Tesla ‘Autopilot’ Crash: US NTSB Board to Vote on Likely Cause

The US National Transportation Safety Board will vote at a September 12 hearing on the probable cause of a May 2016 crash that killed a man using the semi-autonomous driving system on his Tesla Model S sedan, the agency said on Monday.

The fatal incident raised questions about the safety of systems that can perform driving tasks for long stretches with little or no human intervention but which cannot completely replace human drivers.

In June, the NTSB said the driver, Joshua Brown, kept his hands off the wheel for extended periods of time despite repeated automated warnings not to do so. Brown was killed near Williston, Florida, when his Model S collided with a truck while it was engaged in the “Autopilot” mode.

Tesla Inc did not immediately comment on Monday but said in 2016 that Autopilot “does not allow the driver to abdicate responsibility.” A lawyer for Brown’s family, Jack Landskroner, declined to comment on Monday on the forthcoming hearing.

During a 37-minute period of the trip when Brown was supposed to have his hands on the wheel, he apparently did so for just 25 seconds, the NTSB said in June.

Tesla 'Autopilot' Crash: US NTSB Board to Vote on Likely CauseTesla in September 2016 unveiled improvements in Autopilot, putting new limits on hands-off driving and other features that its chief executive officer said likely would have prevented the crash death.

A board spokesman, NTSB Board, said the NTSB could use the September board meeting to make policy recommendations. The board cannot order recalls or force regulatory changes.

In January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had found no evidence of defects in the aftermath of Brown’s death.

The NHTSA said Brown did not apply the brakes and his last action was to set the cruise control at 74 miles per hour (119 kph), less than two minutes before the crash – above the 65-mph speed limit.

Popular Robots Are Dangerously Easy to Hack, Researchers Say

Some of the most popular industrial and consumer robots are dangerously easy to hack and could be turned into bugging devices or weapons, IOActive said.

The Seattle-based cyber-security firm found major security flaws in industrial models sold by Universal Robots, a division of US technology company Teradyne. It also cited issues with consumer robots Pepper and NAO, which are manufactured by Japan’s Softbank Group, and the Alpha 1 and Alpha 2 made by China-based UBTech Robotics.

These vulnerabilities could allow the robots to be turned into surveillance devices, surreptitiously spying on their owners, or let them to be hijacked and used to physically harm people or damage property, the researchers wrote in a report released Tuesday.

Universal Robots’s devices are designed to work directly alongside humans without being confined to a cage for safety, as with many other industrial models. But IOActive was able to remotely hack the software that controls the robot and disable key safety features. This could result in them being programmed to injure the humans around them.

This is particularly worrying, IOActive said, because these machines are large enough and have enough power that “even running at low speeds, their force is more than sufficient to cause a skull fracture.”

With the robots intended for home use – SoftBank’s Pepper and NAO – IOActive found that cyber-attackers could use them to record audio and video and secretly transmit this data to an external server. UBTech’s Alpha series home robots did not encrypt sensitive information they captured before storing or transmitting it, opening an avenue for cyber criminals to potentially steal important personal information, IOActive said.

As with the Universal Robots machines, these home robots could also be made to carry out physical attacks. Although they are much less powerful than the industrial models from Universal Robots, IOActive released a video of a test in which an otherwise cute NAO robot suddenly begins laughing in an evil and maniacal way and uses a screwdriver to repeatedly stab a tomato. While the video is clearly intended to be humorous, IOActive’s researchers said it had a serious intent: one could imagine the robot potentially launching a similar attack against an infant, toddler or pet.

“If we know about these vulnerabilities, chances are that we’re not the only ones,” Lucas Apa, principal security consultant at IOActive, wrote in an email.

Universal Robots spokesman Thomas Stensbol said the company was aware of IOActive’s report. “We have a constant focus on our product improvement and industrial hardening for the sake of our customers,” he wrote in an e-mailed statement. “This includes monitoring any potential vulnerability, not just cyber-security.” He said the company’s products “undergo rigorous safety certification.”

Popular Robots Are Dangerously Easy to Hack, Researchers SaySoftBank spokesman Vincent Samuel said the company would provide a response to IOActive’s report but it had not done so as of press time. UBTech didn’t respond to requests to comment on IOActive’s findings.

