Category: News Posts

Google’s First Mobile Chip Is An Image Processor Hidden In The Pixel 2

One thing that Google left unannounced during its Pixel 2 launch event on October 4th is being revealed today: it’s called the Pixel Visual Core, and it is Google’s first custom system-on-a-chip (SOC) for consumer products.

You can think of it as a very scaled-down and simplified, purpose-built version of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, Samsung’s Exynos, or Apple’s A series chips. The purpose in this case?

Accelerating the HDR+ camera magic that makes Pixel photos so uniquely superior to everything else on the mobile market.

Google plans to use the Pixel Visual Core to make image processing on its smartphones much smoother and faster, but not only that, the Mountain View also plans to use it to open up HDR+ to third-party camera apps.




The coolest aspects of the Pixel Visual Core might be that it’s already in Google’s devices. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL both have it built in, but laying dormant until activation at some point “over the coming months.”

It’s highly likely that Google didn’t have time to finish optimizing the implementation of its brand-new hardware, so instead of yanking it out of the new Pixels, it decided to ship the phones as they are and then flip the Visual Core activation switch when the software becomes ready.

In that way, it’s a rather delightful bonus for new Pixel buyers.

The Pixel 2 devices are already much faster at processing HDR shots than the original Pixel, and when the Pixel Visual Core is live, they’ll be faster and more efficient.

Looking at the layout of Google’s chip, which is dubbed an Image Processing Unit (IPU) for obvious reasons, we see something sort of resembling a regular 8-core SOC.

Technically, there’s a ninth core, in the shape of the power-efficient ARM Cortex-A53 CPU in the top left corner.

But the important thing is that each of those eight processors that Google designed has been tailored to handle HDR+ duties, resulting in HDR+ performance that is “5x faster and [uses] less than 1/10th the energy” of the current implementation, according to Google.

This is the sort of advantage a company can gain when it shifts to purpose-specific hardware rather than general-purpose processing.

Google says that it will enable Pixel Visual Core as a developer option in its preview of Android Oreo 8.1, before updating the Android Camera API to allow access to HDR+ for third-party camera devs.

Obviously, all of this tech is limited strictly to the Pixel 2 generation, ruling out current Pixel owners and other Android users.

As much as Google likes to talk about enriching the entire Android ecosystem, the company is evidently cognizant of how much of a unique selling point its Pixel camera system is, and it’s working hard to develop and expand the lead that it has.

As a final note, Google’s announcement today says that HDR+ is only the first application to run on the programmable Pixel Visual Core, and with time we should expect to see more imaging and machine learning enhancements being added to the Pixel 2.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Superbugs And Antibiotic Resistance

For the last century, medical professionals and microbiologists have waged a war against germs of every type and with the breakthrough of antibiotics, changed the world in which we live.

It also changed the world for our symbionts, the 4 to 6 pounds of bacteria, fungi and viruses who have hung on to our species through thick and thin for eons of time; to them we are their movable feast.

It was indeed a war that we appeared to be winning.  We thought we were firmly living in the ‘Antibiotic-Age’ and it was here to stay for all time.

However, while we were basking in its potency, unfortunately we were also rapidly and inexplicably sowing the seeds of its demise.

In a recent landmark report, US health policy makers warn that, with mounting evidence of superbugs overcoming our antibiotics,  that our situation is extremely serious.

The report gives a glimpse of the world to come, as even now there are a dozen different drug resistant microbial species that have totally overcome our existing antibiotics.

These resistant strains are now responsible for causing 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths each year in the US alone.




According to the WHO, the rapid emergence of multi-drug resistant (MDR) strains calls for a comprehensive and coordinated response to prevent a global catastrophe.

The WHO warns that, “...many infectious diseases are rapidly becoming untreatable and uncontrollable.”

CDC director Tom Frieden says that we must take urgent action to “change the way antibiotics are used” by cutting unneeded use in humans and animals and take basic steps to prevent infections in the first place.

The tools we have at our disposal, besides tracking resistant infections, are vaccines, safe food & patient infection control practices, paired with effective and enlightened hand hygiene.

Human populations weathered numerous plagues before antibiotics were discovered. It is edifying that geneticists have found that the human genome is littered with the remnants of our past battles with pathogens.

The difference is that today we know how to effectively apply all of the preventive measures that are at our disposal.

