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UPS takes minority stake in self-driving truck startup TuSimple

By Kirsten Korosec

UPS said Thursday it has taken a minority stake in self-driving truck startup TuSimple just months after the two companies began testing the use of autonomous trucks in Arizona.

The size of minority investment, which was made by the company’s venture arm UPS Ventures, was not disclosed. The investment and the testing comes as UPS looks for new ways to remain competitive, cut costs and boost its bottom line.

TuSimple, which launched in 2015 and has operations in San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, believes it can deliver. The startup says it can cut average purchased transportation costs by 30%.

TuSimple, which is backed by Nvidia, ZP Capital and Sina Corp., is working on a “full-stack solution,” a wonky industry term that means developing and bringing together all of the technological pieces required for autonomous driving. TuSimple is developing a Level 4 system, a designation by the SAE that means the vehicle takes over all of the driving in certain conditions.

An important piece of TuSimple’s approach is its camera-centric perception solution. TuSimple’s camera-based system has a vision range of 1,000 meters, the company says.

The days of when highways will be filled with autonomous trucks are years away. But UPS believes it’s worth jumping in at an early stage to take advantage of some of the automated driving such as advanced braking technology that TuSimple can offer today.

“UPS is committed to developing and deploying technologies that enable us to operate our global logistics network more efficiently,” Scott Price, chief strategy officer at UPS said in a statement. “While fully autonomous, driverless vehicles still have development and regulatory work ahead, we are excited by the advances in braking and other technologies that companies like TuSimple are mastering. All of these technologies offer significant safety and other benefits that will be realized long before the full vision of autonomous vehicles is brought to fruition — and UPS will be there, as a leader implementing these new technologies in our fleet.”

UPS initially tapped TuSimple to help it better understand how Level 4 autonomous trucking might function within its network. That relationship expanded in May when the companies began using self-driving tractor trailers to carry freight on a freight route between Tucson and Phoenix to test if service and efficiency in the UPS network can be improved. This testing is ongoing. All of TuSimple’s self-driving trucks operating in the U.S. have a safety driver and an engineer in the cab.

TuSimple and UPS monitor all aspects of these trips, including safety data, transport time and the distance and time the trucks travel autonomously, the companies said Thursday.

UPS isn’t the only company that TuSimple is hauling freight for as part of its testing. TuSimple has said its hauling loads for for several customers in Arizona.  The startup has a post-money valuation of $1.095 billion (aka unicorn status).

Udelv partners with H-E-B on Texas autonomous grocery delivery pilot

By Darrell Etherington

Autonomous delivery company Udelv has signed yet another partner to launch a new pilot of its self-driving goods delivery service: Texas-based supermarket chain H-E-B Group. The pilot will provide service to customers in Olmos Park, just outside of downtown San Antonio where the grocery retailer is based.

California-based Udelv will provide H-E-B with one of its Newton second-generation autonomous delivery vehicles, which are already in service in trials in the Bay Area, Arizona and Houston providing deliveries on behalf of some of Udelv’s other clients, which include Walmart among others.

Udelv CEO and founder Daniel Laury explained in an interview that they’re very excited to be partnering with H-E-B, because of the company’s reach in Texas, where it’s the largest grocery chain with approximately 400 stores. This initial phase only covers one car and one store, and during this part of the pilot the vehicle will have a safety driver on board. But the plan includes the option to expand the partnership to cover more vehicles and eventually achieve full driverless operation.

“They’re really at the forefront of technology, in the areas where they need to be,” Laury said. “It’s a very impressive company.”

For its part, H-E-B Group has been in discussion with a number of potential partners for autonomous deliver trials, and according to Paul Tepfenhart, SVP of Omnichannel and Emerging Technologies at H-E-B, but it liked Udelv specifically because of their safety record, and because they didn’t just come in with a set plan and a fully formed off-the-shelf offering – they truly partnered with HEB on what the final deployment of the pilot would look like.

Both Tepfenhart and Laury emphasized the importance of customer experience in providing autonomous solutions, and Laury noted that he thinks Udelv’s unique advantage in the increasingly competitive autonomous curbside delivery business is its attention to the robotics of the actual delivery and storage components of its custom vehicle.

