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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

Open Source CPU Architecture RISC-V Is Gaining Momentum
The CEO of the RISC-V Foundation (a former IBM executive) touted the open-source CPU architecture at this year's HiPEAC conference, arguing there's "a growing demand for custom processors purpose-built to meet the power and performance requirements of specific applications..."As I've been travelling across the globe to promote the benefits of RISC-V at events and meet with our member companies, it's really stuck me how the level of commitment to drive the mainstream adoption of RISC-V is like nothing I've seen before. It's exhilarating to witness our community collaborate across industries and geographies with the shared goal of accelerating the RISC-V ecosystem...With more than 420 organizations, individuals and universities that are members of the RISC-V Foundation, there is a really vibrant community collaborating together to drive the progression of ratified specs, compliance suites and other technical deliverables for the RISC-V ecosystem. While RISC-V has a BSD open source license, designers are welcome to develop proprietary implementations for commercial use as they see fit. RISC-V offers a variety of commercial benefits, enabling companies to accelerate development time while also reducing strategic risk and overall costs. Thanks to these design and cost benefits, I'm confident that members will continue to actively contribute to the RISC-V ecosystem to not only drive innovation forward, but also benefit their bottom line... I don't have a favorite project, but rather I love the amazing spectrum that RISC-V is engaged in — from a wearable health monitor to scaled out cloud data centres, from universities in Pakistan to the University of Bologna in Italy or Barcelona Supercomputing Center in Spain, from design tools to foundries, from the most renowned global tech companies to entrepreneurs raising their first round of capital. Our community is broad, deep, growing and energized... The RISC-V ecosystem is poised to significantly grow over the next five years. Semico Research predicts that the market will consume a total of 62.4 billion RISC-V central processing unit (CPU) cores by 2025! By that time I look forward to seeing many new types of RISC-V implementations including innovative consumer devices, industrial applications, high performance computing applications and much more... Unlike legacy instruction set architectures (ISAs) which are decades old and are not designed to handle the latest workloads, RISC-V has a variety of advantages including its openness, simplicity, clean-slate design, modularity, extensibility and stability. Thanks to these benefits, RISC-V is ushering in a new era of silicon design and processor innovation. They also highlighted a major advantage. RISC-V "provides the flexibility to create thousands of possible custom processors. Since implementation is not defined at the ISA level, but rather by the composition of the system-on-chip and other design attributes, engineers can choose to go big, small, powerful or lightweight with their designs."

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Radical Hydrogen-Boron Reactor Leapfrogs Current Nuclear Fusion Tech
HB11 Energy, a spin-out company originating at the University of New South Wales, claims its hydrogen-boron fusion technology is already working a billion times better than expected. Along with this announcement, the company also announced a swag of patents through Japan, China and the USA protecting its unique approach to fusion energy generation. New Atlas reports: The results of decades of research by Emeritus Professor Heinrich Hora, HB11's approach to fusion does away with rare, radioactive and difficult fuels like tritium altogether -- as well as those incredibly high temperatures. Instead, it uses plentiful hydrogen and boron B-11, employing the precise application of some very special lasers to start the fusion reaction. Here's how HB11 describes its "deceptively simple" approach: the design is "a largely empty metal sphere, where a modestly sized HB11 fuel pellet is held in the center, with apertures on different sides for the two lasers. One laser establishes the magnetic containment field for the plasma and the second laser triggers the 'avalanche' fusion chain reaction. The alpha particles generated by the reaction would create an electrical flow that can be channeled almost directly into an existing power grid with no need for a heat exchanger or steam turbine generator." HB11's Managing Director Dr. Warren McKenzie clarifies over the phone: "A lot of fusion experiments are using the lasers to heat things up to crazy temperatures -- we're not. We're using the laser to massively accelerate the hydrogen through the boron sample using non-linear forced. You could say we're using the hydrogen as a dart, and hoping to hit a boron , and if we hit one, we can start a fusion reaction. That's the essence of it. If you've got a scientific appreciation of temperature, it's essentially the speed of atoms moving around. Creating fusion using temperature is essentially randomly moving atoms around, and hoping they'll hit one another, our approach is much more precise." He continues: "The hydrogen/boron fusion creates a couple of helium atoms. They're naked heliums, they don't have electrons, so they have a positive charge. We just have to collect that charge. Essentially, the lack of electrons is a product of the reaction and it directly creates the current." The lasers themselves rely upon cutting-edge "Chirped Pulse Amplification" technology, the development of which won its inventors the 2018 Nobel prize in Physics. Much smaller and simpler than any of the high-temperature fusion generators, HB11 says its generators would be compact, clean and safe enough to build in urban environments. There's no nuclear waste involved, no superheated steam, and no chance of a meltdown. "This is brand new," Professor Hora tells us. "10-petawatt power laser pulses. It's been shown that you can create fusion conditions without hundreds of millions of degrees. This is completely new knowledge. I've been working on how to accomplish this for more than 40 years. It's a unique result. Now we have to convince the fusion people -- it works better than the present day hundred million degree thermal equilibrium generators. We have something new at hand to make a drastic change in the whole situation. A substitute for carbon as our energy source. A radical new situation and a new hope for energy and the climate."

