Etsy tells sellers it’s going to advertise their goods and take a big cut of the sale

Etsy is going to start automatically advertising its sellers’ products and taking a fee — at least 12 percent — for every sale it refers. The ads will appear on “high-traffic sites” like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, and they’ll be a requirement for shops doing more than $10,000 in sales each year. The change means a potentially big disruption for sellers that could lead to higher prices.

Sellers are complaining in Etsy’s online forum. One seller called it a “BS money grab.” Others called it “absolutely unfair” and “the most ridiculous thing I have seen.”

“This is just greed!” one seller wrote. “While us who work hard suffer.”

All sellers will be opted into the advertising program when it goes live next month. Sellers making less than $10,000 per year — most people on the site — will be able to opt out, but they will still be automatically included in the program to start. Those stores will be charged a higher 15 percent fee.

The fee will be taken off of the full order total, meaning Etsy will also take a cut from shipping costs (it will respect coupons and sales). Etsy normally takes a 5 percent fee from sellers for using its platform, which will continue to be charged in addition to the advertising fee.

Etsy pitches the service as an upgrade for sellers. It comes at “no risk” to them, since they don’t have to pay for any of the advertising unless it directly leads to a sale. “Advertising is essential to growing an online business, but doing it on your own can get expensive,” the company writes. It says sellers should expect 1 in 10 sales to come through this new advertising program.

The fee gives Etsy a steady new revenue stream. The company already benefits when its sellers do well, and now it can expand the money it makes off of advertising. Etsy reported its holiday quarter earnings today, saying it grew revenue by 35 percent year over year. In part, it credited that growth to “investment in marketing channels,” as well as nagging buyers to add more items to their cart to qualify for free shipping.

Etsy sellers, similarly, were upset when the platform began pushing them to include free shipping last year. Sellers said they would have to raise prices and that buyers would likely end up spending more — exactly what seems to have happened.

The new advertising program is supposed to kick off in April. It partially replaces Etsy’s current advertising program, which is optional. Sellers can currently opt in to have their products advertised on Etsy or on other sites, such as Google Shopping, and they can set a budget for how much they’re willing to spend. Sellers will still be able to pay to advertise their products within Etsy itself.

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False copyright claims took down debate commentary channels on Twitch

On February 25th, CBS News hosted the last Democratic presidential debate ahead of the vastly important Super Tuesday primaries. The debate was officially licensed to broadcast on Twitter and CBS News’ website, but there was an even broader reach of live commentary channels as Twitch streamers reacted to the arguments in real time.

But if you were tuned in to one of those channels, you may have gotten an unpleasant surprise halfway through the broadcast.

As the debates progressed, popular channels like Chapo Trap House and Mychal “Trihex” Jefferson were hit with the suspensions after their streams received copyright strikes for hosting their own debate coverage. As far as Twitch was concerned, those live commentary tracks were pirating copyright-protected content. But after investigations by Twitch, channels that received takedowns by a group called Praxis Political were false.

According to Twitch:

Twitch is reinstating access to each account and removing any strike attributed to a channel in connection with the notice, effective immediately. We regret that a false notice from a 3rd party disrupted any of our streamers and appreciate all who alerted us to the concerns about Praxis Political. The safety of our community is a top priority and it is unacceptable to target folks with false claims. The investigation continues as to the actor that submitted the notices.

At first, streamers like Trihex believed that their content was taken down at the behest of CBS News. CBS paid for the licensing rights to the debate, and each of these streams did use at least some content that’s owned by the network. On the other hand, streamers could argue that their work falls under fair use since they’re providing a running commentary on public political speech. The copyright takedown system, though, often terminates live videos without a meaningful chance for disagreement, and many streamers feel the suspension system has trampled their ability to express themselves politically.

“I’m a political activist and I believe that this is the most important election of our lifetimes,” Trihex told The Verge. “I’m using my platform at its most productive capabilities to spread awareness of smears, misinformation, and my general advocacy for Bernie Sanders.”

Streamers like Trihex have been hit with debate copyright strikes in the past. Last August, Time Warner struck down similar streams on behalf of CNN, resulting in a strike and a suspension for each offending channel. When channel is suspended, owners can’t post new content, and their audience can’t view past streams until the suspension lifts. If a channel receives three strikes, it is permanently banned.

“I refuse to be silenced,” Trihex told The Verge. “The suppression tactics that we’re seeing right now in the new wave of progressive media and political coverage, it’s only a sign that they’re nervous that they can’t match the innovation and the authenticity of the youth.”

