This R/C bot lets you communicate with others

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Transcript: Telepresence robotics reimagined with cardboard. Smartipresence is a 6-inch DIY telepresence robot that uses cardboard, an electronics kit, and your smartphone. Smartipresence uses the circuit board, motors, and battery from the Smartibot Kit. Adding the cardboard parts turns it into a mini telepresence bot. You can remotely look around and move forward and backward. A low-ratio motor is used for tilting the phone, allowing the operator to look up and down. No word yet on when the Smartipresence Kit will be available in stores.

You can check out the Smartipresence and Smartibot Kit here, but they’re not the only head-turning miniature robots out there. Makeblock mBot Robot Kit is another awesome gadget currently on Amazon. This one has the ability to teach children entry-level programming.

Makeblock mBot Robot Kit – $69.99 (30% off) at


German space agency reveals an autonomous, electric urban mobility prototype for use right here on Earth

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has debuted a prototype of what it calls ‘U-Shift,’ an urban mobility vehicle designed for multiple uses. U-Shift is a fully electric vehicle, designed for autonomous operation, and could serve in a number of capacities including as an on-demand shuttle, a bus, a mobile distribution center for package delivery, or even as travelling salesroom.

As you can see from the images, the base of the U-Shift itself is pretty simple, containing the wheels, drive system and batteries. DLR envisions a modular top component that can be swapped out depending on usage needs, with various add-on units depicted, including an airy, all-glass bus, and a more barebones cargo capsule.

This modularity could help the U-Shift better address the varied needs of city-based transportation, with the flexibility to shift modes relatively easily depending on what’s going on at the time. You could easily see how a fleet like this could be repurposed for on-demand package and grocery delivery during lockdowns like the ones that have been required during the COVID-19 pandemic, when personal transportation is less needed.

This prototype is functional, but it’s not autonomous, yet – it’s remote-controlled instead. The top speed also isn’t that high, but it is capable of operating continuously for 24 hours when necessary. The primary purpose of this prototype is to test the system that swaps out the cargo/passenger capsules in order to chart a path towards production with companies who will be supplying those, and to study its user interface, including things like how the doors open and how accessible it is.

DLR plans to use all the information it gathers from testing of this prototype to help develop a second, fully automated version that can reach speeds of up to 60 km/h (just under 40 mph) by 2024. That next prototype should be much closer to any potential production version, and there will be more focus then on business opportunities and commercialization as well.


FIA will try to avoid Le Mans/F1 clash in 2021

LE MANS, France — Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, will do what it can to avoid a calendar clash in 2021 between the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a grand prix, president Jean Todt told reporters at the 88th edition of the event.

This year’s F1 calendar had listed the Canadian Grand Prix on the same June weekend as Le Mans before the COVID-19 pandemic tore up the schedules, with the Montreal race ultimately cancelled.

Le Mans will be the highlight of a reduced six-round World Endurance Championship (WEC) season in 2021 with the race scheduled for June 12-13 on a provisional calendar published last Friday.

“Clearly, we will do as much as we can to avoid a clash between WEC and Formula One,” Todt said in a Zoom news conference.

“But of course it can also depend where Formula One will be located because the time zone has some importance. So we will do the best effort but that’s the maximum I can tell you.”

Formula One has yet to publish a draft 2021 calendar but is hoping to have a more familiar list of races after a condensed and reduced 2020 season.

“We’re certainly planning on a 2021 that may not be completely business back to normal, but it’s pretty close,” chairman Chase Carey told Sky Sports television last month.

This year was supposed to have a record 22 rounds but now has only 17, the majority of them in Europe, with some new circuits brought in to replace those whose grands prix had to be cancelled.

Formula One drivers have competed at Le Mans and grands prix in the same season, Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg winning in 2015 and Fernando Alonso in 2018 while with Force India and McLaren respectively.

Hulkenberg was unable to defend his title in 2016 as the race clashed with the inaugural grand prix in Azerbaijan.

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‘Hillbilly Brigade’ fired up dozers and pickups to save Oregon town from fire

MOLALLA, Ore. — Nicole West steered her bulldozer through the smoldering forest, pushing logs into the underbrush and away from the wildfires ripping through Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. Her border collie, Oink, rode shotgun as West and a volunteer crew raced to clear a fire line.

