted, ergonomic risks such as twisting while lifting, and potential environmental factors — it uses a machine learning algorithm to analyze that data to adapt the exoskeleton to the worker wearing it via OTA software updates. Not only is this data displayed to the workers themselves on an attached monitor, the Cray X also transmits that data up the supervisory chain allowing managers to monitor the movements of their employees to ensure that they are not overexerting themselves.

“Since we are collecting every single step and every single lift, the data that we provide is much more accurate,” Steller noted. The data the Cray collects is gathered from real-world use, not lab tests or supervised trials where workers are on their best ergonomic behavior. “Especially in logistics, every single step, every single lift, every single trend is usually planned. But sometimes in the real world, not every plan comes to fulfillment and then we suddenly see workplace performance drop very, very quickly. And with the data we provide, you can actually do an investigation and figure out why [that drop off is occurring].”

Steller sees the Cray X as a "preventative device" designed to ensure workers don't overextend or overexert themselves. “We are a preventative device, so we are preventing injury,” Steller added. “We're not considered a medical [device manufacturer]. We consider ourselves an exoskeleton for industrial use.” As such, the Cray X is IP54 rated for dust and moisture so it can work in all but the dingiest of warehouse environments.

And though the Cray X is designed to be put on and taken off in under a minute, it can be worn for up to a full work shift without being removed thanks to the 5th generation’s new hot-swappable 40V battery system.

“We implemented the hot swapping function so that you can just drop it on the spot without having to turn off the device,” Mauris Kiss, Head of Mechanical R&D at German Bionic, told Engadget. “You can pull out the [spent battery] for a new one, place the old one on the charger — we use the Makita fast charging stations which charge the battery in like 30 to 40 minutes — and then you can just move on. You could potentially work like eight hours without having to take off the exoskeleton.”

For as useful as the current generation of exoskeletal technologies are today, the German Bionic team sees them becoming even more capable, and widespread, in the years ahead. “My feeling is that we will see much more specialized exoskeletons in the future because the technology is more available.” Steller said. “I think they will enter our world, not only in the B2B industrial sectors. We will see them basically everywhere because we have the chance to augment our body and usually humans take the chance to do that. We will see them everywhere, without any real limitation but very specialized to the use case.”

“I really see everyone on the street wearing an exoskeleton in one form or another,” Eric Eitel, German Bionic’s Head of Communications, added. “But I think that the exoskeletons that we are looking for in the future are the active ones. I see them being a lot slimmer, smarter and connected.”

And even as the technology expands to consumer uses, Eitel believes exoskeletons will likely remain a common sight in industrial settings. “There are still a lot of workspaces that cannot be automated and I think that's going to stay like that for a long time. You still have to rely on people so we don't want to replace all the humans. I really see that technology is going alongside [automation].”

“We see robots more as companions, our product is actually a companion,” added Kiss. “I think this can be just another possibility, I mean, there's still situations where automation still makes a lot of sense. When you go into dangerous environments, you should actually automate that. But why should we automate everything?”

NBA games in 4K are coming to YouTube TV

The view from your couch will look a little more like sitting courtside in the days to come, as Streamable reports on Thursday that YouTube TV will begin offering select NBA matchups in 4K. 

The only, ahem, hoop viewers will need to get through in order to watch is having a YouTube TV subscription with the 4K Plus add-on. YTTV on its own is $65 a month, the 4K add-on will set you back an additional $12/mo for the first year before nearly doubling, up to $20/month thereafter. Not every game will be made available in the high definition format though Saturday's game between the Cavs and Thunder will.

Senator Klobuchar's major tech reform bill advances out of committee

A major tech reform bill that would prevent the industry's biggest players — Apple, Amazon, Google, and their ilk — from discriminating against smaller businesses that rely on the big platforms' services is one step closer to passage on Thursday after passing from committee on a bipartisan 16-6 vote. Senators Mike Lee, John Cornyn, Ben Sasse, Tom Cotton, Thom Tillis, and Marsha Blackburn all voted against it.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which was sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar, would prohibit Amazon from promoting its own Amazon Basics gear over similar products in search results. Similarly, Apple and Google would be barred from pushing their in-house apps over those from third-party developers in their respective app stores. The bill passed out of both the antitrust subcommittee and the primary judiciary committee with the support of that vote and will now be put forth on the Senate floor.   

