Yes, tech companies may listen when you talk to your virtual assistant. Here’s why that’s not likely to stop
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alexa machine sitting on a counter

Big tech companies don’t like to talk about it. And when users find out it’s happening, they’re often surprised — and disturbed. Yes, if you talk to a virtual assistant, such as Amazon’s Alexa, a human may listen to a recording of your chatter.

Recent reports have highlighted what is actually a longstanding practice meant largely to improve the artificial intelligence that underpins the virtual assistant-powered gadgets and services that are popping up throughout people’s homes and lives.

The practice raises privacy concerns for smart-speaker users in particular, who might have known that Amazon, Google, and Apple create recordings each time you speak to Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, respectively, but not that people might review them.

The companies have said only a small percentage of recordings are listened to by humans. Still, Google and Apple have temporarily halted human reviews of their recordings, while Amazon recently changed its settings to make it easier for people to avoid such review at all.

Last week, Facebook said it, too, had paused human review of some users’ audio clips, such as those sent as audio messages via the social network’s Messenger app. Facebook had been using humans to listen in, as part of an AI-transcription feature.

Lost in the shuffle of these revelations is whether people are truly needed to make these AI-dependent systems work, and how much companies should tell users about this process.

Continue on to CNN to read the complete article.

California Tech Hub Bitwise Industries Raises $50 Million In Quest To Diversify The Workforce
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professional shot of Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin Jr standing side by side smiling

When Jake Soberal founded tech hub Bitwise Industries alongside Irma Olguin Jr. in 2013, the “volume of injustice” for impoverished communities of systemic poverty rang at a medium decibel. Since then, the noise has noticeably increased.

“Trump gets elected, and now the volume is quite high. Then there’s a pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, and now the volume is deafeningly loud,” Soberal, 35, says. “There is no waiting [for our company]. Going slow is not an option. This is work that desperately needs to be scaled.”

Image: Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin Jr. were frustrated by the limited career prospects in their hometown, and wanted to find a solution. Photo Courtesy of Bitwise Industries

Bitwise Industries, which trains tech workers in marginalized communities, develops software and invests in tech-friendly real estate, announced today that it has secured $50 million in Series B funding from Kapor Capital, JPMorgan, Motley Fool Ventures and ProMedica. To date, Bitwise has raised $100 million at a valuation Forbes estimates at roughly $200 million.

A third-generation Mexican American and the first in her family to go to college, Olguin told Forbes in June that she’d been working to make coding instruction available to disadvantaged members of her local community when she met fellow Fresno, California, native and intellectual property lawyer Soberal. They teamed up to find a “fundamentally different way to rebuild American cities.”

In 2013, the pair established Geekwise Academy, the coding and tech skills boot camp arm of Bitwise. The downtown Fresno institution offers classes in website building and programming languages like HTML and JavaScript to people of all ages. In California alone, Bitwise has trained roughly 5,000 people, with more than 80% of them finding gainful technical employment.

Olguin and Soberal later launched Shift3 Technologies—a software development division that builds apps and custom programs for small and medium-sized businesses—to boost the hiring pipeline for Geekwise alumni.

Bitwise’s third business-line is investing in commercial real estate. In California, the cofounders have developed and leased 450,000 square feet of previously blighted, long-forgotten buildings, transforming them into coworking spaces, restaurants, theaters and other desirable commercial real estate.

With a 2020 revenue that Forbes estimates at $40 million, the company has expanded its three-pronged model from Fresno to Bakersfield, Merced and Oakland. With the new funding, Olguin and Soberal hope to move into markets outside California, starting with Toledo, Ohio.

“For the first time we can start thinking about what an equitable recovery looks like,” says Olguin, 40. “What does it actually mean to rebuild an American city coming out of the pandemic, and coming out of this age of justice? Bitwise can deliver to the world and to the cities a diverse and inclusive technology workforce, where those high-wage, high-skilled jobs now are creating and endeavoring to bolster that local economy.”

Read the complete article at Forbes.