Twitch and other platforms like YouTube have struggled to balance Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedowns and fair use for years. Not only is it difficult to sort through legitimate claims, but the system has also suffered from abuse through fake takedown claims.

Twitter, a CBS News Democratic debate partner, even had its original stream of the event struck down by CBS Broadcasting Inc. The feed was down for around 10 minutes at the top of the debate before it was reinstated.

Rod Breslau, an esports consultant and journalist, first noted that Political Praxis Legal, which allegedly filed the DMCA claims against the streamers on behalf of CBS News, had “scrubbed its entire webpage and gone offline.”

CBS News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Influencers, streamers, and YouTubers have become surprisingly powerful players in the latest election cycle. Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, and former candidate Andrew Yang all made appearances on Joe Rogan’s podcast this election season, and earlier this year, Rogan announced that he was endorsing Sanders.

Still, the copyright claim system ensures that those outlets are still at the mercy of larger rights-holders after events like last night’s debate. “The real elephant in the room here is whether any of this debate coverage going towards public election and office should be privatized at all,” Trihex said. “The fact that this is not on C-SPAN or in the public domain at all… is actually bonkers to me.”

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Sacramento Kings arena to use liquor-measuring gadget to control how much guests drink

The Sacramento Kings arena will let guests in its suite and loft areas make their own drinks at the Golden 1 Center using an internet-connected gadget affixed to the top of liquor bottles to monitor how much alcohol is being poured.

It sounds like a good idea from the venue’s point of view: the NINA bottle-mounted device may reduce staffing costs (sorry, bartenders) and help with liquor ordering and other cost controls. It’s not totally clear, however, why guests who pay between $1,000 and $15,000 for premium seating at the arena would want to buy their drinks like they’re shoppers in a self-checkout grocery lane. But the Golden 1 Center says the devices will “allow guests to skip the lines and stay safe.”

Here’s how it works: you use a connected tablet to open a bar tab. You choose the drink you want, and a nearby bottle with the NINA attachment will light up to signal it’s unlocked and ready for use. The device then measures out the amount of alcohol your drink order requires. NINA is being used in a handful of Golden 1 Center suites now, the team says, and the device will be used in all suites and lofts in the coming months.

The team is touting the NINA device as a “gamechanger” that will allow guests to “customize the event experience.” I mean, I guess so? If we think cashier-less stores are a good thing and are okay with technology making it a little bit easier for wealthier people to get a non-vital product delivered to them a little faster without having to wait in line and interact with service personnel, then, sure, this is a technological breakthrough.

The team said in a press release announcing the partnership with NINA that the suites and lofts that have been testing the device have seen a “significant increase in revenue” from last year, although they don’t provide specifics.

All this is not to say the NINA device wouldn’t be useful, and it may make the drink-pouring process quicker without resorting to pre-batched concoctions. A liquor-measuring device would be ideal at medium-sized events like weddings where you could keep Uncle Bob from getting plastered before the toast and keep a handle on how much that open bar is costing you.

But nickel-and-diming guests who are already paying a premium for seats at a basketball game out of a few ounces of vodka feels a little cheap. Also, it takes away the social experience of interacting with a bartender whose expertise might make the drink a little more enjoyable.

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How to use filters to improve your Instagram photos

If you want to get the most out of Instagram, it pays to improve your pictures with a little bit of technical magic before you post them. Serious photographers do this by using digital tools to adjust everything from color balance to sharpness to saturation.

For everyone else, the Instagram app includes easy-to-use filters and editing tools that can make your photos and videos more visually appealing.

Using Instagram editing tools, step by step

Consider this photo I took at a municipal park in Austin. Not bad, maybe, but what if I could increase the visual appeal before sharing it on Instagram? Here’s how you do it.

First, upload the photo to the Instagram app using the + button on the home screen. Then, choose the picture you want from your phone’s photo library and hit “Next.” (You could use Instagram’s built-in camera to take the photo, but it’s usually easier to use your phone’s camera app so you can take as many shots as needed to get the best results.)

Although Instagram makes photos square by default, you can also use the <> button in the lower-right corner to resize the photo to its original dimensions.

If you stay with the square format, rest your fingertip on the photo to move it around and get exactly the crop you want; the gridlines that appear will help you balance the visual composition. (It’s no accident the grid is 3×3; it helps you follow the classic “rule of thirds.”)