We should keep in mind that the advent of infectious disease adapted to humans is a relatively recent phenomenon.

The ‘Post-Antibiotic Age’, if it comes, represents the ongoing evolution between a microbe and its human host, with hand & surface hygiene reigning supreme as the most effective means of preventing infection.

These elements, along with water sanitation and hygienic treatment of human waste, have formed the basis for the hygiene revolution over the last hundred years.

Within this, the discovery and development of antibiotics is perhaps the short lived apex or crowning glory of the revolution.

To rise to the challenge, we need to recognize that our bodies are complex ecological systems and the maintenance of our barrier function is critical to preventing skin infection and keeping out invading pathogens.

This is no more than an extension and further development of the original hygiene revolution, where we see the true relations between living organisms and the many elements of the environment.

Skin health is critical to maintaining hand hygiene compliance.  Hand hygiene is certainly capable of rising to the challenge, but not if skin is damaged.

In the ‘Post-Antibiotic Age’, maintaining healthy skin will be essential to preventing a wide range of infections caused by strains we helped to create.

Healthy hands are safe hands, but hand hygiene does not have to go it alone if there is a “sea-change” with respect to how agri-food producers and healthcare professionals utilize antibiotics.

CDC Director Frieden stated that, “It’s not too late,” but that there is a list of urgent and life-threatening infections that must be addressed via a more effective collaboration; they include carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), drug resistant gonorrhea and C. difficile.

The WHO has called for the agri-food industry to take the threat of MDRs seriously and curb over use of antibiotics, particularly as it is estimated that there is at least a 1000-fold greater use of antibiotics compared to humans.

In hospitals we must embrace best antibiotic and hygiene practices to make a turn from what the Center for Global Development has called “a decade of neglect“.

We need to “Get  Smart” and set targets for reducing antibiotic use in healthcare facilities.

Let’s all appreciate the good microbial flora and fauna that exist on and in us, as without these little creatures life as we know it would not exist.

We should also recognize that the more bad bugs encounter antibiotics, the more likely they are to adapt. As Health Canada puts it, “Do bugs need drugs?“.

While antibiotics have allowed us to temporarily gain the upper hand, nothing lasts forever;  but with a holistic view of hand hygiene there is no reason why we can’t continue to improve our control of infections.

But for this to happen, there can be no excuses or compromises for effective hand hygiene practices.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

 

Your Burning Questions About the Olympic Torch, Answered

John Mark, the last runner in the 1948 relay bringing the torch into Wembley Stadium.

After 101 days of traveling by plane, train, automobile, Korean warship, zipline and even robot, the Olympic torch will finally reach the site of the Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Last Friday, a lucky honoree will use it to light the Olympic cauldron in a grand, symbolic start to the games.

While the blaze looks like any other, its origins are special: It was lit not with matches or a Zippo lighter, but with a parabolic mirror, echoing rituals from Ancient Greece.

To brush up on algebra, a parabola is a particular type of arc that is defined by the exact curvature of its sides.

Mathematically, these symmetrical curves all take some form of the equation, Y = X^2. Revolve a parabola around its axis, and you have the shape of a parabolic mirror.

Unlike most curves, which scatter incoming light in many directions, the reflected beams bounce from a parabola and all concentrate to one point, the focus.




These reflective surfaces are used in a number of devices to concentrate not only reflected light, but also sound or radio waves.

Satellite dishes, some types of microphones, reflecting telescopes and even car headlights benefit from the reflective properties of parabolic dishes.

In the case of the Olympics, when the sun shines on a parabolic dish, known to the ancient Greeks as a Skaphia or crucible, the rays all bounce off its sides and collect at one blazing hot point.

Put a piece of paper—or a gas torch—in that focal point, and you get fire.

A lone parabolic dish does a decent job heating things up, achieving temperatures of at least hundreds of degrees.

That’s really very easy to reach,” says Jeffrey Gordon, professor of physics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

Some may even be able to reach temperatures in the thousands of degrees, says Jonathan Hare, a British physicist and science communicator.

You can see the inner pilot light in the London 2012 torch through the perforations in the metal.

