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Apple adding its own co-processors to three Macs in 2018, Bloomberg reports

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Apple’s own T2 co-processor inside the iMac Pro desktop.

A new Bloomberg article is reporting that Apple plans to expand the number of Macs using its own co-processor chips this year, a move that could foretell a future where Intel is no longer inside Apple’s computers.

According to the report, Apple is looking to add one of its custom co-processing chips to a pair of MacBook laptops and a Mac desktop to be released later this year. They would join the existing MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and iMac Pro as being Mac systems with Apple-made co-processors. Of course, iPhones and iPads have used the company’s own chips for several years, and the Apple Watch has since its launch in 2015.

For now, Intel remains the provider of the main CPU for Macs, though Bloomberg claims that the recent security woes that have dogged that company’s chips may have provided Apple more ammunition to chart its own course for future Mac processors. Another report today claims Apple is slowing its roll-out of new iOS features in 2018 as it deals with reliability issues, so security — something the company has long touted compared to systems without its “walled garden” approach — is receiving greater attention in Cupertino.

Apple avoids some of the cost issues that other companies have had in the past building their own chips by outsourcing the manufacturing. Designing chips in-house also allows the company to tailor them to new features it’s developing. Abandoning its on-again off-again relationship with Intel would starve the chip maker of its fifth-largest client, according to Bloomberg.

Despite the increasing resources Apple is devoting to chip research and creation, it’s only built computer chips that complement Intel’s primary processor — the T1 co-processor handles the Touch Bar, while the T2 edition offloads some security and power management duties on the iMac Pro. It remains to be seen what a potential T3 co-processor will control, and there’s quite a leap from a chip working on a few tasks to ones that have to power the entire system, potentially including graphics processing to boot.

If Apple decides in the future to produce its own CPUs for Macs, it could drive a great debate among its fanboys. Would Macs (and their users) be better served by Intel, whose high-performance chips have been undermined by security holes, or by Apple, whose chips would be untested in laptops and desktops but could maximize the potential of the Mac OS? It seems unlikely we’ll find out in 2018, but another year of behind-the-scenes work by Apple could make for a very interesting 2019.

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Unusual Ebola strain kills 23 in Uganda; no vaccines, treatments available

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Enlarge / Health measures are taken at Mubende Regional Referral Hospital after an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda.

Health officials in Uganda are scrambling to catch up to a burgeoning Ebola outbreak caused by a lesser-seen Ebolavirus species called Sudan virus (SUDV), for which there is no vaccine or treatment.

Information so far suggests that the outbreak response efforts may be three weeks behind the initial spread of SUDV, which has an incubation period of up to 21 days and a case fatality rate between 41 percent and 100 percent. So far, 36 cases (18 confirmed, 18 probable) have been identified, with 23 deaths. Health officials have listed a total of 223 contacts.

But that number is likely an undercount. Several transmission chains have not been tracked, and some health facilities that saw Ebola patients did not follow optimal infection control measures, the World Health Organization warned. Further, because of the delayed recognition of the outbreak, some patients were buried in traditional ceremonies with large gatherings that could have allowed the virus to transmit further.

Yet another complicating factor is that the outbreak has been detected among those living around an active gold mine, which relies on a highly mobile population. “The declaration of the outbreak may cause some miners already incubating the disease to flee,” WHO warned, possibly enabling the disease to spread to new areas.

In an outbreak update Monday, the WHO assessed the risk of spread through Uganda to be high given the multiple concerning factors.

Evolving situation

The concern is yet higher because there is no licensed vaccine or treatment for SUDV, as there is for the more common species of Ebolavirus, Zaire. Currently, there are two vaccines and two treatments for Ebola disease caused by the Zaire species, which has caused nearly all the Ebola outbreaks documented and all of the largest outbreaks. In addition to Zaire and SUDV, there are four other rare Ebolavirus species: Bundibugyo, Taï Forest, Reston, and Bombali.

