Notes #12: Back to Earth

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Lands Successfully

This past weekend, an historic launch took place at Kennedy Space Center. The launchpad, last used by the shuttle program in 2011, is now open to commercial use. SpaceX’s rockets are innovative in a variety of ways, but a standout feature is the ability of the first stage to land and be reused.

This Self-Driving Car Drives Flawlessly in the Rain at Night

From drive.ai.

Bullet Points

Blog Update

My latest blog post is about lane detection in self-driving cars.

Notes #9: An All-Electric Future

  • Tesla’s Model 3 will be out this year. For $35,000 (before incentives) you’ll be able to buy a 215-mile electric car. But GM’s Chevy Bolt may be out even sooner, with a similar price and range. Get ready for a hockey stick pattern in EV adoption.
  • Speaking of Tesla, the company just brought online the largest battery storage substation in the world. 80 MWh can power 2,500 homes for a day. The system is charged during off-peak hours and delivers power during peaks.
  • Face recognition is now in use at turnstiles at Baidu’s HQ in lieu of ID cards:

Notes #7: Anniversaries

  • iPhone turned 10 this week. It wasn’t the first smartphone, and it didn’t have crucial features like GPS or apps. But its keyboard-free, slab-of-glass design and fluid user interface changed computing as we know it. Because of iPhone and its derivatives, the world is connecting at unprecedented rates.
  • Speaking of anniversaries, legendary camera maker Nikon turned 100. Facing competition from smartphones and mirrorless camera companies like Fuji and Sony, will they make it another 100?
  • Some of the top autonomous car designs rely on LiDAR, a technology that bounces laser light off surrounding objects to map the 3D environment. Current implementations involve a spinning cylinder and cost between $8,000 and $75,000. Cheaper LiDAR is on the way, thanks to companies like Alphabet’s (Google’s) Waymo. The new designs are solid state, meaning no moving parts, and could cost as little as $250.
  • Microsoft is adding a f.lux/Night Shift-like feature to Windows 10. It might not seem like a big deal, but 91% of desktop computers run Windows. It’s unclear if this mode will be enabled by default, but if so, it could be a massive step toward reducing blue-light related sleep issues.

Microsoft Night Mode

Notes #6: Head Start

  • Amazon Alexa killed it at CES 2017. Expect it to take over your car, fridge, and life soon. There were a few Google Assistant announcements, but it’s clear Amazon’s lead in the voice game is paying off. Read this article if you don’t believe me.
  • Singularity Hub put together a great quick read: 10 Tech Trends That Made the World Better in 2016
  • Norway is starting to switch off analog FM radio. Premature much?
  • Chinese drone maker DJI just acquired a majority stake in the famous but struggling camera company Hasselblad. Clearly we’re going to get better cameras on drones, but perhaps DJI will also give Fuji and Sony a run for their money in the mirrorless game.
  • Indiegogo to launch equity crowdfunding this year.
  • I added book notes for Elon Musk’s biography.

Notes #5: Accident Avoided

Cuba’s Internet is More Powerful Than You’d Think

Officially, the internet in Cuba is useless. But a team of data traffickers use USB sticks and hard drives to transport music, movies, and software between Miami and Havana. They get access to content just a few days after it is released in the US. It’s all quite an impressive workaround.

Tesla Autopilot Predicts Crash Seconds Before It Happens

If you’re not convinced of a driverless future yet, watch this Tesla avoid a multicar collision in the Netherlands.

Redesigning the Traffic Light

Speaking of safer traffic, what if traffic lights in the US included countdown timers? These are already present in some other places in the world.

Voice Recognition in an Elevator in Scotland

Voice recognition is improving by leaps and bounds, but maybe an elevator in Scotland isn’t the best place for it yet.

Casio DG-20: It Came From the Future

My friend Max Goldberg (of Five Five Collective) made this stunning video about a synth-guitar from the 80s.

Echo Dot was Amazon’s 2016 Best-Seller

Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home
Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home

The Echo and Echo Dot were the best-selling products on Amazon this year, and the Dot was the top-selling item during the holiday season. The demand was so high that the company had trouble keeping stock. With millions of Alexa-powered devices now in people’s homes, it’s inevitable that this technology will shape our lives in a big way very soon.

83% of US Primary Household Shoppers Used Amazon This Year

A WSJ article pointed out that 17% of US primary households never shop on Amazon, but I think the big news is that 83% did use the site this year.

Notes #4: World Domination

Not Your Average Russian Hacker

Elon and Mark, meet Vlad and Dmitry. I this Bloomberg documentary, we visit the practically desolate Silicon Valley of Siberia and then head to Moscow to meet the CEOs of Prisma and mail.ru. We ponder the implications of an app that can find anyone’s social media profile based on a photo and learn how one company is fighting cybercrime with its own breed of hackers.

Amazon Go Will Dominate Physical Retail

AWS powers a significant portion of the internet. As one of Amazon’s most profitable divisions, it has become the platform for nearly anything online. In a way, Amazon has put a tax the internet. It’s early, but Amazon Go is positioned to become the platform for physical stores of the future. Find out how in this brief video.

Mark Zuckerberg has AI

Mark Zuckerberg built his own smart home powered by natural language processing and image recognition. A bit I found insightful: “In general, I’ve found we use these more open-ended requests more frequently than more specific asks. No commercial products I know of do this today, and this seems like a big opportunity.” How natural will your conversation with Alexa be in the future?

Simian Mobile Disco & Bicep – Sacrifice

This upbeat electronic track has been the background music to some serious heads-down sessions this week.

Site Update

Added The Intelligent Investor to my Book Notes.

Notes #3: China

Inside the World’s Craziest Gadget Market

The electronics industry is centering itself around one city in China: Shenzhen. In just about 30 years, it transformed from small fishing villages to a city of 7 million. It could turn a megacity even more quickly. A great documentary on the subject is Shenzhen: The Silicon Valley of Hardware.

How China is Changing Your Internet

Despite a user base less than half of Facebook, WeChat is the true Swiss Army Knife of mobile apps. Will it win us over in the West, or will concerns over data privacy halt its expansion?

Amazon Completes First Drone Delivery

It seems like a small first step, but the sky is no longer the limit. Commenter Jerrod P asks “So basically this works if you live on a farm and not like apt 13b?” I don’t think this is meant to be an urban delivery solution in the near term, but rather enhance fast shipping outside city centers. Who knows, though? Amazon has a habit of surprising.

Good Reads

“Artificial intelligence is not about building a mind; it’s about the improvement of tools to solve problems.” Google Translate recently improved by leaps and bounds thanks to a tiny AI skunkworks. Other technologies are poised to get the same treatment in the near future.

Audi releases a car with vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. Right now will tell you how many seconds until a light changes and the speed limit. It’s a step toward autonomous driving, but given the ubiquity of Google Maps and smartphones, could this information also be generated with aggregate data and predictions?