Apa said that SoftBank had told IOActive that it planned to issue patches to address security flaws the researchers found, but that no fixes had been released yet.

IOActive issued an initial report highlighting many of these vulnerabilities in March but withheld the specific techniques used to hack into the software that controls the robots in order to give manufacturers time to fix flaws. On Tuesday, the cyber-security firm made technical details of the hacks public.

“We contacted all the vendors in January but sadly there’s little to suggest that the 50-plus vulnerabilities we demonstrated have been fixed,” Apa said. “Most vendors were not forthcoming when we contacted them in private, so going public was the only option left available to us.”

Apa said the intent was to make the public aware of the risks and prod the manufacturers to fix the security flaws.

He said IOActive wanted to highlight the need for robotics companies to think about cyber-security at every stage of their design process. “These are early days for the robotics industry, but as it grows, we want to make sure it has a more secure future,” he said.

Microsoft’s Project Brainwave Platform for Real-Time AI Launched

Software giant Microsoft has announced its Project Brainwave deep learning acceleration platform for real-time artificial intelligence (AI).

With the help of ultra-low latency, the system processes requests as fast as it receives them.

“Real-time AI is becoming increasingly important as cloud infrastructures process live data streams, whether they be search queries, videos, sensor streams, or interactions with users,” said Doug Burger, an engineer at Microsoft, in a blog post late on Tuesday.

The ‘Project Brainwave’ uses the massive field-programmable gate array (FPGA) infrastructure that Microsoft has been deploying over the past few years.

“By attaching high-performance FPGAs directly to our datacentre network, we can serve DNNs as hardware microservices, where a DNN can be mapped to a pool of remote FPGAs and called by a server with no software in the loop,” Burger said.

He added that the system architecture reduces latency, since the CPU does not need to process incoming requests, and allows very high throughput, with the FPGA processing requests as fast as the network can stream them.

Microsoft's Project Brainwave Platform for Real-Time AI LaunchedThe system has been architected to yield high actual performance across a wide range of complex models, with batch-free execution.

Microsoft claimed that the system, designed for real-time AI, can handle complex, memory-intensive models such as Long Short Term Memories (LSTM), without using batching to juice throughput.

“Project Brainwave achieves unprecedented levels of demonstrated real-time AI performance on extremely challenging models. As we tune the system over the next few quarters, we expect significant further performance improvements,” Burger noted.

Microsoft is also planning to bring the real-time AI system to users in Azure.

“With the ‘Project Brainwave’ system incorporated at scale and available to our customers, Microsoft Azure will have industry-leading capabilities for real-time AI,” Burger noted.

Sweat Can Power Wearable Devices, Claims New Study

Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have developed stretchable fuel cells that extract energy from sweat, and could power a range of wearable devices such as LEDs and Bluetooth radios.

The biofuel cells generate 10 times more power per surface area than any existing wearable biofuel cells, researchers said.

The epidermal biofuel cells are a major breakthrough in the field, which has been struggling with making the devices that are stretchable enough and powerful enough, they said.

Engineers from the University of California, San Diego in the US developed a stretchable electronic foundation by using lithography and screen-printing to make 3D carbon nanotube-based cathode and anode arrays.

The biofuel cells are equipped with an enzyme that oxidises the lactic acid present in human sweat to generate current.

“We needed to figure out the best combination of materials to use and in what ratio to use them,” said Amay Bandodkar, first author of the research paper published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

Researchers led by Professor Joseph Wang from UC San Diego connected the biofuel cells to a custom-made circuit board and demonstrated the device was able to power an LED while a person wearing it exercised on a stationary bike.

To be compatible with wearable devices, the biofuel cell needs to be flexible and stretchable. So engineers decided to use what they call a “bridge and island”.

Sweat Can Power Wearable Devices, Claims New StudyEssentially, the cell is made up of rows of dots that are each connected by spring-shaped structures. Half of the dots make up the cell’s anode or electrode through which conventional current flows; the other half are the cathode.

The spring-like structures can stretch and bend, making the cell flexible without deforming the anode and cathode.

The basis for the islands and bridges structure was manufactured via lithography and is made of gold.

Researchers used screen printing to deposit layers of biofuel materials on top of the anode and cathode dots. To increase power density, engineers screen printed a 3D carbon nanotube structure on top the anodes and cathodes.

