Facebook announces new policy against coordinated social harm that may lower the bar on who gets banned
Facebook on Thursday announced a new enforcement policy for groups that coordinate online to spread misinformation, hate and “social harm” but do not violate traditional company standards against “inauthentic” content.
Facebook immediately used its new policy against “coordinated social harm” on Thursday to shut down large portions of a German online network pushing the Querdenken conspiracy theory, which has fueled resistance to government health restrictions related to the covid-19 pandemic.
Thursday’s action moves Facebook beyond its long-standing reliance on “inauthenticity” as the key marker of forbidden behavior on the platform.
The company typically uses the term – which has been widely adopted within the industry – to describe deceptive behavior, in which social media users attempt to manipulate others while disguising their identities and actual views.
Most Facebook takedowns of disinformation operations in recent years – both by foreign actors and domestic ones – relied on Facebook’s designation of a group as engaging in “coordinated, inauthentic behavior,” a term so commonly used that the company often referred to it by the acronym “CIB.”
But the term long has been problematic because companies struggled in many cases to determine who users were and what they believed. Existing prohibitions against hate speech, harassment and incitements to violence already allowed Facebook to act against individual accounts that violated such policies. Facebook also had a policy as well that called for sanctions against “dangerous organizations,” a designation typically applied to extremist groups that foment violence.
Company officials said Thursday they needed a new policy to take action against movements that intentionally caused social harm – including violence – but didn’t rise to the designation of “dangerous organization.”
“We recognize that, in some cases, these content violations are perpetrated by a tightly organized group, working together to amplify their members’ harmful behavior and repeatedly violate our content policies,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, in a blog post announcing the change. “In these cases, the potential for harm caused by the totality of the network’s activity far exceeds the impact of each individual post or account.”
Gleicher said the new policy allows Facebook to more easily act against the “core network” of a group that commits widespread violations.
Facebook officials said the German Querdenken group, whose name translates as “lateral thinking,” has used duplicate accounts and other coordination techniques to spread covid misinformation, hate speech and incitements to violence on a broad enough scale that it merited systemic enforcement action, though it stopped short of banning the group outright. Facebook did not say how many accounts and pages it removed but said the number was “relatively small” – less than 150 on both Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram.
SpaceX launches Inspiration4 flight of all-civilian crew
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Four amateur astronauts lifted off from Kennedy Space Center here Wednesday evening, making history by becoming the first all-civilian crew to reach orbit in a fully commercial mission operated by Elon Musks SpaceX and paid for by a billionaire entrepreneur.
The launch, dubbed Inspiration4, was the first step in what is planned to be an audacious three-day journey in orbit around Earth by a group of people who just months ago didn’t know each other and didn’t expect to fly to space.
Just before launch, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire businessman who financed the trip and is its commander, urged action. “Inspiration4 is go for launch,” he said. “Punch it, SpaceX.”
The flight marks a new expansion in the growth of the commercial space industry and another leap forward by Musk’s SpaceX, which has vowed to open the cosmos to ordinary people, not just professionals trained by the government, in a quest ultimately to land humans on Mars.
Civilians have in the past joined professional astronauts on trips to the International Space Station. And Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are working to fly paying customers on suborbital flights that would touch the edge of space before falling back to Earth. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
But never before has a crew made up entirely of civilians – two of whom won their seats through a competition and sweepstakes – reached orbit.
SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, pumps his fist as the Insiration 4 crew leaves the hanger on their way to launch on Sept. 15, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton
Isaacman, a 38-year-old father of two, made his fortune by founding Shift4 Payments, a payments processing company. He’s an accomplished pilot who flies fighter jets in aerobatic competitions. He paid an undisclosed sum for the mission, though he told Axios it was less than $200 million, and turned it into a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
His first pick to accompany him on the flight was Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old from Memphis who works as a physician assistant. As a child, she was treated for bone cancer at St. Jude and made it her goal to work there and help others. As a result of her cancer, she had a rod placed in her leg, making her the first person with a prosthesis to go to space.
The other crew members, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski, won their seats. Proctor, 51, a licensed pilot who is also an artist, poet and college professor from Phoenix, won a competition by using Shift4′s software to build an online store and create a video outlining her space dreams. In it Proctor, who was a finalist for the NASA astronaut program in 2009, read a poem calling for what she called a JEDI future, which she described as Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
In a briefing for reporters before the launch, she said she was honored to be the fourth African American woman to go to space and the first to serve as the pilot of a mission.
“It means that I have this opportunity to not only accomplish my dream, but also inspire the next generation of women of color and girls of color and really get them to think about reaching for the stars,” she said.
Pictures is the SpaceX launch of the Inspiration4 crew manned by civilian astronauts, Jared Isaacman, Sian Proctor, Hayley Arceneaux and Chris Sembroski on Sept. 15, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton
Sembroski, a 42-year-old father of two from Everett, Wash., won by donating to the St. Jude fundraiser. A friend of his was initially selected for the seat but backed out and offered it to Sembroski, who works at Lockheed Martin and served in the Air Force.
