Leica’s first watches are more than mere marketing

Leica’s first watches are more than mere marketing

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Germany’s Leica, a company that enjoys global renown for its high-quality cameras, is not shy about licensing its name out to lesser products. As of today, you can buy Leica headphones, Leica bags, smartphones with dubious Leica co-engineering claims, and Panasonic cameras rebadged as Leicas. But now Leica is getting into the watchmaking business, and it’s doing so by actually designing and engineering its own timepieces.

Announced this month, and covered in depth by Hodinkee, the Leica L1 and L2 watches have a stark and minimalist look, with black dials, contrasting white hands and indices, and subtle red rubies embedded in the crown. It wouldn’t be a Leica without a red dot somewhere, of course. Both watches have a manual-winding mechanical movement, which is being made by Lehmann Präzision GmbH, a fellow German company that collaborated closely with Leica on the project. The L2 is the GMT model, which tracks a second timezone by adding an inner rotating bezel with hour markings. It also has a day/night indicator.


Leica L1 and the L1 (left) and L2 movements

Leica L1 and the L1 (left) and L2 movements.
Photo: Leica

While neither watch has yet been priced, Leica promises that the Leica L1 will cost less than €10,000, according to Hodinkee, when the two go on sale this autumn. Production is said to be limited to 400 units of each for the first year, though Leica is also going to issue a Leica L2 in a special 18-karat rose gold case (as opposed to the default stainless steel) as well as limited editions of both watches with red dials.


Limited edition Leica L1 with red dial

Limited edition Leica L1 with red dial.
Photo: Hodinkee

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June 21, 2018 at 06:02AM

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Germany plans to put Airbus and Audi’s cool flying taxi concept into the sky

Germany plans to put Airbus and Audi’s cool flying taxi concept into the sky

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Remember that awesome mobility concept called Pop.up that showed up at the Geneva Auto Show in 2017 and returned again this year, redesigned as Pop.up Next?

Part car and part quadcopter, the electric-powered Pop.up Next is a collaboration between Airbus, Audi, and design house Italdesign.

The exciting news is that the Pop.up Next has been greenlit for tests, taking it a step toward becoming part of a flying taxi service for city dwellers.

As per Bloomberg, the German government this week signed a letter of intent with Airbus and Volkswagen’s Audi unit to test the flying machine in and around Audi’s home city of Ingolstadt.

A specific date hasn’t yet been set for the trial to begin, but with a slew of other companies already testing working prototypes, those behind the project will be keen to get Pop-Up Next off the ground at the earliest opportunity.

Commenting on plans for the unique design, German transport minister Andreas Scheuer said in a statement,“Flying taxis aren’t a vision any longer, they can take us off into a new dimension of mobility.”

He added, “They’re a huge opportunity for companies and young startups that already develop this technology very concretely and successfully.”

So what exactly will the first Pop.Up Next testers be stepping into? Well, if the upcoming prototype is anything like the current design, they’ll find a machine that’s made up of two main parts — the ground module, essentially a futuristic-looking two-seat car; and the drone module, which connects to the top of the car before flying it off to its destination.

Both modules operate using autonomous technology so the occupants can simply program where they want to go and let the machine do the rest.

In the words of those building the system, Pop.Up Next “aims to give time back to commuters, freeing them from the need to drive, through a flexible, shared, and adaptable new way of moving within cities.”

Bernd Martens, Audi’s board member for procurement and the president of Italdesign, has described Pop.Up Next as “an ambitious vision that could permanently change our urban life in the future.”

The complexity of the system presents many big challenges for engineers working on the project, and means it’ll be some time before we know for sure if it has any chance of becoming a common sight in our towns and cities. But it’s definitely great to see the project moving toward the next stage of development.

Other designs for compact, vertical take-off and landing aircraft — ones comprising a single unit rather than two parts like Pop.Up Next —include the 184 from Chinese company EHang, Uber’s Elevate machine, and the German-made Volocopter. Besides Pop-up Next, Airbus is also backing the self-piloting Vahana air taxi.

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June 21, 2018 at 03:51AM

Car sharing: Car2go tootles into Chicago with an advantage over rival services

Car sharing: Car2go tootles into Chicago with an advantage over rival services

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Bike- and ride-sharing services certainly have their place, but car-share schemes are building a growing fanbase, too.

Take Car2go. The Daimler-oowned scheme currently operates in six U.S. cities, with another — Chicago — joining the list in July.

Chicagoans will have instant access to 400 eco-friendly shared vehicles, with free registration and credit offered for a limited time to new members.

