energy

Apple stops selling the 12-inch MacBook, a computer you either loved or were confused by

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, apple keyboard, Boot Camp, computers, computing, energy, Gadgets, hardware, iPad, Laptop, macbook, macbook pro, macintosh, smartphone, Steve Jobs, TC | No Comments

Apple officially stopped selling the 12-inch MacBook today, a computer that hasn’t had an update since June 2017 and that is also maybe one of the most contentious Macs in Apple’s lineup. The 12-inch MacBook at one time seemed like Apple’s path forward (plenty of Apple fans and analysts saw it as a sign of things to come when it launched in 2015), but ultimately ended up representing some of Apple’s biggest challenges with its Macs in general.

The biggest indicator that Apple felt the MacBook was a showcase and crucial product was the name — it was just THE MacBook, without any additional epithets or qualifiers like “Air” or “Pro” (both of which predated its existence). And when it debuted, it brought a number of firsts for Apple’s laptop lineup, including USB-C for both data and power, a keyboard with butterfly mechanisms, a Force Touch trackpad and a new way of “terracing” batteries that allowed Apple to maximize the power available to the diminutive notebook without making any compromises on size.

For sheer portability and screen-to-size ratio, the MacBook was an absolute feat. But this computer was one of Apple’s boldest statements yet when it came to a separation from current standards and opinions about what users did and didn’t need in a laptop. It only came with a single USB-C port (“just one!” people gasped, and that’s for power, too!); the butterfly keyboard was strange and different. This last thing would later prove possibly Apple’s biggest technical gaffe in terms of fundamental component design, which has impact even today in that the company released brand new computers using butterfly keyboards and immediately added them to an extended keyboard replacement program.

The MacBook also always lagged significantly behind its Pro and Air companions in terms of processor power, thanks to the energy-sipping Intel chips required in its construction to minimize heat. As a former MacBook owner myself, it was enough that you noticed the chug when you were doing stuff that wasn’t necessarily heavy-duty, and painfully apparent if you used the little notebook simultaneously with a home desktop, for instance.

But the MacBook was also excellent in its own way. It was so portable as to be almost forgotten as an addition to a bag. It was maybe the ultimate pure writing notebook, because that’s not something that ever felt the lack of processor power under the hood. And as often maligned as it was for being a single-port machine (besides the headphone jack, which is now a luxury in the smartphone world), there was a certain amount of focus necessitated by this monk-like approach to I/O.

Ultimately, the MacBook resembles the original MacBook Air more than anything — an oddball that had both lovers and haters, but that didn’t meet the needs or expectations of the masses. Like the Air, the MacBook could rise from the ashes with a future incarnation, too — perhaps one made possible by the much-speculated future Apple transition to ARM processor architecture. Or maybe it’ll just make way for an ever-evolving iPad powered by the more sophisticated iPadOS coming this fall.

Regardless, the MacBook was an eccentric machine that I enjoyed using (and was potentially considering using again pending an update), so here’s hoping it’s not gone forever.

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Dandelion Energy, the Alphabet X spin out, raises another $16M led by GV and Comcast

Posted by | Alphabet X, Comcast Ventures, Dandelion, energy, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, geothermal, GV, hardware, science, smart home, TC | No Comments

As tech companies continue their race to control the smart home, a promising energy startup has raised a round of funding from traditionally tech and strategic investors for a geothermal solution to heat and cool houses. Dandelion Energy, a spin out from Alphabet X, has raised $16 million in a Series A round of funding, with strategic investors Comcast Ventures leading the round, along with GV, the investment arm of Alphabet formerly known as Google Ventures.

Lennar Corporation, the home-building giant, is also coming in as an investor, as are previous backers NEA, Collaborative Fund, Ground Up and Zhenfund, as well as other unnamed investors. Notably, Lennar once worked with Apple but is now collaborating with Amazon on smart homes.

As a side note, Dandelion’s investment is a timely reminder of how central “new home” startups are right now in smart home plays. Amazon just yesterday announced one more big move in its own connected home strategy with the acquisition of mesh Wi-Fi startup Eero, which helps extend the range and quality of Wi-Fi coverage in a property.

This is the second funding round for Dandelion in the space of a year, after the company raised a seed round of $4.5 million in March 2018, a mark of how the company has been seeing a demand for its services and now needs the capital to scale. In the past year, it had accrued a waitlist of “thousands” of homeowners requesting its services across America, where it is estimated that millions of homeowners heat their homes with fossil fuels, which are estimated to account for 11 percent of all carbon emissions.

