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Watch SpaceX launch a GPS satellite for the US Space Force live

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SpaceX is set to launch a GPS-III satellite for the U.S. Space Force using a Falcon 9 rocket, with a target launch time of 9:43 PM EDT (6:43 PM PDT). That opens a 15-minute launch window, and so far weather is looking relatively good, which will hopefully help SpaceX end a recent string of launch scrubs, including one earlier this week for a reset Starlink mission.

The Falcon 9 used for this launch is a rarity these days — a brand new vehicle, including a booster being used for the first time. The attempt will include a landing of that first stage aboard SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” drone landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

There’s a good reason that SpaceX isn’t flying a previously flown booster for this one: The company’s contract with the Space Force stipulates that it can only use new, non-refurbished vehicles for National Security Space Launch (NSSL) missions. But they recently announced an updated agreement that will allow SpaceX to use reflown first stages on future flights.

The webcast above will start around 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window, so at around 9:28 PM EDT (6:28 PM PDT).

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Google Maps gets improved Live View AR directions

Google today announced a few updates to Live View, the augmented reality walking directions in its Google Maps app that officially launched last year. Live View uses your phone’s camera and GPS to tell you exactly where to go, making it a nice addition to the standard map-centric directions in similar applications.

The new features Google is introducing today include the ability to invoke Live View from the transit tab in Google Maps when you’re on a journey that includes multiple modes of transportation. Until now, the only way to see Live View was when you were asking for pure walking directions.

Image Credits: Google

If you’re like me and perpetually disoriented after you exit a subway station in a new city (remember 2019, when we could still travel?), this is a godsend. And I admit that I often forget Live View exists. Adding it to multimodel directions may just get me to try it out more often since it is now more clearly highlighted in the app.

Google Maps can now also identify landmarks around you to give you better guidance and a clearer idea of where you are in a city. Think the Empire State Building in New York, for example.

Image Credits: Google

These new landmarks will be coming to Amsterdam, Bangkok, Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, Dubai, Florence, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Kyoto, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Munich, New York, Osaka, Paris, Prague, Rome, San Francisco, Sydney, Tokyo and Vienna, with more to follow.

If you’re a regular Live View user, you’ll know that the actual pin locations in this mode can sometimes be off. In hilly areas, the pin can often be hovering high above your destination, for example. Now, Google promises to fix this by using a combination of machine learning and better topographical maps to place the pin exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Also new is the ability to use Live View in combination with Google Maps’ location sharing feature. So when a friend shares their location with you, you can now see exactly where they are in Live View, too, and get directions to meet them.

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Robotics startup lets machines get closer as humans keep their distance

As humans get used to working at a distance from each other, a startup in Massachusetts is providing sensors that bring industrial robots in close —  centimeters away, in fact. The same technology may support future social distancing efforts on commutes, in a pilot application to allow more subway trains to run on a single track.

Humatics, an MIT spinout backed by Lockheed Martin and Airbus, makes sensors that enable fast-moving and powerful robots to work alongside humans without accidents. If daily work and personal travel to work ever go back to normal, the company believes the same precision can improve aging and crowded infrastructure, enabling trains and buses to run closer together, even as we all may have to get used to working further apart.

This is the emerging field of microlocation robotics — devices and software that help people and machines navigate collaboratively. Humatics has been testing its technology with New York’s MTA since 2018, and today is tracking five miles of a New York subway, showing the transportation authority where six of its trains are, down to the centimeter.

UWB sensors for microlocation

Humatics’ technology in the MTA pilot uses ultrawide band (UWB) radio frequencies, which are less failure-prone than Wi-Fi, GPS and cameras.

“A good example of a harsh environment is a subway tunnel,” said David Mindell, co-founder of Humatics and professor of engineering and aerospace at MIT. “They are full of dust, the temperatures can range from subzero to 100 degrees, and there is the risk of animals or people tampering with devices. Working inside these tunnels is difficult and potentially dangerous for crews, also.”

Humatics has sold more than 10,000 UWB radio beacons, the base unit for their real-time tracking system, to manufacturers of sensor systems, the company says. They pinpoint the location of hundreds of RFID tags at a range of 500 meters, using multiple tags on an object to measure orientation.

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Estimote launches wearables for workplace-level contact tracing for COVID-19

Bluetooth location beacon startup Estimote has adapted its technological expertise to develop a new product designed specifically for curbing the spread of COVID-19. The company created a new range of wearable devices that co-founder Steve Cheney believes can enhance workplace safety for those who have to be co-located at a …

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Coordinated response required to optimize telehealth during COVID-19 pandemic

Eric Perakslis

Eric Perakslis, PhD is a Rubenstein Fellow at Duke University, Lecturer, Department of Biomedical Informatics at Harvard Medical School and Innovation Advisor to Médecins Sans Frontières. He has significant experience leading technology efforts in infectious disease outbreaks.

