Covid 19

Returnal rules — but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone

I spent the last week playing Housemarque’s upcoming PS5 exclusive Returnal and I absolutely love it, but don’t consider this a review.

“Ok, so what even is Returnal?” If you had asked me this question a month ago I would’ve shrugged and mumbled something about a generically titled PS5 game that I had little interest in.

Then my review code came in and I’ve been obsessed ever since.

It’s almost like Returnal is tailor-made for me. It’s an insanely challenging third-person shooter with roguelike elements. Think Hades with a AAA budget.

Returnal starts off with the main character, Selene, crashing her spaceship on an alien planet. As she climbs out the wreckage, she quickly stumbles into her own corpse, signalling to the player that there’s something up with the way this game handles death.

Venture a little further and you’ll eventually run into your own demise, only to start the whole thing over again.

You’ll die a lot in Returnal since the game is challenging as hell, but fortunately there are some upgrades (like your melee attack) and items that you get to keep after death.

Those are few and far between; most of the progress you’ll make stems from learning how to overcome the game’s enemies and hazards.

Though tough as nails, Returnal plays like a dream. It runs at a buttery-smooth 60 frames per second and the controls feel great. You jump, dash, and shoot your way through the procedurally generated world with ease, and each encounter feels like it matters.

High risk, high reward is what Returnal what excels at. You die very quickly, but you gain power-ups and bonuses just as easily. This design philosophy shines in the game’s Adrenaline system.

As you kill enemies without taking damage, your adrenaline level rises. Kill two foes and you gain the first level, making it easier to pull off fast reloads, which you execute by hitting the reload button at exactly the right time. Slay another couple of enemies without getting hit, and you’ll gain another perk, like a boosted melee damage or increased weapon XP.

Initially this system can be very frustrating, because it makes getting hit even more infuriating than it already is. Every enemy deals a ton of damage, healing items are scarce, and losing your adrenaline level feels like you’re getting kicked while you’re already down.

The flipside is that Returnal feels amazing when you’re doing well. Once you get a hang of the controls and learn the enemies’ attack patterns, you’ll fly through the initial stages and feel like you can conquer anything. It took me about a week of playing to finish the first of the six worlds, and when I finally did I was jumping on my couch out of sheer joy.

Dying still sucks, you can easily lose hours of progress by messing up a single encounter, but each subsequent run will get easier.

The world is procedurally generated, so you won’t get the same layout twice in a row. You’ll also gain permanent unlocks that allow you to skip certain sections or gain access to new rooms, alleviating the frustration a little bit.

That being said, Returnal will still kick your ass a thousand times before you start making significant progress. I can’t stress enough that this game will absolutely wreck you before it lets you feel any sort of joy.

Returnal looks, sounds, and plays exactly like I want it to. It’s the big-budget PS5-exclusive roguelike I never dreamed of getting. I still find it very hard to recommend to anyone who isn’t invested in the genre. It’s harder than Dark Souls, it’s more obtuse than Spelunky, and it will make you snap your controller in two before it will make you feel happy about your purchase.

Returnal retails at $69.99, which is a steep price for those who aren’t deep into these sort of challenging roguelikes. Plus, I can’t even really comment on the value proposition, as I barely made it out of the first world and haven’t even scratched the surface of this wonderful game.

I hope Housemarque releases a demo at some point down the line, so that those with a casual interest in the genre can dip their toe in before buying it at its full retail price.

Covid 19

Shhhh, they’re listening – inside the coming voice-profiling revolution

You decide to call a store that sells some hiking boots you’re thinking of buying. As you dial in, the computer of an artificial intelligence company hired by the store is activated. It retrieves its analysis of the speaking style you used when you phoned other companies the software firm services. The computer has concluded you are “friendly and talkative.” Using predictive routing, it connects you to a customer service agent who company research has identified as being especially good at getting friendly and talkative customers to buy more expensive versions of the goods they’re considering.

This hypothetical situation may sound as if it’s from some distant future. But automated voice-guided marketing activities like this are happening all the time.

If you hear “This call is being recorded for training and quality control,” it isn’t just the customer service representative they’re monitoring.

It can be you, too.

When conducting research for my forthcoming book, “The Voice Catchers: How Marketers Listen In to Exploit Your Feelings, Your Privacy, and Your Wallet,” I went through over 1,000 trade magazine and news articles on the companies connected to various forms of voice profiling. I examined hundreds of pages of U.S. and EU laws applying to biometric surveillance. I analyzed dozens of patents. And because so much about this industry is evolving, I spoke to 43 people who are working to shape it.

It soon became clear to me that we’re in the early stages of a voice-profiling revolution that companies see as integral to the future of marketing.

Thanks to the public’s embrace of smart speakers, intelligent car displays and voice-responsive phones – along with the rise of voice intelligence in call centers – marketers say they are on the verge of being able to use AI-assisted vocal analysis technology to achieve unprecedented insights into shoppers’ identities and inclinations. In doing so, they believe they’ll be able to circumvent the errors and fraud associated with traditional targeted advertising.