“The reason I think we’re we’ve been so successful, is because we focused a lot on the delivery robotics,” Laury explained. “If you think about it, there’s no autonomous delivery business that works if you don’t have the robotics aspect of it figured out also. You can have an autonomous vehicle, but if you don’t have an automated cargo space where merchants can load [their goods] and consumers can unload the vehicle by themselves, you have no business.”

Udelv also thinks that it has an advantage when it comes to its business model, which aims to generate revenue now, in exchange for providing actual value to paying customers, rather than counting on being supported entirely through funding from a wealthy investor or deep-pocketed corporate partners. Laury likens it to Tesla’s approach, where it actually has over 500,000 vehicles on the road helping it build its autonomous technology – but all of those are operated by paying customers who get all the benefits of owing their cars today.

“We want to be the Tesla of autonomous delivery,” Laury said. “If you think about it, Tesla has got 500,000 vehicles on the road […] if you think about this, for of all the the cars in the world that have some level of automated driver assistance (ADAS) or autonomy, I think Tesla’s 90% of them – and they get the customers to pay a ridiculous amount of money for that. Everybody else in the business is getting funding from something else. Waymo is getting funding from search; Cruise is getting funding from GM and SoftBank and others, Nuro is getting funding from SoftBank. So, pretty much everybody else is getting funding from a source that’s a different source from the actual business they’re supposed to be in.”

Laury says that Udelv’s unique strength is in the ability the company has to provide value to partners like HEB today, through its focus on robotics and solving problems like engineering the robotics of the loading and customer pick-up experience, which puts it in a unique place where it can fund its own research through revenue-generating services that can be offered in-market now, rather than ten years from now.

NASA moves to final planning stages for mission to explore 16 Psyche’s full metal asteroid

By Jonathan Shieber

The value of all the nickel and iron that scientists believe make up 16-Psyche’s potato-shaped asteroid in the outer reaches of the asteroid belt totals some $10,000 quadrillion.

It’s an astronomical sum, but NASA’s Psyche mission, which has now received approval to enter the final design and development stages before manufacturing begins for its 2022 launch, is actually after a much bigger prize… one of the secrets to how the Earth came to exist.

NASA scientists and researchers at Arizona State University believe that Psyche holds a key to understanding how planetary bodies are formed. The theory is that Psyche is actually the core of a planet which broke apart after a series of cataclysmic collisions.

Scientists hope that they can get a look into the distant past of the solar system, when protoplanet encounters created Earth and destroyed other would-be terrestrial planets —  like the one whose remnants are floating between Mars and Jupiter.

This artist’s-concept illustration depicts the spacecraft of NASA’s Psyche mission near the mission’s target, the metal asteroid Psyche. The artwork was created in May 2017 to show the five-panel solar arrays planned for the spacecraft. Image credit: SSL/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

“With the transition into this new mission phase, we are one big step closer to uncovering the secrets of Psyche, a giant mysterious metallic asteroid, and that means the world to us,” said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe, in a statement.

There are still three more phases of mission planning that the Psyche team needs to clear. Phase D will begin in early 2021 includes the final manufacturing and testing of the spacecraft along with the planned launch in early 2022.

Phase E will happen as soon as Psyche’s exploratory craft hits the vacuum of space, NASA said. It’ll cover the deep space operations of the mission and the collection of data for science. NASA expects Psyche will arrive at its eponymous asteroid on Jan. 31, 2026 after buzzing Mars in 2023 (two years before Elon Musk predicted the first human astronauts would arrive).

Instruments on the Psyche craft will include a magnetometer designed to detect and measure the remnant magnetic field of the asteroid. A multi-spectral imager will be on board to provide high-resolution images to determine the composition of the asteroid (how much is metal vs. how much is a silicate). The craft will also include a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer to detect, measure, and map the asteroid’s elemental composition and a new laster technology that’s designed for deep space communications.

Part of the NASA Discovery Program, the mission is being undertaken in conjunction with Maxar Space Solutions, which is providing the electric propulsion chassis, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Arizona State University.

