Lumotive’s co-founders, CEO William Colleran and CTO Gleb Akselrod, show off a printed-circuit wafer that’s part of their “secret sauce” for next-generation lidar detectors. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) BELLEVUE, Wash. — A succession of spinouts supported by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has taken an unorthodox technology known as metamaterials to high-flying realms ranging from satellite communications to drone-sized radar systems — but the latest metamaterials venture to come out of stealth is aiming for a more down-to-earth frontier: the car that will someday be driving you. Like Kymeta, Echodyne, Evolv and Pivotal Commware, Lumotive takes advantage of electronic circuits that are able to shift the focus and path of electromagnetic waves without moving parts. Unlike those other Seattle-area companies, Lumotive is using those metamaterials to steer laser light instead of radio waves. “It’s always been kind of a Holy Grail of metamaterials to figure out how you can do that at optical wavelengths,” Lumotive’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Gleb Akselrod, told GeekWire this week. To do it, Lumotive has created what Akselrod calls a “secret sauce” of liquid crystal sandwiched with printed silicon circuits. The company’s chips have tiny tunable antennas that can sweep laser light across a 120-degree field, and read what’s reflected to build up a high-resolution map of its surroundings up to 20 times a second. The cracker-sized chips are tailor-made to fit into laser-scanning gadgets known as lidars, which are one of the tools of the trade used in self-driving cars for situational awareness. Today’s lidar systems are bulky contraptions that typically cost tens of thousands of dollars and sit on top of the first-generation autonomous vehicles fielded by the likes of and . Bringing down the cost and size of those lidars is a high priority for most self-driving cars. (Tesla, however, has and rely instead on .) Lumotive’s prototype lidar device looks like 6-inch-wide jewelry box, and could conceivably be built into a car’s bumper or rear-view mirror. Unlike first-generation lidars, there are no moving parts that swing around to do a scan. And the gadgets could end up costing a lot less than today’s lidar systems. “Today’s systems are so expensive because it’s basically like making a Swiss watch. They’re very intricate mechanical systems,” Lumotive co-founder and CEO William Colleran explained. “Ours is more like consumer electronics. When lidar becomes mature — which is, I don’t know, five, six, eight years from now — when the volumes are high, I think these systems will come in at a few hundred dollars. In the meantime, we still have cost advantages over other approaches.” Lumotive CEO William Colleran shows of the guts of a prototype lidar device incorporating metamaterials. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) , who’s previously served as CEO at ventures including Impinj and AnswerDash, said Lumotive is pursuing a step-by-step plan to catch the rising tide. Like the other metamaterials spinouts, Lumotive got its start at Bellevue-based , which has been methodically mining applications of the technology for . The startup struck out on its own in late 2017 with an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Gates, and it’s now in the midst of a Series A funding round. Lumotive plans to have an initial working prototype ready to show to potential customers later this year, with more refined prototypes and the first commercial products rolling out by the end of 2020. Colleran said the first automotive customers are likely to use high-performance lidar devices in “robo-taxis,” his term for the fleets of autonomous vehicles that , and intend to use in rideshare operations. But those won’t be the only customers. “While we’re developing this primarily for automotive, there are some other markets along the way — for example, drones, robots, industrial automation — that can all benefit from this ability to have a 3-D sense of their surroundings,” he said. “Those don’t require automotive qualification, so obviously you can go to market much faster. We anticipate generating revenue starting late next year.” Lumotive’s chief technology officer, Gleb Akselrod, says chip design is part of the “secret sauce” for the startup’s next-generation lidar devices. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) In the longer term, lower-cost lidar systems should become available for less intensive automotive applications such as advanced driver assistance systems, or , which can help human drivers with collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-centering and other semi-autonomous tasks. Colleran said Lumotive currently has 14 employees, but he expects to add significantly to that workforce in the months ahead. The metamaterials revolution in places like , but thanks in part to Intellectual Ventures’ succession of spinouts, the Pacific Northwest is becoming home to more and more metamaterials mavens. “It’s nice to have a community here in Seattle of people who have solved similar technical problems,” said Akselrod, who was a postdoctoral researcher at Duke before. “That’s unique to have this kind of tight technology community forming around metamaterials.” Through the decades, the Seattle area’s tech frontiers have earned it nicknames like and . Maybe it’s time to add Metamaterials City to the list.
Acting FAA chief Daniel Elwell, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt and Calvin Scovel, the Transportation Department’s inspector general, face a Senate panel during a hearing on airline safety. (C-SPAN Photo) Were airline pilots adequately trained on a catastrophic scenario involving the automatic flight control system for Boeing’s 737 MAX airplanes? And did the Federal Aviation Administration cede too much of its responsibility to Boeing when the system was certified as safe? Those are among the key questions that U.S. senators had for federal officials today during a pair of Capitol Hill hearings today. Meanwhile, Boeing brought about 200 pilots and airline industry officials to Renton, Wash., the base of operations for the company’s 737 program, to learn more about the changes being made in the wake of two fatal MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. October’s killed all 189 people aboard, while this month’s killed 157. In both cases, investigators have focused on an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. The MCAS software system was added to the 737 MAX, the latest version of the 51-year-old 737 line, to compensate for the aerodynamic effects of a larger engine and guard against stalling. But preliminary findings from the Lion Air investigation suggest that spurious data from a single angle-of-attack sensor forced the MCAS to push the plane repeatedly into a nose dive. Investigators suspect the same scenario in the Ethiopia crash. Even before that crash, Boeing was working on a software update to address the bad-data scenario. At a Renton news conference, Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s vice president of product strategy and development, confirmed that the update would have the MCAS come into play only if both angle-of-attack sensors detected indications of a stall. The system would be activated only once, rather than repeatedly, and could more easily be counteracted manually by the pilot, . Tests of the software changes were on the agenda for this week’s Renton gathering. All 737 MAX planes are grounded worldwide due to concerns about the crash, resulting in continuing disruption and costs for airlines. But once the FAA and its counterparts in other countries give the go-ahead, the software update could theoretically be distributed in a matter of days. Sinnett also said pilots would receive half an hour of computer-based training on the MCAS software changes, but that no additional training in a flight simulator would be required. He said the training plan has been “provisionally approved” by the FAA. The training issue came up repeatedly today at a congressional hearing organized by the Senate Commerce Committee’s panel on aviation and space. Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell told senators that he didn’t believe the MCAS system was specifically addressed in flight simulation training. He said regulators initially agreed with Boeing’s analysis that the system made “no marked difference in the handling characteristics” of the 737. But in light of the fatal crashes, Elwell said training procedures are “an area that we will look into very, very carefully.” At an earlier hearing, organized by the Senate appropriations subcommittee focusing on the Transportation Department and other agencies, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao faced tough questions about regulatory oversight, or the potential lack thereof. During the certification process for the 737 MAX, Boeing drew up its own safety analysis of the changes made from the design for the previous 737 model. In an , The Seattle Times quoted unnamed sources as saying that the analysis downplayed risks associated with the MCAS system. One former FAA engineer said the agency’s review of Boeing’s analysis was “rushed to reach [a] certain certification date.” When Chao was asked about the relationship between Boeing and the FAA during certification, she insisted that the FAA was in charge of the process. “The FAA does not build planes. They certify. But this method of having the manufacturer also be involved in looking at these standards is really necessary, because … the FAA cannot do it on their own,” she said. “Having said that, I am of course concerned about any allegations of coziness.” Chao emphasized that safety is her department’s top concern, and noted that additional steps were being taken to respond to issues raised in the aftermath of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Last week, Chao asked the of the certification process for the 737 MAX, and that investigation is getting under way. This week, to suggest improvements in the FAA’s oversight and certification process. During this afternoon’s hearing, Elwell said the cooperative approach to aircraft certification was deeply ingrained in FAA procedures. If the agency were to do the job without delegating duties to manufacturers,, he said.
