Google on Tuesday said it will start showing users of its free Maps navigation service travel routes less damaging to the environment as just one of some 100 coming upgrades. Improvements to Google Maps tap into artificial intelligence for features including figuring out more fuel-efficient ways to get around. “Soon, Google Maps will default to the route with the lowest carbon footprint when it has approximately the same ETA (estimated arrival time) as the fastest route,” vice president of product Dane Glasgow said in a blog post.
“In cases where the eco-friendly route could significantly increase your ETA, we’ll let you compare the relative CO2 impact between routes so you can choose.” Google worked with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab to build a routing system that takes into account traffic congestion and steepness of roads to minimize fuel consumption, according to Glasgow. Google is also going to start alerting Maps users when a travel route is heading for a low-emission zone where higher-pollution vehicles such as diesel cars are not allowed.
Those alerts will launch in June on the Maps mobile app in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. Maps was also tweaked to provide users more comprehensive views of travel options that may be more eco-friendly than driving. And, air quality information along the way is being added to some routes displayed by Maps, launching firs in Australia, India, and the United States. Google is also working to keep people on course once inside locations such as airports, shopping malls or train stations, according to Glasgow.
A Live View feature that already augments what Maps users see when looking through smartphone camera lenses will display arrows and other tips to guide them outside is getting an inside version. “Live View can help you find the nearest elevator and escalators, your gate, platform, baggage claim, check-in counters, ticket office, restrooms, ATMs and more,” Glasgow said. Inside Live View was added for some shopping malls in a handful of US cities and will roll out in coming months for select airports, malls, and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich, according to Google. – AFP
WASHINGTON: More than a century after the first powered flight on Earth, NASA intends to prove it’s possible to replicate the feat on another world. Transported aboard the Mars 2020 spacecraft that arrives at the Red Planet on Thursday, the small Ingenuity helicopter will have several challenges to overcome-the biggest being the rarefied Martian atmosphere, which is just one percent the density of Earth’s.
Ultralight It might be called a helicopter, but in appearance it’s closer to mini-drones we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in recent years. Weighing just four pounds (1.8 kilograms), its blades are much larger and spin about five times faster — 2,400 revolutions per minute-than would be required to generate the same amount of lift back on Earth. It does however get some assistance from Mars, where the gravity is only a third of that on our home planet.
Ingenuity has four feet, a box-like body, and four carbon-fiber blades arranged in two rotors spinning in opposite directions. It comes with two cameras, computers, and navigation sensors. It’s also equipped with solar cells to recharge its batteries, much of the energy being used for staying warm or cold Martian nights, where temperatures fall to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius). The helicopter is hitching a ride on the belly of the Perseverance rover, which will drop it to the ground once it has landed then drive away.
90 second flights Up to five flights of gradual difficulty are planned, over a window of one month, within the first few months of the mission. Ingenuity will fly at altitudes of 10-15 feet (3-5 meters) and travel as far as 160 feet (50 meters) from its starting area and back. Each flight will last up to a minute and half-compared to the 12 seconds the Wright brothers achieved with the first powered, controlled flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903.
Like the Perseverance rover, Ingenuity is too far away from Earth to be operated using a joystick, and is therefore designed to fly autonomously. Its onboard computers will work with its sensors and cameras to keep it on a path programmed by its engineers. But the outcome of these flights will be learned only after they took place.
What’s the goal? NASA describes Ingenuity’s mission as a “technology demonstration”: a project that seeks to test a new capability together with the astrobiology mission of Perseverance. If it’s successful, however, it “basically opens up a whole new dimension of exploring Mars,” said Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer.
Future models could offer better vantage points not seen by current orbiters or by slow-moving rovers on the ground, allowing the helicopters to scope out terrain for land-based robots or humans. They could even help carry light payloads from one site to another-such as the rock and soil samples Perseverance will be collecting in the next phase of the Mars 2020 mission.
Rover to touch down After a seven-month journey, NASA’s Perseverance rover prepares to touch down on Mars tomorrow after first negotiating a risky landing procedure that will mark the start of its multi-year search for signs of ancient microbial life. The Mars 2020 mission, which set off late from Florida in late July, includes the largest ever vehicle to be dispatched to the Red Planet.
