Cadillac had two big pieces of news at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show: The new money-printing XT6 crossover and big plans for electrification in the coming years starting with a battery-powered crossover. The problem, however, is right now. Sales are down, the direction forward is unclear, it feels behind the curve in…
Over the past year, Plex started supporting podcasts, introduced a portal for on-demand web shows and bundled Tidal with its service. It's no longer just a media manager, and the company plans to continue in that trajectory by offering ad-supported movies. According to TechCrunch, Plex is already in discussions with rights holders and networks to bring ad-supported movies and subscription programming to the platform.
Its agreement with Tidal apparently gave Plex the idea to pursue these new deals, since it had to build transactional capabilities into its platform to be able to offer the music streaming service in a bundle. The backend work the company did for the partnership opened doors for other potential partners.
Plex co-founder Scott Olechowski explained during a discussion at CES:
"Now we have the ability to sell other services and bundle. We're bundling a Plex Pass with TIDAL. That took a little bit of backend work. You can imagine a bunch of different premium [content] that comes together in a single or multiple bundles, potentially... We have the ad integration that we didn't have before. That wasn't there a year and a half ago."
If and when movies become available on the platform, you'll reportedly be able to see what titles you can access based on your subscriptions under the movies tab. Presumably, you'll be able to access shows and other programming under their respective tabs, as well. Plex still needs to work on the DRM aspect of things and to figure out how to handle transactions for one-off purchases. But Olechowski said the company might be able to address those issues within this year and to offer more content in the near future.
Last month, Waymo launched its first self-driving taxi service — Waymo One — in Phoenix, Arizona, but you would hardly know it by scrolling through your feed. No Facebook posts, no live-streaming videos, no tweets. We don’t know how many people are using the Google offshoot’s self-driving minivans (Waymo won’t say), but the ones that are have been surprisingly mute on social media.
One exception is Shawn Metz, a 30-year-old HR manager who lives in Chandler, Arizona. Since he was invited to use Waymo One in December, Metz has posted at least a dozen videos on Instagram and YouTube, documenting his experience using Waymo’s self-driving minivans.
He’s become the hero of AV enthusiasts on Reddit for his willingness to answer questions and post unedited videos of his rides. And Waymo, never one to pass up a marketing opportunity, has even featured a softball interview with Metz on its Medium page.
“You would think that if you were in an autonomous vehicle, you would be posting all over social media,” Metz told me after I asked him why he appeared to be the only person posting photos and videos of his trips with Waymo One.
To be sure, Metz is part of a very exclusive club. For a few months in 2018, he was a member of Waymo’s Early Rider program, a group of 400 or so residents of the Phoenix area selected by the company to beta test its self-driving taxi service. Waymo has tightly controlled information about the project, contractually prohibiting Early Riders from discussing their experiences. Waymo One passengers are all former Early Rider, but are not subject to non-disclosure agreements.
“The opportunity to be able to have conversations like this, and share some of our feedback about it, was actually pretty exciting,” Metz said.
Metz says he and his wife use Waymo One around six to eight times a week, for trips to the grocery store, restaurants, or when he knows he’s going somewhere with limited parking. Interestingly, he never used Uber or Lyft prior to signing up with Waymo, and only downloaded the Uber app to compare fares with Waymo One. (“They’re awfully close. I think it was about 20 cents cheaper with Waymo.”)
His vehicle of choice is a bicycle, which he uses to commute nine miles to work as an HR manager in Tempe most days. But on those days when it’s too hot to bike — it got up to 122 degrees in Phoenix last year — Metz will take Waymo One.
While Waymo has been fairly transparent about some aspects of its business, there is still much we don’t know about it. Specific details, like the number of customers currently using Waymo One, the exact geography of its service area, and when the company expects to remove human safety drivers from behind the wheel, are a big question mark. Waymo says “hundreds” of Early Riders are in the process of being invited to use Waymo One, and the service area of “around 100 square miles” includes the towns of Chandler, Mesa, Tempe, and Gilbert.
