Tesla Orders a Staggering 3,000 Kilometers Worth of Cable in $5.4 Million Deal

Preparations for Tesla’s Model 3 electric vehicle production are well under way, and one of the most recent development comes from an Austrian cable company. The company — which has not been named publicly as of yet — will be supplying aluminum cabling for the Model 3, according to a report from the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation.

As part of a business deal worth as much as $5.4 million (5 million Euros), Tesla ordered 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) of “shielded aluminum cables” which will be used to connect the Model 3’s electric motor to an onboard battery pack. The cables are expected to be delivered to Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 in Sparks, Nevada, where the Model 3’s electric motors and gear boxes will be manufactured.

The deal was a result of “intensive development and sales activities,” according to the Austrian company’s Facebook page. This is the company’s first dealing with Tesla, though they are no stranger to working with car manufacturers: they’ve struck previous deals with Ford and Chrysler.

Smaller and Lighter

The Model 3 will be the latest addition to Tesla’s line up of EVs. It’s expected to be smaller and lighter than previous models, assets that the aluminum cabling supports. Supposedly, these Austrian-made cables are lighter than traditional cabling materials, and not to mention cheaper — so their addition isn’t expected to upset the vehicle’s $35,000 starting price.

All of the existing features of Tesla vehicles — including autonomous driving and supercharging — are expected to be incorporated to the Model 3. It will also have Tesla’s solar roof technology, produced by sister-company SolarCity. Although the base model will have a battery pack of under 60 kWh tops, higher-end models are expected to have battery power for a 482-kilometer (300-mile) range.

Production for the Model 3 is slated to begin this July. With the Model 3, Tesla wants to make EVs more affordable, and therefore available to a larger market, which is all part of their mission to usher in a sustainable age of clean energy by removing fossil fuels on the road.

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An Electric Plane Just Smashed World Speed Records

Charging the Skies

Electric vehicles (EV) are becoming increasingly popular. One clear proof is Tesla’s recent ranking as the most valuable car maker in the United States, topping industry veterans Ford and General Motors. As Tesla beats the EV competition on the ground, other companies are trying to conquer the skies. One of these is Siemens, and their Extra 330LE aerobatic plane just proved that electric planes can be as fast and as tough as their counterparts powered by fossil fuels.

On March 23, the Extra broke two world records for electric planes. One was in the World Air Sports Federation’s (FAI) category of “Electric airplanes with a take-off weight less than 1,000 kilograms.” Over a three-kilometer distance at the Dinslaken Schwarze Heide airfield in Germany, the Extra reached top speeds of around 337.5 km/h (209.7 mph). A slightly modified version of this electric plane also set a record for the “above 1,000 kilograms” category, reaching a speed of 343 km/h (213 mph).

An Electric Plane Just Smashed World Records
Credit: Siemens

Then, on March 24, the Extra became the first electric plane to perform an aerotow. In a nearly silent maneuver, the Extra towed a type LS8-neo glider at a height of 600 meters in just 76 seconds. “This aerotow provides further highly visible evidence of our record-setting motor’s performance capabilities,” said Frank Anton, eAircraft head at next47, a Siemens venture capital unit. “Just six such propulsion units would be sufficient to power a typical 19-seat hybrid-electric airplane.”

Cleaning the Skies

Airplanes are huge contributors to fossil fuel utilization. Planes for international flights, like a Boeing 747 for example, consume about 4 liters (1 gallon) of fuel every second. A ten-hour flight can burn as much as 150,000 liters (36,000 gallons) of fuel, and as much as 12 liters of fuel per kilometer (5 gallons fuel per mile).

Electric planes like the Extra 330LE could give us a big boost towards lessen carbon emissions in the skies. According to Anton, it won’t be long before electric planes can be used for commercial flights. “By 2030, we expect to see the first planes carrying up to 100 passengers and having a range of about 1,000 kilometers,” he said. Siemens is making it possible for hybrid-electric propulsion systems to be the future of aircrafts, and it is working with Airbus to scale their propulsion systems.

