There Will Be “Thousands” of Self-Driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs in 2018

While GM’s current self-driving test fleet consists of ~40 odd Chevrolet Bolt EVs in San Francisco, California and Scottsdale, Arizona (and adding Detroit later this year), the company intends to increase that scale by two orders of magnitude.

According to Reuters, GM plans to build, test thousands of self-driving Bolts in 2018.

Those vehicles, called Bolt AV (autonomous vehicle) are to be used by ride-sharing Lyft, while there is no plan to sell AVs publicly in near-term:

“It is expected to be the largest such test of fully autonomous vehicles by any major automaker before 2020, when several companies have said they plan to begin building and deploying such vehicles in higher volumes. Alphabet Inc’s Waymo subsidiary, in comparison, is currently testing about 60 self-driving prototypes in four states.

Most of the specially equipped versions of the Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle will be used by San Francisco-based Lyft, which will test them in its ride-sharing fleet in several states, one of the sources said. GM has no immediate plans to sell the Bolt AV to individual customers, according to the source.

The sources spoke only on condition of anonymity because GM has not announced its plans yet.”

The cost of early Bolt AVs are estimted at “six figures“, so it would need to be a workhorse to pay off.

These automous Bolt AVs are planned for production in early 2017 at GM’s Orion, Michigan plant.

GM executive Mike Ableson told Reuters in a November interview:

“If you assume the cost of these autonomous vehicles, the very early ones, will be six figures, there aren’t very many retail customers that are willing to go out and spend that kind of money,” Ableson said. “But even at that sort of cost, with a ride sharing platform, you can build a business.”


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Recently, Elon Musk had the chance to share his thoughts on universal basic income (UBI) at the World Government Summit in Dubai. At the Summit, Musk had the opportunity to talk about the future, and the challenges the world will face in the next hundred years – including artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and the job displacement expected to come with it

When asked about the challenges civilization is set to face in the near future, Musk began by noting the threat of artificial intelligences that surpass humanity.

He stated, “deep artificial intelligence, or artificial general intelligence, where you can have artificial intelligence that is much smarter than the smartest human on Earth, this is a dangerous situation.”

He continued by noting the importance of advancing our research into AI with caution: “I think we need to be very careful in how we adopt artificial intelligence and that we make sure that researchers don’t get carried away. Sometimes what will happen is a scientist will get so engrossed in their work that they don’t really realize the ramifications of what they’re doing.”

Musk also relayed concerns that autonomous technology will impact jobs, and he noted that we will likely have intelligent, massive-scale automation for transportation relatively soon—within the next few decades, in fact: “Twenty years is a short period of time to have something like 12-15 percent of the workforce be unemployed,” he said, pointing out the extent of how automation will disrupt car-based transportation specifically.

However, displacement due to automation isn’t just limited to transportation, it will sweep across a number of industries, and Musk argues that the government must introduce a UBI program in order to compensate for this. “I don’t think we’re going to have a choice,” he said. “I think it’s going to be necessary. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better.”

AMD Ryzen 5 1600X Performance Leak: Intel Will Be Worried

We’re starting to get a clearer picture of just how fast AMD’s Ryzen processors will be thanks to a select few benchmarks leaks, and they’re painting a rather worrying picture for Intel. The latest data points to AMD’s Ryzen 5 1600X outperforming Intel’s Core i7-6850K in both single-threaded and multi-threaded tests in the CPU-Z benchmark tool.


Image credit: Antony Leather. Data via CPU-Z database and

Why is this significant? Because the Ryzen 5 1600X is slated to retail at just $259, while Intel’s Core i7-6850K retails for a whopping $610. The two CPUs also offer similar specifications, with similar frequencies, 6 cores and 12 threads each, with the AMD processor having a maximum turbo frequency of 3.7GHz and the Intel chip of 3.8GHz.

Impressively, not only does the Ryzen 5 1600X beat the slightly higher-clocked Intel CPU, but it has a much lower TDP/power consumption of 95W compared to a TDP of 140W for the Intel Core i7-6850K, which should mean it runs cooler.

