Hawthorne approves dense apartment building, rejects appeals from SpaceX and Amazon – Daily Breeze

A hotly divided Hawthorne City Council traded accusations of corruption, conflict and collusion Tuesday night before approving a dense apartment building that will share a corner with SpaceX, an Amazon delivery hub and other industry, despite strong opposition from those companies.

The council voted 3-2 to allow Blackwood Real Estate to erect 230 small apartments on Crenshaw Boulevard at Jack Northrop Avenue. The six-story project will occupy a rectangular 2.5-acre lot that will also include a restaurant and walking paths.

The so-called “Green Line” development, which needed waivers from the city because it violates several zoning restrictions, was sold as a modern, transit-oriented project by virtue of its location one-half mile from a Green Line station.

City Council supporters — Angie English, Haidar Awad and Olivia Valentine — also refused to allow a second public comment period to hear from representatives from Amazon, SpaceX and the railroad that runs directly behind the property who wanted to speak in opposition.

Mayor Alex Vargas and Councilman Nilo Michelin strongly opposed the development, and the city’s planning director raised several concerns about its incompatibility with city land uses. The project provides fewer parking spaces than the city normally requires, and apartments are smaller than Municipal Code allows. Residents there also will be subject to noise and emissions from the 24-hour industrial operations next to them.

“For me, change is not more apartments. It’s more aerospace companies,” Michelin said. “I was not elected to passively defend developers. We don’t need more apartments.”

Before the vote, council members accused one another of corruption.

Vargas said English’s proposal in September to reduce the apartment density from 274 units to 230 units was suspicious.

“Why are some council members entering into unilateral negotiations with the developer?” Vargas said. “We were prohibited from talking to the developer. Who chose that 230 number? Why not 150? Why not 80?”

English shot back: “Since (Vargas) put it out there, there’s a lot to be said. There’s also been collusion on his part. I want to know from the planning director how many times the mayor has been in contact with you. The bull has to stop.”

English also accused the nonprofit Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. of unethical behavior for opposing the deal.

“There’s a conflict with LAEDC and SpaceX,” she said. “SpaceX is a member of LAEDC, so of course they would be here to benefit SpaceX. They’re colluding to make efforts to trash this project.”

Valentine also said she believes it’s “very suspicious” that SpaceX and the LAEDC were in opposition because “this (apartment building) will make the area attractive for commercial development.”

Lilian Haney, community relations manager at SpaceX, asked the council to reopen a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, saying the rocket maker is concerned about the safety of homes so close to its headquarters.

“We do not think this project proposed is correct for this space,” Haney said.

Judy Kruger, a director at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., said the city should declare the area an aerospace park rather than building housing in an industrial area.

“Industrial land is employment land, and a critical factor in growing an industry such as aerospace,” Kruger said. “Jobs in industrial parks support high-paying jobs. Industrial land availability rates around the region are only at 1 or 2 percent and we don’t need to lose any more industrial property.”

But supporters said Blackwood’s project is the kind of modern, forward-thinking development that Hawthorne needs.

Kyle Orlemann, vice chairwoman of the city’s veterans affairs commission, said she would like to move to a place like the Green Line project when she gets older.

“The city is changing and, yes, we have a lot of rental units here,” Orlemann said. However, we have a lot of traffic. The city is going to be a model where people live near where they work. (Renters there) can certainly walk to Lowe’s and that development and take cars off the street. Using public transportation is the way of the future.”

Dense apartment buildings are a particularly sore issue in the city because, in the 1970s and ’80s, developers concentrated such projects in the crime-ridden Moneta Gardens neighborhood.

“We do have a lot of apartments,” said Alex Monteiro, a principal of Moneta Gardens Improvement Inc. “We have 70 percent renters. We need more homes and condominiums for sale, not for rent.”

Resident Andrea Santana accused Awad of having a conflict of interest because his father, who operates a used-car dealership and financing business, owns undeveloped land in the city. She has previously brought up concerns about whether the Blackwood deal will open the door to similar lucrative deals involving dense  apartment buildings.

Awad responded that he will make his personal finances public.

“I am clean,” Awad said. “When you’re clean, you have no fear of what’s in the shadows.”

Google is building a smart screen competitor to Amazon’s Echo Show


Multiple sources tell TechCrunch that Google is building a tabletop smart screen for video calling and more that will compete with Amazon’s Echo Show. The device could help Google keep up in the race for the smart home market after Amazon just revealed a slew of new Echos and as Facebook continues to work on its codename “Aloha” video calling screen.

Two sources confirm to TechCrunch that the Google device has been internally codenamed “Manhattan” and will have a similar screen size to the 7-inch Echo Show. One source received info directly from a Google employee. Both sources say the device will offer YouTube, Google Assistant, Google Photos and video calling. It will also act as a smart hub that can control Nest and other smart home devices.

Our sources say that Google previously was working on products with larger screens that would compete with full-sized televisions, but it’s now more focused on the Manhattan device. We’re told that the original target launch date was mid-2018. But due to the Echo Show there’s intense internal pressure to get this launched in 2017, though it may still end up released in 2018. That’s because there are a ton of moving parts to establishing the smart hub partnerships, plus it’s exploring the possibility of service partnerships with Best Buy Geek Squad and Enjoy for home installation.

Amazon’s Echo Show allows video calling

Our sources say that the device will run a version of Android, making it easier for third-parties to build apps for it. One app the team is particularly interested in seeing run on the device is Netflix, though that’s not confirmed yet.

It’s unclear what the price of the device will be or what exactly it will look like. The image up top is just a TechCrunch-made mock-up based on the Echo Show. Google did not respond to a request for comment before press time, but we’ll update if we hear back. Google does have a hardware event on October 4th, though there’s no indication that we’ll hear more about this device then.

Why Google Needs A Smart Hub Screen

The inclusion of YouTube on the Manhattan device gives more clarity to why Google recently pulled YouTube off the Echo Show. At the time, Amazon told The Verge “Google has chosen to no longer make YouTube available on Echo Show, without explanation and without notification to customers. There is no technical reason for that decision”.

Google responded that “Amazon’s implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show violates our terms of service, creating a broken user experience”. The Echo Show didn’t have all the subscriptions and video recommendations YouTube may believe are critical. It seems Google is willing to sacrifice added reach for YouTube to protect its integrity…especially when its own similar device where it controls the experience is on the way.

The existing Google Home lacks a screen

There are plenty of other reasons for Google to launch a smart screen.

  • It’s another way to get Google Assistant into people’s homes, which Google wants to become the voice operating system for your life.
  • It’s a vector for Google’s video chat apps like Duo and Hangouts. The tabletop form-factor could be popular with kids and seniors who might be less comfortable with a phone or traditional computer, and would appeal families who want to see each other while catching up.
  • It could allow Google to become the center of people’s growing array of smart home devices. Typically these gadgets require a hub or bridge that connects to ethernet or Wifi and then beams connectivity to the wireless devices, but having different hubs for every device can be annoying. A Google-made omni-hub that worked with many different partners could simplify set up, lock in Google as an essential part of the smart home, and compete with Amazon’s new Echo Plus hub.
  • It creates a new surface for experiencing the company’s other products like Google Photos, which could get a growth boost as people see the device running as a digital photo frame and want to download the app powering it. This could also be a differentiator from Amazon since the competitor’s Prime Photos service isn’t nearly as popular as Google Photos

Essentially, there are few reasons for Google not to launch this. It already has Google Wifi units, Google Home smart speakers, and Chromecasts. But what’s lacking is a screen and smart hub. The Manhattan device would perfectly complement Google’s existing offering. Finally, a smart screen would help the company keep up with Amazon’s Echo team that seems hellbent on leaving Google in the dust.

Googler Susanna Kohly on “building digital bridges” in Cuba, her family’s homeland

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re celebrating the fascinating stories and important contributions of our Hispanic Googlers. Over the course of the month, we’ll share a bit about their histories, their families, and what keeps them busy inside and outside of work. First up is Susanna Kohly, builder of “digital bridges,” San Francisco resident and mother of two boys (and mini Instagram celebrities).

Give us the ten-second, one-sentence version of what you do at Google.