Siemen’s isn’t the only company working on electric planes. Wright Electric is busy with their 150-seater battery plane meant for short-haul commercial flights. NASA has also invested $43 million to fund electric plane development. Efforts like these set a new frontier for clean energy.

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Human-Level AI Are Probably A Lot Closer Than You Think

What Is “The” Singularity?

Although some thinkers use the term “singularity” to refer to any dramatic paradigm shift in the way we think and perceive our reality, in most conversations The Singularity refers to the point at which AI surpasses human intelligence. What that point looks like, though, is subject to debate, as is the date when it will happen.

In a recent interview with Inverse, Stanford University business and energy and earth sciences graduate student Damien Scott provided his definition of singularity: the moment when humans can no longer predict the motives of AI. Many people envision singularity as some apocalyptic moment of truth with a clear point of epiphany. Scott doesn’t see it that way.

“We’ll start to see narrow artificial intelligence domains that keep getting better than the best human,” Scott told Inverse. Calculators already outperform us, and there’s evidence that within two to three years, AI will outperform the best radiologists in the world. In other words, the singularity is already happening across each specialty and industry touched by AI — which, soon enough, will be all of them. If you’re of the mind that the singularity means catastrophe for humans, this likens the process for humans to the experience of the frogs placed into the pot of water that slowly comes to a boil: that is to say, killing us so slowly that we don’t notice it’s already begun.

“Will it be self-aware or self-improving? Not necessarily,” Scott says. “But that might be the kind of creep of the singularity across a whole bunch of different domains: All these things getting better and better, as an overall a set of services that collectively surpass our collective human capabilities.”

2015 in Review: The Year Artificial Intelligence Went Mainstream
Click to View Full Infographic

Not If, But When

Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering and a computer scientist, takes the opposite view: that a “hard singularity” will occur at a particular point in time. In fact, he has predicted the singularity 147 times since the 1990s, most recently going with 2045 as the year “[w]e’re going to get more neocortex, we’re going to be funnier, we’re going to be better at music.”

Masayoshi Son, CEO of Softbank Robotics, and Kurzweil are splitting hairs as Son argues that the year for the singularity will be 2047.  Despite the two year difference in their predictions, Son and Kurzweil are basically optimistic: “I think this super intelligence is going to be our partner. If we misuse it, it’s a risk. If we use it in good spirits it will be our partner for a better life.”

Not everyone takes such a positive view of the singularity: Elon Musk sees it as an inevitability, but one that demands we prepare properly. In that vein, he is working on Neuralink; a technology and process for merging human intelligence with AI.

Meanwhile, physicist Edward Witten has said that we will never be able to unravel all of the mysteries of consciousness, which would be a stumbling block to the singularity. Computers that mimic the human brain will achieve the singularity, but what if they can’t mimic consciousness because we can’t explain it ourselves? On the other hand, economist William Nordhaus has studied the economic implications of the singularity, only to conclude that while it may be coming, it isn’t happening anytime soon.

So, is the singularity on the horizon? Will it be a single, watershed moment in human history? Or will we simply look back someday with wonder at how far we’ve come, and how much has changed since we blended our intellects with AI? The same hazy kinds of memories you might have of your life before cell phones and Internet (if you’re old enough to remember those times) might one day pop into your mind, recalling the days when the human mind thought on its own, without the benefit of AI.

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Elon Musk Says His Reusable Rockets Will Make Space Access 100-Times Cheaper

A Cheaper Space

On March 30, SpaceX managed to launch and land a previously used Falcon 9 rocket for the first time. The company has long claimed that its Falcon 9 would prove to be the world’s first fully reusable orbital rocket and that such rockets would be a game-changer in space exploration. After last week’s success, those predictions are starting to come true.

Invaders From Earth!: How Elon Musk Plans to Conquer Mars
Click to View Full Infographic

Prior to reusable rockets, space flight missions relied on rockets built for single use. These “disposable rockets,” so to speak, were used in NASA’s space shuttle missions, but they were costly — for every mission, a new rocket had to be made.

