Before we send any planet-trotting robot to explore the landscape of Mars or Venus, we need to test it here on Earth. Two such robotic platforms being developed for future missions are undergoing testing at European Space Agency facilities: one that rolls, and one that hops.
The rolling one is actually on the books to head to the Red Planet as part of the ESA’s Mars 2020 program. It’s just wrapped a week of testing in the Spanish desert, just one of many Mars analogs the space program uses. It looks nice. The gravity’s a little different, of course, and there’s a bit more atmosphere, but it’s close enough to test a few things.
The team controlling Charlie, which is what they named the prototype, was doing so from hundreds of miles away, in the U.K. — not quite an interplanetary distance, but they did of course think to simulate the delay operators would encounter if the rover were actually on Mars. It would also have a ton more instruments on board.
Exploration and navigation was still done entirely using information collected by the rover via radar and cameras, and the rover’s drill was also put to work. It rained one day, which is extraordinarily unlikely to happen on Mars, but the operators presumably pretended it was a dust storm and rolled with it.
Another Earth-analog test is scheduled for February in Chile’s Atacama desert. You can learn more about the ExoMars rover and the Mars 2020 mission here.
The other robot that the ESA publicized this week isn’t theirs but was developed by ETH Zurich: the SpaceBok — you know, like springbok. The researchers there think that hopping around like that well-known ungulate could be a good way to get around on other planets.
It’s nice to roll around on stable wheels, sure, but it’s no use when you want to get to the far side of some boulder or descend into a ravine to check out an interesting mineral deposit. SpaceBok is meant to be a highly stable jumping machine that can traverse rough terrain or walk with a normal quadrupedal gait as needed (well, normal for robots).
“This is not particularly useful on Earth,” admits SpaceBok team member Elias Hampp, but “it could reach a height of four meters on the Moon. This would allow for a fast and efficient way of moving forward.”
It was doing some testing at the ESA’s “Mars Yard sandbox,” a little pen filled with Mars-like soil and rocks. The team is looking into improving autonomy with better vision — the better it can see where it lands, the better SpaceBok can stick that landing.
Interplanetary missions are very much in vogue now, and we may soon even see some private trips to the Moon and Mars. So even if NASA or the ESA doesn’t decide to take SpaceBok (or some similarly creative robot) out into the solar system, perhaps a generous sponsor will.
Last month, Nvidia took the unusual step of “unlaunching” a previously announced product. The 12GB version of the GeForce RTX 4080 graphics card was, by the company’s admission, “not named right” and was delayed and rebranded to avoid confusion with the 16GB version of the RTX 4080 that launched. Besides having less RAM, the 12GB version of the RTX 4080 also offered less memory bandwidth and fewer GPU cores than the 16GB version.
Nvidia didn’t announce exactly what branding it would use for the revived RTX 4080, but regulatory filings submitted by Gigabyte (as reported by VideoCardz) suggest that the company has settled on calling it the “4070 Ti.”
This isn’t guaranteed to be the actual name—regulatory filings like this can be placeholders rather than actual products—but this branding would be more consistent with how Nvidia has named past GPU generations. The xx80 cards usually use the same physical GPU die as the flagship xx90 cards but run at lower clock speeds and with parts of the die switched off; this allows Nvidia to use GPU dies with defects rather than tossing them out. The xx70 cards generally use a smaller, less-performant GPU die based on the same architecture.
Nvidia made the rebranding decision late enough in the process that it reportedly caused Nvidia and its partners to throw out finished packaging and other elements with “4080” branding. Redesigning and then re-manufacturing those things takes time, as does re-flashing the BIOSes on already-manufactured graphics cards so that they identify themselves as 4070 Tis rather than 4080s.
Nvidia still hasn’t said whether the price of the cards would also come down along with the model number; the 12GB version of the RTX 4080 was originally slated to launch for $899, while the RTX 3070 Ti was originally launched at $599. But existing RTX 4090 and 4080 cards are already difficult to get anywhere near their already-high $1,600 and $1,200 starting prices. It may be that an RTX 4070 Ti with decent 4K gaming performance, DLSS 3 support, and the other RTX 4000-series architectural bells and whistles would still sell out even with a big generation-over-generation price hike.
Google’s “Project Zero” team of security analysts wants to rid the world of zero-day security vulnerabilities, and that means it spends time calling out slacking companies on its blog. The group’s latest post is a bit of friendly fire aimed at the Android and Pixel teams, which Project Zero says aren’t dealing with bugs in the ARM GPU driver quickly enough.
In June, Project Zero researcher Maddie Stone detailed an in-the-wild exploit for the Pixel 6, where bugs in the ARM GPU driver could let a non-privileged user get write access to read-only memory. Another Project Zero researcher, Jann Horn, spent the next three weeks finding related vulnerabilities in the driver. The post says these bugs could allow “an attacker with native code execution in an app context [to] gain full access to the system, bypassing Android’s permissions model and allowing broad access to user data.”