Once you hit “Next,” the app takes you to the filter screen. When you tap on any of the filter thumbnails at the bottom — for example the “Clarendon” filter here — the app immediately applies that filter to your picture. (This process works the same way if you’re posting a video.)

If you tap the same filter thumbnail a second time, Instagram allows you to dial down the intensity of the filter to achieve a more subdued look. If you’re using an iPhone, you can also tap the small square icon to add a simple frame.

Here are some other examples using the “Amaro,” “X-Pro II,” and “Lo-Fi” filters. Note the range of effects that you can experiment with in just a couple of minutes of playing around with different filters.

Before you hit “Next,” you can also tap “Edit” at the bottom of the screen to make other simple adjustments to your photo’s alignment, contrast, brightness, structure, warmth, saturation, color, and several other categories. Again, these use simple linear sliders or buttons to achieve different effects.

Once you have everything the way you want it, hit “Done” and then “Next” to go to the posting page where you can fill out details for your post, like a caption, hashtags, people tags, location tags, and sharing to other social media platforms.

As you get more experience using filters, you’ll probably start to develop favorites that you go back to again and again. By sliding all the way to the right on the filter page, you can choose “Manage” to go to a new menu that allows you to rearrange the order of the filters by using the three-stripe button on the left and dragging it into place. You can also hide filters by tapping the checkmark. That way, your favorite filters will show up first, and you won’t have to wade through the ones you never use.

You can also achieve this without using the menu. From the filter page, simply press and hold any of the filter thumbnails for a couple of seconds. The thumbnail will get a little larger, which means that it’s ready to be moved. You can then drag it left or right to change its place in the lineup or drag it up into the “Drag to Hide” area that temporarily appears in place of the photo being edited.

Here are the final results for the shot of Onion Creek in Austin.

The author’s photo of Onion Creek before (left) and after (right) editing on Instagram.

The posted version transforms a pretty good original photo into something that will pack more punch as users scroll through their Instagram feeds on their phones. Keep experimenting with filters, and you’ll make your Instagram photos and videos more appealing for your followers.

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The Trump campaign is suing The New York Times over an op-ed about Russian election interference

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has filed a libel lawsuit against The New York Times over an opinion article published last year about Trump’s dealings with Russia. The opinion article makes the case that Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign team established a warm relationship to get mutual benefits, with the Russians offering to help undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, while the Trump team offered ideas to relieve sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama.

“The Trump Campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable,” The New York Times said in a statement provided to The Verge. “Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance. We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”

The lawsuit particularly seizes on the phrase “quid pro quo,” which is often taken as a specific exchange between Trump campaign and the Russian government. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report failed to find definitive evidence of such an exchange, but the Times op-ed argues that such evidence is not necessary, painting the mutually beneficial relationship itself as a “quid pro quo.”

Still, the use of the term seems to have enraged the Trump campaign. It is a common term for the president; Trump has tweeted about it 19 times since October 2019. All but two of those tweets are in defense of a July 2019 call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump and his aides allegedly tried to coerce the government of Ukraine into announcing an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden.

During the 2016 campaign, WikiLeaks published many internal emails with damaging information from the Democratic National Committee. Those emails were believed to have been stolen and leaked by Russian intelligence officers. And Russia is already meddling in the 2020 presidential election to help Trump, according to a briefing given to the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month. The New York Times and The Washington Post reported on that briefing.

The Trump campaign has not yet replied to a request for comment.

Here is the full filing:

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Destiny 2 will remove paid loot boxes in favor of a Fortnite-style battle pass

Destiny 2 is the latest game to abandon paid loot boxes, with director Luke Smith announcing in a new “Director’s Cut” state of the game update that “we want players to know what something costs before they buy it.”

The change means that the randomized “Bright Engram” items will be removed from the in-game Eververse Store. Players will still be able to purchase paid cosmetic items in two ways: by directly purchasing an item they desire or by buying the Fortnite-style seasonal pass and unlocking it there. (Although some items will only be available for direct purchase.) The difference is that, now, you’ll know exactly what you’re buying and how much it will cost upfront in Destiny 2, instead of rolling the dice on getting the cosmetic item you want.

The randomized “Bright Engram” loot boxes will still remain in the game, but they’ll exclusively be available for free for players to earn through the free-to-play portion of the season pass; players won’t be able to spend real-world money on them anymore.

Players will still be able to purchase items from the Eververse Store with a free in-game currency called Bright Dust, should they want a premium item without having to shell out the cash. (Obviously, Bungie isn’t too generous when it comes to distributing the free resource, given that it wants players to pay for things. The pool of Bright Dust items also tends to include only older cosmetics from prior seasons.)

