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EXPLAINER: How Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos will soar into space

Associated Press

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How Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos will soar into space

When Blue Origin launches people into space for the first time, founder Jeff Bezos will be on board. No test pilots or flight engineers for Tuesday’s debut flight from West Texas, just Bezos, his brother, an 82-year-old aviation pioneer and a teenage tourist.

The capsule is entirely automated, unlike Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic rocket plane that required two pilots to get him to space and back a week ago.

Branson’s advice? “Just sit back, relax, look out of the window, just absorb the view outside,” he said on CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Differences in quirks and rockets aside, the billionaire rivals are gearing up to launch just about anybody willing to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a brief up-and-down space hop.

A brief look at what awaits Bezos and his passengers:

BEZOS ON BOARD

Bezos created Blue Origin in 2000, a move that he said prompted his high school girlfriend to observe, “Jeff started Amazon just to get enough money to do Blue Origin — and I can’t prove her wrong.” He has said he finances the rocket company by selling $1 billion in Amazon stock a year. Bezos caught the space bug at age 5 while watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing on July, 20, 1969. He chose the 52nd anniversary for his own launch. Enamored by space history, Bezos named his New Shepard rocket after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and his bigger, still-in-development New Glenn rocket after John Glenn, the first American in orbit. The 57-year-old Bezos — who also owns The Washington Post — stepped down as Amazon’s CEO earlier this month and last week donated $200 million to the Smithsonian Institution to renovate its National Air and Space Museum and launch an education center. “To see the Earth from space, it changes you. It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity,” he said. “It’s a thing I’ve wanted to do all my life.”

WHO ELSE IS FLYING

Bezos personally invited two of his fellow passengers — his 50-year-old brother Mark, an investor and volunteer firefighter, and female aviation pioneer Wally Funk. Joining them will be Oliver Daemen, a last-minute fill-in for the winner of a $28 million charity auction who had a scheduling conflict. At age 82, Funk will become the oldest person in space. She was among 13 female pilots — the so-called Mercury 13 — who took the same tests in the early 1960s as NASA’s Mercury 7 astronauts, but were barred because of their gender. “Finally!” Funk exclaimed when offered a seat alongside Bezos. As for the Dutch Daemen — who at 18 will become the youngest person in space — his financier father bid on the capsule seat in June, but dropped out when the price soared. Blue Origin came calling just over a week ago, after the unidentified auction winner switched to a later flight. The teenage space fanatic, who starts college this fall, is Blue Origin’s first paying customer; no word on what his ticket cost.

ROCKET AND CAPSULE

While Bezos won’t be the first boss to ride to space on his own rocket, he can lay claim to strapping in for his company’s first human launch. He’s also aiming higher, with an anticipated altitude of about 66 miles (106 kilometers) versus Branson’s 53.5 miles (86 kilometers). Blue Origin’s 60-foot (18-meter) New Shepard rocket will accelerate toward space at three times the speed of sound, or Mach 3, before separating from the capsule and returning for an upright landing. The passengers will experience three to four minutes of weightlessness, before their capsule parachutes onto the desert just 10 minutes after liftoff. That’s five minutes less than Alan Shepard’s 1961 Mercury flight. Blue Origin, though, offers the biggest windows ever built for a spacecraft. Bezos purchased the desolate, parched land for launching and landing rockets. The closest town is Van Horn, population 1,832.

TRACK RECORD

Blue Origin has completed 15 test flights to space since 2015, carrying up experiments, children’s postcards and Mannequin Skywalker, the company’s passenger stand-in. Except for the booster crash-landing on the first trip, all the demos were successful. One rocket ended up flying seven times and another five. The capsules also were recycled. Blue Origin deliberately aborted a couple flights after liftoff to test the emergency escape system on the capsule. The pace seemed slow compared with the competition, and many wondered why Blue Origin — its motto Gradatim Ferociter, or step by step ferociously — was taking so long to launch people. Based in Kent, Washington, the company kept fairly mum on its launch plans. Bezos finally announced “it’s time” following the last test flight in April, a dress rehearsal that saw mock passengers briefly climb aboard before liftoff. The rocket and capsule that will be used Tuesday have flown twice before.

