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Power

Tesla's Creepy 'Solid Metal Snake' Robotic Charger Slithers Its Way Into Model S 109

bigwophh writes: Last year, Elon Musk hinted at a new product that Tesla Motors was working on in its research lab. What Musk described seemed creepy at the time, especially considering that he had just recently shown off "The D" at an evening press event. "By the way, we are actually working on a charger that automatically moves out from the wall and connects like a solid metal snake," said Musk. We didn't think much else about this intriguing contraption given the precious little details that Musk provided at the time. But fast forward seven months and we now have video of the serpent-like charger in action.
The Media

Tech's Enduring Great-Man Myth 273

An anonymous reader writes: Did Steve Jobs deserve his reputation as a brilliant inventor? Since Jobs's death in 2011, Elon Musk has been thrust into the spotlight as a man who can shake the pillars of tech. Does he deserve that reputation? MIT's Technology Review argues that media and the industry have a habit of making legends out of notable leaders, while failing to acknowledge all the support that allowed them to execute their ideas. From the article: "Musk's success would not have been possible without, among other things, government funding for basic research and subsidies for electric cars and solar panels. Above all, he has benefited from a long series of innovations in batteries, solar cells, and space travel." While it may be fun to compare him to Iron Man, the myth has its perils: "The problem with such portrayals is not merely that they are inaccurate and unfair to the many contributors to new technologies. By warping the popular understanding of how technologies develop, great-man myths threaten to undermine the structure that is actually necessary for future innovations."
AI

Answering Elon Musk On the Dangers of Artificial Intelligence 262

Lasrick points out a rebuttal by Stanford's Edward Moore Geist of claims that have led the recent panic over superintelligent machines. From the linked piece: Superintelligence is propounding a solution that will not work to a problem that probably does not exist, but Bostrom and Musk are right that now is the time to take the ethical and policy implications of artificial intelligence seriously. The extraordinary claim that machines can become so intelligent as to gain demonic powers requires extraordinary evidence, particularly since artificial intelligence (AI) researchers have struggled to create machines that show much evidence of intelligence at all.
Transportation

Are We Reaching the Electric Car Tipping Point? 904

HughPickens.com writes: Geoff Ralston has an interesting essay explaining why it is likely that electric car penetration in the U.S. will take off at an exponential rate over the next 5-10 years rendering laughable the paltry predictions of future electric car sales being made today. Present projections assume that electric car sales will slowly increase as the technology gets marginally better, and as more and more customers choose to forsake a better product (the gasoline car) for a worse, yet "greener" version. According to Ralston this view of the future is, simply, wrong. — electric cars will take over our roads because consumers will demand them. "Electric cars will be better than any alternative, including the loud, inconvenient, gas-powered jalopy," says Ralston. "The Tesla Model S has demonstrated that a well made, well designed electric car is far superior to anything else on the road. This has changed everything."

The Tesla Model S has sold so well because, compared to old-fashioned gasoline cars it is more fun to drive, quieter, always "full" every morning, more roomy, and it continuously gets better with automatic updates and software improvements. According to Ralston the tipping point will come when gas stations, not a massively profitable business, start to go out of business as many more electric cars are sold, making gasoline powered vehicles even more inconvenient. When that happens even more gasoline car owners will be convinced to switch. Rapidly a tipping point will be reached, at which point finding a convenient gas station will be nearly impossible and owning a gasoline powered car will positively suck. "Elon Musk has ushered in the age of the electric car, and whether or not it, too, was inevitable, it has certainly begun," concludes Ralston. "The future of automotive transportation is an electric one and you can expect that future to be here soon."
AI

Musk, Woz, Hawking, and Robotics/AI Experts Urge Ban On Autonomous Weapons 313

An anonymous reader writes: An open letter published by the Future of Life Institute urges governments to ban offensive autonomous weaponry. The letter is signed by high profile leaders in the science community and tech industry, such as Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, Noam Chomsky, and Frank Wilczek. It's also signed — more importantly — by literally hundreds of expert researchers in robotics and AI. They say, "The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting. If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow. Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce."
Mars

