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Tesla Seems to Be Producing Plenty of Cars. They Just Aren’t Ending up on the Road.

SURPRISING SURPLUS

At one point, it seemed like Tesla Model 3s were more in demand than tickets to a hypothetical Coachella co-headlined by the newly reunited Jay-Z and Kanye.

An estimated 500,000 people pre-ordered one of the $35,000 vehicles. In an effort to make all those cars, Tesla had to resort to moving assembly into a tent. A used Model 3 was even (briefly) listed for sale online, marked up to $150,000.

So the Model 3 is in demand — right? So why are hundreds of Teslas now sitting dormant in parking lots across the nation?

EYES IN THE SKIES

The New York Times reports that a group calling itself the Shorty Air Force — that’s “shorty” as in “short selling” — has shared photos of large numbers of seemingly unsold Model 3s and other Teslas, parked together in lots and garages across the U.S. According to the Times, at least some of the members of the group think the stashed cars are evidence that Tesla is hiding poor sales.

Some of the photos, which the anonymous members of the Shorty Air Force take using drones and airplanes, feature hundreds of the vehicles, while others feature just a few dozen.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

That’s not the only explanation for why these cars are simply chilling in lots while drivers who pre-ordered Model 3s beg Elon Musk on Twitter to deliver their vehicles.

The company could be running low on delivery trailers, as Musk told one Twitter user. Maybe the photographed cars are in need of repairs before Tesla can deliver them to drivers — at least one photo showed a Tesla with a needed repair spelled out on its windshield. Or, you know, maybe the demand for Teslas simply isn’t as high as it seemed.

We may want to know the answer to the mystery of the extra Teslas even more than we want to know what changed Musk’s mind about settling that SEC lawsuit. And that’s something we really want to know.

READ MORE: Unraveling a Tesla Mystery: Lots (and Lots) of Parked Cars [The New York Times]

More on Tesla: A Used Tesla Model 3 Was Briefly Listed for $150,000

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Tesla Seems to Be Producing Plenty of Cars. They Just Aren’t Ending up on the Road.

The FDA Just Raided the Headquarters of E-Cigarette Maker JUUL

VAPORIZED

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just raided the headquarters of popular e-cigarette maker JUUL Labs in San-Francisco.

It seized thousands of pages of documents about the vape maker’s sales and marketing strategies, according to the Wall Street Journal. The raid comes on the tail of a huge effort by the agency to stop e-cigarette makers from marketing to minors.

PRECIOUS JUULS

The FDA has been on Juul’s case since April 2018, telling it off for targeting users under the age of 21. Earlier this month, the agency gave Juul 60 days to get its act together.

Juul holds considerable power in the e-cigarette market. According to a recent Wells Fargo analysis as reported by CNBC, Juul’s sales skyrocketed 783 percent in just one year; experts estimate the company controls 68 percent of the e-cigarette market, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The FDA got interested because adolescents are such huge fans. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 7 in 10 teens are exposed to e-cig ads. Even the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have reported that vaping’s popularity has taken off among teens.

COUGHING FIT

The jury is still out whether using e-cigarettes is bad for your health, especially for teens who weren’t smokers before. Vaping was found to leave toxic chemicals in the lungs. But there’s a lot we don’t know yet.

The unfortunate reality: teens do what they want, but they often don’t know what’s good or bad for them, either. It’s time for us to do a better job at parenting them, parents and governing bodies alike.

READ MORE: FDA Raids Vape Maker Juul, Seizes ‘Thousands’ of Documents [Gizmodo]

More on e-cigarettes: The FDA Just Threatened to Crack Down on E-Cig Companies Like Juul

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The FDA Just Raided the Headquarters of E-Cigarette Maker JUUL

This Futuristic Aircraft Could Take You From New York to Boston in 36 Minutes

HeliJet

The craft takes off vertically from any flat surface, like a helicopter, then cruises to your destination like a jet at 724 kilometers per hour (450 miles per hour), far above the traffic below.

That’s the idea behind a prototype aircraft created by Boston startup Transcend Air. The company says the craft could transport a half-dozen passengers at a time between Boston and New York in fewer than 40 minutes.

“We like to boast that we’re not inventing anything new here,” said CEO Greg Bruell in an interview with Travel + Leisure. “We’re taking a concept first demonstrated in the ’60s and finding a market for it, while updating it with the latest technology so that it doesn’t cost military-scale budgets to build them.”

Elite Travel

As Quartz pointed out, a Boston-New York flight from a conventional airport could easily take three hours between clearing security, boarding, and driving to the airport.

But passengers will have to pay for Transcend Air’s elite service. A one-way trip from New York to Boston will run $283 — easily double the cost of a conventional flight.

Hold It

There are a few more caveats. The service won’t launch until 2024 at the earliest. And to save on space, the next-gen aircraft won’t have bathrooms, so no grande mochas before take-off.

Ultimately, Transcend Air’s prototype is a glimpse of a stylish future for air transportation — even if, like private jets, it’ll inevitably cater to the wealthy.

READ MORE: Flying Taxi Company Wants to Get You From New York City to Boston in 36 Minutes [Travel + Leisure]

More on flying taxis: The World’s First Flying Taxis Will Take to the Skies in Five Months

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This Futuristic Aircraft Could Take You From New York to Boston in 36 Minutes

The First Full-Scale Hyperloop Passenger Capsule Has Arrived

Pod People

We’ve seen more sketches and animated demo videos of hyperloops than we can count. But now, one of leaders of the industry has finally shown us something we can touch.

During a ceremony in Spain on Tuesday, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HyperloopTT) unveiled the Quintero One, a pod designed to whisk passengers across vast distances, through depressurized tubes, as part of the high-tech transportation system of the future.

The company also released a video detailing the manufacturing of the capsule on the same day.