The structure allows engineers to load each anodic dot with more of the enzyme that reacts to lactic acid and silver oxide at the cathode dots. In addition, the tubes allow easier electron transfer, which improves biofuel cell performance.

Elon Musk Offers Sneak Peek of SpaceX Spacesuit on Instagram

Astronauts travelling aboard Elon Musk’s Dragon Capsule will wear form-fitting white-and-black spacesuits that bear little resemblance to their NASA forebears, the SpaceX founder revealed Wednesday, a pivotal development in his quest to launch crewed missions to and from the International Space Station and beyond.

Although he offered few details in his sneak-peek Instagram post – “More in the days to follow,” a brief message promises – the tech billionaire, who is also chief executive of automaker Tesla, indicated that his spacesuit is functional and tested to withstand pressure loss while travelling through space. And in a nod to the design, he noted how “incredibly hard” it was to marry aesthetics and survivability.

The unveiling comes as SpaceX and aeronautics giant Boeing each have struggled to meet deadlines for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a cost-savings partnership between the agency and private industry focused on facilitating travel to the space station. It could be 2019 before either is certified to fly astronauts there, although both hope to conduct their first 5 crewed test flights next year.

Boeing, maker of the Starliner space capsule, unveiled its minimalist “Boeing Blue” spacesuit in January. Like the new SpaceX suit, Boeing’s product is lighter, and more tailored and flexible, than the cumbersome gear NASA astronauts have worn since the 1960s.

That’s because they’re built for a distinctive mission. For commercial flights to and from the space station, these suits will be worn during launch and reentry, or if a problem occurs causing the capsule to depressurize. As Thuy Ong notes for the Verge, this gear is specifically not intended for spacewalks, so it doesn’t need to provide the same bulky protection from dust and debris, or temperature fluctuation.

Photos of the SpaceX suit (or an early incarnation) first surfaced many months ago on Reddit, where observers were struck by its futuristic appearance. Like science fiction, some said.

Musk might disagree. The image he released Wednesday is refined, exhibiting the considerable attention he gives not only to his products’ function but to the sophistication and simplicity of their design.

Elon Musk Offers Sneak Peek of SpaceX Spacesuit on InstagramConsider, for instance, some early feedback on his newest electric car, the Tesla Model 3, in which nearly all functions – from the wiper blades to the air conditioning and stereo – are controlled via a small touch display beside the steering wheel. Musk has called the car “a very simple, clean design.” That’s deliberately so, he said in July, an effort to recognise that “in the future – really, the future being now – the cars will be increasingly autonomous.”

Indeed, after a three-minute test ride in the Model 3, The Washington Post’s Peter Holley observed the following:

“It’s not so much that Tesla is ushering in the future. . . . I’m more inclined to think that Tesla is single-handedly pulling the automotive industry into the present.”

The SpaceX Dragon was built to shuttle cargo into space, which it accomplished for the first time in 2012. It can be configured to carry a crew of seven.

Beyond the space station, Musk has said he wants to launch a human mission to Mars by 2025, a much more ambitious schedule than NASA envisions. Perfecting the spacesuit technology was seen as a vital benchmark.

Germany’s Rules Says Self-Driving Cars Can’t Base Decision on Age

Protecting people rather than property or animals will be the priority under pioneering new German legal guidelines for the operation of driverless cars, the transport ministry said on Wednesday.

Germany is home to some of the world’s largest car companies, including Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, all of which are investing heavily in self-driving technology.

German regulators have been working on rules for how such vehicles should be programmed to deal with a dilemma, such as choosing between hitting a cyclist or accelerating beyond legal speeds to avoid an accident.

Under new ethical guidelines – drawn up by a government-appointed committee comprising experts in ethics, law and technology – the software that controls such cars must be programmed to avoid injury or death of people at all cost.

That means that when an accident is unavoidable, the software must choose whichever action will hurt people the least, even if that means destroying property or hitting animals in the road, a transport ministry statement showed.

Germany's Rules Says Self-Driving Cars Can't Base Decision on AgeThe software may not decide on its course of action based on the age, sex or physical condition of any people involved.

“The interactions of humans and machines is throwing up new ethical questions in the age of digitalisation and self-learning systems,” German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said in a a statement.