WHAT’S NEXT

Blue Origin is expected to open ticket sales soon after Bezos flies and has already lined up some of the other auction bidders. The company hasn’t disclosed the cost of a ride. The fourth seat on the upcoming flight was auctioned off for $28 million. Nineteen space advocacy and education groups are getting $1 million each as a result, with the rest to be used by Blue Origin’s Club for the Future for its own education effort. While the diminutive New Shepard is meant to launch people on brief flights to the edge of space, the mega New Glenn will be capable of hauling cargo and eventually crew into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida, possibly beginning late next year. Blue Origin also has its eyes on the moon. Its proposed lunar lander, Blue Moon, lost to SpaceX’s Starship in NASA’s recent commercial competition to develop the technology for getting the next astronauts onto the moon. Blue Origin is challenging the contract award, as is , the other competitor.


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP)

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What to expect from Facebook’s smart glasses

Rim Zrein

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Facebook

During Facebook’s recent earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg confirmed the company’s next hardware release will debut the tech giant’s collaboration with Ray-Ban eyewear on a pair of augmented reality glasses. 

The long-awaited Ray-Ban “smart glasses” were supposed to launch in 2021. However, as a steep plunge in COVID-19 cases forced most of the world into a lockdown, a lot of tech firm’s plans changed. 

“Looking ahead here, the next product release will be the launch of our first smart glasses from Ray-Ban in partnership with EssilorLuxottica,” Facebook head and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. “The glasses have their iconic form factor, and they let you do some pretty neat things.”  

The “neat things” Zuckerberg is talking about remains a mystery. However, the smart glasses concept came up while Zuckerberg was describing his outlook on Facebook’s future, which includes a virtual reality unlike no other

“I’m excited to get these into people’s hands and to continue to make progress on the journey towards full augmented reality glasses in the future,” Zuckerberg expressed. 

Considering Zuckerberg’s comments on the release didn’t satisfy tech fan’s curiosity, CNET spoke with Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s head of AR/VR hardware, who explained that they’re indeed smart glasses, but not AR glasses as Facebook has said so far. 

“We’re being careful not to call them augmented reality glasses. When you’re overlaying digital artifacts onto the world, that’s really augmented reality. These aren’t augmented reality glasses. However, they do a lot of the concepts we think will eventually be critical for augmented reality glasses,” Bosworth said. 

The features of the smart glasses aren’t all unique. However, as much as it’s ironic to state, Bosworth made it clear that one of the things Facebook is looking at for all their AR, starting with the smart glasses, is how can they help users be more present. 

This isn’t the first attempt a major tech company produces smart glasses, as Google did quite a stir back in 2014 following the release of “Google Glass,” which was a bold move, but failed nonetheless.  

The idea seemed exciting, but eventually transformed into an online meme. Besides, many weren’t keen with the idea of having a tech tool constantly emitting radiations at face level. 

The road to actual AR glasses could take more time than anticipated, while other tech giants hunt after similar goals.  

The Ray-Ban glasses coming this year will be a steppingstone into Zuckerberg’s “metaverse” vision for Facebook, but they likely won’t do as much as we’d like to believe. 

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Facebook profits top $10B as its CEO exalts the ‘metaverse’

Associated Press

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Facebook profits top $10B as its CEO exalts the 'metaverse'

Concerns about a revenue growth slowdown pushed Facebook’s shares lower in after-hours trading Wednesday, not long after the company reported that its second-quarter profits doubled thanks to a massive increase in advertising revenue.

But CEO Mark Zuckerberg set his sights far beyond the second half of 2021, exalting what he sees as the next phase of how people experience the internet. What the rest of the world might know as augmented and virtual reality with a dash of science fiction, Zuckerberg and others are calling “the metaverse,” a futuristic and somewhat vague notion that encompasses AR, VR and new, yet-to-be-imagined ways of connecting to one another via technology.

Zuckerberg expects the metaverse to be the next big thing after the mobile internet, although he’s had a spotty track record when it comes to predicting major trends of the near future. At Facebook’s f8 conference four years ago, for instance, Zuckerberg predicted a future where you will sit in your bedroom wearing a headset and take a virtual vacation with faraway friends and family, or use your smartphone’s camera to virtually spruce up your dinky apartment.

