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Stingray-Inspired Spacecraft Could Explore ‘Dark Side’ of Venus

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Venus lies within Earth’s orbit, but little is known about our neighboring planet—especially its “dark side.”

University at Buffalo researchers want to change that, though, with their unique spacecraft.

The Bio-inspired Ray for Extreme Environments and Zonal Explorations (BREEZE)* project is one of 12 concepts selected by NASA for its Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

Proposed by the university’s Crashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH)* Laboratory, researchers envision a stingray-esque morphing spacecraft, with wings that flap like pectoral fins.

“By taking our cues from nature, specifically sea rays, we’re looking to maximize flight efficiency,” according to project lead Javid Bayandor, associate professor in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The design, he explained, could make use of high winds in the planet’s upper atmosphere, while still allowing scientists control over the vehicle—which would circumnavigate Venus every four to six days.

Add to that solar-powered instruments (charged every few days when the planet is illuminated by the sun) that take atmospheric samples, track weather patterns, monitor volcanic activity, and gather other data.

Perhaps most importantly, though, BREEZE’s “distinct versatility” could help scientists study the mysterious dark side of Venus.

Did you know that it takes Venus longer to rotate on its axis (243 days) than it does to orbit the sun (225 days), making a day on the planet longer than a year?

Because of these irregular cycles, large portions of the planet are shrouded in darkness for sustained periods of time, leaving them considerably different from the sunny side.

The technology behind BREEZE—including its morphing wings—could potentially be used to explore other parts of the solar system, as well as underwater environments on Earth, Bayandor said.

* They really love an acronym in upstate New York

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Review: Google Stadia Just Isn’t Finished Yet

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The Pro version of Google Stadia that you can now pay actually $130 for is called the Founder’s Edition, and the subtitle isn’t there to just flatter your inner colonizer. After messing around with Google’s wildly ambitious reinvention for what a video game platform should even be, I was impressed by how close the tech actually came to this grand vision. But coming close isn’t the same thing as succeeding. And at least at the moment, much of my earlier skepticism has proven true. Google Stadia just isn’t finished yet.

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At a core level the fundamental appeal of Stadia is that it makes gaming simpler. Instead of buying bulky hardware you simply stream the games from whatever internet-connected screen you have. But since all the pieces are not yet in place, right now setting up Stadia is arguably more complicated than plugging a box into a wall. You’ll need to download multiple apps on your phone, juggle looking between different screens, and configure multiple pieces of hardware like the wireless controller and Google Chromecast streaming dongle.

And speaking of hardware, right now Stadia’s hardware needs are so finicky that, again, it doesn’t feel all that different from just buying a traditional proprietary game console. You won’t just need a Chromecast Ultra, you’ll need the Chromecast Ultra that specifically comes in this kit at least until a later firmware update. The only currently compatible phone is Google’s Pixel series, which I used for testing. And even then you can’t play wirelessly. That only works on Chromecast. To play on a phone you’ll need to physically connect the wire to the (perfectly comfortable and fine) controller via USB-C and a little harness.

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However, the phone quickly became my preferred way to play, and not just because it felt like a Nintendo Switch with a crisper display. The biggest question threatening to smother Stadia in the crib is whether or not streaming online would introduce so much input lag as to make games unplayable. And the answer is… mixed.

I tested Stadia with the WiFi here in the office as well as with my gigabit Ethernet connection at home. Playing on the phone I was astonished at what felt like a native offline experience. I experienced virtually no issues. Playing Destiny 2, a game I don’t like, still felt almost magical as I watched such a high-end shooter pipe through the tiny display with this level of responsiveness. And not bothering with loading or installations felt like the height of indulgent convenience. It wasn’t quite as novel, but I was also pleased with the results on my laptop.

Unfortunately, any sense of magic soon disappeared when I went over to the TV. For whatever reason, both at the office and at a home, lag increased considerably when I wirelessly played this way. You could see the delay with your naked eye between pressing a button and getting a result onscreen. A fighting game like Mortal Kombat 11 is basically unplayable. And even my girlfriend could notice the unpleasant feeling of wading through thick soup trying to play Just Dance 2020.

Streaming massive modern video games over the internet is a monumental task. While I found the visuals on the office TV weirdly gray, at home the visuals were clear and colorful on my 4K TV. Again, it’s impressive how close Google gets here. And maybe if I could wire the controller to the TV like I can with the phone, the issue would vanish. Or maybe the phone’s lower resolution makes the difference. But as it is now, whatever the cause, Stadia’s input lag is just untenable. And who’s to say that an influx of new users won’t make the problem even worse.

That’s not the only issue here, though. While a healthy amount of publishers have pledged support in the coming months, since these are just PC games at max settings, the initial limited launch lineup leaves much to be desired. Aside for the admittedly moody original adventure game Gylt, you just have a small grabbag of ports like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Red Dead Redemption 2. The situation was dire that at the last possible minute Google doubled the launch lineup from 12 to 22, but even then it’s still full of titles we’ve already seen before.

Also keep in mind that you still need to pay full price for these games that only exist on the cloud. While subscribers can snag Destiny for free, the paid subscription only gives you the ability to purchase these games. It won’t be until next year that you’ll get games in your library just for signing up. Some still see this as a better bargain than dropping a few hundred dollars on a console, like paying for Xbox All Access in small installments, but your mileage may vary.