As the COVID-19 epidemic scales exponentially across the United …

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Sensors are the next big thing in space, not starships

Understanding the opportunities available in the space industry — especially for early-stage companies and new founders — isn’t easy.

The pool of people who have deep aerospace technical expertise isn’t huge, and like any community that requires a high degree of specialist knowledge, it’s a tightly-knit field that relies on social connections. But space is increasingly opening up, and we’ve already reached a point where the most valuable new entrants might come from industries that aren’t specifically aerospace or aerospace-adjacent.

In fact, we could be reaching a stage where the parts of the space industry requiring actual rocket scientists are more or less saturated, while the real boon is set to come from crossover talent that develops new ways to leverage innovations in other areas on space-based operating platforms.

“We have enough low-Earth launch vehicles, we have enough rockets,” Bessemer VP Tess Hatch told me in an interview at the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference last month. “In 2020, we have even more coming online and a lot of the ‘fantasy’ ones [an industry term used to describe spacecraft that have been conceived and designed but not yet flown] are planning to launch, and I think maybe one of them will come to fruition.”

Hatch says she still sees much of the demand side of the industry cluster around existing and proven suppliers, even if new entrants, including Astra and Firefly, actually begin flying their rockets this year, as both have been planning. Companies like Rocket Lab (in which her company has a stake) will increase their volume and cadence and benefit from having a proven track record, taking up a lot of the growth in launch vehicle demand. “I don’t think there’s room for any more rockets in the industry,” she said.

Instead, Hatch is looking to payload variety and innovation as the next big thing in space tech. Satellites are becoming increasingly commoditized, and companies like Rocket Lab are looking to take this further by providing a satellite platform (Proton) as part of its launch offering. There’s still immaturity in the small-satellite supply chain, which is what led small-satellite operator Kepler to build its own, but the bigger opportunity isn’t in building satellites — it’s in equipping them with new, improved and radically redesigned sensors to gather new kinds of data and provide new kinds of services.

Source: TechCrunch

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AR Indoor Navigation Technology Connects Retailers With Shoppers

Illustration: © IoT For All

Technology drives innovation, and for most retail companies, the “Transform or Die” motto still rings true. Retailers are always experimenting with the latest tech innovations to reshape the customer experience to alter their expectations both in physical stores and online.

But simply following every hot trend in the industry because of the fear of missing out (FOMO) is one of the most common mistakes retailers make when adopting emerging technologies. 

The retailers who thrive in their respective markets are the ones who learn how to implement technologies that deliver the highest return on investment (ROI) from Gartner’s hype cycle for emerging technologies.

Augmented Reality (AR) technology has been used in the retail sector for years, mostly for selling items through a virtual try-before-you-buy model. 

In the early 2000s, research was conducted using AR as an indoor navigation system. But at the time, it didn’t catch on due to different technological limitations. 

Today, that’s changing. Advances in AR development driven by tech giants like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others have made AR-based indoor navigation a desirable possibility for many retailers.

What Does This Mean for Retailers?

Brick and mortar retail stores are large. Shoppers often find themselves looking for new products they saw in advertisements and promotions. Real-time in-store navigation can have a profound impact on the customer experience by simplifying how customers find these products. 

According to A.T. Kearney’s 2019 Consumer Retail Technology Survey, 61% of respondents said technology reducing the time spent navigating around a store would be most valuable.

Providing shoppers with an enhanced navigation experience contributes to brand loyalty. Combine that with a virtual catalog and personalized real-time offers based on data analytics—and indoor navigation technology can act as a value-added service that extends far beyond just helping lost customers.

In-store navigation solutions are not a novelty. Large retailers like Target, Walgreens, The Home Depot and others have leveraged various kinds of indoor navigation systems to improve the customer experience. 

Indoor Navigation Technology Overview

Let’s do a quick recap of what navigation solutions are now available. The measure of success for a wayfinding app is determined by how timely and precisely a user can reach their final destination. 

A user’s final position is dependent on the accuracy of their initial positioning. Most users are willing to accept an accuracy within five meters for outdoor navigation provided by a GPS module found in a smartphone or another navigation device.

