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Teams autonomously mapping the depths take home millions in Ocean Discovery Xprize – TechCrunch

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There’s a whole lot of ocean on this planet, and we don’t have much of an idea what’s at the bottom of most of it. That could change with the craft and techniques created during the Ocean Discovery Xprize, which had teams competing to map the sea floor quickly, precisely and autonomously. The winner just took home $4 million.

A map of the ocean would be valuable in and of itself, of course, but any technology used to do so could be applied in many other ways, and who knows what potential biological or medical discoveries hide in some nook or cranny a few thousand fathoms below the surface?

The prize, sponsored by Shell, started back in 2015. The goal was, ultimately, to create a system that could map hundreds of square kilometers of the sea floor at a five-meter resolution in less than a day — oh, and everything has to fit in a shipping container. For reference, existing methods do nothing like this, and are tremendously costly.

But as is usually the case with this type of competition, the difficulty did not discourage the competitors — it only spurred them on. Since 2015, then, the teams have been working on their systems and traveling all over the world to test them.

Originally the teams were to test in Puerto Rico, but after the devastating hurricane season of 2017, the whole operation was moved to the Greek coast. Ultimately after the finalists were selected, they deployed their craft in the waters off Kalamata and told them to get mapping.

Team GEBCO’s surface vehicle

“It was a very arduous and audacious challenge,” said Jyotika Virmani, who led the program. “The test itself was 24 hours, so they had to stay up, then immediately following that was 48 hours of data processing after which they had to give us the data. It takes more trad companies about 2 weeks or so to process data for a map once they have the raw data — we’re pushing for real time.”

This wasn’t a test in a lab bath or pool. This was the ocean, and the ocean is a dangerous place. But amazingly there were no disasters.

“Nothing was damaged, nothing imploded,” she said. “We ran into weather issues, of course. And we did lose one piece of technology that was subsequently found by a Greek fisherman a few days later… but that’s another story.”

At the start of the competition, Virmani said, there was feedback from the entrants that the autonomous piece of the task was simply not going to be possible. But the last few years have proven it to be so, given that the winning team not only met but exceeded the requirements of the task.

“The winning team mapped more than 250 square kilometers in 24 hours, at the minimum of five meters resolution, but around 140 was more than five meters,” Virmani told me. “It was all unmanned: An unmanned surface vehicle that took the submersible out, then recovered it at sea, unmanned again, and brought it back to port. They had such great control over it — they were able to change its path and its programming throughout that 24 hours as they needed to.” (It should be noted that unmanned does not necessarily mean totally hands-off — the teams were permitted a certain amount of agency in adjusting or fixing the craft’s software or route.)

A five-meter resolution, if you can’t quite picture it, would produce a map of a city that showed buildings and streets clearly, but is too coarse to catch, say, cars or street signs. When you’re trying to map two-thirds of the globe, though, this resolution is more than enough — and infinitely better than the nothing we currently have. (Unsurprisingly, it’s also certainly enough for an oil company like Shell to prospect new deep-sea resources.)

The winning team was GEBCO, composed of veteran hydrographers — ocean mapping experts, you know. In addition to the highly successful unmanned craft (Sea-Kit, already cruising the English Channel for other purposes), the team did a lot of work on the data-processing side, creating a cloud-based solution that helped them turn the maps around quickly. (That may also prove to be a marketable service in the future.) They were awarded $4 million, in addition to their cash for being selected as a finalist.

The runner up was Kuroshio, which had great resolution but was unable to map the full 250 km2 due to weather problems. They snagged a million.

A bonus prize for having the submersible track a chemical signal to its source didn’t exactly have a winner, but the teams’ entries were so impressive that the judges decided to split the million between the Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers and Ocean Quest, which amazingly enough is made up mostly of middle-schoolers. The latter gets $800,000, which should help pay for a few new tools in the shop there.

Lastly, a $200,000 innovation prize was given to Team Tao out of the U.K., which had a very different style to its submersible that impressed the judges. While most of the competitors opted for a craft that went “lawnmower-style” above the sea floor at a given depth, Tao’s craft dropped down like a plumb bob, pinging the depths as it went down and back up before moving to a new spot. This provides a lot of other opportunities for important oceanographic testing, Virmani noted.

Having concluded the prize, the organization has just a couple more tricks up its sleeve. GEBCO, which stands for General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans, is partnering with The Nippon Foundation on Seabed 2030, an effort to map the entire sea floor over the next decade and provide that data to the world for free.

And the program is also — why not? — releasing an anthology of short sci-fi stories inspired by the idea of mapping the ocean. “A lot of our current technology is from the science fiction of the past,” said Virmani. “So we told the authors, imagine we now have a high-resolution map of the sea floor, what are the next steps in ocean tech and where do we go?” The resulting 19 stories, written from all 7 continents (yes, one from Antarctica), will be available June 7.

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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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