The move away from loot boxes in Destiny 2 reflects the changes to the game (and the overall industry) that we’ve seen in the past few months. Last year, Bungie announced that Destiny 2 would be shifting to a free-to-play title, with seasonal passes that players could buy upfront at the beginning of a season of content for $10 to unlock items and cosmetics as they leveled up over time. It’s a strategy pioneered by the massively popular Fortnite, which runs entirely on a similar system of paid cosmetics and a battle pass.

The gaming industry, in general, has seen a massive backlash against randomized loot boxes in the past year; there’s now talk of legislation that would ban selling the items to minors, and Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have all committed to disclosing the odds of getting items from loot boxes in future titles. Developers Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namco, Bethesda, Bungie, EA, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, Warner Bros., and Wizards of the Coast have also made similar pledges.

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The optimization trap: what you give up when you hustle

The venerable New York Times does its fair share of trolling these days, and because the paper of record is The Paper of Record, it is quite amusing to see people up in arms about its latest diversion. (Looking specifically at you, Styles and Opinion. Well done.) A friend posted the latest in a Slack I frequent: a video titled “Don’t Just Live Your Life, Optimize It.” It was a funny, beautifully animated argument against the productivity fetish disguised as a piece of productivity messaging. It was an attack or, at least, a shot across the bow.

The video, created by Tala Schlossberg, describes steps to get rid of the downtime left in your life — “minimize friction, maximize hustle”; “iterate”; “accelerate”; and “eventually you die” — but the real victory is the tone of the narration, which strikes a nice balance between enthusiasm and cynicism. Yes, there is a jape about polyphasic sleep.

Productivity, strictly defined, is the state of being productive — the time it takes to make stuff. In macroeconomics, it’s the thing that makes the economy grow without having to add jobs, and it’s defined as gross domestic product (GDP) divided by total hours worked. Or to put it differently, it’s a measure of the ratio of value added to a system versus the labor put into in the first place. Schlossberg’s video references one of economist John Maynard Keynes’ more famous essays, “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” which was published in 1930 and is credited with popularizing the theory that technological advancement would lead to more productivity and, crucially, less labor for workers. (It’s where the idea of a three-hour workday / 15-hour workweek comes from.)

But Keynes’ vision was far grander than that: he believed that 100 years in the future, the “economic problem” of the human race would be solved. And the insight startled him because, drawn out to its logical conclusion, it meant that mankind would decouple itself from having to strive to subsist. “If the economic problem is solved, mankind will be deprived of its traditional purpose,” he wrote. We’re about a decade away from the period Keynes was imagining himself into, and while I don’t think it’s too early to say the gains he predicted haven’t materialized, there is a case to be made that the ennui has. It’s no coincidence that Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla and SpaceX, and David Michael Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, are both record producers.

In 2017, Ben Friedman, a Harvard economist, published a paper that explained why. “Keynes was right (so far) about output per capita, but wrong about the workweek,” he wrote. “The key reason is that he failed to allow for changing distribution. With widening inequality, median income (and therefore the income of most families) has risen, and is now rising, much more slowly than he anticipated.”

That means: we’re working harder for less now because the people who have more have so much more. The economy is optimized to push gains to the top. The whole point of personal optimization, on the other hand, is to increase your productivity in this system, to work harder in a way that mostly does not benefit you — at least not in the end.

In recent years, Silicon Valley, that hotbed of technological advancement, has begun to push the gospel of personal optimization into the mainstream. Things like intermittent fasting (previously known as orthorexia), polyphasic sleep (napping), and nootropics (sketchy brain drugs) have been given a new health-boosting, wellness-enhancing glow because they allow you to work harder, maybe. At the same time, hustle culture — the native argot of the small business owner — has arisen from the “personal responsibility” wing of society and has taken over the internet. A day rarely goes by that I don’t encounter some success story about a person who didn’t take any days off and has been rewarded with a handsome exit from their startup or something.

More people are freelancing now than ever before. A study last year concluded that America’s 57 million freelancers bring in $1 trillion to the economy, or about 5 percent of America’s GDP. (They also represent a full 35 percent of the country’s workforce.) But there is a worrying generational trend. “The younger the worker, the more likely they are to freelance,” reported CNBC. “According to the study, the increase is clear in generational results: 29% of baby boomer workers freelance, 31% of Gen X, 40% of millennials and 53% of Gen Z.”

