SpaceX’s “Starlink” proposal will launch 12 thousand satellites for total worldwide broadband coverage

SpaceX cleared a major hurdle in its goal to launch a network of broadband satellites in low Earth orbit yesterday, when the FCC approved a revised draft of their 2016 proposal. 

Today’s news follows the story from last month where Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, launched its first two satellites into orbit during their PAZ mission from Spain. 

Nicknamed Tintin A and B, they temporarily blasted a Wi-Fi-enabled message to the city of Los Angeles.

Now SpaceX can officially plan to launch thousands more satellites from the US, but they’d better book their launchpad schedule well in advance: the FCC requires that they launch half of their 4,425-satellite fleet by 2024—a six-year deadline. 

Current broadband satellites sit tens of thousands of kilometers above the surface; Starlink would place their 4,425 satellites at only 700 miles (1,150 kilometers), then launch another 7500 satellites at only 200 miles (320 kilometers), according to SpaceX’s FCC filing.

Broadband for the masses

So close to Earth’s surface, Starlink satellites would have minimal latency delays, supposedly comparable to current cable and fiber response times. SpaceX VP Patricia Cooper told the US Senate Chamber of Commerce that the network would provide 25ms latency and 1 Gbps speeds. 

FCC chairman Ajit Pai led the unanimous vote approving SpaceX’s proposal. In a statement, Pai said, “Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach. And it can offer more competition where terrestrial Internet access is already available.” 

The FCC has reserved the right to revoke their license, if SpaceX can’t also obtain permission from the International Telecommunication Union, which controls the radio bandwidths Starlink will use to send signals to the surface. But beyond that, they can proceed full steam ahead. 

SpaceX isn’t the only company hoping to fill up our skies with satellites. OneWeb received FCC permission last year to launch 720 satellites using Amazon’s Blue Origin rockets, and an Apple-Boeing partnership could yield up to 3,000 satellites

Satellites vs 5G

Satellite broadband will let people around the world have access to fast internet speeds, which in the past would have required labor-heavy installation of fiber-optic networks stretching to every home—something especially difficult in rural areas. 

In the decade or more it will take to fully roll out their network, SpaceX may be hoping that an Earth-based alternative to cables doesn’t take too much of their future business. 

5G, the next-gen upgrade to our current model, provides 1 Gbps speeds without needing to connect each home to a fiber optic network. Instead, carriers can install fiber optic hubs every few blocks that communicate at incredible speeds with wireless modems. And these hubs apparently have the capacity for all the streaming and downloads that you might need. 

Samsung and Verizon have already begun testing 5G in several cities across the US, and industry experts predict 5G will be the dominant mobile net source by 2025—right around the time Starlink could go online. 

Of course, Starlink will also go to regions where no cable companies would ever install any fiber optics, 5G or otherwise. But to pay for all of these rocket launches, SpaceX will need to make a lot of money on its network; so no doubt he’ll also want plenty of first-world consumers to buy into his product as well. 

Space just got crowded

To launch 2,200 satellites within six years, SpaceX will have to boost slightly more than one satellite per day. That will take monumental resources and planning to achieve on time without the satellites crashing into one another. And competitors like OneWeb will be trying to hit their own targets at the same time. 

After SpaceX proposed its plan, OneWeb petitioned that the FCC reject it, claiming that the volume would inevitably lead to Starlink satellites or delivery rockets crashing into one another, or into OneWeb objects. 

While OneWeb obviously had plenty of motivation for their rival’s proposal to fail, even NASA warned that current safety standards for satellites would no longer apply safely to Starlink, due to the sheer number of satellites it would require. 

SpaceX successfully launched a Tesla into elliptical orbit, but launching thousands of satellites could be a bumpy ride. (Courtesy of SpaceX)

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted for the proposal, warned of the dangers this could pose, should this rapid schedule risk satellites crashing into one another. 

“As more satellites of smaller size that are harder to track are launched, the frequency of these accidents is bound to increase,” she said in a statement. “Unchecked, growing debris in orbit could make some regions of space unusable for decades to come.”

In response, SpaceX promised to coordinate with NASA, OneWeb, and any other satellite company planning on sharing low-orbit space with Starlink. 