Hare has witnessed parabolic mirrors vaporize carbon, something that only happens at temps over 2,000 degrees Celsius

If conditions are absolutely ideal, light can be concentrated to match the same temperature as its source, Gordon explains. In the case of the sun, that means that the upper temperature limit when concentrating its rays is around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

No matter what you do, no matter how brilliant you are, you can never bring any object on Earth to a higher temperature [by concentrating sunlight],” says Gordon.

But, of course, conditions are never ideal. First, some of that heat is lost to the atmosphere.

Then, some is absorbed into your reflective surface, and still another fraction is scattered away due to imperfections in the mirror.

The parabola is a good concentrator but not a perfect concentrator,” Gordon adds.

Gordon’s research is focused on pushing the limits of sun concentration to the max.

A backup Olympic flame from the Vancouver Games

Using multiple concentrating mirrors, his lab has achieved temperatures of nearly 3,000 degrees Celsius, applying the heat for a range of feats, including a sun-powered surgical laser and a reactor for creating nanomaterials.

But now, at some truly blistering temps, he has a different problem.

We start to destroy everything,” he says.

In the case of Olympic torch lighting, the issues are somewhat more mundane. For one, there’s the potential for clouds.

In the days leading up to the modern torch lighting ceremony at the ancient temple of Hera in Olympia, the organizers light a flame in a parabolic dish, just in case clouds obscure the sun on the day of the ceremony.

The preparedness proved useful at this year’s event, which took place on the drizzly morning of October 24, 2017.

The original torch used in the Berlin 1936 Games.

People have practiced the concentration of the sun’s rays for thousands of years. The most famous example of solar concentration comes from 212 B.C. during the siege of Syracuse, Greece.

The Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes used the parabolic mirror, so the story goes, to deter a fleet of approaching ships, crafting a solar death ray using panels of what was likely polished bronze.

Though there’s reason to doubt the veracity of these somewhat fantastical claims—including a failed MythBusters’ attempt to replicate the feat—the ancient Greeks did have a handle on the magic of these special curves.

The first torches used in the games were modeled after ancient designs, writes Chapoutot. Built by the Krupp Company, Germany’s largest armament producer, each one only burned for 10 minutes.

The torches used today have come a long way.

In recent years, organizers have opted for high-tech features to keep the flame lit, no matter the weather.

This year’s torch, dreamed up by Korean designer Young Se Kim, has four separate walls to ensure the flame can withstand winds up to 78 mph.

It also has a tri-layered umbrella-like cover to prevent rain from extinguishing the blaze. It can even withstand temperatures down to -22 degrees Fahrenheit thanks to its internal circulation system.

If the flame goes out en route, support is always nearby with backup fire lit by parabolic mirror to swiftly relight it. Though the flame has averted major disasters this year, its robot transporter almost tipped over.

Organizers rushed to right the bot, preserving the flame.

So during last friday’s opening ceremony, as the Olympic cauldron is lit, take a moment to appreciate the fire that roared to life under a glowing bath of concentrated rays of sunlight.

As Greek archaeologist Alexander Philadelphus described during the planning of the first torch relay, the warm glow wasn’t lit by modern mechanics, but rather came directly from Apollo, “the god of light himself.”

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Video Captures Moment When Kid Is Nearly Hit By Lightning

An Argentine mom filming her 12-year-old son fooling around with an umbrella ended up capturing his brush with death as a lightning bolt struck just feet away.

The video shows the unidentified pre-teen standing under a roof drainpipe, with water pouring out onto the umbrella.

Seconds later, he walks out into a garden in the city of Posadas, in the northeastern Argentine province of Misiones.

Then out of nowhere, a powerful bolt of lightning strikes down just steps in front of the boy — causing a nearby fence to erupt in flames.




The boy’s frightened mom, Carolina Kotur, shrieked and quickly dropped her phone.

It was morning, I was with my daughter in the room calming her, because she is scared of lightning,” Kotur told local media.

Then the lady who works in my house told me that my son was walking in the rain and I started filming because I was making a joke, and right next to him the lightning struck. Thank God nothing happened to him.”

Others in the region were not so fortunate during the fierce storm, Central European News reported.

 

Brothers Sinforiano Venialgo Vazquez, 43, and Simon Venialgo Vazquez, 41, were killed when lightning struck near their home in the Paraguayan town of San Pedro del Parana — 68 miles from where the young boy was nearly hit by the bolt.

The cause of death in both cases was electrocution, though no further details were available, according to the report.