The Falcon 9 rocket that propelled the crew into space and the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will be their home until they splash down off the coast of Florida are owned and operated by SpaceX, not NASA. But the space agency has over the years invested heavily in the system, awarding SpaceX billions of dollars of contracts so the company could fly cargo and its astronauts to the station.
For this mission, however, NASA was merely a bystander.
The Falcon 9 lifted off at 8:02 p.m. from iconic pad 39A, which SpaceX leases from NASA and was host to the Apollo 11 moon launch as well as many space shuttle launches.
The rocket cackled and roared as it streaked through the darkening sky, reverberating across a Florida Space Coast that is witnessing a resurgence of launches, reminiscent of the early days of the space program, when astronauts including John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong took to the skies.
The crew of the Inspiration4 mission stands in stark contrast to those men – all White, all trained by the military and then chosen by NASA for their bravery and aptitude for the “right stuff.”
Upon reaching orbit, Isaacman said, “The door is opening now, and it’s pretty incredible.”
The Inspiration4 crew looks more like a slice of America then those NASA pioneers, from different walks of life, of different ages and with different experiences, whose voyage to space was as much happenstance as design.
With this mission, SpaceX will be pushing the limits. The flight is scheduled to reach an altitude of about 360 miles, higher than the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope.
In a Netflix series documenting the mission, Isaacman and his team ask SpaceX about the feasibility of flying above the space station. An unnamed SpaceX employee responded by saying, “Intuitively going slightly above would not present a problem.” But he added that it “will start to stretch our margins. And there may be other problems that I’m not aware of in other subsystems.”
Another employee warned, “Yeah, it’s not one particular thing, it’s just opening Pandora’s box.”
At the preflight media briefing, Isaacman said he wanted the mission to push the envelope. “If we’re going to go to the moon again, and we’re going to go to Mars and beyond, we’ve got to get a little outside our comfort zone and take the next step in that direction,” he said.
The SpaceX launch of the Inspiration4 crew took place Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton
Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director of human spaceflight programs, said his engineers studied the flight trajectory, looked at risks such as micro-meteorites and debris and radiation exposure, and the amount of propellant on the spacecraft, and determined it was something they could do.
“Ultimately it’s about safety and reliability,” he said. While it is a different flight path from the ones it has been flying for NASA, “that’s not to say that you can’t go and do more, and you should go and do more when you can. . . . Certainly, Dragon is capable of doing it. We did all the risk analysis to make sure that we’d fly safely.”
But the flight won’t be easy.
Even professionally trained astronauts suffer from “space sickness” once they reach orbit, finding the weightless environment so disorienting many throw up. And while the crew has been trained in emergency procedures, it’s not clear how they’ll react if something goes wrong – whether they’ll be cool in the moment, or panic.
Though the launch went well, the crew still has three days inside a cramped spacecraft, where they’ll live, sleep and even go to the bathroom in proximity to each other. Then there’s the return. To get home, the spacecraft will have to slam back through the atmosphere, generating extreme temperatures that will engulf the capsule in a fireball.
In an interview last year, Musk acknowledged the risks anytime you put people on top of a rocket loaded with thousands of gallons of highly combustible propellant.
“It’s a scary thing to be launching people,” he said. “We’ve done everything we can to make sure that the rocket is safe and the spacecraft is safe. But the risk is never zero when you’re going 25 times the speed of sound, and you’re circling the Earth every 90 minutes.”
But if they are able to successfully complete the mission, it would go down as a historic flight and demonstrate that there is a growing business in space.
The flight precedes other planned private astronaut missions. Axiom Space, a Houston-based company is chartering flights for customers who are paying around $55 million for a little over a week on the space station. But on those missions, the private astronauts would be accompanied by a former NASA astronaut.
Ultimately, SpaceX and other companies hope the prices will come down and that space will be open not only to the super wealthy – or lucky. Isaacman said the Inspiration4 mission, then, is a first step in that direction.
“It’s just getting started,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”
Nikola showcases German plant nearing first production of electric trucks
Nikola Corp. offered the public a look at the production line the company is counting on to start delivering trucks to customers in the wake of its founder being charged with securities fraud.
The U.S. manufacturer hosted an event Wednesday in Ulm, Germany, where its partner Iveco — the commercial-vehicle unit of CNH Industrial — is preparing to start series production of Nikola Tre heavy-duty trucks by year-end. The first battery-electric models will be delivered to customers in the U.S. early next year, with a fuel cell version slated to follow by the end of 2023.
Nikola is looking to turn the page on a tumultuous period after it went public by combining with a blank-check company in June of last year. Shares of the truckmaker with virtually no revenue initially skyrocketed, briefly making the company worth than Ford Motor Co. The stock came crashing down after a short seller accused founder Trevor Milton of misleading investors. He stepped down as executive chairman in September and pleaded not guilty to fraud charges in July.
The company is keen to deliver a message of “focus and execution,” Chief Executive Officer Mark Russell said during an interview in Ulm. “In spite of all of the challenges like Covid and supply disruptions, here we are.”
Nikola shares rose as much as 8.8% before the start of regular trading and were up 3.6% to $10.27 as of 7 a.m. in New York. The stock has plunged almost 90% from its peak in June 2020.