I’ve included data for Intel’s Core i7-7700K in the graph too – it has a much higher turbo frequency of 4.5GHz, which is why it obtained a faster single-thread score. It’s worth remembering that not all programs will make use of the extended number of cores and threads offered by both Intel and AMD’s 6, 8 and 10-core CPUs – raw frequency and IPC are still just as important, so a lot will depend on just how overclockable Ryzen parts are when they arrive.


Image credit – Antony Leather

That said, even the lowly Core i7-7700K costs $100 more than the supposed retail price of the Ryzen 5 1600X, which is a huge amount at this end of the market. Even if the AMD CPU can be pushed to around just 4.5GHz, it would still make for a vastly better offering and as the graphs above show, in anything remotely multi-threaded it will likely be significantly faster, even if clocked slower too.

It’s all exciting stuff and with Ryzen supposedly launching in just a couple of weeks in early March, the desktop CPU market could be about to go through some drastic changes, swinging things in AMD’s favor.

Google Deep Mind AI develops human aggression

Google's Deep Mind AI is one of the most advanced computer programs in the would. Image courtesy of Flickr - A Health Blog
Google’s Deep Mind AI is one of the most advanced computer programs in the would. Image courtesy of Flickr – A Health Blog

An Artificial Intelligence (AI) program developed by Google has demonstrated human-like aggression during simulations.

Google’s Deep Mind AI was tested playing several different games to see what kind of behavior would emerge.

In one particular game, the AI was tasked with attempting to collect more ‘apples’ within a 2D environment than another ‘player’. The AI also had the ability to hit a player with a beam which would remove them from the game.

After running the game through millions of simulations, Deep Mind’s ‘deep reinforcing learning’ algorithm showed human-like emergent behavior.

Specifically, when the number of apples within the 2D environment was low, it would adapt to this, and choose an aggressive play style where it would constantly attack the other player, in order to maximize the number of apples it could collect.

Such behavior is remarkably similar to many theories relating to how scarcity creates conflict within human societies.

In a second and different game, called Wolfpack, the AI had the option of working with another player in order to catch a ‘prey’.

This prey would yield a high reward, at lower risk, if captured in close proximity to the other player in the game.

Unsurprisingly, after millions of simulations of this game running its course, the Deep Mind AI developed a cooperative play style where it would actively work together with other players in order to hunt the prey.

“Cooperation makes possible better outcomes for all than any could obtain on their own. However, the lure of free riding and other such parasitic strategies implies a tragedy of the commons that threatens the stability of any cooperative venture,” said the Google team behind Deep Mind in a research paper.

One particularly important use of these findings will be helping to create powerful AI that is not necessary driven to compete with its human creators.

Should an intelligence be able to be nurtured in an environment where it learns to cooperate with humanity, the risk of a potentially dangerous rouge AI could be substantially reduced.

Looking for the next leap in rechargeable batteries

February 17, 2017
University of Southern California
Researchers may have just found a solution for one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the next wave of rechargeable batteries — small enough for cellphones and powerful enough for cars.

This is a lithium-sulfur battery with Mixed Conduction Membrane barrier to stop polysulfide shuttling.
Credit: Sri Narayan and Derek Moy

USC researchers may have just found a solution for one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the next wave of rechargeable batteries — small enough for cellphones and powerful enough for cars.

In a paper published in the January issue of the Journal of the Electrochemical Society, Sri Narayan and Derek Moy of the USC Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute outline how they developed an alteration to the lithium-sulfur battery that could make it more than competitive with the industry standard lithium-ion battery.

The lithium-sulfur battery, long thought to be better at energy storage capacity than its more popular lithium-ion counterpart, was hampered by its short cycle life. Currently the lithium-sulfur battery can be recharged 50 to 100 times — impractical as an alternative energy source compared to 1,000 times for many rechargeable batteries on the market today.

A small piece of material saves so much life

The solution devised by Narayan and lead author and research assistant Moy is something they call the “Mixed Conduction Membrane,” or MCM, a small piece of non-porous, fabricated material sandwiched between two layers of porous separators, soaked in electrolytes and placed between the two electrodes.

