The Mars 2020 mission is on track for launch next year, and nesting inside the high-tech new rover heading that direction is a high-tech helicopter designed to fly in the planet’s nearly non-existent atmosphere. The actual aircraft that will fly on the Martian surface just took its first flight and its engineers are over the moon.
“The next time we fly, we fly on Mars,” said MiMi Aung, who manages the project at JPL, in a news release. An engineering model that was very close to final has over an hour of time in the air, but these two brief test flights were the first and last time the tiny craft will take flight until it does so on the distant planet (not counting its “flight” during launch).
“Watching our helicopter go through its paces in the chamber, I couldn’t help but think about the historic vehicles that have been in there in the past,” she continued. “The chamber hosted missions from the Ranger Moon probes to the Voyagers to Cassini, and every Mars rover ever flown. To see our helicopter in there reminded me we are on our way to making a little chunk of space history as well.”
Artist’s impression of how the helicopter will look when it’s flying on Mars
A helicopter flying on Mars is much like a helicopter flying on Earth, except of course for the slight differences that the other planet has a third less gravity and 99 percent less air. It’s more like flying at 100,000 feet, Aung suggested.
It has its own solar panel so it can explore more or less on its own
The test rig they set up not only produces a near-vacuum, replacing the air with a thin, Mars-esque CO2 mix, but a “gravity offload” system simulates lower gravity by giving the helicopter a slight lift via a cable.
It flew at a whopping two inches of altitude for a total of a minute in two tests, which was enough to show the team that the craft (with all its 1,500 parts and four pounds) was ready to package up and send to the Red Planet.
“It was a heck of a first flight,” said tester Teddy Tzanetos. “The gravity offload system performed perfectly, just like our helicopter. We only required a 2-inch hover to obtain all the data sets needed to confirm that our Mars helicopter flies autonomously as designed in a thin Mars-like atmosphere; there was no need to go higher.”
A few months after the Mars 2020 rover has landed, the helicopter will detach and do a few test flights of up to 90 seconds. Those will be the first heavier-than-air flights on another planet — powered flight, in other words, rather than, say, a balloon filled with gaseous hydrogen.
The craft will operate mostly autonomously, since the half-hour round trip for commands would be far too long for an Earth-based pilot to operate it. It has its own solar cells and batteries, plus little landing feet, and will attempt flights of increasing distance from the rover over a 30-day period. It should go about three meters in the air and may eventually get hundreds of meters away from its partner.
Mars 2020 is estimated to be ready to launch next summer, arriving at its destination early in 2021. Of course, in the meantime, we’ve still got Curiosity and Insight up there, so if you want the latest from Mars, you’ve got plenty of options to choose from.
Google’s going… out of business?! That’s apparently the case in Russia. As Reuters reports, Google’s Russia subsidiary plans to file for bankruptcy after “the authorities seized its bank account, making it impossible to carry on operations.” Reuters has a statement from Google:
The Russian authorities’ seizure of Google Russia’s bank account has made it untenable for our Russia office to function, including employing and paying Russia-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors, and meeting other financial obligations. Google Russia has published a notice of its intention to file for bankruptcy.
A regulatory filing showed Google Russia has been expecting to file for bankruptcy since March 22. The division did $2 billion in revenue last year, but that doesn’t matter much when authorities take your entire bank account.
Unlike many tech companies that have abandoned Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, Google has tried to keep doing business in the country. Heavy hitters like Google Search, YouTube, Maps, Gmail, and Google Play are all still running in Russia. Google’s most important product, the ad platform, was shut down on March 3 in Russia after the Russian government started demanding it censor ads about the war. Over the next few days in March, the big four credit card companies all pulled out of Russia, making normal business transactions very difficult. Google cited this “payment system disruption” as the reason for shutting down Google Play paid apps.
It’s not clear how much of a presence Google will have in Russia going forward. Google has been accused of having a cozy relationship with Russia, and its behavior is an outlier over competitors like Microsoft and Apple, which both voluntarily stopped paid services in the country before the credit card companies pulled out. While Google enjoys a ~90 percent search market share in many countries, Russia is one of the few places it faces a viable search competitor; Google splits the search market nearly 50/50 with local tech company Yandex. That market share might explain why Google doesn’t take a tough stance against Russia—if it gets blocked even temporarily, there might not be a market to come back to.
The Russian government still wants to rely on Google for some services, though. The government said Tuesday it wants to keep YouTube running in the country, saying that a shutdown would harm Russian citizens. Like the rest of the world, there are no video sites on the same scale as YouTube in Russia.
For years now, Microsoft has been planning behind the scenes to unify its disparate Outlook clients across the web, Windows, and macOS. Today, that goal moved one step closer to completion with the introduction of a new Outlook client for Windows users that closely mirrors the interface and functionality of the Outlook web client.
The new app is available to Office Insiders in the Beta channel who have work or school Microsoft 365 accounts. Regular Microsoft accounts aren’t currently supported. This appears to be the same version of the Outlook client that leaked to the public a couple of weeks ago.
A unified Outlook client, also known as “One Outlook” or “Project Monarch,” will be an especially welcome change for Mac users. The Mac version of Outlook has always looked different from and been less fully featured than the Windows client, though the current situation is much better than the bad old days of Microsoft Entourage.
The new Outlook app will reportedly replace not just the current Outlook app but also Windows’ built-in Mail and Calendar apps. Those apps received minor updates for Windows 11 to bring them in line with its redesigned user interface but otherwise haven’t seen many functional improvements in recent years. The new Outlook app will run on Windows 10 and 11, but we don’t know whether it will replace the Mail and Calendar apps in both OSes.
