Watch SpaceX fly its first used rocket for NASA

Today, SpaceX will once again send cargo to the International Space Station for NASA, but this time, the company is employing mostly used hardware for the job. A Falcon 9 rocket that the company previously launched to the ISS in June will loft a used Dragon cargo capsule, filled with supplies and science experiments for the station crew. It’s the first time SpaceX will fly a used rocket for one of its NASA resupply missions.

SpaceX finally started re-flying its used rockets earlier this year, after years of landing the vehicles post-launch. But so far, only a few of the company’s commercial customers have taken the plunge and put their satellites on previously flown Falcon 9 rockets. Now, NASA has signaled that it’s willing to fly on SpaceX’s used vehicles, too — a big endorsement for the company’s reusable rocket technology. Moving forward, NASA says it will make the decision to fly used rockets for resupply missions on a case-by-case basis.

This launch is also a big milestone for SpaceX because of where the mission is taking off from: the company’s launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, SLC-40. The site has been out of commission since last September, after one of SpaceX’s rockets exploded on the pad during a fueling procedure. Since then, the company has worked to rebuild the damaged site and even give it a few upgrades. SpaceX started the bulk of the repairs in February and has spent around $50 million to fix the site up, according to John Muratore, SpaceX’s director at SLC-40. Today’s mission will mark the first time SpaceX has flown from the site since the accident.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at the SLC-40 launch pad, prior to the accident
Image: SpaceX

And now that the pad is back in action, it paves the way for SpaceX to launch the company’s next big rocket, the Falcon Heavy — a larger version of its Falcon 9 that includes three rocket cores. When SLC-40 went offline last year, SpaceX had to rely on its other pad at the Cape, a site called LC-39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, to launch all of its Florida missions. SpaceX ultimately wants to launch the Falcon Heavy from 39A, too, but the pad needed some modifications first in order to accommodate the larger rocket. SpaceX couldn’t fully focus on the upgrades to 39A while repairs were still being done at SLC-40.

Moving forward, the company plans to launch its Falcon 9 missions from SLC-40 and its Falcon Heavy flights from 39A. Earlier this year, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that the first flight of the Falcon Heavy would happen in November, but the demonstration flight has been pushed back to sometime in January now. Meanwhile, SpaceX has just a couple more flights to round out the year, including today’s cargo resupply flight.

This morning’s launch will carry nearly 4,800 pounds of cargo to the ISS. Included on board is a sensor designed to monitor how much space debris is surrounding the station, as well as another sensor that’s supposed to measure how much sunlight reaches the Earth. And as per usual, SpaceX plans to land this Falcon 9 after take off at the company’s ground-based landing site, Landing Zone 1. If successful, it’ll mark the second time this rocket has landed after a flight and the 14th landing for SpaceX this year.

Today’s mission has suffered from a few delays, though. SpaceX was aiming to launch on December 12th, but wound up pushing back until today. The company said it needed more time to investigate particles it had found in part of the rocket’s fuel system. If SpaceX doesn’t end up launching today, then it’ll have to wait until later in December. But so far, weather is looking good for launch, with a 90 percent chance of favorable conditions.

Take off is scheduled for 10:36AM ET, and SpaceX has an instantaneous launch window for this flight, meaning the rocket has to go up at that time or else the mission will be delayed. NASA’s coverage of the flight begins at 10AM ET, while SpaceX’s coverage begins about 20 minutes before launch. Check back later to watch the mission live.

This might be Microsoft’s secret Surface notepad

Microsoft has been rumored to be working on a foldable notepad-like device, much like the company’s Courier concept. A patent from earlier this year provided an outline for such a device, but a new patent has emerged this week with a lot more detail. The patent references a “hinged device,” and has been filed by Microsoft Surface engineers that are responsible for creating various Surface hinges and devices.

The device appears to have two separate screens and sections that fold together or flat, much like Lenovo’s Yoga Book. The images also show how the mysterious device could flip over and be used as a nightstand. While there’s not much detail about software for such a device, Microsoft’s patent filing includes a lot of intricate details around how the hinge works. Microsoft appears to be using gear-like cogs to create this adjustable hinge, allowing the device to hold in different positions.

Several examples of use are provided in the filing, including a user interface that stretches across both displays with a very small gap. A virtual keyboard and trackpad is also show on one section, while the other has a weather broadcast running. Previous reports have suggested Microsoft’s Courier-like device would include two displays that fold over like a book, and a stylus for taking notes. Windows Central previously reported that Microsoft is also reportedly working on a dedicated notebook app for the device, that is said to mimic writing like a real notebook.

None of the patent filing images show a stylus with the device, but the filing does appear to be largely focused on what looks like a unique hinge for such a product. Microsoft’s engineers obsess over hinge details for its range of Surface devices, and the company has created a unique kickstand for the Surface Pro and Surface Studio devices, and a detachable display for the Surface Book.

