‘Next-gen’ USPS vehicles can use gas or electric motors


The US Postal Service plans to have a new mail van on American roads by 2023. A new contract will see Oshkosh Defense manufacture between 50,000 and 165,000 “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles” for the agency over the next 10 years. The vehicle will come in both combustion and electric powertrain variants. According to the Postal Service, the latter will be able to accommodate new EV technologies as they become available. 

They’ll also include features like 360-degree cameras, front- and rear-collision avoidance and traction control, in addition to creature comforts like heating and air conditioning and more carrying capacity for packages.

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The postal service’s current fleet is made up of approximately 230,000 vehicles, with about 190,000 dedicated solely to transporting mail and parcels to people. Some of those vans and trucks, such as the iconic Grumman Long Life Vehicle (LLV), have been in service for decades. The US Postal Service maintains approximately 140,000 LLVs across the US. The majority of those vans include GM’s infamous 4-cylinder “Iron Duke” engine and on a given day, its fuel economy plunges to the single digits. In recent years, they’ve also started to catch fire without getting into any accidents. In other words, the Postal Service is long overdue for an upgrade.

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5G drones — is the next-gen cellular tech going skywards?


  • Telecom operators are racing to deploy 5G infrastructure, and this means building thousands more expensive and unsightly masts
  • Two companies in Cambridge think high-altitude 5G drones could replace that infrastructure
  • The initiative might face some challenges, though

With 5G’s capabilities to transform worldwide businesses, networks, and consumers, network operators globally are gearing up for a new era.

So far, laying down the infrastructure has largely comprised of building large 5G masts. Packed with antennae, GPS, and remote radios, these towers are essential for providing the radio layer of the 5G network — they transmit data to and from a device to the wider network. 

But they’re limited in their range, and that means achieving wide area coverage relies on vast network of tens or hundreds of expensive and unsightly structures, as discrete as they’re designed to be. There must be another way?

Two British companies have come up with a solution to deliver next-gen cellular connectivity, by outfitting 5G antennas to hydrogen-powered drones and flying them 20,000 meters above the ground.  

The new proof-of-concept comes from engineering firm Cambridge Consultants and telecommunications group Stratospheric Platforms Limited (SPL). 

There are reportedly close to 1.5 million cell towers in the UK, currently provivding data coverage to 99% of the population in the UK. In 2017, it was predicted that 400,000 additional masts would need to be built in the UK to support 5G.

However, the two groups say that they could cover the entirety of the UK with 60 drones, if working with existing telecoms operators, with each craft covering an area with a diameter of 140 kilometers and capable of flying for up to nine days in a row.

Users would get download speeds of around 100Mbps, which would allow them to download a 4GB movie in under six minutes. 

So far, a prototype has been tested using a lower-bandwidth signal from a plane flying at a lower altitude. The two companies are aiming for a three-square meter antenna, which would be integrated into a zero-emission craft. 

The idea has parallels with Google’s Project Loon, which brings wireless broadband to remote places with high-altitude, solar-powered balloons. 

Stratospheric Platform’s chief executive, Richard Deakin, is presenting the project as a more economical alternative to building 5G towers, with each aircraft capable of replacing the need for 200 masts. 

There are a few problems, though. One is that airspace is heavily regulated. Even though the drones would fly at very high altitudes, unlike those intended for making deliveries in residential areas, “getting a network of constantly flying drones in the stratosphere within three or four years would be difficult,” IDC’s John Delaney told the BBC. 

Another issue is by the time any sort of viable regulation is achieved, the telecoms operators racing to deploy 5G will have already built their infrastructure. 

It’s been suggested that 5G drone technology could be most optimal in providing connectivity to very remote or hard-to-reach areas, such as shipping lanes in the ocean, or to link machines together such as autonomous trucks driving in a mine.





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Xbox starts next-gen on the right foot with impressive console pair


The console pair play the same games at two different levels of performance, which we’ll get to further down, but they’re also distinct physically.

The Series X is shaped like no other console (unless you count a stack of two Nintendo Gamecubes), with its 15x15x30cm black frame giving off industrial vibes. While it practically demands to be stood vertically out in the open where its massive exhaust fan can blast warm air upward, it works just as well (but looks slightly goofier) laid on its side.