“The ministry’s ethics commission has pioneered the cause and drawn up the world’s first set of guidelines for automated driving,” he added.

Germany earlier this year passed legislation under which a driver must be sitting behind the wheel at all times ready to take back control if prompted to do so by the autonomous vehicle, clearing the way for the development and testing of self-driving cars.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II Full-Frame DSLR, EOS 200D Entry-Level DSLR Cameras Launched

Canon is celebrating National Camera Day in the US, with the launch of the EOS 6D Mark II full-frame DSLR and the EOS Rebel SL2, which will be known as the EOS 200D outside the United States. The EOS 6D Mark II comes nearly five years after Canon first introduced the EOS 6D back in 2012, and the new model will go on sale in late July starting at $1,999 (roughly Rs. 1,35,900). We don’t have any India price or availability for the 6D Mark II at the moment. On the other hand, Canon India has announced that the EOS 200D is will also go on sale late July in India for Rs. 47,495 with the EF-S18-55 IS STM kit lens. It will also be available with the EF-S18-55 IS STM plus EF-S55-250 IS STM lens combo for Rs. 60,495.

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II is designed for enthusiast-level photographers in mind thanks to its full-frame sensor and brand new 26.3-megapixel CMOS sensor. Other features include a 45-point, cross-type autofocus system with Dual Pixel autofocus for live mode. The camera also uses the new DIGIC 7 image processor and boasts of an ISO 100-40000 range. It has a articulated, 3-inch touchscreen panel, continuous shooting of up to 6.5fps, built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth and is dust and water resistant. Sadly, video recording still maxes out only at 1080p at 60fps, as there’s no 4K support.

canon 6d markII thumb canonThe Canon EOS 200D

On the other hand, the Canon EOS 200D is an entry-level DSLR designed for beginners in mind but doesn’t skimp much on the features. It boasts of a 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, Dual Pixel autofocus, DIGIC 7 image processor, 9-point autofocus system, full-HD video recording and built-in wireless connectivity features. The big appeal of the 200D is the small and lightweight body, which should help ease smartphone photographers stepping into the world of DSLRs.

Commenting on the launch, Yuichi Ishizuka, president and COO, Canon U.S.A said, “In an industry where choices are abundant, providing consumers with the photographic tools that match their developing skill levels as they continue to embrace their passion for photography is a long-standing goal of Canon and stands at the core of our research and development. The new EOS 6D Mark II and EOS Rebel SL2 DSLR cameras are the result of Canon’s dedication to providing a wide range of camera choices for photographers of all skill levels, whether it’s someone taking their first picture or video with a DSLR camera or those looking to make the jump to a Full-Frame sensor camera.”

Leica TL2 Mirrorless Camera Launched With 24-Megapixel Sensor, 4K Video Recording

Leica has added new member to its TL system of cameras, called the TL2. One of the highlight features here is that each camera is machined from a single block of aluminium. The camera is available in black and silver options. It has been priced at around $1,950 (roughly Rs. 1,32,600) for just the body.

The Leica TL2 boasts of a new 24-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor which is coupled with a new Maestro II series image processor. Together, the TL2 is said to deliver improved dynamic range, contrast, colours and sharper details. Another highlight here is the addition of 4K video support at 30fps, full-HD at 60fps and HD video at 60fps or 120fps. Leica is also touting the autofocus speed of the camera, which is said to be around 165 milliseconds. This is attributed to the new image processor, which also helps achieve a much shorter start-up time. The electronic shutter speed has been upped to 1/40,000 seconds and burst shooting ranges from 7fps to a maximum of 20fps.

Leica TL2 Mirrorless Camera Launched With 24-Megapixel Sensor, 4K Video RecordingOther specifications of the Leica TL2 include an ISO range of 100-50000; RAW (DNG) file support; multiple focus modes like face detection and tracking; external flash support (there’s no built-in flash); USB 3.0, and HDMI connections.

