Posted Mar. 17, 2017 at 6:42 a.m.

Tech wrap: 'Ulysses' VR game; Google 'offensive' flag; SpaceX launch + video; Israel future Detroit?

Published: 2017-03-17 06:42:14
Updated: 2017-03-17 06:42:14

Bulldog Bulldog

In today's Bulldog wrapup of science and technology news:

  • Turning James Joyce's 'Ulysses' into a virtual reality game
  • Google hopes to improve search quality with 'offensive' flag
  • SpaceX sends satellite into orbit after 2-day delay
  • Israeli tech firms revving up engines for self-driving cars

The details:

  • Turning James Joyce's 'Ulysses' into a virtual reality game

Students are developing a virtual reality game based on James Joyce's "Ulysses" as part of a class at Boston College.

The goal of "Joycestick" is to expose new audiences to the works of one of Ireland's most celebrated authors, as well as to give a glimpse of how virtual reality can be used to enhance literature, said Joseph Nugent, the Boston College English professor who is coordinating the project.

"This is a new way to experience the power of a novel," he said. "We're really at the edge of VR. There's no guidance for this. What we have produced has been purely out of our imagination."

Nugent and his students hope to release a version of the game on June 16 in Dublin during Bloomsday, the city's annual celebration of the author and novel. They've already showcased their progress at an academic conference in Rome last month.

"Joycestick," in many ways, fills in the blanks of the novel, as many of the places key to the story have been lost to time as Dublin has evolved, said Enda Duffy, chairman of the English Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has tried a prototype of the game.

"The VR version in this way completes the book," she said. "It makes it real. 'Ulysses' is an ideal book to be turned into a VR experience, since Dublin is, you might say, the book's major character."

  • Google hopes to improve search quality with 'offensive' flag

Google is trying to improve the quality of its search results by directing review teams to flag content that might come across as upsetting or offensive.

With the change, content with racial slurs could now get flagged under a new category called "upsetting-offensive." So could content that promotes hate or violence against a specific group of people based on gender, race or other criteria.

While flagging something doesn't directly affect the search results themselves, it's used to tweak the company's software so that better content ranks higher. This approach might, for instance, push down content that is inaccurate or has other questionable attributes, thereby giving prominence to trustworthy sources.

The review teams — comprised of contractors known as "quality raters" — already comb through websites and other content to flag questionable items such as pornography. Google added "upsetting-offensive" in its latest guidelines for quality raters. Google declined to comment on the changes, which were reported in the blog Search Engine Land and elsewhere.

The guidelines , which run 160 pages, are an interesting look into how Google ranks the quality of its search results. For instance, it gives examples of "high-quality" pages, such as the home page of a newspaper that has "won seven Pulitzer Prize awards," and "low-quality" pages, such as an article that includes "many grammar and punctuation errors."

  • SpaceX sends satellite into orbit after 2-day delay

SpaceX has launched a communications satellite into orbit after a two-day delay.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying an EchoStar satellite lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2 a.m. Thursday. The satellite was deployed into orbit high above Earth about 35 minutes later.

  • VIDEO: Watch a replay of the launch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dM2Dp1Adlag

The launch was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but was pushed back due to high winds in Florida.

This was the second SpaceX launch from the Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A. Last month's space station resupply launch was the first from the pad since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. The pad was used to send Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon in 1969.

  • Israeli tech firms revving up engines for self-driving cars

As the world moves toward an era of self-driving cars, Israel is positioning itself to be the Detroit of the future.

The country has emerged as a global leader in the fast-growing field of driverless cars, as illustrated by Intel's more than $15 billion acquisition of Israeli firm Mobileye this week.

Israel is now home to hundreds of startups that provide everything from censors to cybersecurity to data collection for autonomous vehicles, putting it alongside Silicon Valley at the forefront of an industry that many expect to take off over the next decade.

"In the last 12 months, the global interest is rising more and more," said Lior Zeno-Zamansky, executive director of EcoMotion, a nonprofit group that promotes the smart transportation sector in Israel. "Everyone is looking for the next Mobileye."

She said the Israeli smart transportation sector has attracted some $4 billion in investment over the past four years, roughly half of it driven by two industry leaders, Mobileye and Waze. During that time, the number of Israeli startups in the sector has grown from 87 in 2013 to over 500.

Virtually every major auto maker has established a foothold in Israel, and senior executives visit the country regularly. General Motors has already opened a research center in Israel, while Renault and Daimler are opening facilities as well. Other companies, including Ford, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, BMW, Mazda, Hyundai, Volvo and Audi are all active in the Israeli market.

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