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Facebook’s Pursuit of AI Smarts Leads It to Opening New Research Labs in Pittsburgh and Beyond

Facebook’s artificial intelligence smarts is spreading to Pittsburgh.

The social networking giant said Tuesday it’s opening a new AI research lab in Pittsburgh and has hired several academics specializing in AI who will join the company’s existing offices in Seattle, London, and Menlo Park, CA.

The new hires are part of Facebook’s existing AI research group, which now has about 170 people, said Facebook’s chief scientist of AI Yann LeCun during a press briefing. Facebook, like other tech giants including Google (goog) and Microsoft (msft), is continuing to incorporate AI technologies like deep learning into its core services and has hired several notable computer science professors over the years in the process.

According to LeCun, Facebook has been setting up its AI research labs near the universities where it has been recruiting, in order to accommodate professors who may not want to move to the company’s home campus in Menlo Park or other remote offices.

“Basically you have to get the talent where it is,” said LeCun. “Not everyone wants to live wherever we have our labs.”

One of Facebook’s new hires, for instance, is Jessica Hodgins, a professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics institute and computer science department. Hodgins, who also previously ran Disney’s research lab out of Pittsburgh, will lead Facebook’s new Pittsburgh AI lab while working at Carnegie Mellon part time.

Although the notion of “dual affiliation” (in which professors split their time between companies and universities) is relatively new to the field of computer science, it is not new to the legal and medical industries, LeCun said. Professors are interested in dual affiliations because they get to retain their academic positions while getting resources like engineering support from companies they wouldn’t get otherwise have access to, he explained.

Dual affiliation also helps downplay the notion that giant tech companies are increasingly poaching the world’s leading AI researchers from universities, thus depriving higher education of experts. Three years ago, for instance, Uber hired about 40 researchers from the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon, which “was seen as kind of a takeover,” said LeCun.

LeCun said that when recruiting from universities, Facebook works with the school’s administration to ensure that the new hires do not “impede or kill the research” that occurs at the schools. He also explained that Facebook needs these universities to continue teaching students, because those students could eventually become new hires.

“That would be stupid if by establishing ourselves there, we kill the pipeline,” LeCun said. “What’s the point?”

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As for why Facebook is hiring a robotics expert from Carnegie Mellon, LeCun said that researchers perceive robotics as being one of the most challenging areas for AI.

“There’s pressure in robotics to get machines to learn quickly,” LeCun said. “We don’t have robots that are as agile as a cat or can grab objects. We don’t have robots that can fill and empty your dishwasher.”

The hope is that if researchers are able to create AI that can power more capable robots than today’s versions, Facebook can take the underlying concepts and apply them to other areas of its business or products in unspecified ways. For example, LeCun said that Facebook uses robots to help with data center maintenance.

Additionally, Facebook needs to hire robotics experts because many of the top AI researchers are involved with robots in some way.

“If we don’t work on robotics, we’re basically shutting ourselves off from talented researchers,” LeCun said.

No blank checks: The value of cloud cost governance

How much does you’re public cloud cost month to month? If you don’t know, you’re hardly alone. Most people in IT don’t have a good understand of what a public cloud service costs per month. Most wait to find out what the bill says rather than proactively monitor cloud consumption, much less have cloud cost governance in place.

Even if your financial budgeting model can handle uncertain costs, not knowing what you’re spending has a downside. When you moved to the public cloud, your company put a value driver in place when defining the business cases—and part of that was based on ongoing costs per month.

If those costs are higher than originally estimated, the value metrics won’t support your goals. Although you can make a case for the cloud’s value around agility and compressing time to market, that will fall on deaf ears among your business leaders if you’re 20 to 30 percent over budget for ongoing cloud costs.

There’s no reason to not know your ongoing cloud costs. In the planning phase, it’s just a matter of doing simple math to figure out the likely costs month to month. In the operational phase, it’s about putting in cost monitoring and cost controls. This is called cloud cost governance.

Cloud cost governance uses a tool to both monitor usage and produce cost reports to find out who, what, when, and how cloud resources were used. Having this information also means that you can do chargebacks to the departments that incurred the costs—including overruns.

But the most important aspect with cloud governance is not monitoring but the ability to estimate. Cloud cost governance tools can tell you not just about current use but also about likely costs in the future. You can use that information for budgeting.

Cloud cost governance also means placing limits on cloud computing usage based on allocation of costs. If the devops team is allocated $150,000 a month but spends $200,000, the tools should take automated corrective action—meaning turning off cloud services after multiple warnings. The idea is not to stop productivity but to make people aware of what costs they are incurring over that of what’s been budgeted.