Some sage security advice after Radiohead’s unreleased music hack

By Zack Whittaker

Bad news: Radiohead was hacked.

Last week, a hacker stole the band’s lead singer Thom Yorke’s private minidisk archive from the band’s third album and subsequent major worldwide hit, OK Computer. The hacker demanded for $150,000 or they’d release it.

Stuck between a ransom and a hard place, Radiohead released the tapes themselves.

The recordings were “never intended for public consumption” and “only tangentially interesting,” the band said in a post on Facebook. But “instead of complaining – much – or ignoring it, we’re releasing all 18 hours on Bandcamp” in aid of Extinction Rebellion, a climate change group.

Until the end of the month, the stolen recordings will be available for £18 ($23).

We got hacked last week – someone stole Thom’s minidisk archive from around the time of OK Computer, and reportedly…

Posted by Radiohead on Tuesday, June 11, 2019

There is, though, a lesson to be learned. Holding files for ransom is more common today than ever thanks to ransomware. The event isn’t too dissimilar from a ransomware event. Pay the ransom or lose your files — or worse, have them spread all over the internet. That’s a business’ worst nightmare. We’ve seen ransomware destroy the computer networks of some of the largest companies around the world, like Arizona Beverages, Norsk Hydro, and shipping giant Maersk. Ransomware is now a multi-billion dollar business, and it’s growing.

But in any ransom-type situation, the FBI has long told victims of ransomware to never pay. Security experts agree. Simply put, you run the risk of losing your files even if they pay the demand.

ProPublica recently found that even some of the largest ransomware recovery companies are quietly paying the ransom — and passing on the costs to the victim — with mixed results. In many cases, paying the demand failed to recover the files.

If there’s one lesson from the Radiohead hack, never pay the ransom. Better yet, plan for the worst and have a backup just in case.

Card readers at electric vehicle charging stations will weaken security, researchers say

By Zack Whittaker

Electric vehicle charging stations could become one of the next big targets for fraudsters — thanks to proposals in several state that researchers say would weaken their security.

Most electric vehicle (EV) charging stations rely solely on a credit card linked to an app or through contactless payments with RFID-enabled credit cards or through a driver’s smartphone. Contactless payments are one of the most secure ways to pay, cutting out the credit card entirely and reducing the chance that a card will be cloned or have its data skimmed. For charging stations — often in the middle of nowhere and unmonitored — relying on contactless payments can reduce device tampering and credit card fraud.

But several states are proposing EV charging stations install magnetic stripe credit card readers, which the researchers are prone to abuse by fraudsters.

Arizona, California, Nevada, Vermont, and several states across New England are said to be considering installing credit card readers at publicly funded EV charging stations.

“While these proposals may be well-intentioned, they could expose drivers to new security risks while providing cyber criminals with easy access to attractive targets,” wrote security researchers April Wright and Jayson Street, in a paper out Monday by the Digital Citizens Alliance, a nonprofit consumer group.

Instead, they say EV charging stations and other point-of-sale machines should continue to rely on contactless payment methods and lawmakers “should engage with the security community to better understand fraud risks associated with credit card readers.”

“These proposals would effectively reverse the industry’s careful considerations regarding EV charger payment options,” said the researchers.

Much of the issues fall on the continued reliance of magnetic stripe cards, which remains one of the most common payment methods in the U.S.

Where other nations, including the U.K. and most of Europe, have adopted chip-and-PIN as the primary way of paying for goods and services, the U.S. still relies on the insecure magnetic stripe. Hackers can easily skim the data off the credit card and repurpose a stolen magnetic stripe to commit fraud. Although chip-and-PIN is more secure than the magnetic stripe, card fraud remains a risk until chip-and-PIN becomes the primary method for making payments. Even with chip-enabled cards, fraudsters can still steal payment card numbers and card verification codes by using hidden pinhole cameras.

Credit card skimming is said to be a $2 billion industry.

Using mobile contactless payments, like Apple Pay or Google Pay, would largely render the risk from card skimming almost entirely moot, they say.

Until more secure options are used, the introduction of magnetic stripe readers at EV chargers “would represent an unnecessary risk” to drivers.

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