The Deets

Quintero One is 32 meters (105 feet) long, weighs 5,000 kilograms (5.5 tons), and took 5,000 hours to assemble. HyperloopTT constructed it almost entirely out of a custom-built, super-strong, super-light smart material containing a combination of carbon fiber and embedded sensors. These sensors can wirelessly transmit information on everything from temperature to stability in real-time while the capsule is in operation.

On the Move

Next stop for the capsule is HyperloopTT’s research and development center in Toulouse, France, so the company can integrate it into a hyperloop system. According to Bibop Gresta, HyperloopTT’s chairman and co-founder, it will be ready for passengers by 2019.

That’s assuming the company has a hyperloop in place to support it, of course.

The idea of a hyperloop has been floating around since Elon Musk first posed the concept back in 2013, and HyperloopTT is just one of several companies developing the technology.

Despite all the hype, though, we still don’t have a hyperloop. But hey, at least this pod’s a step in the right direction.

READ MORE: First Hyperloop Passenger Capsule Unveiled [Bloomberg]

More on HyperloopTT: CEO of a Hyperloop Company Has Some Surprising Thoughts on the Future of Transportation

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The First Full-Scale Hyperloop Passenger Capsule Has Arrived

Researchers Think They’ve Discovered the First Moon Outside Our Solar System

Many Moons

Moons are everywhere in our solar system — we have one, Mars has two, Jupiter and Saturn have dozens each — but we’ve never known whether moons are as common, or even exist at all, outside our Sun’s orbit.

That may have just changed.

On Wednesday, Columbia University researchers announced that they’d found the first evidence of an “exomoon” — a moon orbiting a planet beyond Earth’s solar system.

Survey Says

The discovery of the exomoon began with a survey of 284 transiting planets — meaning they pass between a star and an instrument we use to observe space (in this case NASA’s Kepler space telescope).

A planet passing in front of a star causes a noticeable dip in the star’s brightness, which astronomers can analyze to deduce information about a planet, such as its size and composition. In the case of Kepler-1625b, a Jupiter-sized planet about 4,000 lightyears from Earth, the Kepler survey data was a little different than the typical exoplanet, suggesting that it may have a moon.

The Columbia team then used the more-powerful Hubble telescope to study Kepler-1625b, looking for any additional dimming that would confirm the exomoon, or any sign that it was affecting the planet’s gravity. They found both.

Looking Up

Despite that evidence, the researchers caution that their work is preliminary, and it will need confirmed by future studies.

“We are trying to be cautious with our claims at this point… we want to see a little more before we come out and say, ‘Yes, this thing is definitely there,’” researcher Alex Teachey told reporters during a press briefing. “In that sense, we are not cracking open champagne bottles just yet on this one.”

And as of this week, though, it’s safe to say that many fresh pairs of eyes will set their sights on Kepler-1625b.

READ MORE: Thanks to Help From Hubble, the First Confirmed Exomoon? [EurekAlert]

More on exomoons: Do Exomoons Exist?

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Researchers Think They’ve Discovered the First Moon Outside Our Solar System

You Can Now Pick Your Baby’s Eye Color Before You’re Even Pregnant

Cheat Sheet

When you were in grade school, you likely encountered Punnett squares, which are simple charts that let you figure out the likelihood a child will inherit certain traits from their parents. Maybe you even entered your own parents’ eye colors into one, noting that you were likely to inherit your father’s brown peepers over your mother’s blue ones because his gene variants were dominant over hers.

Now a fertility clinic in California is letting would-be parents use the same technique — plus some modern genetic screening tech — to choose the color of their future baby’s eyes.

Behind Blue Eyes

According to a Wall Street Journal report, the Fertility Institutes clinic employs the same technology used to test embryos for genetic diseases to screen them for eye color. Parents can then choose to move forward with implantation of only the embryos most likely to produce an offspring with the eye color of their choice.

Of course, if the parents come from a long line of brown-eyed folks, this test won’t magically allow the duo to produce an embryo with blue eyes. But if the couple has, say, a one-in-six shot at the rare eye color, they could test several embryos until they found one that fit the bill.

Babies By Design

Choosing an unborn child’s eye color is a moral gray area that could lead to other eugenics-adjacent practices. Today a clinic might offer parents a choice of eye colors, but tomorrow, they could have the ability to screen embryos for hair color, height, intelligence, and a host of other traits.

And deciding as a society whether creating these “designer babies” is ethical will take much more effort than you’ll likely expend in a grade school science class.

READ MORE: Is It Ethical to Choose Your Baby’s Eye Color? [The Wall Street Journal]

More on designer babies: Creating Genetically Modified Babies Is “Morally Permissible,” Says Ethics Committee

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You Can Now Pick Your Baby’s Eye Color Before You’re Even Pregnant

4 Reasons Why Amazon Workers Might Have Gotten a Raise

Amazon is the second largest employer in the United States. Its CEO just overtook Bill Gates as the richest man on the planet.

It’s hard to square that reality with the working conditions of the 575,000 Americans Amazon employs. Reports claim employees have to pee in bottles to keep up with the relentless pace at Amazon’s factories. The Economist found that Amazon warehouses openings actually caused the wages to drop at other warehouses in the same regions.

But the days of sub-par working conditions are behind us, right? On Monday, the online retailer announced it would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for some 250,000 workers. It’s not a fluke: some of those employees will see significant boosts in income. Amazon is even announcing it will advocate for a higher minimum wage on a federal level in Congress.

But what drove the company to announce this now? 

Compensating Amazon workers fairly is an inherently good thing, but the timing of such an announcement is a little suspect.

Amazon might have agreed to the age hike:

1. Because Bezos Actually Cares

You can bet that Amazon didn’t get to its #324 rank on Forbes’ America’s Best Employers list by offering outstanding benefits that cost the company. But maybe Bezos has a heart, after all. What brand would want to be associated with atrocious working conditions?