Traveling This Summer? Get a Lot More From Your Trip Without Spending a Dime

I knew I was destined to travel on business to India, even though I have turned down numerous offers over the years, mainly because I was afraid of getting sick. My fears finally abated when friends in their 70s and 80s returned from India without any health problems, so when a global tech company invited me to deliver a workshop at their leadership summit in Bangalore last month, I accepted. The trip was a great experience and thankfully my fears never materialized. I attribute this to creative resilience and a little ingenuity:

Check government websites for visa information, and traveler’s alerts. (I don’t travel anywhere that has a red-letter warning.) Give yourself and your client ample time to get all the paperwork completed if you are getting a business visa. It can be quite complicated and time-consuming.

In addition to getting the appropriate vaccinations, my best defense against gut problems is to take a high potency probiotic every day starting two weeks before departure and about one week after I return. I also diligently avoided unpeeled produce.

Use a travel agent to book your ticket because if anything goes wrong, they can fix your problem more easily than if you booked online through a third party.

2. Learn about local culture (corporate and societal)

Check with your clients about local customs and dress codes so you don’t make any faux pas. Learn a few words of greeting in your host’s language to create a connection. Whenever I said namaste or namaskar, people would light up. Even security.

I reached out to my network in Bangalore via Linkedin to let them know I would be in town, and as a result, I received several invitations for lunch and dinner, including being a guest speaker at the Bangalore chapter of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. These were wonderful opportunities to connect with local business leaders and innovators and to gain new perspectives about creativity and innovation from their point of view. 

Reconnecting with my contacts from India before I went to Bangalore also helped me prepare psychologically. Several people gave me tips on what to expect and offered help if I needed it, and that helped me feel safer.

While staying at my gloriously opulent hotel, I met other business executives who were in town to check on their Bangalore teams, and it was illuminating to compare notes about doing business in India. My client for example put on an impressive first-class summit at a luxury hotel for their Indian contingent to benefit from in terms of engagement and professional development. In contrast, an executive from another global company told me they never host conferences or summits for their Indian employees. No surprisingly, they have a hard time keeping their employees, even when given raises, because the company is not cultivating connection and employee engagement.

4. Be curious and be present

Nothing makes me feel more present than being immersed in the unknown. As much as I loved being in the lush tropical gardens at my hotel, I also wondered on my own down busy commercial streets (where you take your life in your hands because there are no lights for pedestrians) and quiet residential neighborhoods, inhabited by stray dogs and cows.

I relied on advice from the hotel concierge, trip advisor and chance encounters with locals about what to see and where to go within my limited timeframe to make the most of my visit. I place a lot of value on chance encounters. As my friend Synne Kune Loh says, “Your destiny lies with the next person you might.” That is especially true when traveling, and I strike up conversations with anyone I think might be interesting, including people in lineups, at museums, and in restaurants. Sometimes I’ll invite them to join me at my table, or vice versa. The best conversations happen when you are genuinely curious and honoring of other cultures. 

Enhance your travel experience by keenly observing the world around you. Take in the big picture as well as the details that make a place special. Easily done with your camera but take note: if you always have your nose in your devices you are not being present to your environment. 

5. Step out of your comfort zone

Traveling to foreign lands is a great way to step out of your comfort zone, discover different world-views, break out of outmoded mental models, and gain new cultural experiences; all of which will lead you to new creative ideas and business insights. Enjoy your adventure.

Let Advanced Auto, AutoZone and O'Reilly's Pick Up the Repair Bills

FORT WASHINGTON, MD – JULY 03: Automobile traffic moves along the Capitol Beltway during rush hour one day before the 4th of July holiday July 3, 2018 in Fort Washington, Maryland. The American Automobile Association (AAA) is predicting that 39.7 million Americans will drive 50 miles or more away from their homes during the Independence Day holiday week, a 5 percent increase over last year. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The following statistics can make you wonder why would anyone would want to drive on their vacation. AAA stated in 2015 that, “U.S. drivers reported making an average of 2.1 driving trips per day, covering an average of 29.8 miles and spending an average of 48.4 minutes driving, which translates to an average of 763 trips, 10,874 miles, and 294 hours of driving annually.” The Federal Highway Administration notes that these averages have increased consistently every year since 2013, and in 2018 travel in the U.S will reach an all time high of 3,188,711 million vehicle miles per year.

This summer, many people are looking towards the all-American road trip to satisfy their vacation needs. A recent study posted by ISPOS in June of 2018 states that 72% of Americans plan to go on vacation in the next 12 months. Vacationers are looking to skip the security checkpoint lines and excessive baggage fees with MMGY Global reporting that domestic vacations account for 85 percent of American getaways, with 39% of those being road trips. With these numbers, Americans better make sure their cars can withstand the journey.

