17 Fascinating Ways United, Southwest and Other Airlines Are Changing Their Airplanes. Do Passengers Notice?

Here are 17 of the most interesting examples–culled from my recent interviews with the airlines and other sources. (Hat tip to the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph for a few of these.)

Almost every airline cited new, thinner seats as a weight-savings measure: Southwest and United especially. Even if nobody likes them otherwise.

“I know these have a less than stellar reputation,” United spokesperson Charles Hobart said, “but they can be just as comfortable as the previous seats once you work them in.”

2. No more plastic straws

American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have done away with plastic straws. American says their planes will drop 71,000 pounds as a result, but it’s not the initiative they wanted to highlight.

“Our fleet is more fuel efficient today because of hundreds of new aircraft we’ve taken over the past five years,” an American Airlines spokesperson told me via email. “It’s the youngest fleet among the big U.S. airlines. That’s the main point I’d make for American,”

3. Lighter in-flight magazines

Changing the card stock on in-flight magazines means United’s weigh only an ounce; previously they were several ounces. British Airways did this too.

With about 757 planes, 8,700 total seats, and one magazine per passenger, a single ounce means four tons less weight to lift off the ground with each United flight per day.

4. Less paper in the cockpit

Southwest pointed this one out: “We recently finished equipping our pilots and flight attendants with electronic flight bags, eliminating the need to carry paper charts and manuals.  Switching to these tablets removed 80 pounds from each flight and saved more than 576,000 gallons of fuel.” 

5. Smaller video screens

JetBlue gets a nod: “On our restyled A320 aircraft, our (Inflight Entertainment) IFE is lighter and there are fewer of those under seat boxes that power the IFE,” an airline spokesperson told me. “We have also recently changed out food and beverage carts to a lighter weight cart.”

JetBlue: We have lighter video screens.

United: We have no video screens!

“We’ve removed video screens as you know,” United’s Hobart told me. “Many people are bringing their own on board. We offer streaming PDE–personal device entertainment instead. That’s a considerable weight-savings.”

The Australian airline Qantas has a new line of flatware and tablewear that it says is 11 percent lighter: “The range has now rolled out across our International fleet (and Domestic business class), resulting in an annual saving of up to 535,000 kilograms in fuel,” a spokesperson said.

8. No heavy plates in first class

Similar move on Virgin Atlantic, “which has thinner glassware and got rid of its heavy, slate plates from upper class,” according to the Telegraph.

“The carrier also changed its chocolate and sweet offerings to lighter versions, redesigned its meal trays (which in turn meant planes were able to carry fewer dining carts), and altered its beverage offering for night flights, when fewer people drink.”

Those big bottles of alcohol and perfume all add up, so they’re grounded. “We removed on board duty free products,” United’s Hobart told me. “Very few people were purchasing them anyway.”

10. Restocking the galley

Southwest: “We changed the way we stock our galleys, reducing the weight carried on each flight, and saving an additional 148,000 gallons of fuel in 2014 and 2015 combined.”

British company Thomas Cook “no longer prints receipts for in-flight purchases, saving it the need to carry 420,000 till rolls across its fleets,” according to the Telegraph.

It also “reduced the number of spare pillows and blankets it carries from four down to two.”

I’ll say that one again: pillows and blankets.

Spirit Airlines gets the mention here, and for something people complain about: their comically small tray tales. Besides being slightly less expensive to manufacture, they weigh a little less, which means less fuel required to transport them.

This one seems smart, like there are probably a lot of ways to make a drink cart weigh less. Several airlines said it was a priority.

“Ours were 50 pounds, and we got them down to 27 pounds,” United’s Hobart said.

I’d never heard of this one, but the Telegraph said that in 2008, Air Canada cut life jets out of some planes, and replaced them with “lighter floatation devices.” Apparently this was allowed as long as the aircraft “didn’t venture more than 50 miles from the shore.”

Did anyone even notice? Prior to its merger with Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines reportedly made a point of slicing limes into 16 slices as opposed to 10. That means they nearly halved the number of limes they had to carry.

16. The straight up solution

This one goes back 30 years, but it’s so apt. In 1987, United reportedly realized that removing one olive from every salad it served could save $40,000 a year. That would be just over $89,000 today. Not significant in itself for a $37 billion a year company, but hey, everything counts.

This is the tricky one that airlines would probably love to implement, but it’s hard. In 2013, Samoa Air introduced a “fat tax,” as the Telegraph put it, “whereby passengers would be charged a fare according to their weight.”

Separately, Japan’s All Nippon Airways, in 2009 “asked passengers to visit the lavatory before boarding because empty bladders means lighter bladders.”

Electrolux Pure i9 Review: An Effective, But Expensive Robot Vacuum

Many people like to run their robovacs at night or while they’re at work. I choose to run ours while I’m awake, right after dinner and while we’re putting the kids to bed.