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Here’s Susanna in Old Havana during a work trip this year.

My job has two parts (so I might need 20 seconds!). I work on the Hispanic Marketing team to help the 57 million U.S. Hispanics connect with Google as a company. Inspired by my Cuban heritage, I also co-founded Google Cuba, a team that brings greater access to connectivity, new technologies, and Google products to Cuba to “build digital bridges” between Cuba and the rest of the world.

When did you (or generations before you) immigrate to the U.S.?

I am a product of the Cuban diaspora. My mother is American, my father was born in Cuba, and I was born in Miami. I grew up speaking two languages, blending between two cultures and nationalities, so I understand the ambiguity of identity—how you can belong and not belong at the same time. This has helped me adapt to different environments and given me the ability to blend in, to understand, and to empathize. Growing up around other people who had left everything to make a new life for their families, I became obsessed with my own family’s story, Cuban history, and politics. I started reading and taking courses—anything I could learn that would make me feel closer to my heritage and where I came from.

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

2017-09-14 11.55.39 1.jpg

My Abuela (translation: grandmother) Carmen

My abuela Carmen—a mother of eight, an immigrant, and the matriarch of our family. Upon leaving Cuba, she sold every valuable thing she owned (including her wedding ring!) to provide for her family and put her kids through school. She worked three jobs, learned English, and has never complained about what she lost. Growing up, she told me stories of survival, and instilled in me a notion of hard work and sacrifice.  

I’m grateful to Google for giving me the opportunity to work on projects that bridge generations of Cuban people. My hope is that my two sons will have a sense of their own Cuban identity, just like my abuela made sure I had.  

Tell us about something you’re proud of doing at Google

In December 2016, I accompanied our Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt to Havana to sign the first-ever internet deal between Cuba and a U.S. internet company. The deal represented a barrier that hadn’t been bridged in more than five decades. I remember standing in the press room before the announcement, running on pure adrenaline and too much café Cubano. Despite our sheer exhaustion, the team was proud to help  to help set a precedent that will  hopefully open the door for more commercial and cultural exchanges between our two countries.

Like many Cuban-Americans, I feel a responsibility to reconnect with the island that our grandparents left. I’m a firm believer that we can grow stronger by working together as opposed to growing apart in isolation.

Like many Cuban-Americans, I have a responsibility to reconnect with the island that our forefathers left. I am a firm believer that we can grow stronger by working together.

Hawthorne not ready to green-light dense apartment building near SpaceX, Amazon



An extremely dense apartment building proposed for a site near SpaceX’s rocket manufacturing headquarters and a new Amazon delivery hub in Hawthorne provoked passionate arguments from supporters and critics this week before city leaders sidestepped a final decision.

After residents debated the issue for an hour Tuesday night, the City Council decided to more thoroughly study the proposal before revisiting the project on Sept. 26

“Approval of this project would set a precedent which would open the door to other developers who will seek to obtain density similar to this project,” resident Andrea Santana said. “The complex would place 274 rental units on less than 3 acres of land. It would increase traffic and congestion along already congested Crenshaw Boulevard and 120th Street.”

Virginia-based Blackwood Real Estate argues that the development is a perfect example of the kind of transit-oriented housing development needed across the region. It would be on Crenshaw Boulevard between El Segundo Boulevard and 120th Street, just south of the 105 Freeway.

“This is the type of high-quality housing we’ve been waiting for,” said resident Jason Gromski. “This is resort-style living, transit-oriented, popular with young professionals. We shouldn’t be held to the sins of the past and hold ourselves down.”

‘More traffic’

The six-story apartment project would include one ground-level restaurant and a public plaza. But, among other diversions from city code, its commercial portion would be only 8 percent of the overall development rather than the 40 percent required for mixed-use developments.

“I hate to rain on the parade but I disagree with this project,” resident Leatrice Tanner Brown said. “Just consider there is going to be so much more traffic and so many more people here.”

Dubbed the Green Line Mixed-Use Project because it’s a half-mile from a Metro transit facility, the site also is walking distance to Hawthorne Municipal Airport, Target, Lowe’s, PetSmart, 9 to 5 Seating, and other commercial and industrial businesses. The rear abuts active railroad tracks and the Dominguez Channel.

“I’ve long said to members of this council that area needs some type of development and I welcome this project,” said the Rev. John Jefferson, pastor of Del Aire Baptist Church. “Our community needs a complete overhaul and makeover.”

SpaceX officials, however, said the industrial location is not suitable for housing.

“While we do believe there is an absolute need for affordable housing in the city of Hawthorne, we do not think that this specific site is the place for it,” said Brett Horton, SpaceX’s senior director of facilities and construction.

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Amazon is now completing its delivery hub — a warehouse and shipping facility — at Crenshaw and El Segundo boulevards.

Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, whose district includes Hawthorne, Los Angeles International Airport, and Inglewood, sent a representative to express her support at the meeting.

“At this critical moment during our regional housing crisis, I applaud your vision in moving this project forward,” Burke wrote in a letter to council members. “Being less than one-half mile from Crenshaw Line station, projects like (this) allow for less vehicle traffic and more utilization of light-rail alternative transportation.”

New standards

The city’s Planning Commission approved the plan in July on a 3-1 vote.

But Planning Director Brian James has carefully outlined its dramatic changes from existing policy — triple the amount of density allowed, smaller unit sizes and balconies, reduced parking spaces and exposure to noise and odors from nearby industry.

“There’s been talk about a transit-oriented development,” James said. “These are basically employment or housing centers within walking distance of a transit station — it’s not just housing near transit. It can be jobs or a mixture. The goal is to increase mobility.

“The question you need to ask yourselves is: Is this project an acceptable trade-off for the loss of industrial-designated lands and the economic loss those represent,” James said.

Though the routine sounds of truck traffic, overhead aircraft, and trains aren’t the most welcoming neighbors, Blackwood officials said it’s the way of the future for dense urban areas.

“The arts district in Los Angeles is probably one of the most expensive places to rent in L.A. right now,” said Blackwood representative Gilad Ganish. “It’s a cool mix of restaurants, breweries, industrial, commercial, creative and residential. This is an area very similar in characteristics.”

But former Mayor Larry Guidi said all the round-the-clock trucking operations nearby would make for a terrible place to live.

“If you had any common sense, you would know that’s an industrial zone,” Guidi told the council. “SpaceX is against it. Our mozzarella factory has no interest in it. You need to stop it. You need to end it.”

Developer perks

To sweeten the deal, Blackwood has promised to pay for at least $100,000 in public art projects along Crenshaw, near the 105 Freeway. The company also said the project would generate $400,000 in city revenue annually and $11 million over 20 years.

New residents would be offered two years of free Metro passes and Zipcar car-sharing services. The address also would be a designated pick-up and drop-off zone for ride-hailing services Lyft and Uber.

“I would not be speaking against this project if it was (houses), but these are apartments,” said resident Mario Chiappe. “The problem we have here is mainly from high-density apartments. We have 82 police in this city. So what do you expect with this development?”

Councilwoman Angie English said the proximity to industry shouldn’t be a concern.

“If people are looking at the area for a potential lease or potential living, they would make their due diligence by looking at where they’re at with regard to the rail right next to them and any other issues,” English said. “I’m sure these people would know whether or not this is a fit for them.”

Portugal is building a startup mega campus in Lisbon | VentureBeat | Entrepreneur

Last June I wrote about Portugal’s thriving scaleup ecosystem, which is growing twice as fast as the European average. Since then, I’ve actually relocated my VR startup to Portugal and so have an even better view of the ecosystem now.

I wrote last year about how the country’s capital, Lisbon, successfully turned its economic troubles into an opportunity to reinvent itself as a European hub for creative and tech startups. Scores of accelerators, incubators, coworking spaces, and repurposed structures have popped up as a result. And that trend appears only to be accelerating.

In fact, these repurposed structures are now taking center stage, particularly because their scale and scope are playing an increasingly significant role in helping to position cities as attractive hubs for international and local startups to hang their hats.