Not only can people be profiled by their speech patterns, but they can also be assessed by the sound of their voices – which, according to some researchers, is unique and can reveal their feelings, personalities and even their physical characteristics.

Flaws in targeted advertising

Top marketing executives I interviewed said that they expect their customer interactions to include voice profiling within a decade or so.

Part of what attracts them to this new technology is a belief that the current digital system of creating unique customer profiles – and then targeting them with personalized messages, offers and ads – has major drawbacks.

A simmering worry among internet advertisers, one that burst into the open during the 2010s, is that customer data often isn’t up to date, profiles may be based on multiple users of a device, names can be confused and people lie.

Advertisers are also uneasy about ad blocking and click fraud, which happens when a site or app uses bots or low-paid workers to click on ads placed there so that the advertisers have to pay up.

These are all barriers to understanding individual shoppers.

Voice analysis, on the other hand, is seen as a solution that makes it nearly impossible for people to hide their feelings or evade their identities.

Building out the infrastructure

Most of the activity in voice profiling is happening in customer support centers, which are largely out of the public eye.

But there are also hundreds of millions of Amazon Echoes, Google Nests and other smart speakers out there. Smartphones also contain such technology.

All are listening and capturing people’s individual voices. They respond to your requests. But the assistants are also tied to advanced machine learning and deep neural network programs that analyze what you say and how you say it.

Amazon and Google – the leading purveyors of smart speakers outside China – appear to be doing little voice analysis on those devices beyond recognizing and responding to individual owners. Perhaps they fear that pushing the technology too far will, at this point, lead to bad publicity.

Nevertheless, the user agreements of Amazon and Google – as well as Pandora, Bank of America and other companies that people access routinely via phone apps – give them the right to use their digital assistants to understand you by the way you sound. Amazon’s most public application of voice profiling so far is its Halo wristband, which claims to know the emotions you’re conveying when you talk to relatives, friends and employers.

The company assures customers it doesn’t use Halo data for its own purposes. But it’s clearly a proof of concept – and a nod toward the future.

Patents point to the future

The patents from these tech companies offer a vision of what’s coming.

In one Amazon patent, a device with the Alexa assistant picks up a woman’s speech irregularities that imply a cold through using “an analysis of pitch, pulse, voicing, jittering, and/or harmonicity of a user’s voice, as determined from processing the voice data.” From that conclusion, Alexa asks if the woman wants a recipe for chicken soup. When she says no, it offers to sell her cough drops with one-hour delivery.

A page from an Amazon patent depicts a woman interacting with a home assistant.
An Amazon patent depicts a device picking up a woman’s cough – and then asking if she wants a recipe for chicken soup. Image via Google Patents.

Another Amazon patent suggests an app to help a store salesperson decipher a shopper’s voice to plumb unconscious reactions to products. The contention is that how people sound allegedly does a better job indicating what people like than their words.

And one of Google’s proprietary inventions involves tracking family members in real time using special microphones placed throughout a home. Based on the pitch of voice signatures, Google circuitry infers gender and age information – for example, one adult male and one female child – and tags them as separate individuals.

The company’s patent asserts that over time the system’s “household policy manager” will be able to compare life patterns, such as when and how long family members eat meals, how long the children watch television, and when electronic game devices are working – and then have the system suggest better eating schedules for the kids, or offer to control their TV viewing and game playing.

Seductive surveillance

In the West, the road to this advertising future starts with firms encouraging users to give them permission to gather voice data. Firms gain customers’ permission by enticing them to buy inexpensive voice technologies.

When tech companies have further developed voice analysis software – and people have become increasingly reliant on voice devices – I expect the companies to begin widespread profiling and marketing based on voice data. Hewing to the letter if not the spirit of whatever privacy laws exist, the companies will, I expect, forge ahead into their new incarnations, even if most of their users joined before this new business model existed.

This classic bait and switch marked the rise of both Google and Facebook. Only when the numbers of people flocking to these sites became large enough to attract high-paying advertisers did their business models solidify around selling ads personalized to what Google and Facebook knew about their users.

By then, the sites had become such important parts of their users’ daily activities that people felt they couldn’t leave, despite their concerns about data collection and analysis that they didn’t understand and couldn’t control.

This strategy is already starting to play out as tens of millions of consumers buy Amazon Echoes at giveaway prices.

[Insight, in your inbox each day.You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter.]

The dark side of voice profiling

Here’s the catch: It’s not clear how accurate voice profiling is, especially when it comes to emotions.

It is true, according to Carnegie Mellon voice recognition scholar Rita Singh, that the activity of your vocal nerves is connected to your emotional state. However, Singh told me that she worries that with the easy availability of machine-learning packages, people with limited skills will be tempted to run shoddy analyses of people’s voices, leading to conclusions that are as dubious as the methods.

She also argues that inferences that link physiology to emotions and forms of stress may be culturally biased and prone to error. That concern hasn’t deterred marketers, who typically use voice profiling to draw conclusions about individuals’ emotions, attitudes and personalities.

