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Uber Kills Self-Driving Truck Division, Clearing the Road for Tesla

Uber just announced plans to shutter its self-driving truck division, at least temporarily, while it focuses on its self-driving cars.

BYE, BYE AUTONOMOUS SEMI. Just under two years ago, Uber bought Otto, a startup focused on developing self-driving trucks. Now, Uber is bidding adieu to its plans for autonomous shipping, at least for the time being. On Monday, the company revealed in a statement that it’s closing its self-driving truck division.

Uber’s self-driving trucks were seen on the road as recently as March, where they were contracted to deliver freight in Arizona.

ONE FOCUS. The move won’t affect the employees of Uber’s self-driving truck division — they’ll just move to the self-driving car division, Eric Meyhofer, Head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, said in an email statement to TechCrunch. The hope, according to Meyhofer, is that focusing all of Uber’s self-driving expertise and energy on its cars will help that division build momentum.

I know we’re all super proud of what the Trucks team has accomplished, and we continue to see the incredible promise of self-driving technology applied to moving freight across the country,” Meyhofer told employees in an email reviewed by TechCrunch. “But we believe delivering on self-driving for passenger applications first, and then bringing it to freight applications down the line, is the best path forward. For now, we need the focus of one team, with one clear objective.”

Frankly, Uber’s self-driving car division could probably use the help. In March, one of the company’s vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, and the incident put a halt on testing all self-driving cars nationwide. If Uber wants to stay competitive in the autonomous car space, it really can’t afford any more bumps in the road.

KEEP TRUCKING. With Uber out of the picture, its former competitors — Google subsidiary Waymo and Tesla — are poised to duke it out as they continue to develop their own vehicles. The timing of the announcement is particularly good for Tesla — CEO Elon Musk has a call scheduled with Tesla shareholders on Wednesday to update them on Tesla’s Q2 financial results. Now he’ll have a little positive news to include.

READ MORE: Uber’s Self-Driving Trucks Division Is Dead, Long Live Uber Self-Driving Cars [TechCrunch]

More on Uber: Uber’s Self-Driving Car Just Killed a Pedestrian

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Here Are The Finalists For NASA’s Mars Habitat Design Competition

NASA has selected five final designs for its 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge. Someday, we might use them construct our dwellings when we live on Mars.

We’ve only been to the Moon a handful of times. But we’ve already set our sights on a far more ambitious mission: colonize Mars.

If you believe the hype, it may happen in just a few decades. Elon Musk anticipates that SpaceX’s BFR (big f–king rocket) will take its first handful of passengers to the Red Planet by 2024 — if everything goes according to plan, that is. Mars One’s crew, which will take up permanent residence on Mars, is slated to launch by 2031. NASA is aiming for a similar mission by 2033.

Getting humans there is hard enough. But surviving there, especially over a prolonged period? That’s a whole other question. A structure on Mars would have to withstand intense solar radiation and massive daily temperature changes, and provide a pressurized environment inside for humans to inhabit over a prolonged period of time. Weight and space limits aboard the rockets that will get us there will make the design task even harder.

3D printing the habitat seems like humanity’s best bet. The Martian surface comes with its own challenges, but back on Earth, 3D printing technology in home construction is proving to be very promising. A 3D printer with local resources from the surface as the “ink” would mean that astronauts wouldn’t have to fill up precious cargo space with building materials. Plus, the reduced weight would make Mars colonization substantially less expensive.

So NASA held a contest for the best 3D-printed habitat that might actually work on Mars. That was in 2014. The first two phases of the project required teams to submit renderings, and come up with material technologies. Now, four years after launching the contest, NASA has narrowed the finalists to just five brilliant designs. The fives teams, which hail from a handful of American universities and companies that specialize in architecture or construction, have now come up with an entire structure that takes advantage of autonomous 3D printing on the surface of another planet; they will also share a $100,000 prize. For the next phase, each team will have to create a third-scale model of their designs.

Here are what the five finalists propose:

First Place: Team Zopherus

Team Zopherus from Rogers, Arkansas came up with the idea of mixing “Martian concrete” using locally available materials — ice, calcium oxide, and Martian rocks.

A huge metal dome houses the concrete mixer and 3D printer. The dome protects the structure the printer is constructing from the harsh environment. Once the printer is done with a section, it lifts itself up, and repeats the process elsewhere. The resulting habitats are hexagonal, made of finished concrete that the team claims would be able to withstand the harsh local climate and absorb enough radiation to protect humans living within. The metal dome that houses the printer, plus any air locks and windows for the final construction will have to be shipped separately from Earth.

Second Place: Team AI SpaceFactory

The team from New York tried to inject an “element of humanity” into its habitat design to create a “credible and evocative habitat with an alien yet familiar beauty” according to the team’s website. The habitat, dubbed Marsha, is cylindrical to maximize usable floor area and pressurization efficiency. Multiple floors also means inhabitants won’t end up murdering each other (that’s a real concern), offering each activity or group of people their own closed off space.

Sliding bearings on the floor allow the walls of the habitat to “breathe” as it expands and contracts as the outside temperature changes.

There are two layers: an outer shell to keep the harsh environment out, and an inner shell that houses people. The outer shell is made out of a reusable thermoplastic that is mixed with local rock fibers to reinforce it. This type of plastic, called PLA, is great for this application because it doesn’t expand or contract as much as other plastics when temperatures drop or spike.

Team Kahn-Yates

The team from Jackson, Mississippi designed a habitat that has a prefabricated core, which the lander plops down on the Martian surface. Once it lands, the core extends a giant print arm that 3D prints the oval habitat’s foundation, then its walls.