Detector engineers Hugh Radkins (foreground) and Betsy Weaver (background) take up positions inside the vacuum system of the detector at LIGO Hanford Observatory to perform the hardware upgrades required for Advanced LIGO’s third observing run. (LIGO / Caltech / MIT Photo / Jeff Kissel) Physicists won’t be fooling around on April 1 at the in Washington state and Louisiana, or at the in Italy. Instead, they’ll all be bearing down for the most serious search ever conducted for signs of merging black holes, colliding neutron stars — and perhaps the first detection of a mashup involving both those exotic phenomena. Both experiments have been upgraded significantly since their last observational runs, resulting in a combined increase of about 40 percent in sensitivity. That means even more cosmic smashups should be detected, at distances farther out. There’s also a better chance of determining precisely where cosmic collisions occur, increasing the chances of following up with other types of observations. “With our three detectors now operational at a significantly improved sensitivity, the global LIGO-Virgo detector network will allow more precise triangulation of the sources of gravitational waves,” Jo van den Brand, a Dutch astronomer who serves as the spokesperson for Europe’s Virgo Collaboration, . “This will be an important step toward our quest for multi-messenger astronomy.” Multi-messenger astronomy involves looking at the same source with a wide variety of instruments, focusing on different electromagnetic wavelengths plus whole new ways of looking at the universe. That’s how the . LIGO’s detections of black holes have already won a , and who knows? There could well be future Nobel-worthy discoveries waiting to be made during the yearlong run that’s due to begin April 1. For example, physicists haven’t yet detected the gravitational-wave signature that should accompany the collision of a black hole and a neutron star. This will be the third observing run for the Advanced LIGO program, and the first run since the LIGO detectors were shut down in August 2017 for major upgrades. LIGO’s detectors in Hanford, Wash., and near Livingston, La., look for subatomic-scale ripples in the fabric of spacetime that are caused by gravitational-wave disturbances generated many millions of light-years away. The ripples are measured by looking for interference patterns in laser beams bouncing back and forth between mirrors in an L-shaped network of 2.5-mile-long tunnels. LIGO’s two detectors are placed more than 1,500 miles apart to serve as a double-check for each detection. The Virgo detector in Italy provides a triple-check and makes it possible to figure out where in the sky a gravitational-wave burst is coming from. For the upcoming run, the laser power has been doubled, and most of the mirrors in the detectors have been replaced with better-performing equipment. “We had to break the fibers holding the mirrors and very carefully take out the optics and replace them,” said Calum Torrie, LIGO’s mechanical-optical engineering head at Caltech. “It was an enormous engineering undertaking.” LIGO’s team also took advantage of quantum physics to improve the signal-to-noise ratio for gravitational waves. The upgrades employ a technique called to shift the uncertainty caused by random fluctuations of photons in the detector . That’s a neat trick, because measuring the phase of the light waves is what’s key to detecting gravitational waves. Measuring the amplitude is less crucial. As a result of the upgrades, LIGO should extend its range for detecting neutron star mergers from 360 million light-years to an average of 550 million light-years. “One of the things that is satisfying to us engineers is knowing that all of our upgrades mean that LIGO can now see farther into space to find the most extreme events in our universe,” Torrie said. LIGO is funded by the National Science Foundation and operated by Caltech and MIT, with nearly 1,300 scientists from around the world on the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. The Virgo detector is hosted at the European Gravitational Observatory in Pisa, Italy, and is funded by research centers in France, Italy and the Netherlands. The Virgo Collaboration has about 350 scientists, engineers and technicians from institutes in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain.
Trek Aerospace’s FlyKart 2 personal aerial vehicle has 10 ducted propellers and is custom-designed to meet the GoFly challenge’s specifications. (Trek Aerospace Illustration) Five teams from around the world have risen to new heights in the GoFly Prize competition, a $2 million contest backed by Boeing to encourage the development of personal flying machines. The Phase II contest winners, unveiled today at the SAE AeroTech Americas conference in Charleston, S.C., will receive $50,000 prizes and the chance to compete for the $1 million grand prize in a future fly-off. “Now we can unequivocally say we will be able to make people fly within the next one to two years,” Gwen Lighter, GoFly’s CEO and founder, told GeekWire in advance of the announcement. Judges chose the five Phase II winners from an initial field of more than 800 teams from 101 countries. The competition’s requirements call for the development of flying machines that can make vertical or near-vertical takeoffs and transport a single person up to 20 miles. Last year, on the basis of their designs for aerial vehicles, which ran the gamut from mini-helicopters to flying bikes and “Star Wars”-style landspeeders. For Phase II, competitors had to build and test prototypes, either scaled-down or actual size, and show that they could be operated safely and quietly. The five winning teams are: Aeroxo LV, based in Russia and Latvia. Aeroxo’s ERA Aviabike is a tiltrotor aerial vehicle that performs like a flying bicycle. It combines the vertical-flight capabilities of a helicopter with the range and speed of a fixed-wing aircraft. DragonAir Aviation, based in Florida. DragonAir’s Airboard 2.0 is an all-electric, self-stabilizing hovercraft that carries a single passenger in a standing position. Silverwing Personal Flight, based in the Netherlands. Silverwing’s S1 is a flying motorcycle. The device’s main features are two electric ducted fans, a passenger shell for safety, and a landing gear and battery pack integrated into the wing. Texas A&M Harmony, based in Texas. The Harmony team’s Aria aircraft is a compact rotorcraft designed to minimize noise and maximize efficiency, safety and reliability. The team includes researchers from Texas A&M and other institutions. Trek Aerospace, based in California. Trek Aerospace’s FlyKart 2 is an electric, single-seat, multi-rotor, ducted-fan, vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft that’s designed to be inexpensive to build, own and operate. Lighter said the winning prototypes reflect a diversity of design approaches, geographical origins and career experiences. The team members range from veteran aerospace engineers and former jet pilots to engineering students. “Innovation can truly come from anyone, anywhere,” Lighter said. The next phase of the competition calls for finalists to turn their prototypes into full-scale flying machines, for a fly-off at a site yet to be selected in the western United States in early 2020. That time frame is a bit later than the original plan to have the fly-off late this year. “Our primary focus has been on safety and weather and wind,” Lighter explained. “The sites that we are most interested in using are better if we slide the final fly-off back two to three months.” A media programming campaign will be built around the fly-off, but Lighter said it was too early to provide specifics. The teams participating in the fly-off will have the option of sending up a human rider or a lifesize mannequin. Finalists will put their machines through a , and will be scored on the basis of vehicle size, speed and noise. GoFly will award the $1 million grand prize to the top-scoring team. Prizes worth $250,000 each will go to the quietest vehicle that meets the contest’s requirements, and to the smallest compliant vehicle. There’s also a Pratt & Whitney Disruptor Award worth $100,000. Then what? Lighter said GoFly’s mission is to “catalyze the technology” for personal flight — while leaving it up to the participating teams to find the right niche for their technologies. “GoFly believes that it is the public’s opportunity to be able to decide what fliers are best for what uses,” she said. She drew a comparison to the automotive industry, where customers can buy a minivan, a convertible, a sedan or a pickup truck, depending on how they want to use those vehicles. “We want to set up a system where there are many different types of flier designs,” Lighter said. “Some will be more applicable to first responders, Some will be more applicable to package delivery. … Some will be more applicable to short commutes. Some will be more applicable to future sports — you know, human drone racing or a version of quidditch that comes to life.” To paraphrase Chairman Mao, . “World, you get to decide what’s best for all of you,” Lighter said.