2. To Prevent Competitors from Poaching Workers

Here’s one for the skeptics out there: maybe raising the minimum wage of Amazon workers was a play to keep employees from working for smaller competitors, or even steal workers from smaller competitors, as an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal suggests.

To take the argument further, lobbying Congress to raise the national minimum wage will also raise costs for Amazon’s competitors. And not every small business will be able to afford to compete with Amazon’s wages.

3. To Do What Bernie Says

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been on Amazon’s case for a while now. Back in August, Sanders openly called out Bezos for mistreating workers, and Sanders was hardly the first to do so.

Bezos might be aligning his company with the left in the U.S. to get ahead the “blue wave” — a wave of Democratic wins for House and Senate seats in the last couple of months leading up to the midterm elections.

Sanders seemed to be satisfied by the $15 minimum wage announcement and urged other companies to follow Bezos’ lead. “You cannot continue to pay your workers starvation wages,” Sanders told CNN‘s Wolf Blizter in an interview. “Learn from what Bezos has done. He has done the right thing. You have got to do it as well.” The rest of the appalling work conditions? Well hopefully Amazon will just figure it out.

4. To Appease Restless Employees

Amazon has been suppressing all of its employees’ efforts to unionize ever since the company was founded in 1994, The Guardian reports.

A higher minimum wage often reduces employees’ desire to unionize to fight for better working conditions (at least a little bit). “And now, amid growing labour unrest and intense anti-union activity on Amazon’s part, a conveniently-timed wage hike,” as Motherboard notes.

Amazon has made the right decision to hold itself accountable for paying (at least more of) its half a million employees a fair, livable wage, and fighting for more companies to do the same.

Bezos is not a hero, and it would be a mistake to call him that. Money talks — and that goes not only for all the minimum wage earners out there, but especially for the richest man on the planet.

More on Amazon’s working conditions: An Amazon Patent Would Use Cages to Keep Employees “Safe”

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4 Reasons Why Amazon Workers Might Have Gotten a Raise

URBAN-X Is Jumpstarting the Startups That Will Reimagine City Life

It takes more than elbow grease and moxie for someone with a good idea to find their place in the startup ecosystem. Even with the best idea, the pitfalls of building a real business are countless, the work required for success is daunting, and the reward often lies years in the future. To address this question we spoke to Miriam Roure, program director of URBAN-X, a startup accelerator that’s been instrumental in investing in and supporting new companies using design and technology to improve city life.

As the program director for URBAN-X, you look at hundreds of applications from startup founders hoping to work with you. What are the things that make a company stand out?

The first question that we ask ourselves is, “Is this the right team?” We evaluate their level of commitment, if the founders have complementary skill sets, or if they have started a company before. What is harder to evaluate is if they have the kind of marathon mindset it takes to build a startup, if they are quick learners, and if they are able to take advice in a constructive way.

Second, we look at the size of the opportunity. Even with a great team, if the market is too small or will take too long to mature, it can be hard to scale. The opportunity for us also means the potential impact that the solution can have. Can this solution reach 100 cities within five years? If so, what are some key KPIs that we could identify as drivers for positive change in these urban environments?

What’s the toughest part of making those decisions? Is it stressful holding the future of someone’s company in your hands?

We like to think about it as a matching process – some companies are too early and some other ones are too late, some fit our mission and some don’t, some have the growth potential and speed that the venture capital model requires and some might benefit from other kinds of funding. It’s important for us to be able to provide value to the companies in the program.

We are especially sensitive to our own biases and not dismissing opportunities because they might not fulfill a certain profile that we have in mind. We are also aware of founder stereotypes, “hot” markets and FOMO. Team selection is one of the hardest things we have to do and no investor gets it right 100% of the time.

You talked about how important it is to find companies that can have a real impact. Do you have a white whale? An urban problem that you’d love to have a hand in solving?

Our current white whale is water – no pun intended. For many areas, local sources are being exhausted and it’s really hard to find good, quality drinking water. Flint, Michigan is a touchpoint for what happens when archaic policy mixes with old technology. With climate change, cities need to find novel approaches to resilience dealing with sea level rise, storms and flooding. It’s hard to find solutions for problems that are so structural to how we have built our resource system.

For example, how we use water in our homes is the same water that we drink from the faucet and flush down our toilets. In the United States, the end consumer doesn’t perceive the true price of water and as a result, she doesn’t relate to the water crisis as much as other arguably less relevant challenges.

Does working in cities create unique challenges for URBAN-X startups?

Many URBAN-X companies face the challenge of operating in spaces that are regulated – and about 25% of our portfolio sells to or works closely with governments. This is not only challenging in and of itself, but it also can be tricky from a fundraising perspective. Many investors don’t know how RFPs and sales cycles with state or municipal governments work. We believe these solutions are not only necessary, but also operate in markets prime for disruption. In our last cohort, which concluded in February 2018, 100% of the companies have gone on to close their next round of capital, with many operating as B2G or in highly regulated markets.  With the Urban Us team, we have been proactive in building a network of investors and key players in government, policy-making and city services that are able to advise, connect and continue to invest in our startups.

By the end of the year, we will have roughly 40 startups in our portfolio. This growing network is also proving to be incredibly valuable as founders share resources, insights and respective networks.

Another challenge all early-stage startups face is their limited amount of runway and small teams. These limited resources make it such that staying focused becomes crucial. For first time founders, this is even more challenging. Beyond the investment, having access to expertise around the fundraising process, product strategy, team culture, customer discovery, design and engineering resources, and media exposure dramatically increases the chances of startup success and helps reduce the risk of failure.

What does it take? What are the qualities that a startup, or its founders, absolutely need to have to be successful?

It takes a committed and complementary team, an actionable vision, a relevant problem and a great solution, and the passion and wherewithal to not give up and make it happen.

