Businesses

The Hyperloop Industrial Complex 218

Jason Koebler writes: Two and a half years after Elon Musk pitched the technology, actually traveling on a hyperloop is still theoretical, but its effect on business is not. There is a very real, bonafide industry of people whose job description is, broadly speaking "make the hyperloop into a tangible thing." The SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Design Weekend at Texas A&M University earlier this weekend was the coming out party for people in that industry.
Transportation

Elon Musk's Next Great Idea? Electric Air Travel (bgr.com) 345

An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from BGR: Elon Musk is changing the world one idea at a time. First, with Tesla, the man so many people call the real life Tony Stark has done an incredible job of bringing electric vehicles to the mainstream. Second, Musk has been doing an impressive job over at SpaceX in the realm of space travel. And third, Musk's effective rough draft of a high-speed transportation system known as the Hyperloop is being contemplated and conceptualized in a very real way by some extremely smart people. So where does Musk go from here? Why, Mars of course. Recently, Musk said that he plans to unveil SpaceX's Mars roadmap next September. But on another front, Musk has also been thinking about developing an electric airplane capable of taking off and landing vertically. While answering a few questions during a Q&A session at the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Award Ceremony last week, Musk was asked what his 'next great idea' was. The answer? Electric-powered air travel.
Businesses

Elon Musk Cancels Stewart Alsop's Tesla Order Over Complaints About Launch Event 339

New submitter umafuckit writes: Blogger Stewart Alsop wrote an open letter to Elon Musk following a supposedly badly run launch event for the Model X. Alsop complained that the event started almost 2 hours late and was unable to test drive the car (for which has put down a deposit). In response, Musk cancelled Alsop's pre-order saying "Must be a slow news day if denying service to a super rude customer gets this much attention." Alsop, who is known not just for his prolific blogging but for his role as a founding partner at VC firm Alsop Louie Partners, compares his treatment by Tesla to that of BMW, about which he's also said some unflattering things as a customer.
Transportation

MIT Team Tops Hyperloop Design Competition (google.com) 144

The Dallas Morning News reports that a team from MIT has topped competitors from around 100 universities around the world at a competition held on the campus of Texas A&M by presenting a workable design vision for Elon Musk's dream of a hyperloop. The hyperloop concept, mentioned several times before on Slashdot, involves rapidly shuffling passenger pods through 12-foot-wide tubes evacuated of air, and would mean terrestrial transport at speeds topping those of commercial air travel. From the Morning News article: Delft University of Technology from The Netherlands finished second, the University of Wisconsin third, Virginia Tech fourth and the University of California, Irvine, fifth. The top teams will build their pods and test them at the world's first Hyperloop Test Track, being built adjacent to SpaceX's Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters.
Apple

Apple: Losing Out On Talent and In Need of a Killer New Device (theguardian.com) 428

mspohr writes with a link to an interesting (and rather dour) take at The Guardian on the state of Apple, which holds that: "Despite its huge value, Silicon Valley developers are turned off by [Apple's] 'secretive, controlling' culture and its engineering is no longer seen as cutting edge." From the article: "Tellingly, Apple is no longer seen as the best place for engineers to work, according to several Silicon Valley talent recruiters. It's a trend that has been happening slowly for years – and now, in this latest tech boom, has become more acute. ... Or as Elon Musk recently put the hiring situation a little more harshly: Apple is the "Tesla graveyard." "If you don't make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple," Musk recently told a German newspaper. The biggest issue for programmers seems to be a high-stress culture and cult of secrecy, which contrasts sharply with office trends toward gentler management and more playful workdays."
Mars

Elon Musk To Unveil Mars Spacecraft Later This Year, For 2025 Flight (foxnews.com) 101

frank249 writes: Fox News is reporting that Space X and Tesla CEO Elon Musk expects to unveil plans for the spacecraft that would send humans to Mars within a decade. Speaking at an event in Hong Kong, Musk said he was 'hoping to describe the architecture' of the spacecraft at the International Astronautical Conference in Mexico in late September. "That will be quite exciting," Musk said. 'In terms of the first flight to Mars, we are hoping to do that around 2025.' As for his plans to go into space, Musk said he was hoping to reach the International Space Station 'four or five years from now.'
NASA

SpaceX Successfully Tests Crew Dragon Landing Parachutes 91

SpaceX successfully tested out the parachute system it plans to use to land its Crew Dragon spaceship safely back on Earth today. By using a "mass simulator," SpaceX was able to replicate the weight and shape of the spacecraft. According to NASA, "Later tests will grow progressively more realistic to simulate as much of the actual conditions and processes the system will see during an operational mission."