MagniX’s 750-horsepower magni500 all-electric motor will be used on a converted Harbour Air DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver seaplane for tests. (Harbour Air Photo) Two Pacific Northwest companies — MagniX, an electric propulsion venture headquartered in Redmond, Wash.; and Harbour Air Seaplanes, an airline that’s based in Vancouver, B.C. — say they have a firm plan to create the first all-electric fleet of commercial airplanes. MagniX aims to start by outfitting a Harbour Air DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver with its 750-horsepower magni500 electric motor for a series of test flights scheduled to begin by the end of this year. The electric propulsion company, which shifted its global HQ from Australia to Redmond last year, has tested a prototype motor on the ground — but this would be the first aerial test of the technology. “The excitement level is yet another notch up,” MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski told GeekWire, “because now we’re not talking about just putting the system on an ‘Iron Bird’ on the ground and having it turn a propeller … but actually taking an aircraft into the sky, an actual aircraft that will be operating and taking people and cargo back and forth as well.” Ganzarski said the initial tests would be done without passengers, in the Vancouver area. Regulators from Transport Canada and the Federal Aviation Administration would monitor the tests, under an arrangement that has yet to be worked out in detail, he said. If all proceeds according to plan, the converted plane would win a supplemental type certificate and clearance to start commercial service by 2022, Ganzarski said. Eventually, all of Harbour Air’s more than 40 seaplanes — — would go all-electric. Harbour Air flies routes between , mostly in British Columbia . The airline carries more than 500,000 passengers on 30,000 commercial flights each year. Due to battery limitations, Harbour Air’s first all-electric routes are likely to involve 10- to 20-minute trips between relatively close destinations, and not the Seattle-Vancouver “nerd bird” route. But the planes’ range will increase as battery technology improves. Greg McDougall, founder and CEO of Harbour Air Seaplanes, noted that his airline was the , through the purchase of carbon offsets. “We are once again pushing the boundaries of aviation by becoming the first aircraft to be powered by electric propulsion,” McDougall said in a news release. “We are excited to bring commercial electric aviation to the Pacific Northwest, turning our seaplanes into ePlanes.” Ganzarski paid tribute to Harbour Air’s willingness to push the envelope on electric propulsion. “They understand what it means to go all-electric early on,” he said. MagniX isn’t alone in pressing for electric-powered aviation. An Israeli startup called is reportedly in northwest France, thanks to an estimated $200 million in investment. Eviation’s Alice business and commuter plane could have its first flight at the Paris Air Show in June, if the company gets the regulatory go-ahead in time. Eviation aims to conduct further testing at its base in Arizona and move on to type certification and entry into service in 2022. Kirkland, Wash.-based is developing its own hybrid-electric airplane with backing from Boeing HorizonX and JetBlue Technology Ventures — again, with 2022 as the target date for . Meanwhile, MagniX is working with other potential partners beyond Harbour Air. “I can tell you this, it’ll be a really exciting year,” Ganzarski said.
Harry Shum is Microsoft’s executive vice president for AI and research. (GeekWire Photo) Microsoft will “one day very soon” add an ethics review focusing on artificial-intelligence issues to its standard checklist of audits that precede the release of new products, according to Harry Shum, a top executive leading the company’s AI efforts. AI ethics will join privacy, security and accessibility on the list, Shum in San Francisco. Shum, who is executive vice president of group, said companies involved in AI development “need to engineer responsibility into the very fabric of the technology.” Among the ethical concerns are the potential for AI agents to from the data on which they’re trained, to through deep data analysis, to , or simply to be . Shum noted that as AI becomes better at analyzing emotions, conversations and writings, the technology could open the way to increased propaganda and misinformation, as well as deeper intrusions into personal privacy. In addition to pre-release audits, Microsoft is addressing AI’s ethical concerns by improving its facial recognition tools and adding altered versions of photos in its training databases to show people with a wider variety of skin colors, other physical traits and lighting conditions. Shum and other Microsoft executives have discussed the ethics of AI numerous times before today: Back in 2016, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella for AI research and development, including the need to guard against algorithmic bias and ensure that humans are accountable for computer-generated actions. In a book titled “The Future Computed,” Shum and Microsoft President Brad Smith , supported by industry guidelines as well as government oversight. They wrote that “a Hippocratic Oath for coders … could make sense.” Shum and Smith , or Aether. Last year, Microsoft Research’s Eric Horvitz said due to the Aether group’s recommendations. In some cases, he said specific limitations have been written into product usage agreements — for example, a ban on facial-recognition applications. Shum told GeekWire almost a year ago that he hoped the Aether group would develop — exactly the kind of pre-release checklist that he mentioned today. Microsoft has been delving into the societal issues raised by AI with other tech industry leaders such as Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook through a nonprofit group called the . But during his EmTech Digital talk, Shum acknowledged that governments will have to play a role as well. The nonprofit AI Now Foundation, for example, has called for , with special emphasis on applications such as facial recognition and affect recognition. Some researchers have called for creating a who can assist other watchdog agencies with technical issues — perhaps modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board. Others argue that entire classes of AI applications should be outlawed. In an and an , a British medical journal, experts called on the medical community and the tech community to support efforts to ban fully autonomous lethal weapons. The issue is the subject of a this week.
Boeing employees surround the 10,000th 737 jet — a 737 MAX 8 built for Southwest Airlines — during a ceremony in Renton, Wash., in March 2018. (Boeing Photo) Two optional safety features that might help pilots head off a scenario that’s at the heart of investigations into two catastrophic crashes of Boeing 737 MAX jets will be available free of charge on new airplanes, . The features are an indicator that shows pilots the readings from two sensors that monitor an aerodynamic characteristic known as the angle of attack, and a “disagree light” that flashes when those sensor readings are at odds with each other. Spurious data from the angle-of-attack sensors are thought to have played a role in last October’s crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX 8 plane in Indonesia, which killed 189 people on board; and this month’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737-8 in Ethiopia, which killed 157. The current leading theory is that in both cases, bad data from a single sensor caused an automatic flight control system — known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS — to kick in repeatedly. MCAS was added to the 737 MAX’s control system to compensate for the aerodynamic effect of the model’s bigger engines and guard against an excessive upward lift and stall. But investigators suspect that, in the fatal crashes, the system forced the plane into a nose dive. In both cases, pilots complained about control problems minutes into their doomed flights. Today as saying he believed the MCAS system was activated on the Ethiopian jetliner, based on what he has learned about the investigation. Boeing says pilots can use a procedure to disengage the MCAS system in the event of a problem, but the procedure apparently did not come into play in the Lion Air or Ethiopian Airlines scenarios. Over the weekend, Boeing brought pilots and trainers to its 737 MAX facility in Renton, Wash., to discuss potential safety modifications to the plane and test out simulations of an MCAS problem scenario. The New York Times quoted sources as saying that pilots using the simulators were able to land their virtual planes safely. About 200 pilots, technical leaders and regulators are due to attend another session on Wednesday. “This is part of our ongoing effort to share more details about our plan for supporting the safe return of the 737 MAX to commercial service,” Boeing said in a statement. “We had a productive session this past Saturday and plan to reach all current and many future MAX operators and their home regulators.” Boeing is preparing to release a software update and revised training guidelines aimed at addressing the MCAS issue. Reportedly, one of the changes will involve having the MCAS system take in data from both angle-of-attack sensors instead of just one. Another change would reportedly limit the system’s ability to kick in repeatedly. The Journal said the changes . The debate over the 737 MAX safety features has touched on the plane’s hardware: Last week, The New York Times reported that the angle-of-attack indicator and the disagree light were optional features that operators had to pay extra for. But on Sunday, the Times said the disagree light would become standard on all new 737 MAX planes, and the indicator would be provided free of charge for customers who want it.