Behind West, on the front lines of the 136,000-acre Riverside fire, two young men pulled a water tank behind their pickup truck, struggling to douse the flames.

These are the men and women of the “Hillbilly Brigade” — about 1,200 in all who came together this past week to fight the state’s biggest fire in a century. They are credited with saving the mountain hamlet of Molalla, an hour’s drive south of Portland, after its 9,000 residents were forced to evacuate.

In a year when ferocious wildfires have killed at least 21 people and burned millions of acres in Oregon, Washington and California, the brigade has pulled off a miracle in the thick forests around Molalla in recent days, residents and fire officials say. They organized and deployed themselves with little or no help from a small and overwhelmed local fire department – which focused on protecting the town center — or from state and federal agencies who were deployed elsewhere.

“We were left on our own to stop this,” said West (above), a 36-year-old ranch hand, as she briefly paused her dozer late Wednesday afternoon. “There wasn’t anybody coming from the state to save us. So we had to save ourselves.”

Mike Penunuri, fire marshal for the Molalla fire district, which has just 13 firefighters and 33 volunteers, called the massive ad-hoc effort “amazing.” Penunuri’s crews spent the past week hosing down flames that lapped at the town’s edge and battling back fires around farm houses.

The Hillbilly Brigade “improvised and turned their pick-ups into fire engines on the fly,” he said. “They put stock tanks in the beds and used pumps to put out hot spots. These are just regular guys from the area. They are not trained.”

‘I’m just that guy’

Residents of Molalla went to sleep on Labor Day thinking it was safe from the wildfires, but unusual wind gusts stunned forecasters and officials and pushed the fire north at a rapid clip. In the early morning hours on Sept. 8, it looked like Molalla would be engulfed in flames, just as towns in southern Oregon had been.

The brigade formed quickly, amassing people who knew one another well and knew the difficult terrain all around them better than any outsider. They were lumberjacks and dairy farmers, friends and neighbors, cobbling together rudimentary equipment.

On September 8, Terry Price heard a neighbor banging at his door at 1 a.m., warning of fast-approaching fires about four miles south of Molalla on the Missouri Ridge. The Riverside fire was barreling down a valley toward his place as the Beachie Creek fire approached from the southwest.

In that moment, the 59-year-old Price, a salty and assertive man, became the de facto Hillbilly Brigade leader in this section of the county, neighbors said.

“I dole things out for the boys to do,” Price said. “I’m just that guy. It’s what I’ve always done.”

The brigade filled a vacuum left by the absence of any government help, he said. The fires raging across Oregon have depleted the state’s resources to battle the unprecedented blazes.

“I was in horrible disbelief that nobody showed up,” he said.

The Oregon Department of Forestry and the office of Oregon Governor Kate Brown did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday morning on whether the state responded to fires near Molalla or what might have prevented a response.

‘Them and a shovel’

Price and other landowners quickly realized they needed to save themselves and started calling one another. Within a couple of hours, Price’s driveway became the headquarters for his area.

“It seemed like about everybody dropped everything and showed up by dawn,” Price said. “Even if it was just them and a shovel. They came to help.”

Dairy farmers brought water trucks that they normally use for their cattle. Loggers had smaller water tankers.

Price said the crew on Missouri Ridge had no access to water. So he set about ripping 20-foot-wide fire lines in the forest with a bulldozer, which itself caught on fire at times as the trees blazed around him. Price’s 30-year-old son, Breck, guided him around massive tree trunks as he pushed forward. For two straight days he cut through the earth – and kept the fire at bay about 100 yards from his house.

The sky was black and purple. The wind drove the firestorm directly toward his house. Price had never seen anything like it. “It’s beyond scary,” he said.

‘People I’ve known my whole life’

On Wednesday, Matt Meyers, a 41-year-old power company employee, emerged from the fire’s haze on a mountainous patch called Elk Prairie. He had a chainsaw on his shoulder and a week’s worth of grime caked to his face.

Meyers and his crew were on their ninth straight day of battling blazes for more than 20 hours a day. He explained that he was acting as a type of scout, pushing ahead into the forest ahead of the dozers. He cut down “snags” – dead trees that could quickly fall onto the machinery and drivers – and blazed the initial trails into the forest.

The operation thrived on close and long-standing relationships, he said.

