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Uber’s fatal accident tally shows low rates but excludes key numbers

04:27 | 6 December

Uber’s just-released U.S. Safety Report sets forth in some detail the number of fatal accidents, and the good news is that the overall rate per mile is about half the national average. But the report makes some puzzling choices as far as what is included and excluded.

To create the report, Uber took its internal reports of crashes, generated by drivers, users, or insurance companies, and compared it to the national Fatality Analysis Reporting System, or FARS, a database that tracks all automotive deaths. In this way Uber was able to confirm 97 fatal crashes with 107 total deaths in 2017 and 2018 combined.

As the company is careful to point out before this, more than 36,000 people died in car crashes in the U.S. in 2018 alone, so the total doesn’t really mean much on its own. So they (as others do in this field) put those accidents in context of miles traveled. After all, 1 crash in 100,000 miles doesn’t sound bad because it’s only one, but 10 crashes in a billion miles, which is closer to what Uber saw, is actually much better despite the first number being higher. To some this is blindingly obvious but perhaps not to others.

The actual numbers are that in 2017, there were 49 “Uber-related” fatalities over 8.2 billion miles, or approximately 0.59 per 100 million miles traveled; in 2018, there were 58 over 1.3 billion, or about 0.57 per 100 million miles. The national average is more than 1.1 per 100 million, so Uber sees about half as many fatalities per mile overall.

These crashes generally occurred at lower speeds than the national average, and were more likely by far to occur at night, in lighted areas of cities. That makes sense, since rideshare services are heavily weighted towards urban environments and shorter, lower-speed trips.

That’s great, but there are a couple flies in the ointment.

First, obviously, there is no mention whatsoever of non-fatal accidents. These are more difficult to track and categorize, but it seems odd not to include them at all. If the rates of Ubers getting into fender-benders or serious crashes where someone breaks an arm are lower than the national average, as one might expect from the fatality rates, why not say so?

When I asked about this, an Uber spokesperson said that non-fatal crashes are simply not as well defined or tracked, certainly not to the extent fatal crashes are, which makes reporting them consistently difficult. That makes sense, but it still feels like we’re missing an important piece here. Fatal accidents are comparatively rare and the data corpus on non-fatal accidents may provide other insights.

Second, Uber has its own definition of what constitutes an “Uber-related” crash. Naturally enough, this includes whenever a driver is picking up a rider or has a rider in their car. All the miles and crashes mentioned above are either en route to a pickup or during a ride.

But it’s well known that drivers also spend a non-trivial amount of time “deadheading,” or cruising around waiting to be hailed. Exactly how much time is difficult to estimate, as it would differ widely based on time of day, but I don’t think that Uber’s decision to exclude this time is correct. After all, taxi drivers are still on the clock when they are cruising for fares, and Uber drivers must travel to and from destinations, keep moving to get to hot spots, and so on. Driving without a passenger in the car is inarguably a major part of being an Uber driver.

It’s entirely possible that the time spent deadheading isn’t much, and that the accidents that occurred during that time are few in number. But the alternatives are also possible, and I think it’s important for Uber to disclose this data; Cities and riders alike are concerned with the effects of ride-hail services on traffic and such, and the cars don’t simply disappear or stop getting in accidents when they’re not hired.

When I asked Uber about this, a spokesperson said that crash data from trips is “more reliable,” since drivers may not report a crash if they’re not driving someone. That doesn’t seem right either, especially for fatal accidents, which would be reported one way or the other. Furthermore Uber would be able to compare FARS data to its internal metrics of whether a driver involved in a crash was online or not, so the data should be similarly if not identically reliable.

The spokesperson also explained that a driver may be “online” in Uber at a given moment but in fact driving someone around using another rideshare service, like Lyft. If so, and there is an accident, the report would almost certainly go to that other service. That’s understandable, but again it feels like this is a missing piece. At any rate it doesn’t juice the numbers at all, since deadheading miles aren’t included in the totals used above. So “online but not hired” miles will remain a sort of blind spot for now.

You can read the full report here.

 


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Uber safety report reveals thousands of sexual assault reports last year

03:22 | 6 December

Uber just released its first-ever safety report that covers sexual assault. Let’s jump right in.