Unsurprisingly, the platforms impacted by these proposed regulations are none too pleased with the recent proceedings. Apple's Tim Cook has reportedly been personally lobbying against the bill while Amazon has released the following statement:

There’s a reason why small businesses who sell on Amazon are asking Congress to take a look at the “collateral damage” that will fall on them and their customers, should the American Innovation and Choice Online Act become law. This bill is being rushed through the legislative process without any acknowledgment by its authors of its unintended consequences. As drafted, the bill’s vague prohibitions and unreasonable financial penalties—up to 15% of U.S. revenue, not income—would jeopardize our ability to allow small businesses to sell on Amazon. The bill would also make it difficult for us to guarantee one or two-day shipping for those small businesses' products—key benefits of Amazon Prime for sellers and customers alike. The bill’s authors are targeting common retail practices and, troublingly, appear to single out Amazon while giving preferential treatment to other large retailers that engage in the same practices. We urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject Senator Klobuchar and Senator Grassley’s bill and refuse to rush through an ambiguously worded bill with significant unintended consequences.

A similar bill has already passed the judiciary committee's counterpart in the House though the President has not yet weighed in regarding his support of these proposals.

Why airlines and telecoms are fighting over the 5G rollout

Rollouts of new wireless technologies and standards have not always gone well. When the GSM system debuted, it caused hearing aids to buzz and pop with static while early cell phone signals would occasionally disrupt pacemakers. Today, as carriers expand their 5G networks across the country, they are faced with an equally dangerous prospect: that one of 5G’s spectrum bands may interfere with the radio altimeters aboard commercial aircraft below 2,500 feet, potentially causing their automated landing controls to misjudge the distance from the ground and crash.

Sticking the landing is generally considered one of the more important parts of a flight — which is, in part, why you never hear people applaud during takeoff. As such, the FAA, which regulates American air travel, and the FCC, which controls the use of our telecommunications spectrum, have found themselves at loggerheads over how, when and where 5G might be safely deployed.

5G is shorthand for 5th generation, referring to the latest standard for cellular service. First deployed in 2019, 5G operates on the same basis as its 4G predecessor — accessing the internet and telephone network via radio waves beamed at local cell antennas — but does so at broadband speeds up to 10Gb/s. However, because 5G can operate on the C band spectrum, there’s a chance that it can interfere with radio altimeters if within close proximity to airports, especially the older models lacking sufficient RF shielding.

“The fundamental emissions may lead to blocking interference in the radar altimeter receiver,” a 2020 study by aeronautics technical group RTCA, observed. “The spurious emissions, on the other hand, fall within the normal receive bandwidth of the radar altimeter, and may produce undesirable effects such as desensitization due to reduced signal-to-interference-plus-noise ratio (SINR), or false altitude determination due to the erroneous detection of the interference signal as a radar return.”

So when the FCC sold a range of C band in the 3.7 GHz to 3.98 GHz frequency range last February for a cool $81 billion, the airline industry under the umbrella of Airlines for America (which represents American Airlines, Delta, FedEx and UPS) took umbrage. These concerns prompted the FAA to issue a warning about the issue last November and led Verizon/AT&T to push back their plans to launch 5G service on C Band by a month.

This warning, in turn, prompted the CTIA (the wireless industry’s main lobbying arm) to file its counterargument shortly thereafter, asserting that aircraft already safely fly into and out of more than 40 countries that have broadly deployed 5G networks, such as Denmark and Japan. “If interference were possible, we would have seen it long before now,” CTIA President, Meredith Attwell Baker, insisted in a November Morning Consult op-ed.

However, those countries have also taken steps necessary to mitigate much of the potential issues, such as lowering the power of 5G cell towers, moving towers or simply pointing their receivers away from landing approaches.


What’s more, a causal relationship between the 5G rollout and misbehaving altimeters has yet to be established.