While some of these advances promise to make life easier, it’s not difficult to see how voice technology can be abused and exploited. What if voice profiling tells a prospective employer that you’re a bad risk for a job that you covet or desperately need? What if it tells a bank that you’re a bad risk for a loan? What if a restaurant decides it won’t take your reservation because you sound low class, or too demanding?

Consider, too, the discrimination that can take place if voice profilers follow some scientists’ claims that it is possible to use an individual’s vocalizations to tell the person’s height, weight, race, gender and health.

People are already subjected to different offers and opportunities based on the personal information companies have collected. Voice profiling adds an especially insidious means of labeling. Today, some states such as Illinois and Texas require companies to ask for permission before conducting analysis of vocal, facial or other biometric features.

But other states expect people to be aware of the information that’s collected about them from the privacy policies or terms of service – which means they rarely will. And the federal government hasn’t enacted a sweeping marketing surveillance law.

With the looming widespread adoption of voice analysis technology, it’s important for government leaders to adopt policies and regulations that protect the personal information revealed by the sound of a person’s voice.

One proposal: While the use of voice authentication – or using a person’s voice to prove their identity – could be allowed under certain carefully regulated circumstances, all voice profiling should be prohibited in marketers’ interactions with individuals. This prohibition should also apply to political campaigns and to government activities without a warrant.

That seems like the best way to ensure that the coming era of voice profiling is constrained before it becomes too integrated into daily life and too pervasive to control.The Conversation

This article by Joseph Turow, Robert Lewis Shayon Professor of Media Systems & Industries, University of Pennsylvania, is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Covid 19

How Nikola Tesla’s AC and radiowaves could unlock wireless EV charging

Electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular, but still, range anxiety and charging time are obstacles to their widespread acceptance.

Imagine, though, charging your car by simply changing lanes and driving over to special charging strips embedded in the road.

That’s exactly the vision of Khurram Afridi, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University. Along with his team, they’re developing a groundbreaking approach to charge EVs without the need for cables.

Drivers could save time, and cars would need smaller batteries, which means that their cost would be reduced, as much as their environmental impact.

In fact, over the past decades, many scientists experimented with the idea of wirelessly powering vehicles in motion.

However all previous attempts, mostly employing alternating magnetic fields and low frequencies, have failed. The materials needed were bulky and expensive, while the energy produced posed safety threats to the drivers.

Afridi’s project promises an innovative solution.

What’s new

Following his predecessors, Afridi’s idea originated from Nikola Tesla’s use of alternating electric fields.

But he took it one step further by combining it with his expertise on spacecraft communication through high-frequency radio-waves.

Simply put, he managed to develop an electric field system operating on high frequency.

According to lab tests, it’s almost 200 faster than the former magnetic field systems.

So how does it work?

Two insulated metal plates on the ground create alternating electric fields that attract and repel charges in a pair of corresponding metal plates attached under the vehicle.

The interaction between the plates produces a high-frequency current that is picked up by the car’s circuit. The current generated is then directed towards the car’s battery so it can charge as it drives along.

For this to work, the road infrastructure needs to massively change.

Afridi offers two suggestions: to electrify high-traffic roadways, or to install charging strips at stop signs and traffic lights within cities. So cars can charge at specific locations, or top up as they’re waiting at intersections.

Well, wireless charging might sound crazy, but it could definitely boost the acceptance of EVs as long-distance sustainable transport model.

Nevertheless, to implement this kind of technology on mass is far more challenging than it is to develop it in concept.

Do EVs excite your electrons? Do ebikes get your wheels spinning? Do self-driving cars get you all charged up? 

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Covid 19

Space tourism is now a reality… if you’re filthy rich

For most people, getting to the stars is nothing more than a dream. On April 28, 2001, Dennis Tito achieved that lifelong goal – but he wasn’t a typical astronaut. Tito, a wealthy businessman, paid US$20 million for a seat on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to be the first tourist to visit the International Space Station. Only seven people have followed suit in the 20 years since, but that number is poised to double in the next 12 months alone.

NASA has long been hesitant to play host to space tourists, so Russia – looking for sources of money post-Cold War in the 1990s and 2000s – has been the only option available for those looking for this kind of extreme adventure. However, it seems the rise of private space companies is going to make it easier for regular people to experience space.

From my perspective as a space policy analyst, I see the beginning of an era in which more people can experience space. With companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin hoping to build a future for humanity in space, space tourism is a way to demonstrate both the safety and reliability of space travel to the general public.

Three men floating in the International Space Station
Dennis Tito, on the left beside two Russian astronauts, was the first private citizen to ever go to space – and he spent more than a week on the International Space Station. Image via NASA/Wikimedia Commons

The development of space tourism

Flights to space like Dennis Tito’s are expensive for a reason. A rocket must burn a lot of costly fuel to travel high and fast enough to enter Earth’s orbit.

Another cheaper possibility is a suborbital launch, with the rocket going high enough to reach the edge of space and coming right back down. While passengers on a suborbital trip experience weightlessness and incredible views, these launches are more accessible.

