Klaus Grohmann, founder of the German firm Grohmann Engineering which specializes in automated manufacturing acquired by Tesla late last year, was just ousted after clashing with the electric carmaker’s CEO, Elon Musk, Reuters is reporting.
Grohmann reportedly disagreed with Musk over how to handle his firm’s legacy clients, according to the news wire, which included Tesla competitors like Daimler (parent company of Mercedes-Benz) and BMW. Musk wanted the German manufacturing facility to focus solely on building Tesla vehicles.
It was only six months ago that Tesla acquired Grohmann Engineering, with the firm’s founder agreeing to head a new division within the automaker called Tesla Advanced Automation Germany. The acquisition was the linchpin in Tesla’s plan to add an additional 1,000 engineering and technician jobs in Germany, on top of Grohmann’s existing 700 employees, over the next two years. This was to happen parallel with the company’s aggressive plans to ramp up electrical vehicle production at its Fremont, California, factory. Tesla has stated its goal is to produce 500,000 vehicles by 2018.
Before the acquisition, Grohmann worked with a number of other automotive manufacturers, as well as semiconductor and life science companies. At the time, Tesla said Grohmann would continue to work with outside clients, including those in the automotive industry. But over time, those directives apparently changed, leading to Grohmann’s ousting.
A spokesperson for Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But in a statement to Reuters, a spokesperson praised Grohmann Engineering as “an incredible company,” and said Tesla’s plans to expand its manufacturing operation in Germany would not be affected by his departure.
Acer announced a lot of new products today: powerful gaming laptops, fancy monitors to go with them, and even a 360-degree camera that can make voice calls. One item on that list was the Leap Ware smartwatch. Now, I don’t want to be mean without giving this thing a fair shot, but my initial impressions weren’t the best. The watch’s proprietary software felt sluggish, the display is fairly dim and difficult to read, and the design itself won’t appeal to everyone. But the Leap Ware does have at least one clever trick in its feature set: there’s an LED flashlight built in.
The product demo tables were outside in the Manhattan daylight, so I couldn’t get a good sense of how bright the LED gets in the dark. Acer says it’s good for things “like unlocking your front door late at night” and can be used as a safety measure if you’re running outside at night. But integrating a flashlight inside at least some wearables is an idea I can get behind. Sure, there are practicality obstacles. Smartwatch batteries are tiny. What if you wear your watch on your right wrist?
And yes, pretty much every smartphone has this function nowadays, but you don’t always have your phone in your hand or in your pocket when you need a quick beam of light to help find something — like last night when I was lying on the floor trying to find my Apple TV remote underneath the couch. I’m not sure Acer’s watch flashlight would’ve been powerful enough to illuminate the abyss down there, but I like the idea. It could work in tighter spaces, and I’d probably use the thing more often than I’d make calls from my wrist. There’s potential, even if we only reserve this feature for the wearables that own their ugliness.
The guy, maybe Jerry, over at the JerryRigEverything YouTube channel isn’t afraid to take screwdrivers, heat guns, and paint thinner to his smartphones. In a video uploaded today, he takes his new Samsung Galaxy S8, scrapes the paint off, and turns it into a fully transparent device. It looks super cool and reminds me of both the see-through Game Boy and those transparent home phones.
To get the device to be transparent, JerryRigEverything pries the glass backing off the phone using heat and a special tool. Once off, he uses an epoxy paint remover to take off the coloring. While this would have been sufficient enough for most people, the guy at JerryRigEverything wanted to go even further. The NFC chip for wireless charging blocks the pretty inside guts, so he removes it by taking out 14 screws. It’s dicey, but he succeeds and is able to secure the backing with double-sided tape. The phone just can’t be wirelessly charged and isn’t waterproof anymore.
You can watch the entire process — which apparently took less than an hour — below. I wouldn’t recommend doing this at home unless you’re oddly adept at using razor blades and don’t care if your fancy new phone is destroyed.
If you want to show the common link between iPhones, iPads, Samsung Galaxy devices, and Google Pixels, you’ll find it in the underlying CPU technology that they’re all based on. ARM is the company, recently acquired by SoftBank for an immense $31 billion, quietly residing at the heart of the mobile revolution, designing the processors and graphics systems that go into our most-desired devices. This week ARM has expanded its portfolio to also include image signal processors (ISPs), which is the first major product from its year-old Imaging and Vision Group and a major foray into pushing mobile camera technology forward.
