mars mission

Everything SpaceX revealed about its updated plan to reach Mars by 2022

SpaceX founder Elon Musk laid out some exciting changes to his vision for helping make humans an interplanetary species, with a presence on Mars and potentially beyond.

“The future is vastly more exciting and interesting if we’re a space-faring species than if we’re not,” Musk said as he took the stage. “It’s about believing in the future and thinking the future will be better than the past.”

This plan will obviously be very expensive, and Musk led with that since it was a considerable criticism of what wasn’t addressed in his last talk at IAC last year. Musk said that he believes SpaceX has figured out how to pay for it now, and much of his talk was given over to what SpaceX intends to do to achieve cost efficiencies, and potentially open up new revenue streams to fund Mars missions.

One big part of the plan is to essentially render all current SpaceX vehicles redundant by focusing in the so-called BFR rocket. This will be scaled down from its initial huge concept design, and will instead be one booster and ship that replaces Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon, with capabilities both in terms of servicing the International Space Station and SpaceX’s current Earth orbital satellite customers, as well as reaching Mars and helping establish a moon base.

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Transfer Wise

TransferWise sets up Singapore office to serve as Asia-Pacific HQ

Online money transfer startup TransferWise announced today it is setting up its Asia-Pacific hub in Singapore.

The Singapore office will be in business by next week, starting with eight employees. The company hopes to have that number up to 30 by the end of the year. It will be hiring for a variety of roles including engineering, operations, customer support, and regulation.

This gives Transferwise a central location in Asia-Pacific, allowing it to reach more customers in the region. The city-state’s progressive central bank and fintech-friendly regulations make it an ideal place for the UK-headquartered startup to be closer to its local users and address their specific needs.

“Whenever we launch somewhere, we make sure we build in very good feedback loops, conduct lots of research,” TransferWise co-founder and CEO Taavet Hinrikus tells Tech in Asia. The startup also places great emphasis on word of mouth, which is still a major driver of new sign-ups to the service – over 60 percent of them.

TransferWise allows its customers to send and receive money across borders for a fraction of the charges imposed on bank transfers.

To do that, it uses a peer-to-peer system that matches users according to the currencies they want to send and receive. Users’ money is credited into bank accounts the startup operates in each market so that corresponding payouts are made without funds ever actually crossing borders.

The service has been available in Singapore for some time but due to regulations, users had to verify their identity by contacting TransferWise and doing it manually. Now, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has approved online verification for the startup. This means that people in Singapore will be able to prove who they are as easily as snapping a selfie with their phone through the TransferWise app.

“This is super cool and shows how the regulator is very responsive and really thinking about how to develop the local ecosystem,” says Taavet.

While MAS is embracing tech like the blockchain for money transfers, TransferWise isn’t jumping into it just yet. “We’ll use whatever enables us to offer the fastest payments for the lowest cost,” Taavet muses. “We’ve looked at bitcoin and the blockchain but we haven’t seen how we can use it yet.” If the opportunity arises, the startup will move quickly to use it, he adds.

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IT Services

IT services: the coming storm and why India needs to be worried

The IT services industry is facing significant headwinds of late. This is no secret. Most people tend to attribute this to the advent of “automation and artificial intelligence.” But that is a bit of a red herring and the technology industry should really be the last to use it. Automation and technology have consistently replaced low skill, repetitive jobs in industries across the ages. Agile businesses don’t shut down because of automation. They move up the value chain.

What we see here is the industry itself is getting disrupted and there seems to be little that the big players are able to do about it. This is something that India should worry deeply about.

Over the last few decades, the IT services industry has soaked up young, employable talent emerging out of engineering colleges like a sponge. But this scenario may not last long. We may soon be faced with serious challenges set off by rising rates of unemployment among the middle class.

Faced with a crisis of growth and profitability, the big offshoring firms are quick to point out that they have the perfect get out of jail card. “Digital,” they exclaim in unison, whenever asked how they plan to salvage falling fortunes. The reality, though is that most of the large players are poorly positioned to take advantage of the digital opportunity.

The poisoned pool
There was a time when they could have spent their large reserves of cash on serious upskilling and building future ready business models. Instead, most of them continued playing the labor arbitrage game and amassed fat margins at the expense of the future. After all, who wants to break a highly successful model when it seems to be working fine?