Of the 41 outbreaks WHO lists on its website, SUDV was responsible for only seven, the most recent of which was in 2012. That outbreak, also in Uganda, involved seven cases and had a fatality rate of 57 percent.

The current outbreak came to light with the death of a 24-year-old man on September 19 in central Uganda. The man developed a range of worrying symptoms on September 11, which included a high-grade fever, tonic convulsions, blood-stained vomit and diarrhea, loss of appetite, pain while swallowing, chest pain, dry cough, and bleeding in the eyes. He sought care at two different private clinics to no avail and was eventually referred to a Regional Referral Hospital (RRH) on September 15. There, health care workers suspected he had a case of viral hemorrhagic fever, isolated him, and collected blood samples for testing. On September 19, the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) in Kampala confirmed he had an SUDV infection—the same day he died. Ugandan health officials declared an outbreak the next day.

Now, a week later, the case count is up to 36, with 23 dead and the remaining 13 confirmed cases still hospitalized. The median age of the cases is 26 years, with ages ranging from 1 year to 60 years.

For now, the WHO assessed this outbreak’s overall regional and global risks to be low. However, the agency noted that the outbreak’s scope is not yet known, and cross-border spread cannot be ruled out.

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Ian reaches major hurricane status, will be a historic storm for Florida

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Enlarge / As of 5:50 am ET on Tuesday, Hurricane Ian had nearly traversed the island of Cuba.

NOAA

Hurricane Ian continued to intensify on Monday night and reached sustained winds of 125 mph as its center passed across the western edge of Cuba. From there, the storm will move into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, where very warm water and low wind shear will allow for further intensification.

The hurricane has been moving around the western edge of a high pressure system, but as Ian approaches the western coast of Florida on Wednesday it will start to run into a trough of low pressure draped across the southeastern United States. The net effect of this will cause Ian to slow down, perhaps only moving a few miles per hour for a couple of days.

All of this is a recipe for disaster for much of the Florida peninsula, but it’s difficult to say precisely where, and precisely which effects. Even though landfall is expected to occur in less than two days, there remains considerable uncertainty in where Ian will make landfall along the western Florida coast, and where it will go. This is due, in part, to the breakdown of its steering currents.

Tampa

The area most at risk is the densely populated Tampa region, which is built up around a large bay that would serve as a funnel for storm surge. Some risk analyses have found that more than half a million homes in Tampa are vulnerable to surges of water—pushed by the circulation of a hurricane over the ocean—with a replacement cost of $126 billion. About half of the metro area’s population lives in homes built at elevations of 10 feet or lower.

In the run-up to Ian’s landfall, the Tampa region has received much of the attention due to its large population and the fact that it has not been struck by a major hurricane in more than a century. The region has escaped direct impacts from a powerful hurricane ever since an unnamed hurricane hit the area in late October, 1921. The region’s population has increased more than 10-fold since then, to about 3 million people.

Were Ian to make landfall on Tampa, or within about 50 to 100 miles to the north, it truly would bring a devastating storm surge to the area, along with major wind damage. These effects, combined with a slow-moving hurricane, would be just about the worst-case-scenario storm for Tampa or any populated area.

However, due to the lack of certainty about Ian’s track during the next two days, it remains possible that Ian could come ashore south of Tampa. A hurricane’s storm surge is always worse to the right of its center, where its counter-clockwise circulation is pushing water toward the shore. A landfall even 20 or 30 miles south of Tampa would still be bad, but it would spare Tampa Bay from considerable flood damage.

Rest of Florida

Ian is expected to make landfall along the west or southwest coast of Florida and then track northward across much of the peninsula. Although its winds will be somewhat reduced as the center comes onshore, it will still pack a punch. Inland communities such as Orlando and The Villages, according to the National Hurricane Center, have at least a 1-in-5 chance of experiencing hurricane-force winds.