I met with ARM this week and was given an introduction to the new ISP product, which makes its debut in the Mali-C71 (“C” for “camera”) intended for automotive applications. Steve Steele, one of the leading figures of ARM’s IVG, wasn’t shy about setting high expectations: “We do feel, genuinely, that our ISP is the best that’s available.” Having experienced the recent marvels produced by Google’s image processing and knowing Apple’s traditional strength in this field, I reminded him of both and he remained resolute in his assertion. The best image processing. From the company that sets the agenda for all processing in mobile devices. I couldn’t resist being thrilled by that prospect.
Every mobile device with a camera today has an ISP — it’s the visual equivalent of analog-to-digital converters in audio, taking the raw photonic data gathered up by an image sensor and turning it into something that can be usefully displayed on the device, or encoded into a familiar format for sharing, or even sent to a computer vision subsystem that can recognize objects in the frame. Each of those tasks has unique requirements, but it’s adequate to just understand the basic components here: a digital camera uses a lens to focus light onto a sensor, and then an ISP to turn whatever the sensor spits out into a (hopefully accurate) representation of the scene in a digital format. The problem with all of that? Even with a great amount of competition out there, most ISPs are actually quite terrible.
Think of all the Chinese smartphone makers that proudly proclaim they have Sony’s latest and greatest imaging sensor. They tell you the exact model name of the sensor, and they usually accompany it with an exploded view of their multi-lens array. It’s impressive engineering, to be sure, but then you get the phone in your hands and you find that, strangely, the pictures aren’t quite as awesome as the undoubtedly excellent Sony hardware would lead you to expect. That’s where the ISP disadvantage rears its head. Meizu, Huawei, Xiaomi, and their ilk don’t have the years of research and development that industry leaders like Apple and Samsung have poured into their imaging pipelines. They can get great optics and sensors, but not a great ISP.
ARM’s ISP exists specifically to address that weakness of the mobile market. Its Mali-C71 iteration targets autonomous cars and all the situational awareness they need to achieve through imaging, so it’s a little overpowered for smartphones, but the company tells me that its mobile solution is already released to silicon partners and we can expect it to become official some time over the next few months.
In terms of integration into a mobile chip, the ISP is little different to ARM’s GPU designs. A silicon vendor licenses the intellectual property from ARM and then works to integrate the ISP into its system-on-a-chip design, which would also include the various CPU and GPU cores as well as power management and other integrated parts. Then a smartphone maker can just order an all-in-one solution to build a new smartphone or tablet device around: CPU, GPU, and ISP all nicely tucked into the same chip.
Qualcomm is one of ARM’s silicon partners that already offers such a solution, but I haven’t been hugely impressed by the implementations of it that I’ve seen out on the market. ARM’s lofty promise to be the absolute best, allied to its history of sober business decisions and avoidance of overstatement, makes me hopeful for what this new development might deliver.
Just look at the multiplicity of steps involved in capturing a single image. ARM’s ISP puts the image sensor’s data through 15 stages of refinement and correction: de-noising, dead pixel correction, de-mosaicing, tone mapping, white balance, color space conversion, gamma correction, sharpening, and then final adjustments to account for whether you want to show the image on the device’s own display or export it elsewhere. A smartphone vendor that buys a chip with this ISP built in is essentially outsourcing all of that complex work and making the task of engineering a new device much simpler. They’ll still be able to tune the ISP to their liking, so there’s no danger of every camera churning out the same imagery anytime soon, and ARM recommends that each company spends at least two months doing exactly that.
For a fuller breakdown of the geeky details of the Mali-C71, I recommend reading ARM’s blog post on the subject as well as AnandTech’s comprehensive coverage. The two provide a solid grounding in the technical aspects of this, but I keep returning to the simple promise that’s embedded in this new technology: better image processing from chips that will be available to all, not just an exclusive few. Phone cameras have consistently lagged behind display technology and industrial design, both of which have grown to be amazing even on mid-range devices, but this new ISP tech promises to bring them up to parity in a hurry.