For travelers looking for convenient and low cost vacations this season, a road trip is the perfect choice.

Recent AAA roadside data shows that vehicles over 10 years old are twice as likely to break down and four times more likely to be towed in comparison to younger vehicles. We have listed three automotive companies below that, we believe, could fuel your vehicles in addition to your investments.

The foundation of our recommendations is to identify companies that perform best and worst on the collective basis of value, growth, EPS revisions, profitability, and LT momentum. The CressCap systematic trading model gathers data daily on 6,500 companies globally and assigns academic grades (A – F) for each financial metric. These grades are scored relative to its region/sector.

CressCap uses a multi-factor model to select the best-performing stocks. Our data is updated daily and the academic grades (A – F) for each financial metric are scored and ranked on a regional/sector relative basis. The foundation of our recommendations is to identify companies that possess the collective investment style of Value, Growth, EPS Revisions, Profitability and LT Momentum. Academic grades of C or better indicate that each metric scores well compared to the peer sector.CressCap Investment Research

Advance Auto Parts, Inc. (AAP-US)

The first company on our list is Advance Auto Parts. This company is a leading automotive aftermarket parts provider that serves both professional installer and do-it-yourself customers. The Company offers a selection of brand name and private label automotive replacement parts, accessories, batteries and maintenance items for domestic and imported cars, vans, sport utility vehicles and light and heavy duty trucks. According to the its first quarter 2018 results, the company experienced first quarter net sales of $2.9 billion along with a gross profit of $1.3 billion. Additionally, its operating income increased 10.3% to $198.2 million and adjusted operating income increased 9.3% to $224.1 million. CEO Tom Greco stated in the same report that the company’s first quarter performance reinforced its commitment to driving increased value for shareholders.

During the first quarter of fiscal 2018, the sales of appearance chemicals and accessories was down for the company as a result of, “unusually cold temperatures and above average levels of precipitation in March and April”. Tom Greco continued on to say that, “spring-related demand bounced back nicely in May and we expect improved top line sales in Q2”. With Americans eager to get on the road when the weather improves, this is a perfect time to invest in the company.

This stock is one to watch for with an A- CressCap sector grade along with impressive financial metrics. This stock’s YTD performance is up 41.27%. The company’s value metrics are on par with the sector holding a Price/Sales ratio of 1.10x vs. sector 1.35x. The momentum metric stands out amongst its competitors in the consumer discretionary sector. The mid and long term price momentum outcomes are favorable compared to the sector with an A- grade. The mid-term price momentum is 25.44% vs. sector 6.06% and the long term price momentum is an impressive 48.97% compared to sector 15.90%. Profitability metrics for this stock also look favorable with a B+ grade for its gross profit margin at 44.12% vs. sector 33.93%, and a B grade for ROI with the stock at 11.30% compared to sector 8.64%.

AutoZone, Inc. (AZO-US)

AutoZone is the nation’s leading retailer and a leading distributor of automotive replacement parts and accessories with more than 6,000 stores in the US, Mexico, Brazil and Puerto Rico. Each store carries an extensive line for cars, sport utility vehicles, vans and light trucks, including new and remanufactured hard parts, maintenance items and accessories. This Tennessee based company stated in its 3rd quarter 2018 earnings that it recognized net sales of $2.7 billion, an increase of 1.6% from the third quarter of fiscal 2017.  Further, both the net income and diluted EPS for the quarter increased, with net income increasing 10.6% over the same period last year to $366.7 million and the latter increasing 17.3% to $13.42 per share.

In the company’s third quarter 2018 results, CEO William Rhodes stated he had confidence in the company’s performance moving into the summer months. He stated that, “the northern Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern geographies did not excel as expected after the harsher winter. However… [over] the last two weeks when most of the country entered a dry hot weather pattern, our sales improved materially and in the geographies and the categories that we expected”.

The outlook on this company is favorable, with profitability, EPS revisions and value metrics producing strong CressCap grades of A, B+ and B respectively. AutoZone’s profitability can be seen in the ROI, given an A+ grade at 37.73% vs. sector 8.64% and EBIT margin at 19.10% compared to sector 9.35% accompanied by an A grade. The CF/ROI ratio at 46.27x compared to sector 15.66x suggests stock is very undervalued. The stocks current P/E ratio is 15.59x vs. the sector 18.92x, given a B+ CressCap grade. Its EPS revisions continue to be adjusted higher for FY1 and FY2 showing us that this stock has good momentum. This year, it had a market cap change of 27.83% relative to a sector change of 18.06%. In our opinion, the stock looks good for quant, technical, and fundamental criteria and it should be viewed as a place to put your money during the summer season.