"The C-band is closer to the frequencies used by airplane altimeters than previous 5G deployments," Avi Greengart, lead analyst at Techsponentia, told Tom’s Guide. "In the US, the 5G we’ve been using has either been used before for prior wireless networks, or it is on really high frequencies with no ability to penetrate a piece of paper, let alone an airplane."

"There is a 200MHz buffer zone between C-band and altimeter frequencies, and the part of C-band that is opening up this week is even farther from that point,” he continued. “Additionally, similar frequencies are already in use in Europe with no problems observed. If the airplane’s altimeter filters are working properly, there should be no interference whatsoever."

Despite the CTIA’s efforts, the FAA (along with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg) in late December requested Verizon and AT&T delay their primary rollout by two weeks, starting on January 5th and extending to January 17th, to give the government time to further investigate the issue. Unsurprisingly, those complex issues were not resolved within the given time frame, causing the airline industry to look towards the supposedly falling heavens and Chicken Little even harder.

In a letter obtained by Reuters, Airlines for America argued the skies would be beset by utter “chaos” amid “catastrophic” failures if 5G were deployed, potentially stranding thousands of passengers overseas. "Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded. This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays."

Full airline CEO letter

— davidshepardson (@davidshepardson) January 17, 2022

"We are writing with urgency to request that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate two miles of airport runways as defined by the FAA on January 19, 2022," the airline CEOs leaders argued. "To be blunt, the nation's commerce will grind to a halt." The airlines also objected to potential incurred costs related to better shielding their avionics (which helped alleviate the previous issues with hearing aids).

For its part, United Airlines told Reuters that it faces "significant restrictions on 787s, 777s, 737s and regional aircraft in major cities like Houston, Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago." That’s about 4 percent of the carrier’s daily traffic. These restrictions would apply to cargo aircraft as well as passenger planes, which will likely further exacerbate the nation’s current supply chain woes.

The FAA has conceded that 5G cellular technology could potentially cause issues but stopped short of the airline industry’s apocalyptic predictions. “Aircraft with untested altimeters or that need retrofitting or replacement will be unable to perform low-visibility landings where 5G is deployed,” the agency said in a statement, directing airlines that operate Boeing 787s, for example, to take extra precautions when landing on wet or snowy runways as 5G interference could prevent the massive airfcraft’s thrust reversers to fail, leaving it to stop using brake power alone.

AT&T is none too happy with the FAA’s course of action either. "We are frustrated by the FAA's inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it to do so in a timely manner," an AT&T spokesperson said in a statement.

The FAA is already considering the airlines’ request for buffer zones and, on January 8th, released a list of 50 airports across the country where it plans to implement them. The agency also notes that it has cleared five models of radio altimeter to operate within low-visibility areas where 5G systems operate. These models are installed in more than 60 percent of aircraft flying in the US including the Boeing 737 - 777, Airbus’ A310 - A380, and the MD-10/-11.

"We recognize the economic importance of expanding 5G, and we appreciate the wireless companies working with us to protect the flying public and the country’s supply chain. The complex U.S. airspace leads the world in safety because of our high standards for aviation, and we will maintain this commitment as wireless companies deploy 5G," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, said in a statement on Tuesday.

This leaves the FAA in a tight spot. With the two week delay having already expired, Verizon is moving ahead with its 1,700-city, 100 million-customer rollout. AT&T is doing so as well, though on a more limited basis in select parts of eight metro areas including Detroit, Chicago, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. The agency has pledged to continue to investigate the issue and regulate based on its findings though it has not yet disclosed what steps it plans to take next for doing so.

That time France tried to make decimal time a thing

Though Marie Antoinette would be hard-pressed to care, the French Revolution of 1789 set its sights on more than simply toppling the monarchy. Revolutionaries sought to break the nation free from its past, specifically from the clutches of the Catholic church, and point France towards a more glorious and prosperous future. They did so, in part, by radically transforming their measurements of the passage of time.

Throughout the 18th century, most French folks were Catholic as that was the only religion allowed to be openly practiced in the country, and had been since the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. As such, the nation had traditionally adhered to the 12-month Gregorian calendar — itself based on even older, sexagesimal (6-unit) divisible systems adapted from the Babylonians and Egyptians — while French clocks cycled every 60 minutes and seconds.