In 2017, Uber received 2,936 reports pertaining to sexual assault, and received 3,045 in 2018. Despite the increase in raw numbers, Uber saw a 16% decrease in the average incident rate, which it suggests may correlate with the company’s increased focus on safety as of late.

Uber categorizes sexual assaults into five subcategories: non-consensual kissing of a non-sexual body part, attempted non-consensual sexual penetration, non-consenual touching of a sexual body part, non-consensual kissing of a sexual body part, and non-consensual sexual penetration.

Regarding the last subcategory, which is rape, Uber received 229 reports of rape in 2017 and 235 reports of rape in 2018. Throughout 2017 and 2018, the reported incidents occurred on 0.00002% of trips, according to Uber.

“While these reports are rare, every report represents an individual who came forward to share an intensely painful experience,” Uber wrote in its report. “Even one report is one too many.”

To be clear, these reported assaults happened to both riders and drivers. Though, Uber found riders account for nearly half of the accused parties across those five most serious sexual assault categories.

“Voluntarily publishing a report that discusses these difficult safety issues is not easy,” Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West wrote in a blog post. “Most companies don’t talk about issues like sexual violence because doing so risks inviting negative headlines and public criticism. But we feel it’s time for a new approach. As someone who has prosecuted sex crimes and worked on these issues for more than 25 years, I can tell you that a new approach is sorely needed.”

Developing…

 


0

Why AWS is selling a MIDI keyboard to teach machine learning

03:00 | 6 December

Earlier this week, AWS launched DeepComposer, a set of web-based tools for learning about AI to make music and a $99 MIDI keyboard for inputting melodies. That launch created a fair bit of confusion, though, so we sat down with Mike Miller, the director of AWS’s AI Devices group, to talk about where DeepComposer fits into the company’s lineup of AI devices, which includes the DeepLens camera and the DeepRacer AI car, both of which are meant to teach developers about specific AI concepts, too.

The first thing that’s important to remember here is that DeepComposer is a learning tool. It’s not meant for musicians — it’s meant for engineers who want to learn about generative AI. But AWS didn’t help itself by calling this “the world’s first machine learning-enabled musical keyboard for developers.” The keyboard itself, after all, is just a standard, basic MIDI keyboard. There’s no intelligence in it. All of the AI work is happening in the cloud.

“The goal here is to teach generative AI as one of the most interesting trends in machine learning in the last 10 years,” Miller told us. “We specifically told GANs, generative adversarial networks, where there are two networks that are trained together. The reason that’s interesting from our perspective for developers is that it’s very complicated and a lot of the things that developers learn about training machine learning models get jumbled up when you’re training two together.”

With DeepComposer, the developer steps through a process of learning the basics. With the keyboard, you can input a basic melody — but if you don’t have it, you also can use an on-screen keyboard to get started or use a few default melodies (think Ode to Joy). From a practical perspective, the system then goes out and generates a background track for that melody based on a musical style you choose. To keep things simple, the system ignores some values from the keyboard, though, including velocity (just in case you needed more evidence that this is not a keyboard for musicians). But more importantly, developers can then also dig into the actual models the system generated — and even export them to a Jupyter notebook.

For the purpose of DeepComposer, the MIDI data is just another data source to teach developers about GANs and SageMaker, AWS’s machine learning platform that powers DeepComposer behind the scenes.

“The advantage of using MIDI files and basing out training on MIDI is that the representation of the data that goes into the training is in a format that is actually the same representation of data in an image, for example,” explained Miller. “And so it’s actually very applicable and analogous, so as a developer look at that SageMaker notebook and understands the data formatting and how we pass the data in, that’s applicable to other domains as well.”

That’s why the tools expose all of the raw data, too, including loss functions, analytics and the results of the various models as they try to get to an acceptable result, etc. Because this is obviously a tool for generating music, it’ll also expose some of the data about the music, like pitch and empty bars.

“We believe that as developers get into the SageMaker models, they’ll see that, hey, I can apply this to other domains and I can take this and make it my own and see what I can generate,” said Miller.