The membrane works as a barrier in reducing the shuttling of dissolved polysulfides between anode and cathode, a process that increases the kind of cycle strain that has made the use of lithium-sulfur batteries for energy storage a challenge. The MCM still allows for the necessary movement of lithium ions, mimicking the process as it occurs in lithium-ion batteries. This novel membrane solution preserves the high-discharge rate capability and energy density without losing capacity over time.

At various rates of discharge, the researchers found that the lithium-sulfur batteries that made use of MCM led to 100 percent capacity retention and had up to four times longer life compared to batteries without the membrane.

“This advance removes one of the major technical barriers to the commercialization of the lithium-sulfur battery, allowing us to realize better options for energy efficiency,” said Narayan, senior author and professor of chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “We can now focus our efforts on improving other parts of lithium-sulfur battery discharge and recharge that hurt the overall life cycle of the battery.”

Cheap and abundant building blocks

Lithium-sulfur batteries have a host of advantages over lithium-ion batteries: They are made with abundant and cheap sulfur, and are two to three times denser, which makes them both smaller and better at storing charge.

A lithium-sulfur battery would be ideal for saving space in mobile phones and computers, as well as allowing for weight reduction in future electric vehicles, including cars and even planes, further reducing reliance on fossil fuels, researchers said.

The actual MCM layer that Narayan and Moy devised is a thin film of lithiated cobalt oxide, though future alternative materials could produce even better results. According to Narayan and Moy, any substitute material used as an MCM must satisfy some fundamental criteria: The material must be non-porous, it should have mixed conduction properties and it must be electrochemically inert.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Southern California. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Derek Moy, S. R. Narayanan. Mixed Conduction Membranes Suppress the Polysulfide Shuttle in Lithium-Sulfur Batteries. Journal of The Electrochemical Society, 2017; 164 (4): A560 DOI: 10.1149/2.0181704jes

Cite This Page:

University of Southern California. “Looking for the next leap in rechargeable batteries.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 February 2017. <>.

Printable Solar Panels on the Horizon, says new research

Printable Solar Panels on the Horizon, says new research

A U of T Engineering innovation could make printing solar cells as easy and inexpensive as printing a newspaper. Dr. Hairen Tan and his team have cleared a critical manufacturing hurdle in the development of a relatively new class of solar devices called perovskite solar cells. This alternative solar technology could lead to low-cost, printable solar panels capable of turning nearly any surface into a power generator.

“Economies of scale have greatly reduced the cost of silicon manufacturing,” says University Professor Ted Sargent (ECE), an expert in emerging solar technologies and the Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology and senior author on the paper. “Perovskite solar cells can enable us to use techniques already established in the printing industry to produce solar cells at very low cost. Potentially, perovskites and silicon cells can be married to improve efficiency further, but only with advances in low-temperature processes.”

Today, virtually all commercial solar cells are made from thin slices of crystalline silicon which must be processed to a very high purity. It’s an energy-intensive process, requiring temperatures higher than 1,000 degrees Celsius and large amounts of hazardous solvents.

In contrast, perovskite solar cells depend on a layer of tiny crystals — each about 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair — made of low-cost, light-sensitive materials. Because the perovskite raw materials can be mixed into a liquid to form a kind of ‘solar ink’, they could be printed onto glass, plastic or other materials using a simple inkjet process.

But, until now, there’s been a catch: in order to generate electricity, electrons excited by solar energy must be extracted from the crystals so they can flow through a circuit. That extraction happens in a special layer called the electron-selective layer, or ESL. The difficulty of manufacturing a good ESL has been one of the key challenges holding back the development of perovskite solar cell devices.

“The most effective materials for making ESLs start as a powder and have to be baked at high temperatures, above 500 degrees Celsius,” says Tan. “You can’t put that on top of a sheet of flexible plastic or on a fully fabricated silicon cell — it will just melt.”

Tan and his colleagues developed a new chemical reaction than enables them to grow an ESL made of nanoparticles in solution, directly on top of the electrode. While heat is still required, the process always stays below 150 degrees C, much lower than the melting point of many plastics.

The new nanoparticles are coated with a layer of chlorine atoms, which helps them bind to the perovskite layer on top — this strong binding allows for efficient extraction of electrons. In a paper recently published in Science, Tan and his colleagues report the efficiency of solar cells made using the new method at 20.1 per cent.

