Apple-picking robots gear up for U.S. debut in Washington state

Apple-picking robots gear up for U.S. debut in Washington state

9:06am, 13th May, 2019
Abundant Robotics’ apple picking system was developed in collaboration with Washington state apple growers. (Abundant Robotics Photo) Next fall, as you browse the produce section at your local grocery store, pay close attention to the apples. You might be witnessing American history. For the first time, some of the apples sold in the U.S. will be picked by a robot rather than human hands. That’s thanks to agricultural automation startup , the maker of apple harvesting machines that will partake in Washington state’s next harvest. “This will be the first season that we’re actually ready to harvest commercially,” said Abundant CEO . “It’s incredibly exciting.” Abundant’s picker has more in common with a really smart Hoover vacuum than a human hand. The robot moves down rows of orchards and uses artificial intelligence with a dash of LIDAR to search for ripe apples. Once spotted, a robotic arm with a vacuum gently sucks the apples from the tree into a bin. The achievement is owed to advances not only in machine learning and robotics but also in agriculture. The architecture of apple trees has evolved over the decades, and it’s now common to grow them on trellises like you would tomatoes or cucumbers. Modern apple trees are also smaller, derived from dwarf varietals that yield more per acre and produce fruit more quickly after being planted. These horticultural leaps have allowed farmers to double their apple yields. They’ve also made the job of picking easier for humans and, now, for robots. Karen Lewis, a tree fruit specialist at Washington State University who has worked with Abundant and other robotics startups, said that apple trees have reached a “sweet spot” for robotic harvesting. Orchards are now sufficiently uniform and predictable for machines to reliably pick fruit, and canopies are narrow enough for sunlight, the human eye and vision systems to penetrate. Successful tech companies, she said, are the ones that listen to what farmers need. “We’re not going to let technology be the driver here. Horticulture needs to be the driver.” The U.S. debut comes following a rollout in New Zealand, where Abundant began a commercial harvest earlier this year. Steere said the decision to make the global debut in New Zealand rather than Washington was based purely on seasonal luck. He added that Abundant owed a lot to the Washington growers, who gave the startup crucial support and feedback in its early years. “The special thing about Washington is the scale, the sophistication and the openness to supporting innovation,” he said. Steere declined to say how many machines would be put to use this fall or which growers Abundant is working with. Menlo Park, Calif.-based Abundant has raised $12 million with backing from GV, formerly Google Ventures, among others. The startup formed out of the robotics division at SRI International, a research lab in California. Abundant’s main competition is Fresh Fruit Robotics, an Israeli startup that’s developing a picker that uses a claw-like appendage. Both companies have received funding from the Washington State Tree Fruit Association. Steere and his team have been developing the robots with help from growers in Washington state for the past six years. The process has involved both give and take: Abundant received feedback on how to improve the machines, and growers have adapted their practices to work with automation. “It’s not that people haven’t wanted to automate harvesting fruit, it’s that it’s never been possible,” Steere said. “Now we’re making it possible.” Modern apple orchards often feature smaller trees with narrow canopies. (WSU Photo) Wherever automation appears, so does the question of whose jobs might be displaced. But American farmers have for years an are increasingly dependent on foreign seasonal labor. Approvals for H-2A visas, which allow foreigners to do agriculture-related work in the U.S. temporarily, increased by a factor of five over the past 13 years, according to the USDA. The program now accounts for around 8 percent of the total agricultural workforce. In Washington state, those seasonal worker visas exploded from 3,014 to 24,862 in the past eight years. “We’re being squeezed,” said Lewis. “There’s substantial pressure from not being able to attract and retain a workforce.” That labor shortage has been accompanied by higher wages. In Washington state, the minimum wage is set to jump by $1.50 to $13.50 an hour next year, an increases that Lewis said could amount to a quarter of a million dollars for a grower that manages 250 acres. The typical American farm worker makes $11.84 per hour. (USDA data / GeekWire chart) Farmers have also been battered by trade wars, which have , and they face threats from . Robots could help carry some of the weight of Washington state’s enormous apple harvest, which supplies nearly in the U.S., according to the U.S. Apple Association. The U.S. ranks second globally in apple production, behind China. Agricultural robot shipments are from 60,000 units today to more than 727,000 in 2025, according to market research firm Tractica. Still, replacing people with new technology is “scary and expensive,” Lewis said. Lewis is hopeful that the robots are finally reaching a point where they can make growers more profitable. “We’ve had a bit of over promise, under deliver” from tech companies, she said. “That has led to fatigue among growers.” Abundant’s leadership boasts some agricultural street cred. Steere grew up in a family of farmers, spending time on his grandfather and uncle’s cotton and soybean farms. Abundant co-founder Michael Eriksen was raised on a dairy farm in Denmark. And Curt Salisbury, another co-founder, is a native of the Columbia Basin, one of Washington state’s main apple-growing regions. “When I was a kid, I was fascinated with combines, the big machines that would go through and harvest soybeans, or cotton pickers that would drive through and pick cotton,” Steere said. “We get to make these machines for an industry that’s never had that kind of automation before.”
Washington Hyperloop slims down its pod racer for Elon Musk’s next big contest