The new Outlook app is still in early development, and as such, there is a long list of common mail client features that it doesn’t support. In-development and planned features that aren’t yet supported include support for IMAP mail accounts, @outlook.com accounts, offline use, use with multiple accounts, and support for working with .pst Outlook data files.
We may get more information on the One Outlook project at Microsoft’s Build developer conference, which runs next week from May 24–26.
Good portable monitors improve your computing experience by providing more screen real estate. But two 4K portable monitors announced today, Acer’s SpatialLabs View and SpatialLabs View Pro, have a trick up their sleeves: making content look like it’s coming out of the screen. Using Acer’s proprietary hardware-software solution, SpatialLabs, the monitors can convert 2D content, like supported games, photos, and CAD designs, into stereoscopic 3D.
Certified by Adobe and Autodesk, SpatialLabs uses a specialized optical lens, two eye-tracking cameras, and AI to make 2D work look 3D without pesky glasses or other clunky headgear. SpatialLabs works by creating a set of images for each eye and projecting them through the optical lens to where you’re looking.
Acer’s idea is that creators, like CAD designers, 3D animators, and developers, quickly see how their work looks in 3D. The stereoscopic 3D environment doesn’t require time-consuming rendering, so it can provide a helpful and more immersive way to preview work.
Acer introduced SpatialLabs through its ConceptD 7 SpatialLabs Edition laptop in October and is now bringing it to entertainment and work-focused 15.6-inch portable monitors. It also announced a gaming laptop with the tech today.
Meant for personal use, the SpatialLabs View monitor claims to present supported games in stereoscopic 3D through the new SpatialLabs TrueGame platform.
Gaming in stereo 3D
“This is possible because games are mostly created with three dimensions in mind: Developers include information about depth into each scene and object they build,” Acer said in its announcement. “SpatialLabs leverages this already existing information in order to present the games in stereoscopic 3D.”
Acer said that TrueGame would support more than 50 games upon release, including BioShock Infinite, Borderlands 2, Forza Horizon 4 and 5, God of War, No Man’s Sky, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Tiny Tina’s Wonderland. TrueGame will provide preconfigured 3D profiles for each title that will automatically launch when you play a supported game. Acer claimed it will add more games “on a continuous basis.”
So what’s the benefit of making gaming graphics look like they’re popping out of a 15.6-inch screen? According to Acer, you can expect more spacious-looking rooms and objects that “appear genuinely layered.” Before passing judgment, we have to see it in person but are curious how the effect might impact fast-paced action. The SpatialLabs View is also a smaller, high pixel density (282.4 pixels per inch) display with a 60 Hz refresh rate and response time of up to 30 ms, making it much slower than the 360 Hz desktop-sized gaming monitors and laptops available.
A secondary 3D screen for creators
The SpatialLabs View Pro is more similar to the ConceptD 7 SpatialLabs Edition laptop in that it targets creative professionals. Acer said the portable monitor supports “all major file formats,” including OBJ, FBX, STEP, STL, COLLADA, IGES, glTF, 3DS, BLEND, PLY, DAE, IGS, and Datasmith, enabling the use of 3D design software like Cinema 4D, Revit, and Solidworks.
The monitor also works with the SpatialLabs Model Viewer, which lets you bring over images, models, and animations from 3D software and view them in stereoscopic 3D. And if you use Autodesk Maya or Blender, you could edit on a normal screen in 2D and view those changes in real time in stereoscopic 3D on the portable monitor. SpatialLabs also has a feature to generate a simulated stereo 3D image from 2D photos and videos. Integration with 3D modeling platform Sketchfab, for downloading additional 3D assets, could also help Acer encourage more use cases.
Acer also sees the SpatialLabs View Pro attracting customers to kiosks and point-of-sale displays, equipping it with a VESA mount, hand gesture recognition, and up to a 5-hour battery life to help.
When you’re not using the upcoming displays’ 3D features, they’re just regular 4K IPS panels. They claim a max brightness of 323 nits, which would be strong for a portable monitor, 100 percent coverage of the Adobe RGB color space, and 1,200:1 contrast ratios.
Moving the needle?
SpatialLabs was a niche use when Acer announced it in the fall, and that remains the case. But these monitors may move the needle a bit—at least more than the laptop did.
For one, they should be notably cheaper than the SpatialLabs laptop. Acer didn’t share a price for the upcoming monitors, but the PC sells outside the US for 3,500 pounds/4,000 euros (about $4,366/$4,216).
Portable monitors are also a more approachable path to stereoscopic 3D than investing in a computer. Of course, the portable monitors assume you already have the computing capabilities to drive your 3D apps and SpatialLabs. Acer didn’t provide GPU or CPU requirements for a smooth SpatialLabs experience (we’ve asked and will update this piece if we hear back), but the ConceptD 7 SpatialLabs Edition has an octa-core Intel Core i7-11800H, and Nvidia RTX 3080 (8GB), while the Predator Triton Helios 300 SptialLbas Edition gaming laptop announced today goes up to an i9-12900H and RTX 3080
It remains to be seen if SpatialLabs can work with games in a way that looks good and doesn’t hinder gameplay or induce nausea. Competitive gamers will opt for something with a higher refresh rate, but it’s also hard to imagine more casual gamers flocking to the SpatialLabs View for stereoscopic 3D gaming. That’s especially true considering that the SpatialLabs View will cost way more than most desktop-sized gaming monitors at $1,099 “this summer.”
Having a second screen dedicated to the 3D experience seems more natural for creators and developers already working in this space, especially if it’s executed well. But dealing with a smaller screen and finding the proper use is a pertinent obstacle for professionals. Creatives may also be hesitant to become dependent on somewhat new technology for critical work.
Acer didn’t share a price or release date for the SpatialLabs View Pro ahead of press time.