“This is the best ever reported for low-temperature processing techniques,” says Tan. He adds that perovskite solar cells using the older, high-temperature method are only marginally better at 22.1 per cent, and even the best silicon solar cells can only reach 26.3 per cent.

Another advantage is stability. Many perovskite solar cells experience a severe drop in performance after only a few hours, but Tan’s cells retained more than 90 per cent of their efficiency even after 500 hours of use. “I think our new technique paves the way toward solving this problem,” says Tan, who undertook this work as part of a Rubicon Fellowship.

“The Toronto team’s computational studies beautifully explain the role of the newly developed electron-selective layer. The work illustrates the rapidly-advancing contribution that computational materials science is making towards rational, next-generation energy devices,” said Professor Alán Aspuru-Guzik, an expert on computational materials science in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, who was not involved in the work.

“To augment the best silicon solar cells, next-generation thin-film technologies need to be process-compatible with a finished cell. This entails modest processing temperatures such as those in the Toronto group’s advance reported in Science,” said Professor Luping Yu of the University of Chicago’s Department of Chemistry. Yu is an expert on solution-processed solar cells and was not involved in the work.

Keeping cool during the manufacturing process opens up a world of possibilities for applications of perovskite solar cells, from smartphone covers that provide charging capabilities to solar-active tinted windows that offset building energy use. In the nearer term, Tan says his technology could be used in tandem with conventional solar cells.

“With our low-temperature process, we could coat our perovskite cells directly on top of silicon without damaging the underlying material,” says Tan. “If a hybrid perovskite-silicon cell can push the efficiency up to 30 per cent or higher, it makes solar power a much better economic proposition.”


Six weeks after the launch of the iPhone 7 I wrote that life without a headphone jack was a confusing mess of adapters and a lack of cohesion between Apple products. That piece, however, was written before W1 earbuds hit the market.

Now, Apple has three pairs of W1 earbuds available and my opinions have done a total 180…Sure, when I wrote that piece the Beats Solo3 were on the market, but I already had a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones that I religiously use while at my desk and I’m not a fan of lugging around on-ear headphones in my bag.

That meant that I would often carry around Lightning headphones, the Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, and 3.5mm wired headphones. This may sound rather excessive, but the fact of the matter is, I didn’t want to be caught in a situation where I wouldn’t have the proper headphones to use.

Thus, W1 headphones have been a savior to me. In my quest to compare all three of Apple’s W1 earbuds options, I’ve gotten my hands on the Powerbeats3, AirPods, and now BeatsX.

My colleague Benjamin Mayo already broke down a lot of the difference between Apple’s W1 headphones, but read on for my personal experiences and testing. I’ve been using Powerbeats3 since late-November, AirPods since mid-December, and BeatsX for about a week.



AirPods are obviously a mixed bag when it comes to fit, while BeatsX and Powerbeats3 are more traditional in design and tend to fit a larger portion of the market. The AirPods use Apple’s classic ear-conforming design, while BeatsX and Powerbeats3 use the more standard in-ear design.

AirPods don’t fit everyone and there’s no way around that. I’d also argue, though, that BeatsX and Powerbeats3 aren’t a good fit for some people.

I will say that the BeatsX and Powerbeats3 are more versatile in their fit seeing that you get a handful of different sizes of tips with both. With AirPods you’re stuck with one design, save for some third-party solutions. Nevertheless, earbuds are personal; you should try all of the available options and determine what fits you best.

Personally, I’ve found the AirPods and BeatsX to both be a very good fit for me. I’ve always been a fan of the EarPod design and the AirPods are only an improvement here because of the lack of a cord pulling on them. BeatsX also fit me well, though you can definitely tell the effect of the wire pulling on them.

As far as Powerbeats3, I’ve never been a fan of the ear-hook design and these don’t change that belief. I just don’t find them comfortable nor do the ear-hooks add a noticeable level of security for me.

In terms of fit, here’s how I’d rank Apple’s W1 earbuds:

  1. AirPods
  2. BeatsX
  3. Powerbeats3



In addition to fit, design is something that differentiates these three earbuds. The AirPods, of course, feature a completely wireless design, while the BeatsX and Powerbeats3 have a wire connecting each earbud.