First off, I don’t see any reason to walk around all evening with crumbs sticking to the bottoms of my feet if I don’t have to. But I’ve also found that most robot vacuums will require rescue, which means you have to be awake or around. If you’re sufficiently pressed for time and energy that you need a robot vacuum, you’re probably not being as diligent as you could be about eliminating botvac booby traps, like tiny doll socks or stray shoelaces.

Even with navigational aids like virtual wall barriers, magnetic strips, or no-go lines, only a few robot vacuums have been reliable enough to leave completely unattended. I’m happy to report that the Electrolux Pure i9 is one of them.

Love Triangle

Right out of the box, the Electrolux Pure i9 looks markedly different from the other botvacs that I’ve tried. It’s a steel-gray, rounded triangle that measures 12.8 inches across and 3.3 inches high. It’s only 0.2 inches less in diameter than the Roomba 690, but it looks much smaller.

Electrolux

It comes with only its charging stand, a magnetic side brush, and instructions to download the Pure i9 app. Unlike other robot vacuums, it’s not compatible with Alexa, Google Home, or other voice assistants.

Out of the box, it took two hours to charge. Setting it up by connecting it to the app is an easy, familiar process, and the app itself is clean and simple to navigate. Just follow the app’s instructions to connect the Pure i9 to your Wi-Fi; you can also operate it with buttons on the botvac’s top panel. Once connected, you can select your robot’s name (I chose “Dung Beetle”) and tinker with its settings. For example, you can select a more energy-efficient eco mode, or a mute option that reduces the volume of the bot by about 5 decibels, from 65 to 60. You can schedule cleanings, or switch the app’s language. You can access online support or visit Electrolux’s online shop for replacement parts.

Power Hour

The botvac’s battery life is not overly long. In normal mode, it ran for 50 minutes—slightly longer than the advertised 40 minutes—before it had to return to the base for charging. It was able to clean 270 (very dirty) square feet in 40 minutes. But I strongly suspect that Electrolux might be able to increase that runtime if it could make the navigation software slightly more efficient.

The Pure i9 uses a 3-D vision camera set in the front to navigate. It’s exceptionally accurate. Even without navigational aids, the Pure i9 never got lost or stuck. It never dinged my furniture or bashed into any walls. It never mistook a cliff where there was none, or failed to clamber over the lip of a doorway or a carpet. When I stepped in front of it, it paused to assess the situation before moving around my feet.

After one cleaning session, I realized that my toddler had completely disassembled a flag banner and hidden it under the couch. Almost any other botvac would have found this to be a disaster—frayed string, little pieces of loose fabric—but the Pure i9 navigated smoothly around it.

However, the mechanism by which it steered clear of obstacles was maddening to watch. It’s easy to intuitively divine how the navigation mechanisms in a robot vacuum work. The cheaper ones ping-pong randomly back and forth, while powerful, methodical botvacs, like the Neato line, vacuum back and forth in orderly parallel lines.

The Pure i9 gave the impression of being an elderly butler, wandering around haphazardly with a dusting brush in a sheepish, absentminded manner. “Does that robot vacuum know where it’s going?” our babysitter asked, watching it work one morning.

Every time it went around a corner, came up against the base of a chair, or approached the edge of a rug, it stopped and re-started over and over, repeatedly reassessing the situation until it deemed it safe to go forward. “Oops, oh no, excuse me,” I imagined it saying in a British accent, every time that it started shuffling in the hallway for one, two, or five minutes. “How perfectly buffle-brained of me. Please, you go first.”

I could chart its progress in real-time on a map of my house in the app. Electrolux doesn’t display the amount of square feet cleaned or time spent cleaning graphically over time, as do iRobot and Neato. But the map is a fairly close approximation of what my house looks like, and made it easy to check if I’d had the bathroom or bedroom doors closed on any given day.

Let Me Clear My Throat

With mute on, I measured the Pure i9’s sound at a fairly quiet 60 decibels. In normal mode, the vacuum ran at about 65 dB, which kicked up to a turbo 70 dB whenever it encountered a particularly filthy patch of carpet.

After each cleaning, the high traffic areas by the door and under the kitchen table were clear. The triangular shape with the side brush may have helped with digging into the corners.

The Pure i9 didn’t provide nearly as deep a carpet clean as the Roomba 980, mainly because it wasn’t able to thoroughly agitate the fibers. But the anti-tangle brush wasn’t constantly snarling and stopping the vacuum, in the way that the Neato Botvac D7 Connected did. I also didn’t have to clean out the bin nearly as much. Even with its diminutive size, it has an impressive dustbin capacity of 0.7 liters. In comparison, the dustbin of the Samsung Powerbot holds only 0.3 liters.