Having heard the results so far, I think it’s safe to say that DeepComposer won’t produce any hits soon. It seems pretty good at creating a drum track, but bass lines seem a bit erratic. Still, it’s a cool demo of this machine learning technique, even though my guess is that its success will be a bit more limited than DeepRacer, which is a concept that is a bit easier to understand for most since the majority of developers will look at it, think they need to be able to play an instrument to use it, and move on.

Additional reporting by Ron Miller.

 


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Scammers peddling Islamophobic clickbait is business as usual at Facebook

02:32 | 6 December

A network of scammers used a ring of established right-wing Facebook pages to stoke Islamophobia and make a quick buck in the process, a new report from the Guardian reveals. But it’s less a vast international conspiracy and more simply that Facebook is unable to police its platform to prevent even the most elementary scams — with serious consequences.

The Guardian’s multi-part report depicts the events like a scheme of grand proportions executed for the express purpose of harassing Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MI), Rashida Tlaib (D-MN) and other prominent Muslims. But the facts it uncovered point towards this being a run-of-the-mill money-making operation that used tawdry, hateful clickbait and evaded Facebook’s apparently negligible protections against this kind of thing.

The scam basically went like this: an administrator of a popular right-wing Facebook page would get a message from a person claiming to share their values that asked if they could be made an editor. Once granted access, this person would publish clickbait stories — frequently targeting Muslims, and often Rep. Omar, since they reliably led to high engagement. The stories appeared on a handful of ad-saturated websites that were presumably owned by the scammers.

That appears to be the extent of the vast conspiracy, or at least its operations — duping credulous conservatives into clicking through to an ad farm.

Its human cost, however, whether incidental or deliberate, is something else entirely. Rep. Omar is already the target of many coordinated attacks, some from self-proclaimed patriots within this country; just last month, an Islamophobic Trump supporter pleaded guilty in federal court to making death threats against her.

Social media is asymmetric warfare in that a single person can be the focal point for the firepower — figurative but often with the threat of literal — of thousands or millions. That a Member of Congress can be the target of such continuous abuse makes one question the utility of the platform on which that abuse is enabled.

In a searing statement offered to the Guardian, Rep. Omar took Facebook to task:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Facebook’s complacency is a threat to our democracy. It has become clear that they do not take seriously the degree to which they provide a platform for white nationalist hate and dangerous misinformation in this country and around the world. And there is a clear reason for this: they profit off it. I believe their inaction is a grave threat to people’s lives, to our democracy and to democracy around the world.

Despite the scale of its effect on Rep. Omar and other targets, it’s possible and even likely that this entire thing was carried out by a handful of people. The operation was based in Israel, the report repeatedly mentions, but it isn’t a room of state-sponsored hackers feverishly tapping their keyboards — the guy they tracked down is a jewelry retailer and amateur SEO hustler living in a suburb of Tel Aviv who answered the door in sweatpants and nonchalantly denied all involvement.

The funny thing is that, in a way, this does amount to a vast international conspiracy. On one hand, it’s a guy in sweatpants worming his way into some trashy Facebook pages and mass-posting links to his bunk news sites. But on the other, it’s a coordinated effort to promote Islamophobic, right-wing content that produced millions of interactions and doubtless further fanned the flames of hatred.

Why not both? After all, they represent different ways that Facebook fails as a platform to protect its users. “We don’t allow people to misrepresent themselves on Facebook,” the company wrote in a statement to the Guardian. Obviously, that isn’t true. Or rather, perhaps it’s true in the way that running at the pool isn’t allowed. People just do it anyway, because the lifeguards and Facebook don’t do their job.

 


0

Review: Driving the track-ready, race-banned McLaren Senna GTR

01:38 | 6 December

The McLaren Senna GTR shouldn’t exist.

This feat of engineering and design isn’t allowed on public roads. It’s built for the track, but prohibited from competing in motorsports. And yet, the GTR is no outlier at McLaren. It’s part of their Ultimate Series, a portfolio of extreme and distinct hypercars that now serve as the foundation of the company’s identity and an integral part of their business model.

The P1, introduced in 2012, was McLaren Automotive’s opening act on the hypercar stage and was an instant success for both the brand and its business. McLaren followed it up with the P1 GTR, then went on to chart a course toward the Ultimate Series of today and beyond.