The habitat’s exterior shell has carefully-designed openings that allow sunlight to reach the inside. A gap between the outer shell and the interior core provide space for lush garden that can help filter the air inside.

Team SEArch+Apis Cor

The team from New York balanced on the habitat’s ability to shield inhabitants from radiation while still allowing sunlight to filter into the design’s interior. The team partnered up with Apis Cor, an (Earth-bound) construction company that has already 3D-printed entire buildings using a special type of concrete.

In this model, the inhabitants live inside a pair of “inflatable volumes” that can be deployed to the Martian surface before the crew arrives. A 3D printed shell, made of rough loose rocks, would shield the inflatable habitats from radiation.

Team Northwestern University

Like previous team, Northwestern’s team designed an inflatable pressurized vessel that houses the 3D printer. The outer shell would be printed out of resources available on the crust nearby.

The layout focuses all “wet rooms” (kitchen, bathroom, and lab) along one side of the habitat to concentrate plumbing and other mechanical features to one area. NASA’s HI-SEAS experiment, which simulated space exploration, informed the proportions of the different rooms.

More on human colonization of Mars: All the Reasons Why Humans Shouldn’t Colonize Mars, According to Experts

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Tesla Launches A $1,500 Surfboard, Sells out Almost Immediately

The latest clean transportation offering from Elon Musk is the Tesla surfboard, a $1,500 limited edition short board that sold out almost immediately.

TUBULAR TESLA. If you’re looking at which forms of transportation are the cleanest, the surfboard is hard to beat. It produces no emissions — the only fuel needed to get from Point A to Point Break is a gnarly wave. Sure, it might not be ideal for your morning commute if it happens to involve inland roads or electronics. But that isn’t stopping Tesla from adding surfboards to its clean transportation offerings.

On July 28, Tesla added the Limited Edition Tesla Surfboard to its online shop. According to the product page, the Tesla surfboard features the same paint finishes as Tesla’s vehicles and will fit in the company’s Model S, Model X, and Model 3 vehicles.

VERY LIMITED EDITION. Tesla produced just 200 of the $1,500 boards, and they sold out almost immediately. eBay is now your only hope for snagging a Tesla surfboard — that is, if you’re willing to shell out upwards of $5,000 for a single board.

What sets the board apart from those you’d find in a beachside surf shop, you may ask? It’s hard to say. The board is the result of a collaboration with two expert board creators, Lost Surfboards and Matt “Mayhem” Biolos, so it’s likely pretty high quality, but according to TechCrunch, most of Lost’s boards cost between $700 and $800. That Tesla logo comes with quite the markup.

DIVING INTO A NEW MARKET. No one knows for sure why Tesla decided to add a surfboard to its list of online wares. Tesla declined to go on record about whether or not the motivations had anything to do with the company’s recent financial struggles (it recently reached out to suppliers to ask for refunds on past contracts).

Tesla plans to start shipping the boards in two to 10 weeks (assuming no production delays), so surf enthusiasts should be able to hit the waves with their exclusive Tesla surfboards before the end of the season — assuming they decide to keep the boards and not attempt to make a tidy profit off them in the resale market.

READ MORE: Tesla Launches a New Product: A Surfboard [Electrek]

More on Tesla’s finances: Tesla Is Reportedly Asking Suppliers to Refund Payments to Have More Cash on Hand

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Geckos Can Regenerate Parts of Their Brain, Which Could Help Us Heal Our Own

Researchers discover that leopard geckos can regenerate parts of their brain, potentially opening up a new area of research in treating the human brain.

LIZARD BRAINS. We knew that they can regenerate their tails (and spinal cords). But it turns out that geckos can regenerate parts of their brain, too, according to researchers from the University of Guelph. That’s cool for geckos, but it could be cool for us, too; it could signal a new area of research for the treatment of human brain injuries and degeneration. The researchers published their study last month in the journal Scientific Reports.

Because geckos can regenerate various parts of their bodies, the researchers suspected there might be something interesting going on in gecko brains, too. So they injected leopard geckos with a chemical label they could then detect within the DNA of any newly formed cells. This allowed them to see new cells as they turned up in the geckos’ brains.

They found many more of them than they anticipated. The researchers were also able to identify a type of stem cell that regularly turned into brain cells in the animals’ medial cortex, a part of the brain that serves the same function as the hippocampus in humans. This is the first time scientists knew that stem cells were involved in the formation of new neurons in the leopard gecko’s brain.

LIZARDS = PEOPLE? Lizards are more closely related to humans than amphibians or fish, which are the subjects of most regeneration research, lead researcher Rebecca McDonald said in a news release. So the discovery that geckos can regenerate parts of their brain could change the way we study the human brain, perhaps more profoundly than previous regeneration studies.

“The findings indicate that gecko brains are constantly renewing brain cells, something that humans are notoriously bad at doing,” said Matthew Vickaryous, McDonald’s co-author on the study, in the news release. “The next step in this area of research is to determine why some species, like geckos, can replace brain cells while other species, like humans, cannot.”

LIZARDS ? PEOPLE. Even if we figure out why humans can’t regenerate brain cells the way geckos do, though, it doesn’t mean we’ll know how to change our biology to more closely mimic theirs. Still, given the remarkable complexity of the human brain, any new understanding of its inner workings is a step toward better treatments for injuries, diseases, and degeneration.

READ MORE: U of G Study Is First to Find Evidence That Leopard Geckos Can Make New Brain Cells [University of Guelph]

More on regeneration: An Organism That Regenerates Could Allow Us to Heal Humans

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Google’s Censored Chinese Search Engine Shows It’s No Longer Afraid of U.S. Backlash

Leaked documents reveal Google's plan to launch a censored search engine in China, a nation that strictly monitors the content its citizens can access.