Russell followed Milton to Nikola from metals manufacturer Worthington Industries Inc., which acquired one of Milton’s earlier business ventures. Last month, the CEO cut Nikola’s projection for initial deliveries this year to 25 to 50 trucks, citing shortages of semiconductors and other parts. Although scarce supplies of chips could render the vehicles ineligible for sale, Nikola still plans to deliver them to customers for testing and charge for them once they’re retrofitted with missing parts.
Next year, the Ulm facility will build as many as 100 trucks, with demand “far exceeding capacity,” Iveco CEO Gerrit Marx said. The plant will eventually be able to make 3,000 trucks annually across three shifts. Nikola plans to open its second site in Coolidge, Arizona, next year to produce fuel cell-powered trucks.
Nikola and Iveco have invested 40 million euros ($47 million) to upgrade the latter company’s chassis engineering hub in Ulm for final assembly of the Tre. The heavy-duty truck with a driving range of 560 kilometers (348 miles) is designed for shorter trips such as moving freight within industrial ports or garbage collection. It will be built off an Iveco platform with modules from the manufacturer’s factories in Spain.
Nikola is handling vehicle controls, including driver-facing software, and proprietary technology related to designing the Tre’s 4.5-ton battery pack.
In addition to unveiling their joint-venture facility on Wednesday, Iveco and Nikola announced an agreement with the Hamburg Port Authority to test up to 25 battery-electric Tre trucks starting next year.
Iveco has stood by Nikola while other big-name partners have pulled back. General Motors dropped a tentative plan to take a stake in the company and produce an electric pickup called the Badger. Their remaining agreement for Nikola to use GM’s hydrogen fuel cell technology in its trucks now appears to be in limbo — Nikola announced earlier this month it will source fuel cell systems from German supplier Robert Bosch.
“There were enough reasons to stop all of this — the last 24 months would have equipped us with enough reasons, everybody would have understood,” Iveco’s Marx said. “But we never even considered it.”
Facebook risks for young people add to bipartisan backlash
Facebook is facing renewed fury from Washington after reports suggested the company knew, but didnt disclose, that its Instagram platform could pose risks to teenagers.
The report from the Wall Street Journal citing Facebook’s own internal research gives fuel to politicians who have pledged to hold social media companies accountable for their impact on mental health, civil discourse and democracy. While previous rounds of outrage over issues such as the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal haven’t dented Facebook’s business model or profitability, this backlash could bring Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and other company executives back to testify before Congress about the shortcomings.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., the chair and ranking member of the Senate consumer protection subcommittee, said they have been in contact with a Facebook whistle-blower and “will use every resource at our disposal to investigate what Facebook knew and when they knew it.”
The senators said Tuesday they planned to seek further documents and speak with witnesses as part of the investigation. The Senate Commerce Committee has the power to issue subpoenas for records and witness testimony.
“It is clear that Facebook is incapable of holding itself accountable,” the senators said. “The Wall Street Journal’s reporting reveals Facebook’s leadership to be focused on a growth-at-all-costs mindset that valued profits over the health and lives of children and teens.”
This is a common complaint from lawmakers of both parties. Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, opened a March hearing with Zuckerberg and other tech executives by saying their platforms are her “biggest fear as a parent” — a complaint she echoed Tuesday.
Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, also said he’ll be “demanding answers” about the Journal report.
When asked for comment about the statement from Blumenthal and Blackburn, a Facebook spokesperson referred to an earlier blog post from Karina Newton, Instagram’s head of public policy, about what internal and external research found regarding social media’s impact on young people.
“The question on many people’s minds is if social media is good or bad for people,” Newton wrote. “The research on this is mixed; it can be both. At Instagram, we look at the benefits and the risks of what we do.”
The Journal story focuses on the mental health risks such as anxiety and depression for young people, especially girls, who use Instagram, the photo-sharing app. The article references a letter that Blumenthal and Blackburn sent to Facebook last month seeking more information on how the company’s internal research informs products designed for children and teens.
But Facebook’s reply to the senators didn’t include the company study detailed in the article.
“When given the opportunity to come clean to us about their knowledge of Instagram’s impact on young users, Facebook provided evasive answers that were misleading and covered up clear evidence of significant harm,” the senators said.
Apple unveils new iPhone 13, iPads and Apple Watch Series 7 at its fall event
Apple chose style over substance on Tuesday, when it announced a lineup of surprise-free upgrades that didnt quite live up to the high video production of its pre-recorded stream.
The star, if there was one, was a slate of camera improvements for its new iPhone 13 lineup, as well as something far less visible people have been clamoring for: a bigger smartphone battery.
The iPhone announcement was one of a handful of incremental updates the company made to its most popular mobile products. In addition to the new iPhone 13 devices, Apple showcased a new Apple Watch Series 7 that sports a larger screen but familiar features and a pair of new iPads, including a long-awaited update for the iPad mini.
The virtual event featured a mix of well-lit executives, high-production value advertisements, dramatic drone footage, and celebrity guest appearances. But behind the gloss of Tuesday’s product launch, Apple is facing multiple headwinds including antitrust concerns, unhappy developers and security and privacy holes.