The Chronicles of Narnia film series is getting another shot at life. Variety is reporting that Captain America director Joe Johnston has been tapped to direct an adaptation of The Silver Chair, the fourth book in the series by C.S. Lewis.
Once complete, it’ll mark the latest attempt to revitalize the film series. While the franchise has enjoyed modest success at the box office (in total, it’s grossed $1.6 billion over the three films), it has yet to share in the enormous successes of other blockbuster fantasy adaptations, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potterfranchise.
As a result, the series has changed hands several times: Andrew Adamson directed the first two installments of the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, with Disney and Walden Entertainment in 2005 and 2008, respectively. Due to the relatively poor outing of Prince Caspian, Disney dropped the franchise, and a third adaptation, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, was directed by Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough) in 2010, with Walden Media and Dune Entertainment. That film was also a box office disappointment, and Walden Media let its film rights expire in 2011. As a result of that, this film will have an entirely new creative team working on it under Sony’s TriStar Productions; it is being considered a “reboot” of the franchise.
This should be made easier by the fact that Lewis’ The Silver Chair is somewhat removed from its predecessors. Set decades later in Narnia, the story follows a cousin of the Pevensie children, Eustace Scrubb, and a classmate, Jill Pole, who have been sent back to Narnia by Aslan the Lion to help locate the son and heir of King Caspian X, who has gone missing. The new set of characters and distance from the original three films could certainly help the studio relaunch the series for another attempt. Should it be a success, three additional novels remain in the series for potential adaptations: The House and his Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle.
Master & Dynamic is known for its high-end headphones. Leica is known for its high-end cameras. Now, the two are coming together to collaborate on some limited-edition Master & Dynamic headphones with Leica-themed designs.
The new “Master & Dynamic for 0.95” collection, as it’s known, takes Leica’s Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH camera lens as inspiration and applies the all-black color scheme and famed Leica red dot to Master & Dynamic’s MW60, MH40, and ME05 headphones, along with a matching black steel MP1000 headphone stand. Additionally, the inside of the ear pads on the MW60 and MH40 over-ear headphones will be similarly shaded in Leica red. And along with the black-and-red color scheme, the 0.95 collection also features ridges on the ear cups that are intended to echo the ridges on Leica’s lenses.
The changes to the headphones are purely cosmetic here — there’s no talk of retuning the acoustics for Leica’s specific specifications or design that you sometimes see on branded headphones like this. That said, much like Leica’s cameras, the black-and-red colorway remains an incredibly good-looking combination that suites Master & Dynamic’s headphones quite nicely.
Master & Dynamic and Leica are also pricing the 0.95 variants exactly the same as the company’s standard color options: $549 for the over-ear, noise-canceling MW60s; $399 for the MH40s; $199 for the in-ear ME05s; and $59 for the MP1000 stand. Again, there’s little reason to upgrade if you already have a pair of Master & Dynamic’s headphones, unless you really like the Leica aesthetic. But if you’re looking to pick up a new pair, the Leica-themed variant won’t cost you extra.
Simulated Mars soil can be packed together into a solid brick-like material — without needing any added ingredients to hold it together. That might mean real Martian soil could be easily used as a tool for building structures like habitats on the Red Planet’s surface, which could make human missions to Mars less complicated to pull off.
A group of engineers figured this out by using a high-pressure hammer to mash together material known as Mars soil simulant. It’s a collection of rocks from Earth that have the same chemical makeup as the dirt found on Mars, as well as grains that are of a similar shape and size as Martian grains. After working with the material for a while, the engineers found that just adding the right amount of pressure was enough to form the soil into tiny, stiff blocks — stronger than steel-reinforced concrete.
That’s not how we Earthlings make most of our construction materials. Typically, particles have to be mixed with a special type of adhesive, or binder, in order to stay rigid. The binder acts a bit like glue, holding the materials together and keeping them in a fixed shape. But the simulated Martian soil contains a special chemical ingredient that acts like its own innate binder. “It gives the soil strength when it’s compacted,” Yu Qiao, a structural engineer at University of California, San Diego, and the lead researcher on a NASA-funded study about this technique, tells The Verge.