Washington Hyperloop slims down its pod racer for Elon Musk’s next big contest

12:51am, 13th May, 2019
Washington Hyperloop team members show off their Husky spirit at an on-campus unveiling of this year’s pod racer. Veteran team member Mitchell Frimodt peeks out from within the pod’s carbon composite shell, while the guts of the racer are on display on a table at left. (Margo Cavis Photo) Could this year be the year for ? For the fourth time, the students on University of Washington’s pod-racing team are taking aim at the top prize in tech titan Elon Musk’s competition, and this time they’ve got their racer down to fighting weight. This year’s purple pod racer, which looks like a cross between a bobsled and a miniaturized bullet train, was unveiled Friday night at UW’s Husky Union Building. “Our pod this year is about 60 percent of the weight of last year’s pod, with the same propulsion specs,” engineering senior Mitchell Frimodt, one of the veterans on the Hyperloop team, told GeekWire. “That’s our performance boost.” Propulsive oomph per pound is a key factor in what’s become an annual tradition that plays out at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. This year, Washington Hyperloop and a dozen other collegiate teams are . Competitors will show off the racers they’ve built, and the best of the pack will face off in time trials conducted in a mile-long tube that’s been built just across the street from SpaceX’s rocket factory. The fastest team wins. And in the previous three competitions, the fastest team has been WARR Hyperloop from the Technical University of Munich in Germany. This year, Munich’s student engineers are racing under a different team name — — but they’re expected to be every bit as formidable. “We’re looking to give them a run for the money,” Frimodt said. Frimodt is speaking figuratively: There’s no prize money as such, but the Hyperloop contest gives those who do well an enviable spotlight in the engineering world. Frimodt said some of Washington Hyperloop’s alumni are now working at SpaceX, Tesla, Apple and other cutting-edge ventures — including Musk’s very own tunneling venture, . “One of our old business guys is actually with the Boring Company currently, down in L.A.,” he said. “I haven’t heard exactly what he’s up to down there, but that’s pretty cool. We’ve had one alum go on to .” Musk as a way to short-circuit traffic snarls within and between urban areas. The original concept called for pods to travel through low-pressure tubes at near-supersonic speeds, cutting the travel time between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles to about a half-hour. To cite another example, a Pacific Northwest Hyperloop could . Since then, the intercity Hyperloop concept has given rise to commercial ventures that don’t involve Musk, including and . For now, Musk is concentrating on the Boring Company’s somewhat less speedy tunnel travel concept, which is known as the Loop. Loop projects are in various stages of development in , , and the . Frimodt said most of the 40 or so members of the Washington Hyperloop team see their involvement as a way to exercise their general engineering skills, rather than creating a commercially viable Hyperloop pod. “For us, it’s more on pushing the edge of technology. … Our focus is very much on the competition,” he said. Only about half of the team’s members are veterans of past Hyperloop contests. Thanks to the team’s previous successes, including an , Washington Hyperloop’s organizers received “a ton of applicants” seeking to join the team last fall, Frimodt said. So what’s the secret sauce for this year? It’s not necessarily the propulsion technology: The team is going with a cold-gas thruster system that’s similar to the one that won them fourth place in last year’s competition. Basically, pressurized nitrogen blasts through a rocket-like nozzle to shoot the pod down the Hyperloop track. “It’s a rocket without the combustion,” Frimodt explained. One big change from last year has to do with weight reduction. This year’s team members were rigorous about enforcing weight budgets for each of the pod’s components, and were lots more liberal about using lightweight carbon composites rather than metal parts. Another change has to do with advance preparation, particularly when it comes to the software side of the project. Last year, “people were working on our code on the day of the competition,” said Fedor Paretsky, a UW junior in applied physics who works on the control and power subsystem team. This year, the Washington Hyperloop team is ahead of the game, development-wise. And one of the reasons for that has to do with one of the team’s sponsors, a California-based tech company named , which is providing the team with financial support as well as help with an open-source programming language for cloud-based applications known as . “Ballerina acts as our data relay,” Paretsky said. “It relays data every 25 milliseconds. … If we decide that something’s going wrong, or we need to do an emergency stop, Ballerina ensures that the pod is communicated with, efficiently.” Ballerina also serves to coordinate software development. “Anybody can literally just pull the image [for the pod’s software] off the cloud,” he said. In addition to WSO2, Ballerina and various UW departments, the team has recruited ranging from Boeing to Pagliacci Pizza (and it doesn’t take an engineer to guess what Pagliacci is contributing). Their logos are all emblazoned on what Washington Hyperloop hopes will be this year’s top pod. It could be a nail-biter: Last year’s competition at SpaceX saw the WARR team set a new world record for Hyperloop travel, with a . Can Washington Hyperloop improve on that mark? “We’re not 100 percent sure yet, until we get a final pod weight based off everything we put on there, and do our static-fire testing to characterize our propulsion system,” Frimodt said. “But it’s probably looking like somewhere from 260 miles an hour to 300 miles an hour.”
Washington Hyperloop slims down its racing pod for Elon Musk’s next big contest