But if there was little reason to continue using the established chronology system aside from tradition, the revolutionaries figured, why not transmute it into a more rational, scientifically-backed method, just as the revolution itself sought to bring stability and new order to French society as a whole? And what better system to interpose than that of the decimal, which already governed the nation’s weights and measures. So, while it wasn’t busy abolishing the privileges of the First and Second Estate, eliminating the church’s power to levy taxes or just drowning nonjuring Catholic priests en masse, France’s neophyte post-revolution government set about reforming the realm’s calendars and clocks.

The concept of decimal time, wherein a day is broken down into multiples of 10, was first suggested more than thirty years prior when French mathematician, Jean le Rond d'Alembert, argued in 1754, “It would be very desirable that all divisions, for example of the livre, the sou, the toise, the day, the hour, etc. would be from tens into tens. This division would result in much easier and more convenient calculations and would be very preferable to the arbitrary division of the livre into twenty sous, of the sou into twelve deniers, of the day into twenty-four hours, the hour into sixty minutes, etc.”

By the eve of the Revolution, the idea had evolved into a year split into 12 months of 30 days apiece, their names inspired by crops and the prevailing weather in Paris during their occurrences. That there are 365 days in a year is an immutable fact dictated by the movement of the Earth around our local star. So, 12 months of 30 days apiece resulted in 5 days (6 in a leap year!) left over. These, the revolutionaries reserved for national holidays.

Each week was divided into 10 days, every day was split into 10 equal hours, those were split into 100 minutes, with each minute divided into 100 seconds (roughly 1.5 times longer than conventional minutes) and each second into 1000 “tierces.” Individual tierces could also be divided into 1000 even tinier units, called “quatierces.” The implementation of tierces would also lead to the creation of a new unit of length, called the “half-handbreadth,” which is the distance the twilight zone travels along the equator over the course of one tierce, and equal to one billionth of the planet’s circumference — around 4 centimeters.

Decimal time was formally adopted by National Convention decree in 1793, “The day, from midnight to midnight, is divided into ten parts, each part into ten others, and so forth until the smallest measurable portion of duration.” As such, midnight would be denoted as 00:00 while noon would be 5:00.

Public Domain

At midnight of the autumn equinox on September 22nd of that year, France’s Gregorian calendar ushered in 1st Vendémiaire Year II of the French Republican calendar. From there on, every new year would begin at midnight of the Autumn equinox, as observed by the Paris Observatory.

“The new calendar was based on two principles,” a 2017 exhibition at the International Museum of Watches, Looking for Noon at Five O’Clock, noted. “That the Republican year should coincide with the movement of the planets, and that it should measure time more accurately and more symmetrically by applying the decimal system wherever possible. Non-religious, it advocated a rational approach and honored the seasons and work in the fields.”

The main advantage of a decimal time system is that, since the base used to divide the time is the same as the one used to represent it, the whole time representation can be handled as a single string.

On one hand, this system offered the clear advantage that both the numerical base used to define the time and the numerical base used to divide it are the same number. For example, quick, how many seconds are there in three hours? The answer, most people will Google, is 10,800 — 60 seconds/minute x 60 minutes/hour x 3 hours. In decimal time, you simply get 30,000 — 3 hours x 10,000 seconds/hour.

However, due to an oversight in its otherwise logical design on account of gaps in astronomical knowledge, the Republican calendar struggled to properly accommodate leap years. “The four-year period, after which the addition of a day is usually necessary, is called the Franciade in memory of the revolution which, after four years of effort, led France to republican government, National Convention decreed. “The fourth year of the Franciade is called Sextile.”

Problem is that leap years, if we’re counting new years by midnights on the autumnal equinox in Paris, don’t consistently happen every four years. By equinox measure, the first leap year of the Republican calendar would actually have to occur in year III while the leaps in years XV and XX would happen half a decade apart.