GOOGLE EAST. On Wednesday, investigative outlet The Intercept published a report detailing Google’s plans to create a censored search engine for China.

A whistleblower provided the site with internal documents on the project, codename Dragonfly, which launched in the spring of 2017. Through Dragonfly, Google is building a special Android search app that follows the Chinese government’s strict censorship guidelines.

The government has already seen a version of the app, and the final product could launch in the nation within the next six to nine months, according to The Intercept’s report.

A SHIFT IN SENTIMENT. China already keeps a tight rein on the information its citizens can access online. Tens of thousands of “internet monitors” sit at the ready to remove any content the government deems inappropriate. Citizens can’t use unapproved words (such as “disagree”) online, nor can they access Facebook, Instagram, The New York Times — and, yes, Google — that are popular elsewhere in the world. In some cases, homegrown apps that accomplish similar functions have popped up.

Google wasn’t always banned, though. From 2006 to 2010, Google provided Chinese citizens with a censored version of its search engine, stirring up intense backlash from the U.S. government. “Google has seriously compromised its ‘don’t be evil’ policy,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said during a 2006 congressional hearing. “Indeed, it has become evil’s accomplice.”

In March 2010, Google bowed to the pressure back home, granting Chinese users access to an uncensored version of the site. The company cited the Chinese government’s increased attempts to censor web content and limit free speech as one of the reasons for the move. Shortly thereafter, China officially blocked Google, which meant citizens could no longer access the site at all.

At the time, this was a solid move for Google, both for its PR and for its finances. But things change, and Google’s decision to return to China confirms that U.S. sentiment on censorship is shifting — maybe restricting access to some information online is OK, after all.

FOLLOW THE WORLD LEADER. Indeed, recent events back in the U.S. show that we’re just generally more chill with censorship. Net neutrality is now a thing of the past, clearing the way for corporate control and restriction to certain kinds of content. President Trump has established a national discourse that consistently antagonizes the press and even encourages government censorship of the media.

With 750 million internet users, China is a huge untapped market for Google. The move to launch a censored search engine in the nation is likely to be great for both Google’s stock and its shareholders.

Google has already proven it’s more comfortable in moral gray areas these days. Now that the U.S. government is less likely to discourage Google from helping a government censor its media, why wouldn’t Google cash in on the opportunity?

READ MORE: Google Plans to Launch Censored Search Engine in China, Leaked Documents Reveal [The Intercept]

More on Chinese censorship: Chinese Citizens Are Using Blockchain to Warn Each Other of Unsafe Vaccines

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Facebook Just Shut Down Dozens of Fake Pages

CAUGHT RED- (AND BLUE) HANDED. Facebook just removed 32 pages (public-facing profiles for organizations and brands) and accounts from its platform after finding they were “involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior,” according to a post on the Facebook Newsroom blog published Tuesday. With the help of law enforcement agencies, Facebook identified 17 profiles, eight pages, and seven Instagram accounts that have been removed because they “mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing,” as the post notes.

The discovery marks the first time Facebook has actually caught this kind of coordinated effort while it was operating — and before it had a significant impact.

That may not sound like a lot, but as the New York Times points out, more than 290,000 accounts “followed at least one of the suspect pages.” The people or organizations that ran those accounts spent $11,000 (in both US and Canadian) on 150 separate ads so that the pages would attract even more followers.

ROCKING THE BOAT. So what does Facebook consider “inauthentic behavior?” The names of the Facebook pages in question — “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation,” and “Resisters” — and some of thier posts make it pretty clear: they provoke a strong reaction and pit one side of the political spectrum against the other.

The accounts even went so far as to post events for real-life protests, often in response to other protests. The names of several relevant organizations were tacked on the bottom, apparently endorsing them (whether the organizations agreed to this remains unclear).

Facebook turned its attention to these pages because their activity was awfully similar to those pages run by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian company that was found to be a “troll factory” last year.

But Facebook isn’t blaming Russia directly — at least, not yet. “We don’t have all the facts, but we’ll work closely with others as we continue our investigation,” the post reads. “We may never be able to identify the source with the same level of confidence we had in naming the IRA last year.”

Translation: whoever did this may never face retribution. But at least that uncertainty didn’t stop Facebook from shutting the accounts down before they could cause more damage.

NIP IN THE BUD. The timing for Facebook’s announcement isn’t a coincidence. An event organized by one of the now-deleted pages was scheduled to take place on August 10 in Washington, D.C. according to Recode. It’s not clear what exactly would have happened if the pages weren’t deleted beforehand, but we know what happened when Facebook didn’t intervene with similar accounts during the lead up to the 2016 presidential election: the accounts fanned the flames of dissent, pushed Americans farther towards extreme views, and cemented those beliefs with confirmation bias.

This is a small, face-saving measure for Facebook, which has rushed to make its platform secure from the kinds of lapses that put it under federal scrutiny after the 2016 election. But it likely won’t be the last time we’ll see these kinds of coordinated efforts influencing the political landscape via Facebook in the U.S. In fact, we’ll likely see more of it as we get closer to the November midterm elections. For now, we can hope that Facebook’s coordinated efforts with U.S. intelligence will be enough to limit the scope of any future attempts to destabilize political discourse.

READ MORE: Removing Bad Actors on Facebook [Facebook Newsroom]

More on Facebook trolls: We Knew Russian Hackers Infiltrated Americans’ Inboxes. Now We Know How.