There have also been questions raised about the quality of Waymo’s self-driving technology. According to a report in The Information, Waymo’s most advanced vehicles are still occasionally confounded by certain traffic situations, such as unprotected left turns. This suggests the tech — while incredibly advanced — is still not quite ready for the real world.
Metz shared a couple screenshots from the Waymo One app, which shows the geography of the service area and some of the accessibility features that are offered. He told me that one question he frequently gets asked is whether Waymo’s vehicles avoid taking freeways. Initially he told me it’s not a question he can really answer, as most of the trips he takes with Waymo One don’t require freeway driving. But after our interview, he sent me a video of a recent nighttime trip that he took from US-60 to Loop 101, after getting a flat tire on his bike.
(He even managed to squeeze his damaged bicycle in the minivan, despite not having access to the vehicle’s trunk. “With the wheels removed, it fits between the captain’s chairs!” Metz wrote on Reddit. “However, I’m not sure that I would do it again. I messaged Waymo Support and profusely apologized after the ride because I think I got some dirt on the ceiling taking it out.”
He recalled a handful of moments when the Waymo vehicle appeared confused by certain situations, such as a crowded parking lot outside Costco. “I was really ambitious and I tried to take it to Costco on the weekend during the holiday season,” he said. “And basically we essentially got kind of stuck outside of entrance.” After several minutes of failing to find a gap through the number of pedestrians streaming in and out of the store, Metz said the vehicle “timed out” and the safety driver had to call Waymo’s remote support center for re-routing help.
Waymo’s remote support workers, located in offices in Phoenix, Mountain View, and Austin, Texas, provide an additional layer of oversight for its autonomous vehicles, with access to video feeds from more than a half-dozen cameras mounted outside and one inside the vans.
Inclement weather, and rain specifically, poses another problem. Metz said he hailed a Waymo vehicle during a recent rainstorm, and when he got in, discovered that the company’s human monitor was driving the car manually. But Metz said he doesn’t fault Waymo for being overly cautious, nor does he sympathize with Phoenix residents who have complained about getting stuck behind a slow-moving self-driving car. “If you’re tailgating and doing ten over [the speed limit], then yeah, you’re going to be angry,” he said.
Recentreports of Waymo vehicles being attacked with knives and rocks by irate Arizonians were shocking to Metz, who says he has never encountered any belligerence while riding in the autonomous vehicles. Chandler police have logged nearly two dozen incidents over the last two years, TheArizona Republic reports. “It is Arizona,” Metz said, laughing.
Pickups and drop-offs with Waymo are fairly seamless, he said, though there was one incident when the minivan dropped him off on the wrong side of the street. “The driver put it in manual mode just because our trip already ended, to take us across the street,” he said.
Tiny corrections like that will become more complicated when Waymo removes its human safety drivers from the vehicles, as is ultimately the goal. Waymo was criticized when it launched Waymo One with human monitors behind the wheel. Some felt the service had been over hyped. The limited rollout of Waymo One has helped reinforce the growing perception that self-driving cars — truly driverless ones that need zero human input within a specific area — are still a long way in the future.
Metz, for one, is happy to wait. The fact that Waymo One isn’t truly driverless doesn’t bother him. At least not yet.
“I would actually like to see the safety drivers stay in the vehicles, for at least another three to six months,” he said. Metz said he wouldn’t know what do as a passenger if the vehicle got stuck, or created a traffic incident, without a human backup driver to take the wheel. “With how much is riding on the technology, I’d rather wait three to six months than have the technology get set back another decade or something because of something happening.”
Metz isn’t an engineer or an expert in computer vision or artificial intelligence. He’s just the guy in the backseat, enthusiastic about the technology, but also keen to get to where he’s going in one piece.
Fox News has barred a TV monitoring service from recording its broadcasts and allowing customers to search for and play back relevant segments. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the monitoring service TVEyes reached a settlement with Fox after a five-year-long legal battle requiring it to permanently stop distributing the network’s shows. TVEyes hasn’t been distributing Fox since March, after receiving an injunction.
