It was a week in which two space-faring billionaires tussled again in their futuristic game of cosmic oneupmanship. And this time, for once, Elon Musk was not at the party.
The declaration that Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and world’s richest man, was heading into space next month on the first crewed launch of his Blue Origin New Shepard rocket was followed quickly by an apparent leak from within Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic empire that the British tycoon might look to upstage him with a Fourth of July Independence Day spectacular of his own.
Branson’s team was quick to downplay the possibility, insisting a date for his first spaceflight had yet to be determined. But beyond what some might see as vain billionaires using real-life rockets as playthings, the episode underscores how close the lucrative yet still fledgling commercial space industry has come to routinely launching paying passengers into outer space and achieving a goal two decades in the making.
On Saturday, the winner of an auction for a seat to accompany Bezos and his brother Mark on next month’s big space adventure will be announced on the Blue Origin website. On Thursday, the bidding reached $4.2m for the 11-minute round trip.
“Many congratulations to Jeff Bezos & his brother Mark on announcing spaceflight plans,” Branson said in a tweet directed at his rival. “Jeff started building @blueorigin in 2000, we started building @virgingalactic in 2004 & now both are opening up access to Space – how extraordinary! Watch this space … ”
Absent from Branson’s tweet was any mention of Musk, whose nonconformist Space Exploration Technologies Corporation – better known as SpaceX – has grown from a shaky start in 2002 to become the dominant player in the commercial space sector, and a key partner of the US space agency, Nasa. The company is already regularly flying astronauts to the international space station, and is renting out its Dragon space capsule this fall for its first private spaceflight, taking a crew of four on a three-day orbital odyssey.
With differing longer-term ambitions and goals, the three billionaires have collectively upended the traditional government-funded and directed model for human spaceflight and are shaping a thriving new commercial space era, according to Matthew Weinzierl, a Harvard Business School professor and an expert in the economics of space.
“SpaceX’s recent achievements, as well as upcoming efforts by Boeing, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic to put people in space sustainably and at scale, mark the opening of a new chapter of spaceflight led by private firms,” he said.
“They have both the intention and capability to bring private citizens to space as passengers, tourists and eventually settlers, opening the door for businesses to start meeting the demand those people create over the next several decades.”
Weinzierl expects there to be a gradual shift from money spent in space to benefit Earth, such as investments in telecommunications and internet satellites and infrastructure, to the so-called space-for-space economy, including mining asteroids or the moon for materials that will be necessary to support human habitat and fuel deeper-space missions to Mars or beyond.
Bezos and Musk always had loftier goals in mind, even as they were taking their first tentative steps in the space industry, experts say. But their visions diverge beyond flying humans in low Earth orbit, or even suborbital flight, as Bezos’s brief July venture will be.
“Musk is totally about Mars. His passion is to get people to Mars as a backup plan to Earth, and to make humanity a multi-planet species,” said Marcia Smith, founder and senior analyst of spacepolicyonline.com.
“Bezos is interested in the moon, and in the space between Earth and the moon. He wants to move all of the heavy industry off Earth and into cislunar space. He talks about rezoning Earth for light industry and habitation.
“So they both are interested in trying to save Earth because of all the problems Earth is having, but they have very different visions as to how that’s going to happen.”
Nasa has embraced both billionaires as it pursues its own exploration programs. In April, the agency chose SpaceX to build the spacecraft to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972, a decision Blue Origin has challenged. The enigmatic Musk reacted in typically bellicose fashion, tweeting: “Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol” in reference to Bezos’s so far unsuccessful efforts to launch a crew into space.
Blue Origin, meanwhile, is developing a separate, reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle, New Glenn, under a Nasa contract to supply satellite delivery capability, although the project has stalled.
The operations of both companies have the potential to attract billions of dollars of investment to the US through commercial clients, and Weinzierl sees space as the “ultimate industry of the future”, though he says it may take longer than this century to reach its potential.
“The sector has changed a great deal over the last two decades, largely in that there are new competitors seeking to serve private customers in addition to governments,” he said.
“At the same time, Nasa and other public agencies are still the dominant sources of funding and specific plans for space beyond low Earth orbit, where the private satellite market has long been active. Even SpaceX, for all its success, wouldn’t be where it is without Nasa’s partnership.”
Smith argues that Musk has created his own luck to position SpaceX as the leading pioneer in the new private space market.
“Musk has really transformed the business, and brought commercial business back to the United States, by lower prices and reusability. He has really made a change,” she said.
“Bezos is trying to build this New Glenn rocket and is having setbacks with the engine.”
John Logsdon, the respected professor emeritus at George Washington University and founder of the Space Policy Institute, phrased the differences between the two tycoons another way, in a 2018 interview with the Guardian.
“Musk’s style is to brag about things and then do them. Bezos’s style is to do things and then brag about them,” he said.
“I’d call it competition, and competition is the American way of life.”
As for Branson, the Virgin founder scored a major success last month when his SpaceShipTwo rocketplane reached an altitude of 55.4 miles, either in space or at the edge of it, depending on which calculation of the Karman Line, the perceived boundary of outer space, is being used. It brings his long-awaited but much-delayed aspiration of a profitable space tourism business a significant step closer to realization.