The difficulty and expense of either option has meant that, traditionally, only nation-states have been able to explore space. This began to change in the 1990s as a series of entrepreneurs entered the space arena. Three companies led by billionaire CEOs have emerged as the major players: Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX. Though none have taken paying, private customers to space, all anticipate doing so in the very near future.

British billionaire Richard Branson has built his brand on not just business but also his love of adventure. In pursuing space tourism, Branson has brought both of those to bear. He established Virgin Galactic after buying SpaceShipOne – a company that won the Ansari X-Prize by building the first reusable spaceship. Since then, Virgin Galactic has sought to design, build and fly a larger SpaceShipTwo that can carry up to six passengers in a suborbital flight.

The VSS Unity spacecraft is one of the ships that Virgin Galactic plans to use for space tours.
Credit: Virgin Galactic
The VSS Unity spacecraft is one of the ships that Virgin Galactic plans to use for space tours.
The VSS Unity spacecraft is one of the ships that Virgin Galactic plans to use for space tours.
AP Photo/Matt Hartman

The going has been harder than anticipated. While Branson predicted opening the business to tourists in 2009, Virgin Galactic has encountered some significant hurdles – including the death of a pilot in a crash in 2014. After the crash, engineers found significant problems with the design of the vehicle, which required modifications.

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, respective leaders of SpaceX and Blue Origin, began their own ventures in the early 2000s.

Musk, fearing that a catastrophe of some sort could leave Earth uninhabitable, was frustrated at the lack of progress in making humanity a multiplanetary species. He founded SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of first developing reusable launch technology to decrease the cost of getting to space. Since then, SpaceX has found success with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX’s ultimate goal is human settlement of Mars – sending paying customers to space is an intermediate step. Musk says he hopes to show that space travel can be done easily and that tourism might provide a revenue stream to support development of the larger, Mars-focused Starship system.

Bezos, inspired by the vision of physicist Gerard O’Neill, wants to expand humanity and industry not to Mars, but to space itself. Blue Origin, established in 2004, has proceeded slowly and quietly in also developing reusable rockets. Its New Shepard rocket, first successfully flown in 2015, will eventually offer tourists a suborbital trip to the edge of space, similar to Virgin Galactic’s. For Bezos, these launches represent an effort at making space travel routine, reliable and accessible to people as a first step to enabling further space exploration.

A large silvery rocket standing upright on a launchpad.
SpaceX has already started selling tickets to the public and has future plans to use its Starship rocket, a prototype of which is seen here, to send people to Mars. Image via Jared Krahn/Wikimedia Commons

Outlook for the future

Now, SpaceX is the only option for someone looking to go into space and orbit the Earth. It currently has two tourist launches planned. The first is scheduled for as early as September 2021, funded by billionaire businessman Jared Isaacman. The other trip, planned for 2022, is being organized by Axiom Space. These trips will be costly, at $55 million for the flight and a stay on the International Space Station. The high cost has led some to warn that space tourism – and private access to space more broadly – might reinforce inequality between rich and poor.

Blue Origin’s and Virgin Galactic’s suborbital trips are far more reasonable in cost, with both priced between $200,000 and $250,000. Blue Origin appears to be the nearest to allowing paying customers on board, saying after a recent launch that crewed missions would be happening “soon.” Virgin Galactic continues to test SpaceShipTwo, but no specific timetable has been announced for tourist flights.

Though these prices are high, it is worth considering that Dennis Tito’s $20 million ticket in 2001 could pay for 100 flights on Blue Origin soon. The experience of viewing the Earth from space, though, may prove to be priceless for a whole new generation of space explorers.

[Over 104,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world.Sign up today.]The Conversation

This article by Wendy Whitman Cobb, Professor of Strategy and Security Studies, US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Covid 19

Lyft gives up on developing its own self-driving tech, sells division

Like Uber, ride-hailing platform Lyft has sold its self-driving division. It’s a massive u-turn for the company considering that just last year, it said it was planning to launch its  first robotaxi fleet in 2023.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s happened.

The deal

On Tuesday this week, Lyft announced an acquisition agreement with Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings (WPH).

The deal sees WPH buy Lyft’s self-driving division, called Level 5, for $550 million in cash.

As TechCrunch reports, Lyft will receive $200 million upfront, with the remaining $350 million paid in installments over the next five years.

Most of Level 5’s staff will also move over to WPH, how their work will continue however depends on what the Toyota subsidiary decides to do with it.

The deals should officially close in the third quarter of this year.

The why

The reason why Lyft has sold its self-driving division couldn’t be simpler: it needs to make money, more specifically it needs to turn a consistent profit.

By getting rid of its self-driving division Lyft is able to remove $100 million of yearly operating expenses.

[Read: 3 new technologies ecommerce brands can use to connect better with customers]

According to the company’s co-founder and president John Zimmer, if the deal goes through in the expected time frame, it will leave Lyft in a position of profitability by the end of the year.