O’Reilly Automotive, Inc. (ORLY-US)

O’Reilly Automotive, Inc. is the last company on our list. This Missouri based company is one of the largest specialty retailers of automotive aftermarket parts, tools, supplies, equipment, and accessories in the United States, serving both professional service providers and do-it-yourself customers. The company saw sales for the first quarter of 2018 increase 6%, to $2.28 billion from $2.16 billion for the same period one year ago. Gross profit for the first quarter increased to $1.20 billion from $1.13 billion from the same 2017 period. The company has had a good 2018 thus far, with its performance up 19.26% YTD.

In addition to O’Reilly Automotive reporting both a sales and gross profit increase in the first quarter, their metrics also show tremendous upside potential. Notably, the company’s profitability stands out reflected by an A ranking. This ranking is backed by the stock’s ROE at an impressive 99.45% compared to that of the sector at 13.33%, along with the stock receiving A+ and A grades in ROI and EBIT margin respectively. The growth of this stock looks promising, with its 2 year forward EPS growth rate at 36.29% vs. a sector 25.99%. Long term momentum for the stock is strong, with an A- CressCap rank, at 45.64% compared to a sector average 15.90%. In our opinion, the stock looks good for quant, technical, and fundamental criteria and it should be viewed as a place to put your money during the summer season.

Written By: Steven Cress ([email protected]) and Alison Geary ([email protected])

For additional information, feel free to send questions to [email protected] or view our website www.cresscap.com. Please click here to view CressCap Investment Research’s full disclaimer.

17 Fascinating Ways United, Southwest and Other Airlines Are Changing Their Airplanes. Do Passengers Notice?

Here are 17 of the most interesting examples–culled from my recent interviews with the airlines and other sources. (Hat tip to the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph for a few of these.)

Almost every airline cited new, thinner seats as a weight-savings measure: Southwest and United especially. Even if nobody likes them otherwise.

“I know these have a less than stellar reputation,” United spokesperson Charles Hobart said, “but they can be just as comfortable as the previous seats once you work them in.”

2. No more plastic straws

American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have done away with plastic straws. American says their planes will drop 71,000 pounds as a result, but it’s not the initiative they wanted to highlight.

“Our fleet is more fuel efficient today because of hundreds of new aircraft we’ve taken over the past five years,” an American Airlines spokesperson told me via email. “It’s the youngest fleet among the big U.S. airlines. That’s the main point I’d make for American,”

3. Lighter in-flight magazines

Changing the card stock on in-flight magazines means United’s weigh only an ounce; previously they were several ounces. British Airways did this too.

With about 757 planes, 8,700 total seats, and one magazine per passenger, a single ounce means four tons less weight to lift off the ground with each United flight per day.

4. Less paper in the cockpit

Southwest pointed this one out: “We recently finished equipping our pilots and flight attendants with electronic flight bags, eliminating the need to carry paper charts and manuals.  Switching to these tablets removed 80 pounds from each flight and saved more than 576,000 gallons of fuel.” 

5. Smaller video screens

JetBlue gets a nod: “On our restyled A320 aircraft, our (Inflight Entertainment) IFE is lighter and there are fewer of those under seat boxes that power the IFE,” an airline spokesperson told me. “We have also recently changed out food and beverage carts to a lighter weight cart.”

JetBlue: We have lighter video screens.

United: We have no video screens!

“We’ve removed video screens as you know,” United’s Hobart told me. “Many people are bringing their own on board. We offer streaming PDE–personal device entertainment instead. That’s a considerable weight-savings.”

The Australian airline Qantas has a new line of flatware and tablewear that it says is 11 percent lighter: “The range has now rolled out across our International fleet (and Domestic business class), resulting in an annual saving of up to 535,000 kilograms in fuel,” a spokesperson said.

8. No heavy plates in first class

Similar move on Virgin Atlantic, “which has thinner glassware and got rid of its heavy, slate plates from upper class,” according to the Telegraph.

“The carrier also changed its chocolate and sweet offerings to lighter versions, redesigned its meal trays (which in turn meant planes were able to carry fewer dining carts), and altered its beverage offering for night flights, when fewer people drink.”

Those big bottles of alcohol and perfume all add up, so they’re grounded. “We removed on board duty free products,” United’s Hobart told me. “Very few people were purchasing them anyway.”

10. Restocking the galley

Southwest: “We changed the way we stock our galleys, reducing the weight carried on each flight, and saving an additional 148,000 gallons of fuel in 2014 and 2015 combined.”