There were also more practical issues with swapping the nation’s chronology over to an entirely new system, like the fact that people already had perfectly good clocks which they’d have to replace, were decimal time to remain in effect. It was also wildly unpopular with the working class who would only receive one day of rest out of 10 using the Republican calendar (plus a half day on the fifth), rather than the existing Gregorian one-day-in-seven, not to mention that the ten-day week played havoc with traditional Sunday religious services, seeing as how Sunday would cease to exist.

Overall, the idea simply failed to capture public support — despite edicts demanding the creation of decimal-based clocks — and was officially suspended on April 7th, 1795. The French then took a quick crack at metric time, which similarly measured time’s passage in factors of ten but based its progression in conventional seconds (aka 1/86400th of a day). Of course all of these efforts were rendered moot when Napoleon declared himself emperor in 1804, made peace with the Vatican and reinstituted the Gregorian calendar, thereby relegating both the Republican calendar and decimal time to the dustbin of history. The lesson here being, unless you’ve TNG’d yourself into a temporal loop, don’t try to fix what isn’t already broken, especially when it might earn you a trip to the guillotine.

Hitting the Books: The first man to listen to the birth of stars

If the efforts of the 10,000-plus people who developed and assembled the James Webb Space Telescope are any indication, the age of the independent scientist are well and truly over. Newton, Galileo, Keppler, and Copernicus all fundamentally altered humanity's understanding of our place in the universe, and did so on their own, but with the formalization and professionalization of the field in the Victorian Era, these occurences of an amatuer astronomer using homebrew equipment all the more rare. 

In his new book, The Invisible World: Why There's More to Reality than Meets the Eye, University of Cambridge Public Astronomer, Matthew Bothwell tells the story of how we discovered an entire, previously unseen universe beyond humanity's natural sight. In the excerpt below, Bothwell recounts the exploits of Grote Reber, one of the world's first (and for a while, only) radio astronomers.

Oneworld Publishing

Excerpted with permissionfrom The Invisible Universe by Matthew Bothwell (Oneworld 2021).

The Only Radio Astronomer in the World

It’s a little strange to look back at how the astronomical world reacted to Jansky’s results. With hindsight, we can see that astronomy was about to be turned upside down by a revolution at least as big as the one started by Galileo’s telescope. Detecting radio waves from space marks the first time in history that humanity glimpsed the vast invisible Universe, hiding beyond the narrow window of the visible spectrum. It was a momentous occasion that was all but ignored in academic astronomy circles for one very simple reason: the world of radio engineering was just too far removed from the world of astronomy. When Jansky published his initial results he attempted to bridge the divide, spending half the paper giving his readers a crash-course in astronomy (explaining how to measure the location of things in the sky, and exactly why a signal repeating every twenty-three hours and fifty-six minutes meant something interesting). But, ultimately, the two disciplines suffered from a failure to communicate. The engineers spoke a language of vacuum tubes, amplifiers and antenna voltages: incomprehensible to the scientists more used to speaking of stars, galaxies and planets. As Princeton astronomer Melvin Skellett later put it:

The astronomers said ‘Gee that’s interesting – you mean there’s radio stuff coming from the stars?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s what it looks like’. ‘Very interesting.’ And that’s all they had to say about it. Anything from Bell Labs they had to believe, but they didn’t see any use for it or any reason to investigate further. It was so far from the way they thought of astronomy that there was no real interest.

After Jansky had moved on to other problems, there was only one person who became interested in listening to radio waves from space. For around a decade, from the mid-1930s until the mid-1940s, Grote Reber was the only radio astronomer in the world.

Grote Reber’s story is unique in all of twentieth-century science. He single-handedly developed an entire field of science, taking on the task of building equipment, conducting observations, and exploring the theory behind his discoveries. What makes him unique is that he did all of this as a complete amateur, working alone outside the scientific establishment. His job, designing electric equipment for radio broadcasts, had given him the skills to build his telescope. His fascination with the scientific literature brought him into contact with Jansky’s discovery of cosmic static, and when it became clear that no one else in the world seemed to care very much, he took it upon himself to invent the field of radio astronomy. He built his telescope in his Chicago back garden using equipment and materials available to anyone. His telescope, nearly ten metres across, was the talk of his neighbourhood (for good reason – it looks a bit like a cartoon doomsday device). His mother used it to dry her washing.