Since 2017, the automaker has added the Senna, Speedtail, Senna GTR and now the open-cockpit Elva to the Ultimate Series portfolio. While the GTR is certainly the most extreme and limited in how and where it can be used, it follows a larger pattern of the Ultimate Series as being provocatively designed with obsessive intent.

Automotive takes the wheel

Purpose-built race cars that call on every modern tool of engineering and design have historically been produced for one purpose: winning. This objective, nourished by billions of dollars of investment from the motorsports industry, has led to technological and performance breakthroughs that have eventually trickled down to automotive.

The pipeline that has produced a century of motorsports-driven innovation is narrowing as racing regulations become more restrictive. Now, a new dynamic is taking shape. Automotive is taking the technological lead.

mclaren-car-stats-final

Take the McLaren Senna road car, the predecessor to the GTR. McLaren had to constrain the design of the Senna to make it road legal. But the automaker loaded it with active aerodynamics and chassis control systems that racing engineers could only dream about.

McLaren wasn’t finished. It pushed the bounds further and produced a strictly track-focused and unconstrained race car that expands upon the Senna’s lack of conformity. The Senna GTR might be too advanced and too fast for any racing championship, but McLaren said to hell with it and made the vehicle anyway.

The bet paid off. All 75 Senna GTR hypercars, which start at $1.65 million, sold before the first one was even produced.

The Senna GTR is the symbol of a new reality — a hypercar market that thrives on the ever-more-extreme, homologation standards be damned.

Two weeks ago, I had a chance to get behind the wheel of the Senna GTR at the Snetterton Circuit in the U.K. to find out how McLaren went about developing this wholly unconstrained machine.

Behind the wheel

Rr-rr-rr-kra-PAH! The deafening backfire of the GTR’s 814-horsepower 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine snapped me to attention and instantly transported me to the moment earlier in the day that provided the first hints of what my drive might be like.

Rob Bell, the McLaren factory driver who did track development for the GTR, was on hand to get the car warmed up. Shortly after he set out, the car ripped down the front-straight, climbing through RPMs with an ear-protection-worthy scream that reverberated off every nearby surface, an audible reminder of how unshackled it is.

As Bell approached Turn 1, the rear wing quickly dropped back to its standard setting from the straightaway DRS (drag reduction system) position, then to an even more aggressive airbrake as he went hard to the brakes from 6th gear down to 5th to 4th. The vehicle responded with the signature kra-PAH! kra-PAH! and then promptly discharged huge flames out the exhaust as the anti-lag settings keep a bit of fuel flowing off-throttle.

I thought to myself, ‘Holy sh*t! This thing is no joke!’

McLaren Senna GTR driver

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I feel at home. The cockpit is purposeful. The track was cold with some damp spots, and the GTR is a stiff, lightweight race car with immense power on giant slick tires. Conventional wisdom would suggest the driver — me in this case — should slowly work up to speed in these otherwise treacherous conditions. However, the best way to get the car to work is to get temperature in the tires by leaning on it a bit right away. Bell sent me out in full “Race” settings for both the engine and electronic traction and stability controls. Within a few corners — and before the end of the lap — I had a good feel for the tuning of the ABS, TC and ESC, which were all intuitive and minimally invasive.

As a racing driver, it’s rare to feel a tinge of excitement just to go for a drive. As professionals, driving is a clinical exercise. But the GTR triggered that feeling.

I started by pushing hard in slower corners and before long worked my way up the ladder to the fast, high-commitment sections. The car violently accelerated up through the gears, leaving streaks of rubber at the exit of every corner.

Once the car is straight, drivers can push the DRS button to reduce drag and increase speed for an extra haptic kick. The DRS button is now a manual function on the upper left of the steering wheel to give the driver more control over when it’s deployed. After hitting the DRS, the car dares you to keep your right foot planted on the throttle, then instantly hunkers down under braking with a stability I’ve rarely experienced.McLaren Senna GTR drive

The active rear wing adds angle while the active front flaps take it out to counterbalance the effect of the car’s weight shifting forward onto the front axle, letting you drive deeper and deeper into each corner. It’s sharply reactive; the GTR stuck to the road, but still required a bit of driving with my fingertips out at the limit on that cold day. I soon discovered that the faster I went, the more downforce the car generated, and the more speed I was able to extract from it.