Most important, optimism. As Clayton Christensen points out in his famous book “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” founders systematically underestimate the amount of risk that they are taking. This necessary underestimation is actually really inspiring – the idea that one can create a business that can improve the lives of people at scale makes it worth the effort. When we find a founder that’s in love with the problem they have taken on (more than their solution), we know we are on the right track.

URBAN-X, the accelerator for startups reimagining city life, invites you to Demo Day 04 on September 27, 2018 at A/D/O in Brooklyn, NY. Come get inspired by what’s next for more efficient, enjoyable, and livable cities. If you can’t make it in person, we’ll be live streaming the morning session from Futurism’s Facebook and YouTube pages!


Futurism fans: To create this content, a non-editorial team worked with URBAN-X, who sponsored this post. They help us keep the lights on. This post does not reflect the views or the endorsement of the Futurism.com editorial staff.

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URBAN-X Is Jumpstarting the Startups That Will Reimagine City Life

If We Want Drone Delivery To Be A Reality, We’ve Gotta Keep It Simple

DRONING ON

In 2013, we learned about Amazon’s splashy plans to drop packages off at customers’ homes using drones. Sure, there have been a few pilot drone deliveries, but for the most part, even Amazon hasn’t made that future a reality yet.

But in Iceland, a startup called Aha has been using drones to deliver hot food and other goods for five months. Its secret: keeping the system very, very simple.

As we creep towards a future in which drone delivery is commonplace, Aha’s success shows that a simple approach might work best — and that maybe tech giants like Amazon are over-engineering the concept.

BARE BONES

Aha’s delivery drones have no cameras or radar, IEEE Spectrum reports. In fact, they navigate the Reykjavik area using only GPS, which keeps them on pre-determined routes selected because they’re free of trees and other obstacles. When they arrive at a customer’s home, the drones lower deliveries — burgers are popular, but the company also sells electronics — on a line.

That stands in contrast to Amazon’s high-tech approach. In 2014, the company filed documents with the FAA claiming that its delivery drones sport “sense-and-avoid sensors.” A patent the company filed earlier this year describes a system that lets its drones respond to voice commands, and another patent from last year explains a beehive-like structure where drones can roost and collect new items for delivery.

AIN’T BROKE

In this case, the simple approach seems to be winning. Aha says it’s made 500 drone deliveries over the past five months, with no injuries. A delivery costs the equivalent of a modest US $7.

But don’t count Amazon out yet. The company is still pouring resources into its nascent drone program. Maybe it just needs to focus on a simpler set of features.

READ MORE: Are Delivery Drones Commercially Viable? Iceland Is About to Find Out [Spectrum IEEE]

More on drone delivery: Are Delivery Drones Actually Better for the Environment?

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If We Want Drone Delivery To Be A Reality, We’ve Gotta Keep It Simple

Glimpse: How An Army of Resurrected Mammoths Could Curb Global Warming

It’s 12,000 B.C. Modern humans are starting to migrate to the Americas for the first time. We won’t discover farming for another 2,000 years. We won’t build cities for another 9,000 years. As a species, our story is just beginning. In Siberia, another’s is coming to an end.

The mammoth steppe, one of the world’s most expansive ecosystems, is on the brink of collapse. For millennia, these arctic grasslands have played host to a variety of enormous plant-eating mammals, most notably the wooly mammoth. As a keystone species, the mammoths had long ensured environmental harmony. They kept the trees from multiplying, which allowed grass to grow in its place, sustaining all of the animals in the steppe.

But then, around 12,000 B.C., that changed. Rising global temperatures (a product of a receding ice age) and human activity rapidly drove down the populations of mammoths, triggering a domino effect that transformed the Siberian landscape. Trees, bushes, and shrubs proliferated in the mammoths’ absence, choking out the grasses that once sustained life there. As a result, the permafrost slowly began to thaw, releasing potent greenhouse gases that sped up global warming.

Now, 14,000 years later, scientists are faced with record-breaking global temperatures of humans’ own doing. And they’re realizing how valuable that ice age ecosystem was, and that we may be able to bring it back.

This possibility is explored in Sebastian Moller, the third episode of Glimpse, a new original sci-fi series from Futurism Studios (a division of Futurism LLC) and DUST. Watch the episode below.

Famed geneticist George Church has made bringing back the ice age ecosystem his mission. In 2015, he and a team Harvard researchers successfully spliced the DNA of a wooly mammoth into the genome of its closest living relative, the Asian Elephant. They chose 14 of the mammoth’s most recognizable genes for the experiment, activating them for the first time since their extinction. It was a watershed moment — scientists finally had all the tools they needed to bring an extinct animal back from the dead.

That’s the good news. The bad news, as Church well knows, is that bringing one mammoth back isn’t the same as bringing the species back. To restore the mammoth steppe to its Pleistocene glory, he estimates that we’ll need 80,000 mammoths. At least.

Making pretty much anything in such high numbers is daunting. But an enormous, extinct organism? Even harder. Genetic engineering isn’t exactly known for its ability to scale.

Current de-extinction proposals rely on surrogate mothers from living species to bear the resurrected organisms. The shorter the evolutionary distance — that is, the number of genetic differences — between the extinct species and the surrogate species, the better. That makes the Asian Elephant a perfect candidate to carry mammoth babies — there are only 44 differences between them. Unfortunately, the elephants are also endangered.

Copyright Dust/Futurism, 2018

“If we want to have 80,000 wooly mammoths or cold-resistant elephants that satisfy the wooly mammoth range at once, there aren’t enough mothers that you have access to, even it all relevant governments say, ‘This is a good thing.’” George explained in a recent interview on the After On podcast with Rob Reid.

He estimates there are only about 17,000 Asian Elephant females in prime reproductive health left on earth. That’s barely enough to keep their own species going, especially since the species reproduces slowly (it takes 22 months of gestation for a baby elephant to be born). Using them to bring an extinct species back? A tough sell. African Elephants could be used, too, but you’ll eventually run into the same problem.