Washington Hyperloop slims down its racing pod for Elon Musk’s next big contest

1:49pm, 11th May, 2019
Washington Hyperloop team members show off their Husky spirit at an on-campus unveiling of this year’s pod racer. Veteran team member Mitchell Frimodt peeks out from within the pod’s carbon composite shell, while the guts of the racer are on display on a table at left. (Margo Cavis Photo) Could this year be the year for ? For the fourth time, the students on University of Washington’s pod-racing team are taking aim at the top prize in tech titan Elon Musk’s competition, and this time they’ve got their racer down to fighting weight. This year’s purple pod racer, which looks like a cross between a bobsled and a miniaturized bullet train, was unveiled Friday night at UW’s Husky Union Building. “Our pod this year is about 60 percent of the weight of last year’s pod, with the same propulsion specs,” engineering senior Mitchell Frimodt, one of the veterans on the Hyperloop team, told GeekWire. “That’s our performance boost.” Propulsive oomph per pound is a key factor in what’s become an annual tradition that plays out at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. This year, Washington Hyperloop and a dozen other collegiate teams are . Competitors will show off the racers they’ve built, and the best of the pack will face off in time trials conducted in a mile-long tube that’s been built just across the street from SpaceX’s rocket factory. The fastest team wins. And in the previous three competitions, the fastest team has been WARR Hyperloop from the Technical University of Munich in Germany. This year, Munich’s student engineers are racing under a different team name — — but they’re expected to be every bit as formidable. “We’re looking to give them a run for the money,” Frimodt said. Frimodt is speaking figuratively: There’s no prize money as such, but the Hyperloop contest gives those who do well an enviable spotlight in the engineering world. Frimodt said some of Washington Hyperloop’s alumni are now working at SpaceX, Tesla, Apple and other cutting-edge ventures — including Musk’s very own tunneling venture, . “One of our old business guys is actually with the Boring Company currently, down in L.A.,” he said. “I haven’t heard exactly what he’s up to down there, but that’s pretty cool. We’ve had one alum go on to .” Musk as a way to short-circuit traffic snarls within and between urban areas. The original concept called for pods to travel at near-supersonic speeds, cutting the travel time between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles to about a half-hour. To cite another example, a Pacific Northwest Hyperloop could . Since then, the intercity Hyperloop concept has given rise to commercial ventures that don’t involve Musk, including and . For now, Musk is concentrating on the Boring Company’s tunnel travel concept, which is known as the Loop. Loop projects are in various stages of development in , , and the . Frimodt said most of the 40 or so members of the Washington Hyperloop team see their involvement as a way to exercise their general engineering skills, rather than creating a commercially viable Hyperloop pod. “For us, it’s more on pushing the edge of technology. … Our focus is very much on the competition,” he said. Only about half of the team’s members are veterans of past competitions. Thanks to the team’s past successes, Washington Hyperloop’s organizers received “a ton of applicants” seeking to join the team last fall, Frimodt said. So what’s the secret sauce for this year? It’s not necessarily the propulsion technology: The team is going with a cold-gas thruster system that’s similar to the one that won them fourth place in last year’s competition. Basically, pressurized nitrogen blasts through a rocket-like nozzle to shoot the pod down the Hyperloop track. “It’s a rocket without the combustion,” Frimodt explained. One big change from last year has to do with weight reduction. This year’s team members were rigorous about enforcing weight budgets for each of the pod’s components, and were lots more liberal about using lightweight carbon composites rather than metal parts. Another change has to do with advance preparation, particularly when it comes to the software side of the project. Last year, “people were working on our code on the day of the competition,” said Fedor Paretsky, a UW junior in applied physics who works on the control and power subsystem team. This year, the Washington Hyperloop team is ahead of the game, development-wise. And one of the reasons for that has to do with one of the team’s sponsors, a California-based tech company named , which is providing the team with financial support as well as help with an open-source programming language for cloud-based applications known as . “Ballerina acts as our data relay,” Paretsky said. “It relays data every 25 milliseconds. … If we decide that something’s going wrong, or we need to do an emergency stop, Ballerina ensures that the pod is communicated with, efficiently.” Ballerina also serves to coordinate software development. “Anybody can literally just pull the image [for the pod’s software] off the cloud,” he said. In addition to WSO2, Ballerina and various UW departments, the team has recruited ranging from Boeing to Pagliacci Pizza (and it doesn’t take an engineer to guess what Pagliacci is contributing). Their logos are all emblazoned on what Washington Hyperloop hopes will be this year’s top pod. It could be a nail-biter: Last year’s competition at SpaceX saw the WARR team set a new world record for Hyperloop travel, with a . Can Washington Hyperloop improve on that mark? “We’re not 100 percent sure yet, until we get a final pod weight based off everything we put on there, and do our static-fire testing to characterize our propulsion system,” Frimodt said. “But it’s probably looking like somewhere from 260 miles an hour to 300 miles an hour.”
Tenax Aerospace invests millions in Overwatch Imaging to boost autonomous aerial surveys