The company is based out of New York, and for now New York is the only state where its services are offered. The funding may help change that. It will be used in part for R&D, but also to hire more people, open new warehouses for its equipment and supplies and for business development.

Dandelion is not disclosing its valuation, but in its last round the company had a modest post-money valuation of $15 million, according to PitchBook. It has now raised $23 million in total since spinning out from Alphabet X, the company’s moonshot lab, in May 2017.

The premise of Dandelion’s business is that it provides a source of heating and cooling for homes that takes people away from consuming traditional, energy grid-based services — which represent significant costs, both in terms of financial and environmental impact. If you calculate usage over a period of years, Dandelion claims that it can cut a household’s energy bills in half while also being significantly more friendly for the environment compared to conventional systems that use gas and fossil fuels.

While there have been a number of efforts over the years to tap geothermal currents to provide home heating and cooling, many of the solutions up to now have been challenging to put in place, with services typically using wide drills and digging wells at depths of more than 1,000 feet.

“These machines are unnecessarily large and slow for installing a system that needs only a few 4” diameter holes at depths of a few hundred feet,” Kathy Hannun, co-founder and CEO of Dandelion, has said in the past. “So we decided to try to design a better drill that could reduce the time, mess and hassle of installing these pipes, which could in turn reduce the final cost of a system to homeowners.”

The smaller scale of what Dandelion builds also means that the company can do an installation in one day.

While a pared-down approach means a lower set of costs (half the price of traditional geothermal systems) and quicker installation, that doesn’t mean that upfront costs are non-existent. Dandelion installations run between $20,000 and $25,000, although home owners can subsequently rack up savings of $35,000 over 20 years. (Hannun noted that today about 50 percent of customers choose to finance the installation, which removes the upfront cost and spreads it out across monthly payments.)

This is also where Lennar comes in. The company is in the business of building homes, and it has been investing in particular in the idea of building the next generation of homes by incorporating better connectivity, more services — and potentially alternative energy sources — from the ground up.

“We’re incredibly excited to invest in Dandelion Energy,” said Eric Feder, managing general partner for Lennar Ventures, in a statement. “The possibility of incorporating geothermal heating & cooling systems in our new homes is something we’ve explored for years, but the math never made sense. Dandelion Energy is finally making geothermal affordable and we look forward to the possibility of including it in the homes Lennar builds.”

The fact that Comcast is among the investors in Dandelion is a notable development.

The company has been acquiring, and taking strategic stakes in, a number of connected-home businesses as it builds its own connected home offering, where it not only brings broadband and entertainment to your TV and come computers, it also provides the tools to link up other connected devices to that network to control them from a centralised point.

Dandelion is “off grid” in its approach to providing home energy, and while you might think that it doesn’t make sense for a company that is investing in and peddling services and electronic devices connected to a centralised (equally electricity-consuming) internet to be endorsing a company that’s trying to build an alternative, it actually does.

For starters, Dandelion may be tapping geothermal energy but its pump uses electricity and sensors to monitor and moderate its performance.

“Dandelion’s heat pump is a connected device with 60 sensors that monitor the performance and ensures that the home owner is proactively warned if there are any issues,” Hannun said in an interview. “This paves the way to operate it in a smart way. It’s aligned with the connected home.” In other words, this positions Dandelion as one more device and system that could be integrated into Comcast’s connected home solution.

Aside from this, viewed in terms of the segment of customers that Comcast is targeting, it’s selling a bundle of connected home services to a demographic of users who are not afraid of using (and buying) new and alternative technology to do things a different way from how their parents did it. Dandelion may not be “connected,” but even its approach to disconnecting will appeal to a person who may already be thinking of ways of reducing his or her carbon footprint and energy bills (especially since they may be consuming vast amounts of electricity to run their connected homes).

“The home heating and cooling industry has been constrained by lack of innovation and high-costs,” said Sam Landman, managing director of Comcast Ventures, in a statement. “The team at Dandelion and their modern approach to implementing geothermal technology is transforming the industry and giving consumers a convenient, safe, and cost-effective way to heat and cool their homes while reducing carbon emissions.”

Landman and Shaun Maguire, a partner at GV, will both be joining Dandelion’s board with this round.

“In a short amount of time, Dandelion has already proven to be an effective and affordable alternative for home heating and cooling, leveraging best-in-class geothermal technology,” said Maguire, in a statement. “Driven by an exceptional leadership team, including CEO Kathy Hannun, Dandelion Energy is poised to have a meaningful impact on adoption of geothermal energy solutions among homeowners.”