It’ll go up against Zipcar, Maven, IGO, and Getaround in the Windy City, but claims to offer one significant advantage: When you’re done, you can leave the vehicle in a different place to where you started your journey.

According to the company, the free-floating model “helps mitigate traffic congestion, reduces air pollution, and integrates with other transit and sustainable transportation options, thereby helping cities move more people, more efficiently.”

For the uninitiated, here’s how Car2go works: Once you’ve downloaded the Android or iOS app and paid the one-time $5 sign-up fee, you can use the app to find the nearest available car. After reserving it, it’s simply a case of entering the PIN to gain access, and off you go.

Rental costs 29 or 39 cents a minute depending on the size of the car, though cheaper “package” rates are available if you’re likely to need the car for longer than half an hour.

Fuel, parking, insurance, and maintenance costs are all included, and there are no monthly or annual fees.

Trips must start and finish within Car2go’s operating area (see map here). While you can travel up to a maximum of 200 miles outside of the operating area, trips shouldn’t exceed 24 hours unless you’ve selected a package for a longer duration.

“Chicago is ideally suited for Car2go, with the city fully embracing free-float car-sharing as a way to enhance its mobility ecosystem by providing its citizens — including the 800,000-plus Chicagoans who don’t own a vehicle — with a brand new mobility option,” said Paul DeLong, CEO of Car2go North America.

DeLong said that ultimately, Car2go is designed to complement public transit, while at the same time bringing economic and environmental benefits to the cities where it operates. He added, “Our mission in Chicago is simple: to provide a transportation option that improves the lives of Chicagoans.”

Car2go was founded in 2008 and currently has more than three million members in 23 cities around the world. The service launches in Chicago on July 25.

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June 21, 2018 at 02:47AM

Ohio wants to use camera drones to monitor highway traffic

Ohio wants to use camera drones to monitor highway traffic

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Drone technology is continuing to find multiple uses beyond snapping fancy photographs from up high and shooting gorgeous tracking shots for filmmakers.

The latest initiative to hit our radar is taking place in Ohio, which will look into the idea of using the remotely controlled flying machines to monitor traffic conditions along a stretch of highway.

Such work is usually carried out by fixed ground-based cameras, but their viewing range is limited. Helicopters, too, can be called upon, but with pilot and fuel costs to consider, such aircraft can be hugely expensive compared to a diminutive, battery-powered drone.

The Ohio Department of Transportation’s DriveOhio Division, which coordinates “smart mobility” initiatives, is working with Ohio State University’s College of Engineering on a three-year, $6-million project to learn more about how drones can be used to effectively monitor traffic conditions.

The research will take place along the Smart Mobility Corridor, a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Route 33 that already hosts a range of initiatives for connected roadway infrastructure.

The planned system would see data from drones sent to the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Traffic Management Center, where it can be assessed and, if necessary, acted upon to keep traffic flowing. The ground-based cameras would continue to operate, and also be used to help build a broad picture of what’s happening on the road.

The team, however, has plenty of prep work to be getting on with before it can launch its first drone over the highway. This includes building a safe and reliable platform that would allow the drones to be flown beyond the line of sight, which, in most cases, current regulations forbid.

Ohio State professor and Aerospace Research Center director Jim Gregory promised the platform will be able to achieve its safety goals, saying, “Our collaborative work will pave the way for the ultimate vision of safe flight of unmanned aircraft systems throughout Ohio and beyond.”

Although not part of the Ohio trial, drones could also be placed at multiple points along a highway, with each one hooked up to a power cord. This would enable them to fly around the clock, albeit from a fixed position. Such technology is already available and being used in a number of settings.

Quadcopters can also be seen flying over the busy roads of Bordeaux, France, where police are using them to catch dodgy drivers. In the space of just a few months, the trial operation led to the handing out of hundreds of fines for traffic violations. Ohio’s research, on the other hand, appears to be aimed more toward spotting traffic jams, accidents, and other hazards rather than going after speedsters.

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June 21, 2018 at 02:47AM

Scorned US Lawmakers Press Google on Relationship with Huawei

Scorned US Lawmakers Press Google on Relationship with Huawei

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Google faced a bunch of uproar from employees after it was revealed the company was offering its artificial intelligence tools to the Pentagon for a drone project. Now, after deciding not to renew the contract, the company is getting pressure from the other side as lawmakers are pressing Google over its relationship with Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei.

In a letter addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pachai, a group of mostly Republican legislators called out Google’s “strategic partnership” with the Chinese firm, which has been deemed a potential threat to national security by US intelligence agencies. Google told Reuters it looks forward to responding to the inquiry.

