Solar-powered plane circles globe, returns to UAE

ABU DHABI A solar-powered aircraft successfully completed the first fuel-free flight around the world on Tuesday, returning to Abu Dhabi after an epic 16-month voyage and demonstrating the potential of renewable energy.The plane, Solar Impulse 2, touched down in the United Arab Emirates capital at 0005 GMT (0405 local time) on Tuesday. It first took off from Abu Dhabi on March 9, 2015, beginning a landmark journey of about 40,000 km (24,500 miles) around the globe and nearly 500 hours of flying. Unfavorable weather at times hindered smooth flying, causing the plane to be grounded for months in some countries. Swiss explorers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, Solar Impulse founders and pilots, took turns piloting the aircraft with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 747 and weighing only as much as a family car. The Swiss team is campaigning to bolster support for clean energy. The propeller-driven aircraft's four engines are powered exclusively by energy collected from more than 17,000 solar cells built the plane's wings. Excess energy is stored in four batteries during daylight hours to keep the plane flying after dark.Over its entire mission, Solar Impulse 2 cruised at altitudes of up to 9,000 meters and at an average speed of between 45 and 90 km (12.5 and 25 miles) per hour. The plane had 16 stopovers along the way including in Oman, India, Myanmar, China, Japan, the United States, Spain and Egypt. Abu Dhabi’s green energy firm Masdar is the official host partner of Solar Impulse 2. Oil-rich Abu Dhabi is investing billions in industry, tourism and renewables to diversify its economy away from oil. (Reporting by Stanley Carvalho, editing by Sami Aboudi and Hugh Lawson)

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SpaceX rocket lifts off on cargo run, then lands at launch site

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. An unmanned SpaceX rocket blasted off from Florida early on Monday to send a cargo ship to the International Space Station, then turned around and landed itself back at the launch site.The 23-story-tall Falcon 9 rocket, built and flown by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:45 a.m. EDT (0445 GMT).Perched on top of the rocket was a Dragon capsule filled with nearly 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg) of food, supplies and equipment, including a miniature DNA sequencer, the first to fly in space.Also aboard the capsule was a metal docking ring of diameter 7.8 feet (2.4 m), that will be attached to the station, letting commercial spaceships under development by SpaceX and Boeing Co. ferry astronauts to the station, a $100-billion laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. The manned craft are scheduled to begin test flights next year.Since NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles five years ago, the United States has depended on Russia to ferry astronauts to and from the station, at a cost of more than $70 million per person.As the Dragon cargo ship began its two-day journey to the station, the main section of the Falcon 9 booster rocket separated and flew itself back to the ground, touching down a few miles south of its seaside launch pad, accompanied by a pair of sonic booms. "Good launch, good landing, Dragon is on its way," said NASA mission commentator George Diller.Owned and operated by Musk, the technology entrepreneur who founded Tesla Motors Inc, SpaceX is developing rockets that can be refurbished and re-used, potentially slashing launch costs. With Monday’s touchdown, SpaceX has successfully landed Falcon rockets on the ground twice and on an ocean platform during three of its last four attempts.SpaceX intends to launch one of its recovered rockets as early as this autumn, said Hans Koenigsmann, the firm's vice president for mission assurance. (Reporting by Irene Klotz, Editing by Chris Michaud and Clarence Fernandez)

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Tesla crash raises stakes for self-driving vehicle startups