Project Zero says it reported these issues to ARM “between June and July 2022” and that ARM fixed the issues “promptly” in July and August, issuing a security bulletin (CVE-2022-36449) and publishing fixed source code. But these actively exploited vulnerabilities haven’t been patched for users. The groups dropping the ball are apparently Google and various Android OEMs, as Project Zero says that months after ARM fixed the vulnerabilities, “all of our test devices which used Mali are still vulnerable to these issues. CVE-2022-36449 is not mentioned in any downstream security bulletins.”
The affected ARM GPUs include a long list of the past three generations of ARM GPU architectures (Midgard, Bifrost, and Valhall), ranging from currently shipping devices to phones from 2016. ARM’s GPUs aren’t used by Qualcomm chips, but Google’s Tensor SoC uses ARM GPUs in the Pixel 6, 6a, and 7, and Samsung’s Exynos SoC uses ARM GPUs for its midrange phones and older international flagships like the Galaxy S21 (just not the Galaxy S22). Mediatek’s SoCs are all ARM GPU users, too, so we’re talking about millions of vulnerable Android phones from just about every Android OEM.
In response to the Project Zero blog post, Google told Engadget, “The fix provided by Arm is currently undergoing testing for Android and Pixel devices and will be delivered in the coming weeks. Android OEM partners will be required to take the patch to comply with future SPL requirements.”
The Project Zero analysts end their blog post with some advice for their colleagues, saying, “Just as users are recommended to patch as quickly as they can once a release containing security updates is available, so the same applies to vendors and companies. Minimizing the ‘patch gap’ as a vendor in these scenarios is arguably more important, as end users (or other vendors downstream) are blocking on this action before they can receive the security benefits of the patch. Companies need to remain vigilant, follow upstream sources closely, and do their best to provide complete patches to users as soon as possible.”
USB-C has made it easier to plug things in and connect them. Charging, though? Charging is still complicated. You get a different amount of power based on the device, the port, the battery level, and whatever else is drawing current. It can make you wish for a few ports that power whatever you plug in, whatever the size.
You used to need a big surge protector, packed with charging bricks crowding each other out, to get that kind of juice. But these days, gallium nitride-based chargers can put out serious power from a small space. We’ve scanned the marketplace, tried out a few of them, and have some recommendations for different power needs.
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What we were looking for (and how we reviewed)
It’s not too hard to find a little cube that can deliver a good amount of charge these days, even for a 15- or 16-inch laptop. And there are multi-port chargers that can do that, too, though they typically plug in directly, require long and expensive cords, and drop their power output when multiple devices are plugged in.
We sought the best mix of size, maximum output, output across all ports, and (to a lesser extent) port variety, like USB-A or standard A/C plugs. More generally, we sought devices that could simultaneously keep a laptop powered while also charging a phone, a laptop, and, in some cases, a few other incidental gadgets, too.
Gallium nitride (GaN) chargers use a newer, more efficient technology that allows for smaller charging circuits yet produce less heat than traditional silicon models. We monitored our tested chargers’s temperatures, both with hands and with an infrared thermometer. We also listened close for any coil whine while our chargers were under heavy load.
We’ll save you the suspense: none of our tested models felt notably warm, even near their top output for a drained device. And we didn’t notice coil whine in any chargers, though that’s an issue that could develop over time.
The Ars pick
Hyperjuice 245 W GaN Desktop Charger
Buy: $150 at Hyper, B&H, eBay (ships from Japan)
Specs at a glance: Hyperjuice 245 W GaN Desktop Charger
Four USB-C (PD 3.0)
Max single port output
100 W (two simultaneous)
4.13×3.93×1.28 inches (105×100×32 mm)
1.28 lb (582 grams)
Hyper’s 245 W GaN Desktop Charger removes the guesswork from charging. It’s just four USB-C ports, each one capable of a maximum of 100 W (over Power Delivery 3.0), sharing a total of 245 W. That’s plenty for almost every loadout with a laptop, phone, and other gear, and it all fits inside a nondescript box not much bigger than most battery packs—all at a price that’s reasonable for the category.
If you have multiple battery-drained devices pulling more than 245 W across the ports (what a day you’ve had!), you’ll get proportionally less power across them. That means you can charge and run a 100 W laptop and a 60 W laptop and still have room left over to charge a pro-level tablet and standard-size phone at or near their top charging capacity. Few people will max out this power station.
The Hyperjuice’s front has no branding except on its underside, just a small power indicator light and four ports labeled with faint 100 W markings. They’re a little too faint, so if you’re working in a dark space, the device might require some DIY labeling. The shell is a smooth, lightly ridged plastic, which can slide a bit on a smoother desk texture. Its power cord is a simple two-prong C7 cable, so you can swap it for something longer or buy a second one for your bag if you want to take your charging station with you.
Hyper’s charger doesn’t come with any USB-C cords, so you’re on your own to build out a set that works best for you and your gear. Note that Hyper issued voluntary recalls for two of its power products recently, both due to overheating concerns. We didn’t encounter any heat issues during a few weeks of cycling Hyper’s desktop charger on and off our desktop.
Simple, powerful charging scheme
No branding on front or sides, blends in with most desks
Standard, easily replaced or duplicated power cord