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And that’s far from the only substantial Stadia feature not arriving until next year. According to a recent Reddit AMA, you’ll be waiting until 2020 to get features like 4K PC streaming, achievements, family sharing, cheaper 720p Stadia Base, and Buddy Passes. Sure sounds like a beta release to us. At least the game saves your place for a few minutes if you briefly go offline.

Google Stadia could still go either way. Steam’s launch was a mess but soon enough it became the standard of PC gaming marketplaces. Virtual reality headsets are still sticking around. And clearly Google aren’t the only ones thinking about the potential of a streaming future. Just ask Microsoft. There’s a chance these are just the birthing pains of a truly futuristic service that Stadia even today frequently offers tantalizing glimpses of.

Or maybe the lag can never been fully fixed. Maybe the internet data cap restrictions of most people are too harsh to make this make sense on the market. Maybe the games you buy here will soon be buried in the Google Graveyard. That all also feels depressingly possible. In any case, our best advice for Google Stadia is to just wait. Even compared to other experimental tech, being an early adopter here just doesn’t seem worth the purchase. It’ll crash and burn or become the real deal, and either way your patience will be rewarded.

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Facebook Pay Lets You Make Purchases, Send Money Inside Apps

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Instead of focusing on privacy, political manipulation, and content concerns, Facebook has launched its own payment system.

Introduced on Tuesday, the unimaginatively named Facebook Pay lets users shop, donate, and reimburse via the social network’s various platforms.

“People already use payments across our apps,” Deborah Liu, VP of marketplace and commerce, wrote in a blog announcement. “Facebook Pay will make these transactions easier while continuing to ensure your payment information is secure and protected.”

Rolling out now to Facebook and Messenger users in the US, Facebook Pay can be used for fundraisers, in-game purchases, event tickets, person-to-person payments, and purchases from select Pages and businesses on Marketplace.

Simply visit Settings > Facebook Pay on the main app or website to add a payment method; most major credit and debit cards are supported, as well as PayPal.

Arrange it up app-by-app, or for use across all platforms (where available).

“We won’t automatically set up Facebook Pay across the apps you are active on, unless you choose to do so,” Liu explained.

Facebook Pay is rolling out for fundraisers, in-game purchases, event tickets, person-to-person payments, and purchases from select Pages and businesses on Marketplace. (Photo Credit: Facebook)

Users can also add a PIN or employ device biometrics—Touch or Face ID (the latter of which winks at you after completing transactions)—for an added layer of security.

Facebook does not receive or store biometric information.

It does, however, collect data about any purchase, including payment method, transaction date, billing, shipping, and contact details.

“We designed Facebook Pay to securely store and encrypt your card and bank account numbers,” according to the company (which was at the heart of scandals such as Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 U.S. election).

As with any keystroke you make in a Facebook-owned program, actions on Facebook Pay can (and will) be used to help customize content and ads: Buy a baseball glove on Marketplace and expect to be peddled the rest of the kit.

You can also choose whether to opt in for email marketing from businesses with which you shop or nonprofits to which you donate. Activity will not be shared with friends or to your profile or news feed unless you actively choose to.

Facebook Pay is built on existing financial infrastructure and partnerships, according to Liu, and is separate from the Calibra wallet, which will run on the Libra network.

The social media firm this summer unveiled its own stablecoin cryptocurrency, supported by financial companies like Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and Uber.

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Google To Offer Checking Accounts in 2020

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Search, check. Productivity, check. Video sharing, check. Mobile operating, check. Web browsing, check. Smart home, check. Banking, check?

Next in its quest for consumer domination, Google will offer checking accounts.

According to a Wall Street Journal exclusive, the project, code-named Cache, is expected to launch next year, with accounts run by Citigroup and a credit union at Stanford University.

Stanford Federal Credit Union confirmed the news on Wednesday, announcing its intent to team up with Google for a “smart checking” program.

“We are excited to partner with Google to bring new, mobile-first experiences to our members,” president and CEO Joan Opp said in a statement. “We are excited about the vision for this initiative and look forward to this partnership.”

Based in Palo Alto, Stanford FCU serves the university community, as well as Silicon Valley employees—including Google.

Accounts will be co-branded, with the tech titan delivering an interface, while Citigroup and Stanford FCU handle the fiscal plumbing.

“Our approach is going to be to partner deeply with banks and the financial system,” Google executive Caesar Sengupta told the Journal. “It may be the slightly longer path, but it’s more sustainable.”

First, though, the company must convince a skeptical public to trust it with their finances.

As WSJ pointed out, federal regulators are currently examining whether user information collected by Google gives it an unfair advantage over competitors. And the paper this week blew the lid off Project Nightingale, a secretive initiative that reportedly collects detailed health information without consent.

A recent survey by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that 58 percent of people would trust financial products from Google. (That’s better than Apple and Facebook, but worse than Amazon.)

Checking accounts are a long-term property; people don’t switch very often. But they are also a gold mine of information about how folks spend and save their money.

“If we can help more people do more stuff in a digital way online, it’s good for the Internet and good for us,” Sengupta said.

This isn’t Google’s first foray into the financial sector: It launched Google Wallet in 2011 to store credit and debit cards for mobile payment. Four years later, Google Pay hit smartphones to compete with similar services from Apple, Samsung, and now Facebook.

Consumers would reportedly access their checking accounts through Google’s digital wallet.

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