DETROIT/SAN FRANCISCO Concerns raised by the first reported fatality in a semi-automated car were expected to speed adoption of more sensitive technology to help vehicles see and drive themselves safely, increasing demand on the emerging autonomous vehicle technology industry, investors and analysts said.Goldman Sachs forecasts the market for advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles will grow from about $3 billion last year to $96 billion in 2025 and $290 billion in 2035. More than half of that revenue in 20 years, Goldman estimates, will come from radar, cameras and lidar, a sensor that uses laser – all tools considered essential to building vehicles that can pilot themselves.The May 7 death of Ohio technology company owner Joshua Brown in a Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O) Model S while the car's semi-automated Autopilot system was engaged highlighted the limitations of current automated driving systems.Tesla’s Autopilot system uses cameras and radar, but not lidar. The company said its system would have had trouble distinguishing a white semi-trailer positioned across a road against a bright sky.Industry executives and analysts told Reuters they expect the Tesla crash will spur investment in self-driving vehicle systems that combine multiple of sensors, including lidar."As we move to a higher level of autonomy in vehicles, you’re going to want to have more redundancy," which radar and lidar can provide, Dan Galves, senior vice president at vision safety system maker Mobileye NV(MBLY.N) , said in an interview. "The more sensors, the better."Carmakers have been using multiple sensors in prototypes that are in testing but not yet ready for market. A variety of technologies with overlapping capabilities is seen as a way to increase safety under a wider range of circumstances.The valuations of some self-driving startups "may even increase if there are companies that can solve some of the issues" the Tesla accident raised, said Quin Garcia, managing director of AutoTech Ventures, a Silicon Valley investment firm.Semi-automated systems such as General Motor Co's (GM.N) SuperCruise and Traffic Jam Pilot from Volkswagen AG's (VOWG_p.DE) Audi are due on the market in 2017-2018. Ford Motor Co(F.N) expects to deploy a semi-automated system, using Velodyne lidar, in 2018. Toyota Motor Corp(7203.T), which is investing more than $1 billion in such self-driving technologies as robotics and artificial intelligence, said it aims to put fully driverless cars on the road in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.Delphi Automotive PLC (DLPH.N) plans to build lidar vision systems with technology from Quanergy Systems, which makes solid state lidar systems. Delphi plans to combine information from the lidar system with radar and other driver assistance technology to create a 360-degree view around a car, a company official said. Delphi has an investment in Quanergy, one of more than 50 self-driving startups that together have raised more than $800 million in investment capital in the past decade, according to a Reuters analysis of publicly available data.At least two of those startups - Quanergy which makes solid state lidar sensors, and Zoox, which is developing fully automated vehicle systems - have jumped in value to more than $1 billion each since GM's $1.2-billion acquisition earlier this year of another self-driving startup, Cruise Automation.Quanergy and Zoox hope to follow the lead of Mobileye, an Israeli supplier of vision-based safety systems to 25 global automakers, including Tesla. Co-founded in 1999 by a computer science professor at Hebrew University, Mobileye went public in 2014 and today is valued at nearly $10 billion.Mobileye plans by 2020 to offer a hardware/software system that can gather, fuse and analyze data from 20 different sensors, including cameras, lidar and radar. The company's new EyeQ5 "system on chip" will be a key component in a fully autonomous driving system that is being jointly developed with BMW AG (BMWG.DE) and Intel Corp (INTC.O) and is aimed at production in 2021.Like Mobileye, Velodyne, a leading supplier of laser-based lidar systems, works with many of the world’s top automakers, including Ford, GM, BMW, Toyota Honda Motor Co(7267.T) and Daimler AG’s (DAIGn.DE) Mercedes-Benz."Our clients want to (combine) lidar and cameras," Velodyne's Marta Hall, president of business development, told Reuters in an interview. Automakers are stepping up orders as lidar systems come down in size and price, she said. Among the potential beneficiaries of this growing interest is LeddarTech, a relatively young startup based in Canada's Quebec City. The company is providing LED-based lidar systems to French supplier Valeo (VLOF.PA), which also buys vision-based systems from Mobileye.Germany's Robert Bosch, which has been developing self-driving components and systems for more than 15 years, buys lidar from an unnamed Tier II supplier and intends to package it in a highly automated “highway pilot” system intended for series production in 2020, said spokesman Tim Wieland."Bosch sees the necessity for a sensor setup that includes radar, video and lidar," Wieland said. The three sensors "complement each other very efficiently."REGULATION AND LITIGATION WILD CARDS Regulation and litigation are two big wild cards for the autonomous driving sector.Safety regulators and industry executives have said self-driving cars ultimately could slash traffic fatalities – about 35,000 last year in the United States and more than 1.2 million globally - by up to 90 percent. But regulators are also concerned that drivers could be lulled into unsafe behavior by systems that take control for a time, but expect human operators to re-take command in an emergency.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the role of Autopilot in the Florida accident and another crash in Pennsylvania involving a Tesla vehicle. The agency also is expected to roll out this summer broad guidelines for deploying autonomous vehicle technology."I hope NHTSA does not overreact" to the crash, said Stefan Heck, co-founder of Nauto, another Silicon Valley self-driving startup with corporate backing. "The tradeoff is quite clear: Some safety improvement is better than none."Product liability for automated vehicles is uncharted territory. The U.S. Transportation Department has said an automated driving system could be considered the "driver" for regulatory purposes.Industry executives are betting that consumer interest in the technology will rise.A survey conducted by AlixPartners in June - before the Tesla accident was reported publicly - found that 90 percent of respondents would be interested in a self-driving car that would let the driver take the wheel from time to time. The same survey noted that nearly 80 percent of respondents would pay for the technology - including 10 percent who would spend up to $5,000.The favorable response rates are much higher than in previous surveys on self-driving technology.News of the Tesla crash "is not going to put too much of a dent in public perception" of self-driving cars, said AlixPartners' Mark Wakefield. (Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit and Alexandria Sage in San Francisco; Editing by Joe White and Lisa Girion)

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NASA's Juno spacecraft ready for one-shot try to orbit Jupiter