Meanwhile the white Series S is just as deep and a little bit shorter than the Series X, but only 6cm wide. This makes it more of a traditional console shape but shockingly small compared to all previous Xbox systems.

In addition to being smaller, the white Xbox Series S is also less fingerprint hungry than the Series X (middle) or the last generation One X.Credit:Tim Biggs

The bundled controller, in black or white, is ergonomically different from older Xbox pads; slightly smaller and weighted towards the back with much improved grips and directional pad, and a new share button for easier capture of clips and screenshots.

The systems also work with any older Xbox One controllers, headsets or other accessories you happen to have already, with the notable exception of the Kinect sensor which has been all but scrubbed from Microsoft history.

Outside of games the systems have ditched the HDMI input of the Xbox One, so you can’t plug your set-top box into them, but they’re still capable home theatre machines with support for Dolby Atmos sound and Dolby Vision HDR. They support the latest apps including Disney+ and Apple TV, and Series X can play video from 4K UHD Blu-rays.

The new controllers look familiar at first glance, but offer an upgrade over Xbox One's standard pads.

The new controllers look familiar at first glance, but offer an upgrade over Xbox One’s standard pads.Credit:Tim Biggs

The first thing you’ll notice when firing either console up is a big reduction in loading across the board, thanks to a cutting edge NVME solid state drive. The systems boot fast and, if you’ve ignored the power-saving settings, are essentially always ready to go at the press of a button. I found existing games that were designed for previous generation launched much quicker, with loading times mid-game also cut in half in many instances.

Every game that works on Xbox One works on Series X/S (minus the handful that require a Kinect), meaning more than 3000 games across Xbox One, Xbox 360 and original Xbox. In addition to faster loading, games that once struggled to hit their original framerate targets now do thanks to the massive increase in processing power, which can be transformative for some games and makes going back to older hardware feel like wading through molasses.

The greatest benefit of the SSD is a new feature called Quick Resume, which takes a snapshot of your game as you stop playing and saves it to storage. This snapshot persists even if you play other games or unplug the console, so when you return you can get back to exactly where you were in seconds. One downside of the SSD is that games optimised for the new consoles can not run off an external USB drive; you’re stuck with the 1TB of internal space, or you can drop $360 on an additional 1TB drive that slots in the back.

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Another thing you’ll notice right away, if you had an Xbox One, is that when you sign in all the games you own digitally just show up, and your save data is synced in the cloud so you can just start playing. Most impressive are games supporting what Microsoft calls “Smart Delivery”, which means if you own them on Xbox One they’ll automatically upgrade to new, fully optimised next-gen versions on your new system for free, but your saves will be intact. If you didn’t own an Xbox One and don’t have games, Game Pass is $1 for the first month (then $11 per month), which is a great way to try some.

On paper the Series X is the most powerful games console around, and in practice it offers a noticeable upgrade over 2017’s Xbox One X and a huge leap over anything older. With no truly new games available at launch I don’t think we’ve come close to seeing the extent of its capabilities yet, but older unoptimised games play better than ever while the 30 or so “Series X/S optimised” games (including 23 upgraded from Xbox One via Smart Delivery) are a great introduction to next-gen.

2018’s Forza Horizon 4 now runs at 4K and 60 frames per second and feels absolutely incredible, while Gears 5 has had its lighting and textures updated in line with the PC version’s “Ultra” settings, and the multiplayer stepped up to a full 120 frames per second.

Framerates above 60 are brand new for console games, but you’ll need a new TV as they require a display with HDMI 2.1. It looks buttery and feels more immediate on my LG CX OLED, and will likely become the standard for twitchy multiplayer shooters, but I’m also keen to play Ori and the Will of the Wisps when it’s updated to 120 on launch day.

Inside the Series X's motherboard is split into two pieces, making for more efficient cooling and giving it its unconventional shape.

Inside the Series X’s motherboard is split into two pieces, making for more efficient cooling and giving it its unconventional shape.

Overall 4K 60fps seems to be a standard this system can hit in its stride, with essentially every new game from Gears Tactics to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla supporting it, which is a great step up from last generation with typically made you choose between the fidelity of higher resolution or the smoothness of higher framerate.