Tesla says fatal crash involved Autopilot

Tesla has provided another update to last week’s fatal crash. As it turns out, Tesla said the driver had Autopilot on with the adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to minimum. However, it seems the driver ignored the vehicle’s warnings to take back control.

“The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision,” Tesla wrote in a blog post. “The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.”

The promise of Tesla’s Autopilot system is to reduce car accidents. In the company’s blog post, Tesla notes Autopilot reduces crash rates by 40 percent, according to an independent review by the U.S. government. Of course, that does not mean the technology is perfect in preventing all accidents.

As Tesla previously noted, the crash was so severe because the middle divider on the highway had been damaged in an earlier accident. Tesla also cautioned that Autopilot does not prevent all accidents, but it does make them less likely to occur.

No one knows about the accidents that didn’t happen, only the ones that did. The consequences of the public not using Autopilot, because of an inaccurate belief that it is less safe, would be extremely severe. There are about 1.25 million automotive deaths worldwide. If the current safety level of a Tesla vehicle were to be applied, it would mean about 900,000 lives saved per year. We expect the safety level of autonomous cars to be 10 times safer than non-autonomous cars.

In the past, when we have brought up statistical safety points, we have been criticized for doing so, implying that we lack empathy for the tragedy that just occurred. Nothing could be further from the truth. We care deeply for and feel indebted to those who chose to put their trust in us. However, we must also care about people now and in the future whose lives may be saved if they know that Autopilot improves safety. None of this changes how devastating an event like this is or how much we feel for our customer’s family and friends. We are incredibly sorry for their loss.

This development, of course, comes in light of a fatal accident involving one of Uber’s self-driving cars in Tempe, Arizona.

How Facebook Can Better Fight Fake News: Make Money Off the People Who Promote It

Facebook and other platforms are still struggling to combat the spread of misleading or deceptive “news” items promoted on social networks.

Recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s slow corporate response have drawn attention away from this ongoing, equally serious problem: spend enough time on Facebook, and you are still sure to see dubious, sponsored headlines scrolling across your screen, especially during major news days when influence networks from inside and outside the United States rally to amplify their reach. And Facebook’s earlier announced plan to combat this crisis through simple user surveys does not inspire confidence.

As is often the case, the underlying problem is more about economics than ideology. Sites like Facebook depend on advertising for their revenue, while media companies depend on ads on Facebook to drive eyes to their websites, which in turn earns them revenue. Within this dynamic, even reputable media outlets have an implicit incentive to prioritize flash over substance in order to drive clicks.

Less scrupulous publishers sometimes take the next step, creating pseudo news stories rife with half-truths or outright lies that are tailor-made to emotionally target audiences already inclined to believe them. Indeed, much of the bogus US political items generated during the 2016 election didn’t emanate from Russian agents, but fly-by-night operations churning out spurious fodder appealing to biases across the political spectrum. Compounding this problem are the high costs to Facebook as a corporation: It’s likely not feasible to hire massively large teams of fact checkers to review every deceptive news item that’s advertised on its platform.

I believe there is a better, proven, cost-effective solution Facebook could implement. Leverage the aggregate insights of its own users to root out false or deceptive news, and then, remove the profit motive by charging publishers who try to promote it.

The first piece involves user-driven content review, a process that’s been successfully implemented by numerous Internet services. The dot-com era dating site Hot or Not, for instance, ran into a moderation problem when it debuted a dating service. Instead of hiring thousands of internal moderators, Hot or Not asked a series of select users if an uploaded photo was inappropriate (pornography, spam, etc).

Users worked in pairs to vote on photos until a consensus was reached. Photos flagged by a strong majority of users were removed, and users who made the right decision were awarded points. Only photos which garnered a mixed reaction would be reviewed by company employees, to make a final determination — typically, just a tiny percentage of the total.

Facebook is in an even better position to implement a system like this, since it has a truly massive user base which the company knows about in granular detail. They can easily select a small subset of users (several hundred thousand) to conduct content reviews, chosen for their demographic and ideological diversity. Perhaps users could opt in to be moderators, in exchange for rewards.