Scientists clone the first U.S. endangered species
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close up image of a brown ferret peaking throght a tube

Scientists have cloned the first U.S. endangered species, a black-footed ferret duplicated from the genes of an animal that died over 30 years ago.

The slinky predator named Elizabeth Ann, born Dec. 10 and announced Thursday, is cute as a button. But watch out — unlike the domestic ferret foster mom who carried her into the world, she’s wild at heart.

“You might have been handling a black-footed ferret kit and then they try to take your finger off the next day,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service black-footed ferret recovery coordinator Pete Gober said Thursday. “She’s holding her own.”

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP

Elizabeth Ann was born and is being raised at a Fish and Wildlife Service black-footed ferret breeding facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. She’s a genetic copy of a ferret named Willa who died in 1988 and whose remains were frozen in the early days of DNA technology.

Cloning eventually could bring back extinct species such as the passenger pigeon. For now, the technique holds promise for helping endangered species including a Mongolian wild horse that was cloned and last summer born at a Texas facility.

“Biotechnology and genomic data can really make a difference on the ground with conservation efforts,” said Ben Novak, lead scientist with Revive & Restore, a biotechnology-focused conservation nonprofit that coordinated the ferret and horse clonings.

Black-footed ferrets are a type of weasel easily recognized by dark eye markings resembling a robber’s mask. Charismatic and nocturnal, they feed exclusively on prairie dogs while living in the midst of the rodents’ sometimes vast burrow colonies.

Even before cloning, black-footed ferrets were a conservation success story. They were thought extinct — victims of habitat loss as ranchers shot and poisoned off prairie dog colonies that made rangelands less suitable for cattle — until a ranch dog named Shep brought a dead one home in Wyoming in 1981.

Scientists gathered the remaining population for a captive breeding program that has released thousands of ferrets at dozens of sites in the western U.S., Canada and Mexico since the 1990s.

Lack of genetic diversity presents an ongoing risk. All ferrets reintroduced so far are the descendants of just seven closely related animals — genetic similarity that makes today’s ferrets potentially susceptible to intestinal parasites and diseases such as sylvatic plague.

Willa could have passed along her genes the usual way, too, but a male born to her named Cody “didn’t do his job” and her lineage died out, said Gober.

When Willa died, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department sent her tissues to a “frozen zoo” run by San Diego Zoo Global that maintains cells from more than 1,100 species and subspecies worldwide. Eventually scientists may be able to modify those genes to help cloned animals survive.

Read the original article on NBC News.

Hyundai: The Carmaker Aiming to Become a Tech Firm
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Black car by Hyundai

For a few weeks this year, South Korean carmaker Hyundai was dusted with the Apple magic. Last month Hyundai let slip that it was in talks with the maker of the iPhone to co-operate on a car project, but this week it said the talks were over.

However, this is by no means the end of Hyundai’s push into technology.

The car firm has been investing heavily in new technology with a string of partnerships, acquisitions and investments within the tech space.

Its takeover of robotics firm Boston Dynamics last year was a clear indication of the direction it is taking – into cutting-edge technology.

The whole auto industry has been forced to innovate as the move towards electric cars and autonomous vehicles accelerates.

Hyundai has been criticised in the past for lagging behind rivals in adopting emerging technologies but is fast catching up, sealing a string of alliances and investments with technology groups recently.

“Hyundai has a different set of motivations and more incentive to push the limit. They have been a lot more aggressive in reinventing themselves,” says Dale Hardcastle, a partner at consultancy firm Bain.

Hyundai has been ramping up the electrification of its line-up of cars with a dedicated battery electric vehicle (BEV) range called Ioniq.

Its aggressive electric car ambitions will see it launch 12 new BEV models over the next four years, and fully electrify its line-up around the globe by 2040.

Beyond battery electric vehicles, Hyundai has been busy developing charging points and hydrogen refuelling stations.

“It’s very clear where Hyundai sees its future. It’s a brand that wants to disrupt and push forward, to break up the status quo,” says Mr Hardcastle.