The Pure i9 has AutoPower, which automatically detects the floor surface that the vacuum is on and calibrates the level of cleaning power. When battery runs down, it returns automatically to the base, recharges, and restarts, which occasionally scared me awake when I forgot that it hadn’t finished and it automatically restarted in the dead of the night.

My one real gripe is that the Pure i9 is only so-so at returning home to the charging station. If a cleaning cycle had finished, it went back no problem. But if I stopped it and pushed the home button halfway through, the app informed me that the the Pure i9 was returning home even when it clearly wasn’t. Some mornings, I would awake to find it sitting sadly, alone in a corner.

Not Afraid to Trade(off)

It’s hard for me to recommend products that I wouldn’t purchase myself. Spending $899 is a lot, especially for a robot vacuum that lacks many basic functions. I don’t use a voice assistant to control my robot vacuum, but many people do, and much cheaper robot vacuums work with Google Home and Alexa. It also has spot cleaning but no directional control and no remote, which has bothered me in the past.

Still, its very simplicity won me over. I have spent so much time fussing with navigational aids to help my robot vacuums, that it never occurred to me that I might not even need them. And while its navigational quirks can be maddening, I have spent more evenings than I would like, cowering in bedrooms, listening to Neato Connecteds trying to break the door down. I appreciated a shy, sheepish robot vacuum that gave my house a thorough clean without breaking anything, or itself, in the process.

In the end, this isn’t my top recommendation for a high-end robot vacuum. But if you’re looking for a slightly smaller, reliable, and good-looking robot vacuum, the Electrolux Pure i9 makes a very decent contender.

Pininfarina's Back With a $2 Million Electric Hypercar

Tesla can take credit for proving to the world that electric cars can be fun, and faster than their internal combustion engine competitors. But while Elon Musk’s company is now set on showing EVs can also be affordable and accessible for the masses, with the minimalist Model 3, others are taking batteries and motors in the opposite direction.

The latest automaker to promise an electric car that’s excessively fast, luxurious, rare, and expensive, is Pininfarina-Automobili. The European newcomer’s vehicle, codenamed PF0, will go into production in 2020 and cost between $2 and $2.5 million. If you’ve got the cash, you get a hypercar that can reach 60 mph in under two seconds, top out at 250 mph, and offer 310 miles of driving between stops to recharge the batteries.

Another advantage to being the sort of person who can afford the PF0: You get to see what the thing looks like. So far, Pininfarina has only shown teaser images of the vehicle, which reveal a low car with the wheels pushed out the corners (a design allowed by using electric motors instead of an engine and driveshafts) and little else. When Pininfarina unwraps the actual sheetmetal at next month’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, it will only invite potential buyers (ie, the rich). Everyone else will have to wait until the Geneva Motor Show in March 2019 to see it in full.

Yet the new automaker’s team promises a design that improves on todays’s EVs. “One of the main differences is a big central tunnel, because most of the battery will be between driver and passenger,” says design chief Luca Burgogno. Most other EV makers have opted for the Tesla-esque concept of a skateboard platform, with all the batteries under the floor, but Burgogno says that makes too high a profile for a hypercar.

Pininfarina’s vehicle, codenamed PF0, will go into production in 2020 and cost between $2 and $2.5 million. It should reach 60 mph in under two seconds, top out at 250 mph, and offer 310 miles between charging stops.

Automobili-Pininfarina

If the name Pininfarina sounds familiar, you’re probably an Italian car connoisseur. “We claim to be a startup, but with 88 years of history,” says CEO Michael Perschke. That’s because Pininfarina has existed as an Italian design house since 1930, penning and helping build iconic cars for Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, and so many Ferraris—64 in all—that it’s credited with helping shape the brand. It also worked on the sharp lines of the Cadillac Allenté, sold in the late-80s.

Pininfarina even went down the road of building an all-electric car with its own badge on the hood in 2008, which was supposed to go on sale in 2010. (If you want to see how far electric cars have come, check out the specs promised back then. 0-30 mph in 4.9 seconds, 125 miles of range, and a top speed of 80 mph.) Then the global financial markets melted down. By the time Indian conglomerate Mahindra bought the company in 2015, Pininfarina was $125 million in debt.

The reborn company still works as a design house for other manufacturers, but now it has new plans for its own line of vehicles. The price of the PF0 might be up there in the multi-millions, with the likes of the Pagani Huayra Roadster, but the eventual plan is for a range of all-electric cars, including luxury SUVs. Instead of chasing Tesla or Chevrolet into the high-volume, low-priced end of the market, it will model itself on Porsche or McLaren, automakers that offer vehicles for lawyers and doctors as well as oil tycoons. “We will become more affordable, but still be a luxury brand,” says Perschke. “Just like Rolex doesn’t sell plastic watches.”