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The letter—signed by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, Republican Congresspeople Mike Conway and Liz Cheney, and Democratic Congressperson Dutch Rupperberge—urges Google to reconsider its relationship with Huawei, which has “extensive ties with the Chinese Communist Party,” according to the lawmakers. They warn that a continued relationship between Google and Huawei could pose a threat to national security and consumers in the US.

The outcry from the members of Congress stems mostly from concerns raised by US intelligence agencies, which have warned (without providing evidence) Huawei and other Chinese telecom companies like ZTE could be doing dirty work for China’s government. Earlier this year, FBI Director Chris Wray testified at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that his agency is “deeply concerned” about the possibility of Huawei gaining a position of power inside of US telecommunications networks. He warned that allowing the government to use products from Huawei, ZTE, and other Chinese firms could provide the Chinese government with the “capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”

As a result of intelligence agencies ringing the alarm, the government has moved to drop Huawei as a contractor for many of its projects. The Federal Communications Commission is reportedly readying a rule change that would cut subsidies for any company using Huawei or any other Chinese firms’ networking equipment, and US telecoms including AT&T and Verizon have already dumped Huawei in the wake of the government’s scrutiny.

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There’s another reason that lawmakers are taking a swing at Google over its work with Huawei though, and that’s out of scorn. The company opted not to renew its contract for Project Maven, a controversial program that used Google’s AI to analyze drone footage for the Pentagon. Tom Cotton and his fellow legislators aren’t too pleased about that:

We urge you to reconsider Google’s partnership with Huawei, particularly since your company recently refused to renew a key research partnership, Project Maven, with the Department of Defense. This project uses artificial intelligence to improve the accuracy of U.S. military targeting, not least to reduce civilian casualties. While we regret that Google did not want to continue a long and fruitful tradition of collaboration between the military and technology companies, we are even more disappointed that Google apparently is more willing to support the Chinese Communist Party than the U.S. military.

Google, for its part, holds that there’s nothing to worry about with regard to its work with Huawei. “Like many U.S. companies, we have agreements with dozens of OEMs (manufacturers) around the world, including Huawei,” a spokesperson for Google told Reuters. “We do not provide special access to Google user data as part of these agreements, and our agreements include privacy and security protections for use data.”

[Reuters]

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June 21, 2018 at 01:06AM

Snapchat: Still Fucked

Snapchat: Still Fucked

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Earlier this year, Snapchat owner Snap Inc. saw its stock plummet after a brutal first-quarter report that saw it come in over $13 million short of $244 million earnings expectations. Spoiler alert: The pain is not stopping.

Per Bloomberg, shares in Snap Inc. are entering freefall again after the company’s stock had just began to recover in June. Analysts observed Snapchat’s failure to grow its userbase or generate ad revenue, which is obviously bad for its long-term prospects, Bloomberg wrote:

Snap has fallen 8.1 percent over the past two trading days, the worst performer in the S&P Software & Services Select Industry Index over the period. That’s come as analysts at Needham and Cowen sharply cut their outlooks for Snap, which has struggled to maintain user and advertising growth amid a battle for market share with Facebook Inc., which has repeatedly mimicked Snapchat’s app features.

Snap fell to $12.91 per share as of 1:36 p.m. in New York, down from its $14.05 closing price on Monday.

Despite Snapchat’s decision to reverse course on key aspects of a redesign hated by many of its core users, engagement is still going down. (Thanks, Kylie Jenner.) According to CNBC, a Cowen analyst wrote, “Per our recent ad buyer survey, SNAP was lowest Social platform in key attributes like ROI, data and user targeting.”

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Another Needham & Co. analyst wrote that there was a “dramatic slowdown” in the amount brands were spending on the company’s products, Bloomberg wrote, leading her to cut 15 percent off revenue forecasts for the second quarter and Snap to continue losing value.

Stock stood at $12.80 after close late Wednesday night. It’s not quite fair to compare this to Snap’s all-time high of $29.44 right after its IPO, and it’s not back down to its recent low of $10.55 yet, but it’s… Not good at all.

Snapchat has struggled as competitors like Facebook-owned Instagram continue to steal many of its core features, it reportedly plans to continue blowing huge amounts of money on proven bad bets like Spectacles, and recent reports have not been flattering for leadership. In 2016, Snap Inc. lost $514.6 million, and in 2017, it lost $350 million—which is improvement, but of the type akin to a mortal wound getting bandaged too late.

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In March, even Snap predicted a rough second quarter for 2018. In April, Snapchat started inserting unskippable ads into its feeds, which could start generating new revenue but risks pissing off users after it already borked the redesign. Finally, in late May yet more accounts of a company culture that continues to indulge in some of the worst tech-bro stereotypes emerged.

