Tag Archives: Elon Musk

Tesla Model 3: Specs, prices and release

Electric saloon – company’s cheapest car yet – is set to be packed with driverless tech

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has confirmed that the upcoming Model 3 saloon will not include a traditional speedometer.

He tweeted the news after fans quizzed him on the subject.

Musk’s argument for the lack of speedometer is that buyers “won’t care” about its absence, although he later confirmed the car’s “centre screen will show speed as an overlay that changes opacity according to relevance”.

He also likened the driverless Model 3 to a taxi, BGR reports, saying that “the more autonomous a car is, the less dash info you need”.

Fans were given a brief glimpse at the Model 3’s interior during its launch at the beginning of last year, when they saw a minimalistic dashboard with a large centralised touchscreen display at the top of the centre console.

Tesla’s affordable mass-market car also set to include a host of autonomous driving modes that will be upgraded through an over-the-air update programme, allowing the company to add software and firmware features after the vehicle has left the showroom.

Continue reading Tesla Model 3: Specs, prices and release

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With a Hyperloop Test Track, Elon Musk Takes on the Critical Heavy Lifting

The Hyperloop is coming to Texas. That’s the word from Elon Musk, who unveiled his idea for the revolutionary transit system 18 months ago, and yesterday tweeted his plans to build a test track for companies and student teams working to make the idea a reality.

In August 2013, the Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO gave the world a 57-page alpha white paper, explaining his vision of how the transit system, which would shoot pods full of people around the country in above-ground tubes at 800 mph.

Musk stuck to his standard announcement system—drop big news, keep quiet on details—so we don’t know much about what he’s got in mind, when it would happen, how much it would cost, who would pay for it, or why, exactly, he wants to do it. (On that last one, we suspect the answer is because this thing is a damn awesome idea and he doesn’t want to miss out.)

If Musk does in fact build a test track, in Texas or elsewhere, it would be a huge help to the company that’s made more progress than anyone toward making the Hyperloop happen. The track isn’t the part of this endeavor that’s hard to engineer. “It’s a couple of tubes and a vacuum pump,” says Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of JumpStartFund, an El Segunda, California-based startup that is taking Musk up on his challenge to develop and build the Hyperloop. But, like most chunks of infrastructure, even in prototype sizes, it’s expensive.

hyperloop-new-ft

If Musk pays for it—hey, the guy’s worth $7.5 billion—it’s a major item JumpStartFund can stop worrying about. “We’ll be able to act faster because that big problem is solved,” Ahlborn says.

He hasn’t done the math on how much a test track would cost or how long it would take to build, but imagines it would be a simple affair, since it’s just for testing purposes. It would have one tube instead of the two planned for the commercial version (one for each direction), and would be kept low to the ground.

JumpStartFund brought together a group of about 100 engineers all over the country who spend their free time spitballing ideas in exchange for stock options, and have day jobs at companies like Boeing, NASA, Yahoo!, and Airbus.

They and a group of 25 students at UCLA’s graduate architecture program are working on a wide array of issues, including route planning, capsule design, and cost analysis.

“It’s hugely feasible” to build a working Hyperloop, says Professor Craig Hodgetts, who’s leading the UCLA team. Besides land acquisition and political concerns, the big concerns are creating a capsule system that feels comfortable and safe for passengers, and how to design a station to accommodate a continuous stream of pods coming and going—the Hyperloop will work more like a ski lift than a railroad.

All that will take time to figure out, Hodgetts says, and if Musk gets busy building track while the JumpStartFund and UCLA folks put together everything else, it could drastically cut down the time the project would take. “It’s just like having a bunch of supercomputers side by side.”

This Is What Commercial Aircraft Might Look Like In 2050

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The aircraft industry is expecting a seven-fold increase in air traffic by 2050, and a four-fold increase in greenhouse gas emissions unless fundamental changes are made.

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But just how “fundamental” will those changes need to be and what will be their effect on the aircraft we use?

The crucial next step towards ensuring the aircraft industry becomes greener is the full electrification of commercial aircraft. That’s zero CO2 and NOx emissions, with energy sourced from power stations that are themselves sustainably fuelled.

 

The main technological barrier that must be overcome is the energy density of batteries, a measure of how much power can be generated from a battery of a certain weight.

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that once batteries are capable of producing 400 Watt-hours per kilogram, with a ratio of power cell to overall mass of between 0.7-0.8, an electrical transcontinental aircraft becomes “compelling”.

Given that practical lithium-ion batteries were capable of achieving energy-densities of 113Wh/kg in 1994, 202Wh/kg in 2004, and are now capable of approximately 300Wh/kg, it’s reasonable to assume that they will hit 400Wh/kg in the coming decade.

Another aspect is the exponential fall in the cost of solar panels, which have already become the cheapest form of power in most US states.