While freelancing is flexible, it doesn’t usually come with any of the benefits that make a life in America sustainable: there’s no health insurance and “flexibility” is another way to say that it’s very easy to get fired. There aren’t really regulations for how to treat freelance workers — only norms — because the default assumption is that if you don’t like the work, you can quit, regardless of whether you need it or not. In all of these senses, freelancing is the ultimate state of productivity, the perfectly optimized job for a perfectly optimized present. Freelancers are 2020’s rugged individualist frontiersmen, living off the fat of corporations, owing nobody anything.

Problem is, that’s nearly impossible to sustain. You get tired, eventually. Human bodies can only be made to work so much; there is a reason sleep is still the most mysterious, widespread function in the animal kingdom. The truth of the matter is it’s impossible to do anything alone forever, which is why co-working spaces for freelancers (offices) are gradually turning into co-living spaces for alienated people. Hustle culture makes the argument that your worth is your productivity, your ability to stay busy and ahead of the pack. As much as I’d like to think I want to make a living by my wits alone, I know that relying on other people makes those stakes manageable. There’s a reason you don’t see many old cowboys.

After I finished watching Schlossberg’s video for the second time, and I was trying to make sense of it all, I remembered a tweet I’d seen about art and millennials. I can’t find it now, but it went something like: art is bad now because nobody has the time to sit still. Lately, I’ve been trying to spend more specifically unproductive time at home — time when I can’t do any thinking and when I have to figure out a way to turn off the part of my brain that says the only way out is through.

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Everyone hates California’s self-driving car reports

Every year, companies that operate self-driving cars in California are required to submit data to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles listing the number of miles driven and the frequency at which human safety drivers were forced to take control of their autonomous vehicles (also known as a “disengagement”). And every year, those same companies raise a huge stink about it.

Waymo, which drove 1.45 million miles in California in 2019 and logged a disengagement rate of 0.076 per 1,000 self-driven miles, says the metric “does not provide relevant insights” into its technology. Cruise, which drove 831,040 miles last year and reported a disengagement rate of 0.082, says the “idea that disengagements give a meaningful signal about whether an [autonomous vehicle] is ready for commercial deployment is a myth.” Aurora, which only drove 13,429 miles and recorded a disengagement rate of 10.6 per 1,000 miles, calls them “misguided.”

Autonomous vehicle (AV) companies can be a black box, with most firms keeping a tight lid on measurable metrics and only demonstrating their technology under the most controlled settings. That means the disengagement reports can feel like the only scrap of transparency on AV progress most of us get. The problems generally stem from trying to use the reports in ways they aren’t designed to be used: to determine who’s driven the most miles, who has the best disengagement rate, and who is generally furthest along in developing autonomous vehicles.

“Comparing disengagement rates between companies is worse than meaningless: It creates perverse incentives,” said Bryant Walker Smith, associate professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Law and an expert in self-driving cars. For instance, Smith says, if he were to register in California and never test, he’d look good. “If I wanted to look even better, I’d do a ton of easy freeway miles in California and do my real testing anywhere else,” he added.

Disengagement reports aren’t the best way to build trust and credibility in autonomous vehicles, Smith points out. Instead, releasing testing summaries with detail and context is better. But no company to date has done that.

Most of the major players have submitted voluntary safety reports to the federal government as part of the Department of Transportation’s voluntary guidance. Unfortunately, these safety reports usually are little more than slick marketing materials.

As for the disengagement reports, they’re “effectively meaningless,” said Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst at Navigant. There are two big problems: companies have a lot of discretion about when to disengage, and the testing environments aren’t uniform. Inevitably, that means it’s impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison between companies. Abuelsamid would rather see a standardized performance evaluation of the systems before anyone gets a permit for testing on the streets.

The DMV notes that though the reports are a requirement for permit holders, they should not be used to “compare one company with another or reach broad conclusions on technological capabilities,” said the agency’s public information officer, Martin Greenstein.

“Permit holders all have different goals and business models, and are testing in different ways, locations and conditions with different amounts of vehicles,” Greenstein said in an email. He added that companies aren’t required to report testing on private roads or test tracks, and they don’t have to disclose testing that occurs out of state. Testing of advanced driver assist systems, like Tesla’s Autopilot, or testing done in simulation is also not required.

It’s a fresh reminder that most of what we know about public testing of self-driving cars comes from the companies themselves — which raises a lot of questions. There are almost no requirements for companies doing public testing in any other state. California’s disengagement reports are the real outlier. And even those offer what, at best, can be described as an incomplete picture and, at worst, is a misleading one of the progress of the technology.