The purchase of a majority stake in Boston Dynamics in a $1.1bn (£810m) deal in December was seen as a major step to becoming a leader in car technology.

Boston Dynamics is a pioneer in consumer robotics, while it has a shared interest with Hyundai in autonomous driving and smart factories.

“Hyundai is being very responsive to the dynamic market trends,” says Bakar Sadik Agwan, senior automotive consulting analyst at GlobalData.

“With the automotive industry getting more dynamic day by day due to the fast technological advancements, companies need to transform their business strategies to secure their position in the future mobility era. Hyundai seems to be well on track in this direction.”

Read the full article at BBC.

Tesla buys $1.5B in Bitcoin, will begin accepting digital currency as payment soon
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elon Musk is pictured speaking to an audience using a microphone

Originally posted by Associated Press

Holders of Bitcoin may be able to cash in some of their investment in the digital currency for a brand new electric car.

Electric automaker Tesla said Monday that it has invested around $1.5 billion in Bitcoin and it plans to begin accepting the digital currency as payment for its high-end vehicles soon. The price of Bitcoin soared 15.4% to around $44,500 Monday in reaction to Tesla’s announcement, according to CoinBase.

The California-based electric car maker headed by Elon Musk revealed the new strategy in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, saying its investment in digital currency and other “alternative reserve assets” may grow.

Bitcoin has drawn enthusiasts for its scarcity and security, but the volatile digital currency still is not widely used to pay for goods and services. It’s mostly been a store of value, like gold, with some limited merchants like Overstock accepting bitcoin for payment. It’s also used by those distrustful of the banking system or criminals seeking to launder money.

Whether other major companies will follow Tesla’s lead in investing in Bitcoin or accepting it for transactions is unclear. A vehicle is a large purchase, which could make Bitcoin a better fit to pay for it, but the wild price swings in Bitcoin could be a significant risk to any merchant who decided to accept it.

“It was wise of Tesla to announce that it will deem its investment in Bitcoin as an “alternative asset.” That is certainly appropriate, because Bitcoin might be coming into greater acceptance as currency, but it is not cash,” said Anthony Michael Sabino, a professor of law, at St. John’s University.

Tesla said last month that it had cash and cash equivalents of $19.4 billion after selling new shares to take advantage of a rising stock price. Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said the move gives Tesla “more flexibility to further diversify and maximize returns on its cash.”

Tesla is in a unique position to accept digital currencies for payment, since the automaker does not rely on a network of independently owned dealerships to sell its vehicles unlike traditional car companies such as General Motors and Ford.

“It certainly seems that beyond embracing it as a store of value for his own trust or his own assets, it does appear that (Musk is) embracing it as a transactional tool as well,” said Michael Venuto, co-portfolio manager of the Amplify Transformational Data Sharing fund, an exchange-traded fund that tries to invest in digital currency technologies.

Venuto’s fund holds a small amount of Bitcoin but mostly invests in companies that build around such technologies.

Even with Tesla’s support, it could take some time before those who’ve made money investing in Bitcoin to use it to buy a car.

Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.com, doesn’t expect it to become commonplace because most people take loans to buy their vehicles or lease them and don’t pay in cash, said Plus, most people at present would not be comfortable taking a risk with cryptocurrency on such an expensive purchase, she said.

Other experts say it’s just a matter of time before Bitcoin finds more widespread use in transactions.

“I think the trend is inexorable,” said Richard Lyons, a finance professor at the University of California at Berkeley, predicting Bitcoin and other digital currencies “will become transactional currencies increasingly over the next five years. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Whether Tesla will get a definitive competitive advantage in accepting Bitcoin remains to be seen. The automaker could be simply investing in Bitcoin because Musk has been known to have eclectic tastes. Musk launched a Tesla car into space to demonstrate the payload capabilities of his SpaceX company rockets.

Similar to Tesla, Virginia-based MicroStrategy Inc. announced in August that it would use some of the excess cash on its balance sheet to invest in alternative assets such as Bitcoin. The move has paid off so far. As of Feb. 2, the business analytics company said it held 71,079 Bitcoins that it purchased for an aggregate price of $1.15 billion since last summer. Using a value of $44,500, those bitcoins are worth $3.16 billion.