An artist’s conception shows a Garuda Airlines 737 MAX jet in flight. (Boeing Illustration) Indonesia’s national airline, , is saying it wants to cancel an order for 49 Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, citing the effect of two catastrophic crashes on passenger confidence. The order, , has a list-price value of roughly $6 billion. Only one of the 50 MAX jets ordered back then has been delivered to date. In interviews with media outlets including , , , , and , Garuda officials cited consumers’ low confidence in the 737 MAX in the wake of crashes that killed , and . “Many passengers told us they were afraid to get on a MAX 8,” Reuters quoted Garuda CEO Aria Askhara as saying. Garuda’s request hints at the economic impact that the crashes could have going forward. Boeing’s 737 MAX jets have been grounded worldwide as the crash investigations continue. Preliminary data suggest that an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS played a role in both crashes. Boeing added the MCAS to the 737 MAX line as a safeguard against stalls, but spurious data from a single sensor that monitors air flow may have forced each plane into a dive. Reports relating to cockpit conversations suggest that the pilots on both flights , but apparently didn’t follow a specified procedure for turning off the MCAS system. One of the controversies surrounding the 737 MAX focuses on whether pilots were adequately trained about the MCAS and what to do if it malfunctioned. Another controversy has to do with indicators that Boeing can install on the plane to tell pilots that the suspect sensor system is providing mismatched data. The New York Times reported that the indicators. Boeing says it’s preparing to release a software upgrade aimed at addressing concerns about the MCAS system and the angle-of-attack sensors, and will change its pilot training program for the 737 MAX as well. The Transportation Department says it will for flight, and the FBI and Justice Department are . As of the end of February, Boeing , with 376 of those planes delivered. Deliveries have now been along with 737 MAX flights. Boeing says the 737 assembly lines at its plant in Renton, Wash., will be to “focus on completing work that was previously delayed.” Garuda’s request could be seen as the first publicly confirmed request for an order cancellation to be sparked by the crash controversies. However, analysts told Reuters that even before this month’s Ethiopian Airlines crash, Garuda was considering a shift in its airplane procurement plan. “We don’t want to use MAX jets … but maybe will consider switching it with another Boeing model of plane,” Garuda spokesman Ikhsan Rosan told AP. Boeing has declined to comment on Garuda’s cancellation request, but the airline says Boeing representatives are due to visit Jakarta next week for further discussions.
University of Washington graduate students Katherine McAlpine and Daniel Gochnauer work in the Ultracold Atoms Group’s lab to study ultracold atoms and quantum gases. (UW Photo / Dennis Wise) Editor’s note: is a co-founder and managing director at Seattle-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group. He is a member of Challenge Seattle and sits on the Amazon board of directors. Commentary: This week I had the opportunity to speak at the , co-sponsored by Microsoft, the University of Washington and Pacific Northwest National Labs. The Summit brought together, for the first time, the large network of quantum researchers, universities and technology companies working in quantum information science (QIS) in our region to share quantum developments and to work together to establish the Pacific Northwest as one of the leading quantum science centers in the world. Quantum computing has the potential to transform our economies and lives. As one of the Summit speakers said, we are on the “cusp of a quantum century.” Quantum computers will be able to solve problems that classical computers can’t solve, even if they run their algorithms for thousands of years. Quantum computers are not limited to the on-or-off (one-or-zero) bits of today’s digital computers. Quantum computers manipulate “qubits” that can be one-and-zero simultaneously, which allows exponentially faster calculations. Quantum computers are expected to be able to crack present-day security codes, which is already causing scientists to work on devising new encryption protocols to protect consumer and business data and national security. Applications developed for quantum computers likely will help us overcome existing challenges in material, chemical and environmental sciences, such as devising new ways for sequestering carbon and improving batteries. Even though the Seattle area is one of the top two technology centers in the U.S., along with the San Francisco Bay Area, we have to make investments now to ensure we become a leading quantum center. To achieve this goal, I argued that we will need to substantially increase financial support to build up the UW’s quantum research capacity and equally important, to create an extensive quantum information science curriculum. The UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering began this year to offer a course teaching Microsoft’s Q# language, but one course is not enough if we are to make our area one of the major quantum centers of the future. Madrona Venture Group Managing Director Tom Alberg speaks at the Northwest Quantum Nexus Summit this week in Seattle. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., is seated behind Alberg. (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Photo / Andrea Starr) Fortunately for our region, Microsoft is one of the acknowledged leaders in quantum computing and is committed to building our regional network. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gives credit to former Microsoft chief technology officer and research leader Craig Mundie for launching Microsoft’s quantum initiative 10 years ago. Microsoft’s goal is no less than to build a “general-purpose” quantum computer — the holy grail of quantum computing. In the meantime, they are supporting efforts to build a cadre of researchers who are familiar with quantum and capable of writing quantum programs. They have developed and launched a quantum computer language, Q#, as well as a quantum development kit and “Katas,” which are computing tasks that classical computer scientists can use to learn quantum computing skills. They are also building an open source library of quantum programs and have launched the Microsoft Quantum Network to provide assistance to quantum startups and developers. The federal government has recently launched the National Quantum Initiative, which will provide $1.2 billion over the next five years primarily to quantum researchers. The president the new law in December after the bill was approved by unanimous consent in the Senate and a 348-11 vote in the House. Among the purposes are to build a “quantum-smart workforce of the future and engage with government, academic and private-sector leaders to advance QIS.” This federal funding is welcome, even though it’s less than required for a Manhattan-style project equivalent to China’s national quantum initiative. It will be highly important to our region that our congressional delegation, several members of whom are particularly tech-savvy, advocate our case for a fair share of this funding. Our Washington State Legislature should support this by making appropriations for quantum computing and education at the UW as a down payment showing local support. There is also a role for private companies to support our quantum efforts beyond what Microsoft is already doing. I am reminded of the grants by Amazon to the UW in 2012 during the Great Recession, engineered by then-UW computer science chair Ed Lazowska to recruit two leading professors, Carlos Guestrin from Carnegie Mellon and Emily Fox from the University of Pennsylvania, to strengthen the UW’s machine learning expertise. The two $1 million gifts created two endowed professorships. Inflation has certainly raised the price for endowed professorships, but perhaps this could be repeated. Microsoft is focusing on the development of quantum computers that take advantage of cryogenically cooled nanowires. (Microsoft Photo) Another way to build our region’s quantum expertise would be for a local tech entrepreneur to follow the example of Paul Allen, who endowed five $100 million-plus scientific institutes, one of which is the Allen Institute of Artificial Intelligence, headed by former UW professor and current venture partner at Madrona, Oren Etzioni. Building a quantum workforce begins in K-12 schools with teaching computer science, which is a stepping stone to quantum information science. K-12 schools in the U.S. are woefully deficient in teaching basic computer science. Nationally, only 35 percent of high schools offer a computer science course, according to Code.org. And in low-income and minority schools this is even lower since the 35 percent reflects a lot of suburban schools which are more likely to offer computer science courses. We are beginning to address this gap in high schools, but a much larger commitment is needed. Private companies can help fill part of the gap. Amazon recently its Future Engineers program, which includes a $50 million investment in computer science and STEM education for underprivileged students. As part of this program, a few weeks ago, Amazon announced grants to more than 1,000 schools in all 50 states, over 700 of which are Title 1 schools. Studies have shown that if a disadvantaged student takes an advanced computer science course in high school, they are eight times as likely to major in computer science at a university. In addition to Amazon, Microsoft and other tech companies have programs to increase the teaching of computer science. One of those programs, backed by Microsoft, is TEALS, which organizes employees and retired employees as volunteers to teach computer science in schools. Amazon, Microsoft and other tech companies are big financial supporters of Code.org, which is having a significant effect on increasing the teaching of computer science in public schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer science related jobs needing to be filled, but only 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills to apply for those jobs. Only a tiny percentage of the 400,000 are minorities or from low-income families. A similar need exists in Washington state, with a gap of several thousand between the jobs to be filled and the number of annual graduates. In Seattle and other tech centers in the U.S., we have been fortunate that we have been able to attract and retain a very substantial number of computer scientists from other countries to fill these jobs. But with immigration and trade uncertainties, this flow is uncertain and may not be as robust as needed. Even more important, by not providing the opportunity for our kids, particularly disadvantaged children, we are short-changing them. The best way to close the income gap is to improve our public educational system so a broader segment of our population can qualify for the jobs of the future. Organizations such as the Technology Access Foundation are attacking this problem head-on by creating curriculum, recruiting minority teachers and building schools. We need to support these organizations and implement their approach broadly. At the university level, we are also deficient in educating a sufficient number of computer scientists. Even at universities such as the UW, with large and high-quality computer science schools, we are unable to fill the demand for computer scientists. The Allen School graduates about 450 undergraduate students annually. Although this is double what the school produced a few years ago, it is woefully short of the several thousand needed annually in our state. This needs to be doubled again, but funding is lacking. In short, our region needs to recommit to building our computer science workforce beginning in our K-12 schools, and undertake a new effort to build our quantum expertise and workforce.