Applied to the problem of Facebook ads which promote deceptive news, this review process would work something like this:

  • A news site pays to advertise an article or video on Facebook

  • Facebook holds this payment in escrow

  • Facebook publishes the ad to a select number of Facebook users who’ve volunteered to rate news items as Reliable or Unreliable

  • If a supermajority of these Facebook reviewers (60% or more) rate the news to be Reliable, the ad is automatically published, and Facebook takes the advertising money

  • If the news item is flagged as Unreliable by 60% or more reviewers, it’s sent to Facebook’s internal review board

  • If the review board determines the news to be Reliable, the ad for the article is published on Facebook

  • If the review board deems it to be Unreliable, the ad for the article is not published, Facebook returns most of the ad payment to the media site — keeping 10-20% to reimburse the social network’s review process

(Photo by Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

I’m confident a diverse array of users would consistently identify deceptive news items, saving Facebook countless hours in labor costs. And in the system I am describing, the company immunizes itself from accusations of political bias. “Sorry, Alex Jones,” Mark Zuckerberg can honestly say, “We didn’t reject your ad for promoting fake news — our users did.” Perhaps more key, not only will the social network save on labor costs, they will actually make money for removing fake news.

This strategy could also be adapted by other social media platforms, especially Twitter and YouTube. To make real headway against this epidemic, the leading Internet advertisers, chief among them Google, would also need to implement similar review processes. This filter system of consensus layers should also be applied to suspect content that’s voluntarily shared by individuals and groups, and the bot networks that amplify them.

To be sure, this would only put us somewhat ahead in the escalating arms race against forces still striving to erode our confidence in democratic institutions. Seemingly every week, a new headline reveals the challenge to be greater than what we ever imagined. So my purpose in writing this is to confront the excuse Silicon Valley usually offers, for not taking action: “But this won’t scale.” Because in this case, scale is precisely the power social networks have, to best defend us.

UberRUSH is shutting down

Uber is closing the doors on its on-demand package delivery service for merchants, RUSH, in New York City, San Francisco and Chicago, TechCrunch has learned. In an email to users, Uber said it plans to close RUSH operations June 30, 2018.

“At Uber, we believe in making big bold bets, and while ending UberRUSH comes with some sadness, we will continue our mission of building reliable technology that serves people and cities all over the world,” Uber’s NYC RUSH team wrote to customers.

Uber has since confirmed the wind-down.

“We’re winding down UberRUSH deliveries and ending services by the end of June,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re thankful for our partners and hope the next three months will allow them to make arrangements for their delivery needs. We’re already applying a lot of the lessons we learned together to our UberEats food delivery business in over 200 global markets across more than 100,000 restaurants.”

With UberRUSH, which I forgot still existed, people can request deliveries for items no more than 30 pounds in size, except animals, alcohol, illegal items, stolen goods and dangerous items like guns and explosives. Last April, Uber stopped providing courier services to restaurants, encouraging them to instead use UberEATS, the company’s food delivery service. The shutdown of UberRUSH comes shortly after Shyp, an on-demand shipping company, announced its last day of operations.

Niantic to settle Pokémon GO Fest lawsuit for over $1.5M

Back in July of last year, Niantic organized an outdoor festival focusing on its augmented reality game, Pokémon GO. In theory, players would come from all around for a day of wandering Chicago’s Grant Park, meeting other players and catching new/rare Pokémon.

It… did not go as planned. Widespread cellular connectivity and logistical issues brought the game (and thus the event itself) to a halt before the doors even opened. People booed. People threw things at the stage. People sued.

While Niantic quickly announced that they’d be refunding all ticket costs (and giving players $100 of in-game currency), that still left many of the estimated 20,000 attendees out the cost of hotels, transportation, etc.

Niantic is settling a class action suit surrounding the festival, TechCrunch has learned, paying out $1,575,000 dollars to reimburse various costs attendees might have picked up along the way. Things like airfare, hotel costs, up to two days of parking fees, car rental, mileage and tolls.