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. A NASA spacecraft was poised for a one-shot attempt to slip into Jupiter's orbit on Monday for the start of a 20-month-long dance around the solar system's largest planet to learn how and where it formed.Flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, were preparing for a long night as the Juno probe streaked closer toward Jupiter at 200 times the speed of sound in the empty vacuum of space."We're barreling down," Juno lead scientist Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio told reporters on Monday.By noon on Monday, Juno had sailed past three of Jupiter's four main moons, with volcanic Io, the innermost big moon, in its sights.Confirmation of whether Juno, the only solar-powered spacecraft ever dispatched to the outer solar system, had successfully placed itself into polar orbit around Jupiter was not expected until 11:53 p.m. EDT on Monday (0353 GMT on Tuesday).Launched from Florida nearly five years ago, Juno must be precisely positioned, ignite its main engine at exactly the right time and keep it burning for 35 minutes to shed enough speed so it can be captured by Jupiter's gravity. If anything goes even slightly awry, Juno will sail helplessly past Jupiter, unable to complete a $1 billion mission to peer through the planet's thick atmosphere and map its gargantuan magnetic field.Scientists are particularly interested in learning how much water Jupiter contains, which is key to determining where in the solar system it formed. Jupiter's origins, in turn, affected the development and position of the rest of the planets, including Earth and its fortuitous location conducive to the evolution of life.The immense gravity exerted by Jupiter's sheer size - packing 2-1/2 times the mass of all the other planets combined - is thought to have helped shield Earth from bombardment by comets and asteroids. "We are learning about nature, how Jupiter formed and what that tells us about our history and where we came from," Bolton said.The Juno probe is named for the ancient Roman goddess, who was the wife and sister of Jupiter, the mythological king of gods, and had the power to see through clouds.'MUSICAL NOTES' Only one other spacecraft, Galileo, has ever circled Jupiter, which is five times farther away from the sun than Earth and is itself orbited by 67 known moons. Bolton said Juno is likely to discover even more.Seven other U.S. space probes have sailed past the gas giant on brief reconnaissance missions before heading elsewhere in the solar system.Ground control teams will monitor Juno's progress during its do-or-die engine burn by listening for a series of radio signals."They really are musical notes. Based on what musical note is sent, we will know how something is doing," Bolton said.During its approach, Juno also must be lucky enough to fly through Jupiter's tenuous rings without being hit by particles zipping around so fast that even a speck the size of a blood cell could prove fatal. The risks to the spacecraft will not end once it arrives in orbit. The probe must quickly turn around and face the sun so its 18,698 solar cells can begin recharging the battery."I won't exhale until we are back sun-pointing again," Bolton said.Juno will fly in highly elliptical, egg-shaped orbits that pass within 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of the tops of Jupiter's clouds and inside the planet's powerful radiation belts.Juno's computers and sensitive science instruments are housed in a 400-pound (180-kg) titanium vault for protection. But during its 37 orbits around Jupiter, Juno will be exposed to the equivalent of 100 million dental X-rays, said Bill McAlpine, radiation control manager for the mission.The spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, is expected to last for 20 months. On its final orbit, Juno will dive into Jupiter's atmosphere, where it will be crushed and vaporized.Like Galileo, which circled Jupiter for eight years before crashing into the planet in 2003, Juno's demise is designed to prevent any hitchhiking microbes from Earth from inadvertently contaminating Jupiter's ocean-bearing moon Europa, a target of future study for extraterrestrial life. (Editing by Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler)

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China moves closer to adopting controversial cybersecurity law

BEIJING China moved closer on Monday to adopting a controversial cybersecurity law, after parliament held a second reading of the draft rules, which carry significant consequences for domestic and foreign business and threaten greater censorship.China enforces widespread controls over the internet that it has sought to codify in law, and Chinese laws often go through multiple readings and drafts before they are adopted.The draft, presented before the standing committee of the National People's Congress, requires network operators to comply with social morals and accept the supervision of the government and public, official news agency Xinhua said.It also reiterated that Chinese citizens' personal data, as well as "important business data" must be stored domestically, adding that those wishing to provide that information overseas faced a government security evaluation.Parliament has not yet published the full second draft of the cybersecurity law and it is not clear when it may be passed. Cybersecurity has been a particularly irksome area in China's relations with economic partners such as the United States and the European Union, which see many recently proposed rules as unfair to foreign firms.Chinese officials say internet restrictions, including the blocking of popular foreign sites like Google and Facebook, are needed to ensure security against growing threats, such as terrorism. The first draft of the cybersecurity law, published almost a year ago, stiffened user privacy protection from hackers and data resellers but also boosted the government's powers to access and block dissemination of private information records that Chinese law deems illegal.China's broadly-defined regulations have been a source of concern, especially for foreign governments, multinational companies and rights activists, which worry that the government can interpret the law as it sees fit. Chinese companies have also been on the receiving end of government efforts to tighten control of the internet. Regulators last month set limits on the number of lucrative healthcare advertisements carried by Baidu Inc after a student died following an experimental cancer treatment he uncovered by using China's biggest internet search engine. (Reporting by Paul Carsten and Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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