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Scientists Say We Can’t Terraform Mars. Elon Musk Says We Can.

A new NASA-funded study drawing on 20 years of research says we simply can't terraform Mars using technology available today.

SORRY, ELON. To be ready for human occupants, Elon Musk has long called Mars a “fixer-upper of a planet.” But according to a new NASA-sponsored study, a better description might be a “tear-down.” The scientists behind that project say it’s simply not possible to terraform Mars — that is, change its environment so that humans can live there without life support systems — using today’s technology.

BUILDING AN ATMOSPHERE. Mars has a super thin atmosphere; a human unprotected on the surface of Mars would quickly die, mostly because there’s not enough atmospheric pressure to prevent all your organs from rupturing out of your body (if you survived a little longer, you could also suffocate from lack of oxygen, freeze from low temperatures, or get fried from too much ultraviolet radiation).

This study, published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, considers how difficult it would be to increase the atmospheric pressure on the Red Planet enough so that humans can walk on Mars’s surface without a pressurized suit and, ideally, without a breathing apparatus.

One suggested plan to increase this atmospheric pressure: to release the carbon dioxide (CO2) trapped in Mars’s surface. In 2015, Musk famously suggested accomplishing this by dropping nuclear weapons on the planet’s poles.

According to the new study, there simply isn’t enough CO2 on the planet to increase the atmospheric pressure to terraforming levels. At most, they claim we could only raise the atmospheric pressure of Mars from about .6 percent that of Earth’s to 7 percent. That’s not exactly enough to keep all your organs in.

NOT TODAY, BUT TOMORROW? The researchers reached this conclusion by drawing on 20 years’ worth of spacecraft observations of Mars, but that wealth of research isn’t enough to dissuade Musk. On Monday night, he took to Twitter to assert that Mars has plenty enough CO2 trapped in its soil for terraforming. He didn’t specify what research backed up his claims.

Still, as the NASA report admits, we don’t have the technology today to make terraforming a possibility. That doesn’t mean we won’t in the future. Musk doesn’t plan to send any humans to Mars until 2024, and a lot can change in six years.

READ MORE: SpaceX’s Elon Musk Defends Terraforming Mars After Study Says It Won’t Work [Inverse]

More on Mars colonization: Elon Musk Is Officially Sending Humans to Mars in 2024

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Stop And Look Up: Mars Is Super Close To Earth Right Now

On Tuesday July 31, Mars will come closer to Earth than it will for another 269 years. Take a look now before it moves on.

Put down your smartphones, look away from your smart watches. Right now, at this very moment, Mars is closer to Earth than it will be for a long, long time. And you should take a look at the sky for a change.

If you do, you’ll get to see Mars up close for the first time since 2003, when it last made an approach like this. But don’t let that trick you into thinking this is a common occurrence. When Mars knocked on our door in 2003, it was the first time the Red Planet came that close in some 60,000 years, according to Space.com. And if you miss it this time around, you’ll have to wait another 269 years before it comes around again.

The best view of Mars happened early Tuesday morning, but you can still see it Tuesday night, from anywhere in the world, if you simply look up. And unlike last summer’s solar eclipse, you’ll be a-okay if you want to stare straight at this floating red ball.

Mars is particularly close to the Earth now because the two planets’ orbits are roughly in the same point in their orbit around the sun. This fly-by means that Mars, Earth, and the Sun are all lined up with each other. Because a Mars year and Earth year take different amounts of time, their orbits will soon desynch and the planets will separate.

Mars will be lined up with Earth again in 2020, 2022, and 2025, but it won’t get quite as close to Earth as it did Tuesday (it was just 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers) from Earth Tuesday morning, and will be 38.6 million miles (62.1 million km) from us in 2020, according to Space.com) because of oscillations in their orbits.

So, we beg you: stop tweeting, stop playing Fortnite, stop reading this article, and just look up. Find that orangey-red circle in the sky that looks bigger and brighter than usual. Pause and marvel. You’ll be happy you did.

More about Mars: There’s A Huge Subterranean Lake of Liquid Water on Mars

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This AI-Operated Robotic Hand Moves With “Unprecedented Dexterity”

OpenAi just unveiled Dactyl, an AI system trained to control a robot hand using the same algorithms used to train computer game playing AIs.

ROBOTIC HIGH FIVE. On Monday, researchers at OpenAI, the nonprofit AI research company co-founded by Elon Musk, introduced Dactyl, an AI system trained to control a robotic hand. According to the researchers, the system can manipulate physical objects in the hand with dexterity never before possible for AI.

The task Dactyl tackled might sound like something you’d teach a toddler: take this six-sided block and move it around until a certain side is on top. Unlike a toddler, though, Dactyl needed more than a century’s worth of experience to learn how to expertly complete the task. But thanks to powerful computers, the researchers were able to pack all that experience into just 50 “real-world” hours.

PRACTICE MAKES (ALMOST) PERFECT. The researchers trained Dactyl in a simulated environment — that is, a digital setting with a computer-generated hand — using a technique called domain randomization. They built certain parameters into their simulated environment, such as the cube’s size or the angle of gravity, and then randomized those variables. They had multiple simulated hands doing this at once. By pushing Dactyl to adapt to so many different virtual scenarios, the researchers prepared the AI’s ability to adapt to scenarios in the real world.

After 50 hours of training in the simulated environment, the AI could manipulate a real-world robotic hand to successfully complete its given task 50 times in a row (a successful completion was one in which the system didn’t drop the block or take longer than 80 seconds). To figure out how to move the hand to complete the task, it simply needed to look at the block through a trio of cameras.

