Category: News Posts

Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk Unveils Autonomous Flying Taxis

Autonomous flying taxis just took one big step forward to leaping off the pages of science fiction and into the real world, thanks to Google co-founder Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk.

The billionaire-backed firm has announced that it will begin the regulatory approval process required for launching its autonomous passenger-drone system in New Zealand, after conducting secret testing under the cover of another company called Zephyr Airworks.

The firm’s two-person craft, called Cora, is a 12-rotor plane-drone hybrid that can take off vertically like a drone, but then uses a propeller at the back to fly at up to 110 miles an hour for around 62 miles at a time.

The all-electric Cora flies autonomously up to 914 metres (3,000ft) above ground, has a wingspan of 11 metres, and has been eight years in the making.

Kitty Hawk is personally financed by Page and is being run by former Google autonomous car director Sebastian Thrun. The company is trying to beat Uber and others to launching an autonomous flying taxi service.

The company hopes to have official certification and to have launched a commercial service within three years, which will make it the first to do so.

But its achievement will also propel New Zealand to the front of the pack as the first country to devise a certification process.

The country’s aviation authority is well respected in the industry, and is seen as pioneering.

Kitty Hawk is already working on an app and technology to allow customers to hail flying taxis as they would an Uber, but whether Page, Thrun and their team will actually be able to deliver within three years remains to be seen.

Many companies have promised great leaps but failed to deliver meaningful progress towards a Jetsons-like future, from Uber’s Elevate to China’s Ehang.

Even if Kitty Hawk hits all its projected milestones and launches commercially, there’s then the matter of persuading people to actually use it.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Apple Announces A March 27th Event Focusing On Education

Apple has announced an event on March 27th that will focus on “creative new ideas for teachers and students,” according to an invitation that just went out.

There’s not a lot to go by in terms of hints from the invitation — just a stylized Apple logo and the phrase “Let’s take a field trip,” which fits in with the education theme.

But it’s been rumored that Apple has been working on cheaper MacBooks and iPads, which would make sense given this event’s context.

Interestingly, the event won’t be held in Apple’s newly opened Apple Park campus in Cupertino, but at a high school in Chicago.

Chicago’s Board of Education recently added computer science as a graduation requirement for all public schools in the city, making it a fitting pairing for an Apple event.

Apple has also been working to transition the iPad into a classroom tool for educators for the past several years.

With recent rumors claiming that the company could release an entry-level 9.7-inch iPad priced around $259, which is even cheaper than the current $329 model.

Additionally, if you’re prone to reading into Apple’s invitations, it’s easy to see how the company could be hinting at something related to the iPad or Apple Pencil with this seemingly hand-drawn Apple logo.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

A Self-driving Uber In Arizona Kills A Woman In First Fatal Crash Involving Pedestrian

An autonomous Uber car killed a woman in the street in Arizona, police said, in what appears to be the first reported fatal crash involving a self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian in the US.

Tempe police said the self-driving car was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash and that the vehicle hit a woman, who was walking outside of the crosswalk and later died at a hospital.

There was a vehicle operator inside the car at the time of the crash.

Uber said in a statement on Twitter: “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.” A spokesman declined to comment further on the crash.

The company said it was pausing its self-driving car operations in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO, tweeted: “Some incredibly sad news out of Arizona. We’re thinking of the victim’s family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened.

Uber has been testing its self-driving cars in numerous states and temporarily suspended its vehicles in Arizona last year after a crash involving one of its vehicles, a Volvo SUV.

When the company first began testing its self-driving cars in California in 2016, the vehicles were caught running red lights, leading to a high-profile dispute between state regulators and the San Francisco-based corporation.

Police identified the victim as 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg and said she was walking outside of the crosswalk with a bicycle when she was hit at around 10pm on Sunday. Images from the scene showed a damaged bike.

The 2017 Volvo SUV was traveling at roughly 40 miles an hour, and it did not appear that the car slowed down as it approached the woman, said Tempe sergeant Ronald Elcock.

Elcock said he had watched footage of the collision, which has not been released to the public. He also identified the operator of the car as Rafael Vasquez, 44, and said he was cooperative and there were no signs of impairment.

The self-driving technology is supposed to detect pedestrians, cyclists and others and prevent crashes.

John M Simpson, privacy and technology project director with Consumer Watchdog, said the collision highlighted the need for tighter regulations of the nascent technology.

The robot cars cannot accurately predict human behavior, and the real problem comes in the interaction between humans and the robot vehicles,” said Simpson, whose advocacy group called for a national moratorium on autonomous car testing in the wake of the deadly collision.

