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Max Q: SpaceX and Rocket Lab launch rockets and X-Wings take flight

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This week saw a ton of activity in the space industry, with multiple launches, key preparations for commercial crew missions, robots and much more.

Besides all the real space news, there’s also some extreme fan service for Star Wars lovers, courtesy of Disney and Boeing. Now I’m one day closer to my lifelong dream of becoming a real X-Wing starfighter pilot.

Rocket Lab completes key step towards reusable rockets

Launch startup Rocket Lab has been successfully delivering payloads to orbit for a while now, but earlier this year they announced they’d be moving to a launch system in which the booster they use to propel their spacecraft to orbit is reusable.

An Electron rocket launching during a previous test.

During their 10th mission with their Electron rocket, they took a crucial first step – testing the re-entry systems to bring the booster back to Earth’s atmosphere. Rocket Lab says the test went better than expected, which bodes well from moving to an actual test of properly recovering and refurbishing the thing.

SpaceX launches 19th Space Station resupply mission

The other big launch this week was SpaceX’s CRS-19 launch, which delivered 5,200 lbs of experiments and supplies to the ISS. This launch used a brand new Falcon 9, which SpaceX recovered with a landing at sea, and it also employed a Dragon cargo capsule that the company has flown twice before. On board, there’s a load of amazing new equipment for the ISS, like a ‘robot hotel.’

Emotionally intelligent IBM-powered assistant robot is heading to space

You may not have heard, but there’s an advanced Alexa for astronauts called CIMON, and after a successful first test, it’s headed back to the ISS aboard the above SpaceX launch with improvements. One of its key improvements is a new ability to detect and respond to human emotions, which is, you know, HAL territory.

SpaceX completes 7th parachute test

SpaceX is getting closer to a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to its ability to launch astronauts on its commercial crew spacecraft. The company needs to do at least 10 parachute tests in a row to get ship-shape for its crew launch, and it’s now pretty close to getting that done before year’s end.

Boeing completes dress rehearsal of crew launch

Boeing is also getting closer to its own commercial crew launch, and in fact completed an entire rehearsal of how the mission will go on on launch day when it does its uncrewed launch. This rehearsal including fully feeling the rocket, and next time that happens, it’ll be taking off.

Real X-Wings fly for real (really)

X-Wing starfighters ascended through the night sky over Orlando, Florida this week as Disney celebrated the opening of its new ‘Rise of the Resistance’ attraction at Disney World. The X-Wings (2 of them!) were modified versions of a large cargo drone that Boeing has been developing, but both companies are keeping mum on any further details right now.

Here’s what’s up in the world of space startups and investing

What’s going on with space tech, and why is it having a moment? What’s coming next, and where is the smart money going? The answers to those questions and more lie in Starburst founder and aerospace investor François Chopard’s informative deck about space and defense, available exclusively to Extra Crunch subscribers.

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HQ Trivia is coming to Android, Amazon Echo is the No. 1 best seller on the site and the founder of LeEco is ordered to return to China. All this on Crunch Report. Read More

WeWork has big plans for Alexa for Business

 Amazon is soon to announce Alexa for Business, and WeWork is one of the first partners to have hopped on the platform. WeWork’s vision is to use technology to help businesses make the most out of their physical space, all while customizing that space to each individual’s personal needs. The co-working giant has been on the Alexa for Business platform for about a month now, as part… Read More

Hello Aibo, goodbye Alexa: Sony turns robot dog into AI assistant

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That robotic dog you wanted as a kid is back. And sadly, it’s just as expensive.

Sony had announced that after more than a decade since retiring its robot dog product, the Aibo will be coming back for real.

Image: aibo/sony/screenshot

The new Aibo has also learnt some new tricks. Its AI capability will allow it to learn and recognise people’s faces, and remember and avoid obstacles in a room.

It’ll also be voice-capable and cloud connected, being able to record photos and save them online. For example, saying “take a picture” will trigger the Aibo to take a shot and send it to the cloud, accessible later from a companion app.  Read more…

More about Sony, Japan, Artificial Intelligence, Alexa, and Personal Assistant

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The Amazon Echo now doubles as a home intercom system

 Amazon will officially release the Show in a few days, but in the meantime, the company is introducing a long-awaited intercom feature for existing Echo devices. The addition uses Drop-In, a teleconferencing feature introduced on the Show that lets close friends and family members call into one another’s device with little warning. I really didn’t like the feature when I tested… Read More

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SNL just came up with a hilarious version of Alexa designed for senior citizens

 While the White House was definitely the focus of tonight’s episode of Saturday Night Live, the show managed to fit in a great sketch on Amazon’s Alexa. The sketch was an advertisement for a (faux) device called Alexa Silver, touted as the only smart speaker built specifically for “the greatest generation“.
The device’s main feature? It’s super loud and… Read More

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Japan's biggest messenger is taking on Amazon's Alexa

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Amazon’s Alexa may be up against big competition. 

South Korean internet giant Naver, which runs Line, Japan’s biggest messaging app, unveiled on Wednesday its own AI virtual assistant. 

The new assistant is called Clova, and will be entirely voice-based. It’ll be available as a smartphone app as well as a hardware speaker called Wave, similar to Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Clova is scheduled to be available in Japan and South Korea between April and June this year.

Naver is also tying up with huge conglomerates Sony in Japan and LG Electronics in South Korea, to get the Clova into toys and home appliances down the road. Read more…

More about Google Home, Alexa, Siri, South Korea, and Naver

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Crunch Report | Elon Musk’s Tunnel Project

Apple’s WWDC moves to San Jose, an update on Elon Musk’s tunnel project, Google makes an update that plays piano duets and Google Home steps on Alexa’s turf. All this on Crunch Report. Read More

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Get your house fully connected with a smart light switch

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Out of all the home appliances you’d expect could be smart-ified as part of the connected home, the classic light switch might be last on the list. It’s basic, with no apparent need for bells and whistles in smart homes where lights are controlled by smartphone — but when you add some connectivity and a color display (who doesn’t love touch screens?) it can become a smart light switch system that controls the whole house.

Brilliant Control looks to replace plain old-fashioned light switches with mini smart hubs, complete with 5-inch LCD touch displays, Wi-Fi, motion and Amazon Alexa voice control built-in. Instead of just turning on and off the lights, the system can act as a control panel for an entire connected home, bringing security, music, lighting and climate tech all under one domain.  Read more…

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