The camera also has built-in Wi-Fi for transferring images and video to a smartphone via the TL app, available for both Android and iOS. Leica says the menus system is also better structured, making it easier to use. For navigating the menus, you get a 3.7-inch, fixed touchscreen LCD display on the Leica TL2. The TL system has currently a total of six lenses but the L-Bayonet mount makes it compatible with SL camera lenses too.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II Launched in India, Price Starts at Rs. 1,32,995

Canon unveiled the EOS 6D Mark II late last month and on Monday, the company launched it in India. The Canon 6D Mark II will go on sale this month at a starting price of Rs. 1,32,995 for the just the body, or you could pick it up with the EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens bundle at Rs. 1,84,995, or a EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens bundle at Rs. 2,02,995. All prices are inclusive of all taxes.

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II is designed for enthusiast-level photographers thanks to its full-frame sensor and brand new 26.3-megapixel CMOS sensor. Other features include a 45-point, cross-type autofocus system with Dual Pixel autofocus for live mode. The camera also uses the new DIGIC 7 image processor and boasts of an ISO 100-40000 range. It has an articulated, 3-inch touchscreen panel, continuous shooting of up to 6.5fps, built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth and is dust and water resistant. Sadly, video recording still maxes out only at 1080p at 60fps, as there’s no 4K support.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II Launched in India, Price Starts at Rs. 1,32,995The Canon 6D Mark II boasts of a 7,560 pixel RGB plus IR metering sensor and a colour detection autofocus that is said to provide consistent and accurate exposure in various lighting conditions. For instance, it’s supposed to automatically detect skin tones and give priority to human subjects in the frame. It also features lens aberration correction that helps the camera automatically detect which lens is paired with the body and apply the right level of correction for distortion and diffraction when shooting.

Commenting on the launch, Mr. Eddie Udagawa, Vice President of Consumer Imaging and Information Centre, Canon India said, “The EOS 6D Mark II is a versatile full frame camera that reflects the “Sense of Genius”, striking a perfect balance between compact design and superior performance offering an excellent value to the photo enthusiasts and professionals. The EOS 6D Mark II is a camera that will excel in a vast variety of genres. With a full frame sensor, Dual Pixel CMOS AF and vari-angle touch panel, the EOS 6D Mark II, will appeal to both still and video audiences allowing them to experience the world of full-frame imaging in new and interesting ways.”

Sony A9 Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera Launched in India at Rs. 3,29,990

Sony has launched the Sony A9, its flagship full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, in India. Unveiled globally back in April, the Sony A9 comes to India at a price of Rs. 3,29,990. The camera goes on sale from July 29 via all major Sony retail outlets across the country. The Sony A9 takes the best of Sony’s camera technologies (be it mirrorless or DSLR) and crams it into a body that’s smaller than most DSLRs in the market.

Some of the highlights of the Sony A9 include high-speed, blackout-free continuous shooting at up to 20fps, 60 AF/AE tracking calculations per second, and a maximum shutter speed of up to 1/32,000 second. At the heart of all this is the new 35mm full-frame stacked 24.2-megapixel Exmor RS sensor, which enables data processing speeds that are up to 20x faster than its previous full-frame models. This is paired with an upgraded Bionz X image processor.

Sony A9 Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera Launched in India at Rs. 3,29,990The Sony A9 features 693 phase detection AF points covering approximately 93 percent of the frame, which should ensure much faster tracking of moving subjects. It has a vibration-free, fully electronic, anti-distortion shutter with no mechanical mirror, thus avoiding shutter sound when capturing an image. The Sony A9 camera has a sensitivity of ISO 100-51200, 5-axis image stabilisation, a tilting 3-inch touchscreen display, EVF, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and video recording at 4K at 30fps, or full-HD at 120fps.

Along with the A9, Sony has also launched new accessories for the camera like the NP-FZ100 battery that offers about 2.2x the capacity of the NP-FW50 W-series battery; VG-C3EM vertical grip; GP-X1EM grip extension; FDA-EP18 eyepiece cup; and PCK-LG1 glass screen protector. Sony also announced two new wide-angle lenses and one telephoto lens. These include the FE 100-400mm F4.5–5.6 GM OSS telephoto zoom lens (SEL100400GM) which is priced at Rs. 1,99,990 and will go on sale on July 24. The Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 (SEL1635GM) is a wide-angle lens which is dust and moisture resistant and features a customisable focus hold and hood release button. It is priced at Rs. 1,79,990. Lastly, the FE 12-24mm F4 wide-angle lens is priced at Rs. 1,39,990 and features DDSSM (Direct Drive Super Sonic Wave Motor) for quick and quiet AF performance.