Alphabet will use beams of light to deliver internet in Kenya

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The moonshot project has a new name, too.

 It’s been a while since we’ve heard about Alphabet’s Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC) project. If you’ve forgotten all about it, we don’t blame you: the acronym doesn’t stick in the mind quite like Google Fiber or Project Loon. To solve the problem, Alphabet’s ‘X’ division has renamed the initiative Project Taara. (I like it, though Project Tidal already starts with the letter ’T.’ If both moonshots ’graduate’ and become fully-fledged companies, one will have to rebrand or ruin Alphabet’s otherwise immaculate naming scheme.) It suggests that Google’s parent company now sees the technology, which uses laser-beaming boxes to deliver connectivity, as something that can eventually become a real business.

In a blog post, Taara general manager Mahesh Krishnaswamy announced that the team is formally working with telecoms giant Econet in Africa. It’s not clear, however, if any money is changing hands. Initially, Taara’s hardware will support Econet subsidiary Liquid Telecom in Kenya. It’s an obvious move given that the moonshot has already trialed its technology in the country, which followed pilots in Andhra Pradesh, a state in India.

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Alphabet’s Mineral moonshot wants to help farmers with robotic plant buggies

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The tech could lead to more sustainable farming practices.

 In 2018, Alphabet’s X lab said it was in the process of exploring how it could use artificial intelligence to improve farming. On Monday, X announced that its “computational agriculture” project is called Mineral. The Mineral team has spent the last several years “developing and testing a range of software and hardware prototypes based on breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, simulation, sensors, robotics and more.”

One of the tools that has come out of the project is a robotic plant buggy. Powered by solar panels, the machine makes its way across a farmer’s field, examining every plant it passes along the way with an array of cameras and sensors. In conjunction with satellite, weather and soil data, Mineral says the buggy and its AI software can identify patterns and give farmers insights into their crops.

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Alphabet’s Loon balloons are helping scientists study gravity waves

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The research could lead to better models for predicting the weather.

 In between beaming internet to people in developing countries and sometimes passing for UFOs, Alphabet’s Loon balloons have been busy helping scientists study how our planet works. A team led by Stanford professor Aditi Sheshadri recently published a report on gravity waves, ripples created by gravity when it pushes down on air forced up into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

To compile their report, professor Sheshadri and her team used data that Alphabet’s Loon balloons collected over 6,811 separate 48-hour periods between 2014 and 2018. “This was just a very lucky thing because they weren’t collecting data for any scientific mission. But, incidentally, they happened to be measuring position and temperature and pressure,” the researcher told Stanford News.

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Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai says there is ‘no question’ that AI needs to be regulated

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Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

‘The only question is how to approach it.’

Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai has called for new regulations in the world of AI, highlighting the dangers posed by technology like facial recognition and deepfakes, while stressing that any legislation must balance “potential harms … with social opportunities.”

“[T]here is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. It is too important not to,” writes Pichai in an editorial for The Financial Times. “The only question is how to approach it.”

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Google’s parent company Alphabet introduced a new project aimed at developing A.I-enabled robots that learn on their own

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The new project is focused on building robots capable of useful, everyday tasks, like sorting recycling.

Alphabet’s X group, the R&D lab formerly known as Google X, introduced the Everyday Robot Project on Thursday.

The project comes out of Alphabet’s string of robotics acquisitions several years ago, which had been put on hold.

The new project is focused on building robots capable of useful, everyday tasks, like sorting recycling.

Alphabet’s X group said it will focus on AI-enabled robots that can be learn tasks on their own, rather than being programmed to do specific things.

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is getting back into robotics after a first attempt several years ago fizzled. But this time the company wants to create robots with minds of their own.

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Waymo tells riders that ‘completely driverless’ vehicles are on the way

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‘You can enjoy having the car to yourself’

Waymo, the self-driving division of Alphabet, is about to put more passengers its fully driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans. The company emailed its customers in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, to let them know that “completely driverless Waymo cars are on the way.” It’s a sign that Waymo is growing confident enough in its technology to increase the frequency at which it allows passengers to ride in autonomous vehicles without a safety driver behind the wheel.

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Waymo cars refuse to drive in unsafe conditions

Heavy rain and blizzards aren’t the only forms of severe weather Waymo’s self-driving vehicles encounter on the regular. In a blog post published this morning, the Alphabet subsidiary laid out the ways its cars in over 25 cities tackle fog, dust, smoke, and other dangerous conditions that trip up even human drivers.

“Challenging [environmental] conditions, which affect human driver and vehicle performance, are one of the leading contributors to crashes on our roads … Poor perception creates significant risk for other road users including pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicle occupants,” wrote Waymo chief safety officer Debbie Hersman. “Waymo is working hard to master a variety of weather scenarios as part of our mission to improve road safety.”

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Google just beat Amazon to launching one of the first drone delivery services

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A Wing delivery drone

Google just beat Amazon to launching one of the first drone delivery services

  • The Alphabet startup Wing has secured approval for one of the world’s first drone delivery services.
  • The service is set to officially launch in Canberra, Australia, after securing approval from Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority following a successful trial.
  • The service will aim to use drones to deliver items including coffee and ice cream to homes in the Canberra area within minutes of their being ordered through an app.
  • It means Alphabet has beaten Amazon to the punch after Jeff Bezos failed to deliver on his promise of launching a commercial drone delivery service by 2018.

 

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Alphabet’s Waymo unveils its first commercial driverless taxi service: Waymo One

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Alphabet’s self-driving car unit Waymo today took a huge step toward launching its first public self-driving taxi service.

Waymo has been testing a driverless car service in Phoenix for a while already, but today the company officially lifted the lid on its first commercial service that riders can actually pay for.

Waymo One, as the service is called, will work much like Uber and other popular ride-hailing apps. After Waymo One gives you a price estimate based on your starting and end points, you can beckon a car that will transport you from A to B.

However, Waymo One isn’t yet available for everyone. Initially, only riders who were involved in the early stages of the trial program will have access, though plans are afoot to extend the service to more people in the future.

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The AI farm experiment

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Major companies are bringing together new machine learning algorithms, better and cheaper sensors, and increased computing power in hopes of addressing growing global demand for food and agriculture’s diminishing labor force.

The big picture: Alphabet’s X and John Deere, startups and universities are looking to AI-based agriculture to address these problems. But farming presents hard problems for AI that, if solved, could ultimately help it be deployed in more structured places (think: homes).

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Google exec issues warning over future of AI

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Google co-founder Sergey Brin sent the message in a letter to Alphabet shareholders (Source: Getty)

One of Google’s top execs and president of Alphabet Sergey Brin has raised concerns about the AI revolution in a letter to Alphabet’s shareholders.

In his annual letter sent to shareholders of Google umbrella organisation Alphabet yesterday, Brin said that “new questions and responsibilities” had been raised about the potential of AI.

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