Microsoft and University of Washington researchers built an automated system that was fed by bottles of chemicals to encode date in custom-designed DNA molecules. (Microsoft / UW Image) DNA data storage holds the promise of putting huge amounts of information into a test tube — but who wants to carry test tubes around a data center all day? Researchers from Microsoft ahd the University of Washington are working on a better way: a completely automated system that can turn digital bits into coded DNA molecules for storage, and turn those molecules back into bits when needed. They used their proof-of-concept system, described in a paper published today in , to encode the word “hello” in strands of DNA and then read it out. That may sound like a ridiculously simple task, but it served to show that the system works. “We have conviction that DNA molecules are good candidates for data storage. But we are, at heart, computer architects. We really want to figure out what a future computer could look like,” Luis Ceze, a professor at UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, told GeekWire. “What’s exciting for us here is that It’s one step toward showing a computer system that has a molecular component and an electronic component.” The mechanism for DNA data storage is similar to the way the DNA in our cells encodes genetic information: Instead of using electronic ones and zeros, the encoding system translates data into DNA base pairs, using the chemical “letters” for adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine (A, C, G, T). “Hello,” for example, could be coded into the chemical string TCAACATGATGAGTA. It’s important to note that the custom-made molecule doesn’t do anything genetically. Rather, the system merely uses the chemicals in DNA as code. “There are no cells, no organisms,” said Microsoft principal researcher Karin Strauss. The method dramatically increases the density of data storage. Theoretically, you could store a billion billion bytes of data (known as an exabyte) in a cubic inch of fluid, Strauss says. In past experiments, the Microsoft-UW team ranging from historical texts to cat pictures to a high-definition OK Go music video. UW’s Molecular Information Systems Laboratory even has a where you can upload your own files for DNA storage. But that work involved a lot of manual steps to figure out the code, send an order to get the molecules synthesized, wait for the DNA to come back in the mail and then run the experiments. Because so much handling was involved, there were lots of opportunities to make mistakes. That would never fly in a commercial setting. “You can’t have a bunch of people running around a data center with pipettes — it’s too prone to human error, it’s too costly and the footprint would be too large,” study lead author Chris Takahashi, senior research scientist at the Allen School, said in a news release. That’s why an automated system is a big deal. The system takes advantage of Microsoft software to translate digital code into DNA code. That code is then automatically sent to a synthesizer that combines the required chemicals and liquids, in just the right order and proportions, and then spits out the custom-made DNA molecules into a storage vessel. To read out the data, the DNA is drawn into an apparatus that adds chemicals and pushes them through a nanopore DNA sequencing machine. The sequence is automatically converted into the ones and zeros of digital data. Ceze said the procedure still took 12 to 16 hours, but the elapsed time wasn’t the point of this experiment. Rather, the point was to show that an automated system could do the work reliably from start to finish. The Microsoft-UW team has also created a on a digital microfluidic device dubbed PurpleDrop . The operating system, known as Puddle, can be used to issue commands for a microfluidic system, much as a more conventional operating system like Linux can issue commands for an electronic computing system. Here’s a sample of Puddle code: a = input(substance_A) b = input(substance_B) ab = mix(a, b) while get_pH(ab) > 7: heat(ab) acidify(ab) “What’s great about this system is that if we wanted to replace one of the parts with something new or better or faster, we can just plug that in,” Microsoft researcher Bichlien Nguyen said. Eventually, a next-generation DNA data storage system could be combined with devices like PurpleDrop and software like Puddle to create a computer environment based on microfluidics instead of electronics. Ceze said that would probably lead to hybrid computer systems that blend the processing power of electronic computing with the data storage density of DNA. “Our vision for using molecules is for applications that have a very large of data,” he said. “The kind of computing that we are exploring is pattern-matching and approximate search. If you have a large collection of images and video, how do you find similar images, how do you find similar videos?” Ceze and his colleagues already have demonstrated how for images that match a given query. That kind of capability is something that the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is . Also this week, researchers at Caltech and the University of California at Davis that uses self-assembling DNA molecules to run algorithms. “It’s super-interesting,” Ceze said. “It allows you to do computation at the molecular scale … but it’s not really about processing large amounts of data, which is our goal.” DNA-based computer systems aren’t likely to show up at Best Buy anytime soon. “We’re really imagining this being deployed in the cloud. … The scenario that we see is replacing parts of a larger-scale system that sits in a data center with system components that use molecular data storage and molecular data search,” Ceze said. Strauss isn’t willing to predict how long it will take to add DNA to Microsoft Azure, but she’s confident that Microsoft and UW will do what it takes to turn the experiment into a product. “We have a very special team here,” she said. “We’ve very lucky to be in an environment where people are willing to make bets and innovate.” The University of Washington’s Luis Ceze and Microsoft’s Karin Strauss are part of a team for the DNA data storage project. (Tara Brown Photography / University of Washington) Takahashi, Nguyen, Strauss and Ceze are co-authors of the open-access study in Nature Scientific Reports,
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks at an event presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (Department of Defense Photo) Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who was a veteran Boeing executive before going to the Pentagon, is facing an ethics investigation amid complaints that he has been talking up his former employer and disparaging Boeing’s competitors. The Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General today acknowledged that it was looking into the complaints about actions that were “allegedly in violation of ethics rules.” Shanahan, who spent much of his 31 years at Boeing managing commercial airplane programs, won Senate confirmation to become assistant defense secretary in 2017 and after James Mattis’ departure at the end of last year. When Shanahan came to the Pentagon, he pledged to recuse himself from any matters involving Boeing. But in January, as saying that he repeatedly praised Boeing and trashed Lockheed Martin during high-level internal meetings. One former official quoted him as describing Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter program as “f—ed up” and complaining that the company “doesn’t know how to run a program.” In late January, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asking Shanahan to respond to the reports, and this month the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington . In statements sent to news media today, the inspector general’s office said it would follow through with an investigation into the allegations. The office noted that just last week, Shanahan he’d support an investigation. , Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, as saying that the acting secretary “has at all times remained committed to upholding his ethics agreement filed with the DoD.” Warren, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and officially kicked off her 2020 presidential campaign last month, welcomed news of the investigation. “The American people should be able to trust that government officials are working for them – not for big defense contractors,” .
