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Yahoo spins out Vespa, its search tech, into an independent company

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Yahoo, otherwise known as the company that pays my salary (full disclosure: Yahoo owns TC), today announced that it’s spinning off Vespa, the big data serving engine, into an independent venture.

Jon Bratseth, previously a VP architect in the big data and AI group at Yahoo and one of the main contributors to Vespa, has been appointed CEO.

Yahoo says it’ll continue to invest in Vespa (with cash) and remain its largest customer following the spin-out. Yahoo will also own a stake in Vespa and hold a seat on the spun-out firm’s board of directors.

Yahoo created Vespa back in 2005 after acquiring paid search service provider Overture, and, through it, a Norwegian search engine called AlltheWeb.com. Working with the e-commerce division within Yahoo, the AllTheWeb team of roughly 30 people retooled their search tech into a more general-purpose tool that Yahoo developers could use internally to compute over large-scale data sets in real time

Over the next decade or so, Yahoo expanded Vespa along several directions, enabling the tool to handle input beyond text strings, personalize content based on users’ click-through histories and take direction from machine learning algorithms. Then, in 2017, Yahoo open-sourced Vespa, hoping to rally developer support behind the software — and foster something of an ecosystem both internally and externally.

It was arguably Yahoo’s biggest open source software release since Hadoop in 2006, involving a substantial rewrite of the Vespa codebase by the Vespa group, still based in Norway. And it evidently paid off. Today, Vespa drives searches and related-article recommendations on Yahoo-owned sites like Flickr, and performs ad targeting on Yahoo-branded web properties such as Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo News and Yahoo’s advertising network.

Yahoo claims that it’s using around 150 apps created with Vespa, and that these apps collectively serve a user base of a billion people — processing 800,000 queries per second.

Outside of Yahoo, thousands of brands, including Spotify, OkCupid and Wix, now use either the open source release of Vespa or the cloud-hosted, fully managed version sold by Yahoo, Vespa Cloud. And Vespa’s open source package has been downloaded over 10 million times.

While there’s a number of open source alternatives to Vespa available, including Solr and ElasticSearch, Yahoo makes the case that Vespa goes “several steps further” than what’s on the market.

“The biggest differentiator stems from our vision of providing for the complete needs of any application that combines data and AI at scale online,” Bratseth told me via email. “We have a very experienced team who are all working on improving Vespa to this vision, and a culture of continuously shipping improvements, and — from what I can see — we’re still moving much faster than any others.”

So why spin Vespa out into its own company? Capacity, Bratseth says.

“A growing number of companies are asking to deploy their applications to our cloud service, and we’ll have more capacity to build out this functionality as a standalone,” he told me.

I wonder whether Yahoo’s plan to return to the public markets had something to do with the move, too. But neither Bratseth nor Lara Davis, Yahoo’s chief strategy officer, would confirm or deny this. (I tried to reach Yahoo CEO Jim Lanzone for comment through a Yahoo spokesperson, but was told he was traveling.)

“Since 2017, Vespa has been helping customers perform a variety of AI-powered tasks: searching millions of documents within a global organization, serving better data-driven online ads or allowing AI-based language apps the ability to scale,” Davis said. “We know Vespa is the market-leading technology for doing that at scale, so the opportunity for Yahoo to continue as both an investor and customer, continuing to root for their success, is a phenomenal outcome for everyone. As part of the deal we are migrating key proprietary and battle-tested platform technology to Vespa and will continue to support many of their systems as they transition to an independent company.”

Lazone did give a canned statement more or less echoing what Davis said:

“Vespa has been a critical component to Yahoo’s AI and machine learning capabilities across all of our properties for many years,” he said in a press release. “While remaining Vespa’s biggest customer and a key investor, we’ll continue to leverage all that Vespa has to offer while simultaneously creating a new business opportunity that allows other companies to harness its technology as an independent entity.”



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Neuralink’s Rival Company Precision Creates World Record By Placing Over 4,000 Electrodes In Human Brain

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Elon Musk-owned Neuralink’s rival Precision Neuroscience has set the world record for placing 4,096 electrodes in the human brain. It is double the number of electrodes placed last year – 2,048.

According to the official statement, the record-setting operation took place in April at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York, as part of an ongoing clinical trial for the brain chip.

Precision’s chip in the brain. Image: Precision Neuroscience

Precision’s implant uses a thin-film microelectrode array containing 1,024 miniature electrodes covering 1.6 square cm of area. Four such arrays were placed on the patient’s brain.

More number of electrodes will ensure higher data transmission to and from the brain, and this will determine the capability of the chip.