Indoor navigation poses a unique set of challenges. GPS signals are often distorted indoors, which makes accurate positioning impossible. Retailers can choose from a variety of solutions to help them overcome this problem. These solutions include:

  • Bluetooth low energy beacons
  • Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS)
  • Visual Positioning Service (VPS) 
  • AR marker-based visual positioning

The biggest challenge retailers face is choosing which one is best for their unique situation.

Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons

The majority of early in-store navigation solutions for shopping malls were implemented using Bluetooth technology. This technology was initially sent to the market as a proximity marketing mission. 

That explains why beacons are great at detecting the device of an approaching shopper and sending an offer or coupon code to their device. However, they do have limitations when they are required to determine the precise positioning of shoppers.

Beacon technology is a popular option that has seen adoption from many large organizations. A 2,000 beacon navigation solution was installed at Gatwick airport. Meanwhile, some US retailers like Mall of America and Target also decided to implement beacons. 

Is This the Best Solution, and What Else Is Available?

Beacon-based indoor positioning reaches an average accuracy of five to six meters, which is acceptable when walking between gates at an airport but can lead to frustrating experiences when navigating a store.

Accuracy for these types of navigation systems relies on overall beacon density. The multilateration sets of three and more beacons must repeat every 10 to 20 meters to maintain accuracy. 

According to Mike McNamara, Target’s CIO, an average-sized Target store has roughly 1,000 beacons. These beacons cost $10-20 per unit and require routine battery replacements. For a large indoor space, the combination of beacon quantity, combined with installation and maintenance efforts, can significantly increase a company’s operating costs. 

The recent update of Bluetooth specifications to Bluetooth 5.1 is capable of bringing enhanced and more cost-effective navigation solutions to the market with a positioning accuracy of less than a meter. However, businesses that are currently using beacons for indoor navigation will need to update their hardware infrastructure to adopt the new protocol.

Wi-Fi Positioning System

The weaknesses of beacon-based indoor technology were one of the main reasons why some large airports decided to implement Wi-Fi positioning systems (WPS) instead. This solution uses the pre-existing Wi-Fi infrastructure and has an accuracy of 5 to 15 meters. However, the actual accuracy is dependent on many factors

Apple introduced its Wi-Fi-based indoor mapping technology in 2014. Now, it’s seen mass deployment across major airports and shopping malls in almost 300 cities around the world throughout the United States, Europe and Australia. 

Business owners provide layout information for their spaces, and visitors can pinpoint their position within the venue they walk through, manually selecting the floor that applies to them.

Since 2011, Google has mapped major airports, shopping malls and museums. However, this feature also requires manual selection of the floor by visitors. Like Apple, Google relies on Wi-Fi fingerprinting adjusted by mobile tower networks and accelerometers in mobile devices to help visitors navigate indoors.  

Big changes are on the horizon for WPS technology. Just like Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi positioning systems may see improved positioning accuracy of up to two meters when they adopt the new Wi-Fi RTT protocol. 

This adoption will still take time due to the limitations of both consumers and infrastructure providers. Wi-Fi RTT is only supported by Android Pie devices, and technical infrastructure will require additional updates.

Visual Positioning Service

Google was one of the pioneers in developing Visual Positioning Systems (VPS). This platform is powered by computer vision technology. Walgreens and Lowes took part in a pilot program to leverage Project Tango technology to implement in-store navigation through product aisles and to augment the customer experience with virtual shopping features. 

But this solution is far from perfect. Compatibility limitations were the biggest problem with it only being compatible with two devices. The project was canceled in 2018 and replaced by Google ARCore, which is already contributing to the evolution of AR technology.

Augmented Reality-Based Indoor Navigation

AR-based indoor navigation is capable of overcoming many of the weaknesses that the other solutions encounter. It also provides ultra-accurate positioning for users. Apple and Google are actively working on improving their AR software development frameworks ARKit and ARCore too. 

The current technology is capable of figuring out indoor visitors’ locations with an accuracy of several centimeters within a store, and can even create virtual paths and arrows to help with navigating in the store.

This method relies on placing visual markers at the store entrance, which are scanned by shoppers using their mobile device’s camera. The markers display as poster-like images on walls or floors and help the AR software to pinpoint the shopper’s location. The software then shows the fastest route to the selected department or product, and may even improve the shopper’s experience by creating an AR effect.

This technology can even contribute to the enhancement of internal store processes by helping staff with navigating around offices and warehouses. 

In May 2019, the number of AR-enabled devices in the world reached 1.05 billion. This gives retailers more freedom when it comes to device compatibility and is encouraging them to leverage the technological benefits AR navigation platforms offer. 

