Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine completes first hot-fire test

People have derided Blue Origin for its focus on suborbital space tourism with the New Shepard launch vehicle, and that’s indeed been one of the company’s major pushes. But the space company has also been developing New Glenn, a two- and three-stage behemoth rocket that will be able to take people and cargo to orbit and possibly beyond. A configuration of seven BE-4 engines will power the first and second stages of New Glenn. With this test, Blue Origin has at once made a statement that it is to be taken seriously within the sphere of orbital spaceflight and also that it’s one step closer to producing these engines.

BE-4 is the the most powerful rocket engine developed since Rocketdyne’s RS-68 engine (even more than SpaceX’s Raptor engine), which is used in United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV rockets. However, these engines are incredibly expensive to produce, which is why ULA wants to retire the Delta IV line. As a replacement, the company is developing the Vulcan rocket, and it has made steps towards committing to using Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine. Aerojet Rocketdyne is lobbying for the ULA to use its AR1 engine, but development is far behind the BE-4. The United Launch Alliance needs an engine as quickly as possible, so this successful test fire may just have cemented Blue Origin’s case.

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2017 Tokyo Motor Show preview: A taste of the wacky, wonderful future

There’s no doubt about it, the Tokyo Motor Show‘s importance on the global scene has been on the wane for upwards of two decades. Blame a home market where outside automakers have a tough time cracking the code or the ascent of other international expos like AutoChina. Either way, you could forgive us for not being pumped about covering this week’s festivities. 

But you’d be wrong — we’re incredibly excited, because all the signs point to one of the most vibrant Tokyo shows in years. 

Whether you’re a technophile, a high-performance gearhead, an SUV devotee or just someone with a weakness for oddball Japanese design, the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show promises gobs of eye- and braincandy. Here’s just a taste of what we’re looking forward to learning more about next Wednesday and Thursday during the show’s media preview days.

Honda Sports EV conceptEnlarge Image

Honda’s Sports EV looks to have clean lines and simple features.


Honda Sports EV Concept

Honda’s Urban EV Concept was the surprise star of September’s Frankfurt Motor Show thanks to its combination of friendly, retrofuturist good looks and the promise of emissions-free electric running. For the Tokyo Show, Honda is looking to build on that momentum with the debut of its Sports EV Concept

Based on the teaser image above, we’re expecting the show car to be a diminutive sports car with a sloping roofline, a long hood and likely only two seats. The fact that Honda is making an electric sports car concept suggests that the company believes not all cars will be autonomous transportation pods.

Honda Riding Assist-E motorcycleEnlarge Image

Honda’s Riding Assist-E is a self-balancing electric motorcycle.


Honda Riding Assist-e

You didn’t think everything at the Tokyo Motor Show would have four wheels, did you? The Honda Riding Assist-e is an evolution of the self-balancing motorcycle tech the company has shown before, now with an electric powertrain. 

Based on Honda’s NC 700, the Riding Assist-e doesn’t appear to be a fully autonomous bike — instead, its autobalancing is designed to ease rider stress in low-speed situations like traffic jams and when approaching or pulling away from a stop.

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Mazda’s “design vision model” appears to be a swoopy sports car with four doors.


Mazda ‘design vision model’ 

Mazda’s legendary rotary engine is celebrating its 50th year, but there’s sadly still no reliable word of a new Wankel-powered sports car introduction for this auto show, production-intent or otherwise. That said, sports-car-minded fans of the brand won’t come away from the Tokyo Big Sight exposition hall empty-handed. 

An unnamed concept known simply as the ‘design vision model’ has been teased, and this sleek-looking sports car appears to have four doors. Said to preview the next evolution of Mazda’s Kodo design language, it’s possible the design could be a precursor to a new RX model.

Mazda 'production model concept' teaserEnlarge Image

Mazda’s “product concept model” is said to hint heavily at the next Mazda3.