Continue on to the Associated Press to read the complete article.

Biden Plans To Replace Government Fleet With Electric Vehicles
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Photo of a white tesla on the road with factory in the background

President Joe Biden plans to replace the government’s fleet of cars and trucks with electric vehicles assembled in the U.S., he said Monday when signing a new “Buy America” executive order.

The government is a major purchaser of vehicles. However, replacing such a fleet with American-produced EVs will be costly and take time. There are currently only a handful of all-electric vehicles being assembled in the U.S. Tesla, General Motors and Nissan Motor produce EVs domestically, while Ford Motor and others have announced

(Image Credit – Gene Blevins, Reuters)

plans to do so.

“The current offerings are pretty slim, but the industry’s about to unleash an avalanche of new product, and a lot of it built in North America,” Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research, told CNBC. “Just about every U.S. plant is going to have a hybrid or electric product.”

It’s unclear whether Biden’s plan includes plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which use a combination of EV motors and traditional internal combustion engines. When discussing the plans, he referred to the new fleet being made up of electric vehicles “that are net zero emissions.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The “Buy America” executive order did not directly address the purchase of electric vehicles.

As of 2019, the U.S. government had 645,000 vehicles that were driven 4.5 billion miles and consumed 375 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel, according to the General Services Administration (GSA). About 35% of those vehicles were operated by the U.S. Postal Service, according to GSA.

Read the full article at CNBC News.
Is Tesla really worth $500 billion?
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graphic of elon musk with pink and orange background and tesla label

By Rory Cellan-Jones for BBC News

It was the week when Elon Musk soared past Bill Gates to become the world’s second richest person, as Tesla’s value topped $500bn.

On Tech Tent, we ask just why investors think the electric car company is worth so much more than it was a year ago. At the beginning of 2020, Tesla was valued by the stock market at around $80bn – and even then, sceptics thought that was a high price for a business that was barely profitable.

(Image Credit – Getty Images)

Throughout the year its shares have soared, and its valuation climbed above $500bn on the news that the business was going to be included in the S&P 500 index of leading companies.

Just to put that into context: Tesla is now worth more than Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, GM and Ford put together.

‘You’re being too rational!’

I’ve done some back-of-the-envelope calculations and those businesses, some of which are undoubtedly ailing, made a combined profit of more than $50bn last year.

This year, Tesla is on course to make something like $1bn. So to believe the current valuation, surely you have to have some confidence that its technology and its market dominance will deliver a 50-fold increase in profits over the not too distant future?

“You’re being too rational!” Passion Capital’s Eileen Burbidge told me when I put it to her that Tesla’s sky-high share price simply didn’t add up.

“All it means is that the people who are buying the stock at this price believe they’re going to be able to sell it at a higher price.”

Eileen’s work as a venture capitalist is all about putting a value on companies which are at a much earlier stage than Tesla – and she tells Tech Tent that this is often a similarly irrational process, dependent on the mood in the wider market, and not just the qualities of individual businesses.

Tesla’s many fans will rightly point out that it has sent the automotive industry in a new direction, has unique battery technology with many other applications, and has a visionary leader.

But that was all true at the beginning of 2020 when it was worth a mere $80bn.

A short-term bet

“There are clearly no business fundamentals that point to a five-six times increase in its valuation just since the beginning of the year,” Eileen Burbidge told me. But she returns to her point that investors are making a short-term bet.

“I would like to think that the markets are fundamentally rational at the end of the day. I think the question is one’s time horizon. These buyers – they really believe they’re going to be able to sell at a higher price. And so far, by the way, they’ve been right.”

It is foolish to try to apply too much logic to short-term moves in shares. When asked by his editors why prices were rising, one legendary Fleet Street stock market correspondent used to reply “more buyers than sellers”, giving the opposite answer when the market was falling.