Simpson said he was unaware of any previous fatal crashes involving an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Did Quick Construction Technique Lead To FIU Pedestrian Bridge Collapse?

The unfinished pedestrian overpass that toppled onto the Tamiami Trail on Thursday was being built under a relatively novel approach called accelerated bridge construction.

A fast, tested method that carries some risks if not rigorously carried out.

Until it’s fully secured, a quick-build structure is unstable and requires the utmost precision as construction continues.

Properly shoring up the bridge can take weeks, a period during which even small mistakes can compound and cause a partial or total collapse, said Amjad Aref, a researcher at University at Buffalo’s Institute of Bridge Engineering.

Just before the bridge’s concrete main span abruptly gave way on Thursday, crushing four people in cars to death and injuring others, a contractor’s crews were conducting stress tests on the incomplete structure, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.

The 950-ton span, assembled by the side of the road over a period of months, was hoisted into place in a matter of hours on Saturday morning.

That stress testing typically involves placing carefully calibrated weights on the span and measuring how the structure responds to ensure it’s within safe parameters, Aref said.

Crews may also have been adjusting tension cables that provide structural strength for the span’s concrete slabs.

In almost all bridge or building collapses, though, construction errors are to blame, not design, said Ralph Verrastro, a Cornell-trained engineer and principal of Naples-based Bridging Solutions, which is not involved in the FIU project.

Determining what exactly went wrong will likely take months. The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation.

Over the coming weeks, forensic engineers will try to unravel what happened in a complicated analysis that involves picking through debris, looking at designs, and piecing together inspections, said Princeton University civil engineering professor Maria Moreyra Garlock.

The construction phase, she noted, is often the most dangerous point in the life of the bridge.

Engineers could sample material at the site to test for strength, she said, and look at the sequence of inspections to determine what happened when.

Site inspections might also reveal what caused the sudden collapse.

Thursday’s tragic accident is sure to raise questions over the decision by Florida International University to take the quick-build approach, adopted in large part to minimize the need to interrupt traffic on the busy highway.

The decision by its contractors to undertake testing while traffic flowed along the busy roadway below will also be scrutinzed. FIU was running the project under an agreement with the state.

Accelerated bridge construction has become more common in the past decade, especially in urban areas with heavy traffic, Verrastro said.

FIU’s engineering school has become a hub for accelerated bridge construction training and research in recent years.

The bridge was devised to provide FIU students and others a safe way to cross multi-lane Southwest Eighth Street, also known as the Trail, to the small town of Sweetwater, where the school estimates some 4,000 students live.

At least one student was hit and killed by a car at that busy crossing, at 109th Avenue, which leads to new apartments built by private developers designed to cater to the university.

FIU selected the contracting team in a competitive process. It consists of MCM Construction, a family owned contractor based in Miami, and Figg Bridge Group, a design and engineering firm based in Tallahassee.

MCM is one of the most influential contractors in Miami-Dade, and a top contributor to county races. Gimenez said he spoke to co-principal Pedro Munilla by telephone from Hong Kong, where the county mayor is leading a county trade mission.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

According To Scientists, Winged Archaeopteryx Dinosaur Flew In Short Bursts Like A Pheasant

Archaeopteryx flapped its wings but was not capable of long distance flight. Nor could it soar like birds of prey.

Instead, the feathered Jurassic creature probably made short bursts of ­limited low-level flight to escape danger, say experts in Grenoble, France, after X-ray analysis of fossil bones.

Pheasants fly in a similar way to avoid predators or human hunters.

Archaeopteryx – which means “ancient wing” – lived in the Late Jurassic period in what is now southern Germany.

The first fossil skeleton of one of the creatures, known as the London Specimen, was unearthed in 1861 near Langenaltheim and is housed at London’s Natural History Museum.

Similar in size to a magpie, it shared characteristics of Earth-bound dinosaurs and modern birds, including winged feathers, sharp teeth, three fingers with claws, and a long bony tail.

However despite being thought of as the first bird, experts now view Archeopteryx as a flying dinosaur.

Nor was it a direct ancestor of modern birds. Despite sharing a common dinosaur ancestor with birds, Archaeopteryx represents a “dead end” side branch on the evolutionary tree.

Present day birds are generally believed to have evolved from a group of small meat-eating dinosaurs known as maniraptoran theropods.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Chips That Mimic Organs Could Be More Powerful Than Animal Testing

Each year, millions of rats and mice die for the sake of human safety. Scientists studying toxicity in chemicals feed, inject, or spray them on animals to suss out potential ill effects.