Now, SpaceX’s cost-saving rockets are poised to usher in a new, cheaper era of space exploration. “At this point, I’m highly confident that it’s possible to achieve at least 100-fold reduction in the cost of space access,” SpaceX’s founder and CEO Elon Musk said after the historic SES-10 mission last week.

Reusability Is Key

SpaceX has proven its mettle when it comes to space missions. On its website, the private space company has logged more than 70 flights in its manifest. These include numerous missions funded by NASA, such as SpaceX’s 10 resupply runs to the International Space Station (ISS).

SpaceX’s 2012 mission to the ISS marked the first time a private spacecraft docked on the space station, and the latest of its supply missions just took place on February 19. SpaceX has also completed a number of landing tests using its Falcon 9 rockets, as well as missions that launched private satellites into orbit.

Image credit: SpaceX
Image credit: SpaceX

Now, with the Falcon 9’s reusability confirmed, things are moving forward for SpaceX. The next step is successfully reusing a Falcon 9, after an inspection and a re-fuel, within 24 hours after landing. According to Musk, “Rapid and complete reusability of rockets is really the key to opening up space and becoming a space-faring civilization.”

The Falcon 9 is powerful and massive enough to reach orbital speeds, and it’s tough enough to survive re-entry. It’s also currently the only truly reusable orbital rocket available. However, it likely won’t be the only one for long as Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin is well on its way to developing its own reusable rocket. The more of these game-changing rockets we have available, the better the future looks for humanity’s exploration of Mars and other off-world wonders.

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We Just Created an Artificial Synapse That Can Learn Autonomously

Mimicking the Brain

Developments and advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have been due in large part to technologies that mimic how the human brain works. In the world of information technology, such AI systems are called neural networks. These contain algorithms that can be trained, among other things, to imitate how the brain recognizes speech and images. However, running an Artificial Neural Network consumes a lot of time and energy.

Image credit: Sören Boyn/CNRS/Thales physics joint research unit
Image Credit: Sören Boyn/CNRS/Thales physics joint research unit

Now, researchers from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Thales, the University of Bordeaux in Paris-Sud, and Evry have developed an artificial synapse called a memristor directly on a chip. It paves the way for intelligent systems that required less time and energy to learn, and it can learn autonomously.

In the human brain, synapses work as connections between neurons. The connections are reinforced and learning is improved the more these synapses are are stimulated. The memristor works in a similar fashion. It’s made up of a thin ferroelectric layer (which can be spontaneously polarized) that is enclosed between two electrodes. Using voltage pulses, their resistance can be adjusted, like biological neurons. The synaptic connection will be strong when resistance is low, and vice-versa. The memristor’s capacity for learning is based on this adjustable resistance.

Better AI

AI systems have developed considerably in the past couple of years. Neural networks built with learning algorithms are now capable of performing tasks which synthetic systems previously could not do. For instance, intelligent systems can now compose music, play games and beat human players, or do your taxes. Some can even identify suicidal behavior, or differentiate between what is lawful and what isn’t.

Understanding Machine Learning [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

This is all thanks to AI’s capacity to learn, the only limitation of which is the amount of time and effort it takes to consume the data that serve as its springboard. With the memristor, this learning process can be greatly improved. Work continues on the memristor, particularly on exploring ways to optimize its function. For starters, the researchers have successfully built a physical model to help predict how it functions. Their work is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Soon, we may have AI systems that can learn as well as out brains can — or even better.

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Elon Musk: The Model 3 Will Have an Entirely Unique Display System

Designed for Autonomy

When a car is intended to function autonomously, it doesn’t need a heads-up display. That’s what Elon Musk thinks, anyway.

