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Blowers, mowers and more: American yards quietly go electric



For Jared Anderman, of Croton-on-Hudson, New York, switching from gasoline-powered tools to electric ones for lawn care was a no-brainer.

“I’m concerned about climate change and wanted tools that are more eco-friendly, and also quieter. I like listening to music when I do yardwork and this way I can enjoy music or a podcast while I work,” he said. “I could never do that with gas-powered equipment.”

The biggest advantage of all, he says, is maintenance. “Gas mowers are a pain. With electric tools, they boot right up and there’s really no maintenance at all. It’s just about keeping the batteries charged.”

First, he bought an electric lawnmower. Then an electric string trimmer, hedge trimmer and leaf blower. “I don’t have an electric snowblower, yet. But when I do replace the gas snowblower, it’ll be with an electric one,” he says.

There’s a quiet transformation going on in yards across the country. Longstanding complaints about the roar and fumes from gas-powered leaf blowers, mowers and other equipment have grown even louder as more people work from home because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the quality of zero- to low-emissions electric landscaping equipment has improved markedly, with battery packs that last longer.

“Batteries have changed a lot in the past year alone, and we are there in terms of technology. Now it’s just a matter of getting the word out to professionals and consumers,” says Kurt Morrell, associate vice president for horticulture operations at the New York Botanical Garden.

“Last year we were 90 percent electric on hedge trimmers and this year it’s 100 percent. My guys won’t even touch a gas hedge trimmer anymore,” says Morrell, who oversees the trimming of the garden’s 4,850 linear feet of hedges.

There are even autonomous lawnmowers akin to the Roomba vacuum cleaner.

“They are really taking off, and in the next four or five years you’ll see more robotic mowers in the private sector,” says Morrell.

Morrell, who also teaches aspiring landscaping professionals, says that while electric trimmers and mowers are now as good or better than gas-guzzling versions, cordless electric leaf blowers are still a challenge “because they require a lot of velocity and power, and the weight of the battery at this point is a lot heavier than gas.”

But the technology is evolving quickly, he says. “When I teach my landscaping management students, who will go on to manage large landscapes, I know they will be using electric equipment.”

The electric tools, and some less-polluting gas options, are just part of a rethinking of many lawn-care practices and their effect on the environment.

Many gardeners and landscapers are moving away from “a hyper-managed standard of blow drying leaves,” for instance, in favor of “just letting leaves be leaves, with some of them staying on the ground,” says Daniel Mabe, founder of the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA), which offers homes, businesses and organizations across the country a certification for low carbon-footprint landscaping.

Letting more leaves, plant stalks and other garden debris cover garden beds during the winter helps the soil, and insects and other wildlife, experts say.

Where power tools are needed, the shift from gas to electric is not unlike the trend toward electric cars.

According to the California Air Resources Board, a department within the California Environmental Protection Agency, operating a gas leaf blower for an hour can create as much smog-forming pollution as driving a Toyota Camry 1,100 miles.

The battery-powered lawn equipment sector is growing at a rate three times faster than gas, according to the Freedonia Group, a division of MarketResearch.com.

“In terms of residential adoption of electric landscaping equipment, at least here in California, it’s already about 50 percent,” Mabe says.

He sees more resistance to electric equipment among professional landscaping companies than among residential consumers. But he estimates there are now at least 200 “all-electric” landscaping companies. Many of them make use of robotic technology, programming and maintaining the lawn equivalent of the Roomba.

Andrew Bray, vice president of government relations for the Fairfax, Virginia-based, National Association of Professional Landscapers, says, “The transition to electric is inevitable, and most landscapers are trying out this equipment all the time. But while the technology is already there for homeowners — and I myself use electric equipment at home — the technology isn’t there yet for most of the commercial sector.”

“With leaf blowers, for example, they don’t yet have the battery power needed for commercial use,” he says.

And he said there are cost and infrastructure hurdles for professional landscapers looking to switch from gas to electric.

“Since battery packs are not interchangeable between brands of tools, you’d have to retrofit your whole shop so that everything is the same brand. You’d also probably have to upgrade the wattage of the electrical system in your shop, since an average crew would need about 36 batteries,” he says.

Still, electric’s momentum is growing. Stanley Black & Decker, a leading maker of outdoor products, estimates that the volume of electric-powered landscaping equipment that North American manufacturers shipped went from 9 million units in 2015 to over 16 million last year, an over 75 percent increase in the past five years.

“We continue to innovate in cordless (electric) products focused on delivering high performance while having lower noise and no emissions in use,” says John Wyatt, senior vice president of Stanley Outdoor.


Self-driving truck company TuSimple to use Nvidia chips for autonomous computing



TuSimple Holdings Inc on Tuesday said it has partnered with Nvidia Corp to use the company’s vehicle chips to design and build an advanced autonomous driving computer for its self-driving trucks.

The computer, known as a domain controller in the automotive industry, will be specifically engineered for TuSimple’s commercial self-driving trucks, and will power sensor perception and vehicle operation.

Nvidia will provide artificial intelligence expertise and its Drive Orin hardware, a chip specifically designed for autonomous driving capabilities.

The controller powered by Nvidia’s chip will be installed in the autonomous trucks TuSimple is currently developing in partnership with manufacturer Navistar, targeted for production in 2024.

