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Don’t worry, this rocket-launching Chinese robo-boat is strictly for science – TechCrunch

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It seems inevitable that the high seas will eventually play host to a sort of proxy war as automated vessels clash over territory for the algae farms we’ll soon need to feed the growing population. But this rocket-launching robo-boat is a peacetime vessel concerned only with global weather patterns.

The craft is what’s called an unmanned semi-submersible vehicle, or USSV, and it functions as a mobile science base — and now, a rocket launch platform. For meteorological sounding rockets, of course, nothing scary.

It solves a problem we’ve seen addressed by other seagoing robots like the Saildrone: that the ocean is very big, and very dangerous — so monitoring it properly is equally big and dangerous. You can’t have a crew out in the middle of nowhere all the time, even if it would be critical to understanding the formation of a typhoon or the like. But you can have a fleet of robotic ships systematically moving around the ocean.

In fact this is already done in a variety of ways and by numerous countries and organizations, but much of the data collection is both passive and limited in range. A solar-powered buoy drifting on the currents is a great resource, but you can’t exactly steer it, and it’s limited to sampling the water around it. And weather balloons are nice, too, if you don’t mind flying it out to where it needs to be first.

A robotic boat, on the other hand, can go where you need it and deploy instruments in a variety of ways, dropping or projecting them deep into the water or, in the case of China’s new USSV, firing them 20,000 feet into the air.

“Launched from a long-duration unmanned semi-submersible vehicle, with strong mobility and large coverage of the sea area, rocketsonde can be used under severe sea conditions and will be more economical and applicable in the future,” said Jun Li, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a news release.

The 24-foot craft, which has completed a handful of near-land cruises in Bohai Bay, was announced in the paper. You may wonder what “semi-submersible” means. Essentially they put as much of the craft as possible under the water, with only instruments, hatches and other necessary items aboveboard. That minimizes the effect of rough weather on the craft — but it is still self-righting in case it capsizes in major wave action.

The USSV’s early travels

It runs on a diesel engine, so it’s not exactly the latest tech there, but for a large craft going long distances, solar is still a bit difficult to manage. The diesel on board will last it about 10 days and take it around 3,000 km, or 1,800 miles.

The rocketsondes are essentially small rockets that shoot up to a set altitude and then drop a “driftsonde,” a sensor package attached to a balloon, parachute or some other descent-slowing method. The craft can carry up to 48 of these, meaning it could launch one every few hours for its entire 10-day cruise duration.

The researchers’ findings were published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. This is just a prototype, but its success suggests we can expect a few more at the very least to be built and deployed. I’ve asked Li a few questions about the craft and will update this post if I hear back.

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Like pixels to my ears: Asus headset uses mini LEDs to animate earcups

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Asus

Because a gaming headset sits on your head (where you can’t see it), its looks aren’t all that important. But that hasn’t stopped headset makers from blinging out their products. Besides, if you’re on camera livestreaming or talking to your teammates, you might be looking to spice things up with pink cat ears or RGB-infused earcups. The Asus ROG Delta S Animate offers a new, pixel-powered twist to gamers who want to put on a show.

Asus has put its AniMe Matrix custom lighting design system on both of the Delta S Animate’s earcups. Mini LEDs fill the space and light up to depict preset or customized effects selected via Asus’ free Armoury Crate software. An Asus spokesperson told Ars Technica that the ROG Delta S Animate has over 100 mini LEDs per earcup. Until this week, the AniMe Matrix was only available on select Asus Zephyrus gaming laptops. Asus’ decision to continue offering the feature in new PCs—and now in a new category—shows the company is seeing some interest in the concept.

Want ghosts flying across the earcup pixel by pixel before turning into a pumpkin? Why not?

From the patch to your headset.

From the patch to your headset.

Asus

Feeling flirty? A dot matrix heart will convey your feelings to anyone in sight of your side profile.

How romantic.

How romantic.

Asus

You can also program the mini LEDs to react to your voice, with the effect becoming more intense the louder you speak.

The mini LEDs can react to how loud you're speaking.
Enlarge / The mini LEDs can react to how loud you’re speaking.

Asus

This Soundwave feature is one I’ve tried on the Asus ROG Delta S headset, which has RGB LEDs around the earcups’ perimeters. It worked seemlessly there, even if the colors looked a bit faded on my webcam. Hopefully, the tiny LEDs in the Asus’ new headset are bright enough to be visible in various lighting environments (Asus didn’t share a brightness spec).

You can even make your own animation by uploading an image to the software (Asus recommends a white one) and then playing with specifics, like brightness, contrast, and delay times. You can also program the mini LEDs to scroll through words.

Get your message across.
Enlarge / Get your message across.

Asus

A dedicated knob on one of the earcups lets you turn the animations on and off, and you can also control volume and toggle the microphone with on-ear controls.

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14.
Enlarge / Asus ROG Zephyrus G14.

The headset weighs 0.68 lbs, and the D-shaped earcups are lined with your choice: leather or a combination of leather and mesh fabric.

Asus seems to have paid attention to audio quality as well, carrying over the specs of its impressive Delta S headphones. The new headset’s 50 mm neodymium drivers are standard among modern gaming headsets, but the cans’ frequency response is higher than the typical 20 – 20,000 Hz, peaking at 40,000 Hz. An impedance of 32 ohms is also a smidgen higher than the 30 ohms we often see in gaming headsets.