Interviews: Shaun Moss Answers Your Questions About Mars and Space Exploration 48

Recently the founder of the Mars Settlement Research Organization and author of The International Mars Research Station Shaun Moss agreed to sit down and answer any questions you had about space exploration and colonizing Mars. Below you will find his answers to your questions.
Space

Elon Musk: Faulty Strut May Have Led To Falcon 9 Launch Failure 220

garyisabusyguy writes: This Forbes article provides the best analysis of the loss of the last Falcon 9 mission based on information released by Elon Musk to reporters. Highlights include:
  • 1. Sound triangulation led them to identify a strut holding helium tank as root cause where the falling helium tank pinched a line causing overpressure in the LOX tank.
  • 2. The failure occurred at 2,000 pounds of force, and the struts were rated at 10,000 pounds of force. They initially dismissed this as a cause until sounds triangulation pointed back to the strut
  • 3. Further testing of struts in stock found one that failed at 2,000 pounds of force, with further analysis identifying poor grain structure in the metal, which caused weakness
  • 4. It will be months before the next launch while SpaceX goes over procurement and QA processes all struts and bolts, and re-assesses any "near misses" with Air Force and NASA
  • 5. Next launch will include failure mode software, which will allow recovery of the Dragon module during loss of the launch vehicle since they determined that it could have saved the Dragon module in this lost mission

.

Mars

Does Elon Musk's Hyperloop Make More Sense On Mars? 143

An anonymous reader writes: Elon Musk's Hyperloop project has its challenges in places that have air. But in places with little air and no fossil fuels, where you can't fly and there's little drag, it makes a lot more sense. Post-doc researcher Leon Vanstone thinks the Hyperloop may have more of a future on Mars than here on Earth. He says, "Conservative cost estimates for building a single Hyperloop track from Los Angeles to San Francisco come in at US$6 billion. Taking the technology nationwide would cost hundreds of billions of dollars more. When you consider that normal, boring airplanes already travel at about 500-600 mph – about two-thirds as fast as the Hyperloop’s predicted speed – you might begin to wonder if an extra 200 mph is enough of a payoff for those hundreds of billions of dollars. ... Well, Elon Musk is no idiot, and he certainly has the money to hire some of the best and the brightest. ... A high-speed, safe, self-powered transportation system will be vital to connect Martian settlements – likely to be few in number and separated by large distances."
Businesses

Silicon Valley Is Filling Up With Ex-Obama Staffers 211

HughPickens.com writes: Edward-Isaac Dovere reports in Politico that the fastest-growing chapter of the Obama alumni association is in Silicon Valley. For the people who helped get Obama elected and worked for him once he did, there's something about San Francisco and its environs that just feels right: the emphasis on youth and trying things that might fail, chasing that feeling of working for the underdog, and even using that word "disrupting" to describe what they do. "A lot of people who moved out here were present at the creation of the Obama '08 campaign," says Tommy Vietor. "There's a piece of them that wants to replicate that." Vietor left the White House two years ago, and he and his business partner, former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, founded a communications strategy firm with a focus on speechwriting for tech and other start-ups. "If you're writing for a CEO out here, they're more likely to be your peer than your grandfather," says Vietor. "They're young, they're cool, they get it."

Other former Obama staffers who have come to Silicon Valley include former campaign manager and White House adviser David Plouffe at Uber, Kyle O'Connor at Nest, Semonti Stephens at Twitter; Mike Masserman, at Lyft; Brandon Lepow at Facebook; Nicole Isaac, at LinkedIn; Liz Jarvis-Shean at Civis; Jim Green and Vivek Kundra at Salesforce, Alex McPhillips at Google; Gillian Bergeron, at NextDoor; Natalie Foster at the Institute for the Future; Catherine Bracy at Code for America; Hallie Montoya Tansey at Target Labs. Nick Papas, John Baldo, Courtney O'Donnell and Clark Stevens at AirBnB, and Jessica Santillo at Uber.