Other niche players have caught on to the idea that high-performance and electric propulsion are far from mutually exclusive—and may soon become synonymous. Croatia’s Rimac builds EV powertrains (including the one installed in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding Jaguar E-Type), and its own Concept One and Concept Two (1.85 seconds 0-60), Tesla has promised a new Roadster (0-60 in 1.9 seconds), and another Indian company, Vazirani Automotive, just revealed a turbine-electric hypercar at the UK’s Goodwood Festival of Speed (0-60 TBC).

Pininfarina’s long history and new owner give it a solid shot at forcing its way into a competitive market. “We think we are the correct brand to propose this new idea of sustainable luxury,” says Burgogno. He has already recruited staff from Bentley, Bugatti, McLaren, and Ferrari. The time may finally be right for a Pininfarina badge to take the place of the prancing horse, or Winged B, or even the chromed T, on the hood of an electric.


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FOX Sports Using SkyCam For The First Time At An MLB All-Star Game

This diagram of Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. shows how FOX Sports will use a SkyCam for the MLB All-Star Game for the very first time.FOX Sports

If you’ve watched any NFL games on television in the last few years, you’ve undoubtably seen the use of the cable-suspended SkyCam. The ability of networks to fly the camera around the field gives a bird’s eye view where stationary cameras can’t. For the most part, football fans have been the biggest winners of the SkyCam technology, while other sports have been unable to utilize it.

That will change on Tuesday when the 89th MLB All-Star Game is played at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

FOX Sports will be using SkyCam for the first time, ever, at MLB’s Midsummer Classic. According to the network, the design of Nationals Park allowed for the use of the camera technology where other ballparks have not.

There will be one “WildCat” system on-site with a flyspace that will run over left and center field. The camera will track outside the field of play, largely over the bullpens. By running the system as such, it avoids the possibility of the camera or cabling interfering with play.

Should there be any technical problems with the primary system, FOX Sports is deploying a backup that will be on-site.

As has been the case in the past, FOX Sports continues to push the envelope with technology at jewel events, such as the MLB All-Star Game. On top of the SkyCam, there will be an additional aerial camera; 35 HD game cameras; eight super slo-mo that run at 460 frames per second, and; two extra-slo-mo cameras at 2,000 frames per second will be used.

For audio, FOX Sports has increased the number of microphones being used including 78 embedded in the field to capture the sounds of the game.

All of it will be tied together with more than 250 strands of fiber, over three miles of fiber optic cable, and 1 Gbps of data connectivity.

To make it all come together, the FOX Sports will deploy a small army of more that 125 technicians and 24 support staff that will log more than 10,000 man hours over five days.

FOX Sports’ coverage of the MLB All-Star Game begins at 7:30 pm ET.

Eutelsat, Intelsat and SES team up on U.S. C-band proposal

(Reuters) – France’s Eutelsat will join satellite operator rivals Intelsat and SES in a proposal to allow mobile operators to quickly access part of the C-band spectrum in the United States, the companies said on Thursday.

The proposed consortium would be open to all satellite operators delivering services in the C-band in the mainland United States, and would deal with transactions with companies wishing to use specific portions of the spectrum for mobile services, the companies said.

The C-band spectrum is used to deliver video and audio programming to more than 100 million U.S. households, as well as for data connectivity in rural areas and services for the U.S. government.

The companies said the consortium would help speed up the deployment of 5G services in the United States.

Reporting by Alan Charlish in Gdynia; editing by Jason Neely

Sony WF-1000X Review: A Decent But Flawed Noise Cancelling Truly Wireless In-Ear

The Sony WF-1000x are noise cancelling truly wireless in-ears with a high-end build quality and cool metal accents that give them a premium look and feel. They come with an excellent, if slightly bulky, metallic charging case. Unfortunately, their defining noise cancelling feature is not as good in loud environments. They do not block noise as well as some of the purely passive truly wireless designs, which is a little disappointing. They also have a few issues with their wireless connection, have no volume controls and a lot of latency when watching videos.

Pros

+ Good audio reproduction

+ Lightweight with decent durability

+ Efficient, easy-to-use controls

Cons

– Mediocre noise cancelling

– A bit bright on treble-heavy tracks

Design

Type: Truly Wireless In-Ear

Enclosure: Closed-Back

The Sony WF-1000X have a high-end, premium look and feel that sets them apart from other truly wireless in-ears. They have a well-made and decently durable build quality and come with a great metal charging case. The case is a bit bulky but flat, so it will still easily fit into most pockets. Unfortunately, the buds do not look as great once in your ears. They protrude quite a bit, which makes them more noticeable than similar designs like the Samsung Gear IconX. They also have an inconvenient control scheme and no dedicated volume buttons, so you have to reach for your phone or Bluetooth source to increase the volume and even skip tracks. On the upside, they’re decently comfortable and come with a bunch of tip options and sizes to help you find the right fit.