Tip to tail

In almost any other environment, the Senna road car is the most shocking car you’ve ever seen. Its cockpit shape is reminiscent of a sci-fi spaceship capsule. The enormous swan neck-mounted rear wing is one highlight in a long list of standout features. The Senna road car looks downright pedestrian next to the GTR.

McLaren Senna GTR doors

The rear wing stretches off the back of the car with sculpted carbon fiber endplates and seamlessly connects to the rear fender bodywork. The diffuser that emerges from the car’s underbody — creating low pressure by accelerating the airflow under the car for added downforce — is massive. The giant 325/705-19 Pirelli slicks are slightly exposed from behind, giving you the full sense of just how much rubber is on the ground, and the sharp edges of the center exit exhaust tips are already a bluish-purple tint.

The cockpit shape and dihedral doors are instantly recognizable from the road car. But inside, the GTR is all business. The steering wheel is derived from McLaren’s 720S GT3 racing wheel, a butterfly shape with buttons and rotary switches aplenty. The dash is an electronic display straight out of a race car; six-point belts and proper racing seats complete the aesthetic.

McLaren Senna GTR cockpit

Arriving at the front of the car, the active front wing-flaps are as prominent as ever, while the splitter extends several inches farther out in front of the car and is profiled with a raised area in the center to reduce pitch sensitivity given the car’s much lower dynamic ride-height. In fact, nearly the entire front end of the car has been tweaked; there are additional dive-planes, the forward facing bodywork at the sides of the car have been squared-off and reshaped, and an array of vortex generators have been carved into the outer edge of the wider, bigger splitter surface.

All of these design choices in the front point to the primary area of development from the Senna road-car to the GTR: maximizing its l/d or ratio of lift (in this case the inverse of lift, downforce) to drag.

McLaren pulled two of its F1 aerodynamicists into the GTR project to take the car’s aero to a new level. The upshot: a 20% increase in the car’s total downforce compared to the Senna road car, while increasing aero efficiency — the ratio of downforce to drag — by an incredible 50%. The car is wider, lower and longer than its road-going counterpart, and somehow looks more properly proportioned with its road-legal restrictions stripped away to take full advantage of its design freedom.

McLaren Senna GTR back

This was the car the Senna always wanted to be.

The development process of the GTR was short and to the point. When you have F1 aerodynamicists and a GT3 motorsport program in-house attacking what is already the most high-performing production track car in the industry, it can be. There were areas they could instantly improve by freeing themselves of road-car constraints — the interior of the car could be more spartan; the overall vehicle dimensions and track width could increase; the car would no longer need electronically variable ride heights for different road surfaces so the suspension system could be more purposeful for track use; the car would have larger, slick tires.

All this provided a cohesive mechanical platform upon which to release the aerodynamic assault of guided simulation and CFD.

Senna GTR CFD1 aero side

The GTR benefits from the work of talented humans and amazing computer programs working together with a holistic design approach. What was once a sort of invisible magic, aerodynamics has become a well-understood means of generating performance. But you still have to know what you’re seeking to accomplish; the priorities for a car racing at Pikes Peak are much different than those of a streamliner at Bonneville.

The development team for the GTR sought to maximize the total level of downforce that the tires could sustain, then really kicked their efforts into gear to clean up airflow around the car as much as possible. Many of the aggressive-looking design elements that differentiate the GTR from the Senna are not just for additional downforce but to move air around the car with less turbulence — less turbulent air means less drag. You can’t see it or feel it, but it certainly shows up on the stopwatch, and is often the difference between a car that just looks fast and one that actually is.