According to documents filed in a Chicago court, an official website for the settlement should be up by May 25th, 2018, with an email sent to let attendees know. The documents also note a few potential catches: those claiming part of the settlement will need to have checked in to GO Fest through the game (presumably to prevent those who sold their tickets for a markup from getting more money out of it), and anyone claiming more than $107 in expenses will need to have receipts.

If there’s money left after all claims, lawyer fees, etc, the documents note that the remaining balance will be split evenly and donated to the Illinois Bar foundation and the nonprofit organization Chicago Run. “In no event will money revert back to Niantic” it reads.

Chinese police foil drone-flying phone smugglers at Hong Kong border

Dozens of high-tech phone smugglers have been apprehended by Chinese police, who twigged to the scheme to send refurbished iPhones into the country from Hong Kong via drone — but not the way you might think.

China’s Legal Daily reported the news (and Reuters noted shortly after) following a police press conference; it’s apparently the first cross-border drone-based smuggling case, so likely of considerable interest.

Although the methods used by the smugglers aren’t described, a picture emerges from the details. Critically, in addition to the drones themselves, which look like DJI models with dark coverings, police collected some long wires — more than 600 feet long.

Small packages of 10 or so phones were sent one at a time, and it only took “seconds” to get them over the border. That pretty much rules out flying the drone up and over the border repeatedly — leaving aside that landing a drone in pitch darkness on the other side of a border fence (or across a body of water) would be difficult to do once or twice, let alone dozens of times, the method is also inefficient and risky.

But really, the phones only need to clear the border obstacle. So here’s what you do:

Send the drone over once with all cable attached. Confederates on the other side attach the cable to a fixed point, say 10 or 15 feet off the ground. Drone flies back unraveling the cable, and lands some distance onto the Hong Kong side. Smugglers attach a package of 10 phones to the cable with a carabiner, and the drone flies straight up. When the cable reaches a certain tension, the package slides down the cable, clearing the fence. The drone descends, and you repeat.

I’ve created a highly professional diagram to illustrate this technique (feel free to reuse):

It’s not 100 percent to scale. The far side might have to be high enough that the cable doesn’t rest on the fence, if there is one, or not to drag in the water if that’s the case. Not sure about that part.

Anyway, it’s quite smart. You get horizontal transport basically for free, and the drone only has to do what it does best: go straight up. Two wires were found, and the police said up to 15,000 phones might be sent across in a night. Assuming 10 phones per trip, and say 20 seconds per flight, that works out to 1,800 phones per hour per drone, which sounds about right. Probably this kind of thing is underway at more than a few places around the world.

iMac 2018: what we want to see

Given the reports suggesting that a new MacBook Air and a 13-inch MacBook are in the works, both more affordable than their predecessors, it wouldn’t surprise us to see an iMac 2018 come to fruition around the same time.

It’s ready for an upgrade as well. After being refreshed with Intel 7th generation Kaby Lake CPUs in mid 2017, Intel released 8th-generation Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake CPUs. Now the iMac is one generation behind when it comes to processing power, not to mention its dated style

It’s easy to speculate on what the iMac 2018 is going to look like. There’s sufficient evidence, for one, that three of the Macs that release this year will off load some functionality to Cupertino-manufactured custom co-processors rather than trusting every feature to a third party like Intel. This year will also mark the 20th anniversary of the iMac, so we expect Apple to celebrate this benchmark in a commercially available way.

As usual, Apple is keeping its cards pretty close to its chest, so we don’t have a huge amount of information to go on at the moment, but we’ve collected all the rumors we’ve heard so far to help us speculate on what an iMac 2018 may entail.

We’ll also set out what we want to see from the iMac 2018, based on our expert knowledge and current trends.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? A new version of Apple’s all-in-one iMac
  • When is it out? Possibly June or August 2018
  • What will it cost? Likely starts at $1,099 (£1,049, AU$1,599)

iMac 2018 release date

We haven’t heard any concrete rumors about the release date of the iMac 2018, so until we do, we’re going to have to do a bit of guesswork.

The iMac 2017 update was revealed on June 5, 2017 at Apple’s WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) keynote, so there’s a chance that Apple may use WWDC 2018 to announce an update.

