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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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Huawei’s foldable is thinner, lighter, and has more battery than Samsung

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Huawei is still making phones, even if the US-China trade war puts most of the stalwart Android component vendors in a complicated relationship with the Chinese tech company. Huawei’s new phones are the flagship Huawei P60 Pro slab phone and a flagship foldable, the Huawei Mate X3.

The trade war makes these phones unique in the world of Android. First, it has a Qualcomm chip, but Huawei isn’t allowed to use the latest technology from Qualcomm, so the chip in both of these phones is the “Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 4G Mobile Platform.” Besides being last year’s chip, this is a special, Huawei-only version of the chip that is branded as “4G.” It has had the 5G bands stripped out of it—both mmWave and sub 6 GHz.

The other oddity is the lack of Google Play apps internationally. Huawei isn’t allowed to ship the Google apps due to the export ban. While that’s normal in China (where Google Play isn’t available), internationally it means the phone is missing standard Google apps like YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, the Google Assistant, Docs, Search, Photos, and other apps that make Android a competitive consumer OS. Instead of the Google ecosystem, you’ll be getting the OS with Huawei Mobile Services, which includes the Huawei AppGallery, Huawei Petal Maps, the Huawei Assistant (which appears just to be a search tool and some widgets, not a voice assistant), Huawei Pay, and Huawei apps for books, music, and video.

The OS is branded “EMUI 13.1” which presumably means it’s based on Android 13. Interestingly, Huawei still isn’t branding the OS with its supposedly homegrown OS called “HarmonyOS.” In China, the spec sheets list the phones with Harmony OS 3.1, but internationally they get EMUI 13.1, which is the name for Huawei’s Android skin. The company insists Harmony OS for phones is an Android rival and isn’t a copy and paste of the Android source code. But when we looked at the phone version of Harmony OS 2.0 in 2021, we found renamed Android code with no significant additions or changes beyond a typical Android skin. Huawei once claimed its Android rival would get an international release in 2022, but it still hasn’t happened.

The Chinese and English versions of the phone promo sites use the same exact pictures and apps, despite supposedly having different operating systems. Some of the English pictures, which should only show EMUI for the English markets, are labeled “HarmonyOS.” Certainly, the two OSes could share a design and have similarly branded apps, but if there were any real differences between EMUI (Android) and Harmony OS (supposedly not Android), it would be the easiest, most obvious thing in the world to explain. However, Huawei just can’t seem to provide any real evidence—curious! It’s almost like Android and Harmony OS are the same OS with two different names.

Other than the trade war stuff, the P60 Pro is a mostly normal slab smartphone with a 6.67-inch 120 Hz, 2700×1220 OLED display, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 4815 mAh battery. The phone has IP68 dust and water resistance, a USB-C port, Wi-Fi 6 support, 88 W wired charging, and 50 W wireless charging.

The most striking part of the design is the super-big camera opening on the back. This is only described as a 48 MP “Ultra Lighting camera.” It’s unclear if the super-big camera opening is there for any kind of functionality or if it’s just there to trick you into thinking the camera is big and impressive. If the company had used a huge 1-inch sensor like other phone manufacturers, I suspect Huawei would have said something about it. The big camera does look good though. It has a bit of a point-and-shoot camera design, which I’m always a fan of. Flanking the big camera is a 13 MP wide-angle lens and a 48 MP telephoto camera with an unlisted zoom rating.

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Apple Pay Later turns Apple into a full-on money lender

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With the limited launch today of a new service called Apple Pay Later, Apple will now lend money directly to users through the Wallet app on devices like the iPhone.

We first  heard about the service in 2021, and it was officially announced at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2022. It faced several delays, though, as iOS 16 began to roll out last September.

Now Apple is “inviting select users to access a prerelease version of Apple Pay Later.” The service will roll out to everyone “in the coming months.”

Those who can use it now can apply for loans ranging in amount from $50 to $1,000—but they’ll only be able to spend the lent money with merchants (online or otherwise) that accept Apple Pay.

The loan payoffs will be split into four payments, and users will have six weeks to pay the loans off with no interest. The payments need to be made with a debit card, Apple says.

When users initiate the loan, Apple performs a soft credit check before making an offer. A screen appears on the user’s device that outlines the payment plan. Additionally, there is a screen within the Wallet app wherein users can track their loan balance and future payments on a calendar.

Apple Pay Later builds on Apple’s existing relationship with Mastercard and Goldman Sachs; the service is “enabled through the Mastercard Installments program,” which Apple says allows the service to work immediately with merchants that already accept Apple Pay. “Goldman Sachs is the issuer of the Mastercard payment credential used to complete Apple Pay Later purchases,” Apple says.

That said, Apple formed a subsidiary to finance Apple Pay Later loans—something it didn’t do with Apple Card or Apple Pay before. The subsidiary will start reporting loans to US credit bureaus this fall.