But Congress is now finally updating the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976, which will among other things encourage the Environmental Protection Agency to find alternatives to animal testing.

The updated act, which is expected to pass both houses of Congress soon, asks the EPA to consider a suite of new testing technologies.

Such as high-throughput robots that apply chemicals to cells in petri dishes and algorithms that predict toxicity based on the effects of similar chemicals.

The most ambitious, the most sci-fi of all these technologies, though, is a human body on a chip.

Think mini organs the size of matchboxes—each mimicking a patch of heart muscle or alveoli in the lungs—all connected together by a tiny circulatory system of microfluidic tubes. An entire human body in miniature.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Truth About Fragrance Sensitivity

Fragrance isn’t for everyone. It makes some people cough, wheeze, sneeze, break out in an itchy rash or clutch their head in a migraine attack.

So while many of us love scent, some prefer to be able to choose cosmetic products without it.

Is fragrance sensitivity for real?

For those sensitive to fragrance, it’s not ‘just in their heads.’

Fragrance in personal-care products is the second most common cause of allergic skin reaction and the most common cause of reactions from personal-care products, according to Dr. Sandy Skotnicki-Grant.


She is medical director of the Bay Dermatology Centre in Toronto and a leading Canadian expert on contact dermatitis.

A study in 2004 found that 11 percent of people had a reaction when patch-tested with a standard mix of fragrances used in cosmetics and grooming products.

Common ingredients that can cause a reaction are citronella, oak moss, balsam of Peru and synthetic fragrances.

And, increasingly, we’re seeing reactions to botanical fragrances such as ylang ylang, jasmine and narcissus, Skotnicki-Grant says.

Each year, more than 300 new patients are referred to Fox’s clinic, most of them because they have started to react to environmental triggers, especially fragrances.

The majority are in their 30s and 40s. About half of these patients have worked in jobs with a high level of exposure to chemicals’and strong smells’for example, painters, hairdressers, pest exterminators and autobody workers.

It’s as if the human body, after living a lifetime of exposure, can no longer deal with it,” Fox says.

Common symptoms are headache, coughing, muscle aches, breathing difficulties, confusion and fatigue.

And, he notes, a new study found that 44 percent of people who suffer from migraines say strong fragrances can bring on an attack.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

According To Some Research, Earth’s Nearest Dwarf Planet Ceres Is Still Evolving And May Have Its Own Water Cycle

It may be the largest object in the asteroid belt that sits beyond Mars, but the dwarf planet Ceres has been surprising scientists ever since it was discovered.

The latest findings suggests that water – one of the key ingredients for life – is present across the entire surface of the rocky planetoid.

What’s more, the distribution of these icy patches suggests the dwarf is still evolving suggesting it may have its own water cycle beneath the surface.

Ceres is of particular interest to scientists because it is the closest dwarf planet to Earth and may play host to the building blocks needed for alien life.

NASA’s Dawn probe has been mapping the object since 2015 and, in a new study, experts used images captured by the craft to study chemicals on Ceres’ surface.

Specifically it looked at carbonates, compounds that have previously been detected by Dawn, which are thought to be strong indicators of liquid water.

Researchers at Italy’s Institute of Astrophysics and Space Planetology in Rome used the probe’s visible-infrared mapping spectrometer to anaylse the planet.

They found that sodium carbonates, salts of carbonic acid, can be found across the entire observed surface of Ceres. The camera reads the chemical spectrum of compounds found far below the planet’s exterior to identify them.

Some carbonate patches, which are as long as a kilometre-wide (0.6 miles), featured sodium carbonate in its hydrated form.

This could only occur around liquid water, suggesting the dwarf planet has a subsurface ocean.

The distribution of these icy patches across Ceres suggests the dwarf planet is still evolving and may have its own subsurface water cycle, researchers found. To measure these icy patches, scientists looked at how carbonates (green and purple) were distributed across Ceres.

The Italian team, led by Dr Filippo Carrozzo, wrote in their paper: “Hydrated sodium carbonates could form early in a global ocean in equilibrium with the altered rocky phase and be incorporated in Ceres’ crust upon freezing of that ocean.

The chemicals could have formed as recently as a few million years ago, the researchers said.

Because they haven’t yet dehydrated, scientists suggest the planet must still be spewing water from its surface and hence is still evolving.

Patches of hydrated sodium carbonate were found by the team around craters with domes or mounds.

Some craters showed unique characteristics, such as floor fractures, that the authors say indicate areas where water had been ejected.

Patches of hydrated sodium carbonate (green and red) were found around craters with domes or mounds by the team. Some craters showed unique characteristics, such as floor fractures, that the authors say indicate areas where water had been ejected.