Bear in mind, as NY Times reports, Lyft lost $1.8 billion last year, so it’s still got a lot to fix before it becomes profitable.

The dream

It’s worth noting, while Lyft is selling its self-driving efforts, it’s not wiping its hands clean entirely.

The company is still intent on autonomous robotaxis being a huge part of its future.

As such, it’s made commercial agreements that would see Woven Planet use the Lyft platform if it solves the self-driving puzzle.

Lyft will continue to maintain relationships with other autonomous vehicle development companies as well, for the same reasons.

A leaf out of Uber’s book

You might feel like you’ve read this story before, and in a way you probably have.

Late last year, ride-hailing giant Uber sold its own self-driving division to autonomous vehicle startup Aurora, in pursuit of profit.

There was no definitive value placed on that deal, but valuations suggest it was around $4 billion. That’s leagues more than Lyft’s sale, but the principle of the sale was the same: Uber is under increasing pressure to turn a profit, and so is getting rid of excess financial baggage.

In both cases, the companies have been sure to keep some skin in the self-driving car game.

The ride-hailing firms might not be giving up on robotaxis entirely, but the painful reality of business and needing to make a return on all that VC investment is finally hitting home.

Do EVs excite your electrons? Do ebikes get your wheels spinning? Do self-driving cars get you all charged up? 

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Covid 19

8 strategic tips on how to sustain a high-performing sales team

In sales, you are only as good as your last deal. Every day, week, month, or quarter is a fresh start where, once again, your team needs to gear up and deliver.

Great sales leaders are able to push or pull a team whether they are at 120% or at 50% of their goal, and they are able to recruit and maintain high-performing sales teams over a long period of time. 

There is no silver bullet for sustaining a high performing sales team, but here are a few things that I think are important:

You win the battle on the battlefield

Any great sales leader has had to be a top self-contributor in the past, which means that she or he has what it takes, and, deep inside, loves the kill.

Alas, when climbing up the sales management ladder, many sales managers find themselves spending more and more time sitting behind a desk managing through spreadsheets and analytics. 

[Read:3 new technologies ecommerce brands can use to connect better with customers]

While a solid sales plan is a necessity, sales leaders are measured on their team’s performance. Great sales leaders lead by example, pitching in the most difficult meetings and taking the hits with the team.

It’s critical (though hard) to find a strong sales operations manager, but when you have one, look for parts of planning you can outsource.

If you have team leads, make sure they, just like every other salesperson, have personal sales goals. By doing that, you are keeping them sharp on the pitch and setting them up for success.

As a sales leader, do what you need to do to make sure you find yourself in the front lines — you win the war on the battlefield with your team — not behind a desk. 

$$$ isn’t as important as you think 

Contrary to what most people think, a great salesperson’s top motivation isn’t money, but a much more basic thing: it’s the need to win.

While most will not openly admit it, the best salespeople also love a tough fight, whether it’s a challenging client to close, they are displacing a competitor or because the velocity of deals needed for hitting the goal is high.

Ideally, though, it is all of the above. They thrive on winning, and when they do, they want to get fairly compensated. If you are a smart sales leader, you build a plan that is easy to understand and monitor — and you never cap the upside.

A strong uncapped seller can produce like two salespeople, at the cost of one and a half (you pay base salary only once no matter how good they are). 

Spend time on building a simple compensation plan that is aligned with your goals, and give your team the tools and freedom needed to win; monitor performance and always be present if they need you.

Remember: the wolf climbing the hill is always hungrier than the wolf on top of the hill so if you set challenging goals and have the right type of salespeople, you will enjoy seeing them fight hard and yes, get compensated, when they win. 

A plan is a basis for change

Demand that your salespeople ALWAYS have a plan for the next few weeks. Yes, I know your salesforce is experienced, and know what they’re doing, and you don’t think they’ll appreciate this “micromanagement tactic.”

I am also experienced, and yet, if I build a plan, I am focused on executing or updating it instead of winging it in real-time. 

How many times has one of your salespeople gotten a “hot lead” that caused them to drop everything to pursue it, only to end up losing that deal and screwing up their whole plan for the week? A plan is a basis for change.

If your salespeople are as experienced as you think they are, great — let them change the plan at any point in time without updating you, but help them by ensuring that they have one.

If you can, make sure that the plan is ready on Friday evening. You just saved the seller from spending Monday morning in the office building a plan – great salespeople will appreciate that they have a plan that allows them to sell 5 days a week instead of losing Monday morning to planning. 

Clear, transparent, weekly tracking 

If you did a good job setting clear sales goals for your team that do not require a Ph.D. in order to understand, the next step is to create a culture of transparent weekly reporting towards that goal.

Years consist of quarters, and quarters of weeks — each person on your team should at any point of time understand how they are tracking towards the goals, and understand how that what they are doing today and tomorrow gets them closer.

If you manage this correctly, the compensation meeting at the end of the quarter is simply used to review the cash that the seller will see in their bank account. That’s important: clear pacing towards a goal is what really helps drive daily and weekly performance.