Unfortunately it’s hard to talk to the quality of brand new games designed with the Series X hardware in mind, because to this point there really aren’t any. It’s possible once those games start rolling in we’ll see some opt for lower resolution and 120fps, or intense raytracing and other graphical effects at lower framerates.

As for the smaller sibling, Microsoft’s pitch for the disc-free Series S is that it plays all the same games as the bigger console at the same framerates, just at lower resolutions, and my initial testing seems to bear that out.

The Series S has a lower clocked processor and less RAM than the Series X, meaning games run at lower resolutions.

The Series S has a lower clocked processor and less RAM than the Series X, meaning games run at lower resolutions.

On Series S I saw all the same framerates for optimised games that I saw on Series X, including 120fps for Gears 5 multiplayer, which is stunningly impressive on a machine this small and inexpensive. SSD performance is the same, and games look great on a 4K TV even though in a side by side comparison you can tell they’re running at 1080p or 1440p. On a Full HD TV there was little noticeable difference.

Past games still run better thanks to the SSD and CPU, but while Series X has access to game enhancements created for the Xbox One X, Series S does not. This is a shame because it means in some cases unoptimised games will run at 30fps on Series S and 60fps on Series X, even though they could both easily hit the higher spec. Hopefully this can be addressed in a future update.

Less fixable is the small 512GB hard drive; most people will get fewer than 10 games on there before they need to archive some to fit more. I’m also concerned about how Series S will hold up in the future. Microsoft’s calculations say that if Series X can do it in 4K, then Series S can do it in 1440p, but that could be put to a harsh test in a few years when games are really pushing the Series X hardware.

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On first impression these new consoles are a far cry from the lag and confusion of the Xbox One when it launched in 2013. They offer clear value regardless of whether you want the most performant console on the market or the least expensive way to get at next-gen games, and Microsoft continues to excel with software and services from Game Pass or Smart Delivery to the new Xbox app that helps you set up your console or notifies you about screenshots you took so you can share them on Twitter. Not to mention behind-the-scenes stuff you’ll never notice like the AI-powered HDR system that makes games from as far back as 2001 look vibrant and colourful on modern TVs.

But there are also few reasons to upgrade from older consoles right at launch. With stunning updates to older games the main selling point here right now, most features available on (or coming to) older systems and only speculation around how much better a game like Cyberpunk 2077 or Halo Infinite will be on these consoles versus the One X, it could be a while before either new system is considered a must-have.

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Impact focus for next-gen women


Business News spoke to three young women from WA who are illustrating the entrepreneurial spirit of Generation Z.

The growth of Western Australia’s startup culture during the past decade has empowered a fresh generation of young business hopefuls to forge new pathways.

While some of WA’s best-known business leaders started ventures in past decades painting houses, transporting chemicals or selling land, in 2020 the focus is on technology and sustainability.

Three Perth sisters are among those to embrace the opportunities, having created the National Treasures app, a mobile game founded in 2018 that leads users on an adventure through the city, visiting businesses on a journey to collect tree tokens.

Charlize (surname withheld by family request) and Kayla are 16 and 17, while 19-year-old Chloe has previous business experience as the creator of tanning product line Sahara Soul.

Chloe (left), Charlize and Kayla are behind the National Treasures app. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

The app’s users compete in competitions, with prizes for the people who visit all the locations and collect all the tokens first.

They are directed to each token by clues. “It’s kind of like Pokemon Go,” Chloe said.

“We select 200 businesses in Perth, they get a geofenced location … the first person to collect the trees collects a prize of $20,000.”

Schools had proved to be one of the best markets for the app, Chloe said, with about 30 signing students up to participate in the challenges.

Those competitions have been delayed due to the COVID-19 restrictions, however, with the next event planned for September.

Meanwhile, about 30 businesses have signed up for the September challenge.

Those businesses pay to be on the app in the hope of generating traffic, and also receive advertising on the platform.

Chloe said National Treasures wanted to spark activity in parts of Perth that needed a boost.

“Subiaco is an area that would benefit highly from it … since they lost the stadium, that’s had a big impact,” she said.