British company Thomas Cook “no longer prints receipts for in-flight purchases, saving it the need to carry 420,000 till rolls across its fleets,” according to the Telegraph.

It also “reduced the number of spare pillows and blankets it carries from four down to two.”

I’ll say that one again: pillows and blankets.

Spirit Airlines gets the mention here, and for something people complain about: their comically small tray tales. Besides being slightly less expensive to manufacture, they weigh a little less, which means less fuel required to transport them.

This one seems smart, like there are probably a lot of ways to make a drink cart weigh less. Several airlines said it was a priority.

“Ours were 50 pounds, and we got them down to 27 pounds,” United’s Hobart said.

I’d never heard of this one, but the Telegraph said that in 2008, Air Canada cut life jets out of some planes, and replaced them with “lighter floatation devices.” Apparently this was allowed as long as the aircraft “didn’t venture more than 50 miles from the shore.”

Did anyone even notice? Prior to its merger with Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines reportedly made a point of slicing limes into 16 slices as opposed to 10. That means they nearly halved the number of limes they had to carry.

16. The straight up solution

This one goes back 30 years, but it’s so apt. In 1987, United reportedly realized that removing one olive from every salad it served could save $40,000 a year. That would be just over $89,000 today. Not significant in itself for a $37 billion a year company, but hey, everything counts.

This is the tricky one that airlines would probably love to implement, but it’s hard. In 2013, Samoa Air introduced a “fat tax,” as the Telegraph put it, “whereby passengers would be charged a fare according to their weight.”

Separately, Japan’s All Nippon Airways, in 2009 “asked passengers to visit the lavatory before boarding because empty bladders means lighter bladders.”

Pininfarina's Back With a $2 Million Electric Hypercar

Tesla can take credit for proving to the world that electric cars can be fun, and faster than their internal combustion engine competitors. But while Elon Musk’s company is now set on showing EVs can also be affordable and accessible for the masses, with the minimalist Model 3, others are taking batteries and motors in the opposite direction.

The latest automaker to promise an electric car that’s excessively fast, luxurious, rare, and expensive, is Pininfarina-Automobili. The European newcomer’s vehicle, codenamed PF0, will go into production in 2020 and cost between $2 and $2.5 million. If you’ve got the cash, you get a hypercar that can reach 60 mph in under two seconds, top out at 250 mph, and offer 310 miles of driving between stops to recharge the batteries.

Another advantage to being the sort of person who can afford the PF0: You get to see what the thing looks like. So far, Pininfarina has only shown teaser images of the vehicle, which reveal a low car with the wheels pushed out the corners (a design allowed by using electric motors instead of an engine and driveshafts) and little else. When Pininfarina unwraps the actual sheetmetal at next month’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, it will only invite potential buyers (ie, the rich). Everyone else will have to wait until the Geneva Motor Show in March 2019 to see it in full.

Yet the new automaker’s team promises a design that improves on todays’s EVs. “One of the main differences is a big central tunnel, because most of the battery will be between driver and passenger,” says design chief Luca Burgogno. Most other EV makers have opted for the Tesla-esque concept of a skateboard platform, with all the batteries under the floor, but Burgogno says that makes too high a profile for a hypercar.

Pininfarina’s vehicle, codenamed PF0, will go into production in 2020 and cost between $2 and $2.5 million. It should reach 60 mph in under two seconds, top out at 250 mph, and offer 310 miles between charging stops.

Automobili-Pininfarina

If the name Pininfarina sounds familiar, you’re probably an Italian car connoisseur. “We claim to be a startup, but with 88 years of history,” says CEO Michael Perschke. That’s because Pininfarina has existed as an Italian design house since 1930, penning and helping build iconic cars for Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, and so many Ferraris—64 in all—that it’s credited with helping shape the brand. It also worked on the sharp lines of the Cadillac Allenté, sold in the late-80s.

Pininfarina even went down the road of building an all-electric car with its own badge on the hood in 2008, which was supposed to go on sale in 2010. (If you want to see how far electric cars have come, check out the specs promised back then. 0-30 mph in 4.9 seconds, 125 miles of range, and a top speed of 80 mph.) Then the global financial markets melted down. By the time Indian conglomerate Mahindra bought the company in 2015, Pininfarina was $125 million in debt.

The reborn company still works as a design house for other manufacturers, but now it has new plans for its own line of vehicles. The price of the PF0 might be up there in the multi-millions, with the likes of the Pagani Huayra Roadster, but the eventual plan is for a range of all-electric cars, including luxury SUVs. Instead of chasing Tesla or Chevrolet into the high-volume, low-priced end of the market, it will model itself on Porsche or McLaren, automakers that offer vehicles for lawyers and doctors as well as oil tycoons. “We will become more affordable, but still be a luxury brand,” says Perschke. “Just like Rolex doesn’t sell plastic watches.”