In Portugal’s case, these are typically old, abandoned, and derelict buildings that have lost their way with the passage of time but that now have new purpose thanks to the startup bug that the whole country has caught. More often than not the repurposing of these buildings has resulted in immediate job creation, but it has also triggered a butterfly effect of urban revitalization that progressively uplifts entire neighborhoods, districts, and inevitably the city and country at large.

National and local government agencies now see every underdeveloped area or decaying building as a potential opportunity for economic improvement. And the biggest project on the list is a 20-building complex of factories in Lisbon’s Beato district, a once iconic industrial zone on the Tagus river. The neigborhood is already on the rise, with a growing community of creative businesses and a craft beer scene. But the factory complex, formerly tasked with producing food for the Portuguese army, is being remade into a mega campus for startups. At 35,000 square meters in its first phase alone, the hub will rival Station F in Paris. The second phase will up that figure to 100,000 square meters.

They’re calling it the Hub Criativo do Beato, or the Beato Creative Hub. [Full discosure: I have no involvement with the Beato project.]

Above: Factory at the Hub Criativo do Beato (photo credit: Martin Dobbeck)

The city of Lisbon is well acquainted with how effective rehabilitation projects of this sort can be, especially when the renovation keeps the soul of the structure intact by respectfully blending its historical aspects with its modern mission. There are precedents like the LX Factory in the district of Alcântara, a former fabric factory that was left neglected and forgotten until after the recession when the area became an ideal locale for creative types.

“We believe that the Hub Criativo do Beato, where we want the most innovative and creative projects to be established, can contribute in a decisive way to the revitalization of this important neighborhood that is in need of a new social and economic boost,” Miguel Fontes, CEO of Startup Lisboa, told me via email.

“We estimate that HCB can be responsible for the creation of more than 3,000 jobs,” Fontes said.

The mammoth venture includes an initial partnership between the Lisbon Municipality, Startup Lisboa, and Berlin-based hub-builder Factory, which will unveil its own 11,000 square meter building as part of the project by late 2018. The team at Factory, which plans to invest €5-10 million ($5.85-11.7 million) in the project, knows well the impact that the latest hub could have on the surrounding area. It has built out a number of similar projects on properties in Berlin, a city that shares some parallels with Lisbon’s journey.

Above: External rendering of factory at the Hub Criativo do Beato (Image credit: Julian Breinersdorfer)

“We’ve watched our first two campuses serve as a catalyst for the neighborhoods around them. Each have been previously unoccupied buildings (often derelict and hideous to be honest!) that we filled with innovative startups, tech companies, creatives, and freelancers. So, essentially what you are doing is bringing 500+ international, forward-thinking individuals to a neighborhood, all of whom choose to go out to lunch, grab a coffee or a quick snack at a convenient store, and even potentially they are choosing to live nearby,” Jeremy Bamberg, Head of Internationalization at Factory, told me.

“Entrepreneurship is serving as a driver for neighborhoods like these, and money is being redistributed into existing businesses within [these neighborhoods]. In our first year of operation at our first campus, for example, the companies inside raised over $160 million, and of course a lot of that money is being redistributed throughout the neighborhood and the wider city,” he said.

It became glaringly obvious during my call with Bamberg (who happens to be an Ashoka fellow if that suggests anything) that he and his team are deeply committed to making a wider social and urban impact than refurbishing and repurposing buildings.

“That’s of course a lot of responsibility on us as a concept, but I do believe it should be our jobs to make sure we get the right-minded people into the building and then build initiatives that go beyond closed techies meetups, conferences, and beer and pizza. What about coding lessons for kids in the district, tours of the neighborhood, trips to the existing businesses or breweries that have been in the neighborhood for years, etc. It’s, of course, a collective effort, but we [Factory] hope to play a large role in it. And I think for us we will learn a lot from this phase and hope to implement our learnings in other cities,” he told me.

Above: Internal rendering of factory at the Hub Criativo do Beato (Image credit: Julian Breinersdorfer)

The word on the street is that Factory, which will be the main startup and tech office in the entire project, is currently in talks with potential tenants like the Web Summit, which relocated its massive tech conference to Lisbon last year, and Mercedes-Benz, which opened its Digital Delivery Hub in the city last May. Other players at the Hub Criativo de Beato have yet to be announced, although we do know that Portuguese beer brand Super Bock will be opening an event space and microbrewery to help get the party started.

Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh is founder of Virtuleap, a sandbox for developers to showcase their VR concepts and host of the WebVR Hackathon. He is also the European Partner at Edoramedia, a games publisher and digital agency with its headquarters in Dubai.

Building for Daydream gets easier with new tools

With Daydream, our goal is to enable developers to build high-quality mobile VR experiences. We’re always trying to make the development process easier and more efficient, helping you focus on innovation by providing tools to optimize your apps, interactions, and workflow. With that in mind, we have some new updates and features for our tools.

Performance HUD

We built the Daydream Performance Heads-up Display (HUD), so you can easily monitor key performance metrics in VR, without removing your headset. With the Performance HUD, you get at-a-glance visibility into information about frame rate, process memory usage, thermal throttling status, and platform-specific metrics. So whether you’re an artist understanding how your assets are affecting performance, an engineer checking how your rendering parameters are affecting frame rate, or doing QA checks for issues and regressions, the Performance HUD makes it much easier to see what you need while working in VR.

PerfHud

Three new Daydream Elements

VR development is evolving rapidly, and we’re continuing to work on new ways to address its physiological, ergonomic, and technical challenges. Daydream Elements is a collection of tested solutions that showcases best practices for immersive design. You can check out the first six Elements here, and this release adds three more.

Great mechanics for object manipulation are key for making a VR experience feel immersive. This demo shows how developers can simulate weight on objects to make them feel lighter or heavier, and how to tune hinges and sliders so they behave in ways that feel natural for common interactions like opening doors and closing drawers.

ObjectManipDDE

The Constellation menu demonstrates a gesture-based interaction model that helps users navigate deep information hierarchies in a simple, responsive way. This helps with item inventories, file directories, and enterprise applications with large feature or data sets.

ConstGif

The Arm Model demo shows how you can use mathematical arm models to approximate the physical location of the Daydream controller in VR. You can then simulate the interactions of a fully tracked (rotation and translation) controller with a controller that only tracks rotation. Tuning custom arm models from scratch can be a complex process, but when done correctly, the arm model provides a fluid and natural interface for a wide range of different gestures. This demo includes a number of custom models specifically tuned to simulate different types of controller interactions.

armModelB03

Making Instant Preview even smoother

Instant Preview lets you make changes in Unity or Unreal editor previews and see them reflected instantly in VR, on device, skipping the need to compile and re-deploy projects to see a new change. This enables more efficient development and tight iteration cycles. With the V1.1 release for Unity, Instant Preview is even faster, smoother and easier to use.

In addition to being able to connect over USB, you can also now connect your phone to the PC via WiFi.

InstantP

New support for Metal on OSX makes Instant Preview run even better, giving developers a noticeably smoother experience on Mac. V1.1 also includes lots of other little goodies like controller emulator compatibility, the ability to see the controller battery level on the rendered controller, and a new streamlined setup process that lets you auto-push the APK to your phone and get started with Instant Preview immediately.

You can check all these tools out on the Google VR developer site, and we look forward to your feedback and input.

Why I’m Leaning Towards an Xbox One X Rather Than Building a PC

Now that I’ve entered the world of 4K – or more importantly High Dynamic Range (or HDR) – for both my living room and office space, I’ve spent the last two weeks searching for the best way to put this display technology through it paces. As it turns out, both film and TV still leave much to be desired in regards to the amount of HDR content available and, had it not been for the fact that we use multiple streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Google Play Movies in my household, my options for content would have been pretty slim pickings.

After doing more digging, I’ve come to the conclusion that, surprise: video games are likely what’s going to push these newer display technologies going forward.

Coincidentally, this year we’ll have two 4K HDR capable consoles that can provide this new, higher fidelity experience. As a current PS4 Pro owner, it has been a treat to finally see what HDR is all about, especially in games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Ratchet and Clank. Like many, I initially thought “what’s the big deal of having a wide color gamut?” But, now that I have compatible HDR displays, I realize how big of a difference it actually is.