If Apple is planning to do something special to mark the 20th anniversary of the iMac, then a release date in August could be possible – as it will be exactly 20 years since the launch of the original.

iMac 2018

iMac 2018 price

Again, there’s not much to go on right now concerning what the price of a 2018 iMac might be. Hopefully, the price won’t stray too much from last year’s models, unless there is going to be some seriously large upgrades when it comes to components.

The base price of last year’s iMac is $1,099 (£1,049, AU$1,599), so we’d like to see a similar price with the iMac 2018. Of course, the iMac comes in various configurations (and prices) to suit your needs.

With the high-end iMac Pro starting at $4,999 (£4,899, AU$7,299), we can envision an iMac 2018 costing between $1,000 (£1,000, AU$1,500) and $2,500 (£2,000, AU$3,000).

iMac 2018: what we want to see

While we don’t know too much about what the iMac 2018 will be like, we’ve got plenty of ideas about what we’d like to see in a new version of the all-in-one. Read on for our suggestions that would make the iMac 2018 the best iMac ever.

iMac 2018

Celebrate the 20th anniversary in style

For any gadget, 20 years in the business is a big deal, so we’d love to see Apple do something special to mark the anniversary for this year’s iMac.

Apple have released special versions of its hardware to mark milestones before, such as the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, which was released in 1997 to mark Apple’s 20th birthday.

With the iMac being so beloved, and its design so iconic, a special version of the iMac 2018 that paid tribute to its past could be a big hit with Apple fans and collectors.

A revamped design

While we love the look of the iMac, it’s sort of had the same design for the past 10 years, so 2018 could be a great year to tweak the look. That could mean a minor revision, such as slimming the body even further, or something more drastic.

Rumors of an iMac redesign have been swirling since a post on Reddit, apparently by a ‘Foxconn Insider’ who worked for the company that builds the devices for Apple, claimed there would be an update to the iMac and its peripherals.

Color-wise, the aluminum design of the iMac has been a staple since 2007, so we wouldn’t mind seeing another color option with the iMac 2018 – perhaps a Space Gray version, like the iMac Pro?

iMac 2018

Take inspiration from the iMac Pro

The iMac Pro is a fantastic device, and while it is definitely a product aimed at a completely different audience than the iMac 2018 will be, there are a few things the standard iMac could incorporate from its more expensive sibling.

For example, removing the hard drive, and sticking to just solid state drives, would allow Apple to make the iMac 2018 even slimmer – while also giving the machine a decent speed boost. Even better for photographers and filmmakers is if Apple were to allow for UHS-II SD card support, thereby streamlining the post-production process.

The iMac Pro also features some clever cooling technology to help reduce the heat of the components, again allowing for a thinner design without noisy fans, and we’d love to see that in the iMac 2018 as well.

Oh, and did we mention we’d really like to see a Space Gray iMac?

iMac 2018

Take inspiration from the MacBook and iPhone

Whilst we’re getting ideas from other Apple devices, there’s a few things we’d like to see from the iPhone and MacBook appear in the iMac 2018.

For example, how cool would it be if the Touch Bar from certain MacBooks turned up on a redesigned iMac keyboard? Those touch-sensitive buttons would be a fantastic addition.

Also, we’ve been very impressed by the Face ID technology of the iPhone X, so if Apple is thinking of upgrading the FaceTime camera on the iMac 2018, we’d love to see this included, so we could unlock our new iMac with just a glance.

Boosted specs

We’d love to see the iMac 2018 toting some of the very latest, and best, components when it’s revealed to the world. 

While we’d love to see the iMac 2018, at least the entry-level version, running one of Intel’s latest quad core processors, if the iMac uses Intel’s Coffee Lake CPUs, we may even see an iMac 2018 with a six-core processor, which would give the all-in-one a real boost when it comes to multitasking.

Graphics-wise, the iMac could stick with AMD’s Vega graphics cards, and if Apple goes for one of the latest AMD card, or even one that has yet to be released, then the iMac 2018 could have some serious graphical chops.

Fingers crossed we see some – or all – of these predictions come to fruition later this year.

  • These are the best Macs that 2018 has to offer so far

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this report

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