Tenax Aerospace invests millions in Overwatch Imaging to boost autonomous aerial surveys

8:25am, 8th May, 2019
Overwatch Imaging’s real-time fire perimeter mapping increases safety. (Overwatch Image) , an Oregon venture that specializes in airborne imaging systems, says it has won a multimillion-dollar investment from , which focuses on aviation solutions that are specialized to suit the needs of its clients in government and the commercial sector. The Series A funding deal, announced today, builds on an existing partnership between Overwatch and Tenax, a privately held company that’s based in Mississippi. It marks the first outside investment taken in by Overwatch, which was founded in 2016. Overwatch CEO and co-founder Greg Davis said the size of the investment amounts to millions of dollars, but he declined to be more precise. The money will go toward expanding Overwatch’s production operations into a larger facility in Hood River, Ore., and accelerating development of the company’s AI software for autonomous imagery collection and analysis. In a news release, Tenax Aerospace’s president, Taran Bakker, called Overwatch “an emerging leader in artificial intelligence and autonomy in airborne imaging.” “Overwatch Imaging has developed an exciting new technology that will be very valuable to customers with special missions involving surveillance, mapping or threat detection,” Bakker said. Tenax Aerospace provides special mission aircraft and related services to customers including the Federal Aviation Administration and the departments of Defense, Justice; Agriculture and Homeland Security. The company focuses on applications that are critical to national security and the public interest, including aerial fire suppression, aerial intelligence gathering and airborne data acquisition. Tenax and Overwatch are already working together on a U.S. Forest Service project related to monitoring and fighting forest fires. That project involves the use of Overwatch’s imaging system on Tenax’s aircraft. Future projects could focus on applications such as border surveillance and maritime traffic monitoring. Davis said Tenax Aerospace emerged as the ideal partner for Overwatch Imaging’s expansion campaign during a six-month process to assess potential investors. As a result of that process, Tenax will be contributing more than money: Bakker will be joining Davis and co-founder Nick Anderson on Overwatch’s board. “We immediately shared a common vision for the future,” said Davis, who’s a veteran of . “I am excited to have Taran’s expertise and enthusiasm on our board as we grow.”
Boeing says problem with 737 MAX warning signal slipped through the cracks