Of course, simulated Mars soil is just that — simulated, and so its properties may not necessarily translate to real Martian dirt. But if they do, it’s good news for anyone dreaming of seeing people on Mars someday, since many experts agree that future Martian astronauts will have to use resources already on the Red Planet. People are going to need a lot of equipment to live on Mars and launching everything from Earth can get expensive and complicated. The more astronauts can “life off the land,” the less people have to rely on shipped materials. And these latest findings, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, suggest some buildings and structures could be made with Martian soil instead of Earth materials — and not much effort may be required.
“It’s really easy to swing a hammer on Mars,” Jon Rask, a life sciences expert at NASA who was not involved with the study, tells The Verge. “You can imagine a Mars explorer swinging a hammer to make strong building blocks.”
Before doing this study, Qiao and his team had actually been looking at ways to turn simulated lunar soil into building material — back when NASA was planning a return to the Moon. Unlike Mars dirt, lunar soil needs a binder to stick together, but the team wanted to come up with a way to use as little as possible. (The more binder you need, the more that has to be shipped up from Earth.) Typically, construction materials are made up of about 15 percent binder, according to Qiao. But through different compression techniques, the team was able to get the binder content down to 3 percent, while still making a strong lunar-based material.
Then in 2010, NASA shifted its focus from the Moon to Mars — so the team shifted its focus as well. “Our initial thought was: let’s borrow the success of lunar soil and see if it works on Martian soil,” says Qiao. And at first, that same compression process worked perfectly for the Mars soil simulant. Qiao and his team tried packing the dirt together with 6 percent binder, and immediately it worked great. So they decided to test the boundaries of what the soil could do and continued to pack the dirt together using less and less of the binder. “Then one day, I told my research assistant, let’s just compact the soil simulant itself,” Qiao says. “And it still worked.”
That made the researchers think there is some ingredient already in the Martian soil that helps it to stick together. They ultimately landed on iron oxide — a chemical compound that gives Martian soil its signature red color. When iron oxide is crushed, it can crack easily, forming fractures with very clean and flat surfaces, according to Qiao. And when these surfaces are firmly pressed together, they form super strong bonds.
Ultimately, Qiao envisions using Mars soil to build habitats or landing pads for vehicles that descend to the planet’s surface. He thinks the best way to make these structures is to do a form of additive manufacturing — where the soil is slowly layered. It’s the same way 3D printing works, and it could make it easier to build fairly large structures on the Red Planet.
But these bricks aren’t a complete solution to construction on Mars — at least not yet. The team only made miniature bricks, so it’s possible that larger Martian bricks won’t hold up so well. And it’s not clear how durable they are either, which is important for a few reasons. Obviously, you don’t want your structure to collapse. But less obviously, dust from the soil could break off into the air that astronauts are breathing, and inhaling large enough particles could cause health problems. The dust may also contain a type of salt known as perchlorate, which has been found throughout the Martian surface. Perchlorates can be toxic to human thyroid glands. So more research needs to be done to better understand these risks.
Still, many experts have been trying to figure out the best way to make Martian bricks for a while now. And before this study, many thought it would be an intensive process. There was talk of bringing some kind of heating device to bake the soil into bricks or even bringing microbes to Mars that could feed on human waste and create a binder material. But Qiao and his team have shown that you may not need all that much.
“What they’re doing is demonstrating proof of concept,” says Rask. “This is a good step for moving forward.”
A big change could be coming to the world of international soccer. The head of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, says he wants to introduce video replays at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. According to a report from Sky News, the decision has to be confirmed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which governs the rules of the game, but Infantino is keen to see the technology brought on board.
“In 2017, when everyone in the stadium or at home can see within seconds if the referee made a mistake, we can’t have a situation where the only one who can’t see it is the referee,” said Infantino in Chile. He added that he has had “nothing but positive feedback” about instant replay technology, which was used by FIFA for the first time at the Club World Cup last December. (Unlike the World Cup, which sees national teams compete, the Club World Cup involves country’s club teams.)