The downside was that the industry was constantly forced to “down-hire” for decades. Starting with talent from the elite IITs and top engineering colleges, they moved to just about any engineering college and then to regular graduation colleges, colleges from smaller cities and so on. Soon they were hiring droves of people almost blindly. Entire batches passing out were hired on the basis of rudimentary tests. Higher “volumes” and lower productivity became the de-facto business strategy.

The problem with this strategy is that it poisons the talent pool over time. Businesses end up employing masses of average talent with no one to inspire or direct them. They end up creating a culture of mediocrity. Over time, the same talent becomes mid and senior management. They have no incentive to change the status quo and actively resist any change that discomforts them.

The other casualty tends to be front line sales. When the central promise of a business becomes mere predictability and scale sales folk also slowly become slothful order takers because there is really no extra edge that they can deliver or play on.

Over time this strategy simply stops working as smaller, nimbler firms start snapping at the heels of big firms. Customers learn the game and start setting up captive delivery centers. Technical disruptions inevitably came by and customer expectations start to shift. This is when the industry looking for the next tide to lift all sinking ships finds “digital”.

There is only one problem though.

Unlike earlier tides, digital is complicated, layered and difficult to manage because it integrates so many diverse competencies. It places little value on the ability to deliver predictable outcomes at scale. That can well be left to the bots and AI. Customers now require a zesty soup of innovation, creativity, design, marketing, data sciences, emerging technologies and high-end coding to come together and deliver transformational solutions. What most large services firms have on the table instead, are masses of mediocre talent and managers who simply cannot see beyond the mundane.

One way to fix this broken engine is to fundamentally re-imagine future business models and start rebuilding for the same. This means a lot of pain in the short run, though. Accepting a few years of flatlining or declining revenues as new leaders and practices find their feet and steer the ship on a new course. This is a near-impossible task for firms that are answerable to Wall Street every quarter. So far, only one giant has shown the willingness to try and take this pain. The rest continue to pay lip service to digital, innovation etc while showing no inclination to make bold, decisive moves.

So what can the industry do differently, if it is unable and unwilling to disrupt the existing cash cows? There are two significant steps that are still eminently doable, given the strength of this industry, which are its cash reserves.

1. Acquisition, acquisition, acquisition
The industry needs to stop believing that it can learn how to fly to the moon just because it has successfully driven a bus for 50 years. Everything cannot be achieved organically. Especially because the skills and the environment required to deliver new capabilities in the digital world may be in complete opposition to existing core values.

For example, innovation and creativity are rarely process driven, cost-optimised team sports. They tend to be driven by stars. Quite often by prima donnas who will refuse to fit into the brick wall. How can an industry which has operated in a factory model, even hope to attract and retain such talent? The alternative is to start behaving like a holding company and acquire strategic capabilities through acquisitions. Let the acquired companies and talent flourish without trying to integrate them into the existing culture. Hold them as separate entities. Let their innovators and sales team be the tip of your arrow. Use them to sell the ideas and push the innovations. Make money off the long tail of execution work that inevitably follows through.

2. Set up aggressive venture capital units with long horizon investment objectives
Instead of trying to foster innovation within choking environments through so-called self-directed teams etc, simply identify talented start-ups. Take a stake in them and support them through funding and access to markets only. When it reaches a stage where the model is proven and ready to scale, then and only then, step in and get involved in management.

The above actions should not be difficult to execute. But it will require a willingness to step out of comfort zones and take risks. Leaders will need to stand up to boards and shareholders and justify why investments are being made into areas that don’t fit with traditional business models. Pulling off this change through vision and conviction will perhaps script the success stories in the next chapter of this industry.

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The futur of work

The Future of Work

For tens of thousands of years, man has been obsessed with making life easier for himself to avoid work. Ironically today, millenniums later, man finds himself caught in a struggle to find meaning in his career. “Take us away from our 9-5 and we don’t know what to do,” says Pepe Sepulveda, and in engaging fashion, he reimagines the role of work for the human being, painting a more utopian future where mankind finds the right balance with technology, robots and artificial intelligence.