Boeing says problem with 737 MAX warning signal slipped through the cracks

1:07pm, 6th May, 2019
Boeing’s first 737 MAX 9 jet makes its appearance at the company’s Renton plant in 2017. (Boeing Photo) Boeing says a warning alert system that figures in the investigation of two catastrophic 737 MAX crashes didn’t work the way it was supposed to because of a software flaw that engineers identified a year before the accidents. The revelation adds a new twist to the debate over the company’s safety practices. In this case, the debate focuses on a feature known as the “AOA Disagree” alert, which is supposed to light up in the cockpit if there’s a mismatch in data coming from two angle-of-attack sensors on the plane. Investigators suggest that bad sensor data played a key role in October’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia, which killed all 189 people aboard the plane; and March’s Ethiopian Airlines crash, which killed 157. Within days of the Ethiopian crash, all 737 MAX airplanes were grounded worldwide. Boeing engineers knew about a problem with the “AOA Disagree” alert well before that. The alert was originally intended to be a standard feature on the 737 MAX and the previous generation of 737 planes, known as the 737 NG (for “Next Generation”). But in a , Boeing said that in 2017, several months after deliveries began, engineers became aware that the 737 MAX display system software didn’t meet the original requirements. “The software delivered to Boeing linked the AOA Disagree alert to the AOA indicator, which is an optional feature on the MAX and the NG. Accordingly, the software activated the AOA Disagree alert only if an airline opted for the AOA indicator,” Boeing said. The company said it followed standard procedure for reviewing the issue, and determined that neither the software-based angle-of-attack indicator nor the alert was necessary for safe operation of the airplane. “Accordingly, the review concluded, the existing functionality was acceptable until the alert and the indicator could be delinked in the next planned display system software update,” Boeing said. “Senior company leadership was not involved in the review and first became aware of this issue in the aftermath of the Lion Air accident.” That’s when Boeing discussed the issue with the Federal Aviation Administration. About a week after the Indonesia crash, Boeing and the FAA issued bulletins noting that both the angle-of-attack indicator and the alert system were optional. Last December, Boeing conducted a follow-up internal safety review, which confirmed the view that the absence of a warning alert did not present a safety issue. The findings of that review were shared with the FAA, Boeing said. Three months after the review, the Ethiopian crash occurred. In the wake of that crash, Boeing has said the “AOA Disagree” issue will be fixed before the 737 MAX returns to flight. “Boeing is issuing a display system software update, to implement the AOA Disagree alert as a standard, standalone feature before the MAX returns to service,” the company said in its statement. “When the MAX returns to service, all MAX production aircraft will have an activated and operable AOA Disagree alert and an optional angle of attack indicator. All customers with previously delivered MAX airplanes will have the ability to activate the AOA Disagree alert.” The statement adds context to earlier reports that the angle-of-attack alert system was available only as part of an optional software package. It’s debatable whether either of the crashes could have been avoided if the alert was available as a standard feature on the planes involved. In the Ethiopian case, the investigation suggests that the pilots knew about the issue surrounding the angle-of-attack sensors and their effect on the 737 MAX’s automatic flight control system — but were nevertheless unable to pull the plane out of its final dive. In any case, the questions surrounding what Boeing engineers knew and when they knew it seem sure to figure in the multiple investigations sparked by the crashes. U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., told KOMO News that the FAA’s actions before and after the crashes will also be examined during a May 15 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Aviation, which he chairs. ”We need to first find answers to ensure the safety of the airplane, to ensure the FAA is doing the right thing, that Boeing is doing the right thing, and that’ll be our focus,” Larsen told KOMO on Saturday, a day before Boeing issued its statement.
Microsoft teams up with UNESCO and kids to revive lost monuments with Minecraft