When asked by James Locke on Twitter how the highly anticipated Tesla Model 3 will handle the instrument cluster information such as vehicle speed, Musk replied with an analogy:

While Musk makes a solid point, removing the heads-up display only makes sense on the premise that the car will be used exclusively in self-driving mode. However, even if the Model 3 is actually capable of Level 3, 4, or 5 driving, the car is scheduled to hit the market in the second half of 2017. It’s doubtful that the regulatory boards responsible for granting approval for high-level, fully autonomous driving will be ready to do so by that time.

In short, some sort of display of the car’s metrics is still necessary, and Musk assured the Twitterverse that it will have one.

Betting on Self-Driving

This information about the Model 3’s display isn’t the only sign that Tesla is betting big on self-driving tech, regardless of where regulations currently stand. The company has been continuously pushing out updates of its Autopilot software and has announced plans to make a fully autonomous drive from Los Angeles to New York City by the end of the year.

Laws and Ethics for Autonomous Cars
Click to View Full Infographic

Autonomous driving isn’t simply a matter of convenience, however. Experts have asserted that Tesla’s Autopilot system makes its cars 10 times safer than the average vehicle on the road, with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

At this point, Tesla appears to be right on track when it comes to delivery and production targets for its vehicles. It already delivered more than 25,000 in the first quarter of 2017, bringing its goal of 50,000 vehicle deliveries for the first half of 2017 well within reach.

With a 69 percent increase over the same period last year, Q1 of 2017 was the best quarter on record for the company, and its numbers are expected to continue rising as the Model 3 release approaches. 2017 really is shaping up to be the year of Tesla.

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The EPA Approves the Continued Use of a Harmful Chemical in Pesticides


On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doubled-back on its course to ban a chemical used in pesticides called chlorpyrifos. The move to reverse its earlier decision — which was made during the Obama administration — is a sign of change in the agency’s approach to toxic chemicals under the new EPA head, Scott Pruitt.

Chlorpyrifos, previously found in bug spray, is known to attack the nervous system of not just insects, but humans too — causing an array of symptoms like dizziness, vomiting, and diarrhea. It’s been banned from household use for more than a decade, but it’s still used by farmers on citrus trees, strawberries, broccoli, and cauliflower. The residue may be found on produce in supermarkets.

“Based on the harm that this pesticide causes, the EPA cannot, consistent with the law, allow it in our food,” said Patti Goldman, a lawyer with the environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, citing a number of studies that have demonstrated the harmful effects of the pesticide in humans.

Wednesday’s decision was the EPA’s response to a federal judge’s order for a final decision on the matter. That order had been prompted by petitions from environmental groups, including Earthjustice, to ban chlorpyrifos. The EPA previously proposed a ban on chlorpyrifos back in 2015.

*5* The EPA Decides to Continue the Use of a Harmful Chemical in Pesticides

A Political and Scientific Issue

The law against pesticides doesn’t mince words: it strictly prohibits chemicals that cannot demonstrate “a reasonable certainty that no harm will result” to consumers or anyone else exposed to these pesticides. Still, as far the fate of chlorpyrifos is still subject to debate — despite evidence pointing to its health dangers.

Some of that evidence against chlorpyrifos came from a study by researchers at Columbia University who measured the levels of this chemical present in the umbilical cords of newborn babies. The study was part of a series done on mothers and their babies who were exposed to several chemicals and showed that chlorpyrifos was more dangerous than previously thought.

Jim Jones, a former assistant administrator of the EPA who was in-charge of pesticide regulation, admitted that the EPA struggled with translating these findings into a prediction of risks for chlorpyrifos residues on food. “But once we cracked that nut, and you had the risk evaluated and in front of you, it became, in my view, a very straightforward decision, with not a lot of ambiguity in terms of what you would do,” he told NPR. “I just don’t know what basis they would have to deny the petition [to ban chlorpyrifos], given the vast scientific record that the EPA’s got right now.”

One thing is clear: issues like this prove that politics and science are becoming more and more intertwined. It seems that would be the natural progression of things, as there are a number of issues — vaccines, stem cells, artificial intelligence (AI) development, climate change, and even nuclear weapons to name a few — that require policies backed by sound and solid, evidence-based science.

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