ONE ALGORITHM TO TRAIN THEM ALL. As the researchers note in their blog post, they trained Dactyl using the same algorithm that they used for OpenAI Five, a team of five neural networks trained to play the computer strategy game DOTA 2. Dactyl’s success proves it’s possible to build a general-purpose algorithm that can teach AI to complete two very different tasks. This could make it much easier for researchers to train AI for lots of different purposes in the future, since they wouldn’t need to start the process from scratch.

READ MORE: Learning Dexterity [OpenAI Blog]

More on OpenAI: The Digest: Five AI Algorithms Worked Together to Beat Humans at a Strategy Game

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Scientists Shed New Light on What Life-Producing Planets Require

Through a series of experiments, UK researchers identify abiogenesis zones around stars, helping narrow down the list of planets that could form life.

NARROWING THE FIELD. The observable universe is home to at least one hundred billion galaxies that host a near-infinite number of planets. If we have any hope of finding extraterrestrial life among all those planets, we need to narrow down our search to the ones most likely to produce results.

To that end, a team of U.K.-based researchers conducted a series of experiments to determine what combination of temperature and light is mostly likely to result in abiogenesis — the emergence of life — on a planet. They published their research Tuesday in the journal Science Advances.

IN THE BEGINNING. Life as we know it begins with what we call precursor molecules — things like nucleosides, amino acids, and lipids, which eventually become DNA and RNA. These molecules can only form under certain chemical conditions, one of which, as past research indicates, is the presence of ultraviolet (UV) light.

For their study, the researchers wanted to figure out what combination of temperature and UV light works best to produce these chemical conditions. They experimented by testing what combinations would cause sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide to react chemically to hydrogen cyanide, since these reactions play a role in the way RNA’s precursor forms on Earth.

IDEAL CONDITIONS. The researchers observed the reactions at different temperatures, sometimes including UV light and sometimes not. Through these experiments, they identified the ideal conditions and used that information to identify what they call an “abiogenesis zones” around a variety of star types — zones with both ideal temperatures and the right amount of UV light.

Then, they looked at exoplanets that previous astronomers had noted are in the “habitable zones” in around their stars, meaning those planets could support liquid water. This cross referencing allowed them to determine which of those exoplanets had conditions best suited to form life.

While this research can’t tell us for sure whether a planet does host life, it can help us narrow our search to those most likely, especially as we have the technology to better see (or even visit) expolanets that may host life. After all, how can a planet host life if it doesn’t have the right conditions to form life?

READ MORE: The Origin of RNA Precursors on Exoplanets [Science Advances]

More on the hunt for extraterrestrial life: The Atmospheres of Distant Planets Guide Scientists in the Search for Alien Life

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We Can Now Successfully Transplant Lab-Grown Lungs in Pigs

Researchers successfully transplanted lab-grown lungs into four pigs, with none of the animals rejecting the lungs within two months of the surgery.

LUNGS-ON-DEMAND. In the U.S. alone, more than 1,400 people are waiting for a lung transplant — there simply aren’t enough donor lungs available to meet the need. Soon, though, patients might have a new source for brand new lungs: the lab.

On Wednesday, researchers from University of Texas Medical Branch published a new paper in the journal Science Translational Medicine. In it, they detail their latest milestone along the path to creating lab-grown lungs for humans: they can now successfully transplant these bioengineered lungs into pigs.

THIS LITTLE PIGGY GETS A NEW LUNG. To grow the lungs, the researchers first created four lung scaffolds. To do this, they removed all of the cells and blood from pig lungs using a mix of sugar and detergent. This left them with just the proteins of each lung — essentially, its skeleton.

Next, they placed each scaffold in a tank containing a special mix of nutrients. They then added cells from recipient pigs’ own lungs to each of the scaffolds and let the lungs grow for 30 days. Finally, they transplanted the four lab-grown lungs into the four recipient pigs.

Within two weeks, the transplanted lungs had already begun to establish the robust networks of blood vessels they need to survive. During two months of post-transplant observation, the researchers found no signs that the animals’ immune systems had rejected the new lungs. But they next want to study the long-term viability of the organs.

MOVING TO HUMANS. Bioengineered organs are something of a holy grail in transplantation research. Because they are grown from the recipient’s own cells, the body is less likely to reject the organ, and we could grow them in the lab as needed — no more organ shortages.

If all goes as hoped with the pig experiments, the researchers believe they could be just five to 10 years away from being able to create lab-grown lungs to transplant into people in compassionate use circumstances (people with life-threatening conditions and essentially no other treatment options).

Eventually, bioengineered lungs could replace donor ones altogether. And that could make the transplant waiting list a thing of the past.

READ MORE: Production and Transplantation of Bioengineered Lung Into a Large-Animal Model [Science Translational Medicine]

More on bioengineering: Researchers Can Now Bioengineer Lungs With the Original Blood Vessels Intact

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Rising Stocks Show Tesla Investors Are Warming up to Musk’s Cool Attitude

The Elon Musk that chatted with investors and reporters during the Q2 2018 earnings call was a far cry from the erratic Musk we've come to know.

OLD MUSK, NEW TRICKS. On Wednesday, Elon Musk had his quarterly phone call with investors and reporters to update everyone on Tesla’s quarterly earnings. And from the sound of it, the CEO appears to be learning from his past mistakes — and doing what he can to avoid repeating them.

THE BOTTOM LINE. First, Tesla’s finances: the company lost $717 million in the second quarter of 2017 — that’s the company’s biggest quarterly loss in history, which is saying something. However, it also has $2.2 billion in cash reserves, so no need to borrow any money. According to Musk, the company’s goal is to be profitable by the end of 2018 and then every quarter after that.