I also believe that the sales team’s goals and tracking to goals should be something that everyone on the team, or even in the company, can see. I know some salespeople cringe at the thought of their numbers being put on the board, but my philosophy is that every seller will have a bad month or two, and ultimately, character and salesmanship is measured when you are behind the ball.

If you are killing it, great — your colleagues will see it, and if you are behind — not fun — but your colleagues will still see it.

If you are the right kind of seller, being at the top or bottom of the list should motivate you to improve or to or keep doing well. It is as simple as that. And if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Just enough running space 

Every seller will want more “running space” and it always feels like the low-hanging fruit is on the neighbor’s side of the grass. It’s not and one of the sales team’s worst enemies is the “sack of money waiting for them in the vast uncharted territory where no seller has ever ventured to before…”

The problem with new territories and verticals is, well, that they are new… and all the time the team has spent in the past signing deals, building verticalized case studies and customer referrals doesn’t really help in the new territory or vertical. 

So make sure that your team has just enough runway for growth. Make sure that they’re challenged but not overwhelmed. New things can be hard. Traveling can be a time drain.

Protect your team’s time, and they will thank you for pushing them to take another good look at their possibly less exciting but familiar, territories when they hit their numbers.

Your job is to help them focus and to make sure they have enough running space to hit their goals, but within bounds so that they can deliver results.   

You are not alone!

Sales jobs are harder than they look. Always being measured, always on the road, always waiting for that response from the prospect that never seems to come on time. There is a lot of “alone time”: being alone on a plane, eating dinner alone, driving a rented car for hours, in an Uber on the way to the hotel in the middle of nowhere. 

This solitude is even harder for salespeople who are social creatures by definition.

Technology is a great help in this area. Now more than ever, you can feel connected to your colleagues and team even if you are in a different state and time zone.

At Sunbit we have WhatsApp groups so that teams can communicate in real-time. It’s a great way for our salespeople to share what’s going on where they are, celebrate customer wins, and put names to faces as if you were in an office together. These quick messages create both a sense of togetherness and motivation.

Technology, in a split second, reminds your team that they are not alone, in a world where we have never been more physically apart.

Share the big picture, to help keep focus  

Great sales teams want to do much more than just sell great products – they want to represent a great company, brand, and vision. They want to understand the business, the economics behind it, the product road map, and what the long-term strategic priorities are.

You have to find a way to provide this information. If you don’t have full visibility to these things, bring in the executives that do. Magic happens when the team that represents your company multiple times a day is aligned on strategy. 

Despite what some might think, sharing the full strategy with the team actually helps them to stay focused on the day-to-day tasks. The hardest thing for a seller to do is to walk away from what seems like an amazing opportunity, but once the long-term strategy is clear, then the discussion is a very easy one: If the opportunity is aligned with the long-term strategy, it’s a go.

If it isn’t, what might have once been a long painful discussion with emotions and seller frustrations turns into, “While this might seem like an interesting idea, it’s not aligned with where we want to go. Let’s focus on our core strategy so we can win!”

Smart salespeople that understand the big picture are better, happier salespeople that sell more. 

ABH (Always Be Hiring!)

If your team is doing great and they are hitting the targets there will be pressure to grab more market share and to grow faster, and you will need to recruit more sales staff. If your team isn’t doing well, then it’s definitely time to hire before you find yourself working on your own CV.

Bottom line, you should always be hiring! I’ve never met a sales leader who thinks that they have too many great salespeople just waiting to join when they’re ready. At any and every interaction you have with a customer, partner, prospect, always be on the lookout for those elusive purple unicorns!

Behind every strong company, you will find a fierce sales team fighting the daily, weekly, and monthly battles. And if you look very carefully you should find a sales leader that is busy recruiting and maintaining that team.

Covid 19

Can we travel faster than the speed of light? New mathematical models say… ‘maybe’

The closest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri. It is about 4.25 light-years away, or about 25 trillion miles (40 trillion km). The fastest ever spacecraft, the now- in-space Parker Solar Probe will reach a top speed of 450,000 mph. It would take just 20 seconds to go from Los Angeles to New York City at that speed, but it would take the solar probe about 6,633 years to reach Earth’s nearest neighboring solar system.

If humanity ever wants to travel easily between stars, people will need to go faster than light. But so far, faster-than-light travel is possible only in science fiction.

In Issac Asimov’s Foundation series, humanity can travel from planet to planet, star to star or across the universe using jump drives. As a kid, I read as many of those stories as I could get my hands on. I am now a theoretical physicist and study nanotechnology, but I am still fascinated by the ways humanity could one day travel in space.

Some characters – like the astronauts in the movies “Interstellar” and “Thor” – use wormholes to travel between solar systems in seconds. Another approach – familiar to “Star Trek” fans – is warp drive technology. Warp drives are theoretically possible if still far-fetched technology. Two recent papers made headlines in March when researchers claimed to have overcome one of the many challenges that stand between the theory of warp drives and reality.

But how do these theoretical warp drives really work? And will humans be making the jump to warp speed anytime soon?