“I’m up here fighting these fires with people I’ve known my whole life,” Meyers said. “Communication was easy: We could just stand at the tailgate of a truck and say, ‘Steve, do you remember where Brian killed his first buck? You take your crew there.'”

The result was a victory – for now – over what had seemed like an overwhelming threat. The Beachie Creek and Riverside fires are not yet contained, leaving residents here on edge. But many are optimistic that the miles of firelines the brigade cut through the forest will provide a buffer if the winds blow the flames back their way.

“I think we saved the damn town, to put it bluntly,” Meyers said. “I’m a humble man, but I feel comfortable saying that.”

Asked what it meant to him to see his community come together to save itself, Meyers said: “If I had not sweated out all my water, I think I would cry just thinking about that.”


Toyota Gazoo wins 24 Hours Le Mans for 3rd straight year

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours Le Mans by five laps from Rebellion No. 1 on Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sébastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna — the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 — also featuring Argentine José María López — encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanaël Berthon-Louis Delétraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Delétraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderón, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Flörsch — an F3 driver — and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.


This tracked toy robot is designed for the programmer in you

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Transcript: A hackable robot vehicle. Ever wanted to hack and program a robot “car”? Sphero RVR is designed to teach you to code, program, and hack. It’s made for everyone ages 8 and up to help level-up their programming skills. The mini robot car includes all-terrain treads, and the customizable plate allows you to transform the RVR into a bot of your own design. RVR is filled with sensors that can be coded and hacked. Currently, the Sphero RVR is priced at $249.99

Sphero RVR – $128.60 (49% off) at


Electric vehicle charge network ChargePoint reportedly closer to going public

ChargePoint Inc., one of the world’s oldest and largest electric vehicle charging networks, is nearing a deal to go public through a reverse merger with Switchback Energy Acquisition Corp, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The deal for ChargePoint could value the company at more than $2 billion (1.54 billion pounds) and be announced as early as next week, the sources said, cautioning that talks could still collapse and terms may still change.

The sources requested anonymity as the matter is private. ChargePoint declined to comment. Switchback did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Switchback quickly rose 11% after the news and was halted. After trading resumed it was up 27.5% at $13.32. Trading volume was 8.4 times its 10-day moving average.

Campbell, California-based ChargePoint, founded in 2007, last month closed on a $127 million funding round which valued the company at $1.37 billion, according to PitchBook data.

ChargePoint has attracted funding from both private venture investors and large strategic investors, including German automakers Daimler AG and BMW and the venture arm of oil company Chevron Corp.

Switchback Energy is a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) which raised $300 million in an initial public offering in July 2019.

A SPAC is a shell company that uses IPO proceeds, together with debt, to acquire another company, typically within two years. Investors are not notified in advance what the SPAC will buy.

SPACs have emerged as a quick route to the stock market for companies, particularly auto technology startups, concerned about the risk of the lengthy IPO process. In some cases, these companies have also struggled to attract interest from institutional investors such as pension funds and venture capital firms.

Investors also seek to echo the surging stock price of Tesla Inc, the leading electric vehicle company.

Electric commercial truck maker Nikola went public earlier this year through a SPAC merger while electric carmaker Fisker has agreed to a reverse merger with Spartan Energy Acquisition Corp.

Reporting by Joshua Franklin in Boston and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York and Noel Randewich in San Francisco; Editing by Timothy Gardner and Matthew Lewis


F1 teams say triple-headers are ‘not sustainable’

LONDON — As Formula One teams return home to rest and gather breath after three successive triple-headers, bosses have stressed that such intense scheduling cannot become the norm.

The season, delayed and condensed by the COVID-19 pandemic that has so far confined the track action to Europe, started only on July 5 with back-to-back races in Austria, followed by Hungary.

After a weekend off, there were then two successive races at Britain’s Silverstone and a trip to Spain.

Last Sunday’s first Tuscan Grand Prix at Italy’s Mugello circuit near Florence effectively began the second half of the season and followed on from Monza and Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps.

“I think multiple triple-headers are not sustainable,” Racing Point team boss Otmar Szafnauer said last weekend.

“We’re doing them this year but if I were to tell all the mechanics that this is how it’s going to be, going forward, I think they would choose to do something else.”

Haas team boss Guenther Steiner said three weekends in a row was tough on everyone at the best of times.