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The expected 70% reduction in cost of lithium-ion batteries by 2025, and the rapid rise seen in the cost of kerosene-based jet fuel means that there will be a large and growing disparity in the costs of running aircraft that will greatly favour electrification.

As is often the case, the reasons that will slow transition are not technological, but are rooted in the economic and political inertia against overturning the status-quo.

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Biofuels while we wait

Considering the average service-life of passenger and freight aircraft are around 21 and 33 years respectively, even if all new aircraft manufactured from tomorrow were fully electric, the transition away from fossil-fuelled aircraft would take two to three decades.

In the meantime, biofuel offers carbon emissions reductions of between 36-85%, with the variability depending on the type of land used to grow the fuel crops.

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As switching from one fuel to another is relatively straightforward, this is a low-hanging fruit worth pursuing before completely phasing out combustion engines.

Even though a biofuel-kerosene jet fuel blend was certified in 2009, the aircraft industry is in no hurry to implement change. There are minor technological hurdles and issues around scaling up biofuel production to industrial levels, but the main constraint is price – parity with fossil fuels is still ten years away.

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The adoption of any new aircraft technology – from research, to design sketches, to testing and full integration – is typically a decade-long process.

Given that the combustion engine will be phased out by mid-century, it would seem to make more economic and environmental sense to innovate in other areas: airframe design, materials research, electric propulsion design and air traffic control.

Chopping the tail

Once electric aircraft are established, the next step will be to integrate a gimballed propulsion system, one that can provide thrust in any direction. This will remove the need for the elevators, rudders, and tailplane control surfaces that current designs require, but which add significant mass and drag.

FuturePlane4Ash Dove-Jay, University of BristolThe skeleton of a new generation wing, making the best of wind-tunnel experiments.

The wings we are already designing are near their peak in terms of aerodynamic efficiency, but they still do no justice to what nature has achieved in birds.

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Aircraft design templates are a century old – constrained by the limitations of the day then, but technology has since moved on. We no longer need to build wings as rigid structures with discrete control surfaces, but can turn to the natural world for inspiration. As Richard Feynman said:

I think nature’s imagination is so much greater than man’s, she’s never going to let us relax.

PETER THIEL: Uber Is ‘The Most Ethically Challenged Company In Silicon Valley’

peter thiel

In a rather truncated, but still insightful interview with Alexia Tsotsis at TechCrunch Disrupt 2014 this year, legendary Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel spoke about many things he has become famous (or infamous) for, including anti-aging research, the HBO show “Silicon Valley” and his opinions on education.

When someone becomes such a cult of personality that TV shows start creating comedic, fictionalized versions of them–as HBO did with Thiel on “Silicon Valley” with its character “Peter Gregory”–you find yourself simply writing down their quotes as they speak.

Here are some of the more interesting things I caught while at the interview.

About HBO’s “Silicon Valley”: “It’s a Good Show.” Thiel said he is flattered by the character played by deceased actor Christopher Evan Welch, on the show. In one scene Thiel–excuse me, Gregory— gives a lecture on why young people shouldn’t go to college.

“I’m skeptical of a lot of what falls under the rubric of education…. People are on these tracks. They are getting these credentials and it’s very unclear how viable they are in many cases.

 It wouldn’t be a Peter Thiel interview if he didn’t express concerns about the American education system. This one was no different. Thiel said his “fundamental” view on this is that there is no “one size fits all” education for every person.

Ironically, when asked what he might have been had he not gone into investing, Thiel said he might have been a teacher.

“Anti-aging is an extremely under-explored field.” The discussion about “atoms and bits” mixed into a brief mention of the growing field of anti-aging. It was obvious through his brief comments that he thinks this area, which Google is already exploring, has tremendous potential.

Thiel agreed when Tsotsis asked if he thought someone alive today would live to be 2,000 years old, but when she asked if he thought he would live that long, he said he was “too superstitious” to say.

“I’m short on New York, long on Silicon Valley.” Thiel talked for a few minutes about the investment dynamics in both New York and San Francisco.

While he feels great about the Big Apple’s ongoing growth in tech, he feels the Bay Area is the true center of the tech world and will stay that way. Silicon Valley, to his mind, will be “the center of the U.S. Economy” through the next two decades.

Re: Silicon Valley: “We’re better than the rest of the country but we shouldn’t believe it too much.” Thiel admonished Valley entrepreneurs who get too cocky or smug about their success.

He said that only hard work and continuing innovation in the next 10-20 years can ensure the Valley keeps its position as the center of tech on Earth. He also mentioned that the next 10-20 years could be more about connecting “the world of atoms and bits” through biotech, self-driving cars and others.

Uber is “way more” evil than Google: In a discussion about the fierce competition between Uber and Lyft, Thiel, referenced the oft-criticized business practices of Uber.

He prefaced his comments by noting he is an investor in Lyft, and said Uber is “the most ethically challenged company in Silicon Valley.”