Built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it weighs a ton, has a robotic arm that’s seven feet (two meters) long, has 19 cameras, and two microphones to record the Martian soundscape. Should it arrive intact, Perseverance will be only the fifth rover to successfully complete the journey since Pathfinder in 1997. All have been American and the last, Curiosity, is still active.
China last week placed its Tianwen-1 spacecraft in orbit around Mars carrying both a lander and a rover, which it is hoped to land in May. At around 3:55pm EST Thursday (2055 GMT), Perseverance will place its six wheels on a landing site described as “spectacular” by Ken Farley, a NASA scientist.
Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer-wide) basin located in the Martian northern hemisphere, had been considered for previous missions, but was considered too difficult to land in until now. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mission control room will have fewer people than normal.
“But assuming we do have confirmation of landing, I don’t think COVID is gonna be able to stop us from jumping up and down and fist pumping,” said Matt Wallace, the mission’s deputy project manager. The first low resolution photos of the surface will arrive quickly. Video footage, including entry into the atmosphere, is expected later.
Lakes and rivers Scientists believe that around 3.5 billion years ago, the crater was home to a river that flowed into a lake, depositing sediment in a fan-shaped delta. During this period, “Mars was very similar to Earth in several important ways,” said Farley. “It had a substantial atmosphere, it had lakes and rivers on its surface, and it had habitable environments, places where organisms that we know about on earth today could have thrived.”
Producing oxygen What would these long awaited signs of life look like? “We should not be looking for fossil teeth or fossil bones or fossil leaves,” he said. Rather, it’s hunting for organic molecules and other signs of past microbial life, a discovery that would be “fabulous.” The first months of the mission won’t however be devoted to this primary objective.
Parallel experiments are also planned. NASA notably wants to fly, for the first time, a powered aircraft on another planet. The helicopter, dubbed Ingenuity, must be able to ascend in an atmosphere just one percent the density of Earth’s. – AFP
NASA on Friday released stunning new photographs from Perseverance, including one of the rover being gently lowered to the surface of Mars by a set of cables, the first time such a view has been captured. The high-resolution still was extracted from a video taken by the descent stage of the spacecraft that had transported the rover from Earth.
At that moment, the descent stage was using its six-engined jetpack to slow to a speed of about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) per hour as part of the “skycrane maneuver,” the final phase of landing. “You can see the dust kicked up by the rover’s engines,” said Adam Steltzner, Perseverance’s chief engineer, who estimated the shot was taken about two meters (six feet) or so above the ground.
The three straight lines are mechanical bridles holding the rover underneath the descent stage, while the curly cable was used to transmit the data from the cameras to Perseverance. When the rover touched down, it cut the 6.5-m-long cables, allowing the descent stage to fly away for its own safe landing.
A second color image shows one of the rover’s six wheels, with several honeycombed rocks thought to be more than 3.6 billion years old lying next to it. “One of the questions we’ll ask first is whether these rocks represent a volcanic or sedimentary origin,” said NASA deputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan.
Volcanic rocks in particular can be dated with very high precision once the samples are brought back to Earth on a future return mission – an exciting development from a planetary science perspective. As the first images came in, “it was exhilarating, the team went wild,” said mission operations system manager Pauline Hwang. “The science team immediately started looking at all those rocks and zooming in and going, ‘What is that!’ – it couldn’t have been better.”
The first two images were released on Thursday shortly after the rover landed, but they were lower resolution and in black-and-white because of the limited data rate available. NASA hopes to have more high resolution photos and videos in the coming days, but doesn’t know yet if it has successfully recorded sound on Mars for the first time using microphones. That might be known later this weekend or early next week, said Steltzner. – AFP
BEIJING: China’s Tianwen-1 probe has sent back its first image of Mars, the national space agency said, as the mission prepares to touch down on the Red Planet later this year. The spacecraft, launched in July around the same time as a rival US mission, is expected to enter Mars orbit around Feb 10.
The black-and-white photo released late Friday by the China National Space Administration showed geological features including the Schiaparelli crater and the Valles Marineris, a vast stretch of canyons on the Martian surface. The photo was taken about 2.2 million km from Mars, according to CNSA, which said the spacecraft was now 1.1 million km from the planet.