The goal of the test was to evaluate the four main parachutes, but this test did not include the "drogue chutes" the full landing system will utilize. The aim is for the spacecraft to splash safely into the ocean carried down by parachutes to reduce its speed. Eventually, SpaceX intends for the spacecraft to land upright on solid ground by utilizing eight SuperDraco propulsion engines. SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral in December. Earlier this month, a SpaceX Falcon 9 exploded upon landing on a drone ship.
Power

Tesla Truck 'Quite Likely,' Says Elon Musk (bgr.com) 223

An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Boy Genius Report: If you think Tesla's plan for world domination begins with the Model S and ends with the Model 3, you're sorely mistaken. While the Model 3 is of course the mass consumer vehicle Elon Musk is betting the company on, the Tesla CEO is certainly open to developing other types of vehicles in the future. During a recent interview in Hong Kong at the StartmeupHK Festival, Musk briefly touched on the potential for Tesla to build an electric truck. "I think it is quite likely we will do a truck in the future," Musk said. "I think it's sort of a logical thing for us to do in the future." While this might appear to be outside of Tesla's wheelhouse at first glance – the Model S is a luxury sedan, after all – the amount of money to be made in trucks is immense. To wit, the three best-selling vehicles in the U.S. in both 2014 and 2015 were all pickup trucks.
Moon

Reusable SpaceX Rocket Has Implications For a Return To the Moon (examiner.com) 51

MarkWhittington writes: While it is unclear what, if any, implications the recent successful landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 first stage means for the future of space travel, planetary scientist and space commentator Paul Spudis suggested that the feat and the similar one performed earlier by Blue Origin could have some benefit for a return to the moon. In the meantime, a test of the engines in the recovered first stage had mixed results. The engines fired alright, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reported, "thrust fluctuations" that might have been caused by "debris ingestion."
Space

SpaceX Successfully Launches Jason-3 Satellite, Rocket Landing Partial Success (theverge.com) 118

An anonymous reader writes: SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket today carrying the Jason-3 ocean monitoring satellite. "Jason-3 data will be used for monitoring global sea level rise, researching human impacts on oceans, aiding prediction of hurricane intensity, and operational marine navigation," NASA said. Unfortunately Space X reports that the attempt to land the Falcon 9 on a drone platform was only a partial success. According to the company twitter page: "First stage on target at droneship but looks like hard landing; broke landing leg." Update: 01/18 04:16 GMT by S : Here's a brief video of the landing attempt (somewhat loud).
AI

Coast-To-Coast Autonomous Tesla Trips 2-3 Years Out, Says Elon Musk (google.com) 259

Jalopnik reports that Elon Musk's predicted window for being able (for Tesla owners, that is) to call up your autonomous car and have it find its own way from New York to California, or vice versa, is astonishingly close: 24-36 months from now. From the article: As far as the summoning feature is concerned, Tesla plans for the 33-foot range to greatly expand—soon. Within two years, Musk predicted that owners will be able to summon their car from across the country. “If you’re in New York and your car is in Los Angeles, you can summon your car to you from your phone and tell the car to find you,” Musk said. “It’ll automatically charge itself along the journey. I might be slightly optimistic about that, but not significantly optimistic.” In getting from one place to another, Musk said autopilot “is better than human in highway driving, or at least it will be soon with machine learning.” If it’s not already better than human, Musk said it will be within the coming months. But right now, Musk said the car still needs a human around, just in case. “The car currently has sensors to achieve that cross-country goal,” Musk said. “But you’d need more hardware and software, you’d need more cameras, more radars, redundant electronics, redundant power buses and that sort of thing.
Space