“We had a few months not doing so much in the beginning of the year… but doing it going forward as a standard I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he added.

Formula One should have had a record 22-race calendar this year, and the regulations allow for up to 25 in a season.

“I think the biggest issue is being away from the families and the kids and so on, for each team member,” McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl told reporters in July before the Silverstone-Spain triple run.

Formula One trialled it’s first triple-header in 2018, when the season was 21 races long, with a trip to France followed by Austria and Britain, and there were concerns then about the impact on personnel.

The next race in Russia will be the furthest the sport has travelled in 2020, not including a planned opener in Australia in March that was cancelled after the teams arrived, but it stands alone.

The 17-race season ends with another triple-header in Bahrain (two rounds) and Abu Dhabi from Nov. 29 to Dec. 13.

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Zoox becomes fourth company to land driverless testing permit in California

Zoox, the automated vehicle technology startup that was acquired by Amazon this year, has been issued a permit from California regulators that will allow it to test driverless vehicles on public roads. The permit is not for all public roads in the state, but it’s still notable, considering the company will be able to test its vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency that regulates automated vehicle testing in the state, has issued a permit for a designated part of Foster City in San Mateo County.

Mark Rosekind, the former director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who is now chief safety officer at Zoox, called it another important milestone in the company’s “efforts to deliver safe, fully electric, and affordable autonomous mobility to riders in California.”

Zoox has taken the “all of the above” approach to autonomous vehicles. The company is aiming to build a purpose-built electric vehicle, develop, test and validate the automated vehicle technology and operate a robotaxi fleet. That mission seems to be intact. Amazon has said that Zoox will remain a standalone company.

Zoox has had a permit to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers since 2016. This new permit allows the company to test two autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the wheel on specified streets near its Foster City headquarters. The vehicles are approved to operate in fair weather conditions, including light rain or fog, on streets with a speed limit of no more than 45 mph, the agency said Friday.

While dozens of companies — 60 in all — have active permits to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver, it’s far less common to receive permission for driverless vehicles. Only AutoX, Nuro and Waymo hold this driverless permit. Companies that receive these driverless permits have to provide evidence of insurance or a bond equal to $5 million and follow several other rules, such as training remote operators on the technology.

Zoox also has a permit, which it received in late 2018, to transport people in its automated vehicles on public roads. These ride-hailing permits fall under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission and have a variety of other requirements and rules. This permit, which allows Zoox to participate in the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, doesn’t allow companies to charge for rides.

Zoox has also been testing its technology in Las Vegas, which is considered another target market. Zoox received permission from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles in early 2019 to drive autonomously on state roads. The startup was mapping and test-driving new routes in the greater Las Vegas region last year.

This story originally appeared on TechCrunch.

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This BMW 850CSi is a one-of-a-kind purple, V12, manual masterpiece

Someone hide the checkbook, this could escalate quickly. We just stumbled upon this listing on new auction site and, quite frankly, it could be the best car ever made. Seriously, we need to find the person who originally ordered this car and send them a bouquet of doughnuts. Or a box of flowers. Or something. Let’s break this down. 

First, it’s a 1995 BMW 8 Series, which is a pretty neat car. Even a crappy one will turn heads.

Second, it’s an 850CSi, which means it has the V12. Those are quite clearly always awesome, and this one has 372 horsepower and 402 pound-feet of torque.

Third, it has a manual transmission. With a V12. Bouncing up and down yet? Clapping your hands together excitedly? Drool pooling on your desk?

Well, grab a mop, because fourth: it’s purple. Specifically, Daytona Violet, which was a special-order BMW Individual color. And not only is Daytona Violet purple, which itself is always awesome, this is the only E31 8 Series in that color sold in the United States. 

And it gets rarer. Fourth: the interior is also purple, but tastefully broken up in a two-tone color combination of Daytona Violet with Lotus White. This is literally the only E31 anywhere ever in this color combination. 

And finally, its odometer is sitting just under 40,000 miles. What, were you expecting the previous owners to daily drive their custom-order, one-of-a-kind, manual V12 personal luxury sport coupe? 

So please, someone reading this, buy this car. And let us know when you do. We’d love to pop by, take a picture, bask in its aura, deliver your own bouquet of doughnuts.