It’s not clear if such a device will ever make it to market. Microsoft previously toyed with the idea of a Surface Mini, but CEO Satya Nadella canceled the project just weeks before it was due to be unveiled. Surface chief Panos Panay described the canceled device as “awesome” and “like a Moleskine,” and leaked Surface Mini images gave us a closer look at what Microsoft was experimenting with.

In the lead up to Microsoft’s Surface Studio launch, the software maker filed patents for an all-in-one PC that were identical to the hardware it eventually unveiled. If Microsoft is truly preparing to launch a new mobile device, these patent images could be giving us an early look at what it has planned.

Patent images have been edited to remove labels for clarity.

Xbox party chat is coming to Android and iOS

Microsoft has started testing Xbox party chat in the company’s Xbox mobile apps for iOS and Android. The beta Xbox app for Android is available immediately with the party chat support, and you can sign-up to test party chat on iOS using Microsoft’s form.

Party chat inside the Xbox mobile apps lets you voice chat with friends on Xbox Live, similar to the Discord mobile app. It’s a useful feature if you’re not near your console or PC, or even if your headset isn’t working correctly on those devices. Microsoft typically brings beta features to its main Xbox apps within a few months, so it should be available to both the regular iOS and Android apps shortly.

Xbox party chat beta is now available in the Xbox beta app for Android (available in app store) and iOS (sign up for the iOS beta here https://t.co/4jXxF2CQs2)

— Larry Hryb (@majornelson) December 14, 2017

The first phone with an in-screen fingerprint sensor will come from Vivo

Earlier this week, Synaptics announced that it’s cracked the problem of embedding fingerprint sensors into displays and is mass-producing the tech for a “top-five” smartphone vendor. Now we know the identity of that vendor: it’s Vivo.

In a post for Forbes, analyst Patrick Moorhead detailed his experience with a pre-production Vivo phone equipped with the technology. Moorhead describes the sensor as “fast and simple,” while Synaptics claims it’s twice as fast as 3D facial recognition like Apple’s Face ID — though that’d be a hard thing to realistically measure considering the different mechanisms that each system uses in practice.

Here are some pics @anshelsag and I took of the Vivo smartphone with the Synaptics in-display fingerprint reader. The CMOS image sensor is .7mm thick and reads the fingerprint right through the OLED display. The experience was faster than I expected. pic.twitter.com/u1NFpXtFQM

— Patrick Moorhead (@PatrickMoorhead) December 14, 2017

Integrating fingerprint sensors into displays is seen as a way to include convenient biometric authentication on phones with “all-screen” designs. (Apple, of course, abandoned fingerprint sensors altogether with the face-scanning iPhone X.) And however well it works, Vivo’s decision to go with Synaptics seems like a blow to Qualcomm, which has also been working on the tech. Vivo showed off a Qualcomm-powered fingerprint-sensing display prototype earlier this year, but it was said to be noticeably slow.

Vivo might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of major smartphone vendors, but it is one of the world’s biggest phone brands. It was ranked fifth in IDC’s Q1 2017 report, and while it went down to sixth in Q2, you could make the case for bundling it with fourth-placed Oppo since it shares the same parent company, BBK Electronics. Oppo also owns OnePlus, which is a much smaller brand but likely more familiar to Western readers. And Vivo’s recent success in India now sees it ranked third in the country, which Moorhead suggests will return the brand to IDC’s top five.

Watch Blue Origin’s mannequin ride to space and back

Private spaceflight company Blue Origin sent its suborbital New Shepard rocket into space earlier this week, its first test flight in more than a year and another stepping stone in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ space tourism ambitions. Blue Origin, funded by Bezos’ enormous e-commerce fortune, plans to use its New Shepard vehicle to send willing customers to space in early 2019. But that means graduating from unmanned test flights, of which it has done zero this year until the launch from its West Texas facility on Tuesday, to manned flights with test pilots and onward to commercial ones. Blue Origin still hasn’t talked about pricing for its tickets to space.

To test the viability of manned spaceflight aboard New Shepard, Blue Origin sent a mannequin it cleverly calls Mannequin Skywalker aboard the rocket. In a new video released today, viewers can watch the dummy go to space and back over the course of the 11-minute clip. We don’t get a good sense of what the weightlessness looks like, because the mannequin is strapped into its chair. But hopefully we get a better idea of what the ride will be like during future test launches.

Bezos also shared a video on Twitter of the company’s new landing pad robot, which of course it’s calling Blue2D2:

First use of our landing pad bot #Blue2D2. @blueoriginpic.twitter.com/Ht2P7yVwEs

— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) December 15, 2017

This AMOLED button can apparently play GIFs from your jacket

A company called Beam Authentic is asking an important question: why wear a brooch that can only show one look, when you can wear a small AMOLED screen and display GIFs? That might not be a question many have considered or even a thing anyone needs, but Beam is promising a button that can play still and moving images, as well as custom messages, on its 400 x 400 AMOLED screen, as spotted by Android Police.