There are so many former Obama staffers in the Bay Area that a recent visit by former White House senior adviser David Axelrod served as a reunion of sorts, with more than a dozen campaign and White House veterans gathering over lunch to discuss life after the administration. Obama himself rarely misses an opportunity to come to San Francisco. He says he loves the energy there, loves the people and according to Dovere, the city's ultra-liberal leanings mean he was greeted as a rock star even during the dark days before last year's midterms. Obama's even become friendly with Elon Musk. "There should be a welcome booth at the SFO airport," says Jon Carson, the former Organizing for Action executive director now at SolarCity.
ISS

A Failure For SpaceX: Falcon 9 Explodes During Ascension 316

MouseR writes with bad news about this morning's SpaceX launch: About 2:19 into its flight, Falcon 9 exploded along stage 2 and the Dragon capsule, before even the stage 1 separation. Telemetry and videos are inconclusive, without further analysis as to what went wrong. Everything was green lights. This is a catastrophe for SpaceX, which enjoyed, until now, a perfect launch record. TechCrunch has coverage of the failure, which of course also means that today's planned stage one return attempt has failed before it could start; watch this space for more links. Update: 06/28 15:06 GMT by T : See also stories at NBC News, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press (via ABC News). According to the Washington Post, what was a catastrophe for this morning's launch is only a setback for the ISS and its crew, rather than a disaster: A NASA slide from an April presentation said that with current food levels, the space station would reach what NASA calls “reserve level” on July 24 and run out by Sept. 5, according to SpaceNews. [NASA spokeswoman Stephanie] Schierholz said, however, that the supplies would last until the fall, although she could not provide a precise date. Even if something were to go wrong with the SpaceX flight, she said, there are eight more scheduled this year, including several this summer, “so there are plenty of ways to ensure the station continues to be well-supplied.” Of note: One bit of cargo that was aboard the SpaceX craft was a Microsoft Hololens; hopefully another will make it onto one of the upcoming supply runs instead.

Elon Musk has posted a note on the company's Twitter channel: "Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown. Will provide more info as soon as we review the data."
Transportation

University Students Made a Working Model Hyperloop 154

derekmead writes: Elon Musk's Hyperloop gets people excited. Promise the ability to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than an hour, and you're going to get people salivating. But for as much as we've heard about it, we've had scarcely little to see—until a team of students at the University of Illinois decided to build their very own miniature hyperloop.

Mechanical engineering students at the university built a functioning 1:24 scale model of the Hyperloop, a "fourth mode of transportation" that sends pods through a partially pressurized tube at very high speeds, as part of a senior design project. It was designed to test some of the key components of Musk's design, which was outlined in a much-read, open source whitepaper (PDF) published in August of 2013. That said, there are several key differences, which keep this from truly being a proof-of-concept as to whether or not the Hyperloop will ultimately work.
Mars

Elon Musk Probably Won't Be the First Martian 169

pacopico writes: In a new biography on him, Elon Musk goes into gory details on his plans for colonizing Mars. The author of the book subsequently decided to run those plans by Andy Weir, the author of The Martian. Weir's book is famous for its technical acumen around getting to and from The Red Planet. His conclusion is that Musk's technology, which includes the biggest rocket ever built, is feasible — but that Musk will not be the first man on Mars. The interview also hits on the future of NASA and what we need to get to Mars. Good stuff. Weir says, "My estimate is that this will happen in 2050. NASA is saying more like 2035, but I don't have faith in Congress to fund them."
Transportation

SpaceX Is Building a Hyperloop Test Track 124

Jason Koebler reports that SpaceX is building a small-scale version of Elon Musk's hyperloop transport tube system, which can move cargo and people at speeds over 700 mph. The test track will be approximately one mile long, and its inner diameter will be between four and five feet. But while SpaceX is building the track, it's not going into full development mode. Instead, the company is turning it into a competition. Other organizations will be invited to build pods — the containers that move through the tubes — and test them inside the track. They say the competition will be geared toward university students and independent engineering teams. SpaceX expects the testing to happen next June, and they've published a document with details on the competition. They add, "The knowledge gained here will continue to be open-sourced."
Apple