TVEyes may not be well known, but it and similar companies perform an important service: allowing journalists to keep tabs on the dozens of hours of content broadcast on news channels each day. That’s particularly important when it comes to Fox News — a channel known for scare tactics, slanted coverage, and being watched by President Donald Trump.
In addition to journalists, the service is used by the White House, members of Congress, and the Department of Defense, according to the Reporter, which has been tracking the lawsuit for the past five years.
TVEyes argued that it made fair use of Fox News’ broadcasts, since its subscribers used the clips for commentary, criticism, and evaluating and tracking coverage. Initially, a federal court agreed, saying in 2014 that some of TVEyes’ service was transformative, according to the Reporter. But last year, an appeals court found that there was no fair use at all, because the service provided “virtually all of Fox’s copyrighted audiovisual content” and deprived Fox of revenue. The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal last month, leading to the settlement.
The ruling “undermines effective media analysis,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other tech advocacy groups wrote in an October filing with the Supreme Court. Not considering TVEyes’ work to be fair use allows Fox News and other content owners to “prevent commentary and criticism of their work” simply because they could license their content for redistribution, even if they choose not to.
While the settlement is a blow to journalists using TVEyes, TVEyes isn’t the only company offering TV monitoring services. In 2014, The Wrap reported that The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight both used a service called SnapStream, which also records broadcast TV and allows subscribers to search through clips. Similar services are provided by Critical Mention, Volicon, and Digital Nirvana, according to the report, although those services seem to be targeted more toward monitoring brand mentions for public relations purposes.
Fox News seems to have singled out TVEyes because of the way the service allowed subscribers to download and share as many clips as they want, cut up into 10 minute segments. At Bloomberg, Yale Law professor Stephen Carter pointed out in March that the ruling against TVEyes only stopped it from allowing subscribers to view clips; it would still be able to create a searchable catalog of everything that happened on air.
Carter argues that TVEyes could go ahead and pay licensing fees, if it wants to continue offering the service. But the EFF points out that Fox’s licensing terms might prevent that, by barring the use of clips in any manner critical of the network.
“It’s not in the interest of anyone to license out clips of their material for the purpose of it being debunked,” writes EFF policy analyst Katharine Trendacosta, “which is why the service provided by TVEyes is so valuable.”
Stratolaunch is axing several projects in an effort to scale back its operations a few months after founder Paul Allen, who's more recognized for being Microsoft's co-founder, passed away. According to GeekWire, the company will continue developing the world's largest aircraft, which is its main project in the first place. However, it will no longer push through with its plans to create a new type of rocket engine and a family of launch vehicles that include a space plane.
Those launch vehicles are still in their "design study" phase, and the first one was supposed to debut in 2022. The company already tested a core component of its hydrogen-and-oxygen-fuelled rocket engine named after its founder -- it's called PGA for Paul G. Allen -- but it looks like the project won't be completed anymore.
A spokesperson said in a statement sent to the publication:
"Stratolaunch is ending the development of their family of launch vehicles and rocket engine. We are streamlining operations, focusing on the aircraft and our ability to support a demonstration launch of the Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL air-launch vehicle. We are immensely proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to first flight in 2019."
Stratolaunch is reportedly letting 50 employees go and retaining only 20 to keep working on its giant plane and prepare it for first test flight sometime this year. The massive twin-fuselage aircraft, which weighs 500,000 pounds and has a wingspan measuring 385 feet, was designed to carry smaller launch vehicles and their payloads like satellites strapped to its belly. It's meant to be a reusable launch vehicle, flying its payload high enough and then releasing it mid-flight.
Unfortunately, the spokesperson didn't elaborate on why the company is scaling back its operations, but the costs of keeping the company running might have something to do with it. As GeekWire noted, the founders of other aerospace corporations have been using their own money to fund their space dreams. Both Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, for instance, have each invested around $1 billion into Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, respectively.
A classroom chart bearing an early version of the periodic table of elements has been discovered in a University of St. Andrews chemistry lab. Dating back to the 1880s, the chart is thought to be the world’s oldest.