AR technology, when adopted efficiently, can even help struggling businesses improve. Toys ‘R’ Us is one example of this. Despite its ongoing bankruptcy, the company digitized its indoor space across the store’s chain, and the company acknowledged that augmented reality technology was a key reason for its turnaround. 

AR technology may still be under development, but the solutions needed to improve AR-based indoor navigation accuracy are already known. Implementing them is the next step for retailers who want to improve the navigability of their stores. Combined with data science and machine learning—it may help to optimize product placement according to store traffic data and create sales prediction models based on that information.

With the push for personalized shopping experiences, the future looks bright for AR technology.

Source: IoT For All

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GM adds automated lane changes to its hands-free Super Cruise driving system

GM has improved its hands-free driving assistance system Super Cruise, adding a feature that will automatically change lanes for drivers of certain Cadillac models, including the upcoming 2021 Escalade.

This enhanced version of Super Cruise, which will include better steering and speed control, puts it back in competition with Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system (specifically the Navigate on Autopilot feature), which is considered the most capable on the market today.

The improved version will be introduced starting with the 2021 Cadillac CT4 and CT5 sedans followed by the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade. The vehicles are expected to become available in the second half of 2020. 

Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

The automatic lane change feature in Super Cruise will still require the driver to keep their eyes on the road. When the system is engaged, the driver can engage the turn signal to indicate a desire to change lanes. Once the system has determined that the lane is open, the vehicle will merge. Meanwhile, the gauge cluster will display messages to the driver such as “looking for an opening” or “changing lanes.”

GM’s new digital vehicle platform, which provides more electrical bandwidth and data processing power, enabled engineers to add to Super Cruise’s capabilities. The company also improved its rear-facing sensors and software to be able to better track vehicles approaching from the rear, Super Cruise chief engineer Mario Maiorana said.

The new version Super Cruise will change lanes for the driver on highways where the feature is allowed. The user interface and hands-free driving dynamics have also been improved, according to Maiorana.

Super Cruise, which launched in 2017, was limited to just one model — the full-size CT6 sedan — and restricted to divided highways. That began to change last year when GM announced plans to expand where Super Cruise would be available. A software update expanded the thousands of miles of compatible divided highways in the United States and Canada . Super Cruise is now available on more than 200,000 miles of highways.

The automaker has also started to make the system available in more models. GM is expanding Super Cruise as an option on all Cadillac models this year. GM has said the Super Cruise system will start hitting its other brands such as Chevrolet, GMC, and Buick after 2020.

Source: TechCrunch

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NextNav raises $120M to deploy its indoor positioning tech to find people in skyscrapers

NextNav LLC has raised $120 million in equity and debt to commercially deploy an indoor-positioning system that can pinpoint a device’s location — including what floor it’s on — without GPS .

The company has developed what it calls a Metropolitan Beacon System, which can find the location of devices like smartphones, drones, IoT products or even self-driving vehicles in indoor and urban areas where GPS or other satellite location signals cannot be reliably received. Anyone trying to use their phone to hail an Uber or Lyft in the Loop area of Chicago has likely experienced spotty GPS signals.

The MBS infrastructure is essentially bolted onto cellular towers. The positioning system uses a cellular signal, not line-of-sight signal from satellites like GPS does. The system focuses on determining the “altitude” of a device, CEO and co-founder Ganesh Pattabiraman told TechCrunch.

GPS can provide the horizontal position of a smartphone or IoT device. And wifi and Bluetooth can step in to provide that horizontal positioning indoors. NextNav says its MBS has added a vertical or “Z dimension” to the positioning system. This means the MBS can determine within less than 3 meters the floor level of a device in a  multi-story building.

It’s the kind of system that can provide emergency services with critical information such as the number of people located on a particular floor. It’s this specific use-case that NextNav is betting on. Last year, the Federal Communication Commission issued new 911 emergency requirements for wireless carriers that mandates the ability to determine the vertical position of devices to help responders find people in multi-story buildings.

Today, the MBS is in the Bay Area and Washington D.C. The company plans to use this new injection of capital to expand its network to the 50 biggest markets in the U.S., in part to take advantage of the new FCC requirement.

The technology has other applications. For instance, this so-called Z dimension could come in handy for locating drones. Last year, NASA said it will use NextNav’s MBS network as part of its City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation facilities at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The round was led by funds managed by affiliates of Fortress Investment Group . Existing investors Columbia Capital, Future Fund, Telcom Ventures, funds managed by Goldman Sachs Asset Management, NEA and Oak Investment Partners also participated.

XM Satellite Radio founder Gary Parsons is executive chairman of the Sunnyvale, Calif-based company.

Source: TechCrunch