“Great investments may look crazy but really may not be.” That’s the lesson Thiel took from considering investment in Elon Musk’s SpaceX in 2008. He said some investors thought it might look like too crazy an idea to invest in, but in retrospect, wasn’t.

Thiel and his Founders Fund did make the investment. He cited the fact that the rockets worked well even then as well as a big NASA contract as indications that the company was headed on the right track.

Festivals are becoming the national pastime for America’s millennials

Burning Man Nevada Millennials Festivals
Burning Man attracts a lot of millennials. And plenty of Generation X, too.

An estimated 70,000 people (many of them, well-paid technology executives, apparently) have gathered this week in the Nevada desert for the annual festival of hedonism and weirdness known as Burning Man. 

This year, the event is arguably gaining more attention than usual, amid claims it is being ruined by rich people.

We’ll leave that debate aside, but the fact that Burning Man has become part of the national conversation, in certain circles at least, reflects an important behavioral shift in America: festivals are booming, as both a business and an activity.

This is particularly so among the increasingly important millennial age cohort. 

According to research and surveys conducted by Eventbrite, an online ticketing company, a staggering one in five millennials attended a music festival in the past year.

In a new study, the company claims that music festivals have become “one of young Americans’ favorite pastimes.”

The study, which analyzed 20 million social media conversations across Facebook, Twitter, and other online forums spanning the past 12 months, found that South by Southwest was the most-discussed festival.

The Coachella music and arts festival ranks fifth and Bonnaroo is 10th. EDM (electronic dance music), which is absolutely booming in the US currently, accounted for eight of the top 25 most-discussed festivals, the highest being Tomorrowland (in third place.)

The boom in music festivals is great news for musicians, amid a shift among consumers away from music ownership (in both physical and digital form) to on-demand streaming platforms.

And it echoes an increased desire among consumers (again, particularly millennials, sometimes described as the experience generation) to spend money on experiences rather than things.

Burning Man, which has a music component but isn’t really about music at all, ranked 16th in the Eventbrite study. If this really is a watershed year for the event, in a bad way, then maybe millennials are actually to blame. 

While Gen X-ers like tech luminaries Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Larry Page have been attending Burning Man for years, the New York Times columnist Nick Bilton recently claimed that “a new set of younger rich techies are heading east, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, employees from Twitter, Zynga and Uber.

” They’re setting off a “secret game of I-can-spend-more-money-than-you-can and, some say, ruining it for everyone else” he writes.

SpaceX Rocket Explodes After Launch

SpaceX explosion

A SpaceX Falcon 9R rocket exploded shortly after launching during a test flight in Texas, the company confirmed Friday.

A SpaceX Falcon 9R rocket exploded shortly after launching during a test flight in Texas, the company confirmed Friday.

KXXV-TV anchor Bruce Gietzen reported there were no injuries. The rocket, which was unmanned, was launched from the SpaceX rocket-development facility in McGregor, Texas.

View image on Twitter

“During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission,” John Taylor, a SpaceX spokesperson, told Business Insider in an email.

“Today’s test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test. As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.”

View image on Twitter

The Falcon 9R is the replacement to the company’s retired Grasshopper rocket. According to The Verge, the 9R is designed to launch and deliver payloads, and return to Earth to be reused. After a successful launch and return of a 9R in May, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told NBC News this type of rocket could make spaceflight 100 times cheaper.

SpaceX provided the following statement to Business Insider:

Earlier today, in McGregor, Texas, SpaceX conducted a test flight of a three engine version of the F9R test vehicle (successor to Grasshopper). During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission.

Throughout the test and subsequent flight termination, the vehicle remained in the designated flight area. There were no injuries or near injuries. An FAA representative was present at all times.  

With research and development projects, detecting vehicle anomalies during the testing is the purpose of the program. Today’s test was particularly complex,  pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test.  As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.

SpaceX will provide another update when the flight data has been fully analyzed.

Tesla extends drive train warranty to “infinite miles”

All existing and future Model S vehicles produced by Tesla Motors will now carry an eight-year, infinite-mile warranty on the battery pack and drive train. The change extends the drive-train warranty from 50,000 miles and four years to match that of the battery.

“In hindsight, this should have been our policy from the beginning of the Model S program,” CEO Elon Musk wrote in a blog post. “If we truly believe that electric motors are fundamentally more reliable than gasoline engines, with far fewer moving parts and no oily residue or combustion byproducts to gum up the works, then our warranty policy should reflect that.”

Consumer Reports, which last year gave a glowing review of the Model S with a score of 99 out of 100, noted some problems with the car during its recent testing, including issues with its door handles, center screen, seat belts, and trunk.

Musk warned investors this warranty change will likely have a negative impact on Tesla’s bottom line in the short term. “However, by doing the right thing for Tesla vehicle owners at this early stage of our company, I am confident that it will work out well in the long term,” he said.

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