Lightning strikes reportedly killed animals in the Santa Rosa area, on the Argentine side of the Parana River, the outlet reported.

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The Chinese Military’s Next Generation: Exoskeletons

 

When looking at advances in technology, the hope is it will be used in non-violent or destructive ways; in other words, not for military use.

Unfortunately, thinking along these lines are unrealistic and with the current climate we are living in, the military will gladly accept anything with technology that can protect soldiers from harm, cause ultimate damage on the enemy and protect civilians from any kind of a missile attack.

Recently, an article described such an advance in military technology as China is working right now on a new generation of military exoskeletons.

Reportedly, they are moving closer to having Iron Man-like capabilities.




Writers Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer posted an article that looks at how China is working on advancing their technology when it comes to military exoskeleton’s.

Their latest powered exoskeleton is able to transport roughly one-hundred pounds of supplies, gear and ammunition. This would increase the self-sufficiency and combat capability of the infantry for the Chinese.

What Is an Exoskeleton?

Before moving on, it is important to understand first what an exoskeleton is and why the military would want to develop one.

Known as an exosuit, powered armor, hardsuit, power armor and an exoframe; a powered exoskeleton is a wearable machine that is mobile and powered using a system of hydraulics, electric motors, pneumatic’s, levers or a combo of technologies that enable movement of limbs with added endurance and strength.

Obviously, this would allow a soldier to perform important tasks on a mission that would not have been accomplished without using one.

Norinco Manufacturer’s Second-Generation Exoskeleton

Norinco is a manufacturer that is owned by China that produces heavy ground munitions and armored vehicles. They also have created its second-generation military exoskeleton.

The debut of this new exoskeleton boasts a designed body brace that will assist members of the infantry to carry roughly one-hundred pounds of ammunition, weapons and supplies.

Norinco had previously debuted its first-generation exoskeleton back in 2015 and comparing it to their new one, it has a streamlined harness, the battery is considered better, and a more robust pneumatic and hydraulic actuator.

This new generation is said to be lighter and most likely will lower the strain felt by the wearer of the exoskeleton; this would be more beneficial for soldiers finding themselves in a mountainous terrain.

The Implications for Combat Operations

The push by China to develop powerful exoskeletons will impact almost every area involving combat operations.  Their special operators and infantry would be able to transport heavy equipment over long distances as well as individuals being able to utilize body armor.

That is, if their plans become successful.  Also, the exoskeletons would look like the Americans concepts that include the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit – none of these can yet fly like Iron Man.

While the exoskeletons would not be able to accomplish the amazing feats as seen in Iron Man comics and movies, the more practical uses for soldiers would be to help completing many support tasks, which include repairing ships, loading supplies and getting missiles onto airplanes.

Meanwhile, China’s next generation of military Exoskeletons are one step closer to executing feats that were once considered to be science fiction; son, they will become science fact.

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NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Snaps Image From 3.8 Billion Miles Away From Earth

At first glance it might not look like much – but, with a fuzzy purple and green photo, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has made history.

On December 5, New Horizons captured an image said to be the farthest from Earth ever taken, at a staggering 3.79 billion miles away.

And, just hours later, it beat its own record.

According to NASA, the remarkable false-color images sent back by New Horizons are also the closest-ever images captured of objects in the Kuiper Belt.

When New Horizon’s snapped a photo with its telescopic camera for a routine calibration frame of the Wishing Well star cluster, it was farther into space than even NASA’s Voyager 1 had been when it captured its famous ‘Pale Blue Dot’ image of Earth, the space agency says.

At the time, New Horizons was 3.79 billion miles (6.12 billion kilometers) from Earth.


Voyager, by comparison, was 3.75 billion miles (6.06 billion kilometers) from Earth when it captured its famous photo in 1990.

According to NASA, New Horizons is now the fifth spacecraft to fly beyond the outer planets of our solar system.

Hours after its first record-breaking image on Dec 5, it captured another. The latter shows a look at Kuiper Belt objects HZ84 and 2012 HE85.

The images were captured using the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). And, NASA says they’re the closest images yet of objects in this region.

New Horizons has long been a mission of firsts – first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

“And now, we’ve been able to make images farther from Earth than any spacecraft in history.”