How relevant the Bezos brothers’ flight aboard New Shepard, his rocket named as a tribute to Alan Shepard, the first American in space, will be to Blue Origin’s wider ambitions is open to question, although Weinzierl, the Harvard professor, sees it as more than a publicity stunt.
“It’s about demonstrating in the most powerful way he can that he trusts in the technology,” he said.
The data integration business growing its EMEA HQ in Dublin is set for further expansion following a $5.6bn valuation and key acquisition.
Silicon Valley-headquartered Fivetran has announced $565m in Series D funding alongside a deal to acquire HVR.
This latest funding round sees the automated data integration provider’s value reach $5.6bn just over a year after it first reached unicorn status.
The funding round from new and existing investors included General Catalyst, CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which also brought in new investors Iconiq Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity.
In total, Fivetran has raised $730m to date. And in tandem with its Series D funding round, the company also announced a $700m cash and stock deal to acquire data replication business HVR.
‘Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure’ – MARTIN CASADO, A16Z
For Fivetran’s mission to help businesses make use of the data they have, in a way that is quicker and requires fewer resources, HVR brings database replication performance along with enterprise-grade security.
“HVR is a recognised leader for enterprise database replication and shares our same vision – to make access to data as simple and reliable as electricity,” said Fivetran CEO George Fraser. “Their product is the perfect complement to our automated data integration technology and will be instrumental for us to help enterprise organisations that want to improve their analytics with a modern data stack.”
Fraser added that the latest injection of funding from investors will enable the company to expand its capabilities and accelerate its global growth.
Fivetran established its EMEA HQ in Dublin in 2018. The following year, fresh investment saw the company plan to double its Irish workforce. Last summer, a $100m funding round saw these expansion plans furthered.
In terms of market opportunity, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Martin Casado says Fivetran is a “critical component” of the modern data stack, which represents “a paradigm shift for global enterprises, with billions of dollars of revenue at stake”.
“Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure,” said Casado.
The acquisition deal has been approved by the boards of both companies and is expected to close in early October, subject to regular approvals.
Customers from both companies are expected to benefit from each of the business offerings. On the side of Fivetran, this client list includes Autodesk, DocuSign, Forever 21, Lionsgate and Square, while HVR services dozens of Fortune 500 brands.
“Combining HVR and Fivetran will enable a next-generation solution that will better inform business decisions by providing the freshest data available,” said HVR CEO Anthony Brooks-Williams.
“We’re thrilled to be joining forces with Fivetran and look forward to what this incredible opportunity will provide for our growing team, partners and customers.”
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The latest iteration of Amazon’s battery-powered Ring doorbell adds a new feature to capture the early details of events most competitors would miss without needing to be plugged in.
The Ring Video Doorbell 4 costs £179 ($199.99/$A329) and can be installed in any home with wifi. It tops Ring’s battery-powered range, which starts at £89.
The look and basic function of the Doorbell 4 is very similar to Ring’s older models. It has a camera with night vision, motion sensors and a large doorbell button.
When someone pushes the button Ring’s signature chime plays and an alert is sent to your phone. You can view a live feed and speak through the doorbell using the app from anywhere with internet. If you don’t answer, the new “quick replies” feature is like an answering machine for your door, recording caller’s messages. And it works as a motion-activated security camera too.
Four seconds of pre-roll
Most battery-powered doorbells sleep until motion is detected to save power, which means they typically only capture the second half of an event as it takes time for the camera to wake up and start recording.
Ring’s “pre-roll” system fills in the gap before the motion sensor is tripped. It takes a clip from a looping four-second lower-resolution colour recording that can be operated all the time without draining the battery too much.
It is a gamechanger for battery doorbells, giving you a much better idea of what has happened before the main camera fires up.
Video, motion and replay
The main 1080p HD video is clear and sharp enough to discern faces and name tags, and recorded HDR (high dynamic range) to better handle the sun shining straight at your door. The infrared night vision is bright and clear, too.
You can adjust the motion sensitivity and define areas you want monitored so that you only get notifications when something happens in the chosen zone, which is particularly useful for avoiding notification overload if your doorbell faces the street.
While standard motion and doorbell notifications, live view and pre-roll are free, you need to subscribe to Ring Protect to get the most out of the doorbell. A free 30-day trial is included so you can see what it does, and plans start at £2.50 a month, but it is essentially cloud recording for your videos as they are not stored locally.
You get up to 30-day event history, messages recorded by visitors from the quick replies feature and still snapshots taken every 14 minutes to fill in the gaps between events.
Ring Protect also enables smart motion alerts, to differentiate between people and other things such as cars, and rich notifications, which show an image of the motion or person within the alert on your phone.
Set up and battery life
Setting up the doorbell is very easy. It comes with screws and wall plugs, plus a bracket for angling the camera towards your door if needed and cables for attaching it to an existing doorbell wire and chime if you have one.