The only viable solution, Church posits, is “full development outside the body with adequate blood supply and nutrients.” He’s talking about growing baby mammoths in artificial wombs. No scientist has ever accomplished that for a species that gives birth to live young (that is, not in an egg). But Church and his team are already making a lot of progress with mice, and plan to release the results of those studies this year.

“We’re getting better at turning stem cells into embryo-like structures. We’re getting better at turning embryos into support structures that are vascularized. Mice can implant into that,” he told Reid.  “Once that’s working well for mice, we’ll try moving into larger animals.” Church believes the first success for a mammoth will happen within a decade.

Even if he has all the organisms and technology he needs to accomplish his mission, Church will still run into opposition from ethicists. They’ll argue, among other things, that we should focus our limited resources on protecting species we still have with us. But Church and others like him believe the rewards of such a feat make it worth the struggle — and cost.

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Glimpse: How An Army of Resurrected Mammoths Could Curb Global Warming

Scientists Need to Solve These Two Mysteries to Find Life on Mars

Back in June, NASA revealed two mind-blowing facts: that there is organic matter on Mars, and that levels of methane in the planet’s atmosphere ebb and flow over time. It’s pretty exciting news that shook our understanding of astrobiology. And while this isn’t necessarily proof that aliens are out there, much of our terrestrial methane was produced by living things. And as any child can tell you, if you smelled it, someone must have dealt it.

The recent methane findings “confront us with robust data that demand interpretation,” a team of international scientists wrote in a study published last week in Astrobiology. The study authors have done just that — they sorted out what measurements, experiments, and missions NASA and other space organizations should prioritize as they seek more evidence that Mars does (or did) support life.

In short, the scientists want to study Mars’ geological activity. They want to understand the relationship between these newly discovered organic compounds and the fluctuating methane in the atmosphere. Their goal is to find traces of other molecules and gases that might make it possible for some primitive, microscopic life forms to survive beneath the planet’s surface. Here’s what exactly they’re looking for.

One: Redox Gradient

When we eat, our bodies pull energy out of our food through chemical reactions that create a back and forth flow of electrons and oxygen atoms between molecules. This back and forth is necessary for fueling our bodies — all living things do it. But because of Mars’ extreme atmosphere, this balance doesn’t exist. The atmosphere is so strongly oxidizing that these reactions would only happen in one direction. Any living thing on Mars would be reacting so strongly with the air that it wouldn’t be able to survive. The researchers are looking for components in the Martian atmosphere that would balance out that reaction, which would make life possible.

Two: Source of the Methane

The next step towards understanding whether Mars could have ever hosted life, the researchers suggest, is to dig beneath the surface of Mars in order to figure out where all this methane is coming from. While living things on Earth produce methane as they digest food, that’s not the only way the gas could emerge in an atmosphere. NASA’s upcoming InSight mission will probe beneath the surface of Mars. It’s primarily geared towards learning about seismic activity, but who knows what it might discover along the way.

Our best guess for why Mars’ methane levels fluctuate? The seasonal freezing and thawing of ice, which traps and releases methane over time (we know this from data from the Curiosity rove). But there’s no easy way to tell how long that methane has been there or whether more is being generated. And that means finding the source of Martian methane is more complex than pulling the finger of a little green alien.

By examining the chemical composition of subterranean samples and taking more atmospheric measurements, scientists would be able to learn whether this methane came from biological processes or complex chemical reactions that don’t involve life at all.

The researchers behind this plan aren’t suggesting it because there’s super compelling evidence that Mars supports life. In fact, as astrobiologist Caleb Scharf once asserted, it is far more reasonable to assume that it does not exist anywhere other than Earth. After all, that’s the only place we know for sure has got it.

But if, by some fantastic chance, there are some microbes hiding under the planet’s surface, or if there used to be some form of life on Mars, the study authors’ strategy likely represents our best chance at finding it.

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

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Scientists Need to Solve These Two Mysteries to Find Life on Mars

Make Music A Full Body Experience With A “Vibro-Tactile” Suit

SYNESTHETES

Tired: Listening to music.
Wired: Feeling the music.

A mind-bending new suit straps onto your torso, ankles and wrists, then uses actuators to translate audio into vivid vibration. The result: a new way for everyone to experience music, according to its creators. That’s especially exciting for people who have trouble hearing.

THE FEELIES

The Music: Not Impossible suit was created by design firm Not Impossible Labs and electronics manufacturing company Avnet. The suit can create sensations to go with pre-recorded music, or a “Vibrotactile DJ” can adjust the sensations in real time during a live music event.”

Billboard writer Andy Hermann tried the suit out, and it sounds like a trip.

“Sure enough, a pulse timed to a kickdrum throbs into my ankles and up through my legs,” he wrote. “Gradually, [the DJ] brings in other elements: the tap of a woodblock in my wrists, a bass line massaging my lower back, a harp tickling a melody across my chest.”

MORE ACCESSIBLE

To show the suit off, Not Impossible and Avnet organized a performance this past weekend by the band Greta Van Fleet at the Life is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas. The company allowed attendees to don the suits. Mandy Harvey, a deaf musician who stole the show on America’s Got Talent last year, talked about what the performance meant to her in a video Avnet posted to Facebook.

“It was an unbelievable experience to have an entire audience group who are all experiencing the same thing at the same time,” she said. “For being a deaf person, showing up at a concert, that never happens. You’re always excluded.”

READ MORE: Not Impossible Labs, Zappos Hope to Make Concerts More Accessible for the Deaf — and Cooler for Everyone [Billboard]

More on accessible design: New Tech Allows Deaf People To Sense Sounds

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Make Music A Full Body Experience With A “Vibro-Tactile” Suit

Robots Are Coming for Service Jobs

JOB THIEF

First came the factories. Between 1993 and 2007, as U.S. factories became highly automated, every new robot eliminated 5.6 human jobs, an economic think tank estimated in a study.