Mazda ‘product concept model’

The Tokyo debut with the dullest excuse for a name may just be the most important car of the show for US consumers. That’s because it’s expected to provide a good indicator of the next-generation Mazda3, which is due to bow next year as a 2019 model. 

The five-door showcar will be powered by a Skyactiv-X engine, which uses compression ignition at higher revs, like a diesel. Mazda has pledged that this unique technology will make it into its production cars shortly, offering superior, diesel-like low-end torque and significantly improved fuel economy.

Mitsubishi e-Evolution concept - front three-quarter viewEnlarge Image

Mitsubishi’s e-Evolution concept probably isn’t production bound as-is.


Mitsubishi e-Evolution Concept

This Mitsubishi concept looks a bit like a flying saucer thanks to its rounded, bubble-top greenhouse and unconventional nose. What’s under the skin sounds no less futuristic. 

Three electric motors power the wild crossover SUV, but the vehicle’s most interesting tech is its claimed AI hardware, which includes a sensory network that gathers road and traffic data and compares it against the driver’s inputs to gauge intent. That hardware also enables a personalized digital driving coach, and the vehicle has the ability to learn occupants’ voices and their preferences to better serve their needs.

Naturally, the e-Evolution also includes a deployable drone, “Blade Runner 2049” style, to check traffic conditions ahead. Because… why not?

Nissan Tokyo Mystery SUV concept teaserEnlarge Image

Nissan’s mystery SUV concept is likely an EV with a high degree of automated driving.


Nissan Intelligent Mobility SUV concept

Like Toyota’s Supra and Mazda’s RX-7, a concept successor to Nissan’s legendary Z sports car has been the subject of persistent rumors for the Tokyo Motor Show, but lamentably, there’s still little hard evidence to suggest one will surface. But even if a neo-Z fails to appear, Nissan still has plenty that’s of interest.

Nissan’s show presence will likely revolve around two debuts — a sleek, long-nosed crossover SUV concept that builds on the automaker’s Intelligent Mobility vision for the future. That means we can expect it to be powered by electricity, and also be capable of heavily or fully automated driving. 

In the single shadowy teaser image that the Yokohama-based automaker has released, we also can’t help but notice a certain likeness to Faraday Future’s FF 91, but we suspect it’ll look quite different in person.

Nissan Leaf Nismo Concept

Nissan Leaf Nismo Concept

If that all sounds too pie in the sky for your tastes, Nissan’s Leaf Nismo Concept seems like it has a significantly better chance at landing in your driveway. This visually amped-up version of the automaker’s recently introduced second-generation Leaf EV features markedly racier bodywork and a reworked suspension for improved handling. 

Nissan has hinted that it might produce a sportier version of its electric hatchback in the past, and this looks like it’d be a good place to start.

Subaru Viziv Performance Concept teaserEnlarge Image

Subaru’s Viziv Performance Concept likely previews the next WRX.


Subaru Viziv Performance Concept

Subaru’s display centerpiece will be its Viziv Performance Concept, a sports sedan showcar that likely previews the automaker’s next WRX, although a couple of media outlets have suggested it may instead hint at a hotter Legacy. While Subaru hasn’t confirmed much about the car, shadowy teasers suggest it it has muscular bodywork, ample air intakes (likely needed to feed a souped-up engine) and a sizable rear wing. 

Despite being a driver’s car, the VPC is expected to carry a host of advanced driver-assist systems, centering on an evolution of the company’s EyeSight suite of active safety features.

Toyota GR HV Concept

Even if a long-rumored Supra successor doesn’t show up, Toyota will have a hugely interesting presence at this year’s show. Highlights include the GR HV, a targa-topped sports car concept based on today’s production 86 coupe

Why are we excited about it? We’re eager to learn how its novel automatic transmission works — it has a manual mode that lets you shift through an H-gate just like a stick shift, only without the pedals. We’re also eager to see if its funky, aggressive new bodywork looks good in person.