Dr Jose Sepulveda, also known as Pepe, is the Director of the Applied Research and Technology for Infocomm Centre (ARTIC). At ARTIC, he focuses on producing translational technologies, and implementing strategies to bring them to the market. His background includes an MBA focused on innovation strategy and a PhD in Physics Data Analysis. A Physicist by training, he has worked all over the world focusing on a wide range of projects including, information technologies, video game design, e-learning, e-commerce, bioinformatics, biomedical data analysis, wearable devices, and the internet of things. He is now living in Singapore where he works on technologies applied to education and health.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

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Apple Patent

Apple Patents A Clever UI Trick For Using Your Phone With One Hand

The patent shows an iPhone that can dynamically adjust its UI to the way it’s being held

Criticizing larger, so-called “phablets,” Steve Jobs once said that the iPhone was the perfect size, because you could easily use it with one hand. Today, though, the majority of smartphones Apple makes are too big for ergonomic one-handed use, and while iOS has a built-in one-handed mode called Reachability, it’s pretty limited, essentially cutting the screen in half. A new patent from Cupertino suggests an intriguing alternative: an iPhone that can dynamically adjust its UI to the way it’s being held.

In the newly published patent, which was first filed in late 2014 around the time of the iPhone 6’s debut, Apple describes a way for an iPhone to detect how it’s being held. The phone dynamically adjusts where buttons and on-screen controls are positioned, accordingly. So if you’re holding your iPhone with the right hand, iOS might display a special keyboard for one-handed use on the bottom right of the device, or adjust the buttons in an app so you can hit them with your thumbs.

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Reebok speed cam

If You Run Fast Enough Past This Reebok Ad, It Unlocks a Free Pair of Sneakers

Sneaker brands are fond of running challenges, and they can make for some cool ad stunts.
Asics has done this for years, running outdoor ads that challenged people to race against a digital image of U.S. marathoner Ryan Hall, and also getting runners to try a treadmill from hell set to a marathoner’s pace.
Now, Reebok is getting into the fun, too.

Last weekend in Stockholm, the brand put up an outdoor ad equipped with a built-in speed cam and tracking technology to measure pedestrians’ pace. Anyone who ran past the ad faster than 17 kilometers per hour (about 10.5 miles per hour) unlocked a brand new pair of ZPump 2.0 shoes.
Check out footage from the stunt here:

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Cloud Over Syria VR

Clouds Over Sidra Wins Sheffield Doc/Fest Award

Over the last six days Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015 has been taking place all over the UK city. The event is a celebration of documentaries of all kinds, hosting rare screenings, exclusive talks and more. The first few days even saw an impressive virtual reality (VR) ‘Arcade’ put on display, with nine unique experiences for attendees to try out. The event concludes with an awards ceremony which this year has recognised one of the stand out VR experiences of that VR Arcade, Clouds Over Sidra.

The short documentary, created by Chris Milk and Gabo Arora, has been awarded the prize in the Interactive category of this year’s show. It follows Sidra, a twelve year old girl that has fled her home in Syria due to the ongoing crisis and found herself in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp. It provides a brief glimpse at the day-to-day life that these refugees endure with narration from Sidra herself. Viewers are taken closer to the situation than a standard screen could ever convey, joining children at school and families as they gather round to eat.

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VR Kids

What’s the future of virtual reality?

It could take a decade before virtual reality headsets become cheap and portable enough to replace smartphones as the tech industry’s dominant computing platform, the founder of Oculus VR has warned.

Virtual reality is tipped to be one of the biggest themes of this week’s Consumer Electronics Show, with Sony, HTC and Facebook-owned Oculus all set to release their headsets in the first half of 2016.

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VR Race Image

The VR race

When it comes to emerging technologies, numerous tech companies appear to be eyeing virtual reality as a veritable New World ripe for plunder. The technology itself, of course, has existed for decades in one form or another; however, it’s only been able to offer little more than novel functionality for consumer-facing markets.

But VR tech has evolved dramatically in recent years and the industry is now heating up and heading towards a virtual arms race with 2016 now clearly the year that we’ll see the headsets in living rooms.

Companies like Samsung, Sony, Google and Oculus are now all names associated with VR for gaming, social and mobile platforms – and they’re all getting closer to bringing their products to market, but how fully realized will the products be?

Microsoft has its own offering evening the playing field with the HoloLens – which focuses on augmented reality, or holograms – leaving us to wonder whether will AR finally secure a place under the spotlight.

Let’s take a look at how the virtual competition stacks up so far.

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Disconnect: the VR age will be a dream…and a nightmare

2016 is clearly the year of VR. This year we’re finally getting commercial versions of the “big three” VR headsets: the Oculus Rift, the Valve/HTC Vive, and the PlayStation VR. Granted, they’re all ridiculously expensive. There’s not much content for them yet. This won’t be the year that VR goes mainstream, but it’ll be remembered as the year when things started getting serious. It may also be remembered as the year we see the first signs of some serious problems…

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