Soccer’s governing institutions — and some fans — have long been hostile to the use of video replay. The criticisms are that it slows up games, and will impinge upon the authority of the referee. Another possible objection (expressed less frequently) is that video replays will take away from the drama of soccer, which often stems from controversial calls about goals, red cards, and penalties.
On the other hand, there have been a number of notable World Cup incidents where incorrect, game-changing calls were by human referees. In the 2010 competition, for example, a “goal” by England’s Frank Lampard was disallowed in a game against Germany. The ball clearly crossed the goal-line, as fans in the stadium saw, but the linesman admitted he missed it because of the speed of the shot.
Video replays have long been used in American football, coming to professional stadiums in 2007 and college games in 2010. The technology is also being tested at the league level by FIFA in number of countries, including by Major League Soccer in the US and the Bundesliga in Germany. It’s yet to become standard in international games, though. A successful outing at 2018’s World Cup would certainly speed up the process.
Everyone has a party trick. Some people can curl their tongues or flip their eyelids inside out or bend their thumbs out of joint. Me — I can rap all of Will Smith’s Willennium. Not the song, I should specify (that’s actually called “Will 2K”), but the 33-minute album, including guest appearances, Will’s intermittent grunts, and, on a good day, the various scratches DJ Jazzy Jeff throws out. It’s both a blessing — I once performed 10 minutes of it to my wife a week before we started dating — and a curse, particularly so when you work from home alone.
I’ll involuntarily blurt passages from one of the 10 songs on the album just to break the silence in my house, a kind of mental defect that I’m sure makes me sound strange to my neighbors and any postal service workers who happen to be passing by. But this accidental noisemaking has also made me realize something: Will Smith’s technology references have dated terribly. I still love Big Will’s brand of inoffensive hip-hop, but more so than any other artist I can think of, his rhymes make the inexorable passing of time painfully obvious, dropping references to resolutely ‘90s tech in a way that drags me out of 2017 and back 20 years.
And now, using my encyclopedic knowledge of Will Smith’s studio albums and a fundamental appreciation for his oeuvre, I’m here to convince you of my argument. Please listen along for the full effect.
“Big Will with the Y2K” — from “I’m comin'” (Willennium)
The album starts with Smith acting as his own hype man, a brave move that falls on its face in 2017 thanks to his immediate mention of “Y2K,” a term now used primarily as a punchline to jokes about the olden days. It’s the lyrical equivalent of those people who have email@example.com as their email address, immediately making both their age and their lack of forethought very obvious.
Fortunately for Will, he quickly manages to right the ship with the next line, which goes, “Ain’t the second coming of Christ / it’s the first coming of me” — an ambiguously sexual bar that suggests Mr. Smith can trigger volcanic eruptions by his sheer existence. A strong statement.
“What’s gonna happen / don’t nobody know / we’ll see when the clock gets to 12:00.” — from “Will 2K” (Willennium)
Nothing happens, Will, we can tell you that now. Planes don’t fall from the sky, nuclear reactors don’t explode, and people who went into their bunkers a few hours earlier to await armageddon come sheepishly back out and start trying to offload their stockpiled canned food. The clocks in question ticked over to 12:01 on the 1st of January, 2000, and seem likely to continue to tick until 2038, when a whole new computer clock-related problem means we’re definitely doomed. I hope you’ve got a new album in the works in time for that?
“Rappers refer to me as soft — yeah, more like, Microsoft.” — from “Freakin’ It” (Willennium)
This worked as a fine hater clapback at a time when Windows 98 was an exotic new update to the already futuristic Windows 95, but it has lost some of its power over the years as Microsoft, in turn, lost its unassailable position in the tech world. For the remaster, Will, can I offer “Rappers refer to me as crap — yeah, more like, App(le)” as a suggestion, or would that break your “no swearing” rule?
“Will Gates with the rap game / quintessential megalomaniac / what’s my rap name?” — from “Freakin’ It” (Willennium)
While still a markedly moneyed figure, Bill Gates has proven to be one of the few billionaires that could argue he’s not a megalomaniac. Certainly, his charity work, his desire to eradicate lethal diseases, and his promise to donate his money rather than hand it to his kids on his deathbed make him a more palatable figure than peers who bankroll $10 million court cases because they want revenge on people who don’t do exactly what they want.