So with that in mind, here are the latest numbers from some of the major players.


Waymo, the self-driving unit of Alphabet, has 153 self-driving vehicles and 268 drivers permitted in the state of California. Most of its testing in California is around its Mountain View campus. (The bulk of Waymo’s fleet is located in the Phoenix area where it has a limited robotaxi operation serving around 1,500 people. That’s an estimated 600 self-driving vehicles; the number of drivers is unknown.)

The company says it drove 1.45 million miles in California in 2019, a slight increase over the company’s 1.2 million miles in 2018. The company’s disengagement rate dropped to 0.076 per 1,000 self-driven miles or one disengagement per 13,219 miles.


Test Drive Robot Car Cruise

Photo by Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance via Getty Images

Cruise, a majority-owned subsidiary of General Motors, has been ramping up its presence in San Francisco after failing to meet its own deadline of launching a full-scale robot taxi service by the end of 2019. The company now has 233 autonomous vehicles permitted to test on public roads, the majority of which operate in the Bay Area, according to the DMV.

Cruise drove 831,040 miles in 2019, almost doubling the number of miles it drove the previous year. It recorded a total of 68 disengagements — 43 of which were in the first six months. That means Cruise’s disengagement rate is 0.082 per 1,000 miles driven, or one disengagement per 12,221 miles driven.


Aurora, the self-driving car company founded by former Waymo engineer Chris Urmson, has only nine cars registered in California. Urmson founded the company in 2017, along with Sterling Anderson, Tesla’s former head of Autopilot, and Drew Bagnell, a founding member and head of Uber’s autonomy and perception team. As such, it’s still very much early days for the company.

Aurora says it drove 39,729 miles on public roads, of which 26,300 were driven by people. While testing in autonomous mode, the company says it experienced 142 disengagements, a quarter of which were caused by “a single software issue” that was addressed earlier in the year. Its rate of disengagements per 1,000 miles was 10.6, which is similar to last year.


Image: Nuro

Nuro is another company founded by ex-Waymo engineers. The company is trying to launch a delivery service Texas using its purpose-built, egg-shaped R2 autonomous vehicles. But it is still doing testing in California where it is based. Nuro has 36 vehicles registered in the state.

The company says it drove 68,762 miles in autonomous mode in 2019 and logged 34 disengagements. Nuro’s disengagement rate is 0.49 per 1,000 miles, or one every 2,022 miles driven.

the tesla model 3

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

As of February 5th, there are 66 permit holders and 769 autonomous test vehicles registered with the California DMV, though it’s difficult to gauge the average number that can be found on the road at any given time.

Other major permit holders include Tesla (with 32 vehicles registered with the DMV), Zoox (58 vehicles), Apple (66 vehicles), (22 vehicles), Lyft (20 vehicles), Mercedes-Benz (19 vehicles), Toyota Research Institute (14 vehicles), (14 vehicles), Nio (13 vehicles), Didi Research (12 vehicles), and Nvidia (11 vehicles).

We’ll update this piece as we receive more of the reports.

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The Xbox dashboard, a visual history

Few interfaces have changed more often — or more radically — than the Xbox dashboard. Most platforms with a large user base are incredibly slow to introduce sweeping changes, but that hasn’t been the case for Microsoft’s game consoles. History shows that its strategy for working in new features and services involved scrapping its previous interface, essentially asking you to re-learn how to use the machine and find your content.

Microsoft deserves credit for experimenting with its dashboard throughout the years, even if many of those experiments weren’t great. With the Xbox Series X set to release later in 2020, now seems like a good time to catch up on the history of the Xbox One and the Xbox 360 dashboard to see where it’s been and where it may be going.

Some updates were better (or worse) than others, but they all have something in common: they’ve all been succeeded by a new vision. As this visual history points out, some of their ideas are seen in modern iterations of the dashboard and will be in updates to come and perhaps on future consoles, too.

Xbox 360

Blades (2005)

Good: Fast and tidy

Bad: It looked like a Winamp skin

The “blades” dashboard interface debuted on the Xbox 360 at launch, organizing each of the console’s main features into separate sections. This interface had a lot more to squeeze in than the comparatively sparse-yet-stylish dashboard found on the original Xbox. Even so, it was tidy and easy to understand. Also, quickly switching between sections was responsive, and elements were fast to load (even with the 360’s 512MB of RAM). And that “whoosh” sound effect from switching blades will forever be lodged in my brain.

