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Reusable Rocket: Space X Test Fires Recovered F9

Spacecraft manufacturing company SpaceX, is one step closer to achieving its goal of being able to re-use rockets recovered from previous missions. Earlier this month, the private company completed a round of static test firing on a Falcon 9 first-stage rocket at the company’s rocket development facility located in McGregor, Texas.

This development is considered a crucial step towards fully re-using the rocket component in other missions. This booster was the first part recovered from Space X’s resupply mission at CRS-8 International Space Station in April 2016. The Falcon 9 first-stage was recovered from a drone ship landing pad floating on the ocean.

A crucial development towards fully re-using the rocket component for other missions

Space X is an ambitious and forward-thinking firm owned by billionaire Elon Musk. The company started in 2002 and aims to revolutionize space technology. While it is currently under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for cargo resupply missions, its ultimate goal is to ferry people across the galaxy and allow humans to live on other planets. Space X launched and funded the reusable launch system development program in order to develop reusable rockets. This will eventually give rise to reliable and durable space vehicles for much less of their current cost.

Space Flight Insider explains that in the long term, the company envisions being able to re-use first and second stage components within a few hours of returning to Earth.

The Falcon 9 booster was actually Space X’s first successful landing “at-sea” and just the second component to be recovered since the project first started. It went through what was called a propulsive landing at the deck of a drone ship. “Of Course I Still Love You” was floating at 190 miles east of Cape Canaveral, Florida when booster landed in April 2016.

Tech Crunch reports that a highly optimistic Musk predicted that a re-used booster could be used as early as March 2017. However, from the looks of things that won’t be happening anytime soon. Space X suffered huge setbacks in its program in September, with an explosion upsetting its schedule for at least six months.

Once successfully implemented though, rocket components can be used multiple times. Re-using the first stage rockets alone will save NASA and other private companies in the space race at least 30 percent on costs per launch.  Sometimes bold ideas take time.

Humans And Artificial Intelligence To Remain Relevant in the Future

Tesla and Space X CEO, Elon Musk said on Monday that humans must merge with machines in order to avoid becoming obsolete in the age of artificial intelligence.

Speaking before the World Government Summit in Dubai on Monday, the billionaire entrepreneur known for his futuristic ideas and bold concepts, posed the necessity of merging the human body with artificial intelligence to remain relevant.

A CNBC report also quoted Musk as saying that robots will eventually become better at doing jobs once done by humans  and replace them in the workforce. This is the reason behind his proposal to create a “high-bandwidth interface to the brain” which he said would help humans enjoy the best of both human and machine intelligence.

Elon Musk’s proposal to create a “high-bandwidth interface to the brain”

Popular Science expounds on Musk’s theory. The tech pioneer stressed that a human brain needs artificial intelligence to compute faster and handle more complex tasks. However, although this sounds like an ingenious solution, the technology is still decades away from being ready.  Current brain-computer interfaces are limited at best, so this daring challenge may be nothing but another fanciful idea.

Real Problems

But while Musk’s suggestion is far from achievable, the problem he wants to address is very real. Industries have been looking at automating jobs which have previously heavily relied upon manual labor.  Researchers said 78% of these jobs, including majority of processing and data collecting tasks, will soon be taken over by machines or robots.

The transportation sector for one, will be replaced by fleets of self-driving vehicles. The technology is still being tested, but manufacturers are inching closer and closer to having a system that can ensure safe and accident-free travel for millions of people.

Musk believes that when machines take over tasks previously done by humans, economies will collapse. This is why he believes that people should get an “upgrade”  through human-brain symbiosis.

Additionally, the Tesla chief stressed on being prepared economically and socially when the AI age is ushered in. Digital transformation, as well as advancements in computer technology,  is making this day arrive sooner than we think.

Driverless Car: Riding In The Cars Of The Future

Driverless car or self-driving technology is becoming more advanced with companies such as Alphabet, refining and testing the technology ready to become the next big thing in the transportation industry.

According to the Financial Times, Alphabet has moved ahead of the competition with a more mature and comprehensive system. The latest  data was from California regulators.

Alphabet’s Waymo is being tested more often and for longer hours compared to other autonomous vehicle manufacturers. Reports said the bold idea has now become very accurate.  It needs a human to decide on safety issues roughly about 0.2 times for every thousand miles it has traveled.

After Waymo, the California Department of Motor Vehicles reports that BMW, Ford, and Nissan are the most accurate autonomous vehicle systems. The race to perfect the driverless car technology is becoming more cut-throat and bolder. Since there are currently no laws governing self-driving cars, reports such as these are the readers’ only window to developments.

Driverless Car: How Far Is It From Being Rolled Out in the Market?

Car analyst Mike Ramsey says the California DMV data proves that Google’s Waymo system has pulled ahead of the pack. Moreover, the state’s stringent reporting rules may have pushed other car makers to other areas. This is when they don’t have to be transparent about their test numbers. Two of these companies are Honda and Volkswagen.

Alphabet’s Waymo is being tested more often and for longer hours compared to other autonomous vehicle manufacturers

California is the chosen spot for testing driverless vehicles. A lot of autonomous vehicle manufacturers have labs in the Bay Area. The focal point in this bold idea is paring back the number of times a human driver has to take over the wheel to the fewest instances. While Waymo is in a comfortable position, German manufacturer Bosch appears to be lagging behind. While the company also creates the sensors for autonomous vehicles, their system requires the most number of human safety interventions.

Bosch spokesman Tim Wieland was quick to defend the company’s stance. He says the company’s research center was geared more towards advanced development and was conducting a different line of tests for the benefit of its consumers.

Alphabet on the other hand, does not manufacture its own cars. It is one of the forerunners in testing autonomous vehicle systems. Next to them, online transportation network Uber has also been investing a lot of money in driverless research and testing. However, since the company failed to apply for a state permit, regulators slapped them with a cease-and-desist order in December.

The Driverless Car Is Way Ahead of Its Time

The exhaustive testing continues. There are those who wonder if this concept in transportation is still way ahead of its time.

NBC News touched on the moral dilemma involved in the algorithms of autonomous vehicle systems. While the focus was to create the safest vehicle possible, there will always be situations where human discretion would be critical.

Karl Iagnemma, CEO of NuTonomy, a Cambridge-based company. It has pioneered self-driving taxis in Singapore, says they have attacked the problem from a practical and engineering standpoint. There is the refinement and testing of self-driving systems. These algorithms will later on be making decisions which have a critical impact on real, human lives. Car sensors should also be able to cope and adjust to weather conditions which could change dramatically in just a few minutes.

If driverless cars become a reality, people won’t be needing licenses by the year 2040. Wired Magazine made a bold prediction that by that time, more than 75 % of vehicles on the road will already be self-driven.

Cars running on autopilot may have been the stuff of science fiction movies a few years ago. However, it’s only a few months away from becoming a reality. If a driverless car pull up at your driveway to pick you up, would you be bold enough to get in?