Unfortunately, just like film and TV mentioned above, gaming content also has left something to be desired as there’s a very specific list of games that will receive (or have received) significant “Pro” updates on PS4. If I’m going to maximize on my recent investments, I’m going to need to spread my wings and open up to more platforms.

To do so, I am left with two options: the first is a high-performance gaming PC, and the second is an Xbox One X.

Since E3 2017, I’ve been watching the Xbox team very closely. The Xbox One X unveiling left something to be desired following their big E3 press conference: the messaging was a little muddled, and we didn’t really know what many of those “Xbox One X Enhanced” notations actually meant. A lot of games were shown, but many questions were still left on the table. 

Thankfully, much of that changed during Gamescom in August, as the team put together a more cohesive vision than just “it will play better on Xbox.” That being said, a PC was still a very viable option.

After initial deliberation, I decided “you know what: I’ve been putting off the PC gaming thing for so long.” There are Xbox titles I want to play (like Sea of Thieves): “it’s time to put together a build.” I reached out to three resident PC gamers on staff for build advice, and what they told me caught me completely off-guard.

The first person I went to was my fellow co-founder, Yaris Gutierrez: someone who, as long as I remember (and we literally grew up together), has always been “working on a new rig.” I mentioned to him what I wanted to do: namely build a system around a GTX 1080Ti (for the long haul), and go from there. He said, “dude, I love PC and cranking games up to max settings while tinkering with all of the options, but there’s other factors that come with it.”

Why I’m Leaning Towards an Xbox One X Rather Than Building a PC

He then went into a 10-minute diatribe that mentioned things like “warranties on hardware, thermal paste, overheating, and maintenance.” Yaris capped off his part of the conversation with “if I were you, I’d just get the Xbox One X.” He added, “[on PC] max settings is great, but max settings will be max settings for only so long. If you were the younger you, who loved to tinker, I’d say go for it. But we’re old now [laughs] and sometimes we just want it easy. Enjoy your HDR and performance with the ease of plug-and-play.”

I trust Yaris’ word. I mean I have to: we’re family, after all. But I needed more opinions. I reached out to our Executive News Editor Giuseppe Nelva, who has been a PC gamer for as long as I’ve known him. I mentioned to him that if I went ahead with building a machine, I’d have someone like Yaris configure said build for me. He replied that “having someone initially configure a PC for you does not mean that it’s gonna be a hassle-free experience from then on. I don’t know if you’re the kind of gamer who cares to deal with that in the long run.” At this point he’s mentioning more maintenance: yuck. But the man knows his audience.

Switching things up on Giuseppe, I replied “OK, that’s your recommendation based on what you know of me. What if it was you?” Giuseppe quickly replied with “Well, I buy all platforms. If I had to choose one, and I was you — with limited time and patience — I’d probably go with a console.” He then continued “ultimately, PC is the best if you have the time and patience to enjoy its deepest perks, like modding and min-maxing visual options to get every bit of power juiced out of the hardware and onto the screen. As far as I know you, you have neither [the time or the patience].” Mind you, this conversation is happening through text on Discord, but I’m literally gasping at this point. This was totally not what I was expecting. Giuseppe was our PC gaming department for quite some time: the fact that this insight was coming from him was eye-opening.

Why I’m Leaning Towards an Xbox One X Rather Than Building a PC

At this point I’m losing hope, so for one last ditch effort, I consult our Features Editor, Ryan: someone who has embraced the PC culture more recently of the three. He gave me some of what I wanted to hear, by saying “Personally, I see the PC as a better investment long-term since (inevitably) it can surpass what the Xbox One X can do.” He then added that it’s a matter of “higher initial investment, but long-term benefits.” He then highlighted the cheaper games and better technical performance, but then closed with “but the Xbox One X offers the convenience of a console.” Dammit Ryan. You were my last hope.

I went into this fully understanding the monetary investment needed into building a decent gaming machine, which is (more-or-less) around $1,200-$1,500. But I’m being given reasons, by PC gamers, as to why I shouldn’t. I wanted to become a PC gamer, and my family and friends won’t let me.

On paper, opting for a Windows PC build has its clear advantages. On the hardware side, I can build the machine that I can afford (or not afford, if you ask my wife): a machine that I can customize down to the most granular components and details. On the software side, I would be able to apply custom mods and other optimizations that likely will never see the light of day on any console, not even “the world’s most powerful” one.

Sea of Thieves

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s one major point working in the favor of the Xbox One X (outside of its simpler environment) that PC doesn’t have a counter-argument to: third-party deals. While both Sony and Microsoft hustle with third-party publishers to get this or that exclusive content, and the best optimization for their consoles, no one is really waving the PC flag in that regard. This means that when there is some exclusive content for either console, odds are that with PC I would be missing out on that content all together (or wait much longer for it).

On top of that, many publishers frankly treat PC gamers as third-class citizens, with poor optimization and often insufficient QA, that repeatedly results in games that don’t really take advantage of the horsepower of the machines they run on. On the other hand, when developers do take their time to properly optimize, games release weeks or even months later than their console counterparts, Destiny 2 being a recent example that comes to mind.

I’ve already (rather vocally) planted my flag in regards to resolutions not mattering to me anymore: the Switch reminded me of that earlier this year. Yet, HDR is another pair of sleeves entirely: thanks to PS4 Pro, I have seen the difference with my own eyes those beautiful colors can make, and it’s hard to go back now.

Why I’m Leaning Towards an Xbox One X Rather Than Building a PC

It isn’t just a matter of counting pixels: there will be plenty of games that will feature enhanced frame rates or dedicated modes that let you trade off some resolution for more fluid or stable performance (a feature that I enjoyed in Horizon: Zero Dawn). That doesn’t just make the game look prettier, but it directly influences gameplay, and I can relate to that. Granted, a PC and its generally unlocked frame rates can potentially offer even more flexibility in that regard, but it normally requires the user to do a lot more than simply select between two options to get the desired result.

With all the extras and asterisks that apply to building a PC (and maintaining one), it’s looking like the Xbox One X is the way I need to go if I want to scratch that HDR itch, along with performance and gameplay (or dare I say, experience) enhancements.

After all, since I already have a PS4 Pro, I’m able to enjoy all the amazing Sony exclusives, and adding an Xbox One X to the stable will let me play those from the other side of the trench. With the best of both worlds achieved, all I’ll have to do is pick and choose the option offering the highest performance games for any enhanced third-party games I want to play.

Of course, your own mileage may vary. If you prefer a gaming PC and have the time and patience to take advantage of its many perks, that’s great. I might even get around to putting one together myself sometime in the future. But for me, as of now, I’m leaning towards an Xbox One. Ultimately, this is probably the best part of it all: we live and play in an era in which there is no wrong choice, and that’s fantastic.

The boring future we’re building? (from boring tunnels): Elon Musk

Elon Musk discusses his new project digging tunnels under LA, the latest from Tesla and SpaceX and his motivation for building a future on Mars in conversation with TED’s Head Curator, Chris Anderson

Elon Musk. Serial entrepreneur is the CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors and the CEO/CTO of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). Full bio

Chris Anderson CA: Elon, hey, welcome back to TED. It’s great to have you here. In the next half hour or so, we’re going to spend some time exploring your vision for what an exciting future might look like, which I guess makes the first question a little ironic: Why are you boring?

0:32 Elon Musk EM: I ask myself that frequently. We’re trying to dig a hole under LA, and this is to create the beginning of what will hopefully be a 3D network of tunnels to alleviate congestion. So right now, one of the most soul-destroying things is traffic. It affects people in every part of the world. It takes away so much of your life. It’s horrible. It’s particularly horrible in LA.

CA: I think you’ve brought with you the first visualization that’s been shown of this. Can I show this?

EM: Yeah, absolutely. So this is the first time — Just to show what we’re talking about. So a couple of key things that are important in having a 3D tunnel network. First of all, you have to be able to integrate the entrance and exit of the tunnel seamlessly into the fabric of the city. So by having an elevator, sort of a car skate, that’s on an elevator, you can integrate the entrance and exits to the tunnel network just by using two parking spaces. And then the car gets on a skate.

There’s no speed limit here, so we’re designing this to be able to operate at 200 kilometers an hour. So you should be able to get from, say, Westwood to LAX in six minutes — five, six minutes.