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France Shuts Down Oldest Reactors, But Nuclear Power Still Reigns
An anonymous reader shares a report from Agence France-Presse (AFP): France will start closing its oldest atomic power plant on Saturday after 43 years in operation, the first in a series of reactor shutdowns but hardly a signal the country will reduce its reliance on nuclear energy anytime soon. Unplugging the two reactors at Fessenheim, along the Rhine near France's eastern border with Germany and Switzerland, became a key goal of anti-nuclear campaigners after the catastrophic meltdown at Fukushima in Japan in 2011. Experts have noted that construction and safety standards at Fessenheim, brought online in 1977, fall far short of those at Fukushima, with some warning that seismic and flooding risks in the Alsace region had been underestimated. Despite a pledge by ex-president Francois Hollande just months after Fukushima to close the plant, it was not until 2018 that President Emmanuel Macron's government gave the final green light. The first reactor will start being shut down on Saturday and the second on June 30, though it will be several months before they go cold and the used fuel can start to be removed. France will still be left with 56 pressurized water reactors at 18 nuclear power plants -- only the United States has more reactors, at 98 -- generating an unmatched 70 percent of its electricity needs. The government confirmed in January that it aims to shut down 12 more reactors nearing or exceeding their original 40-year age limit by 2035, when nuclear power should represent just 50 percent of its energy mix. But at the same time, state-owned energy giant EDF is racing to get its first next-generation reactor running at the Flamanville plant in 2022 -- 10 years behind schedule -- and more may be in the pipeline.

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A New Use For McDonald's Used Cooking Oil: 3D Printing
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: Professor Andre Simpson had a problem. The University of Toronto's Scarborough campus was paying through the nose for a crucial material for its 3D printer. Few would have guessed McDonald's would come to the rescue. Simpson is director of the school's Environmental NMR Center dedicated to environmental research. Central to this research is an analytical tool called the NMR spectrometer. NMR stands for nuclear magnetic resonance and is technically similar to how an MRI works for medical diagnostics. Simpson had bought a 3D printer for the lab in 2017. He hoped to use it to build custom parts that kept organisms alive inside of the NMR spectrometer for his research. But the commercial resin he needed for high-quality light projection 3D printing (where light is used to form a solid) of those parts was expensive. The dominant material for light projection printing is liquid plastic, which can cost upward of $500 a liter, according to Simpson. Simpson closely analyzed the resin and spotted a connection. The molecules making up the commercial plastic resin were similar to fats found in ordinary cooking oil. What came next was the hardest part of the two-year experiment for Simpson and his team of 10 students -- getting a large sample batch of used cooking oil. "We reached out to all of the fast-food restaurants around us. They all said no," said Simpson. Except for McDonald's. After filtering out chunks of food particles and experimenting with the oil for several months, the team was able to successfully print a high-quality butterfly with details as minute as 100 micrometers in size. "The experiment yielded a commercially viable resin that Simpson estimates could be sourced as cheaply as 30 cents a liter of waste oil," reports CNN. Another bonus: it is biodegradable. Simpson and his team published their research in December 2019 in industry publication ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