Microsoft researchers Krysta Svore and David Reilly work on hardware for a quantum computer. (Microsoft Photo) Quantum computer scientist Krysta Svore has a dream. In her dream, she arrives at the week’s at the University of Washington in a self-driving car that uses quantum computation to sharpen the precision of its GPS readings and optimize its route through traffic. “So I got here faster than I ever have before,” Svore said. “I paid with my quantum credit card, which I know no one has stolen, because it’s fully secure,” she said “On the way, I looked outside, and the air was crisp and clear. We have more carbon being extracted from the atmosphere. We have cleaner energy solutions. In fact, the country was just rewired with room-temperature superconducting cable, so we have lossless power transmission across the United States.” In Svore’s dream, quantum computers have optimized the routes for transmitting that power, and have also come up with the chemistry for super-efficient storage batteries, turning solar and wind power into always-available electricity. “All of this is leading to a lower power bill for me,” she said. Svore dreams of quantum technologies that can design new drugs on the molecular scale, map distant black holes with incredible precision and create new types of games that will help the next generation get used to how the weird world of quantum physics works. “This was my dream last night,” Svore said. “The world was different. It was quantum. But in fact, this dream is here. The world is quantum. And it’s in our hands today to create this dream, to create it here in the Northwest.” In the waking world, Svore is general manager of quantum software at Microsoft — and one of the organizers of this week’s quantum computing summit, which concluded today. The aim of the event was to build new connections within the Pacific Northwest’s quantum research community. Microsoft, UW and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory already have a productive public-private partnership in the field, and this week’s event attracted hundreds of like-minded research leaders from Washington state, Oregon, British Columbia and beyond. Quantum computing is different from classical digital computing in that it relies on the manipulation of quantum bits, or qubits, that can hold different values simultaneously until the result of the computation is read out. The hardware and software are tricky to work out, but some companies — such as in Burnaby, B.C. — are already offering first-generation quantum cloud services. Within five years, Microsoft hopes to follow with its own on the Azure cloud platform. Funding for quantum research isn’t just a dream. Tech companies are pouring millions of dollars into their quantum efforts, and the sets aside $1.2 billion for quantum research over the next five years. The White House’s recently released budget proposal calls for spending $430 million on quantum information science in the coming fiscal year. “Quantum information science has the potential to revolutionize our scientific knowledge, improve our industrial base, and provide substantial economic and national security benefits,” the White House says in its . The $430 million would be divvied up among the Pentagon, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Chris Fall, director of the Energy Department’s Office of Science, said quantum information science will be crucial to the economy as well as national security, in part because of its potential for breaking encryption codes and creating new forms of secure communications. To follow through on the National Quantum Initiative Act, the Energy Department is gearing up to create a network of regional quantum research centers — a network that the Northwest Quantum Nexus hopes to get in on. Fall said he can’t predict where the centers will be placed, but he assured attendees that quantum research will be a priority for his department. “We’re really going to be all in on this,” he said. Jacob Taylor, assistant director for quantum information science at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, focused on the broader technological advances that will be sparked by the quantum quest. “When I think about building a quantum computer, I don’t think about building qubits,” he said. “I think about materials science. I think about control electronics. I think about cryogenics. I think about lasers. I think about vacuum systems. I think about control software. … I look at the stuff that’s happening in quantum sensing, and quantum networking to some extent, as big drivers of science and also a technological base, which will feed into what you might need to build a quantum computer.” As is the case for , the United States has rivals in the quantum computing race. The European Union has set aside more than a billion dollars for its , and by some accounts, China is . Taylor, however, cautioned against making dollar-to-dollar comparisons. He said it’s hard to determine exactly how much China is spending because different types of programs are classified in different ways. “All I can say is, it’s clear that they are spending a lot of money,” Taylor said. U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said he looks at the quantum race primarily through the prism of national security. He acknowledged it’s not easy for him to understand the detailed workings of quantum computing. “One thing I do understand is it gives us the ability to test theories, to look at the challenges that we have and figure out ‘how can we get an answer to this?’ … In the defense world, it’s about doing everything better,” said Smith, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. Smith said he has a quantum dream of his own. “As a child, I read the by Isaac Asimov. What I want is, I want to be able to predict what our adversaries are going to do, what human beings are going to do,” Smith said. “I’m not actually entirely kidding about that.”
The first 737 MAX 8 plane undergoes final assembly at Boeing’s Renton plant in 2015. (Boeing Photo) In the wake of two catastrophic crashes that may have had a common cause, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao today opened the way for an audit of the process that led the Federal Aviation Administration to certify Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 jets in 2017. Because of the similarities between the two crashes, 737 MAX jets have been grounded worldwide. Boeing and the FAA are reportedly facing multiple investigations, including the audit announced today. Chao formally requested the audit in a referral memo to the department’s Office of Inspector General. The audit is meant to “help inform the department’s decision making and the public’s understanding, and to assist the FAA in ensuring that its safety procedures are implemented effectively,” Chao wrote. It will be part of a continuing review of factors related to aviation certification, she said. In a tweet, Boeing said it would “fully cooperate” with the audit. The audit is likely to address claims that the FAA put too much reliance on Boeing’s own analysis if safety issues surrounding the 737 MAX during its years-long development. The MAX is the latest version of Boeing’s workhorse single-aisle passenger airplane, with engines that are larger and more fuel-efficient than the previous-generation 737. The heft of the engines changed the aerodynamic characteristics of the 737. To minimize the need for pilot retraining, Boeing developed an automatic control system, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS, which was designed to keep the plane from stalling if it encountered extreme conditions. Investigators say the MCAS appears to have played a role in last October’s crash of a nearly new Lion Air 737 MAX 8 jet in Indonesia, which killed 189 people. And preliminary reports suggest that an Ethiopian Airlines 737-8 traced a similar flight profile before it crashed on March 10 in Ethiopia, killing 157. In both cases, pilots reported flight control problems just minutes after takeoff, and soon afterward, each plane went into a catastrophic nose dive. In the Lion Air case, investigators surmise that the MCAS system received spurious data from a single sensor that monitored the wings’ angle of attack. Boeing says pilots can follow a procedure to disengage the MCAS in the event of a malfunction, but the Lion Air pilots didn’t follow that procedure. This week, reports emerged that readings extracted from the flight data recorder on the Ethiopian plane pointed to a similar angle-of-attack issue. Also this week, reports in and the raised questions about the procedures that the FAA and Boeing followed during development of the 737 MAX. To expedite that development effort, Boeing conducted its own safety analysis for the MAX and submitted it to the FAA. The Seattle Times quoted sources as saying that the initial analysis downplayed the scope and persistence of the MCAS system, as well as the need for additional pilot training. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a former FAA safety engineer said there was “constant pressure” to review Boeing’s documents quickly. The Wall Street Journal said the Transportation Department will look into whether unwarranted shortcuts were taken during the certification process. A separate grand jury investigation was being directed by the Justice Department, the Journal reported, and congressional hearings are a near-certainty. Boeing says it will soon roll out a software update for the 737 MAX that limits operation of the MCAS, and issue new guidance for pilot training as well. But the fact that multiple investigations are in the works suggests that the software fix won’t immediately fix Boeing’s image problem. Even if the FAA clears the 737 MAX for flight, regulators in Canada and other countries outside the U.S. say they won’t take the FAA’s word but . Air Canada said it plans to . Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., whose district includes the Boeing plant in Renton where the 737 MAX is built, said today that he worries about the plane’s reliance on automatic control systems like the MCAS. “It’s like when you call information, it’s great to have all these different menus, but you always want to be able to press zero and talk to a human,” Smith said during an appearance at a quantum computing summit at the University of Washington. “When you’re setting up these machines, all else fails, you’ve got to be able to push a button and just operate the damn thing.”
White House tech adviser Michael Kratsios addresses scores of executives, experts and officials at a White House summit focusing on artificial intelligence in May 2018. (OSTP via Twitter) For months, the White House has been talking up artificial intelligence as one of America’s most important tech frontiers. Now we’re starting to see some of the dollar signs behind the talk. In newly released budget documents, the Trump administration says it wants to split $850 million in civilian federal spending on AI research and development between the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Energy Department. This is in addition to for AI and machine learning, including $208 million for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. Based on the agency-by-agency breakdowns, NSF would get the lion’s share of the $850 million — specifically, The Department of Energy says it’s that would “improve the robustness, reliability, and transparency of Big Data and AI technologies, as well as quantification and development of software tools for DOE mission applications.” About $71 million would go to DOE’s Office of Science, and $48 million would go to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which safeguards the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The National Institutes of Health doesn’t lay out exactly how much it’s requesting in its , but it does detail what the money would be used for: “NIH is focused on the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) for catalyzing advances in basic (e.g., image interpretation, neuroscience, genomic variants and disease risk, gene structure, and epigenomics) and clinical research (e.g., robotic surgery, natural language processing of electronic health record data, inferring treatment options for cancer, reading radiology results). NIH recognizes that there are many areas of biomedical research where novel computing, machine intelligence, and deep learning techniques have the potential to advance human health.” NIST hasn’t yet provided details about the funds it’s aiming to devote to AI, but its total R&D budget would be trimmed by 8 percent if the administration’s proposal is accepted. NSF would face a 10 percent cut, and NIH would see its total R&D budget reduced by 13 percent. The White House says fiscal austerity is forcing a narrowing of R&D priorities. “While recognizing the continued importance of R&D spending to support innovation, fiscal prudence demands a more focused approach to the Federal R&D budget in the context of America’s multi-sector R&D enterprise. This approach prioritizes maintaining peace through strength and ensures U.S. leadership in the Industries of the Future,” the White House said in its R&D overview. AI is considered one of four Industries of the Future, along with quantum information science, advanced communications systems such as 5G and advanced manufacturing. Today the White House sent another signal that it wants to raise the profile of AI research by launching a new internet portal about its policy: . The website pulls together the administration’s policies, documents and program descriptions relating to AI. “The White House’s newly unveiled illustrates our whole of government approach to national artificial intelligence policy and the historic strides this administration has made over the past two years,” Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy, said in a news release. “We look forward to continued advancements solidifying America’s position as the world leader in AI and ensuring this emerging technology is developed and applied for the benefit of the American people.” Will the White House’s AI spending plan get through Congress? It’s likely to get some tweaks along the way, but lawmakers have been generally supportive of AI initiatives. In contrast, the White House’s wider plan to trim back on R&D spending is facing pushback from the scientific community and some congressional leaders.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos prepares to unleash the robo-dragonfly. (Jeff Bezos via Instagram) Find someone who looks at you the way Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos looks at the robotic dragonfly that’s buzzing around his head at this week’s MARS conference. MARS is Amazon’s annual invitation-only event focusing on Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space. This year’s attendees range from researchers and entrepreneurs in all those fields to celebrities like “Star Wars” legend Mark Hamill and veteran astronauts including Mike Massimino and Story Musgrave. (Astronauts attend for free.) This week marks the fourth annual MARS gathering, which has now The first re:MARS conference is planned for June 4-7 in Las Vegas, with a $1,999 admission charge. Lots of weighty subjects are addressed at MARS, but Bezos says the most important metric for judging success is to “have some fun.” He certainly seems to follow that precept in the clip from last night that he shared on and . Earlier in the day, we got a peek at — but during the onstage event, Bezos and the bug dominated the spotlight. The scene has the potential to rank right up there with other MARS moments, such as , or 2017’s . Thank you , but bigger please…. I want to get on! — Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) In the workaday world, BionicOpter is meant to be used to provide sensor data continuously from the air, via a wireless connection. But at The Parker Resort in Palm Springs, the purpose appears to be purely to have some fun. Bezos released the BionicOpter to take a few spins around his head, and then the dragonfly’s keeper gracefully grabbed the dragonfly from the air. “You’re good at catching it,” Bezos said. “You’ve done that before.” Afterward, the billionaire registered one request: “Thank you @FestoAG, but bigger please…. I want to get on!” Bezos did get on a bigger flying machine during a MARS outing to the Palm Springs Air Museum. He sat in the single seat on Lift Aircraft’s Hexa ultralight passenger drone, which could show up in Seattle one of these days.. The myriad highlights from Monday’s MARS session make for another story as well. , featuring visual dispatches from Arizona State University planetary scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton. And check back on this report later in the day in case there are updates from today’s session.