Toyota Tj Cruiser

Toyota TJ Cruiser Concept

If your idea of automotive fun skews more sport utility than sports car, Toyota’s got you covered, too. Its funky TJ Cruiser concept is a rectilinear SUV that melds the sliding doors and cargo-toting capability of a van with the boxy flared fenders and attitude of an SUV.

Despite its brutish appearance, it’s powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with hybrid assist, so it might actually be pretty fuel efficient.

Yamaha MOTOROiD conceptEnlarge Image

The Motoroid can recognize its owner and is described as “like a living creature.” Creepy cool.


Yamaha Motoroid

To be fair, we don’t know much about Yamaha’s Motoroid concept motorcycle, but we do know it looks amazing. Based on the development concept of “Unleashed Prototype,” Yamaha says the bike is “capable of recognizing its owner and interacting in other capacities like a living creature.” It sounds halfway to sentience. 

No word yet on what powers the Motoroid, but it appears to be electric judging by what looks like large external cylindrical cells.

This thing looks less like a motorcycle for humans and more like a two-wheeler for a Gundam robot to ride into battle. That’s just fine by us, because it’s exactly the type of thing one can only expect to find at the Tokyo Motor Show.

Yamaha MWC-4 conceptEnlarge Image

Yamaha’s MWC-4 features an electric motor with a range-extender.


Yamaha MWC-4

Looking a bit like a steampunk golf cart or some sort of insectoid Transformer, Yamaha’s MWC-4 is a single-seat personal mobility device that leans into corners like a motorcycle. 

Powered by an electric motor and backed by a small range-extender engine, the spindly runabout looks well suited to densely populated cities with low-speed traffic where maneuverability and ease of parking are prime assets.

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Still stalking Bigfoot 50 years after the beast went big

On Friday, Bigfoot believers will descend on a remote part of Northern California to celebrate a shaky, minute-long film from 1967 that not only introduced Sasquatch to the wider world, but transformed the cryptid into a pop culture phenomenon that still captivates us half a century later.


The famous “look-back” frame of an alleged female bigfoot from the 1967 film produced by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin.


Look up the Bigfoot Wikipedia entry, and you’ll see a familiar and famous frame from the footage that Roger Patterson, aspiring filmmaker and ne’er-do-well from Yakima, Washington, claims to have shot in the wilderness outside Willow Creek, Calif., 50 years ago on Oct. 20. In the clip, a tall, broad-shouldered, long-limbed, fur-covered creature walking on two legs through a clearing glances directly at the camera for a moment, as if to briefly satisfy the relentless paparazzi before disappearing into the woods.

“It’s a fascinating piece of film,” says Jeff Meldrum, an Idaho State University anatomy and anthropology professor. He’s also the most prominent scientist performing serious Sasquatch research, though not without raising the ire of colleagues. “It’s grossly underrated and offhandedly dismissed, naively dismissed by the skeptics.”

But the naysayers didn’t stop Patterson’s film and the larger Bigfoot phenomenon from cementing themselves in a culture enthralled with the idea there are other intelligent species, on our planet and beyond, still waiting to be discovered. In the months after it was shot, the film appeared on all the major talk and late-night shows of the day, from Joey Bishop and Merv Griffin to “Late Night with Johnny Carson.”

The bashful biped has become a cottage industry that’s only grown with the rise of the internet and cable TV: conferences, expeditions, books, movies, theme park rides and TV shows in the Sasquatch search genre are just as common as fuzzy images purporting to show a glimpse of the Yeti’s American cousin.

But the modern ground zero for the legend remains the dense forests of Humboldt County, where Bigfoot enthusiast Patterson and his friend Bob Gimlin rode into the wilderness on horseback in search of the beast. That’s where this weekend’s anniversary conference and celebration takes place, featuring Meldrum and Sasquatch celebrities like Cliff Barackman from Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot.”

“Sightings are still reported to this day,” says Steven Streufert, owner of the used bookstore Bigfoot Books in Willow Creek. (A new sighting was reported on the other side of the state near Fresno just this week.)