“I rock telephones with the TV screens / so I can have real phone sex / know what I mean?” — from “Da Butta,” feat. Lil’ Kim (Willennium)
This anachronistic line isn’t Will’s fault directly, but it serves to show how his gravitational pull even serves to make other rappers’ tech references outdated. Here Kim is using “telephones with the TV screens” to insinuate her fabulous wealth — or at the very least, her prioritization of masturbatory aids in her spending budget — but in 2017, even the cheapest smartphones offer some form of video chat. Perhaps a more modern remix would see Kim investing in a realistic sex doll to cater to her needs, or at least a confirmation that she had added credit to her Skype account so she could call a variety of numbers.
But it’s not just Willennium that houses Will’s particular penchant for technological references that have dated terribly. His previous album — 1997’s Big Willie Style — has two of the most egregious examples in the same song.
“It’s a full-time job to be a good dad / you got so much more stuff than I had / I gotta study just to keep with the changin’ times /101 Dalmatians on your CD-ROM.” — from “Just The Two of Us” (Big Willie Style)
This is the triple threat: a line containing mention of Will’s own youth, a reference to CD-ROM technology — not exactly outlandish in 1997 — and a nod to 101 Dalmatians, originally turned into a Disney film in 1961. Presumably Will is referencing the 1996 live-action remake of the animated classic, but even then, what’s he talking about?
The movie didn’t arrive on DVD until 2000, with the VHS copy becoming available in 1997. Does he mean a tie-in game? Was Will trying to jam a video cassette into his PC? Has he literally painted an image of 101 spotted dogs onto the side of his computer’s case? The answer is lost to the mists of time.
“See me / I’m tryin’ to pretend I know / on my PC where that CD go.” — from “Just The Two of Us” (Big Willie Style)
I’m stepping away from Willennium and breaking out this line because it reminds me so strongly of a very specific set of visual jokes from the early 2000s where the less technologically savvy — parents, teachers, other old-timers — erroneously believed a PC’s CD drive was a convenient cup holder. It was a joke with years of mileage, and years of images, stories, and videos showing the ignorant placing beverages on the plastic tray that burst expectantly from their beige box.
Now the chance is gone. Not only are our parents totally wise to the concept of disc drives, but in 2017, the hardware is largely unnecessary on a modern PC. I built my last PC in 2014 and only realized two months ago when I tried to install an ancient game that I neglected to include a CD drive. Now we’ve just got USB sticks and direct downloads. Where’s the comedy in that? You can’t put a cup on a .zip file.
Big Will has some good company in dropping terrible tech references (remember Kelly Rowland texting Nelly using Excel), but after my own extensive research, I think I have effectively demonstrated that he stands head and shoulders above his peers.
Perhaps it was his commitment to clean rap that meant that, while other artists were free to hurl out curse words with abandon, Mr. Smith was stuck making extremely specific references to mid-‘90s technology. Or perhaps he’s just always been a total dad. Either way, in our horrible future of “flying cars” and grinding poverty, why not put Willennium on and let yourself be transported back to the halcyon days of the late 1990s.
The BlackBerry KeyOne smartphone will be available for purchase in the US and Canada starting next month, according to a press release from TCL, the device’s manufacturer. The KeyOne is the first TCL-manufactured BlackBerry phone to feature a physical keyboard, which was the signature feature of BlackBerry smartphones years ago.
It will be available for purchase in Canada first, with preorders starting on May 18th. Canadian customers will be able to get the phone from Bell, Bell MTS, Rogers, SaskTel, and TELUS Business for $199 with a two-year contract. It will be available unlocked in the US starting on May 31st for $549. The unlocked model will work with both GSM and CDMA networks, and TCL says that Sprint will be selling the device later this summer.
In addition to the physical keyboard, the KeyOne has a 4.5-inch touchscreen, 12-megapixel camera, and Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor. Its large 3,505mAh battery should provide a lot of stamina between charges, which is important for the business-focused user that the phone is designed for. The KeyOne runs Android 7.1 Nougat and will come with BlackBerry’s suite of productivity apps.
We’ll have plenty more impressions to share in our upcoming review of the KeyOne.