Though Apple’s stock was down slightly Tuesday, the company’s strategy of offering only incremental improvements to its devices has paid off in recent quarters. Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the event that iPad sales were up 40% this year and in its most recent securities filing, Apple reported 50% year-over-year growth in iPhone sales. While Apple’s device features stay the same, its stock valuation – now at $2.45 trillion – continues to go up.
After a temporary slump in sales last summer due to the pandemic, Apple’s business has been reinvigorated, with $66 billion in iPhone sales during the holiday quarter, up nearly $10 billion from the previous year.
Keeping it simple may also prove to be a good strategy in a year plagued by a semiconductor shortage and supply chain disruptions that have left retailers in short supply in many product categories including consumer electronics. According to market research firm Strategy Analytics, Apple has sold 78 million phones that carry the iPhone 12 name this year. To produce that many devices, every tiny change Apple makes to its devices becomes a heavy lift for its suppliers.
Apple also had little to say about its services offerings. Despite lengthy presentations touting already-announced subscription products like Apple TV+ and Apple Fitness+, the company’s services strategy is working. It earned $17.5 billion this past quarter from all of its digital fees, including commission on mobile game transactions and iCloud Photos storage. Just four years ago, Apple brought in only $7.3 billion in quarterly revenue for that category.
“As an Apple customer, you have to accept that most features other than, say, the camera are going to be lagging edge,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. He said cameras offered by Samsung and Huawei are better than those on the iPhone. “There’s not a big enough reason to change over.”
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Arguably, the highlight of Apple’s September event was a slew of new smartphones: the iPhone 13, 13 mini, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max, all with changes that were more routine than revolutionary.
Consider the $699 iPhone 13 mini and $799 iPhone 13. Compared to last year, both phones pack slightly brighter screens, so they’ll be easier to see under harsh sunlight. Their notches – the big, dark camera cutouts at the top of iPhone screens – are about 20% smaller. The pair of cameras on both phones’ backs should take slightly better photos in low light. And both models sport Apple’s latest, high-powered processor for improved performance, though you would probably be hard-pressed to see a difference if you already bought last year’s model.
Meanwhile, Apple’s premium phones – the $999 iPhone 13 Pro and the larger, $1,099 13 Pro Max – are slightly more powerful than the standard iPhone 13s, and feature screens designed to look smoother and brighter to boot. Smartphone photographers can take extreme close-ups with the Pro iPhones’ new macro feature, and will notice slightly better photos when shooting in low light. And would-be movie makers have access to tools that replicate camera techniques seen in classic films.
As ordinary as some of these updates seem, one feature found in all of these phones is worth celebrating: improved battery life. Compared to last year’s models, each of Apple’s new iPhone 13s should last at least an hour and a half longer on a single charge.
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One of the biggest surprises during Tuesday’s show was the new, $499 iPad mini, which received its first major redesign in years.
Now, Apple’s smallest slate looks like a pint-sized version of the iPad Pro and iPad Air, albeit with an 8.3-inch screen. The company’s redesign brought 5G to the mini for the first time, as well as a USB-C port for connecting accessories like keyboards, monitors and external hard drives in addition to charging. And despite its small stature, the iPad mini might actually be more powerful than the iPad Air released last year, thanks to its new A15 processor.
Apple also updated its cheapest iPad, which sells for $329. This ninth-generation tablet now uses the same processor as Apple’s iPhone 11, and comes with double the storage compared to last year’s base model. Meanwhile, the dinky, 1.2-megapixel camera Apple used last year has been replaced with a 12-megapixel camera that plays nice with a feature to keep you centered in your video calls.
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The Apple Watch is getting its biggest redesign in years, but you’ll have to look closely to see it. The screen on the Series 7 watch is 20% larger than last year’s model – and 50% larger than the third-generation model, thanks to shrinking borders. So what would a larger screen do for you? Apple says it redesigned a lot of buttons to make them bigger and can fit 50% more text on the screen. There’s even now a full keyboard available for pecking out texts and emails.
Other changes are minimal. There’s a more durable, dust-resistant screen, and it should charge 33% faster – though Apple said nothing about improving the battery life. Apple didn’t add any new health or body sensors like it did last year.
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The name of the event was “California Streaming,” but the actual announcement was short on details about its various streaming services. Cook touted popular Apple TV+ shows, which include Emmy-nominated conversation pieces such as “Ted Lasso,” but did not drill down to viewership numbers.
Apple had a lot more to say about Apple Fitness+, the company’s answer to Peloton. The $10-a-month workout service is adding a few new types of exercises, including Pilates workouts and guided meditations. You can see a live video of their face in the corner of your screen while streaming a workout, and add up to 32 people.
Overall, the event checked all the boxes for an annual listing of updates. That’s likely enough for people who already own Apple devices and are just ready to upgrade.
They could be your neighbors and theyre going to space. SpaceX gets ready to fly the Inspiration4 crew.
None of the crew has ever been to space before. Not the spacecrafts commander, a high school dropout. Not the pilot of the mission. The medical officer is a childhood cancer survivor who has a prosthetic in her leg. The fourth crew member lucked into the seat after a friend backed out.