Sound

The Sony WF-1000X have an above-average but sharp sound quality. They have a punchy bass and a good mid-range, although the slight bump in the lower frequencies makes them a tad boomy and cluttered. However, the sharp spike in their treble range will be more immediately noticeable than the boomy mid/bass-range. It makes these earphones piercing on S and T sounds, which will get fatiguing on longer listening sessions or on particularly bright instrument or vocal heavy tracks. They won’t have the soundstage and ambiance of big, open-back over-ear headphones, so they’re not the ideal choice for more critical listeners. But on the upside, they have a preset Equalizer with their companion app, so you can somewhat tweak their sounds to better match your listening preference.


Isolation

Noise cancelling: Yes

The Sony WF-1000X isolate decently well against ambient noise but their noise cancelling feature doesn’t add much. They are one of the first active noise cancelling truly wireless in-ears and they block and cancel enough noise to be decently suitable for commute and travel. They also barely leak so you can play your music at higher volumes to mask even more ambient noise without distracting the people around you. Unfortunately, their A.N.C does not cancel that much noise and barely makes a difference to the passive isolation that the in-ear fit provides. This makes the WF-1000x as good at blocking noise as typical truly wireless in-ears, which is a bit disappointing considering A.N.C is their defining feature.


Microphone

Mic type: Integrated

Like most Bluetooth headphones, and especially truly wireless designs, the mic on the Sony WF-1000x is below-average and would not be the best for making calls. Your voice will sound thin, muffled and will be difficult to understand. They also struggle to separate ambient noise from speech, so the person on the other end of the line will have a tough time to hear what your saying in a busy and noisy environment. They should be somewhat okay in quieter conditions but you may have to switch to your phone’s handset mic if you’re making a call while commuting or walking down a bustling street.


Active Features

Earbud Battery Life: 2.7 Hrs

Charge time: 1.5 Hrs

Case battery life: 6 Hrs

App support: Yes

Passive Playback: No

The Sony WF-1000x have a mediocre-at-best battery life but a good app with decent customization options. The earbuds only last about 3 hours on a single charge and a bit less if you’re using the active noise cancellation feature. But on the upside, they have an additional 6 hours in their charging case for a total of 9 hours of playback. They won’t be the ideal option if you have long uninterrupted listening sessions but should have enough juice to last you throughout your day if you take breaks. They also support the Sony Headphones Connect app which gives them a preset EQ and noise cancelling options. You can also choose different sound quality codecs if your phone supports it.


Connectivity

Bluetooth: Yes

Wired: No

Wireless range: 31 ft

Latency: 400 ms

The Sony WF-1000X are Bluetooth 4.1 headphones with NFC pairing. They have an NFC tag on the bottom of their case, which is pretty cool and makes pairing with phones and NFC-ready devices quite easy. Unfortunately, their regular hold-to-pair procedure can be frustratingly difficult at times since you have to pair the right earbud first which doesn’t always seamlessly connect to the left. They have an average wireless range but one of the worse latency performance we’ve measured. The right earbud also cuts out often regardless of the wireless range. These issues have been somewhat reduced with the firmware 2.0 update but may still be a deal breaker flaw for some.


Who should buy them?

If you want a high-end and premium looking truly wireless design for your commutes, then the Sony WF-1000X are a suitable option. They have a decent isolation performance and are one of the only truly wireless headphones with active noise cancellation. They also barely leak which makes them a good choice for noise sensitive environments like being at the office. Unfortunately, their noise cancellation feature doesn’t isolate better than some passive in-ear designs, they struggle to maintain a good and stable wireless connection and they have a terrible latency performance. They won’t be great for watching videos and they have no volume controls on the earbuds which is bit disappointing. They won’t be as good as some of the other truly wireless designs we’ve reviewed recently but if you really like the look of the Sonys, they’re a decently versatile option for most use cases.

Shop Now: $198 at Amazon

To see all our measurements and our test results of the Sony WF-1000X, please go here.

Here's What You May Not Know About The Future Impact Of AI In Your Workplace

CHAIN Cup at the China National Convention Center in Beijing just a few days ago. A computer running artificial intelligence software defeated two teams of human doctors in accurately recognizing maladies in magnetic resonance images on Saturday, in a contest that was billed as the world’s first competition in neuroimaging between AI and human experts. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Good versus evil is a daily battle on a variety of levels but perhaps none more so than that those tracking developments within the realm of Artificial Intelligence. The question on the minds of many business leaders is will the technology create more efficiency within industries or will machines end up usurping their very users.  Many in the workforce simply want to know whether there will be massive impending job loss as a result of AI or whether such tech advancements will help them to be more productive. There are wild myths about this new area of tech and even wilder predictions amidst few, if any, regulations and standards. Given the plethora of various viewpoints on AI, here’s a brief look at the up-to-the-moment trend perspective from a few thought-leaders in the space so that you can better prepare.