 CA: So possibly, initially done, it’s like on a sort of toll road-type basis.

 EM: Yeah.  I don’t know if people noticed it in the video, but there’s no real limit to how many levels of tunnel you can have. You can go much further deep than you can go up. The deepest mines are much deeper than the tallest buildings are tall, so you can alleviate any arbitrary level of urban congestion with a 3D tunnel network. This is a very important point.

So a key rebuttal to the tunnels is that if you add one layer of tunnels, that will simply alleviate congestion, it will get used up, and then you’ll be back where you started, back with congestion. But you can go to any arbitrary number of tunnels, any number of levels.

CA: But people — seen traditionally, it’s incredibly expensive to dig, and that would block this idea.

EM: Yeah. Well, they’re right. To give you an example, the LA subway extension, which is — I think it’s a two-and-a-half mile extension that was just completed for two billion dollars. So it’s roughly a billion dollars a mile to do the subway extension in LA. And this is not the highest utility subway in the world. So yeah, it’s quite difficult to dig tunnels normally. I think we need to have at least a tenfold improvement in the cost per mile of tunneling.

Actually, if you just do two things, you can get to approximately an order of magnitude improvement, and I think you can go beyond that. So the first thing to do is to cut the tunnel diameter by a factor of two or more. So a single road lane tunnel according to regulations has to be 26 feet, maybe 28 feet in diameter to allow for crashes and emergency vehicles and sufficient ventilation for combustion engine cars.

But if you shrink that diameter to what we’re attempting, which is 12 feet, which is plenty to get an electric skate through, you drop the diameter by a factor of two and the cross-sectional area by a factor of four, and the tunneling cost scales with the cross-sectional area.

So that’s roughly a half-order of magnitude improvement right there. Then tunneling machines currently tunnel for half the time, then they stop, and then the rest of the time is putting in reinforcements for the tunnel wall.

 if you design the machine instead to do continuous tunneling and reinforcing, that will give you a factor of two improvement. Combine that and that’s a factor of eight. Also these machines are far from being at their power or thermal limits, so you can jack up the power to the machine substantially.

I think you can get at least a factor of two, maybe a factor of four or five improvement on top of that. So I think there’s a fairly straightforward series of steps to get somewhere in excess of an order of magnitude improvement in the cost per mile, and our target actually is — we’ve got a pet snail called Gary, this is from Gary the snail from “South Park,” I mean, sorry, “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

So Gary is capable of — currently he’s capable of going 14 times faster than a tunnel-boring machine. He’s not a patient little fellow, and that will be victory. Victory is beating the snail.

CA: But a lot of people imagining, dreaming about future cities, they imagine that actually the solution is flying cars, drones, etc. You go aboveground. Why isn’t that a better solution? You save all that tunneling cost.

6:09 EM: Right. I’m in favor of flying things. Obviously, I do rockets, so I like things that fly. This is not some inherent bias against flying things, but there is a challenge with flying cars in that they’ll be quite noisy, the wind force generated will be very high. Let’s just say that if something’s flying over your head, a whole bunch of flying cars going all over the place, that is not an anxiety-reducing situation.

You don’t think to yourself, “Well, I feel better about today.” You’re thinking, “Did they service their hubcap, or is it going to come off and guillotine me?” Things like that.

CA: So you’ve got this vision of future cities with these rich, 3D networks of tunnels underneath. Is there a tie-in here with Hyperloop? Could you apply these tunnels to use for this Hyperloop idea you released a few years ago.

7:13 EM: Yeah, so we’ve been sort of puttering around with the Hyperloop stuff for a while. We built a Hyperloop test track adjacent to SpaceX, just for a student competition, to encourage innovative ideas in transport. And it actually ends up being the biggest vacuum chamber in the world after the Large Hadron Collider, by volume.

So it was quite fun to do that, but it was kind of a hobby thing, and then we think we might — so we’ve built a little pusher car to push the student pods, but we’re going to try seeing how fast we can make the pusher go if it’s not pushing something. So we’re cautiously optimistic we’ll be able to be faster than the world’s fastest bullet train even in a .8-mile stretch. It’s either going to smash into tiny pieces or go quite fast.

8:20 CA: But you can picture, then, a Hyperloop in a tunnel running quite long distances.

8:26 EM: Exactly. And looking at tunneling technology, it turns out that in order to make a tunnel, you have to — In order to seal against the water table, you’ve got to typically design a tunnel wall to be good to about five or six atmospheres. So to go to vacuum is only one atmosphere, or near-vacuum. So actually, it sort of turns out that automatically, if you build a tunnel that is good enough to resist the water table, it is automatically capable of holding vacuum.

CA: And so you could actually picture, what kind of length tunnel is in Elon’s future to running Hyperloop?

9:12 EM: I think there’s no real length limit. You could dig as much as you want. I think if you were to do something like a DC-to-New York Hyperloop, I think you’d probably want to go underground the entire way because it’s a high-density area. You’re going under a lot of buildings and houses, and if you go deep enough, you cannot detect the tunnel.

Sometimes people think, well, it’s going to be pretty annoying to have a tunnel dug under my house. Like, if that tunnel is dug more than about three or four tunnel diameters beneath your house, you will not be able to detect it being dug at all. In fact, if you’re able to detect the tunnel being dug, whatever device you are using, you can get a lot of money for that device from the Israeli military, who is trying to detect tunnels from Hamas, and from the US Customs and Border patrol that try and detect drug tunnels.

So the reality is that earth is incredibly good at absorbing vibrations, and once the tunnel depth is below a certain level, it is undetectable. Maybe if you have a very sensitive seismic instrument, you might be able to detect it.

10:28 CA: So you’ve started a new company to do this called The Boring Company. Very nice. Very funny.  How much of your time is this?

10:42 EM: It’s maybe … two or three percent.

10:48 CA: You’ve bought a hobby. This is what an Elon Musk hobby looks like.

EM: I mean, it really is, like — This is basically interns and people doing it part time. We bought some second-hand machinery. It’s kind of puttering along, but it’s making good progress, so —

11:11 CA: So an even bigger part of your time is being spent on electrifying cars and transport through Tesla. Is one of the motivations for the tunneling project the realization that actually, in a world where cars are electric and where they’re self-driving, there may end up being more cars on the roads on any given hour than there are now?

11:33 EM: Yeah, exactly. A lot of people think that when you make cars autonomous, they’ll be able to go faster and that will alleviate congestion. And to some degree that will be true, but once you have shared autonomy where it’s much cheaper to go by car and you can go point to point, the affordability of going in a car will be better than that of a bus. Like, it will cost less than a bus ticket. So the amount of driving that will occur will be much greater with shared autonomy, and actually traffic will get far worse.

12:11 CA: You started Tesla with the goal of persuading the world that electrification was the future of cars, and a few years ago, people were laughing at you. Now, not so much.

12:23 EM: OK. I don’t know. I don’t know.

12:29 CA: But isn’t it true that pretty much every auto manufacturer has announced serious electrification plans for the short- to medium-term future?

12:39 EM: Yeah. Yeah. I think almost every automaker has some electric vehicle program. They vary in seriousness. Some are very serious about transitioning entirely to electric, and some are just dabbling in it. And some, amazingly, are still pursuing fuel cells, but I think that won’t last much longer.

13:00 CA: But isn’t there a sense, though, Elon, where you can now just declare victory and say, you know, “We did it.” Let the world electrify, and you go on and focus on other stuff?

13:12 EM: Yeah. I intend to stay with Tesla as far into the future as I can imagine, and there are a lot of exciting things that we have coming. Obviously the Model 3 is coming soon. We’ll be unveiling the Tesla Semi truck.

13:31 CA: OK, we’re going to come to this. So Model 3, it’s supposed to be coming in July-ish.

13:38 EM: Yeah, it’s looking quite good for starting production in July.

13:42 CA: Wow. One of the things that people are so excited about is the fact that it’s got autopilot. And you put out this video a while back showing what that technology would look like.