While the financial news wasn’t the best, Tesla’s stock soared after the call, jumping by 12 percent. One possible reason? Musk himself.

MUSK CLASSIC. In the last call, Musk declined to answer what he called “dry” and “boring bonehead questions” — not exactly the kind of behavior you’d expect from the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company.

And he’s been even more erratic since then, calling a British cave diver involved in the Thai soccer team rescue a “pedo” on Twitter. Historically, he’s had a penchant for making big promises he can’t keep, a habit that hasn’t won him any favor with investors.

NEW MUSK. The Elon Musk that jumped on the phone with investors Wednesday seemed to be a far cry from that Musk.

First, he reportedly started the call by apologizing for “being impolite” on the previous one. Then, he managed to make it through the entire call without making any of the big, bold claims he’s known for. In fact, he even walked back one of his predictions, telling Wall Street Journal reporter Tim Higgins that Tesla was more likely to produce 750,000 or so vehicles in 2020 rather than the 1 million he predicted during the Q1 2017 earnings call.

If Tesla’s rising stock is any indication, investors are digging Musk’s new calm, cool, and collected approach. Now it’s just a matter of seeing if the “new” Elon sticks around long enough for Tesla to become profitable. After all, as long as the money’s flowing in, investors might not mind a CEO who is occasionally less than diplomatic.

READ MORE: Tesla Loses More Money Than Ever, but Says Profits Are Coming [Wired]

More on Musk’s promises: Tesla Failed to Meet Elon Musk’s Model 3 Goals. Now What?

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SpaceX Will Be Ready to Transport Humans in April 2019, NASA Estimates

According to new NASA estimates, Elon Musk's SpaceX will be ready for a crewed test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft in April 2019.

PRIVATE/PUBLIC PARTNERSHIP. NASA wants to stop relying on Russia to get American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). And little by little, SpaceX is making that happen.

Back in 2014, the U.S. agreed to pay Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX $2.6 billion for a spacecraft that could carry the nation’s astronauts into orbit. It struck the same deal with Boeing, to the tune of $4.2 billion.

Since then, both projects have repeatedly delayed their launch dates. But we might finally have some that are definite (or, you know, as definite as these things can be).

SAVE THE DATE. On Thursday, NASA announced that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon (its spacecraft designed to transport astronauts) will be ready for an uncrewed test in November 2018 and a crewed test in April 2019. Boeing’s comparable CST-100 Starliner, meanwhile, will be ready for an uncrewed test in late 2018/early 2019 and a crewed test in mid-2019, according to NASA.

Following the crewed tests, each craft will undergo NASA’s certification process. If those go well, the crafts can then achieve their primary purpose: transport U.S. astronauts to the ISS.

ISS OR BUST. This delayed timeframe isn’t entirely unexpected. In July, the Government Accounting Office (GAO), an independent agency that investigates federal spending for Congress, released a report predicting that SpaceX would complete its certification process in February 2020; Boeing is likely to wrap it up a month earlier.

So, these dates aren’t surprising, but they also aren’t good news.

NASA astronauts currently hitch rides to the ISS aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, but that contract ends in November 2019. That means NASA could find itself without any way to get astronauts to or from the ISS between November 2019 and whenever the SpaceX and Boeing craft are finally ready — that is, unless something happens to somehow move these launch dates up.

READ MORE: NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Target Test Flight Dates [NASA]

More on the commercial crew program: SpaceX and Boeing Delays Could Cost NASA Access to the ISS

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Engineers Use CRISPR to Create A New Species With Just One Chromosome

Two teams of researchers have used gene-editing tool CRISPR to decrease the number of chromosomes in baker's yeast from 16 to one or two.

CRISPR “MAGIC.” Thought your baker’s yeast could never do anything more exciting than make bread rise? Well, think again. Two teams have remixed your yeast, with the help of gene editing tool CRISPR.

The first team, a group out of the NYU School of Medicine, took a yeast species with 16 chromosomes and used CRISPR to fit all the DNA it needed to function into just two chromosomes. The other team, this one from China, packed it all into just one chromosome.

Both teams published their studies in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

THE CHROMOSOME ZONE. Nearly every cell in the human body contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, tiny packages of DNA and proteins nestled in the cell’s nucleus. All eukaryotes (a group that includes plants, animals, and humans) have chromosomes, and they play a major role in helping our cells divide and function.

Not every eukaryote species has the same number of chromosomes, though. In fact, the numbers vary widely — the spider mite has just two pairs, while the Atlas Blue butterfly has 224 pairs — and no one is sure why. Studies like this one could help researchers figure it out.

NO BIGGIE. Using CRISPR, each team was able to fuse the yeast’s chromosomes until they reached just one or two. And surprisingly, the yeast didn’t function all that differently.

“That was the biggest shocker — that you can just get away with this and yeast seem to shrug its shoulders,” Jef Boeke, senior author of the NYU study, told Nature.

While the two-chromosome yeast survived, divided (reproducing asexually), and grew at the same rate as normal yeast, the one-chromosome yeast was a little slower at dividing. Neither yeast could successfully “breed” with other strains, either — for example, the yeast with two chromosomes couldn’t breed with yeast with 16 chromosomes.

A NEW SPECIES. This inability to breed with other yeasts could qualify the new yeast as a brand new species, said Boeke. That could have some substantial real-world applications — researchers could take strains of yeast capable of breaking agricultural byproducts into biofuels, for example, and adjust their chromosomes so they won’t breed with other yeast when released in the wild.

Additionally, this research could help us understand what causes chromosome abnormalities in human cells, the kinds that can cause miscarriages or Down’s syndrome.

