OK, it’s official — everyone hates San Francisco’s self-driving taxi fleet. Or at least so it seems, if this video of someone vandalizing a Cruise robotaxi is an accurate reflection of the public’s sentiment. We’ve been covering the increasingly fraught relationship between Cruise and San Franciscans for a while now — between their cabs crashing into semis and being used for — ahem — non-transportation purposes, then crashing into fire trucks and eventually having their test fleet cut in half by regulators, Cruise really seems to be taking it on the chin.
And now this video, which shows a wannabe Ninja going ham on a Cruise taxi stopped somewhere on the streets of San Francisco. It has to be said that the vandal doesn’t appear to be doing much damage with what looks like a mason’s hammer; except for the windshield and side glass and the driver-side mirror — superfluous for a self-driving car, one would think — the rest of the roof-mounted lidars and cameras seem to get off lightly. Either Cruise’s mechanical engineering is better than their software engineering, or the neo-Luddite lacks the upper body strength to do any serious damage. Or maybe both.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: September 17, 2023”
Most of us probably have a vision of how “The Robots” will eventually rise up and deal humanity out of the game. We’ve all seen that movie, of course, and know exactly what will happen when SkyNet becomes self-aware. But for those of you thinking we’ll get off relatively easy with a quick nuclear armageddon, we’re sorry to bear the news that AI seems to have other plans for us, at least if this report of dodgy AI-generated mushroom foraging manuals is any indication. It seems that Amazon is filled with publications these days that do a pretty good job of looking like they’re written by human subject matter experts, but are actually written by ChatGPT or similar tools. That may not be such a big deal when the subject matter concerns stamp collecting or needlepoint, but when it concerns differentiating edible fungi from toxic ones, that’s a different matter. The classic example is the Death Cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) which varies quite a bit in identifying characteristics like color and size, enough so that it’s often tough for expert mycologists to tell it apart from its edible cousins. Trouble is, when half a Death Cap contains enough toxin to kill an adult human, the margin for error is much narrower than what AI is likely to include in a foraging manual. So maybe that’s AI’s grand plan for humanity — just give us all really bad advice and let Darwin take care of the rest.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: September 10, 2023”
Right-to-repair has been a hot-button topic lately, with everyone from consumers to farmers pretty much united behind the idea that owning an item should come with a plausible path to getting it fixed if it breaks, or more specifically, that you shouldn’t be subject to prosecution for trying to repair your widget. Not everyone likes right-to-repair, of course — plenty of big corporations want to keep you from getting up close and personal with their intellectual property. Strangely enough, their ranks are now apparently joined by the Church of Scientology, who through a media outfit in charge of the accumulated works of Church founder L. Ron Hubbard are arguing against exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that make self-repair possible for certain classes of devices. They apparently want the exemption amended to not allow self-repair of any “software-powered devices that can only be purchased by someone with particular qualifications or training or that use software ‘governed by a license agreement negotiated and executed’ before purchase.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: September 3, 2023”
We mentioned last week how robotaxi provider Cruise was having a no-good, very bad week, after one of their driverless taxis picked a fight with a semi, and it was revealed that amorous San Franciscans were taking advantage of the privacy afforded by not having a driver in the front seat. It appears that we weren’t the only ones to notice all the bad news, since California’s Department of Motor Vehicles issued an order to the company to cut its robotaxi fleet in half. The regulatory move comes after a recent Cruise collision with a fire truck, which injured a passenger in the taxi. Curiously, the DMV order stipulates that Cruise can only operate 50 vehicles during the day, while allowing 150 vehicles at night. We’d have thought the opposite would make more sense, since driving at night is generally more difficult than during daylight hours. But perhaps the logic is that the streets are less crowded at night, whereas daytime is a more target-rich environment.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: August 27, 2023”
In some ways, we’ve become a little jaded when it comes to news from Mars, which almost always has to do with the Ingenuity helicopter completing yet another successful flight. And so it was with the report of flight number 54 — almost. It turns out that the previous flight, which was conducted on July 22, suffered a glitch that cut the flight short by forcing an immediate landing. We had either completely missed that in the news, or NASA wasn’t forthcoming with the news, perhaps until they knew more. But the details of the error are interesting and appear related to a glitch that happened 46 flights before, way back in May of 2021, that involves dropped frames from the video coming from the helicopter’s down-facing navigational camera. When this first cropped up back on flight six, it was only a couple of missed frames that nearly crashed the craft, thanks to confusion between the video stream and the inertial data. Flight engineers updated the aircraft’s software to allow for a little more flexibility with dropped frames, which worked perfectly up until the aborted flight 53.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: August 20, 2023”
Remember that time when the entire physics community dropped what it was doing to replicate the extraordinary claim that a room-temperature semiconductor had been discovered? We sure do, and if it seems like it was just yesterday, it’s probably because it pretty much was. The news of LK-99, a copper-modified lead apatite compound, hit at the end of July; now, barely three weeks later, comes news that not only is LK-99 not a superconductor, but that its resistivity at room temperature is about a billion times higher than copper. For anyone who rode the “cold fusion” hype train back in the late 1980s, LK-99 had a bit of code smell on it from the start. We figured we’d sit back and let science do what science does, and sure enough, the extraordinary claim seems not to be able to muster the kind of extraordinary evidence it needs to support it — with the significant caveat that a lot of the debunking papers –and indeed the original paper on LK-99 — seem still to be just preprints, and have not been peer-reviewed yet.
So what does all this mean? Sadly, probably not much. Despite the overwrought popular media coverage, a true room-temperature and pressure superconductor was probably not going to save the world, at least not right away. The indispensable Asianometry channel on YouTube did a great video on this. As always, his focus is on the semiconductor industry, so his analysis has to be viewed through that lens. He argues that room-temperature superconductors wouldn’t make much difference in semiconductors because the place where they’d most likely be employed, the interconnects on chips, will still have inductance and capacitance even if their resistance is zero. That doesn’t mean room-temperature superconductors wouldn’t be a great thing to have, of course; seems like they’d be revolutionary for power transmission if nothing else. But not so much for semiconductors, and certainly not today.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: August 13, 2023”
“Have you tried turning it off and on again?” is a common tech support maneuver that everyone already seems to know and apply to just about all the wonky tech in their life. But would you tell someone to apply it to a reservoir? Someone did, and with disastrous results, at least according to a report on the lead-up to the collapse of a reservoir in the city of Lewiston, Idaho — just across the Snake River from Clarkston, Washington; get it? According to the report, operators at the reservoir had an issue crop up that required a contractor to log into the SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system running the reservoir. The contractor’s quick log-in resulted in him issuing instructions to local staff to unplug the network cable on the SCADA controller and plug it back in. Somehow, that caused a variable in the SCADA system — the one storing the level of water in the reservoir — to get stuck at the current value. This made it appear that the water level was too low, which lead the SCADA system to keep adding water to the reservoir, which eventually collapsed.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: August 6, 2023”