13:57 EM: Yeah. There’s obviously autopilot in Model S right now. What are we seeing here? Yeah, so this is using only cameras and GPS. So there’s no LIDAR or radar being used here. This is just using passive optical, which is essentially what a person uses. The whole road system is meant to be navigated with passive optical, or cameras, and so once you solve cameras or vision, then autonomy is solved. If you don’t solve vision, it’s not solved. So that’s why our focus is so heavily on having a vision neural net that’s very effective for road conditions.

14:42 CA: Right. Many other people are going the LIDAR route. You want cameras plus radar is most of it.

14:47 EM: You can absolutely be superhuman with just cameras. Like, you can probably do it ten times better than humans would, just cameras.

14:55 CA: So the new cars being sold right now have eight cameras in them. They can’t yet do what that showed. When will they be able to?

15:07 EM: I think we’re still on track for being able to go cross-country from LA to New York by the end of the year, fully autonomous.

15:17 CA: OK, so by the end of the year, you’re saying, someone’s going to sit in a Tesla without touching the steering wheel, tap in “New York,” off it goes.

15:27 EM: Yeah.

15:28 CA: Won’t ever have to touch the wheel — by the end of 2017.

15:33 EM: Yeah. Essentially, November or December of this year, we should be able to go all the way from a parking lot in California to a parking lot in New York, no controls touched at any point during the entire journey.

CA: Amazing. But part of that is possible because you’ve already got a fleet of Teslas driving all these roads. You’re accumulating a huge amount of data of that national road system.

EM: Yes, but the thing that will be interesting is that I’m actually fairly confident it will be able to do that route even if you change the route dynamically. So, it’s fairly easy — If you say I’m going to be really good at one specific route, that’s one thing, but it should be able to go, really be very good, certainly once you enter a highway, to go anywhere on the highway system in a given country. So it’s not sort of limited to LA to New York. We could change it and make it Seattle-Florida, that day, in real time. So you were going from LA to New York. Now go from LA to Toronto.

CA: So leaving aside regulation for a second, in terms of the technology alone, the time when someone will be able to buy one of your cars and literally just take the hands off the wheel and go to sleep and wake up and find that they’ve arrived, how far away is that, to do that safely?

17:06 EM: I think that’s about two years. So the real trick of it is not how do you make it work say 99.9 percent of the time, because, like, if a car crashes one in a thousand times, then you’re probably still not going to be comfortable falling asleep. You shouldn’t be, certainly.

It’s never going to be perfect. No system is going to be perfect, but if you say it’s perhaps — the car is unlikely to crash in a hundred lifetimes, or a thousand lifetimes, then people are like, OK, wow, if I were to live a thousand lives, I would still most likely never experience a crash, then that’s probably OK.

17:53 CA: To sleep. I guess the big concern of yours is that people may actually get seduced too early to think that this is safe, and that you’ll have some horrible incident happen that puts things back.

18:04 EM: Well, I think that the autonomy system is likely to at least mitigate the crash, except in rare circumstances. The thing to appreciate about vehicle safety is this is probabilistic. I mean, there’s some chance that any time a human driver gets in a car, that they will have an accident that is their fault. It’s never zero. So really the key threshold for autonomy is how much better does autonomy need to be than a person before you can rely on it?

18:38 CA: But once you get literally safe hands-off driving, the power to disrupt the whole industry seems massive, because at that point you’ve spoken of people being able to buy a car, drops you off at work, and then you let it go and provide a sort of Uber-like service to other people, earn you money, maybe even cover the cost of your lease of that car, so you can kind of get a car for free. Is that really likely?

19:02 EM: Yeah. Absolutely this is what will happen. So there will be a shared autonomy fleet where you buy your car and you can choose to use that car exclusively, you could choose to have it be used only by friends and family, only by other drivers who are rated five star, you can choose to share it sometimes but not other times. That’s 100 percent what will occur. It’s just a question of when.

19:32 CA: So you mentioned the Semi and I think you’re planning to announce this in September, but I’m curious whether there’s anything you could show us today?

19:42 EM: I will show you a teaser shot of the truck. That’s definitely a case where we want to be cautious about the autonomy features. Yeah.

CA: We can’t see that much of it, but it doesn’t look like just a little friendly neighborhood truck. It looks kind of badass. What sort of semi is this?

EM: this is a heavy duty, long-range semitruck. So it’s the highest weight capability and with long range. So essentially it’s meant to alleviate the heavy-duty trucking loads. And this is something which people do not today think is possible. They think the truck doesn’t have enough power or it doesn’t have enough range, and then with the Tesla Semi we want to show that no, an electric truck actually can out-torque any diesel semi. And if you had a tug-of-war competition, the Tesla Semi will tug the diesel semi uphill.

CA: That’s pretty cool. And short term, these aren’t driverless. These are going to be trucks that truck drivers want to drive.

 EM: Yes. So what will be really fun about this is you have a flat torque RPM curve with an electric motor, whereas with a diesel motor or any kind of internal combustion engine car, you’ve got a torque RPM curve that looks like a hill. So this will be a very spry truck. You can drive this around like a sports car. There’s no gears. It’s, like, single speed.

CA: There’s a great movie to be made here somewhere. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know that it ends well, but it’s a great movie.

EM: It’s quite bizarre test-driving. When I was driving the test prototype for the first truck. It’s really weird, because you’re driving around and you’re just so nimble, and you’re in this giant truck.

21:52 CA: Wait, you’ve already driven a prototype?

21:56 EM: Yeah, I drove it around the parking lot, and I was like, this is crazy.

21:59 CA: Wow. This is no vaporware.

22:02 EM: It’s just like, driving this giant truck and making these mad maneuvers.

22:06 CA: This is cool. OK, from a really badass picture to a kind of less badass picture. This is just a cute house from “Desperate Housewives” or something. What on earth is going on here?

22:17 EM: Well, this illustrates the picture of the future that I think is how things will evolve. You’ve got an electric car in the driveway. If you look in between the electric car and the house, there are actually three Powerwalls stacked up against the side of the house, and then that house roof is a solar roof. So that’s an actual solar glass roof.

EM: That’s a picture of a real — well, admittedly, it’s a real fake house. That’s a real fake house.

CA: So these roof tiles, some of them have in them basically solar power, the ability to —

22:56 EM: Yeah. Solar glass tiles where you can adjust the texture and the color to a very fine-grained level, and then there’s sort of microlouvers in the glass, such that when you’re looking at the roof from street level or close to street level, all the tiles look the same whether there is a solar cell behind it or not. So you have an even color from the ground level. If you were to look at it from a helicopter, you would be actually able to look through and see that some of the glass tiles have a solar cell behind them and some do not. You can’t tell from street level.

23:42 CA: You put them in the ones that are likely to see a lot of sun, and that makes these roofs super affordable, right? They’re not that much more expensive than just tiling the roof.

23:50 EM: Yeah. We’re very confident that the cost of the roof plus the cost of electricity — A solar glass roof will be less than the cost of a normal roof plus the cost of electricity. So in other words, this will be economically a no-brainer, we think it will look great, and it will last — We thought about having the warranty be infinity, but then people thought, well, that might sound like were just talking rubbish, but actually this is toughened glass. Well after the house has collapsed and there’s nothing there, the glass tiles will still be there.

CA: I mean, this is cool. So you’re rolling this out in a couple week’s time, I think, with four different roofing types.

24:44 EM: Yeah, we’re starting off with two, two initially, and the second two will be introduced early next year.

24:50 CA: And what’s the scale of ambition here? How many houses do you believe could end up having this type of roofing?

24:58 EM: I think eventually almost all houses will have a solar roof. The thing is to consider the time scale here to be probably on the order of 40 or 50 years. So on average, a roof is replaced every 20 to 25 years. But you don’t start replacing all roofs immediately. But eventually, if you say were to fast-forward to say 15 years from now, it will be unusual to have a roof that does not have solar.

25:36 CA: Is there a mental model thing that people don’t get here that because of the shift in the cost, the economics of solar power, most houses actually have enough sunlight on their roof pretty much to power all of their needs. If you could capture the power, it could pretty much power all their needs. You could go off-grid, kind of.

25:55 EM: It depends on where you are and what the house size is relative to the roof area, but it’s a fair statement to say that most houses in the US have enough roof area to power all the needs of the house.