Though the BeatsX and Powerbeats3 are often lumped into the same category because of the connecting wire, there’s a notable difference in execution here.

The Powerbeats3, largely because of the wing-tip design, feature a much shorter connection cable with the option to adjust the length based on your personal preferences. The BeatsX, however, have two battery packs and a volume/playback control button on the cable, thus meaning it’s a long and heavy cable. As Jeff noted in his hands-on, the cable on the BeatsX is easily around 3 feet in length.


The long cable is an annoyance to say the least, though Apple makes up for it to a certain extent with the magnetic connection between each earbud and the flex cable used.

AirPods, however, are the true star of the show. The design of both the earbuds themselves and the accompanying charging case is insanely impressive. They really are completely wireless and I didn’t realize how big of a difference that is from traditional “wireless” earbuds until now.

W1 earbuds ranked by design

  1. AirPods
  2. Powerbeats3
  3. BeatsX


Obviously one of the biggest selling points of these headphones is the W1 connectivity. Despite the BeatsX, Powerbeats3, and AirPods all using W1, I’ve noticed some differences in their performance.

The BeatsX and Powerbeats3 largely perform the same. The W1 brings some benefits to the connectivity process, including syncing between devices and the new pairing pop-up on iOS. Some of the long-standing Bluetooth flaws still apply, though. You still have to hit the pair button every time, I still regularly have to dive into Settings to manually connect them, and specifically with the BeatsX, I’ve had issues with the connection dropping 15-20 seconds after the initial pair.


AirPods, however, are a completely different story. Take them out of the case and boom, they’re paired. Almost every time. It’s an experience that makes wireless headphones almost as seamless as wired headphones. The only issue I’ve regularly had with AirPods pairing is Mac connectivity, but Bluetooth as a whole on the Mac is buggy so it’s hard to attribute that to AirPods completely.

Ranked by pairing:

  1. AirPods
  2. Tie: BeatsX and Powerbeats 3

Sound Quality

Here’s an area where the Beats offerings, in my opinion, set themselves apart. While AirPods sound noticeably better than wired EarPods, I prefer the BeatsX and PowerBeats3 for a few reasons.

First off, sound isolation is light-years better with the BeatsX and Powerbeats3 than it is with the AirPods. This is largely due to the in-ear design, which does a much better job of blocking out external sound than the AirPods design.

Additionally, also likely due to the in-ear design, the BeatsX and Powerbeats3 get much louder than AirPods. I can turn AirPods up all the way, which isn’t good for the earbuds or your ears, and still wish they would get louder. BeatsX and Powerbeats 3, especially with the improved isolation, get much louder without going near the top of their range.


In terms of actual sound quality, the BeatsX and Powerbeats3 are largely the same, though the Powerbeats have a slight edge here due to their larger size. As early reviews noted, both still feature the classic bass-heavy sound, but I’ve found it to be slightly more balanced than the pre-Apple Beats products.

As far as AirPods are concerned, the sound quality is solid and notably better than traditional EarPods, but nothing that will blow you out of the water. You get more bass than normal and a relatively balanced sound, but everything still sounds a bit hollow.

Obviously, one of the tradeoffs for a completely wireless design is sound quality and personally, I’m willing to make that tradeoff.

W1 earbuds ranked by sound:

  1. Powerbeats3
  2. BeatsX
  3. AirPods

Battery life & Charging


The BeatsX and AirPods both use Lightning to charge, while the Powerbeats3 are lagging here by still using microUSB. Why the Powerbeats3 don’t feature Lightning connectivity is a mystery, but in a world of Lightning and USB-C being the trend, microUSB is a huge downfall.

In terms of actual battery life, Powerbeats3 technically take the lead here with 12 hours of battery life per charge. The BeatsX feature 8 hours per charge, while the AirPods offer up 5 hours.

There are few things worth noting here. The BeatsX include a feature called Fast Fuel, which gives the earbuds 2 hours of playback in 5 minutes of charging, which is crazy impressive and real-world usage is true to the claims in my experience.