Now automation is starting to eat into a new industry: food and hospitality. Workers are concerned — according to the New York Times, the labor union that represents Marriott International hotel workers is demanding measures that will protect staff from being replaced by robots.

ROBO-STOP

The Times’ take is that food and hospitality jobs have been spared by automation because service workers make so little. But cheap, effective artificial intelligence means those jobs are no longer secure. Especially worrying to Marriott workers: Their employer is now deploying Amazon Echo speakers in rooms, which they worry will cut into the duties of human hotel workers.

And it’s not just Marriott. Fast food giant McDonald’s is rolling out cashier-replacing kiosks at 1,000 stores per quarter, which one former executive blamed on workers’ demands for higher wages. This spring, Las Vegas food workers voted to strike to protest technology they said was encroaching on human jobs in kitchens.

BURGER FLIPPERS

Robots haven’t pushed out the human bellhops or front desk workers quite yet. But experts predict that’s going to change radically. And we’ve already got examples of what the service sector will look like as robots shoulder more tasks, from the Boston-based automated kitchen Spyce to the Japanese “robot hotel” Henna na.

So buckle up. Automation is going to bring precipitous change to the job market — and if history is any guide, workers are unlikely to give up their jobs without a fight.

READ MORE: Hotel Workers Fret Over a New Rival: Alexa at the Front Desk [New York Times]

More on automation and labor: Las Vegas Food Service Workers Are Going on Strike So They Don’t Lose Their Jobs to Robots

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Robots Are Coming for Service Jobs

In a Shift, Apple and Amazon Say They Are in Favor of Federal Privacy Regulation

Here we go again: tech executives have found themselves in front of Congress.

On Wednesday, execs from Apple, Google, Twitter, AT&T, and Charter Communications came before a Senate Commerce Committee to once more discuss mishandling consumer data and concerns over privacy rights. Congress made its intentions clear — it wants to pass federal rules on how tech companies are allowed to handle private consumer data.

It’s easy to imagine that this hearing might have gone the same way as the five that came before it — under-informed congresspeople ask softball questions, tech company execs back-pedal, question-dodge, and answer vaguely whenever federal regulation comes up.

But this time, things were different. Leaders from prominent tech companies like Apple and Amazon have stated their support for federal regulations that would protect the privacy of user data the companies collect.

Bud Tribble, a vice president at Apple and leader of the company’s privacy software efforts said: “We believe that privacy is a fundamental human right, which should be supported by both social norms and the law,” according to Bloomberg.

Other tech execs followed suit — albeit in more equivocal terms. At Wednesday’s hearing, Amazon’s vice president Andrew DeVore said the company would agree to federal regulations, but warned of “possible unintended consequences” of strong state law, according to Canadian newspaper the National Post. DeVore fears that strong privacy laws could end up defining personal data as far too all-encompassing, stifling innovation.

On it’s face, the shift seems surprising. But these companies might have a different motive than protecting their users’ privacy rights. Silicon Valley holds considerable power over Congress. Part of the reason for Wednesday’s hearing was for Congress to ask tech execs for advice on how to regulate the tech industry, according to the Department of Commerce’s website.

Regulation seems imminent. In late June, California passed the Consumer Privacy Act, which gave Californians the right to know who collected what data and ask for that data to be deleted on the spot, while the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) became enforceable in May.

Silicon Valley was generally unhappy with these laws — the California law was unpopular with some tech companies because it they fear it could seriously undermine the revenue they get from selling that data to third parties once it goes into effect in 2020; the companies rushed to comply with GDPR or face some very steep fines.

As the federal government considers what kind of regulation to put in place, tech companies have a window. By throwing their support behind a law now, companies might be able to dodge much stronger, more restrictive legislation. Here are some of the factors at play:

  • Federal privacy legislation — if it ever solidifies into an actual Bill — is bound to be shaped by the interest of those companies. Congress listens to tech execs, while consumer-level advocacy groups are locked out of the discussions, as Wired points out.
  • If weak federal privacy laws are able to supersede stronger state laws like California’s Privacy Act, they could end up benefiting private tech companies, protecting them from more heavy-handed state laws in the future.
  • It’s in the tech companies’ interest to streamline the process of adhering to privacy laws — it’s easier to comply with a single legal framework, rather than 50 different state laws.

A federal law that regulates tech companies may look like a win for the general public on the surface, but we shouldn’t underestimate the deviousness of the companies the laws are exactly intended to rein in. These companies likely see this as an opportunity to avoid having to abide by stronger privacy laws in the future.

Read More: Social Media Giants Need Regulation From a Government That’s Unsure How To Help

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In a Shift, Apple and Amazon Say They Are in Favor of Federal Privacy Regulation

Paint it Clear: This Coating Could Make Your AC Obsolete

BEAT THE HEAT

Cranking up your air conditioner in the summer heat might seem like a good idea. But it’s not a great idea for the planet, or for your electric bill.

Now, researchers from Columbia University have devised an alternative to air conditioning that could keep your home cool without sending your power bill sky high. It’s a white polymer that reflects more than 96 percent of sunlight, and it comes in a dyeable, paint-like form, meaning we could use it to coat the sides and roofs of our homes to keep them cooler when the Sun is at its strongest.

TINY BUBBLES

The researchers describe the coating in a paper published Thursday in the journal Science. To create it, they engineered a mixture that forces water to settle into tiny droplets in a polymer. When those droplets evaporate, they leave tiny air holes behind. The holes, the researchers say, are what give the coating its remarkable sunlight-reflecting property.

The researchers put their concoction to the test under the oppressive heat of Phoenix, Arizona, painting it onto a copper sheet attached to sensors to measure the temperature. After 30 minutes, they found that the coating was 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than the ambient temperature. That means it might not be long before we’re slathering the stuff on our homes in order to ward off the summer heat without cranking the AC.

