In today’s Bulldog wrapup of technology and science news:
- Apple plans major software update
- A solar plane aims for flight to Europe
- A solar drone is unveiled
- Finding the real “hobbits”
- Apple’s next big software improvements
With sales of Apple’s flagship iPhone slowing , the spotlight is on the company’s hunt for its next big thing. Apple’s annual software developers conference, which kicks off Monday, will be its next big opportunity to show the world what’s coming next.
Artificial intelligence, and Apple’s wisecracking digital assistant Siri, could play a bigrole.
Of course, Apple is expected to unveil a number of other advances —software improvements for its iPhones, iPads and Mac computers and a possible overhaul of its music service chief among them. After Apple’s dust-up with the FBI earlier this year over iPhone security, it might also announce new security measures to protect users’ data.
But AI is emerging as a major new tech battleground, one where Apple may have some ground to make up. Siri made a big splash when it debuted five years ago. But as other tech giants jockey to build intelligent “chat bots” and voice-controlled home systems capable of more challenging artificial-intelligence feats, Siri at times no longer seems cutting edge.
- Solar-powered pilots’ globe-circling flight arrives in NYC
The pilots of a solar-powered airplane on a globe-circling voyage that began more than a year ago said their flight over the Statue of Liberty before landing in New York inspired them on their mission to promote a world free from reliance on fossil fuels.
“Today, liberty is about finding and promoting renewable sources of power,” said Bertrand Piccard, the initiator and one of the pilots of the Swiss-made Solar Impulse 2. “Our mission is to demonstrate that just the energy of the sun can give us enough power to fly day and night.”
Piccard and Andre Borschberg, who flew the plane to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, arrived Saturday from Pennsylvania at 4 a.m. after a 4 hour-41-minute flight.
“It was really gorgeous,” Borschberg said of the aerial view of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. “I felt like I was a young child in front of a Christmas tree.”
Their trip across the U.S. mainland began April 24, when Solar Impulse landed in Mountain View, California, after flying over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on its way from Hawaii.
Piccard said the pair hoped to leave sometime next week on their journey across the Atlantic Ocean toward Europe. He said weather conditions will dictate when they embark and a decision will likely be made in flight as to where they land — either Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal or elsewhere.
- Aerospace firm successfully tests solar-powered aircraft
A test pilot successfully flew a solar-powered prototype aircraft on Friday for a company that envisions manufacturing a fleet of drones to provide aerial internet service for an estimated 4 billion people worldwide.
The test flight by Luminati Aerospace LLC took place at a former Northrop Grumman defense plant on eastern Long Island that once made military aircraft. Speakers at a ceremony before the flight recalled that Charles Lindberg took off for his historic 1927 solo flight to Paris from an air strip in nearby Nassau County, and others noted that the spacecraft that landed men on the moon was built in the Long Island suburbs east of New York City.
“This is a dream come true,” Luminati founder and CEO Daniel Preston said. “Long Island is known as the Cradle of Aviation, and we want to do our part to keep it here where it belongs.”
Pilot Robert Lutz flew the VO-Substrata aircraft for about 20 minutes in the first test flight opened to the public. The white aircraft features wing-mounted solar cells and has a wingspan of about 43 feet. Logos of several companies and other entities involved with its production are plastered on both sides, similar to the sponsor decals on NASCAR race cars.
The prototype aircraft allows for a pilot to control it, but eventually Luminati, which is based in Calverton, will build unmanned drones that can fly at 60,000 feet or more. Luminati hopes to start manufacturing by the end of the year.
Lutz said after his flight that the aircraft is “very birdlike.”
- New fossils push ‘hobbit’ story back to 700,000 years ago
Scientists say new fossil finds on an Indonesian island have revealed ancestors of the “hobbits,” our extinct, 3 ½ -foot-tall evolutionary cousins that gained fame more than a decade ago after their remains were found in a cave there.
The fossils are about 700,000 years old, extending the hobbit story far backward from the original remains, which date to just 50,000 years ago.
Scientists say the six isolated teeth and a jaw fragment come either from hobbits or a related species. The fossils were excavated in 2014 about 46 miles from the cave where the first hobbit remains were found.
The discovery is described in two papers released Wednesday by the journal Nature.