AirPods, however, again really standout. Even though you only get 5 hours on a charge, the accompanying AirPods case holds 24 hours of battery life. In my usage, the AirPods have been by far the most reliable in terms of battery life. Putting them back in the case after every use ensures that you’ll almost always have a full 5 hours of juice. I generally have to charge the case every week or two and it’s not a hassle at all.

Ranked by battery life:

  1. AirPods
  2. BeatsX (Lightning charging + Fast Fuel)
  3. Powerbeats3 (microUSB???)



This is an area where AirPods could really be improved. Apple’s truly wireless earbuds rely almost entirely on Siri for control, which given the nature of Siri in this day and age, isn’t necessarily a good thing. You can’t change the volume or skip tracks by using on-ear controls. It all runs through Siri or through the device to which they’re paired.

The BeatsX and Powerbeats3, though, feature the classic on-cable controls allowing you to play/pause content, skip to the next track, adjust volume, and invoke Siri.

Working Out

One thing I’ve been doing a lot more of in the new year is hitting the gym and I’ve given all three of Apple’s W1 a spin over the past few months. As Zac noted, AirPods are a great workout pair of headphones and I agree.


Because of my distaste for the ear-hook design, and this is very much a personal preference, I find AirPods to be far and away the best workout headphones. AirPods fit my ear nearly perfectly and not having a wire dangling around my neck while running is one of the best things ever.

BeatsX aren’t the best for working out in my testing. The crazy-long wire is just not great for that much movement as the long wire tends to pull the earbuds out of your ear when doing more intense workouts like running.

The Powerbeats3 are, of course, designed with working out in mind and are sweat-resistant and there’s something to that. Nevertheless, I think AirPods reign supreme in this area because of their truly wireless design.

  1. AirPods
  2. Powerbeats3
  3. BeatsX

Other Tidbits

One of the biggest selling points of AirPods is how music automatically pauses when you take out one of the earbuds and resumes when you put it back in. This is something that every pair of wireless earbuds on the market should feature.

On the other hand, it can get tedious keeping track of the little AirPods, though a new feature in iOS 10.3 aims to fix that.


AirPods will also likely be continually updated with bug fixes and performance improvements. Apple has already pushed one update to its truly wireless headphones and that’s likely not the last. It’s unclear at this point as to the level of support BeatsX and Powerbeats3 will receive.

BeatsX and Powerbeats3 are easier to find right now than AirPods, which are still largely sold out and backordered. BeatsX and Powerbeats3 are both available for near immediate shipping.

I haven’t had a chance to try out the Beats Solo3, but Jeff spoke fondly of them in his hands-on, which can be read/watched here. If you want a pair of W1 headphones, these are your best/only option. Personally, I’m a fan of the Bose QuietComfort 35s for on-ear, noise-cancelling headphones.

Lastly, don’t expect to wear AirPods and not be asked about them. Especially at the gym. People have stopped me multiple times to ask me what they are and if I like them.

Wrap Up

AirPods open case

If you haven’t been able to tell throughout this post, I love AirPods. I really do. I think they’re one of the best products Apple has released in a long time. The seamless connectivity between Apple products, the carrying case, and the truly wireless design are all the best there is on the market.

There are some things that could be improved with AirPods. For the purpose of pleasing the market, the inclusion of wing-tips would be beneficial, while the continued improvement of sound quality would also be nice. As for controls, it would be really nice for on-ear controls for skipping songs and volume adjustments.

Let’s say AirPods don’t fit your ears, which is a possible scenario. In this case, I recommend the BeatsX. The in-ear design coupled with Fast Fuel and Lightning charging put them ahead of Powerbeats3 in my opinion.

In a broader sense, I now have absolutely no issue with the iPhone 7 ditching a headphone jack. All of those things I complained about last fall are no longer issues, as I suspected would be the case once W1 earbuds were more plentiful.

I never intend on using a pair of wired headphones again and I know that sounds very much like a sweeping declaration, but I’m assuming I’m not alone in saying that.

The iPhone 7 and Apple’s W1 chip have pushed the market towards wireless at a record pace and I’m personally all for it. What are your thoughts? Let us know down in the comments.