ALSO SEE: Neuralink’s Paralysed Patient Desires A Tesla Robot Assistant He Can Control With His Mind

“This record is a significant step towards a new era. The ability to capture cortical information of this magnitude and scale could allow us to understand the brain in a much deeper way,” said Benjamin Rapoport, Precision’s co-founder and Chief Science Officer.

Also a co-founder of Neuralink, Rapoport exited the company and established Precision with two other Neuralink members in 2021.

According to Ars Technica, he told The Wall Street Journal that the reason for his exit from Neuralink were the safety concerns regarding the brain implants which he says are too invasive.

ALSO SEE: Elon Musk’s Neuralink Gets Approval For Second Chip Implant In Human Brain

The company claims that its ‘Layer 7 Cortical Interface’ can conform to the brain’s cortex with minimal invasiveness and without damaging any tissue.

Neuralink is currently at the forefront in the brain-computer interface game. It implanted the chip in the first patient earlier this year and is preparing for the second operation.

As for Precision, it is testing its chip through research collaborations with West Virginia University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, Perelman School of Medicine (Penn Medicine), and New York’s Mount Sinai Health System.

(Image: Precision Neuroscience)





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Boeing To Launch Starliner With Sunita Williams Without Fixing The Leak: Report

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Boeing has decided to go ahead with Starliner’s crew launch without fixing the helium leak, a report said. Targeted for 9:55 pm on June 1, the Crew Flight Test mission of Boeing is its first with two astronauts – Sunita Williams and Barry Wilmore.

The company is already busy defending itself for the safety concers with its planes. This now seems to be spilling onto the space business, but NASA says it should not be a problem.

“We can handle this particular leak if that leak rate were to grow even up to 100 times,” Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said per Futurism, which quoted Agence France-Presse.

Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams at the Kennedy Space Center. Image: NASA

The leakage was detected on Starliner earlier this month after the launch was scrubbed on May 7. While that particular scrub was due to a malfunctioned valve on the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket, Starliner was found to be faulty a few days later due to the leakage in it service module.

ALSO SEE: Elon Musk Weighs In On Rival Boeing’s Failure To Reach Orbit; ‘Too Many Non-Technical Managers’

Amid the concerns, Stitch also reportedly cited the example of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft which launched despite losing fuel in 2022. The official said that the leak caused by a defective seal will only affect one of Starliner’s 28 attitude-control thrusters.

If the launch were to get delayed again for some reason, additional opportunities will be available on June 2, June 5 and June 6.

The mission is meant to test Starliner with Williams and Wilmore onboard as Boeing is looking to win a NASA contract for routine flights to the International Space Station (ISS). The leaky spacecraft is without a doubt a hazard which could be disastrous for the mission.

Starliner has faced several issues which included a flammable tape and a problematic parachute line which had to be removed a few weeks ago. The helium leak has now added to the problem.

Meanwhile, the astronauts have arrived at the Kennedy Space Center for the launch and are preparing for the third flight of their career.

ALSO SEE: NASA’s Partner Wants Boeing To Stop Crew Launch ‘Before Something Catastrophic Happens’

(Image: NASA)





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Agnikul Cosmos Calls Off Maiden Rocket Launch Seconds Before Lift Off

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Agnikul Cosmos’s maiden mission was scrubbed on May 28 again. The mission named SubOrbital Technological Demonstrator or SOrTeD will test the single-stage 6.2-meter-long Agnibaan rocket which is the first to use the entirely 3D printed engine.

According to the NDTV, the launch was called off just second before lift off from Agnikul’s spaceport ALP-01 at Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota. The launch was reportedly scheduled between 5:30 to 7:30 am.

This is the third time the launch was scrubbed close to the lift off. The previous attempt was foregone on April 7 at T-129 seconds. Agnikul’s first attempt was made on March 22 which was also scrubbed during countdown.

During the previous attempt, Agnikul said that the team stood down from launch due to a communication issue between two hardwares.

ALSO SEE: Indian Tech Startup To Create World’s First 3D-Printed Rocket Engine; All You Need To Know

The reason for not going ahead with the mission is yet to be revealed.

When it lifts off, Agnibaan will be powered by the semi-cryogenic Agnilet engine which uses kerosene and liquid oxygen.

Agnikul says that the Agnibaan rocket could be customised according to the customers needs. Measuring 18 meters tall, the rocket will be capable of transporting 100 kg to a 700 km orbit when it flies.

ALSO SEE: India Gets Its First Private Launch Pad, And It Will Give Space Sector A Major Boost; Here’s How

(Image: Agnikul Cosmos)





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