This smart wearable button has an ambient light, accelerator sensors, and a Micro USB port. It attaches via magnet, so there’s no need to break a hole through your jacket. Beam Authentic also claims the button gets 24 hours of battery life on a single charge.

The device is on sale on the company’s website for $99. If it sounds not only silly, but also too pricey, know that three dollars of the purchase will go toward a charity of choice, between Amnesty International, We.org, or charity: water.

Watch the Democratic FCC commissioners deliver fiery dissenting statements on net neutrality repeal

As expected, the FCC voted today to roll back net neutrality protections, a fateful decision that will shape the future of the internet.

The vote passed the five-commissioner agency on a 3-2 party-line vote. But the two commissioners who dissented — Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, who helped pass net neutrality rules in 2015 — used their opportunity before the vote to deliver statements sharply critical of the FCC’s proposal.

Calling the repeal vote an abdication of responsibility, the statements from Clyburn and Rosenworcel also took aim at the process itself. As Clyburn accused the agency of failing to listen to Americans’ concerns, Rosenworcel went so far as to call the entire process “corrupted.” Both commissioners have also released the text of their statements in full.

Apple adds indoor maps for JFK, LaGuardia, LAX, and other major airports

Apple has added indoor maps of some major airports around the world to its Maps app. Los Angeles International (LAX) airport, London’s Heathrow (LHR), as well as New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) and LaGuardia (LGA) are all now supported in Apple Maps.

This means that when Apple Maps users go to these airports they’ll now see accurate locations of gates, check-in counters, baggage claim, security checkpoints, shops, bathrooms, restaurants, and lounges, all as part of an interactive overall layout — including a 3D view of each airport. The Maps app will even let you ask Siri to direct you to any one of these places inside each airport.

(Apple involves each airport in the process of making these indoor maps, so if you still balk at the idea of using Apple Maps, even though it’s been redesigned over the years, know that this part of the app is at least supposed to be carefully curated.)

Apple’s been adding other major hubs over the last few months. Indoor maps for Chicago’s O’Hare International (ORD) and Midway (MDW) airports were added in October, while support for Hong Kong International (HKG), Berlin (TXL, SXF), Houston (IAH, HOU), and Amsterdam (AMS) was added in November. Apple Maps now supports indoor maps for more than 30 airports, and the company says it will keep rolling them out incrementally. Check out a full list of which ones are supported here.

Tech companies react to the FCC killing net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, has voted to dismantle net neutrality, removing the Title II classification and allowing internet providers free rein to block, throttle, or prioritize content online as they see fit.

Although major tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have been keeping relatively low profiles when it comes to the fight for net neutrality so far, other companies have decided to speak out.

Netflix

We’re disappointed in the decision to gut #NetNeutrality protections that ushered in an unprecedented era of innovation, creativity & civic engagement. This is the beginning of a longer legal battle. Netflix stands w/ innovators, large & small, to oppose this misguided FCC order.

— Netflix US (@netflix) December 14, 2017

Mozilla

Mozilla released a blog post stating that the company is “incredibly disappointed that the FCC voted this morning – along partisan lines – to remove protections for the open internet,” and urged users to turn to Congress and the courts to continue to fight for an open internet.

Google

Google statement on #NetNeutrality repeal. pic.twitter.com/WVgmswBCJW

— Mark Bergen (@mhbergen) December 14, 2017

Twitter

The @FCC‘s vote to gut #NetNeutrality rules is a body blow to innovation and free expression. We will continue our fight to defend the open Internet and reverse this misguided decision. https://t.co/TXTQWDiBNC

— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) December 14, 2017

Creedo Mobile

Creedo Mobile, an MNVO based in San Francisco that runs off of Verizon’s network, released a statement from CEO Ray Morris that condemned the repeal of net neutrality as a “reckless decision [that] will threaten the next generation of innovative companies and technologies, and even more importantly it will limit the internet as a platform for free speech and civil engagement.”

Apple considers a whispering Siri function

You might one day be able to whisper to Siri and have the assistant whisper back. Apple is considering that possibility, as described in a patent application first spotted by Gizmodo. That’s great news for anyone who likes to pretend they’re on the phone but are really just talking to Siri. Oh wait, that’s probably just me.

Apple filed for the patent in 2016, but it was only made public today. It specifies “a digital assistant that is capable of detecting a whispered speech input and providing a whispered speech response.” The patent application says Siri may normally “respond in a regular or loud voice, which may be undesired under certain circumstances where a whispered response is more appropriate.” Apple then gives a few examples of when this would be useful, including at the library or in an office cubicle or just to protect privacy.

A Siri-enabled device like an iPhone or Apple Watch would measure an audio input’s amplitude and frequency patterns to determine if a user is whispering, according to the filing.

Although companies like Apple and Samsung often file for patents that never actually become a product, this whispering feature would be useful for the times when you forget to lower the volume of your iPhone and it blasts Siri’s voice across the room.