Other niche players have caught on to the idea that high-performance and electric propulsion are far from mutually exclusive—and may soon become synonymous. Croatia’s Rimac builds EV powertrains (including the one installed in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding Jaguar E-Type), and its own Concept One and Concept Two (1.85 seconds 0-60), Tesla has promised a new Roadster (0-60 in 1.9 seconds), and another Indian company, Vazirani Automotive, just revealed a turbine-electric hypercar at the UK’s Goodwood Festival of Speed (0-60 TBC).

Pininfarina’s long history and new owner give it a solid shot at forcing its way into a competitive market. “We think we are the correct brand to propose this new idea of sustainable luxury,” says Burgogno. He has already recruited staff from Bentley, Bugatti, McLaren, and Ferrari. The time may finally be right for a Pininfarina badge to take the place of the prancing horse, or Winged B, or even the chromed T, on the hood of an electric.


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Electrolux Pure i9 Review: An Effective, But Expensive Robot Vacuum

Many people like to run their robovacs at night or while they’re at work. I choose to run ours while I’m awake, right after dinner and while we’re putting the kids to bed.

First off, I don’t see any reason to walk around all evening with crumbs sticking to the bottoms of my feet if I don’t have to. But I’ve also found that most robot vacuums will require rescue, which means you have to be awake or around. If you’re sufficiently pressed for time and energy that you need a robot vacuum, you’re probably not being as diligent as you could be about eliminating botvac booby traps, like tiny doll socks or stray shoelaces.

Even with navigational aids like virtual wall barriers, magnetic strips, or no-go lines, only a few robot vacuums have been reliable enough to leave completely unattended. I’m happy to report that the Electrolux Pure i9 is one of them.

Love Triangle

Right out of the box, the Electrolux Pure i9 looks markedly different from the other botvacs that I’ve tried. It’s a steel-gray, rounded triangle that measures 12.8 inches across and 3.3 inches high. It’s only 0.2 inches less in diameter than the Roomba 690, but it looks much smaller.

Electrolux

It comes with only its charging stand, a magnetic side brush, and instructions to download the Pure i9 app. Unlike other robot vacuums, it’s not compatible with Alexa, Google Home, or other voice assistants.

Out of the box, it took two hours to charge. Setting it up by connecting it to the app is an easy, familiar process, and the app itself is clean and simple to navigate. Just follow the app’s instructions to connect the Pure i9 to your Wi-Fi; you can also operate it with buttons on the botvac’s top panel. Once connected, you can select your robot’s name (I chose “Dung Beetle”) and tinker with its settings. For example, you can select a more energy-efficient eco mode, or a mute option that reduces the volume of the bot by about 5 decibels, from 65 to 60. You can schedule cleanings, or switch the app’s language. You can access online support or visit Electrolux’s online shop for replacement parts.

Power Hour

The botvac’s battery life is not overly long. In normal mode, it ran for 50 minutes—slightly longer than the advertised 40 minutes—before it had to return to the base for charging. It was able to clean 270 (very dirty) square feet in 40 minutes. But I strongly suspect that Electrolux might be able to increase that runtime if it could make the navigation software slightly more efficient.

The Pure i9 uses a 3-D vision camera set in the front to navigate. It’s exceptionally accurate. Even without navigational aids, the Pure i9 never got lost or stuck. It never dinged my furniture or bashed into any walls. It never mistook a cliff where there was none, or failed to clamber over the lip of a doorway or a carpet. When I stepped in front of it, it paused to assess the situation before moving around my feet.

After one cleaning session, I realized that my toddler had completely disassembled a flag banner and hidden it under the couch. Almost any other botvac would have found this to be a disaster—frayed string, little pieces of loose fabric—but the Pure i9 navigated smoothly around it.

However, the mechanism by which it steered clear of obstacles was maddening to watch. It’s easy to intuitively divine how the navigation mechanisms in a robot vacuum work. The cheaper ones ping-pong randomly back and forth, while powerful, methodical botvacs, like the Neato line, vacuum back and forth in orderly parallel lines.

The Pure i9 gave the impression of being an elderly butler, wandering around haphazardly with a dusting brush in a sheepish, absentminded manner. “Does that robot vacuum know where it’s going?” our babysitter asked, watching it work one morning.

Every time it went around a corner, came up against the base of a chair, or approached the edge of a rug, it stopped and re-started over and over, repeatedly reassessing the situation until it deemed it safe to go forward. “Oops, oh no, excuse me,” I imagined it saying in a British accent, every time that it started shuffling in the hallway for one, two, or five minutes. “How perfectly buffle-brained of me. Please, you go first.”