SpaceX Plans Drone Ship Landing On January 17th (nbcnews.com) 115

Rei writes: With the world's first successful low-speed landing of an orbital rocket's first stage complete, SpaceX looks to continue that success by attempting its second landing — this time, on their new drone ship in the Pacific. While SpaceX has announced plans to turn their successfully-landed rocket, reportedly flight-ready, into a a museum piece, the stage they recover next may be SpaceX's first chance to prove the mudslinging of their competitors wrong and show that Russia's worries are well founded. That is, if they can successfully pull it off.
Space

SpaceX To Test Recovered First Stage, Then Put It On Display (floridatoday.com) 108

schwit1 writes: Rather than re-fly it, Elon Musk suggested that, after some testing, SpaceX will likely put its first recovered Falcon 9 first stage on display instead. '"[We will] do a static fire at the launch pad there, to confirm that all systems are good and that we are able to do a full thrust hold-down firing of the rocket," Musk said after the stage landed. The static fire will also test the modifications SpaceX has made to Pad 39A to support its rockets.

After that though, the stage will become a display piece. "I think we will keep this one on the ground for tests that prove it could fly again and then put it somewhere — just because it is quite unique," Musk said.' Since they already have a satellite company, SES, willing to buy that first stage, this only underlines how this last Falcon 9 launch changes everything. I don't think the change has sunk in with most people, yet. The last launch was not a one-time event. SpaceX intends to recover as many of its first stages as it can in all future launches. Their Falcon 9 first stage is no longer expendable. Thus, they can afford to put this first recovered stage on display because they expect all future first stages to fly again.

AI

The AI Anxiety (washingtonpost.com) 207

An anonymous reader writes: The Washington Post has an article about current and near-future AI research while managing to keep a level head about it: "The machines are not on the verge of taking over. This is a topic rife with speculation and perhaps a whiff of hysteria." Every so often, we hear seemingly dire warnings from people like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk about the dangers of unchecked AI research. But actual experts continue to dismiss such worries as premature — and not just slightly premature. The article suggests our concerns might be better focused in a different direction: "Anyone looking for something to worry about in the near future might want to consider the opposite of superintelligence: superstupidity. In our increasingly technological society, we rely on complex systems that are vulnerable to failure in complex and unpredictable ways. Deepwater oil wells can blow out and take months to be resealed. Nuclear power reactors can melt down. Rockets can explode. How might intelligent machines fail — and how catastrophic might those failures be?"
Space

Estimating SpaceX's Reusable Rocket Cost Savings (theverge.com) 163

An anonymous reader writes: On Monday, SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket after launching a group of satellites into orbit. It's a huge breakthrough for the commercial space industry, because reusing rockets will dramatically reduce launch costs. The question now is: by how much? Elon Musk says it takes $60 million to build the Falcon 9, and $200,000 to fuel it. That's a big difference, but we can't expect them to immediately launch the rocket again after refueling it.

"The Falcon 9 experiences major temperature changes during its flights, as well as intense pressures and vibrations from the winds in the atmosphere. These all produce wear-and-tear on the vehicle's hardware — meaning the rocket might need repairs and updates before it can launch again." This kind of refurbishing is why the Space Shuttle ended up being way more expensive than expected. Fortunately, the Falcon 9 is not nearly as complex.

This is now the true test of SpaceX's design talents; if the rocket is built to be durable, then repairs and replacements could keep relaunch costs very low indeed. Steve Poulus, a former NASA project manager, suspects final costs could be driven below a million dollars. That figure would give SpaceX the capability of easily underbidding any competitor for government contracts, not to mention bringing it into affordability for any number of companies who'd like to put a satellite in orbit.

