From: Vermont, USA
Release is scheduled for May. We haven't announced a price yet, but we have announced that there will be a discount for owners of previous DW releases. This will be a scaling discount, so the more of the previous releases you own, the higher the discount for Universe.
Explorer Ship AI was improved quite a bit for Shadows and during the post-release Shadows updates. It received one more improvement round during Universe development that I'm aware of, but the issues you're reporting should have already been improved with Shadows.
If you automate Construction ships, they will build in the closest areas where there are resources that your empire needs the most. The need for a resource outweighs the "safety" of the resource location, so they will absolutely not limit themselves to only systems you have colonized or where your influence is greatest, if there is a system with a critical resource outside that area.