I could chart its progress in real-time on a map of my house in the app. Electrolux doesn’t display the amount of square feet cleaned or time spent cleaning graphically over time, as do iRobot and Neato. But the map is a fairly close approximation of what my house looks like, and made it easy to check if I’d had the bathroom or bedroom doors closed on any given day.

Let Me Clear My Throat

With mute on, I measured the Pure i9’s sound at a fairly quiet 60 decibels. In normal mode, the vacuum ran at about 65 dB, which kicked up to a turbo 70 dB whenever it encountered a particularly filthy patch of carpet.

After each cleaning, the high traffic areas by the door and under the kitchen table were clear. The triangular shape with the side brush may have helped with digging into the corners.

The Pure i9 didn’t provide nearly as deep a carpet clean as the Roomba 980, mainly because it wasn’t able to thoroughly agitate the fibers. But the anti-tangle brush wasn’t constantly snarling and stopping the vacuum, in the way that the Neato Botvac D7 Connected did. I also didn’t have to clean out the bin nearly as much. Even with its diminutive size, it has an impressive dustbin capacity of 0.7 liters. In comparison, the dustbin of the Samsung Powerbot holds only 0.3 liters.

The Pure i9 has AutoPower, which automatically detects the floor surface that the vacuum is on and calibrates the level of cleaning power. When battery runs down, it returns automatically to the base, recharges, and restarts, which occasionally scared me awake when I forgot that it hadn’t finished and it automatically restarted in the dead of the night.

My one real gripe is that the Pure i9 is only so-so at returning home to the charging station. If a cleaning cycle had finished, it went back no problem. But if I stopped it and pushed the home button halfway through, the app informed me that the the Pure i9 was returning home even when it clearly wasn’t. Some mornings, I would awake to find it sitting sadly, alone in a corner.

Not Afraid to Trade(off)

It’s hard for me to recommend products that I wouldn’t purchase myself. Spending $899 is a lot, especially for a robot vacuum that lacks many basic functions. I don’t use a voice assistant to control my robot vacuum, but many people do, and much cheaper robot vacuums work with Google Home and Alexa. It also has spot cleaning but no directional control and no remote, which has bothered me in the past.

Still, its very simplicity won me over. I have spent so much time fussing with navigational aids to help my robot vacuums, that it never occurred to me that I might not even need them. And while its navigational quirks can be maddening, I have spent more evenings than I would like, cowering in bedrooms, listening to Neato Connecteds trying to break the door down. I appreciated a shy, sheepish robot vacuum that gave my house a thorough clean without breaking anything, or itself, in the process.

In the end, this isn’t my top recommendation for a high-end robot vacuum. But if you’re looking for a slightly smaller, reliable, and good-looking robot vacuum, the Electrolux Pure i9 makes a very decent contender.

Stylish Swedish Speakers That Connect With Everything And Play All Around Your Home

The Baggen, Stammen and Lotsen are the big, medium and little models in the range of Urbanears wireless speakers.Urbanears

Over the past century a lot of interesting things have come out of Scandinavia: Volvos, Abba, grisly crime fiction books, social democracy, and some rather attractive audio equipment. It was Danish company Bang & Olufsen that declared stereos and audio equipment needn’t look ugly in order to function properly.

Recently Sweden has become a bit of a hotspot for headphone and speaker design that look as good as it sounds. Companies like Sudo and VAIN have produced some excellent wired and wireless earphones that have delighted me. Now another brand has joined the party and this one is called Urbanears.

As you’d expect from a Swedish product, Urbanears are stylish and functional products that will click with the generation that wants products to look as good as they sound. Take the company’s speaker range, for instance.

Urbanears offers three wireless speakers and they’re all clad in a range of different-coloured cloths and feature real control knobs for that analog feel that lends a bit of vintage chic to this very modern technology. At the top end of the range is the Baggen. This chunky wireless speaker offers Bluetooth, AirPlay, Google Chromecast and Internet radio built in. There’s also a 3.5mm input jack so you can play old-school analog sources like a Discman or cassette player. The Baggen weighs 6.6kg and pumps out 60W of Class D amplification through a 5.25cm and two 2.5cm woofers. It’s chunky enough to fill a big room with sound and is available in six colours.

Sitting in the middle of the range is the Stammen, which is a bit smaller at 210 x 210mm and weighing 3.6kg. It has two 3/4? neodymium dome tweeters and one 4? woofer. The speakers are driven by three Class D amplifiers that deliver 2 x 15W and 1 X 40W of power.

