Tesla reveals just how owners will be charged to Supercharge

Using a Tesla Supercharger will come with a super charge. Well, that depends on how you define “super,” of course. On Thursday, two months after its initial announcement regarding the payment structure around its Supercharger network, Tesla informed the public of some of the details of how it plans to “make long-distance travel a seamless experience for drivers,” at a cost.

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“Cars have always represented independence and the freedom to travel wherever and whenever people want to go,” Tesla wrote in a blog post. “To enable this freedom, building a charging network that provides quick, convenient, and long-distance travel is critical to the adoption of electric vehicles. One of our top priorities this year is to significantly increase capacity of our Supercharger network.”

So how will it go about doing this? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite as straightforward as you might like. First off, Tesla Model S and Model X cars ordered after January 15, 2017 will be granted 400kWh (kilowatt-hours) of free Supercharging credits, equivalent to about 1,000 miles, every year on the anniversary of their delivery. Tesla claims that its research has suggested that 400kWh actually accounts for the yearly amount of long-distance driving the average customer needs.

However, should you be an above-average driver, you’ll be charged “a small fee to Supercharge.” If you’re a resident of North America, pricing remains consistent within each state or province, whereas overseas, pricing is fixed within a country. In most areas of the world, you’ll be asked to pay per kWh, described as “the fairest way to pay for the exact energy need.” But that won’t be the case in all areas of the world — some local regulations require Tesla to charge per minute of usage instead. That said, Tesla says that it’s “actively working with regulators to update the rules.”

Ultimately, this Supercharge charging structure works out to about $15 for a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and about $120 from Los Angeles to New York. You can check out additional details about the program here.


Fold-Up Smartphone Screens Could Finally Make Their Big Debut

The rumors have been swirling for months. Though they couldn’t be confirmed, their persistence suggests that something significant may be coming from ­Samsung, possibly as early as this year: a foldable mobile.

Today, the world of mobiles consists of two major realms—tablets and smartphones. Tablets are good for reading magazines and books, typing long messages on a linked keyboard, looking at pictures, and surfing the Web. Smartphones are good for texting and ­talking. Engineers have long dreamed of merging the two.

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Such a device would morph from one to the other by folding: Open, it’s a tablet, but by bending or folding it in half you’d transform it into a phone. “You can expect to open up your phone and double the screen real estate,” says Roel Vertegaal, a computer scientist at Queen’s ­University in Ontario. Besides the versatility, you’d have interesting new ­possibilities—imagine bending your phone to flip ahead in an e-book, just as you would flex a novel’s covers to jump ahead a few pages.

Samsung has pursued flexible designs for at least four years, going so far as to develop “artificial muscles” that push and pull a smartphone’s components into new positions to prevent damage as it bends. Now, according to media reports, the company may finally be ready to share those technologies with the world and save users the hassle of carrying both a phone and a tablet.

“Having that bimodality in a device would, I think, be really game changing,” says mobile analyst Wayne Lam at IHS Markit. “You’re not only creating a new form factor for the phone, but you’re also cannibalizing other product categories.”

Competitors are thinking along similar elastic lines. At a trade show last summer, Lenovo showed off a concept product for a smartphone that folded around a user’s wrist into a wearable device. Throughout 2016, a Chinese manufacturer named Moxi Group promised a limited release of its own high-end flexible smartphone. But Samsung would be the first of any major company to debut a device with a truly flexible screen.

If Samsung does release such a phone, it would signal the first major departure from the flat, rectangular form that has defined smartphone designs since Apple released the first iPhone in 2007. Manufacturers have experimented with curved glass and adopted larger screens, but essentially all smartphones today are design descendants of that original iPhone.

The simple, rigid smartphone has endured partly because the challenges of building a foldable screen that is rugged and dependable are great. Stiff components such as the battery must be made to either bend along with the screen or be situated away from the fold.

Vertegaal himself built a flexible smartphone in his lab last year and tested hundreds of screens before settling on one that worked—a high-­definition organic light-emitting-diode screen produced by LG Display. OLED screens contain a thin film of organic compounds that produce light from an electric current right at the surface of the device. They are a favorite of designers working on flexible TV and mobile units because they do not require the bulky backlight and filters found in LCD screens.