A circle on a flat blue plane with the surface dipping down in front and rising up behind.
This 2-dimensional representation shows the flat, unwarped bubble of spacetime in the center where a warp drive would sit surrounded by compressed spacetime to the right (downward curve) and expanded spacetime to the left (upward curve). Image via AllenMcC/Wikimedia Commons

Compression and expansion

Physicists’ current understanding of spacetime comes from Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. General Relativity states that space and time are fused and that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. General relativity also describes how mass and energy warp spacetime – hefty objects like stars and black holes curve spacetime around them. This curvature is what you feel as gravity and why many spacefaring heroes worry about “getting stuck in” or “falling into” a gravity well. Early science fiction writers John Campbell and Asimov saw this warping as a way to skirt the speed limit.

What if a starship could compress space in front of it while expanding spacetime behind it? “Star Trek” took this idea and named it the warp drive.

In 1994, Miguel Alcubierre, a Mexican theoretical physicist, showed that compressing spacetime in front of the spaceship while expanding it behind was mathematically possible within the laws of General Relativity. So, what does that mean? Imagine the distance between two points is 10 meters (33 feet). If you are standing at point A and can travel one meter per second, it would take 10 seconds to get to point B. However, let’s say you could somehow compress the space between you and point B so that the interval is now just one meter. Then, moving through spacetime at your maximum speed of one meter per second, you would be able to reach point B in about one second. In theory, this approach does not contradict the laws of relativity since you are not moving faster than light in the space around you. Alcubierre showed that the warp drive from “Star Trek” was in fact theoretically possible.

Proxima Centauri here we come, right? Unfortunately, Alcubierre’s method of compressing spacetime had one problem: it requires negative energy or negative mass.

A 2–dimensional diagram showing how matter warps spacetime
This 2–dimensional representation shows how positive mass curves spacetime (left side, blue earth) and negative mass curves spacetime in an opposite direction (right side, red earth). Image via Tokamac/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

A negative energy problem

Alcubierre’s warp drive would work by creating a bubble of flat spacetime around the spaceship and curving spacetime around that bubble to reduce distances. The warp drive would require either negative mass – a theorized type of matter – or a ring of negative energy density to work. Physicists have never observed negative mass, so that leaves negative energy as the only option.

To create negative energy, a warp drive would use a huge amount of mass to create an imbalance between particles and antiparticles. For example, if an electron and an antielectron appear near the warp drive, one of the particles would get trapped by the mass and this results in an imbalance. This imbalance results in negative energy density. Alcubierre’s warp drive would use this negative energy to create the spacetime bubble.

But for a warp drive to generate enough negative energy, you would need a lot of matter. Alcubierre estimated that a warp drive with a 100-meter bubble would require the mass of the entire visible universe.

In 1999, physicist Chris Van Den Broeck showed that expanding the volume inside the bubble but keeping the surface area constant would reduce the energy requirements significantly, to just about the mass of the sun. A significant improvement, but still far beyond all practical possibilities.

A sci-fi future?

Two recent papers – one by Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martire and another by Erik Lentz – provide solutions that seem to bring warp drives closer to reality.

Bobrick and Martire realized that by modifying spacetime within the bubble in a certain way, they could remove the need to use negative energy. This solution, though, does not produce a warp drive that can go faster than light.

[Over 100,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world.Sign up today.]

Independently, Lentz also proposed a solution that does not require negative energy. He used a different geometric approach to solve the equations of General Relativity, and by doing so, he found that a warp drive wouldn’t need to use negative energy. Lentz’s solution would allow the bubble to travel faster than the speed of light.

It is essential to point out that these exciting developments are mathematical models. As a physicist, I won’t fully trust models until we have experimental proof. Yet, the science of warp drives is coming into view. As a science fiction fan, I welcome all this innovative thinking. In the words of Captain Picard, things are only impossible until they are not.The Conversation

This article by Mario Borunda, Associate Professor of Physics, Oklahoma State University, is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Covid 19

Meet the Kenguru, the world’s first EV made specifically for wheelchair users

This article was originally published by Martin Banks onClean Fleet Report, a publication that gives its readers the information they need to move to cars and trucks with best fuel economy, including electric cars, fuel cells, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and advanced diesel and gasoline engines.

The electric vehicle market has seen incredible growth in the past decade. There were 7.2 million EVs on the road in 2019, despite there being less than 20,000 in use just nine years earlier. New models emerge all the time – and the Kenguru is easily one of the most intriguing.

In an innovative and competitive market, the Kenguru manages to stand apart from other EVs. It’s not the fastest electric car, nor does it have the longest range, but it does have one notable claim to fame. It’s the world’s first EV made specifically for wheelchair users.

kengu, ev, wheelchair
Credit: Kengu, via Clean Fleet Report
It’s built for one type of passenger.

What sets the Kenguru apart?