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Larry Tesler, Computer Scientist Who Created Cut, Copy, and Paste, Dies At 74
Larry Tesler, a computer scientist who created the terms "cut," "copy," and "paste," has passed away at the age of 74. Gizmodo reports: Born in 1945 in New York, Tesler went on to study computer science at Stanford University, and after graduation he dabbled in artificial intelligence research (long before it became a deeply concerning tool) and became involved in the anti-war and anti-corporate monopoly movements, with companies like IBM as one of his deserving targets. In 1973 Tesler took a job at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) where he worked until 1980. Xerox PARC is famously known for developing the mouse-driven graphical user interface we now all take for granted, and during his time at the lab Tesler worked with Tim Mott to create a word processor called Gypsy that is best known for coining the terms "cut," "copy," and "paste" when it comes to commands for removing, duplicating, or repositioning chunks of text. Xerox PARC is also well known for not capitalizing on the groundbreaking research it did in terms of personal computing, so in 1980 Tesler transitioned to Apple Computer where he worked until 1997. Over the years he held countless positions at the company including Vice President of AppleNet (Apple's in-house local area networking system that was eventually canceled), and even served as Apple's Chief Scientist, a position that at one time was held by Steve Wozniak, before eventually leaving the company. In addition to his contributions to some of Apple's most famous hardware, Tesler was also known for his efforts to make software and user interfaces more accessible. In addition to the now ubiquitous "cut," "copy," and "paste" terminologies, Tesler was also an advocate for an approach to UI design known as modeless computing, which is reflected in his personal website. In essence, it ensures that user actions remain consistent throughout an operating system's various functions and apps. When they've opened a word processor, for instance, users now just automatically assume that hitting any of the alphanumeric keys on their keyboard will result in that character showing up on-screen at the cursor's insertion point. But there was a time when word processors could be switched between multiple modes where typing on the keyboard would either add characters to a document or alternately allow functional commands to be entered.

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Protein-Powered Device Creates Electricity From Moisture In the Air
Slashdot readers fahrbot-bot and operator_error share a report from Phys.Org: Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a device that uses a natural protein to create electricity from moisture in the air, a new technology they say could have significant implications for the future of renewable energy, climate change and in the future of medicine. As reported today in Nature, the laboratories of electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley at UMass Amherst have created a device they call an "Air-gen," or air-powered generator, with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter. The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere. The new technology developed in Yao's lab is non-polluting, renewable and low-cost. It can generate power even in areas with extremely low humidity such as the Sahara Desert. It has significant advantages over other forms of renewable energy including solar and wind, Lovley says, because unlike these other renewable energy sources, the Air-gen does not require sunlight or wind, and "it even works indoors." The Air-gen device requires only a thin film of protein nanowires less than 10 microns thick, the researchers explain. The bottom of the film rests on an electrode, while a smaller electrode that covers only part of the nanowire film sits on top. The film adsorbs water vapor from the atmosphere. A combination of the electrical conductivity and surface chemistry of the protein nanowires, coupled with the fine pores between the nanowires within the film, establishes the conditions that generate an electrical current between the two electrodes. "We are literally making electricity out of thin air," says Yao. "The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7." Lovely adds, "It's the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet." The current generation of Air-gen devices can power small electronics, and they are expected to be brought to commercial scale soon.