New Horizons is now on its way to a KBO named 2014 MU69, with which it’s expected to make a close encounter on Jan 1, 2019.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Breakthrough As Human Eggs Developed In The Lab For First Time

Women at risk of premature fertility loss might have cause for new hope as researchers reveal that human eggs can be developed in the lab from their earliest stages to maturity.

While the feat has previously been achieved for mouse eggs, and has given rise to live young after fertilization, the process has proved tricky in humans.

Experts say the latest development could not only aid the understanding of how human eggs develop, but open the door to a new approach to fertility preservation for women at risk of premature fertility loss – such as those undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

The research could be particularly relevant for girls who have not gone through puberty. Currently, to preserve their fertility ovarian tissue is taken before treatment and frozen for later implantation.




[For young girls] that is the only option they have to preserve their fertility, said Prof Evelyn Telfer, co-author of the research from the University of Edinburgh.

But the approach has drawbacks. In the case of re-implanted tissue, “the big worry, and the big risk, is can you put cancer cells back,” said Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, who was not involved in the study.

The new research offers a way for eggs to be extracted, grown and used, without the need to re-implant the tissue.

When you have got the eggs, of course you would have no contaminating cells – hopefully it would be an embryo that you would be implanting back in,” said Telfer.

But, she warned, it would be several years before the technique could be used in clinics, with further tests needed to make sure the mature eggs are normal and the process safe.

Writing in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction, researchers from Edinburgh and New York describe how they took ovarian tissue from 10 women in their late twenties and thirties and, over four steps involving different cocktails of nutrients, encouraged the eggs to develop from their earliest form to maturity.

Of the 48 eggs that reached the penultimate step of the process, nine reached full maturity.

Although various teams have achieved different stages of the process before, the new work is the first time researchers have taken the same human eggs all the way from their earliest stages to the point at which they would be released from the ovaries.

Before reaching this level of maturity, eggs cannot be fertilised.

Lavery added the new technique could also prove useful for women who have passed through puberty. While these women can have mature eggs collected before treatment, that approach also has problems.

Telfer adds that the new approach could also be useful for women whose eggs fail to fully develop in the body and, more fundamentally, will help boost our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning the development of human eggs.

However, it will be many years before the research leads to new fertility preservation treatments.

Among other issues, the authors note that the eggs developed faster than they would in the body, while a small cell known as a polar body – ejected in the final stages of the egg’s development when the number of chromosomes is halved – was unusually large, which might suggest abnormal development.

Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, a group leader at the Francis Crick Institute, was also cautious, noting it was possible that not all of the eggs were at the earliest stage of development to start with.

Telfer admits far more research is necessary, and hopes to get regulatory approval for future research.

The next step would be to try and fertilise these eggs and then to test the embryos that were produced, and then to go back and improve each of the steps.”

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Pass it on: New Scientist

If Asteroids Don’t Destroy Elon Musk’s Space Tesla, Radiation Will, Experts Say

Its billion-year mission: To circle the sun, to hopefully not crash into Mars, to boldly go where no car has gone before.

Elon Musk’s old Roadster became the first car in history to be blasted into space on Tuesday, riding the successful test launch of the Falcon Heavy mega rocket to an orbital path that’s projected to send it out to Mars—or maybe even further.

In a tweet, Musk reported that the “third burn” procedure to push the Roadster out of Earth’s orbit worked a little too well, with the trajectory now slated to reach the edge of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

But as Live Science reported, big space rocks aren’t really the most significant threat to the spacefaring sports car.




No, that would be good ol’ radiation, which has the potential to mostly disintegrate the Tesla Roadster within a year or two, according to William Carroll, an Indiana University chemist and molecular expert.

Without the protection afforded by the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, the Roadster will be bombarded by radiation that will eventually tear apart anything not made of metal on the car.

All of the organics will be subjected to degradation by the various kinds of radiation that you will run into there,” Carroll said, noting that the term “organics” in this case includes not only fabric and leather but all plastic components as well as the car’s carbon fiber body.

Those organics, in that environment, I wouldn’t give them a year.”

Musk’s cherry-red Tesla already survived a full blast of radiation as it traveled through the planet’s Van Allen belt on its way out of Earth’s orbit, but the extended timeline of its journey creates a much different situation; eventually, the spacefaring Roadster could wind up stripped down to its aluminum chassis.

Any metal parts that do survive probably won’t look exactly the same either; Carroll added that it would be nearly impossible to avoid micrometeoroids that will pockmark exposed surfaces a thousand times over.