I hadn’t asked how fast the car was relative to other GT race cars before I drove it. I think a part of me was fearful that despite its appearance and specs it might be wholly tuned down to be sure it was approachable for an amateur on a track day. And that would make sense, as that’s the likely use-case this car will have. After driving the GTR, I didn’t hesitate for a second to ask, to which they humbly said that it’s seconds faster than their own McLaren 720S GT3 car, and still had some headroom.The Senna GTR is another exercise in exploring the limits of technology, engineering and performance for McLaren, enabled by a market of enthusiasts with the means to support it. And this trend is likely to continue unless motorsports changes the rules to allow hypercars.

McLaren’s next move

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, organizers of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has been working for years to develop regulations that could include them. While these discussions are gaining momentum, it remains to be seen whether motorsport can provide a legitimate platform for the hypercar in the modern era.

The last time this kind of exercise was embarked on was more than 20 years ago during the incredible but short-lived GT1-era at Le Mans that spanned from 1995 to 1998. It saw McLaren, Porsche, Mercedes and others pull out all the stops to create the original hypercars — in most cases comically unroadworthy homologation specials like the Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion (literally “street version”) and Mercedes CLK GTR — for the sole purpose of becoming the underpinnings of a winning race car on the world’s stage.

At that time, the race cars made sense to people; the streetcars were misfits of which only the necessary minimum of 25 units were produced in most cases, and the whole thing collapsed due to loopholes, cost, politics and the lack of any real endgame.

Today, the ACO benefits from a road-going hypercar market that McLaren played a key role in developing. Considering McLaren’s success with hyper-specific specialized vehicles in recent years, I’d bet the automaker could produce a vehicle custom-tailored to a worthy set of hypercar regulations. Even if not, McLaren will continue to develop and sell vehicles under its Ultimate Series banner.

And there’s already evidence that McLaren is doubling down. 

McLaren Elva

McLaren shows off the open cockpit Elva.

McLaren’s Track 25 business plan targets $1.6 billion in investment toward 18 new vehicles between 2018 and 2025. The company’s entire portfolio will use performance-focused hybrid powertrains by 2025.

The paint had barely dried on the Senna GTR before McLaren introduced another new vehicle, the Elva. And more are coming. McLaren is already promising a successor to the mighty P1. I, for one, am looking forward to what else they have in store.

 


0

Elizabeth Warren is reportedly drafting legislation to allow gig workers to unionize

01:25 | 6 December

A key ask from gig workers this year has been the right to unionize. Now, Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is reportedly drafting a bill that would enable gig workers to do just that, CNBC reports.

In collaboration with Congressperson David Cicilline, the legislation would also ban “mega mergers” between companies where one has more than $40 billion in annual revenue or both have at least $15 billion in annual revenue.

Leading up to the legalization California Assembly Bill 5, gig workers demanded better pay, basic workplace protections and the right to organize through unions. Now that AB-5 has been signed into law, it will legally be harder for companies to classify gig workers as 1099 independent contractors if challenged in court. However, gig workers still want the right to form unions.

Following the passage of AB-5, rideshare driver and Gig Workers Rising member Edan Alva said unions are critical. AB-5, he said, is only the beginning. On top of that, AB-5 is only specific to California. What Warren is reportedly proposing would cover the entire nation.

TechCrunch has reached out to Warren and will update this story if we hear back.

 


0

Niantic is working with Qualcomm on augmented reality glasses

01:25 | 6 December

We’ve known for a while that Pokémon GO creator Niantic feels a bit limited in what it can do with augmented reality today.

Between the latency limitations of 4G cellular networks and the need for players to wave a smartphone around to do anything in AR, the tech just isn’t where Niantic wants it to be. As I wrote in a profile of Niantic back in April, the company has been focusing a ton of its efforts on what’s possible as things like 5G and AR glasses become more readily available. Niantic CEO John Hanke is betting on AR glasses being the thing after smartphones.

It makes sense, then, that Niantic is working with Qualcomm to build 5G-ready AR glasses.

Early this morning, Qualcomm announced XR2, a new chipset platform built specifically to power augmented reality and virtual reality devices.

Shortly thereafter, Niantic CTO Phil Keslin took the stage to announce that they’ve joined Qualcomm in a “multi-year collaboration” on this project.

So what does that actually mean?

Immediately, not a ton. You’re not going to be booting up Pokémon GO on a pair of Qualcomm/Niantic AR glasses this Christmas.