Microsoft teams up with UNESCO and kids to revive lost monuments with Minecraft

2:30pm, 3rd May, 2019
Islamic State forces blew up the Al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq, as they withdrew from the city in 2017. (Photo Courtesy of History Blocks) Can a video game reclaim centuries’ worth of lost cultural heritage in the Middle East? Microsoft’s Minecraft Education Edition is being used to do just that, in league with UNESCO and schools around the world. History Blocks takes advantage of the educationally oriented Minecraft platform to build virtual versions of ancient monuments — starting with sites that were destroyed by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The project was conceived and developed by Agencia Africa in Brazil, and put to its first test this February at Escola Bosque, a private school in São Paulo. “It is surprising to see the level of the students’ engagement in the History Blocks project,” Escola Bosque’s pedagogical director, Silvia Scuracchio, said today in a news release. “At the same time that they solve complex geometry, logic and abstract challenges, it’s possible to see how they get involved with the culture and history behind the monuments and their destruction. For many of them, it was their first contact with concepts such as cultural destruction and ideology oppression.” Students aged from 9 to 13 built up their models from historical images of the , the and the entrance to the in Syria, as well as the and the in Iraq, and Afghanistan’s . Since February, the History Blocks project has been picked up by schools in more than 30 countries using the Minecraft Education Edition. “Technology is a tool to transform education and bring to life methods that used to be unthinkable when it comes to teaching,” said Daniel Maia, manager for academic projects at Microsoft Brazil. “The project on UNESCO’s world heritage sites opens the door for students all over the world to study important monuments of our history.” Minecraft and History Blocks are great teaching tools, but if you’re looking for high-fidelity models of heritage hotspots ranging from to Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, they’re covered by other software and survey programs. The International Council on Monuments and Sites, a U.N. advisory panel also known as ICOMOS, is one of the leaders in the effort to document cultural sites. Over the past few years, ICOMOS’ (from the Arabic word for “phoenix”) has been conducting surveys of sites in Syria, starting with six representative buildings in Damascus. You can . A historical conservation initiative called is playing a key role in 3-D documentation, for Project Anqa as well as s around the world. CyArk’s detailed digital scans feed into Google Arts and Sciences’ . For a powerful demonstration of the technology, check ou in South Dakota. (But make sure your computer is powerful enough for the task.) Could virtual models provide enough information to rebuild lost monuments? Historians and architects certainly hope so: They’re banking on surveys of Notre Dame, including conducted several years ago under the leadership of the late art historian , to serve as a guide for the reconstruction ahead.
Tesla gets a boost after $2.3B debt and stock offering that Elon Musk is buying into

Tesla gets a boost after $2.3B debt and stock offering that Elon Musk is buying into

12:15pm, 2nd May, 2019
Tesla CEO Elon Musk checks out the Model Y during its unveiling in March. (Tesla via YouTube) Tesla is aiming to raise up to $2.3 billion in newly announced offerings of stock and convertible notes, just a week after CEO Elon Musk told analysts that the . Musk himself will purchase an additional $10 million of common stock, Tesla said today in a . That would add to his status as the electric-car company’s largest shareholder, with roughly 20 percent of Tesla’s shares. The share price was more than 3.5 percent above the previous day’s close during midday trading today. Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors that the offerings were a “clear net positive for Tesla” because they cleared up long-lingering uncertainty over whether Tesla would have enough cash on hand to meet upcoming debt payments. One of the offerings announced today will make $650 million in common stock available, while the second offering calls for the issuance of up to $1.35 billion in convertible senior notes due in 2024. There’s also a 30-day option for underwriters to purchase up to an additional 15% of each offering. If all the options are exercised, the gross proceeds would come to about $2.3 billion before discounts and expenses, Tesla said. Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are acting as joint lead managers for the offering, with involvement as well from BofA Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank Securities, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Societe Generale and Wells Fargo Securities. The company said it would “use the net proceeds to further strengthen its balance sheet, as well as for general corporate purposes.” In last week’s financial report, Tesla for the first quarter of the year, after posting profits for the previous two quarters. Looking ahead, the company has ambitious plans to ramp up production of its Model 3 electric car and move ahead with projects ranging from its Semi truck, Model Y crossover SUV and all-electric pickup truck to electricity-generating solar roofs, a and car insurance. Some analysts worry about the effect of Tesla’s financial losses, the gradual fade-out of federal tax credits and rising competition in the electric-vehicle market. Such uncertainties, coupled with , have led to dramatic ups and downs in the share price over the past year. A year ago, for Tesla’s investors: “Do not buy if volatility is scary,” he said.
Boeing CEO rebuffs the idea of resigning amid debate over 737 MAX’s fitness to fly

Boeing CEO rebuffs the idea of resigning amid debate over 737 MAX’s fitness to fly