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Schneider’s EVLink car charging stations were easily hackable, thanks to a hardcoded password

Posted by | automotive, broadband, charging stations, electric car, electric vehicles, energy, Gadgets, inductive charging, internet connectivity, New York, Security, transport | No Comments

Schneider has fixed three vulnerabilities in one of its popular electric car charging stations, which security researchers said could have easily allowed an attacker to remotely take over the unit.

At its worst, an attacker can force a plugged-in vehicle to stop charging, rendering it useless in a “denial-of-service state,” an attack favored by some threat actors as it’s an effective way of forcing something to stop working.

The bugs were fixed with a software update that rolled out on September 2, shortly after the bugs were first disclosed, and limited details of the bugs were revealed in a supporting document on December 20. A fuller picture of the vulnerabilities, found by New York-based security firm Positive Technologies, were released today — almost a month later.

Schneider’s EVLink charging stations come in all shapes and sizes — some for the garage wall and some at gas stations. It’s the charging stations at offices, hotels, shopping malls and parking garages that are vulnerable, said Positive.

At the center of Positive’s disclosure is Schneider’s EVLink Parking electric charging stations, one of several charging products that Schneider sells, and primarily marketed to apartment complexes, private parking area, offices and municipalities. These charging stations are, like others, designed for all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles — including Teslas, which have their own proprietary connector.

Because the EVLink Parking station can be connected to Schneider’s cloud with internet connectivity, either over a cell or a broadband connection, Positive said that the web-based user interface on the charging unit can be remotely accessed by anyone and easily send commands to the charging station — even while it’s in use.

“A hacker can stop the charging process, switch the device to the reservation mode, which would render it inaccessible to any customer until reservation mode is turned off, and even unlock the cable during the charging by manipulating the socket locking hatch, meaning attackers could walk away with the cable,” said Positive.

“For electric car drivers, this means not being able to use their vehicles since they cannot be charged,” it said. The company also said that it’s also possible to charge a car for free by exploiting these vulnerabilities.

Positive didn’t say what the since-removed password was. We asked for it — out of sheer curiosity more than anything — but the company isn’t releasing the password to prevent anyone exploiting the bug in unpatched systems.

The researchers, Vladimir Kononovich and Vyacheslav Moskvin, also found two other bugs that gives an attacker full access over a device — a code injection flaw and a SQL injection vulnerability. Both were fixed in the same software update.

When reached, a Schneider spokesperson did not immediately have comment. If that changes, we’ll update.

Additional reporting: Kirsten Korosec.

Updated at 12:15pm ET: with additional details, including about the unreleased password.

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GM is smartening up its Bolt EV smartphone app

Posted by | Android, Apple, automotive, cars, ChargePoint, charging stations, chevrolet bolt, electric vehicle, electric vehicles, energy, evgo, General-Motors, Greenlots, inductive charging, michigan, smartphone, transport, Transportation | No Comments

GM is sprucing up its smartphone app for owners of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt through a collaboration with charging network companies EVgo, ChargePoint and Greenlots.

The idea is to take aggregate dynamic data from each of the EV charging networks so owners can have a “more seamless charging experience.” In short: GM wants to make it easier and more intuitive for Bolt EV owners to find and access charging. Removing hurdles from the charging experience can go a long way in convincing more people to buy the Bolt EV, or any EV for that matter.

The partnership with EVgo, ChargePoint and Greenlots is a notable start considering that collectively that means more than 31,000 charging ports.

“GM believes in an all-electric future, and this is a significant step to make charging easier for our customers,” said Doug Parks, General Motors vice president of Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Programs. “By collaborating with these three companies, we expect to reduce barriers to create a stronger EV infrastructure for the future. This is an important step toward achieving GM’s vision of a world with zero emissions.”

GM plans to take the aggregate charging data from EVgo, ChargePoint and Greenlots and use it to improve the myChevrolet app. For instance, owners will be able to see if a charging station is available and compatible with the Bolt EV. It also will provide real-time data on charge stations to report if a charging station is working.

GM plans to create an app interface that will streamline the enrollment process for each of these networks. The automaker wants owners to be able to activate a charging session using the app instead of a membership card, but didn’t say when that feature would be rolled out.

GM recently made a few updates to the myChevrolet app that lets owners project the energy assist to the vehicle’s infotainment system via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for drivers with model year 2017 or newer Bolt EVs.