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Samsung Wins 5-Nanometer Modem Chip Contract From Qualcomm
Samsung Electronics semiconductor manufacturing division has won a contract to make new Qualcomm 5G chips using its most advanced chip-making technology, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the matter said, boosting the Korean firm's efforts to gain market share against rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing. From the report: Samsung will fabricate at least some of Qualcomm's X60 modem chips, which will connect devices such as smart phones to 5G wireless data networks. The X60 will be made on Samsung's 5-nanometer process, the sources said, which makes the chips smaller and more power-efficient than previous generations. One of the sources said TSMC is also expected to fabricate 5-nanometer modems for Qualcomm. Samsung and Qualcomm declined to comment, and TSMC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Best known among consumers for its phones and other electronic devices, Samsung is the world's second-biggest chip manufacturer through its foundry division, self-supplying many of its own mobile phone parts and also fabricating chips for outside customers such as IBM and Nvidia, among others.

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US Mulls Cutting Huawei Off From Global Chip Suppliers
The Trump administration is considering changing U.S. regulations to allow it to block shipments of chips to Huawei from companies such as Taiwan's TSMC, the world's largest contract chipmaker. Reuters reports: New restrictions on commerce with China's Huawei are among several options to be considered at high-level U.S. meetings this week and next. The chip proposal has been drafted but its approval is far from certain, one of the sources said. The measure would be a blow to the world's no. 2 smartphone maker as well as to TSMC, a major producer of chips for Huawei's HiSilicon unit and mobile phone rivals Apple and Qualcomm. "What they're trying to do is make sure that no chips go to Huawei that they can possibly control," the second source said. To target global chip sales to Huawei, U.S. authorities would alter the Foreign Direct Product Rule, which subjects some foreign-made goods based on U.S. technology or software to U.S. regulations. Under the draft proposal, the U.S. government would force foreign companies that use U.S. chipmaking equipment to seek a U.S. license before supplying Huawei -- a major expansion of export control authority that could anger U.S. allies worldwide.

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Samsung's 'Ultra Thin Glass' On Galaxy Z Flip Is Basically Just Plastic
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: YouTuber JerryRigEverything regularly does destructive durability tests on phones, partly by attacking a device with a set of Mohs picks. These pointy metal tools that are calibrated to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness allow a user to determine the hardness of a surface by doing a scratch test. You start with the softest pick and work your way up the set until you find something that can scratch the surface you're testing. A modern smartphone with Corning's Gorilla Glass scratches at level 6 on the Mohs hardness scale. The Galaxy Z Flip features a first-of-its-kind flexible glass cover that Samsung calls "Ultra-Thin Glass." Until now, foldables have had to suffer through life with plastic display covers, which scratch easily, don't provide much protection, and just like a resistive touchscreen, feel bad to swipe around on, thanks to the squishy pliability of the display. With this new invention of flexible glass, the Z Flip promised a return to a hard, smooth, scratch-resistant display surface. So how did the Z Flip fare against JerryRigEverything's Mohs picks? It scratches at level 2, the same level as the plastic-covered Galaxy Fold and Moto Razr. You can actually leave marks on the surface with a fingernail! This is not what Samsung was promising. Samsung sent The Verge a response to the video, reiterating that the display is actually "glass." "Galaxy Z Flip features an Infinity Flex Display with Samsung's Ultra Thin Glass (UTG) to deliver a sleek, premium look and offer an immersive viewing experience," Samsung told the site. "Samsung's first-of-its-kind UTG technology is different from other Galaxy flagship devices. While the display does bend, it should be handled with care. Also, Galaxy Z Flip has a protective layer on top of the UTG similar to Galaxy Fold." In Samsung's official Z Flip videos, the company shows a plastic "protective layer" going on top of the glass display. But as Ars Technica notes, this layer is not removable and JerryRigEverything's video shows that the underlying "glass" layer doesn't provide protection from punctures, either. With that said, "One Twitter user cracked their Galaxy Z Flip on the first fold, possibly due to cold weather," reports Ars. "So we know it can shatter, at least."