Woz To Be Immortalized In Wax 72

mikejuk writes: Having already made wax figures of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, the Madame Tussauds museum recently put out a call for nominations for who should be next, with the stipulation that the nominees have a connection with the Bay Area. The shortlist was then whittled down to ten, including Google co-founder Larry Page, Tesla's Elon Musk, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo. Any of them would look great as wax figures, but outcome of the public vote was a clear winner — Steve Wozniak. Once his statue is complete Woz will be on display next to Steve Jobs in San Francisco and an ideal setting for a selfie.
Businesses

How Does Musk's Government Funding Compare To Competitors? 216

Rei writes: We recently discussed an article in the LA Times complaining about how Elon Musk has built his corporate empires — Solar City, Tesla Motors and SpaceX — on the back of government subsidies. However, how does the funding compare in context to various competitors? USC professor Greg Autry breaks it down, noting among other things that SpaceX's competitors have benefited from decades of tremendous government money and a launch monopoly, while the Volt receives — on a percentage basis — 2 1/2 times greater subsidy than a Model S, and was developed on the government's dime.
Space

SpaceX Applies To Test Internet Service Satellites 50

lpress writes: Elon Musk's SpaceX and Greg Wyler's OneWeb both hope to provide global Internet access using constellations of low-Earth orbit satellites. Neither company plans to be in operation for several years, but Musk's SpaceX is ready to test two satellites. They have applied for permission to launch two satellites that will orbit at 625 km. Time reports: "The application describes two satellites, the first of up to eight trial satellites that are each expected to last up to 12 months. The satellites will likely be built using the $1 billion that SpaceX raised mostly from Google earlier this year. For these first tests, the launch location will likely be Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast rather than Cape Canaveral in Florida, according to the orbital parameters in the application."
Businesses

How Elon Musk's Growing Empire is Fueled By Government Subsidies 356

theodp writes: By the Los Angeles Times' reckoning, Elon Musk's Tesla Motors, SolarCity, and SpaceX together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support. The figure compiled by The Times, explains reporter Jerry Hirsch, comprises a variety of government incentives, including grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits that Tesla can sell. It also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels and electric cars. "He definitely goes where there is government money," said an equity research analyst. "Musk and his companies' investors enjoy most of the financial upside of the government support, while taxpayers shoulder the cost," Hirsch adds. "The payoff for the public would come in the form of major pollution reductions, but only if solar panels and electric cars break through as viable mass-market products. For now, both remain niche products for mostly well-heeled customers." And as Musk moves into a new industry — battery-based home energy storage — Hirsch notes Tesla has already secured a commitment of $126 million in California subsidies to companies developing energy storage technology.
Education

Elon Musk Establishes a Grade School 234

HughPickens.com writes with news that Elon Musk has established "Ad Astra," a small, private school for grade-school-age kids. His goal for the school is to eliminate actual differences between the grades. The school had only 14 students for the past year, but will likely expand to 20 next September. Musk says, "It's important to teach problem solving, or teach to the problem and not the tools." As an example, he says teaching kids about tools should be more about taking an engine apart and learning about neccessary tools as the need arises, rather than just dumping information on them about a bunch of tools in an abstract way. "Musk's approach to delete grade level numbers and focus on aptitude may take the pressure off non-linear students and creates a more balanced assessment of ingenuity."
AI

What AI Experts Think About the Existential Risk of AI 421

DaveS7 writes: There's been no shortage of high profile people weighing in on the subject of AI lately. We've heard warnings from Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking while Woz seems to have a more ambivalent opinion on the subject. The Epoch Times has compiled a list of academics in the field of AI research who are offering their own opinions. From the article: "A 2014 survey conducted by Vincent Müller and Nick Bostrom of 170 of the leading experts in the field found that a full 18 percent believe that if a machine super-intelligence did emerge, it would unleash an 'existential catastrophe' on humanity. A further 13 percent said that advanced AI would be a net negative for humans, and only a slight majority said it would be a net positive."