Just like a bottle of 1945 Burgundy, or a Picasso, or a tiny flat in London or San Francisco, Tesla’s “value” is whatever someone is willing to pay for it, however irrational the price may seem.

Nevertheless, one person who should know said months ago that the electric car company was overvalued, tweeting on 1 May: “Tesla stock price is too high imo”.

Who says? Well, it was Elon Musk himself – and the tweet knocked $14bn off the company’s value.

Since then, the share price has increased fourfold – but, hey, what does he know?

Read the original article at BBC News.

Stressed out? Blame bad technology
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By Reuters

There is no question that we are all more dependent on technology than ever. So what happens when that tech does not work?

In the past, Emily Dreyfuss used an old-school strategy: She yelled.

When Amazon’s Alexa spat out wrong answers or misunderstood questions, Dreyfuss let the virtual assistant have it.

“I used her as a scapegoat for my feelings,” said Dreyfuss, a writer and editor for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. “When you have a non-sentient and annoying device in your home, who isn’t doing what you want, I talked to her in not the nicest terms. And my husband ganged up on her, too.”

Tech frustrations like this have happened to all of us. Your wifi is always dropping out. Your passwords do not work. Your laptop crashes, and you lose everything you were working on. Just reading about those possibilities could be enough to raise your blood pressure.

Technology can damage our state of mind, and new research is bearing that out: Computer giant Dell Technologies, in partnership with neuroscience firm EMOTIV, put people through a gauntlet of bad tech experiences, and then measured their brainwaves to gauge their reactions.

Test subjects had trouble logging on, or had to navigate sluggish applications, or saw their spreadsheets crash.

“The moment people started using bad technology, we saw a doubling of their levels of stress,” said Olivier Oullier, EMOTIV’s president. “I was a bit surprised by that, because you rarely see those levels going so high. Tech stress had a lasting effect, Oullier added. “People don’t relax back into calmness quickly. It takes a long time.”

Company bottom lines have suffered along with the mental health of employees. Constant frustration with bad tech affects how staffers handle their daily workloads, especially younger workers. Gen Z and Millennial test subjects saw a whopping 30% productivity drop as a result.

“Bad experiences affect you regardless of computer literacy,” said Cile Montgomery, who leads customer experience initiatives for Dell. “But young people seem to be even more impacted, because they expect technology to work.”

Read the full article at Reuters.

The Problem With Technology
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computer technologies UI by Artificial intelligence (AI) hand touching low poly icon

By Forbes

What company these days doesn’t want to adopt the latest technology? Many companies today are like the proverbial kid in the candy store, reaching for the latest tools that come with shiny buzzwords like “AI” and “machine learning.” But while embracing technology can bring a lot of positive changes, the right technology is needed — not just the latest one. And all too often, companies lack solid criteria according to which to choose their tech stack.

I will share some observations of common shortcomings of technologies based on my experiences working with banks, insurers, telecoms and companies. Having worked with them and heard their experiences, I’ve come to identify the types of technologies that are more likely to provide a high ROI.

Here are some of the most common technology pitfalls, as well as the characteristics of technologies that are more likely to deliver. Despite high expectations, many technologies:

1. Are Static And Inflexible

Many tools are great for a limited time and then quickly outgrow their purpose. For example, portal apps, which are web-accessible tools that deliver additional services, are time-bound and not future-proof. Core systems also frequently have this issue. They become such an ingrained part of a company’s backend that they are cumbersome and expensive to adjust, let alone replace.

2. Promote Painful IT Siloes 

Many technologies are not easily integrated and thus promote siloes. For example, the analytics team may be able to generate business intelligence insights in the form of quarterly reports. Yet by the time these reports become available to the larger organization, they are already less relevant. Technology that isn’t real-time, that doesn’t make information widely available and actionable in the moment loses its purpose. Systems that don’t speak to each other in a holistic, timely way make it harder for different teams to coordinate their efforts. Ultimately, these IT siloes hurt end-customers.