This unorthodox mix of would-be explorers, all strangers until just a few months ago, from different walks of life, will make history as early as Tuesday evening as the first all-civilian group of astronauts. Their mission is scheduled to last longer than John Glenn’s Mercury mission and to soar higher than any human spaceflight since the Apollo era. And for this flight, NASA is just a bystander.
If all goes to plan, the Inspiration4 flight would usher in a new era of human space exploration. It is yet another sign of the growth of the commercial space industry and the rapid erosion of governments’ long-held monopoly on spaceflight.
While the rocket will blast off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the space agency that put men on the moon and helped build a space station that has orbited Earth for two decades won’t be involved in what will be the first fully commercial spaceflight to orbit the earth.
The rocket and autonomous spacecraft are owned and operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, not NASA. The endeavor is being funded by billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, not the government. The soon-to-be astronauts have trained for months, not years. And they did it at SpaceX’s facilities in Hawthorne, Calif., instead of Houston, where for decades NASA’s astronauts have endured a gauntlet of tests and training before being allowed to board a rocket to space.
Two of the Inspiration4 crew were chosen by winning a sweepstakes that was publicized through a commercial that ran during the Super Bowl this year.
While several private citizens have launched to orbit before, they have always had professional astronauts to guide them, or take over in the event of an emergency. Not on this flight. The crew of Inspiration4 will be on its own, spending three days inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which has about as much room as a big SUV.
“The flight marks a transition in human spaceflight from public to private,” said John Logsdon, professor emeritus of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a space historian. “It’s like somebody going out and renting a self-steering yacht and sailing off into space.”
It is a mission far more daring, and dangerous, than the recent suborbital space tourism missions that billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos recently flew. Those barely scratched the edge of space before falling back to earth after spending just a few minutes in a weightless environment and traveling about Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The Inspiration4 crew will reach orbit, traveling at 17,500 mph circling the globe every 90 minutes. They’ll also reach an altitude of about 360 miles, higher than the International Space Station, higher than the Hubble Space Telescope and higher than any human spaceflight mission to Earth orbit except for Gemini 10 and 11 in 1966.
“It should afford the Inspiration4 crew a truly inspiring view – one only rivaled by two Gemini crews and the 24 Apollo moon-bound astronauts,” said Robert Pearlman, the editor of collectSPACE.com, a space history news site.
The purpose of the flight, at least in part, goes to the essence of exploration – to show it can be done. To prove that a group of nonprofessional astronauts can board a private spacecraft and blast off into orbit for three days. And to prove that a private company can ferry them safely to and from orbit, as if they were crossing the Atlantic.
The flight, which is also the subject of a series airing on Netflix, has been designed to raise money for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Isaacman, 38, who has not disclosed how much he paid for the mission, kicked off the campaign with a $100 million donation and is hoping to raise as much as double that.
A high school dropout who started his company at age 16, Isaacman became a billionaire with Shift4 Payments, a payments processing behemoth. He’s a lifelong aviation enthusiast who started flying at an early age and soon grew from flying Cessnas to jets to even fighter jets. He’s competed in aerial acrobatic competitions and founded Draken International, which provides fighter jet training for the military and defense industry customers.
The first member he picked to be part of the mission is Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old from Memphis who works as a physician assistant. As a child, she was treated for bone cancer at St. Jude and made it her goal to work there and help others. As a result of her cancer, she had to have a rod put in her leg, making her the first person with a prosthetic to go to space.
When told she was chosen for the mission, she asked, “Are we going to the moon?”
The other crew members, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski, won their seats through competitions. Proctor, 51, an artist, poet and college professor from Phoenix, won by using Shift4′s software to build an online store and create a video outlining her space dreams. Sembroski, a 41-year-old father of two from Everett, Wash., won by donating to the St. Jude fundraiser. A friend of his was initially chosen for the seat but backed out and offered it to Sembroski.
To prepare for the flight, the Inspiration4 crew flew a Zero-G flight, an airplane that flies in parabolic arcs that create weightlessness for a few minutes at a time. They spent time in a centrifuge to get accustomed to the excessive gravitational forces they’ll experience during the flight. And to bond, they went on a camping trip on Mount Ranier. “We are going to work on getting comfortable being uncomfortable,” Isaacman said before the climb.
And they have spent many hours at SpaceX headquarters going over emergency procedures and familiarizing themselves with the controls of the spacecraft.
But if all goes well, the Dragon spacecraft will fly itself. The cargo version has been doing that for years, autonomously meeting and docking with the International Space Station before coming back to Earth. And the Crew Dragon version has now flown three sets of astronauts to the station. During the first test flight with a crew on board, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley took controls to test them out. But for the most part, the vehicle has flown unpiloted.
The Inspiration4 crew is not the first nongovernment trained people to go to space, of course. In the early days of the space shuttle, NASA expected to fly so frequently that it would be able to accommodate ordinary people. It decided that first a teacher should fly, then a journalist and then possibly an artist.
Before people from those professions could fly, a couple of congressmen went first, then-Sen. Jack Garn, R-Utah, and then-Rep. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who now serves as the NASA administrator.
Finally, in 1986, NASA flew the teacher it had selected, Christa McAuliffe, from Concord, N.H. She quickly became an inspiration to school kids across the country and was a source of optimism that soon many others like her would get the chance to go to space.