26:10 CA: So the key to the economics of the cars, the Semi, of these houses is the falling price of lithium-ion batteries, which you’ve made a huge bet on as Tesla. In many ways, that’s almost the core competency. And you’ve decided that to really, like, own that competency, you just have to build the world’s largest manufacturing plant to double the world’s supply of lithium-ion batteries, with this guy. What is this?

26:43 EM: Yeah, so that’s the Gigafactory, progress so far on the Gigafactory. Eventually, you can sort of roughly see that there’s sort of a diamond shape overall, and when it’s fully done, it’ll look like a giant diamond, or that’s the idea behind it, and it’s aligned on true north. It’s a small detail.

27:04 CA: And capable of producing, eventually, like a hundred gigawatt hours of batteries a year.

27:11 EM: A hundred gigawatt hours. We think probably more, but yeah.

27:14 CA: And they’re actually being produced right now.

27:17 EM: They’re in production already.

CA: You guys put out this video. I mean, is that speeded up?

27:21 EM: That’s the slowed down version.

 CA: How fast does it actually go?

27:27 EM: Well, when it’s running at full speed, you can’t actually see the cells without a strobe light. It’s just blur.

CA: One of your core ideas, Elon, about what makes an exciting future is a future where we no longer feel guilty about energy. Help us picture this. How many Gigafactories, if you like, does it take to get us there?

27:52 EM: It’s about a hundred, roughly. It’s not 10, it’s not a thousand. Most likely a hundred.

27:59 CA: See, I find this amazing. You can picture what it would take to move the world off this vast fossil fuel thing. It’s like you’re building one, it costs five billion dollars, or whatever, five to 10 billion dollars. Like, it’s kind of cool that you can picture that project. And you’re planning to do, at Tesla — announce another two this year.

28:24 EM: I think we’ll announce locations for somewhere between two and four Gigafactories later this year. Yeah, probably four.  We need to address a global market.

CA: This is cool. I think we should talk for — Actually, double mark it. I’m going to ask you one question about politics, only one. I’m kind of sick of politics, but I do want to ask you this. You’re on a body now giving advice to a guy —

29:18 EM: Who?

29:20 CA: Who has said he doesn’t really believe in climate change, and there’s a lot of people out there who think you shouldn’t be doing that. They’d like you to walk away from that. What would you say to them?

29:31 EM: Well, I think that first of all, I’m just on two advisory councils where the format consists of going around the room and asking people’s opinion on things, and so there’s like a meeting every month or two. That’s the sum total of my contribution. But I think to the degree that there are people in the room who are arguing in favor of doing something about climate change, or social issues, I’ve used the meetings I’ve had thus far to argue in favor of immigration and in favor of climate change.

And if I hadn’t done that, that wasn’t on the agenda before. So maybe nothing will happen, but at least the words were said.

CA: So let’s talk SpaceX and Mars. Last time you were here, you spoke about what seemed like a kind of incredibly ambitious dream to develop rockets that were actually reusable. And you’ve only gone and done it.

30:46 EM: Finally. It took a long time.

30:47 CA: Talk us through this. What are we looking at here?

30:50 EM: So this is one of our rocket boosters coming back from very high and fast in space. So just delivered the upper stage at high velocity. I think this might have been at sort of Mach 7 or so, delivery of the upper stage.

CA: I thought that was the sped-up version. But I mean, that’s amazing, and several of these failed before you finally figured out how to do it, but now you’ve done this, what, five or six times?

31:28 EM: We’re at eight or nine.

31:31 CA: And for the first time, you’ve actually reflown one of the rockets that landed.

31:35 EM: Yeah, so we landed the rocket booster and then prepped it for flight again and flew it again, so it’s the first reflight of an orbital booster where that reflight is relevant. So it’s important to appreciate that reusability is only relevant if it is rapid and complete. So like an aircraft or a car, the reusability is rapid and complete. You do not send your aircraft to Boeing in-between flights.

32:07 CA: Right. So this is allowing you to dream of this really ambitious idea of sending many people to Mars in, what, 10 or 20 years time, I guess.

32:17 EM: Yeah.

32:19 CA: And you’ve designed this outrageous rocket to do it. Help us understand the scale of this thing.

32:24 EM: Well, visually you can see that’s a person. Yeah, and that’s the vehicle.

CA: So if that was a skyscraper, that’s like, did I read that, a 40-story skyscraper?

32:40 EM: Probably a little more, yeah. The thrust level of this is really — This configuration is about four times the thrust of the Saturn V moon rocket.

32:55 CA: Four times the thrust of the biggest rocket humanity ever created before.

33:00 EM: Yeah. Yeah. In units of 747, a 747 is only about a quarter of a million pounds of thrust, so for every 10 million pounds of thrust, there’s 40 747s. So this would be the thrust equivalent of 120 747s, with all engines blazing.

33:25 CA: And so even with a machine designed to escape Earth’s gravity, I think you told me last time this thing could actually take a fully loaded 747, people, cargo, everything, into orbit.

33:37 EM: Exactly. This can take a fully loaded 747 with maximum fuel, maximum passengers, maximum cargo on the 747 — this can take it as cargo.

33:51 CA: So based on this, you presented recently this Interplanetary Transport System which is visualized this way. This is a scene you picture in, what, 30 years time? 20 years time? People walking into this rocket.

34:08 EM: I’m hopeful it’s sort of an eight- to 10-year time frame. Aspirationally, that’s our target. Our internal targets are more aggressive. While vehicle seems quite large and is large by comparison with other rockets, I think the future spacecraft will make this look like a rowboat. The future spaceships will be truly enormous.

34:42 CA: Why, Elon? Why do we need to build a city on Mars with a million people on it in your lifetime, which I think is kind of what you’ve said you’d love to do?

34:55 EM: I think it’s important to have a future that is inspiring and appealing. I just think there have to be reasons that you get up in the morning and you want to live. Like, why do you want to live? What’s the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future? And if we’re not out there, if the future does not include being out there among the stars and being a multiplanet species, I find that it’s incredibly depressing if that’s not the future that we’re going to have.

 CA: People want to position this as an either or, that there are so many desperate things happening on the planet now from climate to poverty to, you know, you pick your issue. And this feels like a distraction. You shouldn’t be thinking about this. You should be solving what’s here and now. And to be fair, you’ve done a fair old bit to actually do that with your work on sustainable energy. But why not just do that?

35:58 EM: I think there’s — I look at the future from the standpoint of probabilities. It’s like a branching stream of probabilities, and there are actions that we can take that affect those probabilities or that accelerate one thing or slow down another thing. I may introduce something new to the probability stream. Sustainable energy will happen no matter what.

If there was no Tesla, if Tesla never existed, it would have to happen out of necessity. It’s tautological. If you don’t have sustainable energy, it means you have unsustainable energy. Eventually you will run out, and the laws of economics will drive civilization towards sustainable energy, inevitably. The fundamental value of a company like Tesla is the degree to which it accelerates the advent of sustainable energy, faster than it would otherwise occur.

So when I think what is the fundamental good of a company like Tesla, I would say, hopefully, if it accelerated that by a decade, potentially more than a decade, that would be quite a good thing to occur. That’s what I consider to be the fundamental aspirational good of Tesla.

Then there’s becoming a multiplanet species and space-faring civilization. This is not inevitable.

It’s very important to appreciate this is not inevitable. The sustainable energy future I think is largely inevitable, but being a space-faring civilization is definitely not inevitable. If you look at the progress in space, in 1969 you were able to send somebody to the moon. 1969. Then we had the Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle could only take people to low Earth orbit. Then the Space Shuttle retired, and the United States could take no one to orbit. So that’s the trend.

The trend is like down to nothing. People are mistaken when they think that technology just automatically improves. It does Not automatically improve. It only improves if a lot of people work very hard to make it better, and actually it will, I think, by itself degrade, actually. You look at great civilizations like Ancient Egypt, and they were able to make the pyramids, and they forgot how to do that. And then the Romans, they built these incredible aqueducts. They forgot how to do it.

38:39 CA: Elon, it almost seems, listening to you and looking at the different things you’ve done, that you’ve got this unique double motivation on everything that I find so interesting.