Once it is mounted you just slot the battery in the bottom, open up the Ring app on your smartphone and scan the QR code on the side of the bell. The app will run through the rest of the setup in about five minutes.
If you don’t have a traditional chime you can buy the wireless £29 Ring Chime or use any existing Amazon Alexa devices in your home to ring instead.
Battery life varies depending on how many features such as snapshot and pre-roll you have on and the number of motion events and live views. With everything active and capturing roughly 45 events a day, the battery lasts about a month. I would buy a second £20 battery as it takes at least five hours to fully charge the battery via microUSB.
You can block the recording of certain parts of the camera’s view such as your neighbour’s drive using privacy zones. Ring has recently added options to limit how long recorded videos are stored on a camera-by-camera basis, strengthened account security with two-factor authentication and, in addition to standard encryption, has enabled the activation of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for videos.
E2EE offers the strongest protection and means only the mobile devices you select can decrypt and watch captured videos. No one else can see the video, not even Ring. But with E2EE turned on some more advanced features such as pre-roll, snapshots, the event timeline, rich notifications and Alexa integration for watching a live feed from an Echo Show cannot be used.
The Ring Video Doorbell 4 is generally repairable and a range of spare parts, including the rechargeable battery, are available at reasonable cost. Most parts are also interchangeable with older models. The company will support its devices with software updates for least four years from the point it stops selling the device on its site, and continues to support all of the devices it has sold so far.
The response time to live view requests through the app is shorter than previous Ring models, but it can still take a few seconds to answer the door, so Ring has a separate stripped-down Rapid Ring app that is faster to load, which can be used for answering rings alongside the main Ring app.
Alexa smart displays can show a live feed on demand or automatically when the doorbell rings.
The Ring Video Doorbell 4 costs £179 ($199.99/$A329) and Ring Protect costs from £2.50 a month.
For comparison, the Ring Video Doorbell (2nd gen) costs £89, the Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2 costs £219, the Google Nest Doorbell costs £179.99 and the Arlo Video Doorbell Wire-Free costs £179.
The Ring Video Doorbell 4 is yet another great battery-powered smart doorbell from Amazon.
It intentionally doesn’t look any different from previous versions, so that parts are interchangeable and the older models don’t look dated. But it wakes up faster, the colour pre-roll captures much more of each event and its night vision is really good.
It can be installed almost anywhere but it needs good wifi so you might need a booster. You’ll probably need the extra £29 Chime too, which brings the real cost to £189 as a bundle, plus the £2.50 a month subscription to really make the most out of it as it doesn’t have local video storage.
Note the Ring Android app has an extremely annoying hard-coded pattern of four strong and long vibrations for every motion alert. It cannot be changed, which forced me to disable motion alerts entirely and lost the Doorbell 4 a star. Ring said it is working to fix the problem by the end of the year. This issue does not exist for the Ring iPhone app, however.
Pros: easy to install, clear video, great colour pre-roll, lots of accessories, solid iPhone app, faster, quick replies, snapshots, Alexa device integration, great as a regular doorbell replacement, end-to-end encryption available.
Cons: no local storage means you need Protect subscription for event review, no constant video recording, fairly wide for some door frames, battery needs charging once a month, Chime likely needed.
Linus Torvalds has revealed that winding back the decision to default to -Werror – and therefore make all warnings into errors – has made for another messy week of work on the Linux kernel.
“So I’ve spent a fair amount of this week trying to sort out all the odd warnings, and I want to particularly thank Guenter Roeck for his work on tracking where the build failures due to -Werror come from,” Torvalds wrote in his weekly missive about the state of kernel development.
“Is it done?” he asked rhetorically. “No. But on the whole I’m feeling fairly good about this all, even if it has meant that I’ve been looking at some really odd and grotty code. Who knew I’d still worry about some odd EISA driver on alpha, after all these years? A slight change of pace ;)”
Torvalds expressed his annoyance that his efforts have seen him enter “fix one odd corner case, three others rear their ugly heads” territory.
But he’s willing to wear the pain. “I remain convinced that it’s all for a good cause, and that we really do want to have a clean build even for the crazy odd cases,” he wrote.
And if he must handle this sort of thing in any week of the kernel production cycle, it might as well be the week of rc2.
“I hope this release will turn more normal soon – but the rc2 week tends to be fairly quiet for me, so the fact that I then ended up looking at reports of odd warnings-turned-errors this week wasn’t too bad,” he wrote.
Late last week, Torvalds also took some time to share what he described as “the true 30th anniversary date” of Linux.
On September 17th he wrote “a random note to let people know that today is actually one of the core 30-year anniversary dates: 0.01 was uploaded Sept 17, 1991.
“Now, that 0.01 release was never publicly announced, and I only emailed a handful of people in private about the upload (and I don’t have old emails from those days), so there’s no real record of that,” he wrote. “The only record of the date is in the Linux-0.01 tar-file itself, I suspect.
“Just thought I’d mention it, since while unannounced, in many ways this is the true 30th anniversary date of the actual code.”
So The Register though it worthy of mention, too. ®