Arizona State University’s Lindy Elkins-Tanton and MIT’s Dava Newman face the camera during Amazon’s MARS conference. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is in the giant drone behind them. (Lindy Elkins-Tanton via Twitter) Which is more viral, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos getting buzzed by a robotic dragonfly, or Bezos buzzing in ? Those are just a couple of today’s highlights from Amazon’s annual invitation-only festival in Palm Springs, Calif., celebrating Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space. As usual, we’re on the outside looking in, based on tweets with the and reports from those on the scene at The Parker Resort. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University, has emerged as the most reliable tweeter about the MARS goings-on. She’s the one who tweeted out a as a robo-dragonfly flitted around the conference grounds. She also shared of at the Palm Springs Air Museum. The moments echoed Bezos’ at last year’s MARS meeting, and his to kick off 2017’s event. It’s Hexa! At the Palm Springs sir museum! — Lindy Elkins-Tanton (@ltelkins) And here is being mobbed by a robotic dragonfly. Forbidden Planet!! — Lindy Elkins-Tanton (@ltelkins) So far, flying contraptions have been dominating the MARS goings-on. But there’s lots more to keep watch for, including the occasion celebrity sighting. We know that “Star Wars” star Mark Hamill is there because he shows up in the background of a selfie from gravitational-wave researcher Chiara Mingarelli: When Luke Skywalker photobombs your selfie… you’re at — Dr Chiara Mingarelli (@Dr_CMingarelli) We know that retired NASA astronaut Story Musgrave, one of the spacewalking saviors of the Hubble Space Telescope, is also in attendance — thanks to a couple of tweets from game developer Robin Baumgarten: Wobbling with astronaut Story Musgrave, nbd
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Microsoft President Brad Smith discuss the challenge of quantum computing during a fireside chat at the Northwest Quantum Nexus Summit at the University of Washington. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) The Pacific Northwest may be known for tech icons like Microsoft and Amazon but when U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was asked what advice she’d give to the researchers and executives who are trying to up their game when it comes to quantum computing, she invoked a slogan used by a totally different kind of industry leader. “To borrow from another Northwest icon, ‘Just Do It,’ ” she said, referring to Nike, the Oregon-based sporting goods powerhouse. During today’s fireside chat with Microsoft President Brad Smith at the kickoff summit of a public-private consortium called the , Cantwell said quantum computing could become as much a part of the Pacific Northwest’s tech scene as Boeing and Microsoft, Amazon and Blue Origin. Quantum computing is a fuzzy approach to number-crunching that’s totally different from the classical data processing methods that have ruled the tech world for decades. Researchers haven’t yet created a universal quantum computer, but Vancouver, B.C.-based is already selling access to a . Microsoft, meanwhile, is aiming to . Cantwell and Smith acknowledged that relatively few folks in the general public are keyed into what computer scientists call “the quantum advantage” — that is, the ability of quantum computation to solve problems in chemistry, materials science and other fields that simply can’t be addressed by classical computers. Smith even wondered whether Cantwell’s colleagues in the Senate were able to keep up. “In some ways, the first test of whether a topic will resonate with the general public is whether people can reach the members of the House and Senate,” Smith mused. “Is that supposed to be funny?” Cantwell deadpanned. Cantwell, who worked as a tech executive at Real Networks before her election to the Senate in 2000, said members of the general public aren’t likely to get excited about quantum computing until they see its applications come to life — for example, in the form of exotic materials for super-efficient power storage batteries. “We’re so close on some of the renewables, yet we need to solve the storage problem to really make it work,” she said. The fact that the payoff may be a long time coming doesn’t mean entrepreneurs should back away from the frontier, she said. “What you can’t predict is how fast breakthroughs are going to happen. … Unleash it, just do it, unleash that, and my guess is we’ll be pretty surprised at what people can accomplish,” Cantwell said. Previously: Cantwell and other policymakers are already “doing it” by following through on the , which sets aside $1.2 billion over the next five years to boost quantum information science. The senator, who serves as the ranking member on the , said that funding will now have to go through the appropriations process to identify specific programs to receive the money. The legislation calls for , and one of the Northwest Quantum Nexus’ objectives may well be to bring one of those centers to our neck of the woods. Cantwell acknowledged that the $1.2 billion pales in comparison with the . “Are we going to spend as much as the Chinese? No, I don’t think we’re going to spend as much as the Chinese, but I think we’ll spend enough so that the people here in the United States can work collaboratively to get this done,” she said. Working collaboratively could well be one of the Pacific Northwest research community’s greatest strengths. The newly formed Northwest Quantum Nexus serves as an example: Microsoft, the University of Washington and the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are spearheading the initiative, but the more than 400 people who registered for this week’s summit at UW also include representatives of the region’s other universities as well as Boeing, Vulcan, Google and other tech companies. (No one from Nike, though.) “There’s so much collaboration in the Northwest, and I guess that’s what really makes me excited. … There’s so much innovation, but if you can’t implement it, then what’s the point?” Cantwell said. “One thing that we’re really good at here in the Pacific Northwest is, obviously we believe in science, and the fact that we collaborate very well across a lot of different disciplines to make those things work .”