Moving forward, though, it means that Niantic will be working with Qualcomm to flesh out the reference hardware for augmented reality glasses, helping them figure out exactly what it needs to do.

Meanwhile, Niantic will be tuning its Real World Platform (the architecture that powers all of its existing games, and which they’re slowly opening up to third parties) to make it play friendly with XR2. Niantic has quietly been designing any architecture its built over the last few years to ultimately be compatible with AR glasses — now they’re committing to compatibility with a specific chip, making things a bit more real. Once the tech is ready, says Keslin, it’ll all be rolled into the Real World Platform and made available to anyone in the Niantic Creator Program (which the company says should launch sometime in 2020.)

Qualcomm is a pretty solid company to partner with, here; they’re by no means strangers to the world of AR. They’ve been working on chips purpose-built for AR/VR for well over a year now, beginning with the introduction of the XR1 platform back in May of last year. They were amongst the first to really go deep on building a development platform for augmented reality with the launch of Vuforia… though they sold that project off in 2015 to focus on chips like these.

 


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NFL-AWS partnership hopes to reduce head injuries with machine learning

01:24 | 6 December

Today at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy on stage to announce a new partnership to use machine learning to help reduce head injuries in professional football.

“We’re excited to announce a new strategic partnership together, which is going to combine cloud computing, machine learning and data science to work on transforming player health and safety,” Jassy said today.

NFL football is a fast and violent sport involving large men. Injuries are a part of the game, but the NFL is hoping to reduce head injuries in particular, a huge problem for the sport. A 2017 study found that 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Then NFL has a head start in machine learning due the sheer amount of data it collects on its players. The sport also has decades of video. That means they should be able to create meaningful simulations that can help improve helmet design and also lead to rule changes that could reduce the concussion risk that is endemic in the sport.

Goodell recognizes that the sport has all this data, but lacks the expertise to put it to work. That’s where the partnership comes in. “I think what’s most exciting to me is that there are very few relationships that we get involved with where the partner and the NFL can change the game,” he said.

Jeff Miller, executive VP for Health and safety innovation for the NFL says this partnership is part of a broader initiative the NFL has taken over the last few years to find ways to reduce head injuries in the game. “About three and a half years ago the NFL started a project called ‘The Engineering Roadmap’, which was a multibillion dollar effort supported by our owners to better understand the impact of concussions on the field, then design ways to mitigate those injuries and move the helmet industry forward,” Miller said today.

Jeff Crandall, chairman of the NFL engineering committee says this involves three main pieces. The first is understanding what happens on the field, particularly who is getting injured and why. Secondly, it involves taking that data and sharing it with helmet industry to help them build better helmets. The final piece is incentivizing the helmet industry to build better helmets, and to that end the league established the $3 million dollar helmet challenge.

The way AWS helps is of course putting all this data to work with its machine learning toolset. AWS’ VP of artificial intelligence, Matt Wood says that having all this data is a huge advantage and allows them to put it to work in a data lake, and then use AWS SageMaker to help make sense of it and produce safer outcomes.

The hope is to help understand, not only how head injuries occur, and to prevent them to the extent possible in a violent sport, but also design better equipment and rule changes to reduce the number of injuries in the sport. Putting data to work and combining it with machine learning tools could help.

 


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Gift Guide: Gifts for the promising podcaster

00:05 | 6 December

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2019 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

Spotify reportedly spent nearly $500 million on podcasts in 2019. The good news is that the rest of us can get into that world for considerably less. In fact, the low barrier of entry has always been one of podcasting’s primary selling points.

Before we go any further, I’d recommend everyone check out our on-going series “How I Podcast,” in which top podcasters give a peek behind the curtain at their podcasting rigs. The standard disclaimer applies here, as ever: there’s no one size fits all solution to any of this. One’s needs will vary greatly depending on how much you’re willing to spend and what the recording setup is (remote vs. in-person, the number of guests you usually have, etc.)

If you’re just getting started, just start. You don’t need high end mics or mixing boards — even if you’re just recording into your iPhone, it’s better to get the ball rolling than to worry about perfect fidelity right off the bat.