So far, this has not materialized. Then there’s Libra — now known as Diem — a cryptocurrency project Facebook launched in 2019 amid great fanfare. At the time, Facebook envisioned Libra as an emerging global digital currency; its ambitions have since been scaled back considerably amid regulatory and commercial backlash.

In a conference call with analysts, Zuckerberg called the metaverse the “next generation of the internet and next chapter for us as a company,” one that he said will create “entirely new experiences and economic opportunities.”

For now, though, Facebook still has to contend with more mundane matters such as antitrust crackdowns in the U.S. and elsewhere as well as concerns about how it handles vaccine-related and political misinformation on its platform. The company said, as it has before, that it expects challenges in its ability to target ads this year — including regulatory pressure and Apple’s privacy changes that make it harder for companies like Facebook to track people who can opt out of that form of surveillance.

Although the social network doubled its profit in the second quarter, in part because of higher average prices it charged for the ads it delivers to its nearly 3 billion users. But the company said it doesn’t expect revenue to continue to grow at such a breakneck pace in the second half of the year.

“This quarter’s results are extremely strong and show little sign of impact from Apple’s iOS update as of yet,” said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson, noting that in the year-ago quarter Facebook saw its slowest revenue growth since going public, so it was an easy comparison. “But it’s also due to the fact that there is enormous demand for Facebook and Instagram advertising, and more competition leads to higher ad prices.”

Separately, Facebook said on Wednesday that it will make vaccines mandatory for employees in the U.S. who work in offices. Exceptions will be made for medical and other reasons. Google announced a similar policy earlier in the day.

The Menlo Park, California-based company earned $10.39 billion, or $3.61 per share, in the April-June period. That’s up from $5.18 billion, or $1.80 per share, a year earlier. Revenue jumped 56% to $28.58 billion from $18.32 billion. Analysts, on average, were expecting earnings of $3.04 per share and revenue of $24.85 billion, according to a poll by FactSet.

Advertising revenue growth was driven by a 47% year-over-year increase in the average price per ad and a 6% increase in the number of ads shown to people. Facebook said it expects ad prices, not the amount of ads it delivers, to continue to drive growth.

The company predicted uncertainty for 2021 back in January, saying its revenue in the latter half of the year could face significant pressure. Because revenue grew so quickly in the second half of 2020, Facebook said at the time that it could have trouble keeping up that pace.

Williamson said the third quarter will be an important one for the company, “as the full effects of the Apple update take hold.”

“We will have a much better sense of how well Facebook has been able to adjust its core ad targeting products to manage the reduced amount of information it can tap into,” she said.

Facebook had 2.9 billion monthly users as of June, up 7% from a year earlier.

Shares fell $11.77, or 3.2%, to $373.28 in after-hours trading. Earlier in the day, the stock hit an all-time high of $377. 55 in anticipation of the results, so the decline wasn’t unexpected.

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Google requests privacy policy for Play store apps

Hala Turk

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Google announced on Wednesday that Android developers will be required to include a privacy policy with their apps starting April 2022.

This request is not new, as the Big Tech revealed earlier in May that developers must declare their safety information within a deadline between October and April.

However, Google decided this week to provide more details on the kind of data developers need to provide for the new mandatory policy.

The app policies will allow users to view safety and privacy guidelines before downloading the app, which will let them understand how their data is collected, protected, and used in advance.

The mandatory privacy policy covers all apps, including those that don’t collect personal or sensitive user data. Which is a new feature since previously only apps that collected personal information had to disclose their policies on the Play store.

The safety section on the Play Store will require app developers to disclose their security practices, including information on data encryption, whether an app follows Google’s families policy, and whether users will have a choice to share data.

The safety section is currently due to start appearing in app descriptions in the first quarter of 2022.

Google in a blog post disclosed screenshots of what the safety section might look like. Yet, the company said that the design is subject to change.

There’s also a “see details” option to get more specifics on what collected data is used for, and whether the collection is essential for using the app.

The company highlighted that all apps including Google’s own will be required to provide a privacy policy.

It’s worth mentioning that Apple has required a privacy policy for apps in the App Store since 2018.

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