Live Science also got in touch with Richard Sachleben, a member of the American Chemical Society’s expert panel, who “largely agreed” with Carroll’s points, though he thought the Tesla might stay intact for a little longer than a year.

A direct impact with an asteroid could always change that timeline, though.

Then again, even if some future human were pluck it out of orbit and haul it home to see if it still works, it wouldn’t run: Musk & Co. reportedly stripped the car’s powertrain entirely before mounting it on the rocket.

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North Korean Technicians Cross Into South For Olympics Preparation

A 23-member advance team of North Koreans arrived in South Korea on Monday to prepare for the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics, South Korean officials said.

The South’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean issues, said the North Korean team is mostly made up of technicians. The South’s Yonhap news agency said they came with sound, lighting and other systems.

The North Koreans’ participation in the Olympics is part of a series of conciliatory measures the war-separated rivals took for the Pyeongchang Games.




South Korea sees the Olympics as an opportunity to revive meaningful communication with North Korea following an extended period of animosity and diplomatic stalemate over the North’s nuclear program.

The Olympics begun last Friday.

North Korea plans to send hundreds to the games, including athletes, officials, artists and a 230-member cheering group.

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Ehang’s Passenger-Carrying Drones Look Insanely Impressive In First Test Flights

Two years ago, Chinese drone maker Ehang came to CES in Las Vegas and promised to build a completely autonomous, passenger-carrying quadcopter that would revolutionize mobility.

Many of us in the tech community chortled under our breath, wondering if such a thing was even possible, let alone advisable.

Today, the company released footage of its first piloted test flights in China — and color us impressed: this thing is no joke.

Ehang’s engineers put the quadcopter, dubbed the Ehang 184, through a battery of tests over the last several months, and with good measure.




The company conducted over 1,000 test flights with human passengers, including a 984-foot vertical climb, a weight test carrying over 500 pounds, a routed test flight covering 9.3 miles, and a high-speed cruising test that reached 80.7 mph.

Ehang’s engineers also tested the 184 in a variety of weather conditions, including high heat, heavy fog, night tests, and during a Category 7 typhoon with gale-force winds.

Clearly, it would seem that Ehang heard our skepticism after its first announcement and it aimed to respond with supporting data.

What we’re doing isn’t an extreme sport, so the safety of each passenger always comes first,” said Ehang founder and CEO Huazhi Hu in a statement.

Now that we’ve successfully tested the Ehang 184, I’m really excited to see what the future holds for us in terms of air mobility.”

The key word there is “mobility,” as it often is with these types of ventures. Ehang wants to put its egg-shaped, multirotor aircraft in use as an air taxi, shuttling passengers across dense urban environments.

The company has said it would demonstrate this service for Dubai’s World Government Summit later this month, but a spokesperson didn’t respond whether that was still the case.

Dubai is also working with Germany’s Volocopter on a similar air taxi service. If that doesn’t work, Ehang has permission from the state of Nevada to test the Ehang 184 at its FAA-approved UAV test site.

Ehang says the 184, which is all electric, can carry a single passenger up to 10 miles or roughly 23 minutes of flight. The person in the cockpit doesn’t do any piloting; they just input their destination and enjoy the ride.

The company claims its aircraft is able to take off autonomously, fly a route, sense obstacles, and land.

And if anything goes wrong, a human pilot is supposed to step in and take over the controls from a remote command station.

Ehang sees luxury rides for rich folks as the first phase of this new market, with autonomous aircraft becoming more widely available at lower prices after fleets and flight paths have become well established, and, of course, once the cost of having a human pilot around is eliminated.

Despite its early successful test flights, Ehang says it is making improvements to the aircraft.

More emphasis will be placed on improving passenger experience and on adding an option for manual control, giving passengers with piloting experience the choice to operate the vehicle manually.

In addition, the company has already developed and tested a two-seater with a payload of up to 617 pounds (280 kilograms).

Ehang has proven that its autonomous aerial vehicle can fly, which is no small feat.

But proving that it can scale up into a full-blown aerial taxi service is an entirely different challenge and something with which a number of giant, multibillion-dollar companies are currently wrestling.

There’s a vertical take-off and landing gold rush going on right now, and Ehang clearly wants to prove itself a major player.

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