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Lori Garver Claims That NASA Is 'Wary' of Elon Musk's Mars Plans ( 46

MarkWhittington writes: Ars Technica reports that former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver claimed, during a panel discussion at the Council for Foreign Relations, that many at NASA are "wary" of the Mars ambitions of SpaceX's Elon Musk. While the space agency has yielded low Earth operations to the commercial sector as part of the commercial crew program, it reserves for itself deep space exploration. Garver herself disagrees with that sentiment: "I thought, fundamentally, you just don’t understand. We’re not in a race in a swimming pool where everyone is racing against one another. We're in a cycling race where the government is riding point and the others are drafting behind us, and if someone comes alongside us and can pass us because they’ve found a better way, we don’t get out our tire pump and stick it between their spokes."

When Does School Life Begin? Zuckerberg's New School To Admit Fetuses 170

theodp writes: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan's latest initiative to tackle educational inequity is The Primary School, a "private, non-profit school" which will eventually provide both free education and free healthcare for 700 low-income students from the Palo Alto area. "In addition to early childhood and K-12 education," Zuckerberg explained in a Facebook post, "The Primary School will also provide prenatal support for families and on-site healthcare for children. By bringing healthcare and education together in one place, the goal is to support families and help children from underserved communities reach their full potential." A job listing for Assistant Teachers notes that "the school will admit students at or before birth." Zuckerberg joins other Silicon Valley luminaries like Elon Musk and Sal Khan in what Wired calls The Tech Elite's Quest to Reinvent School in Its Own Image.

Functioning Hoverboard Unveiled ( 55

An anonymous reader writes: Last year, a company called Arx Pax set up a Kickstarter campaign to develop a functioning hoverboard. Now, the company has demonstrated an updated version of the device, which is fully capable of hovering over a surface made out of conductive metal (video on YouTube). CEO Greg Henderson said, "The hover engine creates a primary magnetic field which is then put over a candidate surface like aluminum or copper. The hover engine then creates swirls of electricity and those create a secondary magnetic field, which propels the firsts." The device is expensive; Arx Pax is delivering a handful of units to Kickstarter backers who contributed $10,000. It's out of the reach of typical consumers, but it does seem to work. Plus, the company is sharing their magnetic field technology with teams taking part in the competition to build pods for a prototype of Elon Musk's Hyperloop vacuum tube transportation system.

Elon Musk Predicts 1,000km EV Range In Two Years, Autonomous Cars In Three 398

An anonymous reader writes: Speaking with a Danish TV show, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made a couple of interesting statements about Tesla's future. The company's Model S sedan advertises a range of 200-300 miles (322-483 km) depending on variant, average speed, and tires. Musk says the company will produce an electric vehicle capable of breaking the 1,000km (621 mi) mark by "2017 for sure." Later, Musk went even further, saying he expected "full autonomy" for Tesla vehicles to arrive in "approximately three years." He doesn't expect them to be legal at that point, as regulations will take time to catch up.
The Internet

A More Down-To-Earth Way To Bring the Internet To the Rest of the World 60

An anonymous reader writes: Elon Musk wants to bring the internet to less-developed countries using satellites. Facebook wants to use drones. Google's betting on balloons. These crazy high-tech solutions are interesting, but are they really needed? Mark Summer doesn't think so. His company focuses on building out internet infrastructure the old fashioned way: trenching pipes, raising cell towers, and getting local governments to lease what they've already installed. "A major problem in emerging countries is that when Internet access is available, it's often expensive. That's due in part to a lack of competition among providers ... While the costs of terrestrial Internet connections are high, they're relatively predictable. And the business model is proven around the world."

Elon Musk's Latest Idea: Let's Nuke Mars 261

KindMind writes: The Register reports that Elon Musk, in an appearance on the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, said that to begin with, human residents on the red planet would need to live in "transparent domes." Before a move to more hospitable habitats, one needs only "to warm it up" and Musk thinks there's a fast way and a slow way to do that. The fast way "is drop thermonuclear weapons over the poles" and the slow way "is to release greenhouse gases, like we are doing on Earth."
The Internet

Connecting the Unwired World With Balloons, Satellites, Lasers & Drones 15

1sockchuck writes: New projects are seeking to connect the unwired world using balloons, drones, lasers and satellites to deliver wireless Internet. There are dueling low-earth orbit satellite initiatives backed by billionaires Elon Musk (SpaceX) and Richard Branson (OneWeb), while Google's Project Loon is using balloons (which sometimes crash) and Facebook is building a solar-powered UAV (Project Aquila). “The Connectivity Lab team is very focused on the technical challenges of reaching those people who are typically in the more rural, unconnected parts of the world,” Jay Parikh, vice president of engineering at Facebook says. “I think that we need to get them access. My hope is that we are able to deliver a very rich experience to them, including videos, photos and—some day—virtual reality and all of that stuff. But it’s a multi-, multi-, multi-year challenge, and I don’t see any end in sight right now.”
The Almighty Buck

Ask Slashdot: What Would You Do If You Were Suddenly Wealthy? 842

An anonymous reader writes: There are a few articles floating around today about comments from Markus Persson, aka "Notch," the creator of Minecraft. He sold his game studio to Microsoft last year for $2.5 billion, but he seems to be having a hard time adjusting to his newfound fame and wealth. He wrote, "The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance. ... Found a great girl, but she's afraid of me and my life style and went with a normal person instead. I would Musk and try to save the world, but that just exposes me to the same type of a$#@%&*s that made me sell minecraft again." While he later suggests he was just having a bad day, he does seem to be dealing with some isolation issues. Granted, it can be hard to feel sorry for a billionaire, but I've wondered at times how I'd handle sudden wealth like that, and I long ago decided it would make the human relationships I'm accustomed to rather difficult. So, how would you deal with Notch's problem? It seems like one the tech industry should at least be aware of, given the focus on startup culture.

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."

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.

Are We Reaching the Electric Car Tipping Point? 904 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."

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."

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



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."

Silicon Valley Is Filling Up With Ex-Obama Staffers 211 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.

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."

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.