In today’s Bulldog wrapup of science and technology news:
- The FAA warns against use of Samsung phone
- Airbnb apologizes after complaints of racism
- Uber riders can pick music
- NASA’s mission to bring back asteroid samples begins
- FAA warns airline passengers not to use Samsung smartphone
U.S. aviation safety officials took the extraordinary step late Thursday of warning airline passengers not to turn on or charge a new-model Samsung smartphone during flights following numerous reports of the devices catching fire.
The Federal Aviation Administration also warned passengers not to put the Galaxy Note 7 phones in their checked bags, citing “recent incidents and concerns raised by Samsung” about the devices. It is extremely unusual for the FAA to warn passengers about a specific product.
Last week, Samsung ordered a global recall of the jumbo phones after its investigation of explosion reports found the rechargeable lithium batteries were at fault. In one case, a family in St. Petersburg, Florida, reported a Galaxy Note 7 phone left charging in their Jeep caught fire, destroying the vehicle.
Australian airline companies were among the first to take measures. Qantas has asked passengers not to switch the Note 7 devices on and not to charge them during flights, its spokeswoman Sharna Rhys-Jones said. Media reports said other Australian airlines took a similar step, including Jetstar Airways and Virgin Australia.
Samsung launched the latest version of the Note series in August. The Note series is one of the most expensive lineups released by Samsung, and the devices usually inherit designs and features of the Galaxy S phones that debut in the spring. Samsung also added an iris scanner to the Note 7, which detects patterns in users’ eyes to unlock the phone.
Before the issue of battery explosions emerged, supplies were not keeping up with higher-than-expected demand for the smartphone.
- Airbnb apologizes after racism complaints, outlines changes
Airbnb is apologizing for its slow response to accusations of racism. And it’s outlining new policies to combat the problem, including reducing the prominence of photos in the booking process.
The company also plans to automatically block future reservations for dates where a host has told someone that a property was unavailable.
Anecdotes on social media involve African-American guests who were told listings were unavailable for the dates they wanted, only to see those same listings re-advertised later for the same dates.
Airbnb did not bow to critics’ requests that it remove profile photos entirely so that hosts can’t reject guests based on appearance. The company has said that photos are an important security features so hosts can recognize guests when they check in.
Accusations that Airbnb has been ignoring complaints of racism have led several black entrepreneurs to create two new vacation rental websites where they say racism will not be tolerated.
- Uber riders can choose the tunes when they take a ride
Uber riders can now choose the tunes whenever they hitch a ride.
Uber Technologies Inc. said Thursday that riders can now choose the music in the car by streaming Pandora or Spotify Premium through their Uber app.
Riders who want the service must be matched with a driver who has a “connected music” icon. Once they tap a bar in their Uber app, they can log into Pandora or Spotify and their selected music will start playing when their trip begins.
Riders who used Pandora can preview the song that’s being played. With Spotify Premium, the music will pick up with whatever the rider was last listening to.
San Francisco-based Uber says the program, called Rider Music, will be rolling out over the next few weeks.
- NASA spacecraft on way to asteroid to bring back samples
The first NASA explorer of its kind took off on a seven-year quest Thursday, chasing after a big, black, unexplored asteroid to gather a few handfuls of gravel for return to Earth.
These bite-size bits of ancient space rock from asteroid Bennu could hold clues to the origin of life, not just on our planet but potentially elsewhere in the solar system.
Thousands gathered to witness the evening launch of Osiris-Rex, a robotic hunter that looks something like a bird with its solar wings. The spacecraft took flight atop an Atlas V rocket, which soared a little before sunset on the mission, a U.S. first.
Victory was declared an hour later; launch controllers shook hands and embraced as thespacecraft shot out of Earth’s orbit, bound for Bennu.
(VIDEO: Watch a NASA video about the mission at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EokpCRgD_Ys)
“Tonight is a night for celebration. We are on our way to an asteroid,” said NASA’s chief scientist, Ellen Stofan. After all, “we’ve just done something amazing.”
“We got everything just exactly perfect,” added Osiris-Rex chief scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. “It was an amazing evening for me and for this team.”
It will take two years for Osiris-Rex to reach Bennu (BEHN’-oo), which is circling the sun in a slightly wider orbit than Earth’s. The boxy spacecraft will actually go into orbit around the asteroid, seeking out the best spot before going in for a quick bite.
Round trip, the SUV-sized spacecraft will travel more than 4 billion miles (6 ½ billion kilometers) by mission’s end in 2023.
NASA has gone after comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never anything from an asteroid. It promises to be the biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo moon rocks.
The roundish rock — an estimated 1,600-plus feet (500 meters) across and taller than the Empire State Building — is believed to harbor carbon dating back 4.5 billion years, to the beginning of our solar system. That makes it a time capsule and a scientific prize.