Transportation

Tesla Will Have Self-driving Cars In Just Two Years, Elon Musk Boldly Declares (fortune.com) 172

An anonymous reader writes: In a new interview with Fortune, outspoken Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the electric automaker is just two years away from developing fully autonomous vehicles that can operate ably and safely in any type of environment. While Musk has long championed an automotive age filled with self-driving cars, this is the most optimistic timeline for their deployment we've seen Musk make yet. In fact, Musk in 2014 said the requisite technology to manufacture a self-driving car was still about five to six years away. "I think we have all the pieces," Musk said, "and it's just about refining those pieces, putting them in place, and making sure they work across a huge number of environments—and then we're done. It's a much easier problem than people think it is."
Earth

Musk, Others Want Volkswagen To Go Electric Instead of Fixing Diesels (washingtonpost.com) 313

An anonymous reader writes: Volkswagen has put itself in a tough spot. After cheating emissions standards, the company faces billions in fines and repair costs to bring those vehicles into spec and make peace with regulators. But a group of business owners, investors, and environmentalists has a different suggestion. The group, headlined by Elon Musk, sent an open letter to the California Air Resources Board outlining their solution. They want Volkswagen to be released from its obligation to fix cars already on the road, and instead require that the company substantially accelerate its rollout of zero-emission vehicles.

They want Volkswagen's money to go into manufacturing plants and R&D for zero-emission technology rather than to government-mandated fines. (Note that these investments would give Musk, in particular, another direct competitor.) The letter says, "In contrast to the punishments and recalls being considered, this proposal would be a real win for California emissions, a big win for California jobs, and a historic action to help derail climate change. The bottleneck to the greater availability of zero emissions vehicles is the availability of batteries. There is an urgent need to build more battery factories to increase battery supply, and this proposal would ensure that large battery plant and related investments, with their ensuing local jobs, would be made in the U.S. by VW."

Mars

Mars Colonies and Class Warfare (examiner.com) 414

MarkWhittington writes: An argument about class warfare has broken out over the notion of a commercial Mars colony. It started when Elon Musk, who is said to be planning to retire on the Red Planet, mused that World War III could ruin his plans to settle Mars by destroying the Earth or at least damaging civilization sufficiently that space exploration has to be put off indefinitely, Newsweek, taking up the theme of another sort of planetary disaster, accused Musk and other space-minded billionaires of plotting to abandon the planet to the ravages of global warming while they go to Mars to live the good life.
AI

Is OpenAI Solving the Wrong Problem? (hbr.org) 167

hype7 writes: The Harvard Business Review is running an article looking at the recently announced OpenAI initiative, and its decision to structure the venture as a non-profit. It goes on to ask some pretty provocative questions: why are the 21st century's greatest tech luminaries opting out of the system that made them so successful in order to tackle one of humanity's thorniest problems? "Implicit in this: You can do more good operating outside the bounds of capitalism than within them. Coming from folks who are at the upper echelons of the system, it’s a pretty powerful statement." And, if the underlying system that we all operate in is broken, is creating a vehicle without the profit motive inside of it going to be enough?
AI

Elon Musk, Others Fund $1B Non-Profit To Advance AI Research, Ethics (openai.com) 56

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, The Verge, and many others (including this widely run Reuters story), a heavily backed non-profit group called OpenAI on Friday introduced itself and its utopian-sounding goals of open sourcing a great deal of AI research and, as The Verge puts it, "to stop AI from ruining the world." Elon Musk and Peter Thiel are two of the backers, along with Y-combinator president Sam Altman and other Silicon Valley luminaries, so the group starts out with a war chest big enough to support a wide range of research -- a billion dollars. According to the Wall Street Journal, The idea for OpenAI crystallized last summer as a result of ongoing discussions between Mr. Musk and Mr. Altman over the future of AI. Mr. Musk has warned in the past that the future of the Earth is at risk if AI develops in the wrong ways. Tesla, one of the companies he leads, is adding autonomous capabilities to its cars that require AI technology such as image recognition. ... OpenAI intends to collaborate with the academic and for-profit worlds, but it also wants to give researchers the freedom to pursue lines of enquiry without pressure to achieve an immediate pay-off. “Our focus is not only doing the right thing for today, but also doing the right thing for 50 years from now,” Mr. Brockman said.

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