And finally, it could help us figure out why different species have different numbers of chromosomes. Is is just a matter of chance?  Or is there something we’re missing?

READ MORE: Entire Yeast Genome Squeezed Into One Lone Chromosome [Nature]

More on CRISPR: A CRISPR Future: Five Ways Gene Editing Will Transform Our World

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Augmented Reality Recreates A New York City Not Seen for Centuries

Inventing America takes travelers to Governor's Island, New York back to the 17th century via an augmented reality simulation that covers the whole island.

If you’re looking to augment your walking tour of New York, but you grew tired of catching pokémon, shooting zombies, and hiding virtual graffiti, there’s a new AR app to help you make more of your stroll through the Big Apple.

Inventing America is a new AR experience mapped to real-world Governor’s Island, an (yep you guessed it) island that sits squarely in the East River, due East of the Statue of Liberty.

Today, Governor’s Island is a scenic destination broken up into a small national park and several historic sites. But originally, it was a seasonal outpost for Native Americans (who inhabited the whole region) to set up camp and collect fish. The British arrived, and the island changed hands several times between the English and Dutch — specifically, the West India Company, which made the island the base of its operations.

This post-colonial scene is what you step into on the Inventing America app. Viewed through a phone or tablet, Governor’s Island becomes the locus of a rip in the very fabric of spacetime. Step through the simulated time warp and you’re thrown back to the 17th century as a cartoony colonist, animated through 3D rendering and motion capture technology, work to settle the future New York City.

The brainchild of mixed reality artist Roi Lev (a former Israeli intelligence officer but more recently a master’s graduate from New York University), Inventing America features a cast of virtual characters and a branching storyline that users can freely follow, explore, or ignore as they see fit. It’s entirely up to each person how much they want to interact with the app’s narrative and cast of virtual colonists. And because the project relies on augmented reality rather than a virtual reality simulation or standard video, the only way to explore the virtual island is to wander the physical island.

The animation isn’t perfect by any means — the project’s official trailer shows a virtual character’s hands and arms clipping through his vest as he gestures. But it’s OK to suspend your disbelief — many indie-made video games share similar design glitches and the literally island-sized undertaking that is Inventing America can surely afford a couple of bugs.

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Given Magic Leap’s much-anticipated but utterly-disappointing demo, augmented reality could use some cool new projects that are more fun than high-tech body-shaming. And for Lev, Governor’s Island is just the beginning of his New York City time travel adventures.

“This is a first episode of experiences of the city in different times,” Lev told Futurism. “We recently started developing an experience set in the Lower East Side in the beginning of the 20th century.”

More about the future of augmented and virtual reality: Virtual Reality Has Reached A “Tipping Point.” It’s Officially Here to Stay.

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A Warm Water Mass Called “The Blob” Is Killing Alaska’s Cod

The cod population in the Gulf of Alaska is at the lowest levels ever recording, which is wreaking havoc on the state's economy.

THE DESTRUCTIVE BLOB. In 2013, an unstoppable entity began terrorizing the Pacific. At times it spanned the entire stretch of ocean from Alaska to South America. No, it wasn’t some hyper-aggressive shark or killer whale — it was “the blob,” a mass of water several degrees warmer than the ocean’s average temperature. It’s the kind of thing you might (foolishly) welcome in a chilly swimming pool, but can cause absolute havoc in the ocean.

The cause, according to scientists: man-made climate change.

DEVASTATING FOR MAN AND FISH. Early in 2017, temperatures in parts of the ocean, including the Gulf of Alaska, returned to normal, but the blob’s effects continue to linger in the region.

Thanks mainly to the blob, the Gulf’s cod population is now at the lowest level ever recorded, an expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),  a U.S. agency focused on the world’s bodies of water and atmosphere, told NPR. In March, Alaskan governor Bill Walker even reached out to the federal government to ask it to declare the state’s cod fishery a disaster so former workers, and the governments that collected their taxes, would qualify for relief funds.

“Throughout the Gulf of Alaska, direct impacts will be felt by vessel owners and operators, crew, and fish processors, as well (as) support industries that sell fuel, supplies, and groceries,” he wrote in his letter. “Local governments will feel the impact to their economic base and the State of Alaska will see a decline in fishery-related tax revenue.”

CODLESS FOREVER? While some researchers think the cod population could eventually recover, fisheries biologist Mike Litzow from the University of Alaska doesn’t think it will. “When you push a population down really hard, the resources that population used to rely on can be exploited by other populations,” he told NPR.

Ultimately, this could be another example of the widespread devastation caused by climate change, this time in the form of a murky ocean dweller known as the blob.

READ MORE: Gulf of Alaska Cod Are Disappearing. Blame ‘the Blob’ [NPR]

More on climate change: Marine Food Webs Are on the Brink of Collapse Because of Climate Change

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Think You Could Do More if You Just Had an Extra Hand? You’re Probably Right.

BEYOND HUMAN. Prosthetic limbs have come a long way in recent years. From primitive designs that were little more than useless placeholders for the real thing, we now have high-tech devices that wearers can control with their thoughts. These prostheses can help people with missing limbs feel “whole” again. But in a new study, researchers set out to see if such devices could make humans more than whole.

Specifically, a pair of researchers from the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Japan wanted to know if giving someone a supernumerary robotic limb (SRL), a mind-controlled robotic limb that worked alongside the person’s two biological ones, could give that person multitasking abilities beyond those of the average human.

They published their research in the journal Science Robotics on July 25.

