Author: Devin Coldewey

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 mission lands on the surface of a distant asteroid

TECHCRUNCH The coolest mission you haven’t heard of just hit a major milestone: the Japanese Hayabusa 2 probe has reached its destination, the asteroid Ryugu, and just deployed a pair of landers to its surface. Soon it will touch down itself and bring back a sample of Ryugu back to Earth! Are you kidding me? That’s amazing! Hayabusa 2 is, as you might guess, a sequel to the original Hayabusa, which like this one was an asteroid sampling mission. So this whole process isn’t without precedent, though some of you may be surprised that asteroid mining is essentially old...

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‘Jackrabbot 2’ takes to the sidewalks to learn how humans navigate politely

TECHCRUNCH Autonomous vehicles and robots have to know how to get from A to B without hitting obstacles or pedestrians — but how can they do so politely and without disturbing nearby humans? That’s what Stanford’s Jackrabbot project aims to learn, and now a redesigned robot will be cruising campus learning the subtleties of humans negotiating one another’s personal space. “There are many behaviors that we humans subconsciously follow – when I’m walking through crowds, I maintain personal distance or, if I’m talking with you, someone wouldn’t go between us and interrupt,” said grad student Ashwini Pokle in a...

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18 new details about Elon Musk’s redesigned, moon-bound ‘Big F*ing Rocket’

TECHCRUNCH Although the spotlight at this week’s SpaceX event was squarely on Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa — the first paying passenger for the company’s nascent space tourism business — Elon Musk also revealed a wealth of new details about the BFR and just how this enormous rocket and spacecraft will get to the moon and back. In a lengthy (one might even say rambling, in the true Musk style) presentation, we were treated to cinematic and technical views of the planned rocket, which is already under construction and could take flight as early as a couple years from now — and Musk then candidly held forth on numerous topics in a lengthy Q&A period. As a result we learned quite a bit about this newly redesigned craft-in-progress. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Hope you like pictures of spaceships! (Note: Quotes are transcribed directly from the video but may have been very slightly edited for clarity, such as the removal of “you know” and “like.”) BFR is “ridiculously big” Well, that’s not really news — it’s right there in the name. But now we know exactly how ridiculously big. “The production design of BFR is different in some important ways from what I presented about a year ago,” Musk said, including its dimensions. The redesigned spacecraft (or BFS) will be 118 meters in length, or about 387 feet; just under...

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The Punkt MP02 inches closer to what a minimalist phone ought to be

TECHCRUNCH There’s an empty space in my heart for a minimalist phone with only the most basic functions. Bad for my heart, but good for a handful of companies putting out devices aiming to fill it. Punkt’s latest, the MP02, goes a little ways to making the device I desire, but it isn’t quite there yet. Punkt’s first device included just texting and calling, which would likely have worked as intended if not for the inconvenient choice to have it connect only to 2G networks. These networks are being shut down and replaced all over the world, so you...

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Sen. Harris tells federal agencies to get serious about facial recognition risks

TECHCRUNCH Facial recognition technology presents myriad opportunities as well as risks, but it seems like the government tends to only consider the former when deploying it for law enforcement and clerical purposes. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) has written the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission telling them they need to get with the program and face up to the very real biases and risks attending the controversial tech. In three letters provided to TechCrunch (and embedded at the bottom of this post), Sen. Harris, along with several other notable legislators, pointed out recent...

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Loot boxes face scrutiny from an international coalition of gambling authorities

TECHCRUNCH The world of online gaming is changing so quickly that players, developers, publishers, and regulators are all scrambling to keep up with each other. Case in point: loot boxes, randomized in-game rewards that may or may have monetary value or be purchasable with real money, are after years of deployment only now being scrutinized globally for being what amounts to thinly veiled gambling. A suggestive new study from British researchers and a just-announced coalition of governments are the latest indicators that the loot box phenomenon and its derivatives likely won’t continue to be the wild west they’ve been...

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Boom’s chief test pilot on the thrill and challenge of going supersonic (again)

TECHCRUNCH “There’s nothing like it out there,” says Retired Commander Bill “Doc” Shoemaker, chief test pilot for Boom Supersonic, the startup aiming to make a passenger airliner for transoceanic flights at speeds (as you might guess from the name) faster than sound. Shoemaker, a former Navy aviator, fighter pilot, and aeronautics engineer, will have the daunting privilege of being the first to fly the company’s proof of concept single-seater during tests next year. That there’s nothing like Boom is not exactly a controversial opinion — there aren’t a lot of companies out there trying to resurrect supersonic flight. The...

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NASA’s climate-monitoring space laser is the last to ride to space on a Delta II rocket

TECHCRUNCH This weekend, NASA is launching a new high-tech satellite to monitor the planet’s glacier and sea ice levels — with space lasers, naturally. ICESat-2 will be a huge boon for climatologists, and it’s also a bittersweet occasion: it will be the final launch aboard the trusty Delta II rocket, which has been putting birds in the air for nearly 30 years. Takeoff is set for 5:46 AM Pacific Time Saturday morning, so you’ll have to get up early if you want to catch it. You can watch the launch live here, with NASA coverage starting about half an hour before. Keeping track of the Earth’s ice levels is more important than ever; with climate change causing widespread havoc, precise monitoring of major features like the Antarctic ice sheet could help climatologists predict and understand global weather patterns. Like Aeolus, which launched in July, ICESat-2 is a spacecraft with a single major instrument, not a “Christmas tree” of sensors and antennas. And like Aeolus, ICESat-2 carries a giant laser. But while the first was launched to watch the movement of the air in-between it and the ground, the second must monitor the ground through that moving air. It does so by using an industrial-size, hyper-precise altimeter: a single, powerful green laser split into six beams — three pairs of two, really, arranged to pass over the landscape in a...

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