Weekly Tech Recap - № 162 - Tesla, Louis Vuitton Echo, Fribo, Autodesk and hip-hop, lawyer bots
Tough times for Tesla
Tesla crash. © ABC News.
The storm clouds are gathering over Tesla. At the beginning of April, its stock tumbled below $260 US, wiping out all of its gains from the past year, while last June it was soaring at more than $380 US. Its market capitalization has dipped back below GM’s and is now at about the same level as Ford. What’s the reason? Bad news upon more bad news. To start, on the 23rd of March, a Model X on activated autopilot crashed into a traffic separation rail on a highway in Mountain View, California. The driver died and photos of the car in its sad state were seen around the world. Coming on the heels of the incident with the Uber car that killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, this didn’t help in building a positive image for the general public about autonomous driving. Next, production goals for the Model 3 still aren’t achieved. The goal for the end of 2017 was to produce 5,000 vehicles each week, but in fact only 2,400 Model 3s were delivered in the entirety of 2017! Today, production has reached 2,000 per week, but that’s a far cry from the kind of numbers that will allow them to deliver the 500,000 pre-orders in a reasonable timeframe. And lastly, Tesla had to organize the biggest vehicle recall in its history with 123,000 Model Ss that were produced prior to April 2016, which were experiencing problems with power steering system bolts that were rusting prematurely. Given this context, Elon Musk’s April Fools’ tweet, which joked, “we are sad to report that Tesla has gone completely and totally bankrupt,” didn’t amuse investors.
Louis Vuitton Echo
LV Echo. © Louis Vuitton.
Louis Vuitton, the leather maker best known for its overpriced handbags and luggage emblazoned with loud monograms that turn you into a walking billboard for the luxury brand, is venturing into high tech with the same formula: overpriced and monogrammed. It has launched LV Echo, a $425 CAD luggage tracker that allows you to pinpoint the location of your $4,000 suitcase in various international airports. This tracker uses Sigfox’s Monarch technology, which interestingly doesn’t rely on mobile networks or WIFI, but on a specialised IoT/M2M network, one that’s dedicated to low speed communications, on radio frequencies between 862 and 928 MHz (Ultra Narrow Band, UNB) based on geographic zones. Networks on frequencies lower than kHZ are not suitable for broadband, but do have many specific advantages: some UNB frequencies don’t require user licences, their wave range is very long, and reception and transmission requires much less energy for connected devices. The LV Echo knows to automatically switch to usable radio frequencies in different regions of the world. Thanks to a light sensor, it can also detect when the bag is opened, and generate an alert. The device’s battery life is six months, and it comes with a three-year subscription to Sigfox. It works in more than one hundred international airports, but not in Canada, for the moment. The partner application to see the location of your precious baggage is available for Android and iOS.
⇨ Circuit Breaker, “Louis Vuitton made a $370 luggage tracker.”
Fribo, an isolation-fighting robot
Fribo. © Yonsei University/KAIST.
In North America, like in Asia, more and more youth between the ages of 18 and 35 live alone. In Korea, this phenomenon is particularly widespread, and researchers are trying to find ways to minimize the sense of isolation. Last month, during the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interactions, Korean roboticists presented a robot called Fribo, which was developed to allow young adults who live on their own to maintain daily contact with their friends, and doing so by listening to what’s happening in your life and those of your friends. In fact, Fribo works by listening to the daily sounds of your life. The robot’s voice recognition is minimal (and it doesn’t record voices) so it’s more private than something like Alexa. It’s also more intelligent in many respects, with the ability to understand what’s going on in its environment simply by analyzing noise. Fribo can recognize noises like the sound of a vacuum cleaner running, a microwave, a washing machine, the sound of a fridge door opening and closing, the sound of doors, etc. With time and some help, it’s able to learn the meaning of new sounds. The robot also has an ultrasound sensor so it can detect if you’re in the room or not, as well as temperature, humidity and ambient light sensors. When a Fribo hears a noise in your house that it recognizes, it sends a message to your friends’ Fribos, for example: “Oh, someone just opened the fridge door. I wonder what your friend is going to eat.” Though the concept appears strange (OK, its frankly bizarre), the first tests have been conclusive. For example, one young woman said, “Fribo helped break the silence and emptiness I felt at home after work. It’s different from the TV because it gives information about my friends’ activities. The robot seems like a living creature.” The study was conducted in Korea, however, and researchers noted they weren’t sure that Fribo would work as well in other cultural contexts.
⇨ IEEE Spectrum, “Fribo: a robot for people who live alone.”
Hip Hop Architecture Camp looks to rhythm to inform design
Hip Hop pioneer Roxanne Shante uses Tinkercad to inspire participants. © Autodesk.
Autodesk’s Hip Hop Architecture camp is travelling to 17 cities over five months to provide opportunities for underrepresented youth to gain exposure to the field. Autodesk creates computer assisted design (CAD) software which is used in many domains, including architecture; the firm is partnering with the Urban Arts Collective, a group that exposes underrepresented youth to STEM fields, to deliver the camps. These free camps, which usually run for a week or on a weekend, are geared to youth 10 to 17 years old, who are exposed architecture, urban planning and who will also use Tinkercad. They break down musical elements like rhythm and structure and use them to inform design, using 3D printers to create elements of their design. Mike Ford, the architect who co-founded the collective and who created the camp, hopes that in the future, communities will be designed and built by those who live there. “Hip Hop Architecture Camps both expose future generations to potential design careers and provide kids with the chance to think critically about what their communities can look like in the future,” said Kurtis Blow, hip hop artist and co-founder of the Universal Hip Hop Museum. “Together with the Urban Arts Collective and Autodesk, we’re giving a voice to communities who have previously been voiceless.”
Lawyer bots take on municipalities in parking ticket wars
Parking ticket. © iStock.
The cat and mouse game between municipalities and recipients of parking tickets has heated up. Meet the lawyer bots who will challenge parking tickets on your behalf, and who could end up costing cities big bucks. DoNotPay, for example is a free online bot service that streamlines the way you contest parking tickets. It’s led to more people contesting unfair tickets, but has also opened the door to potential abuse of the system, leading to possible revenue loss for municipalities. It guides users through a series of questions, to determine for example if the ticket has incorrect details, and generates a legal letter to be submitted to the city. Some lawyer bots, like WinIt, collect a fee, but only if the appeals are successful. In the U.K. and the U.S., DoNotPay has led to the dismissal of over 450,000 parking tickets – or $13 million in fines.