But she and the six other members of her crew were killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center. NASA ended its “spaceflight participant program” and never flew the journalist or the artist.
In the 2000s, eight wealthy individuals paid $20 million or more for rides to the space station, flying on Russian spacecraft, since NASA prohibited the practice. The space agency has since changed course and is now allowing private citizens to book rides to the station on SpaceX and Boeing, the two companies that hold the contracts to fly crewed missions there. A Houston-based company known as Axiom Space has seized the opportunity and has already booked a few private astronaut flights to the space station, the first coming as soon as January.
On those missions the customers, who are paying about $55 million each for about a week stay on the station, would be accompanied by a former NASA astronaut to help guide them and serve as a commander.
The flights all mark an important new chapter in the history of human spaceflight, said Alan Ladwig, who ran NASA’s spaceflight participant program in the 1980s, and wrote a book, “See You in Orbit?” about the history of private spaceflight.
“It’s important because finally after almost 70 years of discussion of how it wouldn’t be long before we could all fly in space, it is finally happening for civilians,” he said.
For now, though, it remains something only the very wealthy can do. Even the suborbital tourists missions that Bezos’s Blue Origin space company and Branson’s Virgin Galactic are pricey. One person paid $28 million in an auction to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, though regular ticket prices have not been announced. Virgin Galactic is charging $450,000 a seat.
But the Inspiration4 mission is of particular importance because three of the crew members are not wealthy, Ladwig said.
“They’re not billionaires,” he said. “They are people that could be our neighbors, people you went to school with, people you work with. And for them to get this opportunity is pretty fantastic.”
Stealth robocar startup sees remote drivers as autonomy shortcut
Deploying vast fleets of robocars has been much tougher than Tesla, Alphabets Waymo and others thought. One European startup is now pitching an intermediate step to full autonomy: teledriving.
Germany’s Vay, which has been quietly testing a fleet of remote-controlled electric vehicles all over Berlin, plans to roll out a mobility service in Europe and potentially the U.S. next year.
For a fraction of the price of an Uber, customers will be able to order a remote-controlled car, drive themselves to their desired destination and then get out, leaving it to a human teledriver miles away to either park the vehicle or steer it to a next client. In a later step, Vay plans to introduce a ride-hailing service that’s entirely remote-controlled.
“We’re launching next year — not in five years — with services that have huge benefits over what is out there,” Chief Executive Officer Thomas von der Ohe, who previously worked on Amazon.com’s Alexa and at self-driving startup Zoox, said in an interview.
The concept may be novel, though it isn’t new. Former Nissan Motor boss Carlos Ghosn touted the approach at the 2017 Consumer Electronics show, showcasing a platform for managing fleets of autonomous vehicles developed from National Aeronautics and Space Administration technology.
Stealth robocar startup sees remote drivers as autonomy shortcut
While von der Ohe says he still believes in full autonomy, he learned at Zoox how difficult and expensive it can be to develop robot cars.
While Zoox raised a significant sum of venture capital and at one point was valued at $3.2 billion, the startup struggled to commercialize its technology and ran low on cash during the pandemic. It agreed to a $1.3 billion sale to Amazon in August 2020.
Vay’s von der Ohe and his co-founders — engineer and electric-car developer Fabrizio Scelsi and Bogdan Djukic, who built software for Skype — have poached people from Google, Volkswagen’s Audi and Elon Musk’s Boring to develop hardware and software for a teledriving-first approach.
The company’s trained teledrivers operate from stations equipped with a steering wheel, pedals and several large monitors for 360-degree vision without blind spots. The system has built-in redundancies, prevents speeding and overlays safety information onto the screens to make rides safer.
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Vay says it has solved latency issues and successfully remote-controlled cars through extreme situations requiring emergency braking and evasive maneuvers. Its CEO argues that starting with teledriving will enable the company to build its brand and gather valuable operational data so it can gradually introduce autonomous features as they become available.
But the startup that employs about 70 people will have to overcome challenges like winning over local regulators, raising enough money to fund its expansion and managing peaks in supply and demand without frustrating customers.
Vay has so far collected some $30 million from investors including Twitter Chairman Patrick Pichette and venture capital firm Atomico and is open to sell shares to the public in the longer term, von der Ohe said. It’s in talks with major automakers about potential partnerships as the business scales and explores future use cases — think steering a truck from a distance as the in-vehicle driver rests.
And while outfitting cars with self-driving technology can add as much as $100,000 of cost, Vay says its proprietary software and hardware costs just a few thousand euros and could be installed on any car on the market.
“Vay appealed to us because of the economics,” said Atomico partner Niall Wass, a former Uber executive. “You can get a product on the road way quicker and way cheaper than pursuing Level-4 or Level-5 autonomy.”
Big jump in number of poor and very poor schoolgoing children in Covid aftermath
An estimated 1.9 million children of the 9 million in the schoolgoing age could be categorised as poor and very poor, which is a very high proportion, the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) said, revealing data from January 2021.