The upcoming peripheral embraces USB-C for future-proofing and USB-A for versatility. It also supports Hi-Res music with a Hi-Fi ESS 9821 Quad-DAC and integrated Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) renderer.

If you want to add some flair to your cranium, this headset could be a unique way to do it. Asus said the ROG Delta S Animate will be available in mid-to-late December for $250.

Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Australia also wants Google to unbundle search from Android

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Enlarge / Let’s see, you landed on my “Google Ads” space, and with three houses… that will be $1,400.

Ron Amadeo / Hasbro

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is the latest government regulatory body to take issue with how Google does business. As Reuters reports, the ACCC wants Google to show a “choice screen” to Android users, allowing them to pick a default search engine other than Google Search. It also wants to limit Google’s ability to pay Apple and other vendors to be the default search engine on other platforms.

ACCC Chair Rod Sims explained the commission’s reasoning in a statement:

We are concerned that Google’s dominance and its ability to use its financial resources to fund arrangements to be the default search engine on many devices and other means through which consumers access search, such as browsers, is harming competition and consumers. Google pays billions of dollars each year for these placements, which illustrates how being the default search engine is extremely valuable to Google’s business model.

Market research firm Kantar says Android has a 60 percent share of the smartphone market, while on iOS and macOS, Google pays Apple an estimated $15 billion per year to be the default search on Safari. Google also pays Mozilla $400 million per year to remain the default on Firefox. Google has a 94 percent share of the Australian search engine market.

Google’s closest search competitor is Microsoft’s Bing, which has something like 2.5 percent market share worldwide. That’s despite being the default search engine on Windows, the world’s second most popular operating system. Google recently told an EU court that “Google” is the #1 search query on Bing, claiming that stat as evidence that users are choosing Google rather than being forced into using it.

Google has already gone through a similar Android unbundling change in the EU, which saw the company add ballot screens for the default search engine and default browser. The EU also shut down some provisions of Google’s standard “Mobile Application Distribution Agreement” (MADA) that OEMs needed to sign in order to license the Google apps. One change means that Google can’t force an “all-or-nothing” bundling of Google’s apps, so if an OEM wants a single app (like, say, the Play Store), it does not have to include every default Google app on its devices.

Android's EU search ballot.
Enlarge / Android’s EU search ballot.

Google

The EU also said that Google can’t restrict OEMs from forking Android. Previously, using the Android codebase in ways Google didn’t approve of would get an OEM kicked out of the Google Play ecosystem. South Korea also took issue with Google’s Android fork restrictions and fined the company $177 million, one of South Korea’s biggest fines ever.

Android’s business model doesn’t charge OEMs directly; instead, it generates revenue for Google through end-user Play Store purchases, Google Search queries, and Google ad impressions. These three areas are such moneymakers that not only can they completely fund Android development, but Google also offers a revenue-share program for Android OEMs, offering incentives like a kickback for each user’s search revenue.

Google’s response to all these changes was to start charging OEMs for Android if they went along with it. In the EU, OEMs can stick with Google’s preferred terms and the old revenue deals, or they can change things up by paying as much as $40 per device and potentially missing out on revenue-sharing deals.

The ACCC’s move isn’t a requirement yet—for now, it’s a potential measure that the regulator will put out for industry consultation in 2022.

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Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W: 5x faster than the original for $5 more

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Enlarge / The Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W.

The diminutive Raspberry Pi Zero is getting its first upgrade in nearly five years. Today, Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton announced the Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W, a new $15 product that puts the processor from the Raspberry Pi 3 into a board the exact same size as the original Zero.

The new board swaps the old Zero’s 1 GHz single-core ARM11 processor for a quad-core Cortex A53-based Broadcom BCM2710A1 processor, also clocked at 1 GHz—the same processor used in the original Raspberry Pi 3 released back in 2016, albeit clocked slightly lower. This is a substantial increase in power and capability for the Pi Zero, going from one core to four and from 32 bits to 64.

Upton said that the performance increase over the original Zero “varies across workloads” but that for multithreaded tasks like those simulated by sysbench, “it is almost exactly five times faster.” Heat dissipation is provided by “thick internal copper layers” in the board, which should help prevent thermal throttling without the use of additional fans or heatsinks.

The Pi Zero 2 W should fit most cases and other accessories designed for the original model.
Enlarge / The Pi Zero 2 W should fit most cases and other accessories designed for the original model.

But the Pi Zero 2 W is still a low-powered, miniature version of the Pi, which means there’s just not a lot of physical space for other upgrades. The Zero 2 W still uses 512MB of RAM, 2.4 GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi with Bluetooth 4.2, and a single HDMI port along with two micro-USB ports (one for power, one for data) and a microSD card slot. Because it still uses the same Zero form factor, it should fit all existing cases and accessories made for the original Pi Zero.

Upton said that the company hopes to ship about 200,000 Pi Zero 2 W boards in the remainder of 2021 and an additional 250,000 in the first half of 2022. These numbers are being limited somewhat by ongoing chip shortages, which prompted a rare price increase for the flagship Raspberry Pi 4 model earlier this month.

The original Pi Zero W and the Wi-Fi-less Pi Zero will continue to be manufactured and sold for their original prices of $10 and $5, respectively.

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