One is this desire to work for humanity’s long-term good. The other is the desire to do something exciting.

And often it feels like you feel like you need the one to drive the other. With Tesla, you want to have sustainable energy, so you made these super sexy, exciting cars to do it. Solar energy, we need to get there, so we need to make these beautiful roofs. We haven’t even spoken about your newest thing, which we don’t have time to do, but you want to save humanity from bad AI, and so you’re going to create this really cool brain-machine interface to give us all infinite memory and telepathy and so forth. And on Mars, it feels like what you’re saying is, yeah, we need to save humanity and have a backup plan, but also we need to inspire humanity, and this is a way to inspire.

39:44 EM: I think the value of beauty and inspiration is very much underrated, no question. But I want to be clear. I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior. That is not the — I’m just trying to think about the future and Not be sad.

 CA: Beautiful statement. I think everyone here would agree that it is not — None of this is going to happen inevitably. The fact that in your mind, you dream this stuff, you dream stuff that no one else would dare dream, or no one else would be capable of dreaming at the level of complexity that you do. The fact that you do that, Elon Musk, is a really remarkable thing. Thank you for helping us all to dream a bit bigger.

40:33 EM: But you’ll tell me if it ever starts getting genuinely insane, right? 

Nissan is Selling Its Battery Building Business

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Earlier this month, Nissan announced it was in the final stages of sealing a deal to sell its entire EV battery business to Chinese investment firm GSR Capital. The sale includes battery plants in Tennessee, England, and Japan, with a preamble where the Japanese automaker has to buy up minority shares of Automotive Energy Supply Corp. from NEC Corp.

From there, it can sell off the business to GSR for a cool $1 billion — which isn’t a bad deal for the Chinese company. Nissan used around $1.4 billion in government funds building its U.S. factory in 2010, and the remaining plants weren’t exactly cheap to build. So why is Nissan selling them off?

For starters, the Leaf hasn’t been the sales leader the manufacturer hoped for. Even though global deliveries surpassed the 250,000-unit milestone in December 2016, Leaf sales don’t go beyond 50,000 units annually. By electric vehicle metrics, that’s still a win. However, the Tennessee factory is capable of producing 200,000 complete EV battery packs a year — well beyond the company’s current needs. 

Reports point to the next-generation Leaf coming equipped with a less competitive power source and a more competitive price tag. Industry rumors have the 2018 model possessing a range of 143 miles per charge. That’s well below the 215-mile range of the Tesla Model 3 and the 238-mile range of the Chevrolet Bolt, both of which compete in the same segment as the Leaf.

Nissan hasn’t revealed its marketing plan for the new EV, but it’s assumed the car will come with several battery options and a base price $5,000 lower than the Bolt’s. Higher trim levels may even bridge the range gap. But, even with moderate sales, Nissan still needs to acquire its batteries from somewhere. In fact, its Tennessee assembly plant exists side-by-side with its EV battery factory and is part of the deal with GSR.

It’s difficult to see how this benefits the Japanese automaker. While GSR gets to become an important battery supplier for Chinese customers, Nissan gets to purchase its own hardware after having sold off the factories.

“This will enable GSR to grow its business and look for other opportunities,” Nissan North America spokesman Brian Brockman told Automotive News. “It will give them the scale to further develop their batteries and look for other opportunities.”

While altruism is its own reward, there isn’t usually a lot of money in it. But, by handing the battery business off, Nissan has alleviated some of the financial risks associated with production and engineering. It may have bit off more than it could chew and didn’t want to hold onto a side business it wasn’t taking full advantage of.

“The battery business alone will not make money, you have to have scale, you have to have the supply chain,” said GSR chairman Sonny Wu. “It’s a bloody, cutthroat game. The auto OEMs will lock you in for five years.”

Nissan has been selling stakes in other businesses, including parts supplier Calsonic Kansei and forklift manufacturer UniCarriers, to better focus on developing superior electric powertrains and autonomous driving technology. Nissan is also looking to push into Southeast Asia with smaller, more traditional automobiles since its purchase of a controlling stake in Mitsubishi Motors.

Under GSR ownership, the battery company will continue as the exclusive supplier of the Leaf’s power source.

Building More Reliable Apps with Uber Engineering’s Startup Reason Reporter

With the November 2016 rewrite of the Uber rider app, we made significant inroads towards reducing our measured crash rate and improving the uptime of our core features. However, one nagging problem was app terminations caused by out of memory (OOM) exceptions or other reasons that are hard to detect. Anecdotally, we received reports of the app failing to launch in low-memory situations, particularly on older devices, but had little in the way of tooling to track down these issues.

With this in mind, Uber Engineering developed and open sourced our own Startup Reason Reporter. In this article, we discuss how we designed this powerful tool to help us—and others—detect startup reason on iOS and in the process build more reliable apps.

 

So…why did my app crash?  

From a developer point of view, detecting a typical crash on iOS is fairly straightforward. The foundation framework provides an NSSetUncaughtExceptionHandler callback, which gives the developer an opportunity to log information about uncaught exceptions. When an an application terminates for other reasons, however, it can potentially be very difficult to determine what went wrong. In both cases, the experience is the same: the app stops working and crashes. We sought to gain more insight into the frequency of these sorts of crashes to determine how we could track, and in turn, prevent them.

Our implementation of the Startup Reason Reporter is based on Facebook’s process of elimination for reducing OOM events outlined on the Facebook Engineering Blog. According to this framework, a fresh app launch may occur for a finite number of reasons, including:

  1. The app was launched for the first time
  2. The app is under development and the app crashed as part of debugging
  3. The app crashed on a prior run
  4. The OS was upgraded
  5. The app was upgraded
  6. The app was force quit on a prior run
  7. The phone was restarted
  8. The app was terminated in the background
  9. The phone ran out of memory and terminated the application

Figure 1: The flowchart above outlines possible startup reasons. In particular, OOM terminations can be difficult to track down.

To narrow down the list of possible reasons, the Startup Reason Reporter assumes that the application was launched for the first time. It then runs through each of these possibilities in sequence based on information saved from the prior launch. If we are unable to determine the reason the application launched from the stored data, then we assume the app was terminated because the phone ran OOM.

 

Persistence of prior run information

Critically, the Startup Reason Reporter requires that there be some sort of storage mechanism in order to persist the required information from the prior app run. Our implementation of the Startup Reason Reporter allows you to use whatever storage mechanism you prefer, so long as it implements UBApplicationStartupReasonReporterPriorRunInfoProtocol. This protocol abstracts all of the information required to determine the startup reason, such as the prior app version and whether the application was last in the background or foreground. We provide a concrete implementation, UBApplicationStartupReasonReporterPriorRunInfo, which is based on NSUserDefaults, but recognize that this may not be appropriate for all use cases.

 

Challenges

The Startup Reason Reporter relies heavily on the data available. In particular, the previousRunDidCrash flag must be accurate to properly report OOM issues. In short, the default assumption is that all crashes that do not fall into known buckets are considered OOM events, so if the provided data is inaccurate, some reported by the Startup Reason Reporter may actually be other issues. Capturing all variants of crashes is beyond the scope of this discussion, but it is important to capture all sorts of crashes such as watchdog timeouts, segmentation faults, and exceptions.

 

Next steps

The Startup Reason Reporter is written in Objective-C, but works when bridged to Swift as well.  Usage is fairly straightforward: shepherd the required information to an instance of UBApplicationStartupReasonReporter. The UBApplicationStartupReasonReporter will then make the startup reason available via the startupReason property. The result can then be fed to your analytics pipeline of choice for further analysis.

See something that we missed or have an idea for a hack that might make this project better?  Share your contributions to the Startup Reason Reporter on Github!

If tackling mobile engineering challenges at Uber-scale appeals to you, consider applying for a role on our iOS Platform team.

To learn more about mobile development at Uber, check out our Uber Mobility Meetup presentations on the Uber Engineering YouTube Channel.

Tuomas Artman and Alex Medearis are software engineers on Uber’s iOS Platform team.

Photo Header Credit: “French angelfish (almost) crashing into camera lens dome” by Conor Myhrvold, Bonaire.