The robotic craft ignited one of its engines to “make an orbital correction” Friday and was expected to slow down before being “captured by Martian gravity” around February 10, the agency said. The five-ton Tianwen-1 includes a Mars orbiter, a lander and a rover that will study the planet’s soil.
China hopes to ultimately land the rover in May in Utopia, a massive impact basin on Mars. After watching the United States and the Soviet Union lead the way during the Cold War, China has poured billions of dollars into its military-led space program. It has made huge strides in the past decade, sending a human into space in 2003. The Asian powerhouse has laid the groundwork to assemble a space station by 2022 and gain a permanent foothold in Earth orbit.
But Mars has proved a challenging target so far, with most missions sent by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and India to the planet since 1960 ending in failure. Tianwen-1 is not China’s first attempt to reach Mars. A previous mission with Russia in 2011 ended prematurely as the launch failed.
China has already sent two rovers to the Moon. With the second, China became the first country to make a successful soft landing on the far side. All systems on the Tianwen-1 probe are in “good condition”, CNSA said Friday. — AFP
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has issued notices to Google Inc and Wikipedia for "disseminating sacrilegious content" through the two platforms, it emerged on Friday.
In a press release, the authority said it has been receiving complaints regarding "misleading search results associated with 'present khalifa of Islam' and an unauthentic version of the Holy Quran uploaded by the Ahmedi community on Google Play Store".
Being a matter of a very serious nature, the PTA has approached Google Inc with directions to immediately remove the unlawful content, the statement said.
"The platform has been issued the notice under the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguard) Rules 2020 to remove sacrilegious content to avoid any legal action by the regulator."
The authority added that complaints were also received regarding hosting blasphemous caricatures of Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and dissemination of "misleading, wrong, deceptive and deceitful information" through articles published on Wikipedia portraying Mirza Masroor Ahmad as a Muslim.
"After extensive communication on the matter, Wikipedia has been finally served with the notice to remove the sacrilegious content to avoid any legal action," the statement said.
In case the platforms remain non-compliant, the PTA shall be constrained to initiate further action under Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) and Rules 2020, the statement said.
OAKLAND, Calif/LONDON: Alphabet Inc’s Google relaunched its US payments app, introducing paid promotions to the service and opening a waitlist for bank accounts being launched next year with Citigroup Inc and 10 other institutions. The new Google Pay app, like its predecessor which will be discontinued eventually, enables contactless payments in stores and money transfers.
But now users can transact with groups of people, search transactions, view analytics and explore cashback offers from merchants including Burger King and Target Corp . Google will receive a distribution fee for those promotions, opening a small new line of revenue for the advertising giant.
Transactions will not affect the ads that users see on other Google services, it said. The new functionality brings US Google Pay up to par with its counterpart in India, where mobile payments are the norm, while escalating the global battle among tech companies, merchants and banks over consumers and their financial data.
“Our goal is to be the all-in-one app that gives users more value and control out of their money,” said Caesar Sengupta, who oversees Google’s payment initiatives. Pay has more than 150 million monthly users spanning 30 countries. Alibaba Group, Apple Inc, Samsung Electronics Co and PayPal Holdings Inc also offer mobile wallets aiming to be hubs for shopping and banking, with the companies battling over security and other features.
For instance, Google said its web search technology makes its app more useful for budgeting and sifting through transactions to spot granular categories such as “Mexican restaurants” or “T-shirts.” The new US app works at over 100,000 restaurants, 30,000 gas stations and 400 cities’ parking meters, Google said. Google first discussed adding banking accounts a year ago, but did not solicit customers for the service, dubbed Plex, until Wednesday.
Partners such as Citi starting next year will activate checkings and savings accounts with no monthly fees, overdraft charges or minimum balance rules. The Citi Plex users will get free access to its network of 60,000 ATMs nationwide, the megabank said on Wednesday. The offering is Citi’s first bundled savings and checking account.
“This collaboration gives us a platform to drive significant scale in our Retail Bank,” said Citi’s incoming Chief Executive Jane Fraser. The newest Plex partners include Green Dot Corp, Seattle Bank and The Harbor Bank of Maryland. Sengupta said one goal was “to gamify saving and make it a lot more fun.” – Reuters