You could argue that this was as close as Microsoft got to perfecting the dashboard, though you could also argue that it wouldn’t have scaled well with future ambitions). That said, inspiration from this dashboard can be found on following updates if you look hard enough.


New Xbox Experience (2008)

Good: Avatars! More customizable than blades

Bad: Not as fast or satisfying to use as blades

Three years after the launch of the Xbox 360, Microsoft wiped the slate clean with the NXE interface update. And with the advent of Netflix instant streaming and other entertainment-based apps, the Xbox 360 was beginning its descent into interface madness, having to juggle gaming with other forms of entertainment on the dashboard. It started to look like a set-top box.

Remnants of the beloved blades could be found when you pressed the Xbox button on the controller. But on the dashboard, they were replaced in favor of each section being stacked on top of each other. Navigate to the one you want, then all of your content lived within its tile-based interface that you could scroll through from left to right. It looked more polished and mature than blades, but it wasn’t necessarily faster or easier to use. Some may have liked it, but not everyone did.

Under the hood, it brought about some important updates for the Xbox 360, like avatars to compete with Nintendo’s Miis. It also introduced the ability to stream HD videos on Netflix, form parties on Xbox Live, and install games onto the hard drive for faster loading.

Kinect update (2010)

Good: More refined version of NXE

Bad: More convoluted, too, and Kinect support was shoe-horned

Avatars were just one part of Microsoft’s plan to copy the successful Wii. It wanted gamers to use the Kinect camera to get moving, and thus, the design of this new dashboard update made Kinect the centerpiece.

Really, this was a minor visual update to the NXE. It still had the same overall look, structure, and navigation that the 2008 update introduced, but Microsoft worked in the ability to move around the dashboard with the Kinect (RIP). If you didn’t like the NXE, you probably didn’t like this, either.

New Xbox TV Experience

Metro (2011)

Good: Nice to look at, brought back blade-style main navigation in a sense

Bad: Simplistic interface didn’t aid in quickly sorting through troves of content

The 2011 update that introduced the “Metro” design showed that Microsoft was trying to juggle more than ever, but it chose a new dashboard look that didn’t afford enough space to comfortably express it. The design language gave off a sense of “less is more,” but what it really proved was that less was less. Microsoft is still trying to shake away some ideas from the Xbox One’s dashboard that came with this update.

Each screen only housed a few tiles, and to find other content, you’d have to drill down into disparate folders. And in its sixth year on the market, some of these features were beginning to show the Xbox 360’s age.

In a sense, this dashboard update merged blades with the NXE, letting you use the bumpers to shift between categories a la blades and navigate each of the colorful tiles within each section like you could in NXE. And of course, it was compatible with Microsoft’s Kinect, so if you had the camera, you could swipe between menus by waving your hand or using your voice to search on Bing.

Under the hood, the update brought some important features, like cloud storage for game saves. We tracked its every development back in 2011 before it launched.

Xbox One

Xbox One homescreen 1024px

The launch dashboard (2013)

Good: Highly customizable

Bad: Crowded and confusing to navigate, quite laggy, lopsided focus in favor of TV

The Xbox One launched on the heels of Windows 8, so it’s no surprise that the desktop OS’s “Metro” design was used as the bedrock of its launch dashboard in 2013. Unlike the Xbox 360 dashboards, shown above, that use a similar styling, this one was a certified mess to navigate because it mixed games with TV and everything else on the home screen. Discovery of new content was prioritized over discovery of content you already have.

Microsoft’s first stab at the Xbox One dashboard was ambitious in all of the wrong ways, though it has since walked back most of its major missteps. For instance, Microsoft didn’t see the cord-cutting revolution coming, so its big on-demand TV and DVR gamble fizzled out. Plus, the conceptually great “snap” function that Microsoft believed in so thoroughly that it put a button for it on the controller was abandoned in 2017. (It’s getting rid of the button altogether on its new Xbox controller coming in 2020.)

Good: Far easier to navigate than the launch dashboard

Bad: Faster but still not snappy

The first big overhaul to the Xbox One dashboard put a much-needed focus on your games. It also promised to be faster, and it was, but it wasn’t nearly fast enough. Microsoft had just launched Windows 10, and as it did on PC, it was making a big push for its voice assistant Cortana on console. The iterations of the dashboard that follow all riff on the general design introduced here, which is to say that Microsoft was on the right track with this update.