He spent years scanning the sky with his homemade machine. He observed with his telescope all night, every night, while still working his day job (apparently he would snatch a few hours of sleep in the evening after work, and again at dawn after he was finished at the telescope). When he realised he didn’t know enough physics and astronomy to understand the things he was seeing, he took courses at the local university. Over the years, his observations painted a beautiful picture of the sky as seen with radio eyes. He detected the sweep of our Milky Way, with bright spots at the galactic centre (where Jansky had picked up his star-static), and again towards the constellations Cygnus and Cassiopeia. By this time he had learned enough physics to make scientific contributions, too. He knew that if the hiss from the Milky Way was caused by thermal emission – heat radiation from stars or hot gas – then it would be stronger at shorter wavelengths. Given that Reber was picking up much shorter wavelengths than Jansky (60 cm, compared to Jansky’s fifteen-metre waves), Reber should have been bombarded with invisible radio waves tens of thousands of times more powerful than anything Jansky saw. But he wasn’t. Reber was confident enough in his equipment to conclude that whatever was making these radio waves, it had to be ‘non-thermal’ – that is, it was something different from the standard ‘hot things glow’ radiation we discussed back in chapter 2. He even proposed the (correct!) solution: that hot interstellar electrons whizzing past an ion – a positively charged atom – will get sling-shotted around like a Formula 1 car taking a tight corner. The cornering electron will emit a radio wave, and the combined effect of billions of these events is what Reber was detecting from his back garden. This only happens in clouds of hot gas. Reber was, it turns out, picking up radio waves being emitted by clouds containing new-born stars scattered throughout our Galaxy. He was, quite literally, listening to stars being born. It was a sound no human had ever heard before. To this day, radio observations are used to trace the formation of stars, from small clouds in our own Milky Way to the birth of galaxies in the most distant corners of the Universe.

In many ways, Reber’s story seems like an anachronism. The golden age of independent scientists, who could make groundbreaking discoveries working alone with homemade equipment, was hundreds of years ago. With the passing of the Victorian era, science became a complex, expensive, and above all professional business. Grote Reber is, as far as I know, the last of the amateur ‘outsider’ scientists; the last person who had no scientific training, built his own equipment in his garden, and through painstaking and meticulous work managed to change the scientific world.

After 15 years, Local Motors will reportedly cease operations this Friday

Crowdsourcing automaker Local Motors will cease operations this Friday, according to employees, TechCrunch reports. The company has not yet officially announced its imminent demise, though its reactions from its workforce have already appeared on LinkedIn.

“As with most adventures, they must come to an end,” Jeff Hollowell, Local Motors VP of information technology, wrote on Thursday. “Local Motors has closed its doors. It has been an exciting, challenging, and educational experience working with Olli and all the team at Local Motors. I was fortunate to work with amazing individuals and help build what others said could not be done! I’ve been able to grow as a leader and learn new skills that I now take to my next path forward. Thanks to all the team members and partners that I was able to work with. The time spent was well worth the effort.”

Local Motors pioneered the idea of crowdsourcing the production of vehicles with 2016's, Olli, a 3D-printed 12-passenger microbus powered by now equally defunct IBM's Watson. It set off a minor arms race among automakers to produce a new class of autonomous EV people movers, however, imparting Level 4 autonomous capabilities has proven exceedingly difficult to date — in part due to technological shortcomings in the current generation of sensor and signal processing systems. Of. course, that hasn't dissuaded companies from trying, their efforts having led to a series of high-profile traffic accidents in recent years such as the Navya that wrecked in the opening hours of CES 2017, the Toyota e-Pallette that ran down a paralympian in August, and the solo-vehicle accident in Whitby, Ontario that critically injured a man last December.

Local Motors first made a name for itself with the Rally Fighter kit car before it pivoted to developing the Olli. The company had planned to launch a pilot program for the second iteration of its autonomous shuttle, the Olli 2.0, in Toronto last spring, however those plans were subsequently pushed back to February, 2022, and, with Thursday's revelation, will now likely never take place.