4:12pm, 29th April, 2019
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg takes questions at a news conference in Chicago. (AP via YouTube) Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg stuck to his positions on the safety of the 737 MAX airplane today during a contentious annual shareholders’ meeting and news conference in Chicago. Muilenburg took questions in a face-to-face public forum for the first time since last month’s due to concerns raised by two catastrophically fatal crashes last October and this March. At one point, a reporter asked Muilenburg whether he’d resign. “My clear intent is to continue to lead on the front of safety and quality and integrity,” he replied. “That’s who we are as a company.” Muilenburg said that he’s been talking with factory workers in Renton, Wash., and with Boeing test pilots over the past few weeks. “To the core of our people, they care about this business and the safety of our airplanes,” he said. “That’s what I’m focused on.” Investigations into October’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia, and March’s Ethiopian Airlines crash in Ethiopia, have focused on an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. The system was designed to replicate the operating conditions of previous-generation 737 planes on the 737 MAX, which is equipped with bigger jet engine. But preliminary findings suggested that during each fatal flight, spurious data from an angle-of-attack sensor repeatedly forced the plane into a steep dive. Boeing had laid out procedures to regain control, but in the two tragedies, the procedures either weren’t followed to the letter or didn’t work. Muilenburg resisted characterizing the MCAS issue as a design flaw or a mistake. Instead, he said the issue was a “link in the chain” that will be broken thanks to a software update that’s being tested for certification by the Federal Aviation Administration and other regulatory agencies around the world. The process by which the 737 MAX was originally certified for flight in 2017 is currently under investigation by an internal Boeing team and the FAA, as well as by the Justice Department and the FBI. Muilenburg insisted that MCAS system “was designed per our standards” and followed proper certification procedures. “We haven’t seen a technical slip or gap in terms of the fundamental design and certification of the approach,” Muilenburg told reporters. “That said, we know this is a link in both accidents that we can break. That’s a software update that we know how to do. We own it, and we will make that update, and this will make the airplane even safer going forward.” During today’s meeting, Boeing shareholders voted down a proposal to remake the company’s chairmanship as an independent position that would rule out Muilenburg’s dual role as CEO and chairman. Relatives of some of the victims of the 737 MAX crashes traveled to Chicago to take part in a news conference aimed at drawing attention to lawsuits being filed against Boeing. One of the speakers was Manant Vaidya, a Canadian of Indian descent who lost six family members in the Ethiopia crash. Vaidya was sharply critical of Muilenburg’s comments. “He said that all design and certifications were followed. At the end of day, if all certifications were done, how could the crash still have occurred?” he said. “I am completely lost right now. I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the world.” Over the weekend, a number of media outlets reported that some 737 MAX planes didn’t have an indicator known as a “disagree alert,” which might have given pilots an early indication that an angle-of-attack sensor was feeding bad data to the MCAS system. Today, Boeing : “Boeing included the disagree alert as a standard feature on the MAX, although this alert has not been considered a safety feature on airplanes and is not necessary for the safe operation of the airplane. Boeing did not intentionally or otherwise deactivate the disagree alert on its MAX airplanes. “The disagree alert was intended to be a standard, stand-alone feature on MAX airplanes. However, the disagree alert was not operable on all airplanes because the feature was not activated as intended. “The disagree alert was tied or linked into the angle of attack indicator, which is an optional feature on the MAX. Unless an airline opted for the angle of attack indicator, the disagree alert was not operable. [The angle-of-attack indicator is a software-based information feature that’s distinct from the angle-of-attack sensor hardware. For more on the distinction, .] “On every airplane delivered to our customers, including the MAX, all flight data and information needed to safely operate the aircraft is provided in the flight deck and on the flight deck display. This information is readily accessible to pilots, and it always has been. “The air speed, attitude, and altitude displays, together with the stick shaker, are the primary flight information indicators in the flight deck. All recommended pilot actions, checklists, and training are based upon these primary indicators, not on the AOA disagree alert or the angle of attack indicator. “As the MAX safely returns to the air after the software modifications are approved and certified, all MAX production aircraft will have an activated and operable disagree alert and an optional angle of attack indicator. All customers with previously delivered MAX airplanes will have the ability to activate the disagree alert per a service bulletin to airlines. “We are confident that when the MAX returns to the skies, it will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly.” For what it’s worth, Boeing’s shares finished the trading day down 0.46%, at $379.05.
Elon Musk touches on his Twitter tactics after settling with SEC over Tesla tweets

Elon Musk touches on his Twitter tactics after settling with SEC over Tesla tweets