Good: Further emphasis on pins to sort content

Bad: Too much content still lived just out of view

Microsoft’s next update injected Fluent Design, the look and feel that Microsoft employed on Windows 10. The new home screen focused on showing your recent activity and giving gamers faster access to community features.

It also made better use of pins, which allow you to break apps and games into sections. Instead of having to scroll through tiles and menus to find where your content is, being able to vertically scroll through a few pins was far easier, though still not perfect. Game Pass debuted in 2017 before this dashboard update released, but while the service was catching on, it remained a little too far out of view.

The refinement process (2018–present)

Good: It’s getting better with each update, and (finally) it’s less laggy.

Bad: Everything is changing more frequently than ever

Cortana voice interaction is gone. FastStart lets you boot into games before they finish downloading. Xbox Game Pass has its own section on the main navigation. The eject button, it’s coming! Microsoft has been iterating on the Xbox One dashboard faster than ever, and in the interest of speeding things up, clearing the cruft of earlier dashboards, and making it easier to access games.

As for the latest update that released in late February 2020, my colleague Tom Warren says it “focuses on overhauling the home page of the Xbox One dashboard, with frequently used games and apps available immediately. The new Home design also includes the ability to add or remove rows to customize it further, and quick access to Xbox Game Pass, Mixer, and the Microsoft Store.” You can read more about it here.

It’s never been more apparent that Microsoft is quickly trying to solve for its ongoing identity crisis with the dashboard. The Xbox One has seen big reworks of the dashboard more frequently than before, and the stakes are high as we get closer to the launch of the Xbox Series X in late 2020.

Xbox Series X

Launch dashboard (2020)

Good: ?

Bad: ?

Microsoft will launch the Xbox Series X in late 2020, and it’s a toss-up as to whether it chooses to start from scratch with a new dashboard for its new console or if it will build off of the momentum from the latest Xbox One dashboard update, and what’s to come between now and launch day.

Given that Microsoft is touting backward compatibility with games from all previous generations of Xbox, it’s easy to imagine it choosing to load a slightly modified version of the Xbox One’s dashboard onto the Series X. We’ll have to wait and see what it chooses to do.

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Two commercial satellites just docked in space for the first time

Two commercial satellites have docked in orbit as part of a pioneering satellite-servicing mission. If the rest of the mission is successful, it should give an ailing communications satellite a new lease on life, and it could kickstart an industry that keeps space junk from clogging the skies.

“This is the first time in history, a docking has ever been performed with a satellite that was not pre-designed with docking in mind,” said Joe Anderson, a vice president at Space Logistics, in a press conference. Space Logistics is the Northrop Grumman subsidiary that oversaw the mission. “This is the first time two commercial satellites have ever docked.”

On February 25th, Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) docked with a communications satellite, Intelsat 901. After nearly 19 years in space, Intelsat 901 is running low on fuel. If nothing was done, people on the ground would have lost the ability to actively control the satellite. So a few years ago, Intelsat decided to sign on to a mission that would send another satellite to extend the life of its ailing spacecraft by another five years.

MEV-1 launched in October 2019, and it took about three months for it to reach Intelsat 901. The satellites met up in what’s called a “graveyard orbit,” which is a place where defunct satellites are put so that they won’t interfere with active satellites. Now that the two have been linked, MEV-1 will take over all maneuvering and navigation. Sometime in March, it will move Intelsat 901 out of the graveyard orbit so it can return to operations. After about five years, MEV-1 will move Intelsat 901 back to the graveyard orbit where the communications satellite will be decommissioned. At that point, MEV-1 could potentially go on to service another satellite.

The mission is an exciting milestone for the industry, which has been working toward uncrewed satellite repair for years. Being able to fix satellites in orbit could save satellite companies a lot of money and potentially reduce the amount of space junk that’s circling Earth. Previous missions to move or service satellites have relied on crewed missions, such as multiple trips to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

Northrop Grumman isn’t the only company trying to move into satellite repair. Astroscale, a private company focused on space debris removal, plans to launch a test mission this year, during which two satellites will practice docking in space using magnetic plates. It hopes to develop a way to latch on to defunct satellites and guide them into an orbit where they will ultimately burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Northrop Grumman has another mission, MEV-2, that is expected to launch later this year, which will also service an Intelsat satellite. The company is still working on its next-generation satellite servicing fleet. That fleet will feature smaller Mission Extension Pods, which are designed to offer smaller fixes than the MEVs and will be deployed by a robotic spacecraft.

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