Streufert is also one of the founders of the Bluff Creek Project, an effort by a handful of volunteers who’ve set up as many as 20 HD cameras in and around the site where Patterson and Gimlin captured their footage. Today, the project’s primary goal is simple: “to determine if Bigfoot is real.” But it grew out of the more basic task that initially brought the group together, which was to rediscover the site that had been “lost” due to the regrowth of foliage (the stream bed had been stripped bare by a flood in 1964).

Using GPS coordinates, the group identified surviving trees and other landmarks from the footage that led to the rediscovery of the film site in 2011. Since then, it’s been under near constant surveillance, despite the fact that the spot is closed to visitors from October through June.

“Our cameras are running up there 24/7, year round,” Streufert said. “If Bigfoot is out there, we should be able to find one on our HD video one of these years.”

So far, the cameras have captured cool footage of cougars, bears and the rare Humboldt marten, but no Bigfoot. The lack of any new Sasquatch sightings doesn’t bother the team.  

“I think back to the first Antarctic explorers and how their expeditions were inspired by tales of the hollow earth… that absurd idea gave inspiration and drive for those early explorers to race to the South Pole,” Jamie Wayne, the lead on the Bluff Creek Project said. “For me, Bigfoot is kinda like that, it’s very inspiring to get me out there and keep installing trail cameras.”

Bigfoot or big fake?

Skeptics have an easy time explaining the lack of Sasquatch appearances at the site of the most famous Sasquatch appearance of all time. Scientists rejected Patterson and Gimlin’s film as fraudulent within a few weeks of their trip into the wilderness.

Staff at the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Zoological Society were unimpressed when Patterson brought his film to New York City in late 1967 with the intention of having it validated.


Professor Meldrum holds a cast of a footprint believed to be left by Bigfoot, or at least by a big foot.

Jeff Meldrum

When the big-city scientists failed to give their stamp of approval to Patterson’s footage, both Life and Look Magazines backed out of conditional deals to publish major features on the find. An account of the story was eventually published in Argosy Magazine in 1968, and the BBC later paid to use the footage in a Bigfoot docudrama. Along with several other media appearances, it was enough to capture the public’s imagination and the legend has continued to grow ever since, even without the endorsement of the scientific community.

In 2004, writer Greg Long published “The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story” based on interviews with acquaintances of Patterson, (including Bob Heironimus, who claims to be the man in the suit). Long makes a substantial but controversial case that the famous film is a hoax, and like the story of Sasquatch itself, no physical proof such as the suit itself, or receipts or damning outtakes is presented.

Where many others have seen a hoax pulled off by a cameraman of dubious reputation and a man in an elaborate suit, Meldrum still sees humanity’s long lost (or rather, well hidden) relative.

“As an anatomist I can go from the head down to the toes (in the film) and just point out features that you would not see in a costume,” he told me. “The anatomy is appropriate and functional for a large bipedal hominid… Yet in 1967 the anthropologists wouldn’t have been able to accurately portray that, let alone a rodeo rider from Yakima who couldn’t keep a job for more than eight months at a time. He didn’t have the wherewithal to conceive of such a thing, let alone pull off the fakery involved if it were a hoax.”

Meldrum argues the creature shown in the film displays features consistent with what science has come to understand about hominin evolution in the decades since the film was shot.

Don’t stop believing

Still, half a century after the brief clip ignited a firestorm of debate, questions about its authenticity remain.

Science historian Brian Regal says that may continue to be the case because of the poor quality of the film.

“The low resolution of the original grainy 16mm footage renders it practically impossible to analyze in great detail,” he writes in his book “Searching for Sasquatch.” “We may never know whether Patterson meant it to be this way, or that it was just the dumb luck of an individual unskilled and unsophisticated in the ways of filmmaking.”

Doubters be damned, Meldrum and members of the Bluff Creek Project will be in Willow Creek presenting their latest research at the 50th Anniversary conference and celebration, They’ll be joined by a Bigfoot authority who became a believer 50 years ago — Gimlin, the surviving member of the expedition that produced the famous film. He’ll talk about what he saw that day and what’s happened since.