This means Bolt EV drivers can access information through their infotainment system, like vehicle range, charging station locations and search, as well as route planning that takes into consideration charging stops along the way if the destination is out of range.

Original purchasers of new Bolt EVs will have access to these features at no additional cost for five years from the vehicle delivery date, according to GM.

GM doesn’t provide updates about the Bolt EV, and more broadly its electric vehicle program, at the same pace and frequency as say Tesla. But the company is still ramping up and expanding. GM recently expanded a battery lab, and a new LG Electronics plant in Michigan has come online.

The LG Electronics facility in Hazel Park started making battery packs this fall to supply GM’s Orion Assembly Plant, where the automaker builds the all-electric Chevrolet  Bolt.

GM’s plan to launch 20 new all-electric vehicles globally by 2023 and increase production of the Chevy Bolt.

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New material design stores energy like an eagle

Posted by | 3d printing, energy, Gadgets, Latch, materials, matter, TC, universe, university of cambridge | No Comments

Auxetics are materials that store energy internally rather than bulging out. In this way they can store more energy when squeezed or struck and disperse it more regularly. Historically, however, these materials have had sharp corners that could break easily with enough pressure. Now researchers at Queen Mary University of London and University of Cambridge have discovered a way to use auxetics in a more efficient and less fragile way. In this way you can create systems that store energy and release it mechanically multiple thousands of times.

“The exciting future of new materials designs is that they can start replacing devices and robots. All the smart functionality is embedded in the material, for example the repeated ability to latch onto objects the way eagles latch onto prey, and keep a vice-like grip without spending any more force or effort,” said Queen Marry University’s Dr. Stoyan Smoukov. For example, a robot using this system can close its hand over and object and keep it closed until its time to let go. There is no need to continue sending power to the claw or hand until it is time to open up and drop the object.

“A major problem for materials exposed to harsh conditions, such as high temperature, is their expansion. A material could now be designed so its expansion properties continuously vary to match a gradient of temperature farther and closer to a heat source. This way, it will be able to adjust itself naturally to repeated and severe changes,” said Eesha Khare, an undergrad who worked on the project.

The project used 3D printing to make small clips that grab a toothed actuator. To release the energy, you pull on the opposite sides of the object to release the teeth. While the entire thing looks quite simple the fact that this object stores energy without bulging is important. The same technology can be used to “grab” bullets as they strike armor, resulting in better durability.

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Mophie’s Powerstation AC is the only backup battery you’ll ever need

Posted by | backup, Backup Battery, electricity, energy, Gadgets, hardware, Mobile, Mophie, rechargeable batteries, Reviews, TC | No Comments

 Mophie’s been a solid, consistent maker of external batteries and backup power sources, but its new Powerstation AC just might top them all. The large, 22,000 mAh powerhouse has ample output options – including a crucial one that most backup batteries lack: a standard AC plug, just like you’d find in a wall in your home. The Powerstation AC also has a 30W USB-C port with… Read More

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Watts is a huge battery that powers your home

Posted by | battery, energy, Gadgets, TC | No Comments

 Like Tesla’s Powerwall, Watts is a big battery that can power your home. One Watts cell can support a few small appliances including computers and refrigerators and a few units can power TVs and electric washers. The units can charge via the grid or with solar panels and the Watts units include an app that shows discharge and battery remaining. The batteries, which were designed in… Read More

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Kado wants to make the world’s thinnest charger

Posted by | AC adapter, battery charger, battery charging, Charger, charging, energy, Gadgets, kado, Laptop, mwc, MWC 2017, rechargeable batteries, TC, usb | No Comments

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-6-51-00-am What can you wrap up in ribbons? Stick in your sock? And what can you take out in public and not get thrown in the dock? The Kado phone charger, of course. This new product by Itay Hasid and Daniel Assis is making the rounds at MWC and is essentially the “world’s thinnest wall charger for smartphones.” Obviously a wall charger isn’t that exciting but the pair raised… Read More

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This battery is powered by bacteria

Posted by | battery, biosensor, energy, energy storage, Gadgets, lithium-ion battery, TC | No Comments

129788_web Researchers at Binghamton University in New York have created a “bacteria-powered battery on a single sheet of paper.” The project is aimed at creating batteries for disposable microelectronics that can run for weeks using a little bacteria-rich liquid. “The manufacturing technique reduces fabrication time and cost, and the design could revolutionize the use of bio-batteries as… Read More

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