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Dark Mode vs. Light Mode: Which Is Better?
Recently a well-respected UI consulting firm (the Nielsen Norman Group) published their analysis of academic studies on the question of whether Dark Mode or Light Mode was better for reading?Cosima Piepenbrock and her colleagues at the Institut für Experimentelle Psychologie in Düsseldorf, Germany studied two groups of adults with normal (or corrected-to-normal) vision: young adults (18 to 33 years old) and older adults (60 to 85 years old). None of the participants suffered from any eye diseases (e.g., cataract)... Their results showed that light mode won across all dimensions: irrespective of age, the positive contrast polarity was better for both visual-acuity tasks and for proofreading tasks... Another study, published in the journal Human Factors by the same research group, looked at how text size interacts with contrast polarity in a proofreading task. It found that the positive-polarity advantage increased linearly as the font size was decreased: namely, the smaller the font, the better it is for users to see the text in light mode. Interestingly, even though their performance was better in the light mode, participants in the study did not report any difference in their perception of text readability (e.g., their ability to focus on text) in light versus dark mode — which only reinforces the first rule of usability: don't listen to users... While dark mode may present some advantages for some low-vision users — in particular, those with cloudy ocular media such as cataract, the research evidence points in the direction of an advantage of positive polarity for normal-vision users. In other words, in users with normal vision, light mode leads to better performance most of the time... These findings are best explained by the fact that, with positive contrast polarity, there is more overall light and so the pupil contracts more. As a result, there are fewer spherical aberrations, greater depth of field, and overall better ability to focus on details without tiring the eyes... That being said, we strongly recommend that designers allow users to switch to dark mode if they want to — for three reasons: (1) there may be long-term effects associated with light mode; (2) some people with visual impairments will do better with dark mode; and (3) some users simply like dark mode better. The long-term effects associated with light mode come from an "intriguing" 2018 study they found which argued that reading white text from a black screen or tablet "may be a way to inhibit myopia, while conventional black text on white background may stimulate myopia..." The researchers wrote that myopia "is tightly linked to the educational status and is on the rise worldwide."

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OpenPower Foundation Releases a Friendly EULA For IBM's Power ISA RISC
Long-time Slashdot reader lkcl writes: Michael Larabel, of Phoronix, writes that the OpenPower Foundation has released a license agreement for Hardware Vendors to implement the Power ISA RISC instruction set in their processors. Hugh Blemings, the Director of OpenPower, was responsible for ensuring that the EULA is favourable and friendly towards Libre and Open Hardware projects and businesses. Of particular interest is that IBM's massive patent portfolio is automatically granted, royalty-free as long as two conditions apply: firstly, the hardware must be fully and properly Power ISA compliant, and secondly, the implementor must not "try it on" as a patent troll. Innovation in the RISC space just got a little more interesting. "Amidst the fully free and open RISC-V ISA making headway into the computing market, and ARM feeling pressured to loosen up its licensing, it seems they figured that it's best to join the party early," argues Hackaday.

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Bill Gates Did Not Order a £500m Hydrogen-Powered Superyacht
"Billionaire Bill Gates has not commissioned a hydrogen-powered superyacht from designer Sinot," reports the BBC, citing their direct confirmation from the company itself.It has been widely reported that Mr Gates ordered a £500m ($644m) luxury vessel, based on the concept which was displayed in Monaco in 2019. Sinot said it had "no business relationship" with Bill Gates. It added that that the concept yacht, called Aqua, was "not linked" to either him or any of his representatives. "Aqua is a concept under development and has not been sold to Mr. Gates," a spokeswoman said. The Guardian has now removed their original article. But here's what they'd originally reported: Bill Gates has ordered the world's first hydrogen-powered superyacht, worth an estimated £500m ($644m) and featuring an infinity pool, helipad, spa and gym... The boat has five decks and space to accommodate 14 guests and 31 crew members. In a further environmentally friendly feature, gel-fuelled fire bowls allow guests to stay warm outside without having to burn wood or coals. But its most cutting-edge feature is tucked away below decks – two 28-tonne vacuum-sealed tanks that are cooled to -423F (-253C) and filled with liquid hydrogen, which powers the ship. The fuel will generate power for the two one-megawatt motors and propellors via on-board fuel cells, which combine hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity. Water is a byproduct.