As for the Sasquatch herself (Gimlin and others maintain the creature nicknamed “Patty” was female and had clearly visible breasts), Gimlin told the CBC on Wednesday he believes she’s still alive because he’s heard from another “Bigfooter” who “communicated with her son.”

No word yet on if anyone managed to capture that communication on camera, though.

Technically Literate: Original works of short fiction with unique perspectives on tech, exclusively on CNET.

Crowd ControlA crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.

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Klipsch offers up premium powered floorstanders, the R-28PFs


The Kipsch Reference R-28PF


Until recently you had two options when buying a new sound system — a fully fledged stereo or AV system with separate amplification and masses of wires or a convenient but sonically-limited sound bar. Klipsch’s R-15PM powered speaker tried — pretty successfully — to offer the convenience of a sound bar and the sonic advantages of stereo speakers. Klipsch has followed this system up with two new models including a high-end floorstander and a newer, cheaper option.

Klipsch Reference R-28PF ($1,199) powered floorstanding speakers and R-14PM ($399) powered monitors feature a plethora of inputs including a phono pre-amp, a 24-bit/192kHz digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and Bluetooth. If you want more oomph, they both include a subwoofer output.

The Klipsch Reference R-28PF offers

  • Dual 8-inch “copper spun IMG woofers”
  • 1-inch linear travel suspension (LTS) in its own Tractrix horn. 
  • Bi-amplified 260W amplifier 

Meanwhile the Klipsch Reference R-14PM  features

  • Single 4-inch copper spun magnetically shielded IMG woofer
  • 3/4″ LTS tweeters in Tractrix horns
  • Low-noise 80W amplifier 

The Klipsch R-14PM


Both speakers feature the “love it or hate it” brushed vinyl finish of other Klipsch speakers. Further, we are awaiting pricing and availability on the two models for the UK and Australia. You can expect somewhere in the realm of £1,200/AU$2,400 and £400/AU$800 respectively, though.

The Klipschs seem to offer a lot for the money as most competitors either cost a lot more (such as the KEF LS50) or have fewer consumer-friendly features (such as the pro-level Adam Audio F5).

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Brother of Mavs guard Harris killed in crash

DALLAS — The brother of Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris was fatally injured in an early morning crash on a Dallas expressway.

A Dallas police statement says 38-year-old Bruce Harris died Thursday afternoon of injuries from the 1:40 a.m. Thursday crash on U.S. 75 just north of Loop 12 in North Dallas. Officer Tamika Dameron, a police spokeswoman, said Harris and another man were in a disabled vehicle when it was slammed from behind and set on fire by a car with two 23-year-old men.

All four occupants were taken to Presbyterian Hospital about a block from the crash site. Harris died hours later. The Dallas Morning News reported Harris was a brother of the Mavericks guard, who was excused from practice Thursday. Team officials wouldn’t comment.

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Verizon will fix your smartphone’s screen for $29

Verizon’s Total Mobile Protection Plan will run you $11 per month for a smartphone, $9 per month for a basic phone or tablet, and you can pay $33 per month to insure multiple devices. If you crack your screen, says Verizon, you may be able to get it repaired that same day, provided you live in “select markets” and have “certain devices.” The company also says a technician can meet you at your home, office, school or wherever you are while traveling.

Verizon isn’t the only carrier with this sort of plan. ATT has three plans for $9, $12 or $35 a month each of which includes potential same-day cracked screen repair, though the deductible here is $90. Sprint‘s Total Equipment Protection plan has five tiers (starting at $9 per month), which also includes cracked screen repairs for a variable rate, $50 for Tier one customers and $100 for Tier two folks. Apple Care Plus gets you an iPhone screen repair for $30, which is now a $170 service if you didn’t purchase Apple’s extended warranty plan. Complicated? Yes. Useful? Probably.

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