3. Serve As Mere Point Solutions

Point solutions may be based on the latest technology, but they won’t be effective if they overlook the context of the greater problem or journey. For instance, an organization may allow customers to begin a process online, but then divert them to a physical location to complete it. Such technology will only frustrate customers. Imagine the frustration of customers who are able to add an e-signature to their documents, but must print and mail those documents — breaking the digital flow.

Continue to the full article at Forbes.

Farmworker turned astronaut Jose Hernandez urges kids not to give up
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Astronaut Jose Hernandez in spacesuit smiling holding his space suit helmet

Former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez spent most of his youth working the fields.

So many kids have struggled with remote learning, but Hernandez wants them all to know when it comes to their future, the sky’s the limit.

As a young boy, Hernandez picked fruits and vegetables alongside his family.

“We spent nine months in California, three months in Mexico, but those nine months I went to three different school districts,” he explained.

The family settled in Stockton. Jose couldn’t speak English until he was 12 years old, but STEM subjects spoke to him.

“I gravitated towards math because 1 + 3 is 4 in any language,” Hernandez said.

When he was ten, Jose told his dad he wanted to be an astronaut, so his father laid out a five-part recipe for success.

First, set a goal. Then recognize how far away you are from that goal.

“The third thing is you have to draw yourself a road map to know where you’re at to where you want to go,” Hernandez added. “And then I asked what’s the fourth? He said you’ve got to get an education.”

The University of the Pacific grad called hard work the fifth ingredient.

But his path was a difficult one.

“NASA rejected me not once, not twice, not three times but 11 times. It wasn’t until the 12th time that I got selected,” he said.

Hernandez would blast off with the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2009.

“It’s a ride that even Disneyland would be envious of because you go from zero to 17,500 miles an hour in eight and a half minutes,” he recalled.

Jose worked on the International Space Station during the 14-day trip, which covered 5.4 million miles.

“I wish we had a frequent flyer program,” Hernandez laughed.

He circled the globe 217 times but remains a down to Earth guy who tells kids how to realize their own dreams.

“Hard work and perseverance and not being afraid to dream big,” he said.

Continue on to the NBC 7 to read the complete article.

New type of atomic clock keeps time even more precisely
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A newly-designed atomic clock uses entangled atoms to keep time even more precisely than its state-of-the-art counterparts. The design could help scientists detect dark matter and study gravity’s effect on time.

Atomic clocks are the most precise timekeepers in the world. These exquisite instruments use lasers to measure the vibrations of atoms, which oscillate at a constant frequency, like many microscopic pendulums swinging in sync. The best atomic clocks in the world keep time with such precision that, if they had been running since the beginning of the universe, they would only be off by about half a second today.

(Image credit – Science Daily)

Still, they could be even more precise. If atomic clocks could more accurately measure atomic vibrations, they would be sensitive enough to detect phenomena such as dark matter and gravitational waves. With better atomic clocks, scientists could also start to answer some mind-bending questions, such as what effect gravity might have on the passage of time and whether time itself changes as the universe ages.

Now a new kind of atomic clock designed by MIT physicists may enable scientists explore such questions and possibly reveal new physics.

The researchers report in the journal Nature that they have built an atomic clock that measures not a cloud of randomly oscillating atoms, as state-of-the-art designs measure now, but instead atoms that have been quantumly entangled. The atoms are correlated in a way that is impossible according to the laws of classical physics, and that allows the scientists to measure the atoms’ vibrations more accurately. The new setup can achieve the same precision four times faster than clocks without entanglement.

“Entanglement-enhanced optical atomic clocks will have the potential to reach a better precision in one second than current state-of-the-art optical clocks,” says lead author Edwin Pedrozo-Peñafiel, a postdoc in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics.

If state-of-the-art atomic clocks were adapted to measure entangled atoms the way the MIT team’s setup does, their timing would improve such that, over the entire age of the universe, the clocks would be less than 100 milliseconds off.

Read the full article at Science Daily.

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  1. Commercial UAV Expo Americas, Las Vegas
    September 7, 2021 - September 9, 2021
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    October 26, 2021 - October 29, 2021
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    February 6, 2022 - February 8, 2022