The business secured about $300,000 of investment from four or five supporters, all close family contacts.

Chloe said her younger sisters contributed to the app’s creative side, while she worked with developers.

She said starting a business at such a young age had proved difficult, at first.

“For young people especially, it’s seen as a challenging thing to do, and not seen as serious,” Chloe said.

“Now I’m older, I have more experience.

“When you’re launching a concept … people are very skeptical.”

Ecosystem

There were 83,293 Australians between the ages of 15 and 29 running a small business with no staff as of 2017, according to the latest data from the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

That age group represented 9.6 per cent of business owners with no staff.

There has also been a growing ecosystem in Perth to support young people starting businesses, such as the Bloom Lab at the University of Western Australia and the all-ages Ignition program at Curtin University.

While exact data on the ages of startup founders is difficult to source, Curtin University head of executive education Danelle Cross told Business News there was growing interest from younger people.

“There is an increase in younger people interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, and wanting to start their own businesses, in particular social enterprises,” Ms Cross said.

“That particular cohort (Gen Z) are global, they want to solve big problems.”

Ms Cross observed there were more pathways than previously for people wanting to start businesses, driven by rising demand for those services across all ages but particularly among a younger cohort.

“More than other generations, they see owning a business as key to success,” Ms Cross said.

Impact

Isabelle Ng launched her business, Kinoi, in September 2019. It sells reusable bubble tea glasses.

Bubble tea is a sweet drink developed in Taiwan, which has grown in popularity in the west in recent years. Usually, it is served in a disposable plastic cup.

Ms Ng said she was motivated to start the business in February 2019 on a trip to Hong Kong.

“I almost stopped drinking bubble tea because of the plastic cup,” she said.

“I’ve always been a big supporter of environmental initiatives.

“When I went back to Hong Kong, I saw a street full of bubble tea shops.

“Plastic everywhere, bins filled up.”

Ms Ng said she had sold out of her first batch of 600 cups last year, which she believed was a good indicator of the business’s potential.

At 21, she is close to the cusp of Millennials and Gen Z, but this was an advantage.

“I understand the kind of content Millennials and Gen Z people want,” Ms Ng said.

“And Millennials and Gen Z are willing to get behind environmental and social initiatives.”

As with many young entrepreneurs, she said the business was not her sole focus for now.

“This is definitely my side baby right now, but if it were to grow I’d love it to be my main baby,” Ms Ng said.

Purposeful founder Elizabeth Knight said she created that business to help young people find meaningful career pathways.

“I felt I’d ticked all the boxes of what you had to do at school … but I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Ms Knight told Business News.

“That period was a huge challenge for me.

“What I’m trying to do is help young people create a future with a purpose for them.”

She said that reflected a desire among her generation to do something that had an impact, and to develop alternative pathways.

Purposeful hosts workshops, and provides speakers to organisations to inspire young people making career choices.

More than 2,000 people used the program last year, Ms Knight said, including through Perth Modern School and Presbyterian Ladies College.

She also gave a TEDx talk. Ms Knight said Purposeful’s intent was to encourage young people to make decisions about their careers on their own terms, not based on what they thought was expected of them.

That was sparked by her own experience and the belief she would need to be a lawyer or doctor to be successful, she said.

Ms Knight also cited research from YouthSense, which found 51 per cent of young Australians felt figuring out what to do with their future was their biggest problem.

Longer term, she hopes to develop an online platform that can provide personalised guidance at scale for young people.

Much of what is on offer now was generalised and perhaps not as helpful, Ms Knight said.

Ms Knight, who held leadership roles at UWA-based co-working space Bloom for two years, is circumspect about the risk of failure when starting a business at a young age.

“There’s no risk, if it doesn’t work out it doesn’t matter,” she said.

“I either help a lot of people or learn a heck of a lot about myself.”

The skills learned could be applied elsewhere, Ms Knight said.

“I’ve had job offers … because I’ve done something differently,” she said.

When asked about barriers to starting a business, Ms Knight said it was important to be able to demonstrate what you could do.

“People don’t expect it of you,” she said.

“In education, there are rarely any young people in the room.

“Sometimes people take you less seriously, but for the most part there are so many more opportunities because people want to support you.”





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