Ethiopian Airlines employees conduct a memorial service on March 15 to pay tribute to colleagues and passengers who lost their lives in the March 10 crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet. (Ethiopian Airlines Photo) The latest word from the investigation of is that readings retrieved from the flight data recorder reportedly point to circumstances similar to those that surrounded a 737 MAX crash less than five months earlier in Indonesia. Regulators around the world suspected as much, based on data received via satellite from the plane during its minutes-long flight from Addis Ababa heading for Kenya on March 10. That’s what led them to last week. The March 10 crash killed all 157 people aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, while the October crash killed all 189 people aboard Lion Air Flight 610. In the Lion Air investigation, safety experts focused on an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. Boeing added the MCAS system to the 737 MAX to guard against having the airplane stall under extreme conditions. The measure was taken because the MAX’s engines are bigger than the engines on the previous line of 737s, changing the aerodynamics. Preliminary findings from the Indonesia probe suggested that the MCAS system was receiving spurious data about the plane’s aerodynamic “angle of attack” just after takeoff. That would lead the automatic system to force the plane’s nose downward into an uncalled-for dive. In the Lion Air case, the pilots repeatedly fought against the MCAS commands — and ultimately lost. Afterward, Boeing said pilots can use a procedure to disengage the MCAS system, but that procedure wasn’t followed by the Lion Air pilots. Today, Reuters quoted an unnamed source as saying the angle-of-attack readings from the Ethiopian Airlines jet’s flight data recorder were “very, very similar” to the Lion Air readings. The similarities will be the focus of further investigation, Reuters quoted its source as saying. The double disaster has raised deeper questions about the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of Boeing during the certification of the 737 MAX. Over the weekend, The Seattle Times quoted sources as saying that assessing the MCAS system’s safety. The Times said those analyses understated how much leeway the automatic system was given to move the horizontal tail in order to avoid a stall — or force a dive if the system malfunctioned. Another potential flaw with the system was that it depended on readings from a single angle-of-attack sensor, rather than multiple sensors. Much of The Seattle Times’ report was based on research conducted before the Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed. Aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote that “both Boeing and the FAA were informed of the specifics of this story and were asked for responses” a few days before the crash. People shouldn’t misread this point. I was not telling Boeing or the FAA anything they didn’t know.As noted, Boeing has been working since the first crash on a fix for the flaws my story listed — Dominic Gates (@dominicgates) In a , Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said that “safety is at the core of who we are at Boeing” and that the company is working with authorities and airlines to support the investigation and “help prevent future tragedies.” “Soon we’ll release a software update for the 737 MAX that will address concerns discovered in the aftermath of the Lion Air Flight 610 accident,” Muilenburg said. That update, and revisions in pilot training procedures, should address the MCAS’ behavior in response to erroneous sensor inputs, Boeing says. that Justice Department and Transportation Department officials are reviewing how the 737 MAX was developed, and how the plane won its regulatory approvals. it gave to 737 MAX jets. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has said he intends to hold a hearing into the issues raised by the crashes, in his capacity as the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The committee’s ranking Democratic member is Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. She touched on the matter briefly in response to a question today at the . “Paramount in all of this is safety,” Cantwell told GeekWire. “So we’re going to keep looking at all the data and information until we are sure that we understand every aspect of this.”
And here is being mobbed by a robotic dragonfly. Forbidden Planet!! — Lindy Elkins-Tanton (@ltelkins) went viral at last year’s MARS conference — but this year it’s. Billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos reveled once again in robotics today at Amazon’s annual invitation-only festival in Palm Springs, Calif., celebrating Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space. As usual, we’re on the outside looking in, based on tweets with the and reports from those on the scene at The Parker Resort. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist at Amazon State University, has emerged as the most reliable tweeter about the MARS goings-on. She’s the one who tweeted out a video clip of Bezos keeping watch amid a crowd of attendees as a robo-dragonfly flitted around the conference grounds. The moment echoed Bezos’ photo op with Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini robo-dog at last year’s MARS meeting, and Bezos’ to kick off 2017’s event. This year, one of the themes for the conference appears to be bio-inspired robotics. But there’s a lot more to keep watch for, including the occasion celebrity sighting. We know that “Star Wars” star Mark Hamill is at MARS because he shows up in the background of a selfie tweeted out by gravitational-wave researcher Chiara Mingarelli: When Luke Skywalker photobombs your selfie… you’re at — Dr Chiara Mingarelli (@Dr_CMingarelli) We know that retired NASA astronaut Story Musgrave, one of the spacewalking saviors of the Hubble Space Telescope, is also in attendance — thanks to a couple of tweets from game developer Robin Baumgarten: Wobbling with astronaut Story Musgrave, nbd
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory plan to employ quantum computing to develop new materials for chemical applications. (Microsoft Azure via YouTube) Experts in the weird and woolly field of quantum computing tend to concentrate on one slice of the challenge, whether it’s developing hardware, algorithms or applications — but in the region that’s home to Microsoft and Amazon, the University of Washington and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a new consortium is going after the whole stack. We’re not talking about pancakes or sandwiches here. We’re talking about the, which is aiming to widen a network of quantum connections for researchers, developers and business leaders. The group, led by Microsoft Quantum, PNNL and UW, was in advance of its inaugural summit this week at the university. Quantum computing goes in a direction that’s different from the classical computing techniques that have ruled the tech world for decades. In contrast to the on-or-off, one-or-zero bits of today’s digital computers, tomorrow’s quantum computers juggle fuzzy “qubits” that can be one-and-zero simultaneously until the result is read out. Researchers say the technique could potentially crack types of problems that classical computers couldn’t touch, even if they ran their algorithms for the lifetime of the universe. Over the next five years, the field will be getting a $1.2 billion boost in federal funding, thanks to the . And that flood of funding and attention is energizing computer scientists across the country. The Northwest Quantum Nexus aims to build a cluster for quantum research and development in Washington state, Oregon and British Columbia that’s analogous to the Midwest’s , the Boston area’s or . “We have a nice juxtaposition of all the same ingredients for quantum expertise as well as all of the ingredients that make this a real hotbed for the tech industry,” , director of PNNL’s Advanced Computing, Mathematics and Data Division, told GeekWire last week. “Together, that’s a perfect storm for making this thing feasible.” , general manager of in Redmond, Wash., said the Nexus has a “unique focus.” “Other centers are focusing on different aspects of quantum information science,” she said. “If you think of the stack for a quantum computer, we have algorithms and software at the top, then we have materials and the qubit design at the bottom. What we’re doing with the Nexus is that sandwich. We’re focusing on the sandwich elements to drive development on the other aspects, to drive scalability and accelerate the field.” Although the Northwest Quantum Nexus is just getting started, the Pacific Northwest has been a nexus for quantum information science for a long time. at its Redmond headquarters, and it’s . Just this month, the company to forge connections with startups and developers who are dialed into the Q# programming language and Microsoft’s . The Nexus and the Network provide complementary channels for building the infrastructure for quantum computing. PNNL, meanwhile, has been working to apply quantum computing principles to the development of exotic materials. Those efforts take advantage of computational chemistry tools such as the . Last year, for a quantum computing chemistry project. The University of Washington has a whole range of research areas that can take advantage of quantum principles, ranging from the purely theoretical to applied engineering. The different threads of research have recently been knit together into an initiative called . The University of Washington’s Kai-Mei Fu, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Nathan Baker and Microsoft’s Krysta Svore are among the organizers of the Northwest Quantum Nexus. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) All three keystone partners see the Nexus as a way to kick things up a notch by expanding public-private partnerships. “We’re not going to be able to address these research questions without multidisciplinary teams,” Baker said. “So some of what the Nexus needs to be doing is making connections. As a region, we want to be able to make it easier for the members of those multidisciplinary teams to find each other, find research problems, find opportunities and go after them.” For example, UW offered its first undergraduate-level class in quantum computing this quarter, with Microsoft computer scientists doing the teaching. , a UW associate professor of physics and electrical and computer engineering who’s also the co-chair of QuantumX, sees signs of a “whole paradigm shift in education.” “Most computer science departments don’t have people working in quantum information, and that has to change,” she said. “We need the brightest minds working in the field to take full advantage of the ‘quantum advantage.’ ” One of the best-known applications for quantum computing is in the security realm, either to crack encryption codes or to open the way for new methods of secure communications. That angle has gotten a lot of attention from the and from a . But Svore said the Nexus is focusing on other applications. “We don’t believe that the big commercial application is to go break codes, right?” she said. “We believe the big applications are to bring forward quantum solutions for businesses, quantum solutions for…” “… Materials science,” Fu said. “… Better batteries,” Baker added. “That’s the area,” Svore said. “Another unique focus for the Nexus is sustainability, , better materials. …” “Very Northwest,” Fu chimed in. “Yeah,” said Svore, laughing.