As smartphone adoption has slowed down somewhat recently, Apple has spent several years branching beyond profits based on hardware sales, diversifying within a wide range of services like streaming entertainment, cloud backups, fitness, and financial productions.

Listing image by Apple

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Open source espresso machine is one delicious rabbit hole inside another

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Enlarge / How far is too far to go for the perfect shot of espresso? Here’s at least one trail marker for you.

Norm Sohl

Making espresso at home involves a conundrum familiar to many activities: It can be great, cheap, or easy to figure out, but you can only pick, at most, two of those. You can spend an infinite amount of time and money tweaking and upgrading your gear, chasing shots that taste like the best café offerings, always wondering what else you could modify.

Or you could do what Norm Sohl did and build a highly configurable machine out of open source hardware plans and the thermal guts of an Espresso Gaggia. Here’s what Sohl did, and some further responses from the retired programmer and technical writer, now that his project has circulated in both open hardware and espresso-head circles.

Like many home espresso enthusiasts, Sohl had seen that his preferred machine, the Gaggia Classic Pro, could be modified in several ways, including adding a proportional–integral–derivative (PID) controller and other modifications to better control temperature, pressure, and shot volumes. Most intriguing to Sohl was Gaggiuino, a project that adds those things with the help of an Arduino Nano or STM32 Blackpill, a good deal of electrical work, and open software.

It looked neat to Sohl, but, as he told Ars in an email, he was pretty happy with the espresso he had dialed in on his Classic Pro. “[S]o I decided to build a new machine to experiment with. I didn’t want to risk not having coffee while experimenting on a new machine.” Luckily, he had an older machine, an Espresso Gaggia, and Gaggia’s home espresso machine designs have been fairly consistent for decades. After descaling the boiler, he had a pump, a boiler, and, as he writes, “a platform for experimentation, to try out some of the crazy things I was seeing on YouTube and online.”

Norm Sohl's DIY open source espresso maker. There's no drip tray yet, and a bit too much wiring and heat exposed, but it pulls shots.
Enlarge / Norm Sohl’s DIY open source espresso maker. There’s no drip tray yet, and a bit too much wiring and heat exposed, but it pulls shots.

Norm Sohl

Sohl ended up creating a loose guide to making your own highly configurable machine out of common espresso machine parts and the Gaggiuino software. From his own machine, he salvaged a pump with a pressure sensor, a boiler with a temperature sensor, an overpressure valve, and brew head. Sohl made a chassis for his new machine out of extrusion rails and stiffening plates.

The high-voltage boards and components were assembled breadboard style onto acrylic panels, held up by poster-tack adhesive. A 120-volt power connector was salvaged from a PC power supply, then mounted with a 3D-printed bracket. The low-voltage wires and parts were also tacked onto acrylic, individually crimped, and heat shrink-wrapped. And the control panel was 3D-printed, allowing for toggle switches and a touch-panel screen.

There’s more work to be done on Sohl’s unit; the exposed boiler and 120-volt wiring need to be hidden, and a drip tray would be nice. But it works. The first shot was fast and under-extracted, suggesting a finer grind and settings changes. Then again, that describes almost every first-time home espresso setup. Sohl writes that he hopes future versions of his project will make use of the Gaggiuino project’s own circuit board design and that he’ll have his 3D project files posted for sharing.

In an email interview, Sohl wrote that he has received friendly and encouraging responses to his project.

Mostly people are plotting their own path and wondering how deep they want to get into the weeds with extra control. My advice (if they ask!) is to get an ok machine and grinder (The Gaggia Classic and perhaps the Baratza Encore ESP grinder work for me) and then spend some quality time getting to know how to use them. For example, my grinder is old and it took me forever to figure out how fine I really had to go to get the kind of espresso I wanted.

Asked if he was intimidated by the amount of control he now had over each shot, Sohl responded, “Yes, but that’s a good thing?”

The level of control is amazing, and I am only beginning to dial in a shot that is as good as the one I get every morning from my stock machine. The machine itself still needs work before it goes into daily use – I want to add a decent drip tray before it will be really practical, and digital scales are another thing I… want to try. Honestly I think it may be overkill for my espresso needs, but I really enjoy the detailed work that goes into building and learning to use something like this. I think the satisfaction I get from building and experimenting is probably as important as the end product.

I asked Sohl which aspect was the most difficult: hardware, software/firmware, or getting the espresso dialed in. “It’s all pretty complicated, hard to pick just one thing,” he wrote. The software flashing worked without any programming on his part. The hardware required new skills, like crimping connectors, but he went slow and learned from small mistakes. Getting the espresso dialed in will probably be hardest, Sohl wrote. “I think I’ll buy a bag of fresh dark roast and spend a couple of afternoons pulling shots and changing parameters.”

Overall, “This is one of the most satisfying builds I’ve done—the mix of mechanical work, electronics, water and steam are challenging,” Sohl wrote. You can see many more shots of the DIY machine and its details at Sohl’s Substack, which we first saw via the Hackaday blog.

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