To the extent there is a silver lining, recent polling showed 69 percent (nice) of Americans between the ages of 13-17 are using Snapchat, with 35 percent saying they use it the most. But is there any reason to doubt it is still fucked? Despite prices near rock-bottom, Bloomberg wrote, just six of 34 analysts rated Snap Inc. as a buy.

[Bloomberg]

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June 21, 2018 at 12:54AM

FBI Warns of ‘Alarming’ Increase in In-Flight Sexual Assaults

FBI Warns of ‘Alarming’ Increase in In-Flight Sexual Assaults

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Planes on the tarmac at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago in 2018.

Reports of in-flight sexual assaults committed by passengers against passengers are going up by double-digit margins, according to federal crime statistics, and it’s unclear why.

Investigating alleged sexual assaults on airplanes falls under the jurisdiction of the FBI. Per CNN, the agency is at a loss to explain the increase in mid-flight sexual assaults, saying that the number of reported incidents is “alarming”—and they are cautioning that waiting until the flight is grounded to take action can interfere with an investigation:

FBI investigations into midair sexual assaults increased by 66% from fiscal year 2014 to 2017. The bureau said it had opened 63 investigations into sexual assault on aircraft in 2017, compared with 57 in 2016, 40 in 2015 and 38 in 2014.

FBI Special Agent David Rodski told reporters the number of sexual assaults during flights is increasing “at an alarming rate,” and added, “We’re not sure why.”

… “I’m shocked at the number of passengers who do not take that act and they’ll wait until the plane is on the ground,” Rodski said.

CNN added that while Association of Flight Attendants-CWA survey data from 2016 showed about 20 percent of 2,000 flight attendants polled had “received a report of passenger-on-passenger sexual assault while working a flight,” less than half of the time authorities were notified or met the plane when it arrived at its destination.

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Most of the assaults happen on longer flights and involve factors like alcohol, dark cabins, sleeping passengers, or ones who happen to be seated away from the aisle, FBI Baltimore Division assistant special agent Brian Nadeau told the Washington Post. Airline consumer group Flyers Rights president Paul Hudson told the paper that logistical hurdles and a lack of staff training standards may be keeping some victims of in-flight assaults from speaking up:

“If you’re a victim of a crime on the ground, what do you do?” said Hudson, who is an attorney and represented rape victims in New York. “You call 911 and report it to a police officer. But if you’re in an airplane, you can’t do that. You have to report through a flight attendant, and they have to report it to the captain, and the captain has to report it to a ground supervisor for the airline… In many cases, too much time has passed.”

It’s possible that like with college sexual assault numbers, the higher rate of reported incidents reflects just that: more victims going to authorities in an age of increased awareness. But many of the assaults likely go unreported. According to a CNN investigation last year cataloging several accounts of such incidents on commercial flights noted that “no federal regulatory agency tracks that data nationwide,” with the FBI only having awareness of those incidents it is called in to investigate.

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In many cases, it seems like flight crews are unprepared or unwilling to deal with passengers who assault or harass others on board, which can mean the agency is never even aware a crime may have been committed. According to a 2016 report in the New York Times, aside from informing police, the only other option available to flight crews is reporting “disruptive behavior to the Federal Aviation Administration,” which has “no separate category for sexual assault.”

Allison Dvaladze, who told CNN she was groped by a male passenger on a Delta Air Lines flight from Seattle to Amsterdam in April 2016, said that she spoke to flight staff but that they never filed a police report on her behalf. When she followed up with customer service, she said she was given 10,000 frequent flyer miles. Another Delta passenger, Ayanna Hart, told the network when a male passenger grabbed her, a crew member told her the other man was a “Delta Platinum.”

“If somebody reports a crime to an airline, it should be flagged,” Dvaladze told CNN. “It should not be treated as if it’s lost luggage.”

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“These acts are felonies, which can land an offender in prison for 10 years—or, if aggravated—to life,” Nadeau told the Baltimore Sun.

According to CNN, the FBI is trying some initiatives to get airlines to pay attention and develop policies around sexual assault response, including a “Be Air Aware” poster that says “Sexual assault on an aircraft is a federal crime.” But the Times wrote that International Air Transport Association records show disruptive behavior on airlines is “increasing worldwide, jumping 17 percent from 2014 to 2015,” at the same time companies have cut the number of attendants. Legislation was proposed in May to require airlines, rail, and bus operators to report sexual assault or harassment to authorities, though at last update it is still in committee.

[CNN/Baltimore Sun]

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June 20, 2018 at 11:48PM