The researchers also focused on patches of ice covering the walls of Ceres’s Jugling impact crater.

The crater, found on Ceres’s southern hemisphere, is shadowy, dark and unlike other northern hemisphere craters where water ice has previously been found.

To better understand Juling’s water ice features, the Italian team analysed light spectrum data previously obtained by the Dawn mission.

Specifically, they compared how the amount of ice on the crater’s walls has changed over time as the sun shone on different regions.

Their results showed a clear increase of the area covered by the crater’s ice-rich wall as time progressed.

According to the authors, the trend between ice abundance and solar flux suggests that seasonal cycles of water are responsible for the observed increase.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

“Cruelty Free” Dog Food Grown in Labs Could Give Your Dog A Vegan Lifestyle

Dogs and cats everywhere, rejoice. Bond Pets, a Colorado-based startup, has its eyes set on bringing lab-grown, clean protein to pets nationwide.

Described as “Pet food made from real animal protein, without the animal,” Bond Pets is an entirely new breed of food hoping to make mealtime extra special for cats and dogs.

The developing brand was founded by Rich Kelleman, who was inspired to action after struggling with his wife to find healthy and transparent foods for their pets.

Kelleman found that lots of these foods had bad, unhealthy ingredients in them, and that even the “healthier” brands had sketchy, unclear sciences behind their labels.

Pet foods across the board, expensive and are notorious for being filled with animal leftovers including animal bones, beaks, hair, and manure. Needless to say, these kinds of proteins are dirty and are no good for our pets.

While lab-grown meat is still a new concept to many, the science behind it is already deeply developed.

Kelleman explained, “I thought…it was a bit like science fiction, something that would be cool for the future.” He continued, “I didn’t think it would have practical application now.”

It’s far closer to practical than science fiction, with other brands like Hampton Creek and Memphis Meats working with similar technologies.

Essentially, these folks are able to produce actual animal meat through the use of cells. This means that the animals — who would traditionally be bred, farmed, and slaughtered — are safe.

Ryan Yamka, who works with Bond Pets, says that people shouldn’t be surprised to see a company trying to incorporate pets into the thriving food culture we’re seeing today.

Pet food has always been quick follower to the human food trends,” he said. “So it’s not surprising that you see…what I would call the sustainable- food movement getting into the pet-food side.”

Bond Pets is still developing so it might be a little while before anyone sees their products in stores. However, given time, Bond Pets may change the animal market altogether, for the better.

Clean meat and clean protein is a thriving idea for human beings and there’s no reason our animal companions should be left out.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Why Sun’s Atmosphere Is So Freaking Hot?

This false-color temperature map shows solar active region AR10923, observed close to center of the sun’s disk. Blue regions indicate plasma near 10 million degrees Kelvin.

Small, sudden bursts of heat and energy, called nanoflares, are responsible for the million-degree temperature of the sun’s tenuous atmosphere, a new study reveals.

The mystery of why temperatures in the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, soar to several million degrees Kelvin (K) much hotter than temperatures nearer the sun’s surface has puzzled scientists for decades.

Why is the sun’s corona so darned hot?” said study member James Klimchuk of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

To answer this question, Klimchuk and colleagues constructed a theoretical model of the nanoflares, which are components of the loops of hot gas that arch high above the solar surface to make up the corona.

Coronal loops are the fundamental building blocks of the corona,” Klilmchuk said. “Their shape is defined by the magnetic field, which guides the hot flowing gases called plasma.

These loops are made up of bundles of smaller, individual magnetic tubes or strands that can have temperatures reaching several million degrees Kelvin (K), even though the sun’s surface is only 5,700 degrees K (9,800 Fahrenheit).

Nanoflares are small, sudden bursts of energy that happen within these thin magnetic tubes in the corona.

Unlike the bigger solar flares, which can be viewed through satellites and ground-based telescopes and can disrupt electronics and communications networks on Earth, nanoflares are so small that they cannot be resolved individually, so until now, no direct evidence of nanoflares was seen.

Only see the combined effect of many of them occurring at about the same time is visible.

Klimchuk’s model tries to pin down exactly what happens when these nanoflares erupt.

he ultra-hot plasma cools very quickly, however, which explains why it is so faint and has been so difficult to detect until now.

The energy lost from the cooling conducts down to the comparatively cooler solar surface.

The gas there at the surface is heated to about 1 million degrees K and expands upward to become the 1 million degree component of the corona that has been observed for many years.

Klimchuk presented the findings on August 6 at the International Astronomical Union General Assembly meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Pass it on: New Scientist