Samsung happens to be the largest global supplier of OLED panels. In 2013, the company showed off a concept product with a bendable OLED screen at the CES electronics show. It set off a frenzy in the tech blogosphere and led to speculation that the company would release a smartphone based on it.

Flexible Devices: This smartphone designed by Chinese manufacturer Moxi Group can wrap around a user’s wrist.
Vertegaal says the biggest challenge in ­building his own flexible phone was powering all the ­pixels in his LG display with connectors that could ­withstand repeated bendings. To keep it simple, he used a relatively primitive screen that had only 720 pixels. He realized that the rigid materials found in conventional smartphones are, unfortunately, quite delicate. “Circuits are made out of metals, and these metals break under stress,” he says. “While it’s possible to make these bendable screens, it’s difficult to make them in a way that they don’t break.”

One solution may be to use printed ­electronics to integrate razor-thin ­circuits and flattened antennas along the surfaces of a smartphone. In theory, this technique could make phones more flexible by reducing the number of large components and fragile attachments within the device. However, the easiest way to create such products is with injection molding, a process that is seldom used in smartphone manufacturing.

Right now, only two companies in the world have the expertise and production chops to manufacture a smartphone with a bendable display for the mass market: ­Samsung and LG, says William Stofega, a mobile analyst at International Data Corp. Just last year, at CES, LG exhibited an OLED screen, less than 1 millimeter thick, that could roll up like a newspaper. But Stofega says the time, complexity, and expense of manufacturing means that any flexible products that debut this year will likely be pricey, high-end devices.

Samsung needs a hit to regain momentum after last year’s Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, in which it coped with reports of dozens of the smartphones catching fire. Ultimately, the problems prompted a recall that slashed profits by 17 percent, or US $4 billion, in that quarter. A flashy line of foldable phones could help the company rebuild its reputation. However, it would be a high-risk strategy, Stofega notes. “No one wants to risk coming out with a device that looks pretty cool and then, after about 2,000 bends, just cracks right in half,” he says.

Samsung wouldn’t comment on its plans for 2017. So we’ll all have to wait and see if the company dazzles us this year with a couple of flexible smartphones—or leaves the many design headaches and teething pains for its rivals to endure.

CES 2017 Little Known Elliptic Labs Could Reshape the Smartphone Industry

This year at CES, a little-known company with no booth or speaker slot is quietly talking about a technology that could bring about one of the most visible changes to smartphone design of 2017. It has developed software that would let manufactures remove a common component and so create almost-edgeless smartphone screens that run up to the very top of the device. And in the past three months, this company has been contacted by every major smartphone manufacturer in the world.

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Let’s back up for a moment. On your smartphone right now, there’s probably a little dot or narrow sliver right above your screen that’s a proximity sensor. When you make a call and place the phone to your ear, the screen turns off to save power and prevent you from accidentally hitting buttons with your cheek. It does this by emitting infrared waves and then measuring their reflections to determine how close the phone is to your head.

The original iPhone, released in 2007, was the first smartphone to use a proximity sensor. Since then, the proximity sensor has become a standard mobile component. It’s typically housed in a rectangular bit of casing that takes up about half a centimeter or so of real estate across the top of the screen.

But this staple of smartphone design may be on its way out. In October 2016, Xiaomi announced the Mi MIX, which features a display that runs right up to the top edge of the device, with no proximity sensor in sight. Reviewers raved about the almost-edgeless display and applauded Xiaomi’s ingenuity. Some even hinted that Apple and Samsung would be taking cues from the Mi MIX for their highly-anticipated releases of the iPhone 8 and Galaxy S8 in 2017.

Though Xiaomi got the credit, the company behind that almost-edgeless display was Elliptic Labs. And according to an Elliptic representative who spoke with IEEE Spectrum here at CES in Las Vegas, consumers should expect to see many more almost-edgeless smartphone screens debut this year, all inspired by the Mi MIX design.