So, harmful or helpful? First, the AI-For-Good camp has no shortage of members. This is about blue sky visions and utopian views from which the greater good occurs, all thanks to efficient use of artificial intelligence through businesses. For example, Chief Visionary Nikos Acuña Nikos at Sizmek, a company that helps companies use data to better reach its goals, says in one of his latest vlog posts, “It’s well known that predictive technologies hold the key to customer experience optimization and such optimization can be used for all types of good.”  Nikos believes that technology is going to help us impact the world for the better particularly when it comes to cause marketing.

“Purpose-driven brands want to make a change for the better,” he explains. “And they can inspire people through alignment of data and connect with consumers in more meaningful way to drive messaging. Those who can best use AI to create personalization and brand experiences will be the winners in business and our society because they will be able to link business with better public service via the knowledge that AI provides.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif. Google pledges that it will not use artificial intelligence in applications related to weapons or surveillance, part of a new set of principles designed to govern how it uses AI. Those principles, released by Pichai, commit Google to building AI applications that are “socially beneficial,” that avoid creating or reinforcing bias and that is accountable to people. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

In addition, many see a deeply positive impact of AI within the workplace. A recent report by Village Capital and Autodesk Foundation entitled Automation for Good: Can Automation and Artificial Intelligence Benefit the Workforce? revealed a number of intriguing findings. In essence, the study found that  AI will both destroy replace and create new types of jobs.

By studying 50-plus startups, the study found certain trends. First, that platforms that used big data were able to better move past hiring biases, improve the quality of matches and thus have a greater competitive advantage in the market. The study also cites the fact that when Hilton implemented an AI tool in pre-hire assessments the company was better able to fill call center and customer support positions. In fact, within three years, the company was  able to reduce the length of time between initial interviews and offers from 42 days to five days.

The study concludes that automation and AI will play an increasingly large role in how organizations source, recruit, hire, and onboard employees in the future. In fact, Village Capital’s cross-industry survey last year found that approximately 62 percent of recruiters planned to spend more on AI-based human resource solutions in 2018.  86 percent said they intend to tap into AI software that helps with sourcing.

Gadi Singer, vice president of architecture group at Intel Corp., speaks during the Baidu Inc. Create conference in Beijing, China, on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. The company’s annual artificial intelligence (AI) developer conference runs through July 5. Photographer: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg

Also noted in the study is the fact that AI-driven training and “upskilling” will be key in various sectors as well. Findings also show that predictive analytics tools that allow workers to focus less on rote tasks and more on the creative “people aspects” of work.

But like most things in life, there a number of additional elements to consider when it comes to the future impact of AI.

David Benigson, CEO Signal Media offers a holistic view. “You see, the breadth of data has never been greater on earth, yet it has never harder to transform data into true insights. This is where AI can become transformative in terms of  applying machine learning to the data to unlock insights.”

However, he feels that in order to get to that level, it’s going to be challenging given the level of fear and misinformation currently surrounding most things AI-related. “We are over-estimating the short-term impact and underestimating the long-term on what AI will do to our society overall, ” Benigson explains. “And that’s an issue.”  He says that the real fact of the matter is that many automated, manual, repetitive and repeatable jobs will, indeed, vanish. “However the ‘safe jobs’ dealing with things like creativity will remain in demand. So jobs in, say, banking will become obsolete. But if you can build something or write or create music or become a valued entrepreneur, that’s where value will always remain and perhaps AI will help even enhance those working in these areas.”

Benigson cautions that further development around ethics, however, is probably the most important focus within the AI narrative if we want to continue to pursue the path of benefit versus detriment. He suggests that an independent ethics board of members that are not solely driven by financial gain is key.  “Currently we are expecting machines to have the same level of ethics that it’s taken humans thousands of years to develop, which is still not perfect,” he adds.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., waits to begin a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Lawmakers will grill Zuckerberg on issues ranging from the troves of data vacuumed up by app developers and political consultant Cambridge Analytica to Russian operatives’ use of the social network to spread misinformation and discord during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“We’ve seen what can happen in the past with companies like Google and Facebook that are fairly autonomous. They run into trouble, and we expect them to respond, but they really don’t on a level that’s appropriate, so they need regulation but regulation can tend to stifle new areas by becoming too stringent so a slow and steady approach will be needed,” he adds.

In addition to parameters around ethics, many like Benigson suggest that the AI industry will simply have to further focus on demonstrating how AI can help with efficiency gains in business and vast gains in society overall in order to quell fears and myths. “The most important element to understand as we discuss AI is that algorithms are shaping our experience of the world so we’ve got to get this right.”