“We believe this move provides us a significant competitive advantage in speeding time to market,” TuSimple Chief Executive Officer Cheng Lu said in a statement.

TuSimple said it will own usage rights to the controller’s design, adding that it planned to work with an unnamed third party manufacturer to produce it.

Considered crucial in the development of self-driving, controllers allow automakers to centralize compute-intensive instruments such as cameras, radars and lidar sensors.

Instead of each sensor being equipped with an individual electronic control unit, the domain controller handles computing tasks centrally, saving cost and space and allowing software updates to take place remotely.

Other chipmakers, including Qualcomm Inc, Intel Corp’s Mobileye and NXP are also offering domain controller chips for the automotive industry.

Self-driving freight trucks, while still operating largely in pilot projects, have become a focus of the autonomous industry in recent years, facing fewer regulatory and technological hurdles and potentially offering a faster way to generate returns than passenger robotaxis.


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Gates, French Gates offer post-divorce philanthropic plans



Gates, French Gates offer post-divorce philanthropic plans

Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates say they will still work with the Giving Pledge, the campaign they co-founded with Warren Buffett in 2010 to encourage billionaires to donate the majority of their wealth through philanthropy.

But following their divorce earlier this year, the two will do it separately and in their own ways.

In individual letters posted Tuesday by Giving Pledge, Gates and French Gates outlined their differing philosophies to giving.

“I recognize the absurdity of so much wealth being concentrated in the hands of one person, and I believe the only responsible thing to do with a fortune this size is give it away — as thoughtfully and impactfully as possible,” wrote French Gates.

She added that that it is “important to acknowledge that giving away money your family will never need is not an especially noble act.”

French Gates, whose net worth is an estimated $6.2 billion according to Forbes, said she plans to focus on “fighting poverty and advancing equality — for women and girls and other marginalized groups — in the United States and around the world” through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and her own Pivotal Ventures.

She also noted the importance of trusting nonprofit partners.

“Philanthropists are generally more helpful to the world when we’re standing behind a movement rather than trying to lead our own,” she wrote.

For his part, Gates, the Microsoft Corp. co-founder worth more than $138 billion according to Forbes, wrote that he plans to keep the Gates Foundation as his primary outlet for his giving.

“No child should lack access to life-saving medicines or a quality education simply because of where he or she lives, and the foundation was created to address deeply unfair inequities around the globe,” Gates wrote. “The foundation’s mission has grown over time, but it remains focused on expanding opportunity for the world’s poorest people and improving education in the United States.”

The Giving Pledge now includes 226 billionaires from 27 countries who have promised to donate more than half of their wealth to charitable causes.

The Associated Press receives support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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Amazon-sponsored artwork that ‘learns’ debuts at Smithsonian



Amazon-sponsored artwork that 'learns' debuts at Smithsonian

The artificial intelligence at the heart of a new art exhibit, “me + you,” does not judge you necessarily, but it does analyze and interpret what you have to say.

Sponsored by Amazon Web Services, the sculpture by artist Suchi Reddy listens to what you have to say about the future and renders your sentiment in a display of colored lights and patterns.

The artwork is a centerpiece of a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, which is opening to the public for the first time in 20 years. The exhibition, called Futures, opens Nov. 20.

Viewers are invited to interact with the sculpture, which listens for the words “My future is …” at several circular listening posts integrated into the sculpture.

The words and the sentiments behind them are then reinterpreted as a pattern of colored lights. On a very basic level, positive emotions tend to translate into soothing blends of blue, green and purple. Words that suggest anger might prompt a cascade of colors on the opposite spectrum of the color wheel. If you use a swear word, the lights will turn red.

No matter the sentiment, Reddy said, “I want to show all human emotion as beautiful.”

And the interpretations will evolve and become more nuanced over time as the artificial intelligence progresses. Swami Sivasubramanian, vice president of Amazon Machine Learning at Amazon Web Services, said the artwork incorporates sentiment analysis that not only decodes the meaning of words but a speaker’s sentiment behind the words.

Sivasubramanian said Amazon contributed 1,200 hours of programming to serve as the backbone of the artwork’s machine learning.

“Machine learning is one of our most transformative technologies,” he said. “I’m excited for people to engage with machine learning in an artistic setting.”

The artwork utilizes various aspects of machine learning, including basic speech-to-text technology.

A companion website lets people enter their thoughts over the internet and receive a visual interpretation of their sentiment that is also added to the archive.

In an era of deep skepticism over the data collected by Big Tech, Reddy and her team were careful to avoid data collection of any kind other than people’s thoughts about the future. No video is recorded and there is nothing that tracks people’s expressions back to them, Reddy said.

Other highlights in the exhibition include costumes from the Marvel Studios film “Eternals,” part of an interactive exhibit that shows how movies help us imagine our future, and objects including an experimental Alexander Graham Bell telephone and the first full-scale Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome built in North America.

“In a world that feels perpetually tumultuous, there is power in envisioning the future we want, not the future we fear,” said Rachel Goslins, director of the Arts and Industries Building.

The exhibition is scheduled to remain open through July 6. Eventually, the “me + you” sculpture will be relocated to Amazon’s new HQ2 headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.


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