UNDER THE SUN

The world is only getting hotter as we deal with the repercussions of climate change, and until we transition fully to renewables, using electricity to cool our homes will only exacerbate the problem.

Additionally, not everyone can use air conditioning — think people in low-income regions or places without electricity — and for those folks, this cheap, easy-to-implement way to lower temperatures could literally be a life-saver.

READ MORE: Keeping Things Cool With a Paint-Like Polymer [EurekAlert]

More on polymers: Unbreakable: Watch a Spray-On Polymer Let Objects Survive a 148-Foot Fall

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Paint it Clear: This Coating Could Make Your AC Obsolete

Breaking: Hackers Accessed 50 Million Facebook Accounts

HACK ATTACK

Hackers accessed data from nearly 50 million Facebook accounts, the company said today. The company discovered the breach on Tuesday, according to the post, and does not know who was behind the attack. The social giant didn’t immediately say what data the hackers might have stolen.

Facebook’s vice president of product management Guy Rosen wrote in a post announcing the breach:

Our investigation is still in its early stages. But it’s clear that attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted ‘View As’, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts. Access tokens are the equivalent of digital keys that keep people logged in to Facebook so they don’t need to re-enter their password every time they use the app.

ZUCKED

This new data breach is significant not just because it showed another way that hackers can infiltrate Facebook’s defenses. It also shows that users themselves aren’t as prepared as they should be. As Michael Roston, a science editor for the New York Times noted on Twitter, it reveals that a large proportion of Facebook users aren’t protecting themselves from hacks like this as best they could.

Is the buried lede in Facebook's announcement that only about 90 million of their 2 billion-plus users are using two-factor authentication? https://t.co/xb1UUAZysD

— Michael Roston (@michaelroston) September 28, 2018

But it likely won’t have the impact of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which granted improper access to information about 87 million Facebook users in 2013.

Facebook’s reputation took a beating during that episode, and this is more bad news. We’ll update this post as more information becomes available.

READ MORE: Security Update [Facebook]

More on Facebook hacks: Mark Zuckerberg Kicks Off Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Spin Cycle With a Washed Response

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Breaking: Hackers Accessed 50 Million Facebook Accounts

The Five Funniest Things about the SEC’s Lawsuit against Elon Musk

He’s been likened to Tony Stark. Hordes of bros on the internet swear that he’s going to save the world. Any critical press against his companies is written off as a conspiracy by the government and big oil.

That’s right folks, we’re talking Elon Musk. The latest news: on Thursday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a lawsuit against Musk because of his ill-fated announcement to take Tesla private at $420 per share. The announcement wasn’t too much of a surprise — after all, the SEC had already launched formal inquiry into Tesla’s finances and subpoenaed the entire Tesla board (plus, the Justice Department launched a formal fraud investigation into the same).

But the government just came out guns blazing. And honestly the filing is pretty juicy for those who don’t mind slogging through a little legal and finance jargon.

Luckily, we’ve done that for you. Here are the highlights:

Musk is under investigation for fraud because he made a pot joke.

Musk’s Twitter announcement that he had secured funding to take Tesla private at $420 per share has now prompted two separate organizations of the federal government to investigate him and his finances. Musk ruined the weed number for everyone, so this seems like fitting punishment.

Musk told the SEC that Grimes taught him about pot.

That’s right, Musk claimed that, prior to the formation of Grusk, he had no idea why “420” was a funny number.

According to the SEC’s formal complaint over misleading statements, Musk “rounded the price up to $420 because he had recently learned about the number’s significance in marijuana culture and thought his girlfriend ‘would find it funny, which admittedly is not a great reason to pick a price.’”

This whole mess is all because Musk wouldn’t stop tweeting.

We’ve all lied on the internet, but flubbing your dating profile likely didn’t launch two federal investigations and cause your company’s stocks to crash multiple times over the following months. The entire basis of the SEC’s lawsuit is the misleading nature of Musk’s statements. Specifically, he incorrectly claimed that funding had been secured, and he knew it wasn’t true, according to the SEC.

As the filing asserts, “Musk’s false and misleading public statements and omissions caused significant confusion and disruption in the market for Tesla’s stock and resulting harm to investors.”

The SEC wrote in its complaint:

Musk knew or was reckless in not knowing that each of these statements was false and/or misleading because he did not have an adequate basis in fact for his assertions. When he made these statements, Musk knew that he had never discussed a going-private transaction at $420 per share with any potential funding source, had done nothing to investigate whether it would be possible for all current investors to remain with Tesla as a private company via a ‘special purpose fund,’ and had not confirmed support of Tesla’s investors for a potential going- private transaction. He also knew that he had not satisfied numerous additional contingencies, the resolution of which was highly uncertain, when he unequivocally declared, ‘Only reason why this is not certain is that it’s contingent on a shareholder vote.’

And also:

The July 31 meeting lacked discussion of even the most fundamental terms of a  proposed going-private transaction.

Musk hates short sellers but gave them yet another field day.

Short selling, or dumping stock in a company as it drops just to buy them back up once the price levels off (essentially turning a profit while obtaining an even larger share in the company), really gets on Musk’s nerves. And yet, each time another investigation launches or, you know, Musk accuses people of pedophilia, he’s handing those people Tesla stock on a silver platter. Tesla stock dropped several points when news of the SEC’s lawsuit broke, and once more short sellers got to work.

After claiming he could take Tesla private, Musk may be no longer be allowed to run any public company.

Part of the SEC’s filing includes an order that the defendant (that’s ol’ Musky) “be prohibited from acting as an officer or director” of any public company operating under U.S. law.