A Robotic Spacecraft Just Smashed the Record for Fastest Trip to the International Space Station

A Russian robotic spacecraft has smashed the record for the time taken to reach the International Space Station (ISS), managing the feat in a mere three hours and 40 minutes.

The Progress MS-09 or Progress 70 cargo ship—the former name is used by the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and the latter by NASA—only did two orbits of Earth before docking with the ISS. The previous record time from takeoff to docking was around six hours, and that involved four orbits.

This was the first Russian cargo mission to demonstrate an “expedited capability” that will likely be used again in future, NASA said in a statement.

According to Space.com, the Russians had tried twice before to achieve this speedy feat, but had been thwarted on both occasions by lift-off delays that meant it was necessary to turn the trips into two-day missions.

The Russian spacecraft was carrying more than two tons of cargo, including fuel, air, maintenance equipment, and care and life support packs for the astronauts on board the ISS. Progress MS-09 will stay docked until late January.

The Russians’ success is a reminder that the ISS is, as its name suggests, an international endeavor. The new NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, is trying to get a consortium of private companies to take over the space station, but it isn’t simply the Americans’ to hand over.

Russia has its own part of the ISS—with which Progress MS-09 docked—and Japan, Europe and Canada share the American section. When Progress MS-09 leaves the ISS, it will take the whole Russian Pirs docking compartment with it—the Russians will replace the compartment with a new “multipurpose laboratory module.”

Equinor: 3 Promising Recent Developments

The past few weeks have seen several developments that have the very real potential to be quite beneficial for investors in Norway’s Equinor (EQNR). This is a company that has looked rather undervalued for quite some time now, particularly when compared to its big oil peers in the United States. This is likely due both to the company not being included in any of the major American indices such as the S&P 500 (SPY) that American investors typically hold passively as well as many of them feeling somewhat uncomfortable at the Norwegian government having a two-thirds stake in the business. However, as I explained in a recent article, Equinor is truly a great company that deserves a place in the portfolio of every energy investor. In this article, we will discuss a few of the developments that are likely to benefit investors going forward.

On Tuesday, July 3, 2018, Equinor submitted a plan to develop the massive gas fields located in the Western portion of the Troll field offshore Norway. According to the plan, the company would invest a total of NOK 7.8 billion ($936 million) to develop the gas field, which would provide enough gas to meet the needs of fifty million European households for the next thirty years. As the development of the field would cost less than $1 billion and Equinor would have total production costs of under $10 per barrel of oil equivalent, we can expect the 2.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent that the company will ultimately extract from the field to yield significant profits. Indeed, as Equinor vice president Margareth Oevrum stated, “This is probably one of the most profitable and robust projects in the company’s history.”

The Troll oil and natural gas field is one of the largest fields known in the North Sea, holding approximately 40% of Norway’s gas reserves.

Source: RigZone

As shown above, the field is located approximately 65 kilometers west of Bergen. The field itself consists of two structures, Troll East and Troll West, with most of the gas lying in the already producing East structure. The plan that Equinor just submitted is for the Troll West structure so it is clearly intended to boost the total production from the field. Due to the potential economic impact, it seems unlikely that the Norwegian authorities will reject the plan. Assuming that is indeed the case, the Troll West field would likely come online sometime early next decade so would begin contributing positively to the company’s results around that time.

On Thursday, July 5, 2018, Equinor announced that it gained approval from the Norwegian authorities to proceed with its Snorre expansion project. This $2.39 billion project involves the construction of a comprehensive subsea development, upgrading of the Snorre A installation, increasing gas injection into the reservoir, and setting up a gas import system to obtain this gas. The goal here is to extend the productive life of the aging Snorre field past 2040 and obtain another 200 million barrels of oil from it before the field is ultimately exhausted. Naturally, this will increase the amount of oil that Equinor can ultimately pull out of the field and sell.

The Snorre field is an oil and gas field located in the southern part of the Norwegian Sea. The field itself is located at the bottom of approximately 300 to 350 meters of water.

Source: RigZone

The Snorre field was originally developed by Saga Petroleum (now part of Equinor) and started producing oil in 1992. It has been producing oil and gas continually since that time, although Equinor has had to make some capital improvements at the site to keep the field productive. Thus far, Equinor has enjoyed success with these programs as the field was originally projected to reach the end of its productive life in 2011 but it is now projected to be exhausted around 2040. The goal of the newest project that was just approved is to extend its life beyond that date.

The Snorre field is one of the largest ever discovered, originally estimated to contain 1.4 billion barrels of oil, 6 billion cubic meters of natural gas, and 6 million tonnes of natural gas liquids.

Finally, on Friday, July 6, Equinor announced that it is purchasing Danish trading firm Danske Commodities for €400 million ($470 million). According to Irene Rummelhoff, executive vice president for new energy solutions at Equinor, the purpose of the deal is to strengthen the company’s position in power generation from renewable energy.