“Ever since this phone has been released, all the mobile OEMs have been contacting us,” said Angelo Assimakopoulos, VP of Sales and Business Development for Elliptic Labs. “Without naming names, I can tell you almost everyone is going this route.”

Elliptic Labs sells software that generates ultrasound pulses from a smartphone’s speaker and measures them using its microphone, as an alternative method for proximity detection. This technique allows manufacturers to get rid of traditional proximity sensors altogether, and so stretch the display all the way to the phone’s upper edge. Ultrasound may also prove more reliable for consumers, since proximity sensors can be affected by smudges or bright light.

The pulses that Elliptic generates are between 30 kilohertz to 40 kHz, well above the 20 kHz limit of human hearing. Assimakopoulos says most smartphone speakers can generate pulses at these frequencies, though the company finds that MEMS speakers work best for generating them.

The company, which has about 30 employees and operations in the U.S., Norway, and China, has worked on its software for almost 10 years. Now, they think conditions are favorable to roll it out. Consumers are watching more videos and playing more games on their smartphones than ever before. In response, manufacturers are producing phones with larger screens and maximizing every square millimeter of space. For example, Samsung has increasingly displayed content along the sides of screens. An obvious next step may be to expand the screen from the phone’s top to bottom, with Elliptic’s help.

By using their software, Elliptic’s Assimakopoulos estimates that smartphone manufacturers could increase screen area to between 90 to 95 percent of the phone’s facing side, from the standard 75 to 80 percent on most smartphones today. The Mi MIX has a screen-to-face radio of 91.3 percent.

Elliptic’s technology alone won’t allow manufactures to create entirely edgeless (or “bezel-free” as their known in the industry) designs, though. Aside from the proximity sensor, several other components such as the home button, camera, and speaker still live on the face of most smartphones.

It’s hard to say whether Elliptic’s technology would lower the cost of manufacturing a smartphone, or add to it. On one hand, it replaces the proximity sensor with software that uses existing hardware. This also frees up some space inside the phone since the proximity sensor, which itself measures approximately 3 millimeters by 2 mm, can be removed. On the other hand, manufacturers must pay to license the software, and installing a larger LCD display adds to a phone’s cost.

Now that Elliptic is drawing attention from manufacturers, Assimakopoulos hopes to work with as many partners as possible by licensing their patented software. He declined to comment on whether Elliptic might also be a candidate for acquisition, which would allow one company to keep their system from competitors. “We’re talking to several OEMs,” he said. “I will tell you that all OEMs have approached us inquiring about our technology since this phone was released.”

Though Assimakopoulos was hush-hush on the details of his conversations with manufacturers, he’s very confident that you’ll be seeing more almost-edgeless smartphone screens very soon. “There will be another phone that shows up this year with this technology,” he said.

LG Wins 21 CES 2017 Innovation Awards

LG has announced that they have won a total of 21 CES 2017 Innovation Awards for a range of devices which include their new LG OLED TVs, the LG V20 smartphone an more.

CES 2017 kicks off in January and LG are expected to show off a number of new devices at next years Consumer Electronics Show.

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The Consumer Technology Association (CTA™) is recognizing LG Electronics (LG) for groundbreaking innovations in technology and design with 21 CES 2017 Innovation Awards, including recognition for the company’s ultra-premium LG SIGNATURE product portfolio, OLED TV and the high performance LG V20 multimedia smartphone. This marks the fifth consecutive year that LG OLED TVs have received a CES Innovation Award, the official industry recognition for the most innovative products introduced at the largest annual consumer technology trade show.

CES 2017 also marks the 50th anniversary of the world’s largest tech trade show, which LG and its Zenith subsidiary have been a part of since its founding in 1967. LG was recognized in 11 highly competitive categories including Home Appliances, Home Audio & Video Components and Accessories, Wireless Handsets, Wireless Handset/Accessories, Video Displays, Smart Home, Headphones, Tech for a Better World, Eco-Design/Sustainable Technologies, Portable Media Players, and Computer Peripherals. The award-winning products will be exhibited at CES 2017 in Las Vegas from January 5-8, 2017.

You can find out more details about the 21 CES 2017 Innovation Awards that LG has won at the link below.