Dr Kraiyos Patrawart, Deputy Manager, said the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic has caused the income of these families of children and youth to drop to an average of 1,094 baht per month, with most of their income from agriculture or other fields, but has additional income from state welfare and compensation, said Dr Kraiyos.
The impact caused the number of extra-poor children screened in the new semester 1/2021 to increase to a new high record, which is 1,302,968 or increase by 128,524 from the 2nd semester of 2020.
NESDB also surveyed students in extra poverty in 29 provinces experiencing learning difficulties during Covid-19 due to lack of electricity and equipment. It found that 87.94% or 271,888 extra-poor students were facing problems. The top 5 provinces with the most problems were Narathiwat, Pattani, Tak, Nakhon Ratchasima and Yala.
Due to the risk that extra-poor children will fall out of the education system, the EEF has stepped in to help support additional scholarships so that students during the outbreak period can return to school.
As of August, 294,454 exceptionally poor students, 82.82%, or 242,081, had entered the education system. But there are still 43,060 children, or 14.6%, with no information that they have returned to study. Most of them were in Grade 6 of 33,710 and Grade 12 of 8,699.
A study in Southeast Asian countries found that distance education lost about 50% of student’s knowledge or about half a year. If the situation continues until the end of December 2021, the rate of learning lost among children will increase as much as a year. Such forecasts will affect the economy in the future that will be worth more than $9 trillion in losses, said Dilaka Lathapipat, Human Development Economist for the Education Unit of the World Bank based in Bangkok.
In Thailand, if the situation remains unchanged until the end of December 2021, the learning loss rate will be around 1.27 years, costing about $390 billion or equivalent to 30% of GDP.
In the future, this group of children will gradually enter the labour market. The loss of knowledge means a deterioration in the quality of the labour market and these children will have to stay in the labour market until 2081, or 60 years from now. Human capital lost during this period will directly reduce the growth potential of the economy, both capital accumulation and product including a decrease in development in all aspects
How to keep your phone charged and useful in a natural disaster
A smartphone can be a lifeline in a natural disaster, connecting you instantly to assistance and real-time resources. Unfortunately, many disasters like hurricanes and wildfires take out the exact things phones rely on to do that work: electricity and cell service.
The remnants of Hurricane Ida unloaded a historic deluge in New York City and the surrounding area on Wednesday night, triggering states of emergencies in New York and New Jersey and leading to at least nine deaths. Nearly 1 million households are still without power in Louisiana after Ida made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Sunday and the heavy rain knocked down cell towers, leaving many without a phone connection. In California, record-setting wildfires are encroaching on populated areas, including South Lake Tahoe where more than 20,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.
If you’re preparing for, in the midst of, or recovering from a disaster, here are some of the best ways you can get your phone in the best shape to help you. From making a charge last as long as possible, to finding the right information online.
– Make your battery last
Assume your electricity can go out at any time and plan accordingly. Charge your phone and any additional devices ahead of time, leaving them plugged in until the last minute. Also charge any backup batteries and laptops, then make sure all charging cords are collected in one place to take with you.
If the power is out, or if you’re no longer someplace with an outlet, you’ll need to make any charges last as long as possible. To do that, follow these instructions:
Turn on low power mode on your phone if it’s an option. On iPhones, go to Settings, Battery, and toggle on Low Power Mode so it’s green. On many Android phones, you can swipe down from top of the screen to see your notifications, and swipe down one more time to find a shortcut to the phone’s battery saver mode. Meanwhile, some recent Samsung phones offer even more aggressive ways to preserve battery life: Go to Settings, then Battery and Device Care, Battery, and finally Power Saving mode to tweak these options as needed.
Avoid draining activities. Don’t use your phone as a WiFi hotspot for other people, don’t watch streaming videos and close any apps running in the background that might be using location. Turn off notifications you don’t need. If you’re in a safe place, you can turn off GPS to stretch the battery life.
WiFi is less draining than cellular connections, so use it whenever possible. If you don’t need to be in immediate contact with anyone, you can even turn on Airplane mode for maximum power saving. (Unless you’re planning on leaving your phone off for a long period of time, it’s better not to turn it off completely.)
Turn off Background App Refresh on iPhones. Go to Settings, General, Background App Refresh. If you have an Android phone, search in your settings for a feature called Data Saver and turn it on – it will prevent all apps except the ones you’ve selected from sending or receiving data in the background.
Avoid phone calls, and especially video calls, in favor of texts when possible.
Turn down your screen’s brightness.
– Different ways to recharge your phone
Again, external batteries are the best to have. But in a pinch, you do have other options for recharging a device when the power is out.
You can charge off a laptop if you have one. This is a good reason to charge your computers as well, even if you don’t plan on using them.
If there’s an emergency hand-crank radio nearby, check to see if it has a USB port. You can plug your phone charger in here, but be prepared to crank for a long time.
If there’s a car available, you can connect through a USB port, whether it’s built in or through a lighter-port attachment. You can charge in many (but not all) cars by just turning them on to accessory mode – meaning you just turn the key once to fire up the radio but not the engine. Do not attempt to start the car if it’s in deep flooding or a closed space like a garage. If you’re going to need the vehicle to evacuate, be careful not to drain its battery on a phone.