This ban may be reassuring to anyone who’s dealt with Musk in a professional setting. As the SEC wrote in its filing, “Musk did not consult with Tesla’s Board of Directors, any other Tesla employees, or any outside advisors about these tweets before publishing them.” Not exactly the most reliable CEO, as far as the board is concerned.

Everyone thought it was a joke. Turns out it may have been federal crime.

When Musk tweeted out the $420 price point, everyone (understandably) assumed he was telling some boring joke.

Once more from the SEC’s complaint:

At approximately 1:13 PM EDT, a Tesla investor and friend of Musk’s chief of staff texted the chief of staff, ‘What’s Elon’s tweet about? Can’t make any sense of it. Would  be incredibly disappointing for shareholders that have stuck it out for so long.’ A few minutes later, at approximately 1:32 PM EDT, a business reporter texted Musk’s chief of staff, ‘Quite a tweet! (Is it a joke?).’

At approximately 2:23 PM EDT, another reporter sent Musk an email with the subject, ‘Are you just messing around?’ and wrote, ‘Reaching out to see what’s going on with your tweets about taking the company private? Is this just a 420 joke gone awry? Are you serious? It seems like you are dancing into some pretty tricky legal territory by messing about with the markets this way. Is there an actual explanation coming?’

We’re laughing so we don’t cry.

More on the SEC lawsuit: Ludacris Mode: SEC Sues Elon Musk, Causing a Quick Drop in Tesla Stock

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The Five Funniest Things about the SEC’s Lawsuit against Elon Musk

This Week in Science: Sept 22-28

This week, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) landed a pair of tiny hopping robots to the asteroid called Ryugu, and they’ve got the mind-blowing photos to prove it. Meanwhile, SpaceX is officially gearing up to send a Japanese rover to the surface of the Moon around 2020. Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto.

Here Are the First Photos Japan’s Robot Landers Sent Back From an Asteroid. Japan’s asteroid-exploring robots have officially landed on Ryugu and are now transmitting data and photos of the rocky small planet.

Scientists Just Took A “Spectacular Step” Towards Lab-Grown Human Egg Cells. Researchers have come closer than ever before to producing lab-grown human egg cells using just the blood of a person.

Electrical Stimulation Helped A Man With Paralyzed Legs Walk Again. With the help of electrical stimulation and physical therapy, a 29-year-old man diagnosed with total lower body paralysis can now take steps on his own.

SpaceX Will Send Another Company’s Robots to the Moon in 2021. Japanese space exploration company ispace is teaming up with SpaceX on two lunar missions, one in mid-2020 and the other in mid-2021.

Pet Store Puppies Are Spreading Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. CDC officials have traced an outbreak of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria Campylobacter jejuni to pet-store puppies unnecessarily prescribed antibiotics.

Nuclear Power Used to Seem Like the Future. Now Its Fate in the US Is in Question. If we still need nuclear plants as a stopgap to moving away from fossil fuels, fine. But overall, atomic power no longer feels like the future.

More on science: This Week in Science: Sept 15-21

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This Week in Science: Sept 22-28

Reports: Elon Musk Turned Down an SEC Settlement

NO DEAL

Before the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a lawsuit against Elon Musk for alleged fraud yesterday, the Tesla CEO reportedly turned down a settlement offer.

That’s according to the Wall Street Journal, which spoke to sources who said the settlement for an undisclosed amount was approved by the SEC’s commissioners. But after Musk’s lawyers turned it down Thursday, the sources said, the agency “rushed to pull together” the complaint they filed that afternoon.

TWEET TROUBLES

Musk’s troubles with the SEC stem from an August 7 tweet in which he said he was considering taking Tesla private for $420 per share — a corporate buyout the SEC says he had no way of financing.

Sources who talked to CNBC offered more details about the no-deal settlement, reporting that the enigmatic CEO “refused to sign the deal because he felt that by settling he would not be truthful to himself.” In other words, Musk wouldn’t take the settlement because that would imply that he did something wrong, and he doesn’t think he did.

Musk had a way to avoid going to court, and he didn’t take it. That means he’s prepared to fight.

READ MORE: SEC Sues Elon Musk for Fraud, Seeks Removal From Tesla [Wall Street Journal]

More on the SEC investigation: Ludicrous Mode: SEC Sues Elon Musk, Causing a Quick Drop in Tesla Stock

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Reports: Elon Musk Turned Down an SEC Settlement

Planes Kill Huge Numbers of Birds. LEDs Could Save Their Lives.

THE BIRDS AND THE B52S

Each year thousands of birds collide with airplanes, dying in the process. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to figure out an effective way to help the animals survive alongside humans in the not-so-friendly skies.

That may be changing, though. A team from Purdue University has uncovered a simple solution to the problem of bird collisions, at least for one species: adding red or blue LEDs to planes.

BIRD’S EYE

The Purdue team described their experiment in a study published this week in the journal PeerJ. They cut two holes in a large board, one on the left side and one on the right, and positioned a large LED light next to each. Each LED could shine in five different wavelengths of light: ultraviolet, blue, green, red, and white.

Then they let a brown-headed cowbird go and observed which hole it chose to fly through, given various choices of LED lights. They chose the species because it is commonly involved in plane collisions and has a visual system well-suited to this kind of experimentation.

They found that the birds consistently avoided a hole if it was lit by an LED that appears blue or red to the human eye — a clue that those colors could be used to deter birds from flying toward airplanes.

FLOCK TOGETHER

Planes aren’t the only man-made objects birds collide with while flying — they also slam into buildings, wind turbines, power lines, cars, and more.

As our urban areas sprawl to encroach on areas inhabited by wildlife, placing more of these animals in harm’s way. If we want to ensure our structures don’t diminish bird populations, we’ll need a better way to deter the animals from approaching them, and LEDs look like they could be a viable option.

READ MORE: Millions of Birds Die in Collisions Each Year, but Lights Could Change That [Purdue University]

More on bird collisions: These Robots Chase Birds Away From Airports

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