1:09pm, 27th April, 2019
Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveils the Model 3 electric car in 2016. (Tesla via YouTube) Tesla CEO Elon Musk has to keep his Twitter habit in check — and feels comfortable enough with the arrangement to refer to it in a teasing tweet. Friday’s settlement was a serious matter: Musk could have faced sanctions for contempt of court if he failed to patch up the rift with the SEC over whether he was following the terms of an . To refresh your memory, the SEC last September for incorrectly claiming on Twitter that he had secured funding to buy up publicly traded shares of the Tesla electric-car company and take the company private. Under the terms of the settlement of that fraud case, Musk and Tesla each paid a $20 million fine, Musk agreed to surrender his title as chairman, and he agreed to have tweets about Tesla reviewed in advance by a company overseer. (Some folks have referred to that person as Musk’s “Twitter sitter.”) During the months that followed, Musk made statements suggesting that he had a loose interpretation of what fell under the Twitter sitter’s purview, and in February he sent out a controversial Tesla-centric tweet that the company’s lawyers acknowledged wasn’t cleared in advance. Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019 — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) That’s what set off the . U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan told Musk and the SEC to resolve their differences, and after a couple of extensions, the two parties finally filed the for Nathan’s review and likely approval. The consent motion gets specific about the topics that Musk will have to have the company overseer review before issuing written statements in venues ranging from Twitter to press releases and blog posts. (We’ve included the list at the end of this report.) Musk didn’t make any direct comments about the agreement, or how he’ll change his tweeting ways, but he did touch on the tiff in a Twitter conversation about his Twitter habit. (So meta!) Here’s how the exchange played out: sometimes i think Neuralink is already implanted in you… how can you keep up with all of your twitter mentions & pick which one is important or interesting to respond to!? — Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo (@JaneidyEve) Only see about 5% of mentions. No deep logic to those I answer. Aspirationally useful, but often whimsical. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) It’s just me writing, so the foolish things I say are entirely my fault
The ‘State of Technology’ spotlight shines on Digital Winglets and in-flight Wi-Fi

The ‘State of Technology’ spotlight shines on Digital Winglets and in-flight Wi-Fi

9:09pm, 26th April, 2019
Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden and Nordstrom’s chief digital officer, Ken Worzel, share a laugh during the 2019 State of Technology Luncheon, presented by the Technology Alliance. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) There was a heavy aerospace spin to this year’s presented today by the Technology Alliance at the Seattle Sheraton. Alaska Airlines CEO was the keynote speaker for what’s been billed as “the premier annual event of Washington’s innovation community.” Three other aerospace executives had their time in the spotlight as well, and hundreds of representatives from the tech industry, academia and government were in attendance. Here are a few highlights from the event: We’re all tech companies now: During an onstage fireside chat, Nordstrom chief digital officer Ken Worzel asked Tilden whether he classified Alaska Airlines as a technology company. “Absolutely,” Tilden replied. “I bet every single person in this room thinks of where they work as a technology company. It’s hugely, hugely important to us.” What about my Wi-Fi? One of the biggest applause lines came when Tilden responded to a question about the slowness of in-flight Wi-Fi. he said. “We have 225 airplanes with Wi-Fi, 25 of them have satellite [connectivity]. Satellite is 20 times faster than ground-based Wi-Fi. All the airplanes will be done 12 months from now. … It’s not going to be as fast as your 1-gigabit home computer, but it will be as fast as your mobile phone, and you’ll be able to download and stream.” A vote of support for Boeing: Tilden said Alaska Airlines is remaining “hugely loyal to Boeing” as the airplane manufacturer works through issues that have arisen in the wake of two catastrophic crashes. Software updates are soon expected to address problems with an automated flight control system on the 737 MAX. “Our team has looked at them,” Tilden said of the updates, “and we’re satisfied that they’re the right changes.” Debut for Digital Winglets: CEO Tom Gibbons showed off his company’s app, which monitors and analyzes an airplane’s vital statistics and crowdsourced situational data in real time to optimize the plane’s fuel usage and route during a flight. “It’s Waze for your airplane,” Gibbons said, referring to the . Today the company that it was partnering with Alaska Airlines to develop NASA’s technology and deploy it across Alaska’s entire fleet. also makes sure airplanes are serviced in a timely manner during on-the-ground turnarounds, and keeps track of an airplane’s operational health. Electric aviation on the horizon: CEO Roei Ganzarski recapped his electric propulsion company’s recent deals to with electric motors, and . Ganzarski said that Harbour Air’s first converted all-electric plane would make its first test flight in November, and that Eviation’s Alice airplane would have its first flight by the end of the year. “The one thing I would love to see this state do is take the lead in the United States,” he said. Ganzarski suggested that Washington state could encourage short-haul airlines to go all-electric by, say, 2050. The space gold rush: CEO Curt Blake talked up his company’s logistical role in , this year’s launch that , and other satellite missions. “I was downtown in Pioneer Square not long ago, and I went by that ,” Blake said. “And I thought, that’s not really unlike what we’re doing. The people in Seattle were selling tickets to get up to Alaska, they were selling picks and shovels. … We’re basically doing the same thing: We’re providing the means for people to get to outer space and really fulfill their dreams, commercializing what’s up there — hopefully to make what’s down here a little better.”