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Activate this 'Bracelet of Silence,' and Alexa Can't Eavesdrop
Ben Zhao and his wife, Heather Zheng, computer science professors at the University of Chicago, designed what they are calling a "bracelet of silence" that will jam the Echo or any other microphones in the vicinity from listening in on the wearer's conversations. The New York Times reports: The bracelet is like an anti-smartwatch, both in its cyberpunk aesthetic and in its purpose of defeating technology. A large, somewhat ungainly white cuff with spiky transducers, the bracelet has 24 speakers that emit ultrasonic signals when the wearer turns it on. The sound is imperceptible to most ears, with the possible exception of young people and dogs, but nearby microphones will detect the high-frequency sound instead of other noises. "It's so easy to record these days," Mr. Lopes said. "This is a useful defense. When you have something private to say, you can activate it in real time. When they play back the recording, the sound is going to be gone." During a phone interview, Mr. Lopes turned on the bracelet, resulting in static-like white noise for the listener on the other end. At this point, the bracelet is just a prototype. The researchers say that they could manufacture it for as little as $20, and that a handful of investors have asked them about commercializing it. "The 'bracelet of silence' is not the first device invented by researchers to stuff up digital assistants' ears," the report notes. "In 2018, two designers created Project Alias, an appendage that can be placed over a smart speaker to deafen it. But Ms. Zheng argues that a jammer should be portable to protect people as they move through different environments, given that you don't always know where a microphone is lurking." "Other precursors to the bracelet include a 'jammer coat' designed by an Austrian architecture firm in 2014 to block radio waves that could collect information from a person's phone or credit cards," reports The New York Times. "In 2012, the artist Adam Harvey created silver-plated stealth wear garments that masked people's heat signature to protect them from the eyes of drones, as well as a line of makeup and hairstyles, called CV Dazzle, to thwart facial recognition cameras."

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A New Spin On 3D Printing Can Produce an Object In Seconds
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A 3D model is sliced up into hundreds of 2D horizontal layers and slowly built up, one layer at a time. This layer-by-layer process can take hours or even days, but what if we could print the entire model at once? A new technique demonstrated by researchers from Switzerland's Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne (EPFL) -- and further detailed in this Nature article -- does just that and can print an entire model in seconds. The new technique builds a model by hardening a photosensitive resin with a laser, not unlike existing stereolithography (SLA) printers. The big difference here is the application of tomographic techniques, the same used in x-rays and ultrasounds, that allows for rotational printing. Laser light is modulated with a DLP chip (just like in old rear-projection HDTVs) and is blasted into a container full of resin. The laser covers the entire build volume, and the container of resin actually rotates while it's being exposed to the light. The laser projects the model at different rotational perspectives, which is synced up with the spinning resin, and a whole 3D model can be produced in seconds. The EPFL writes, "The system is currently capable of making two-centimeter structures with a precision of 80 micrometers, about the same as the diameter of a strand of hair. But as the team develops new devices, they should be able to build much bigger objects, potentially up to 15 centimeters." In this first public demonstration, the build volume is 16mm x 16mm x 20mm, making it one of the smallest 3D printers on earth. An 80 um resolution is also nothing to write home about and can be bested by ~$500 consumer SLA printers. It is very fast, though, and the technique is just getting started. The researchers have set up a spin-off company called "Readily 3D" to develop and market the technology.

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Jaguar To Cut I-Pace Output On Battery Shortage
Thelasko shares a report from Automotive News Europe: Jaguar Land Rover is pausing production of the Jaguar I-Pace electric SUV due to battery supply issues from LG Chem's Poland plant. JLR said it has adjusted production schedules of the model due to temporary supplier scheduling issues. "We are working with the supplier to resolve this and minimize impact on customer orders," JLR said. JLR did not name the supplier [A source familiar with the matter told Automotive News Europe that the battery supplier is LG Chem]. It also did not say when the production pause would start. The I-Pace is a rival to the Tesla Model X, featuring a large 90kWh battery and a range of about 377 km (234 miles). According to The Times newspaper, production of the I-Pace will stop for a week starting on Monday, Feb. 17.

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