The Kenguru has just one door, which takes up the entire back panel of the vehicle. At the click of a button, the rear panel lifts, and a ramp automatically extends. When drivers turn on the ignition, the ramp retracts, and the door closes.
Kenguru EV for wheelchairs

Instead of a traditional steering wheel and pedals, the Kenguru has handlebars, similar to a motorcycle. These controls have buttons that let drivers accelerate and brake without using their feet. There’s also a wheelchair-locking mechanism that won’t let the car turn on until the driver’s wheelchair is securely in place.

Wheelchair-accessible vehicles have been around for a while, but can cost between $40,000 and $100,000, making them too expensive for many people. By contrast, the Kenguru costs just $25,000, and users can get it even cheaper. As a fully electric vehicle, it’s eligible for federal and state tax credits.

wheelchair, access, kenguru, EV
Credit: Kenguru, via Clean Fleet Report
Rolling into place.

The Kenguru is also so small and lightweight that it classifies as an electric scooter. That means you don’t need a driver’s license to operate it, making it even more accessible.

How does the Kenguru stack up against other EVs?

Compared to other EVs, the Kenguru isn’t particularly fast or feature-rich. It has a top speed of 28 mph and a range of 43 to 68 miles. There’s also no room for any passengers and limited storage space.
Kenguru EV for wheelchair

While the Kenguru may not be comparable to an ordinary car, it does precisely what it’s supposed to. It gives people who use wheelchairs an affordable, accessible way to move around the city. Transportation can be a considerable barrier for wheelchair users, but the Kenguru provides an answer.

ev, kenguru, future, electric
Credit: Kenguru, via Clean Fleet Report
Everything is at hand.

The Kenguru also fully charges from an empty battery in just eight hours. Since it can charge so quickly, its limited range is less of a concern. The Kenguru has other EVs beat in another category, too. A new electric car costs $55,600 on average, while the Kenguru is less than half of that price.

The EV market is becoming more diverse

A vehicle like the Kenguru is a positive sign for the EV market. Electric car manufacturers are making products with a more diverse audience in mind. There’s a suitable EV out there for virtually everyone.

kenguru, ev, car, wheelchair
Credit: Kenguru, via Clean Fleet Report
The EV market is becoming even more diverse.

As more of these more niche market EVs appear, electric cars as a whole will be more appealing. They’ll continue to grow, and emissions will fall as a result. The Kenguru may be a tiny car, but it represents a big step forward.

Covid 19

Okay, this EV charging robot is wicked!

Have you ever dreamed of a mobile robot that would independently charge your EV with the tap of a button on your phone?

Well, Envision Group has made it happen, and the firm says we will see its new device on the streets in June 2021.

Last week, the Chinese green tech company launched what it claims to be the word’s first mass-produced charging robot, powered by 100% green electricity.

“Mochi”, as it’s called, uses Envision Group’s EnOSTM intelligent operating system, which connects and manages over 200GW of renewable energy assets worldwide.

Envision sees Mochi increasing flexibility for the growing user base of EVs in Asia, and especially in China.

Envision’s green charging robot, Mochi

It’s said to be compatible with most mainstream vehicles currently on the market, and features a capacity of 70 kWh and a 42 kW power output.

That should enable it to charge a typical EV in two hours for a range up to 600 km – though it’ll be worth waiting for reviews from real-world testing to see how it fares with popular cars.

What’s more, Mochi is promised to be mobile, smart and easy to use.

EV drivers will only need to subscribe to the Mochi App, and the robot will take care of all the rest.

After receiving an order to recharge, Mochi will locate the vehicle using its precise navigation system, and it will start charging automatically.

In addition, Envision’s OS will monitor the EV battery in real time, and conduct a comprehensive health examination to ensure that it’s fully safe.

Well, I’m looking forward to it!

Do EVs excite your electrons? Do ebikes get your wheels spinning? Do self-driving cars get you all charged up? 

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Covid 19

The UK will make ‘self-driving’ cars legal this year

The UK is making self-driving partially legal in the spring, so you should have an easier time in the cockpit. But you shouldn’t think of watching a movie or playing games on your phones while driving just yet.

A report from BBC noted that the Department for Transport will allow autonomous driving modes that are limited to a single lane with a speed cap of 60km per hour (37mph). 

The government said that vehicles with automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS) will have to take a GB-type approval to be classified as self-driving cars. It added that the drivers won’t need to pay attention to the road or keep their hands on the steering wheel, but they should be alert.While that’s the official articulation, you’re better keeping your hands on the wheel at all times, even with ALKS engaged.

In case there’s a warning signal from the vehicle’s automated system, drivers should be able to take over the control within 10 seconds. 

Last May, the UK started working on a 300 km road to test self-driving vehicles in a public setting. The idea was to let a car drive through different areas such as urban, suburban, rural, motorway roads to try out different scenarios.

Later in August, it asked for industry consultation for vehicles with ALKS to form regulations. Now, the transport department has put out initial set of regulations.

Tesla’s autopilot system is one of the well-known ALKS features in the industry. Last year, a UK-based YouTuber was warned for using it as it was illegal at that time. But soon, that YouTuber, and many other will be able to use this system in the country.