Finally there’s the little Lotsen, which was the model that I tested. This dinky little speaker weighs just 1.6kg and is small enough for a bedroom or kitchen. It has all the other connectivity features of its two larger siblings and can deliver 20W of output through its 1? neodymium dome tweeter and 4? woofer.

The Unrbanears app enables users of iOS and Android devices to control the Urbanears speaker range.Urbanears

Setting up the Lotsen was very simple thanks to the free Urbanears app which can be downloaded for iOS or Android platforms. Because all the speakers are AirPlay compatible they can be used with Mac computers. This speaker is the first I’ve reviewed that features connectivity for Spotify, Internet Radio, Apple AirPlay, Google Chromecast and Bluetooth devices. It’s pretty much got everything covered.

Unlike many Bluetooth speakers, the Urbanears range isn’t battery powered so you do need to be near a power outlet to use it. The sound of the Lotsen was excellent and there’s plenty of bass, even from this baby of the pack. What’s more, Urbanears speakers are multiroom so you can play music throughout your home by adding more Urbanears speakers as you go. The Internet radio function is excellent as you can assign up to seven radio stations to presets or seven of your favorite music playlists. When you come home just select your favorite radio station or playlist and your music will start playing without the need to use an app or computer.

Verdict: These stylish speakers from Sweden provide just about every connectivity option you could want: Spotify, AirPlay, Google Chromecast and Bluetooth. You can even connect an analog device. There isn’t a USB port for playing music stored on a stick but as long as you have a phone or tablet you can pretty much stream any music you like. The retro knobs for selecting source and adjusting volume are well implemented and will appeal to lovers of stylish designs. The cloth finish is available in six colorful finishes ranging from pastel shades to slightly stronger hues for more modern interiors.

Prices:

Baggen $349 / £329 / €349

Stamen $249 / £229 / €249

Lotsen $199 / £179 / €199

Available colors: Vinyl Black, Indigo Blue, Concrete Grey, Goldfish Orange, Plant Green, Dirty Pink

More info: urbanears.com

FOX Sports Using SkyCam For The First Time At An MLB All-Star Game

This diagram of Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. shows how FOX Sports will use a SkyCam for the MLB All-Star Game for the very first time.FOX Sports

If you’ve watched any NFL games on television in the last few years, you’ve undoubtably seen the use of the cable-suspended SkyCam. The ability of networks to fly the camera around the field gives a bird’s eye view where stationary cameras can’t. For the most part, football fans have been the biggest winners of the SkyCam technology, while other sports have been unable to utilize it.

That will change on Tuesday when the 89th MLB All-Star Game is played at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

FOX Sports will be using SkyCam for the first time, ever, at MLB’s Midsummer Classic. According to the network, the design of Nationals Park allowed for the use of the camera technology where other ballparks have not.

There will be one “WildCat” system on-site with a flyspace that will run over left and center field. The camera will track outside the field of play, largely over the bullpens. By running the system as such, it avoids the possibility of the camera or cabling interfering with play.

Should there be any technical problems with the primary system, FOX Sports is deploying a backup that will be on-site.

As has been the case in the past, FOX Sports continues to push the envelope with technology at jewel events, such as the MLB All-Star Game. On top of the SkyCam, there will be an additional aerial camera; 35 HD game cameras; eight super slo-mo that run at 460 frames per second, and; two extra-slo-mo cameras at 2,000 frames per second will be used.

For audio, FOX Sports has increased the number of microphones being used including 78 embedded in the field to capture the sounds of the game.

All of it will be tied together with more than 250 strands of fiber, over three miles of fiber optic cable, and 1 Gbps of data connectivity.

To make it all come together, the FOX Sports will deploy a small army of more that 125 technicians and 24 support staff that will log more than 10,000 man hours over five days.

FOX Sports’ coverage of the MLB All-Star Game begins at 7:30 pm ET.

Eutelsat, Intelsat and SES team up on U.S. C-band proposal

(Reuters) – France’s Eutelsat will join satellite operator rivals Intelsat and SES in a proposal to allow mobile operators to quickly access part of the C-band spectrum in the United States, the companies said on Thursday.

The proposed consortium would be open to all satellite operators delivering services in the C-band in the mainland United States, and would deal with transactions with companies wishing to use specific portions of the spectrum for mobile services, the companies said.

The C-band spectrum is used to deliver video and audio programming to more than 100 million U.S. households, as well as for data connectivity in rural areas and services for the U.S. government.

The companies said the consortium would help speed up the deployment of 5G services in the United States.

Reporting by Alan Charlish in Gdynia; editing by Jason Neely

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