In addition to the winds, for inland areas of Florida, there is also a serious threat of heavy and prolonged rainfall. Ian’s slow movement will exacerbate these rains as part of its large structure remains offshore, drawing moisture to thunderstorms over land.

Although it’s not yet possible to have confidence in precisely where the heaviest rains will occur, it seems probable that a swath of 15 to 25 inches of rainfall will cover a significant area of the Florida peninsula as Ian moves inland and drenches the state. This will compound the misery for those whose roofs are damaged by wind or are left without power.

Considerable uncertainty remains in the track of Hurricane Ian as of 8 am ET Tuesday morning.

Considerable uncertainty remains in the track of Hurricane Ian as of 8 am ET Tuesday morning.

National Hurricane Center

The latest track forecast for Ian also brings the storm center very near, if not directly over Kenned Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. NASA prudently decided on Monday to roll its massive Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft into the Vehicle Assembly Building for protective cover. While this is likely to cause an approximately six-week delay to the Artemis I mission, that is better than damaging the vehicles.

United Launch Alliance has a mission planned for Friday, September 30, to launch two television broadcast satellites for SES from Cape Canaveral. Expect that to be delayed. NASA, too, is also hoping to launch its next crew mission to the International Space Station as early as October 3. Depending on Ian’s effects, including damage to the spaceport and disruption of the lives of those who work there, this Crew-5 launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket could also be delayed.

On Monday SpaceX Vice President of Build and Flight Reliability Bill Gerstenmaier said the Crew Dragon spacecraft is mated to the Falcon 9 rocket. For now, however, the vehicles remain safely inside the company’s hangar in Florida. “We’re ready to roll out whenever the weather is ready to roll out,” Gerstenmaier said during a news conference.

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DART goes silent after hitting an asteroid

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Enlarge / One of the last images from DART.

NASA/APL

About 24 hours prior to its collision, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) probe performed its last course correction based on commands sent by ground controllers. “It’s pointed to within a football field of the central body,” said Bobby Braun of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL). “That last maneuver was spot-on.”

Even at this late stage, DART’s onboard camera couldn’t resolve its ultimate target, the small asteroid Dimorphos, so the central body it was targeting is the partner Dimorphos orbits, called Didymos. DART’s onboard navigation couldn’t start navigating toward its target until it could see it, which was only expected to occur about 90 minutes before impact. At that point, the navigation started adjusting DART’s course to get it heading straight at Dimorphos. Ground controllers, separated by about a minute of communications time, could only watch.

“Space is full of moments, and we’re going to have a moment tonight, hopefully,” said Braun.

It all worked. Images from the DRACO camera showed Dimorphos looming ever larger over the last minutes leading up to the collision, eventually filling the entire field of view. And then, in a moment that would normally indicate disaster, transmissions stopped part way through the final image. “What we’re cheering for is loss of spacecraft, so it’s different,” Braun had said earlier in the day.

As for the details of that impact, we’ll have to wait. The best images we’ll get are from an Italian Cubesat called LICIACube that has been trailing DART since the two separated a few weeks ago. LICIACube will be about 50 km from the point of impact and will get even closer over the three minutes after impact before passing behind Dimorphos. But it will take some time to transmit images to Earth—possibly a day or more for processing and release.

So, the first images are likely to come from ground observatories, which are looking for brightening caused by the debris plume spreading from the point of impact. When asked how much ground-based hardware was dedicated to watching for the plume, Cristina Thomas of Northern Arizona University said, “I don’t know, but there’s a lot of them—it’s very exciting to have lost count.” Nancy Chabot of APL said the count was up to three dozen, and they’ll be joined by the Hubble and Webb Space Telescopes. Some of those images are likely to show up online by tomorrow.

The exact details of the debris plume can potentially tell us a lot about the asteroid’s interior, and help us design planetary defense hardware. But that level of analysis will take months, with lots of computer modeling compared to images from multiple sources to try to understand what happened.

NASA is about to hold a press conference about the results, so we’ll see if any details or images released and update this story accordingly.

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