TWO TASKS, THREE HANDS. For their study, the researchers asked 15 volunteers to sit in a chair with an SRL positioned as if it were a third arm coming from their own body. On the head of each volunteer, the researchers placed special cap that tracked the brain’s electrical activity. The cap transmitted that data to a computer that then translated it into movement in the SRL.

The result: all a volunteer had to do to control the SRL was think about an action.

Next, they asked the volunteers to complete two tasks. To accomplish one — balancing a ball on a board — they used their natural limbs. For the other (grasping and releasing a bottle), they used the SRL system. The researchers asked the volunteers to complete the tasks sometimes separately, sometimes simultaneously.

In 20 trials, the volunteers successfully completed both tasks using the three limbs about 75 percent of the time. In other words, they were able to complete two tasks simultaneously that would have been essentially impossible with just two limbs.

TRAINING THE BRAIN. When you think you’re “multitasking,” you aren’t actually paying attention to two things at once — your brain just switches rapidly between the two tasks. Past SRL systems required the user to concentrate on just the task at fake hand — this system is the first that could “read” a multitasking mind, sifting out the user’s intentions for the SRL. It can do this simply because it’s more advanced than previous versions.

The researchers even believe their system could essentially help humans become better at multitasking even when they don’t have a third limb helping out. “By operating this brain-machine interface, we have an idea that we may be able to train the brain itself,” researcher Shuichi Nishio told The Verge.

Future research will endeavor to figure out whether that’s true or not. If it is, we might be able to enhance our minds by temporarily enhancing our bodies.

READ MORE: This Mind-Controlled Robotic Limb Lets You Multitask With Three Arms [Singularity Hub]

More on prosthetics: New Thought-Controlled Prosthetics Restore the Sensation of Touch

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Trump’s Space Force Isn’t in Congress’ 2019 Spending Bill

Congressional lawmakers just agreed on a defense bill for 2019 that does not include funding for the establishment of a space force.

SORRY, DON. President Donald Trump has made it clear: he wants his legacy to include establishing the world’s first space force, a military branch dedicated to off-world conflicts. Congress, however, doesn’t appear so keen on the idea — at least not right now.

On Monday, Congressional lawmakers agreed on a defense spending bill for the fiscal year 2019. The bill directs the office of the secretary of defense to “develop a space warfighting policy.” What it doesn’t do is make any mention of a “space force.”

The House and Senate will vote on the bill this summer, and if it passes, it’ll move to President Trump’s desk to sign into law.

KICKING THE CAN. A U.S. space force will remain a pipe dream unless it garners support of those in Congress; they’re the only ones with the authority to establish and fund a new branch of the nation’s armed forces.

Still, the omission from the 2019 bill could have more to do with timing than Congress’ actual opinion on the matter. Trump only gave the order to establish the branch in June, weeks after the administration submitted most of its other proposals for the bill, a White House official told The Atlantic.

CYBER WARFARE. While the bill didn’t include any mention of a space force, it did include something else groundbreaking: the establishment of the U.S.’s first policy on cyber warfare. There have been a growing number of these kinds of attacks in recent years (compared to the number of space attacks, which have so far been zero). So it’s not entirely surprising that Congress is choosing to first focus on that very immediate threat before committing resources to defending our interests in space.

READ MORE: Trump’s Space Force Will Have to Wait [The Atlantic]

More on the space force: The US May Soon Have The World’s First Space Force

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Chinese Citizens Are Using Blockchain to Warn Each Other of Unsafe Vaccines

After internet monitors repeatedly removed an article detailing the unsafe vaccines in China, citizens added it to the Ethereum blockchain.

SHARING INFORMATION. China is in the midst of vaccine scandal. This weekend, news broke that drug manufacturer Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology was selling unsafe vaccines, causing an uproar amongst Chinese citizens, as we reported Tuesday. A blogger writing under the nom de plume “Beast” (?? shouye) was one of the first to break the story; an investigative article they published on the topic went viral on the WeChat social network.

Chinese internet monitors deleted the story within hours and quickly removed any reposts. However, internet users figured out a way to share the story that will keep it permanently out of reach of these monitors: by adding it to a blockchain.

ON THE CHAIN. Adding the article to a blockchain was actually pretty easy. A user simply sent themselves about $0.47 worth of the digital asset ether and posted the full article in the transaction’s metadata, a section reserved for notes or other information. Because the Ethereum blockchain is a public ledger, anyone can view this transaction (and read the included article). The ledger is also decentralized, so there’s no single authority Chinese officials could pressure to remove the article.

Technode, a site focused on China’s tech industry, was the first to catch this clever use of the blockchain, but it isn’t the first time Chinese citizens have turned to blockchain to share content that Chinese internet monitors had removed. In April, a student published an open letter detailing the threats she received for attempting to obtain information from her university about a sexual assault case. After internet monitors removed the letter, students added it to the Ethereum blockchain, where it remains.

TWO INTERNETS. The internet in China looks far different from that in the U.S. and many other nations. According to several human rights organizations, the nation employs more than 40,000 internet monitors whose sole job is to ensure information the government doesn’t want the public seeing stays off the internet. Chinese citizens can’t use Google, Facebook, and a number of other sites many of us take for granted. They also can’t access overseas Chinese news sites or use words the government doesn’t approve of (for example, they can’t post the word “disagree” on Weibo, a popular Chinese site that’s essentially a Twitter-Facebook hybrid).

By using the blockchain in this new way, Chinese citizens may have finally found a way to express themselves that’s beyond the government’s reach.

READ MORE: Chinese Internet Users Employ the Blockchain to Share a Censored News Article [The Verge]

More on China’s vaccine scandal: China Is Cracking Down on a Company Selling Unsafe Vaccines

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