But for you or anyone on your list who’s looking to get a bit more serious about podcasting in 2020, this should be a good place to start. It’s easier than ever to make a show sound professional, one upgrade at a time. What follows is a selection of software and gear for anyone looking to step up their game.

(Oh, and while we’re talking about podcasts… check out my weekly interview show, RiYL)

Zencastr Subscription $20/month

There are a ton of different compelling software choices for today’s podcaster, including Spotify’s Anchor for real beginners, up to Adobe’s Premier for the pros. For remote recorders, I recommend Zencastr. Our own Original Content podcast uses the software, and I’ve had pretty good experiences with its real-time audio levels and cloud-based recording. Gone are the days of hacking something together out of Skype calls.

Rodecaster Pro $599

Introduced last year, the Rodecaster Pro is the most expensive item on the list, but it also just might be the most indispensable for anyone looking to set up an at-home studio. It’s a brilliant little multitrack board, and quite frankly, I’m surprised there isn’t more competition in this space yet. For the beginning podcaster up through everyone who’s ready to sign a contract with NPR, the Rodecaster is a terrific, user-friendly solution for recording more than two people face-to-face.

Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder $200

When my Tascam finally gave up the ghost earlier this year, I decided to try something new. I’m glad I did. While it’s true that most of these multitrack records haven’t changed much in the past decade, Zoom offers a couple of key advantages. Most notable is far better real-time level tracking. I produce my podcast on the fly as I’m recording, and the ability to quickly monitor volume at a glance is paramount. I take the H4N with me wherever I travel, along with a pair of external mics.

AKG Lyra $149

Logitech’s Blue has had the USB market cornered for some time now, but Samsung-owned AKG offers compelling alternatives at an even more compelling price. The $149 Lyra is certainly the best looking of the bunch. It’s got a USB-C input, real-time monitoring and far clearer settings for a variety of different recording methods. I’ve been playing around with the mic a bit and will offer a more thorough writeup soon, but in the meantime, I can attest that it’s a great sounding mic for remote recordings.

Blue Raspberry $149

The Lyra’s biggest drawback, however, is its size. Blue’s Raspberry can’t compete on the sound front, but it’s far more portable. More than once I’ve found myself sticking it in a backpack and a suitcase. Blue also offers up a mini-version of the Yeti at a fraction of the price, but this older Blue mic simply sounds better.

Shure SM7B $399

At about twice the price, the Shure SM7B is a bigger commitment than the previous options. But as the choice of pro-level podcasters all over, Shure’s mics are a studio gold standard. The more portable SM-57s are also a terrific (and lower cost) option for more portable rigs. You’ll get a great sounding show either way.

Sennheiser Momentum $190

Whether it’s for editing or just minimizing echoes during interviews, you’ll want a good pair of headphones. There’s no shortage of over/on-ear options, but I’m partial to these Sennheisers for their combination of sound, price and classic good looks.

 


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New tweet generator mocks venture capitalists

23:50 | 5 December

“Airbnb’s unit economics are quite legendary — the S-1 is going to be MOST disrupted FASTEST in the next 3 YEARS? Caps for effect.”

Who Tweeted that? Initialized Capital’s Garry Tan? Homebrew’s Hunter Walk? Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham? Or perhaps one of the dozens of other venture capitalists active on Twitter .

No, it was Parrot.VC, a new Twitter account and website dedicated to making light of VC Twitter. The creator of the new tool, which first landed on Twitter in late November, fed 65,000 tweets written by some 50 venture capitalists to a machine learning bot. The result is an automated tweet generator ready to spew somewhat nonsensical (or entirely nonsensical) <280-character statements.

[gallery ids="1920794,1920795,1920797,1920806"]

According to Hacker News, where the creator shared information about their project, the bot uses predictive text to generate “amazing, new startup advice,” adding “Gavin Belson – hit me up, this is the perfect acquisition for Hooli,” referencing the popular satirical TV show, Silicon Valley. 

This isn’t the first time someone has leveraged artificial intelligence to make fun of the tech community. One of my personal favorites, BodegaBot, inspired by the Bodega fiasco of late 2017, satirizes Silicon Valley’s unhinged desire to replace domestic service with technology.

 


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