Danske itself trades in natural gas and electricity futures, so this appears to be a move by Equinor to improve its ability to hedge its exposure to electricity rates as it continues to expand into renewable power generation technologies. Numerous energy companies operate trading desks as a way to reduce the impact that rapid commodity price swings have on their revenues. Equinor is merely joining the crowd here by purchasing an already existing operation instead of starting one from scratch.

The profitability of trading operations can be quite difficult to judge in advance. Personally, I somewhat doubt that the purchase of this commodity trading operation will have a huge impact on Equinor’s profitability. What it may help to do though is smooth out the company’s profitability over the business cycle, which itself has a certain benefit for shareholders, particularly those that are buy and hold types.

Despite these positive developments, Equinor remains undervalued relative to its big oil peers. With that said though, analysts recently revised downward the forward earnings growth expectations of Equinor which makes it look somewhat more expensive than it did a few weeks ago despite its stock price being almost flat over the period. One way that we can compare the valuations of different oil companies is by looking that the price-to-earnings growth ration, which is a way of adjusting the price-to-earnings growth ratio to account for forward earnings growth. According to Zacks Investment Research, Equinor will grow its earnings at an 11.68% rate over the next three to five years. At the current stock price of $26.97, that gives it a price to earnings growth ratio of 1.18. Interestingly, two weeks ago, the same analysts projected a 3-5 year earnings growth rate of 19.89%. Thus, analysts expect that the developments discussed above will slow the company’s growth. I expect the opposite, although admittedly I am looking over much longer than a three to five year horizon.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: I intend to initiate a long position in EQNR at some point in the near future but it will not be within 72 hours of publication.

5 Reasons To Buy Bitcoin Now

Bitcoin (BTC-USD) is down 46.2% for the year. It is down 65% from its high. It is no longer the conversation at the office. My grandma isn’t asking if she should invest anymore. Is Bitcoin dead?

Chart

Bitcoin Close Price data by YCharts

Google searches for Bitcoin:

No. Nothing has changed really except the price action…

My take on Bitcoin is you may want to own a piece because of potential future price action based on its fundamental attractive qualities. Current price action is almost irrelevant. Maybe it’s not irrelevant but I don’t think I have much of any an edge predicting momentum.

Here are X reasons you want to grab a little bit of Bitcoin while no one is interested anymore or embarrassed with their losses to bring up the subject.

Upside

Perhaps the primary reason I like to have exposure to Bitcoin in my portfolio is the almost unimaginable upside. I always hesitate to talk about the upside scenarios because these are so wild it takes away credibility from my analysis. But if you put the total value of Bitcoin that can be mined (21 million x market price) in perspective the contrast is pretty stark. Even if Bitcoin becomes “merely” a digital gold there’s opportunity for a 70x.

Continued User growth

The pace of growth slowed down a little bit from the end of 2017 frenzy but the hockey stick like growth of Bitcoin wallets can easily resume. In an absolute sense growth remains healthy.

Cryptofunds

Last year the financial industry started pioneering in the space and a large amount of crypto funds got established. Launches have slowed down with the crypto market down significantly. This is a classic pattern where it’s just much harder to raise money in a down market. However, these funds have now been established and once we enter another big cycle up the infrastructure is ready to accommodate inflows on a much larger scale.

ETF

There are now futures available to trade Bitcoin. An ETF did not yet make it to market although there are a number of ongoing efforts. At some point it’s going to happen. I think that could be a gamechanger for Bitcoin. In March 2003 the first Gold ETF (GLD). You can’t be certain but it looks like the introduction had a profound effect on the price of gold.

Lightning network

Bitcoin bears usually complain about transaction costs and speed. These are real issues no one’s denying that. However, they will ultimately be solved by technological innovation. The obvious example being the lightning network. The lightning network is already being used and it allows transactions that are less secure but much faster and cheaper. Many expected it to work by now but it doesn’t as there are still too many transactions failing and the error rate increases as the value of transactions goes up. Up to $0.03 it is reported to work flawlessly and it seems to me it should be a matter of time to get that $0.03 up to a value where the benefit of the lightning network is real. The lightning network is especially important for low value, cup-of-coffee type, transactions. I prefer to buy Bitcoin before these issues get solved instead of buying into the next frenzy as its ongoing.

Over time I’ve written quite a few Bitcoin articles for Seeking Alpha. The first one was called 5 reasons to Buy Bitcoin as well. With Bitcoin around ~$300. You can find most of them here. A good place to buy a few dollars worth of Bitcoin is Coinbase. It is U.S.-based and if you use my invite you can get $10 bitcoin free).

Disclosure: I am/we are long BTC-USD.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.