– Contact 911 or other assistance
If you need emergency services and have a cellular or Internet connection, always start by calling 911. However, it can be hard to get through – in New Orleans, the 911 system crashed during Ida – and it’s best to try all options.
Many counties have added the ability to text 911. Only try this after, and in addition to, calling emergency services. When you text, include your name, a description of the emergency and an address. Look out for a bounce-back message to tell you if your local 911 doesn’t accept texts. If it does go through, don’t assume it was seen immediately.
Use your phone’s SOS service. Android and iOS both have built-in emergency options that will contact authorities. They also can be set up to send your current location to predetermined emergency contacts. It can vary depending on your device, so find out how it works ahead of time.
If authorities can’t reach you in time, your best bet might be your community or local help networks. For example, the Cajun Navy is a network of volunteers using boats and other equipment to help rescue people after floods and hurricanes in the South. They have a form on their website people can fill out to request a rescue.
– Share your location with friends
Your friends and family will want to know you are safe and your location in case you aren’t safe.
Send your location with everyone over text, so they’ll know where to look if you lose contact. Make sure to include people outside of the disaster zone. If you are using a GPS location-sharing option, like the one in iPhone Messages, don’t just send your current spot one time. Select the option to share it indefinitely. You can turn this off later.
On an iPhone, you can also open the Find My app, select Friends and add people to share your location with. You can share your live location with others through Google Maps, though there are some limitations.
If you’re on social media and have service, drop a line to let people know you’re okay. Facebook will let you mark yourself as safe if you’re in the area of a disaster. Start on the company’s Crisis Response page, where you can also find other calls for and offers of help.
– Get the latest emergency updates
To make sure you have the very latest information, including evacuation instructions, there are a few steps you can take before and during a disaster.
Sign up for all local emergency alerts. While some text alerts can be sent to all phones, many are only sent to people who have opted in. These services are set up by your local governments and use tools like Nixle. Go to your local emergency preparedness website (for example, New Orleans’s is ready.nola.gov) and follow directions. Usually you will be asked to text something to a specific number.
Download any emergency apps, such as FEMA’s, ahead of time. If you’re already dealing with limited service and battery life, stick to their websites.
Follow relevant emergency and informational accounts on Twitter and Facebook. This can include your local fire and police departments, the mayor and governor’s office, the state and federal emergency services offices, your local FEMA region, your local National Weather Service account, your state department of transportation, and the state and local fire services. Follow the Twitter hashtag for your disaster, but screen any information you find. Look out for any scams – nobody should call and ask you for money to assist you.
– Keep phones dry and at the right temperature
Most modern phones are sturdy but sensitive to their environments. To make sure they continue working efficiently, take these precautions.
Many phones are now rated as “water resistant.” However, you should still avoid exposing them to water as much as possible. If you are dealing with flooding and rain, pop them into a plastic zip-top bag. If you’re dealing with a fire, pack them with something cool.
In a storm or hurricane, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to keep your phone dry indefinitely. If your phone does get drenched, wipe it down with a dry cloth, gently shake out any excess water and remove the battery if possible. In the event that you have access to a hair dryer with a cooling function, or a working car heater, you can use them to dry the area around your phone’s charging port.
Extreme cold and heat can cause your phone battery to be less efficient and even stop your phone from working. You’ll typically see a warning sign on the screen if this happens. If you can turn it off, don’t turn it back on until it’s back to an acceptable temperature. Whether it’s extreme cold or heat, avoid leaving your phone exposed and don’t leave it in a car.
– Get apps that work when cell service is spotty
If you’re struggling to find reliable Internet and cellular connections, there are apps that could still help you stay in touch or give you helpful information. Download and set them up early as part of your disaster preparation, when you have plenty of bandwidth.
Zello: It’s a free messaging app for Android and iOS that lets people create and join group “channels” where they can send voice messages and images to many others at once. (Think of it as a free, smartphone-based walkie-talkie.) Multiple volunteer groups have used Zello to organize relief and assistance efforts during hurricanes, but there’s one catch: the app cannot be used at all if you don’t have an Internet connection.
Google Maps: Download the Google Maps information for surrounding areas in case you need to move fast and cell service isn’t available. Put in your main location, hit the three dots in the corner, select Download Offline Map. You can crop the exact area you think you’ll need.
Thai importer unveils digital Covid testing device
A digital Covid-19 testing device was unveiled as Thailand’s latest weapon against the virus crisis on Wednesday.
APA Biotechs Care, an importer of skincare and medical equipment, said it had signed an agreement to import PixoTest POCT Covid-19 antigen testing devices on July 31.
Punyawee Ratanapatarapong, the company’s CEO, said the palm-sized device screens users for Covid-19 infection, records their health information and reports it via a smartphone application.
The PixoTest solution shortens the test-to-report time to 15 minutes, says its Taiwanese maker iXensor Co Ltd.
Punyawee added that the device had been used successfully in countries where new Covid-19 variants were discovered. She said it was a viable solution for screening in communities, businesses, tourism and education.
“To contain the spread of Covid-19, we should focus on testing frequently,” she said, citing guidance from Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.
She added that the company is in the process of registering the device with the Thai Food and Drug Administration.