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First Graphene-Based Device Is A “Few Months” Away, Says Startup

A University of Cambridge spin-out company claims it has found a way to produce graphene at commercial scale and will release a device soon.

The Waiting Game

Scientists first isolated graphene — a transparent layer of carbon just one atom thick — in 2004. Almost immediately, we began hearing about all the wondrous ways the material could transform our world, ushering in everything from quantum computers to unlimited drinking water.

Fifteen years later, that transformation has yet to take place, as graphene’s complex, expensive manufacturing process has prevented it from reaching the mainstream.

Now that could be poised to change, with a University of Cambridge spin-out company claiming it’s found a way to produce graphene at commercial scale — meaning the world might finally be able to make good on the promise of this “wonder material.”

Mystery Device

In 2018, a trio of Cambridge researchers created a spin-out company they named Paragraf.

On Tuesday, Cambridge announced that Paragraf had started to produce graphene at commercial scale, generating wafers of the material up to eight inches in diameter using a method the researchers developed in 2015.

According to a press release, the company’s first graphene-based electronic device will be “available in the next few months.”

Limitless Opportunity

While the press release doesn’t specify what Paragraf’s first device will be, the applications for graphene are nearly endless — the material is 200 times stronger than steel and 10 times better at conducting heat than copper, the conductor used in most electronics.

Graphene is also 250 times better at conducting electricity than silicon, and Cambridge anticipates that if we replaced the silicon chips in today’s transistors with graphene-based chips, we could increase the speed of electronic devices ten-fold. The university also estimates that graphene could make chemical and electrical sensors 30 times more accurate.

“Paragraf has the potential to transform a wide range of industries, including electronics, energy, and healthcare,” Paragraf chairman Colin Humphreys said in the press release. “It will enable the basic science results achieved in laboratories worldwide using small graphene flakes to be commercially exploited in graphene-based devices and to realise the potential and benefits to society of graphene, the wonder material.”

READ MORE: Cambridge spin-out starts producing graphene at commercial scale [University of Cambridge]

More on graphene: Five Ways Graphene Could Transform Our World

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First Graphene-Based Device Is A “Few Months” Away, Says Startup

New Google App Describes Objects to Blind People

Google has released a new app called Lookout that describes objects and reads text or currency for people with visual impairments.

Gift of Sight

An estimated 1.3 billion people across the globe live with some sort of vision impairment, and of those, 36 million are blind.

Now, Google has released an artificial intelligence-powered app designed to serve as a helpful pair of “eyes” for those people, providing them with a level of independence they may have previously lacked — and showing the world yet another way AI can help people with disabilities.

On the Lookout

Google named the app Lookout, and the way it works is simple: open the app on your phone, and listen while Lookout audibly describes whatever the phone’s camera is pointed at.

The app features three modes designed for specific situations.

Explore mode is useful for navigating a new setting. Google suggests in a blog post that people with severe visual impairments might choose to wear their phones around their necks, perhaps in a lanyard or in their shirt pocket, so that Explore can provide them with constant updates on their surroundings as they navigate the world.

Shopping mode is useful for scanning barcodes or reading currency — a person with a visual impairment might use this mode if they aren’t sure whether the bill they’re holding is worth $10 or $20.

Quick Read mode, meanwhile, is pretty self-explanatory. A person points their phone at text — anything from a sign in a grocery store to a piece of mail — and Lookout reads it to them.

It’s a Start

While Google points out in the blog post that the app “will not always be 100 percent perfect,” Lookout has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life for people with visual impairments.

That’ll be especially true if Google expands Lookout to include more languages, locations, and devices — it currently speaks only English and is only available for U.S. owners of Pixel devices — which the company claims in the blog post it plans to do soon.

READ MORE: With Lookout, discover your surroundings with the help of AI [Google]

More on AI: Instagram Will Use AI to Describe Images for Visually Impaired Users

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New Google App Describes Objects to Blind People

This Guy is Hacking Printers to Warn About Job-Stealing AI

Beware of Bots is a new marketing campaign that hacked printers to send out a warning about automation, urging people to switch careers.

Viral Marketing

If you work in finance, your printer may have recently spewed out a bizarre warning about the future of your industry.

The warning, which took the form of a glitchy-looking letter conveyed the warning that 94 percent of finance professionals could be replaced by AI by 2024. It’s been sent to over 623,000 printers with publicly-accessible ports, according to its creators — an ambitious piece of futuristic protest art for the era of automation.

“It’s 94% likely that by 2024 I will replace millions of accountants, auditors and financial analysts, no matter how experienced or talented ‘they’ may be,” the letter reads, maintaining the voice of an AI narrator. “The same fate will befall all professions based on structured and algorithmic processes.”

Cyber-Nagging

The project, called Beware of Bots, is the brainchild of Vlad Sitnikov, the same guy who told Futurism he wanted to launch giant billboards into space.

This time, his advertising has gone hyperlocal — in the philosophical opposite of that annoying “learn to code” movement, he urges people to pivot to graphic design and other creative fields that artificial intelligence is less likely to automate.

“I will not be able to replace creative professions in the near future,” the letter reads, still in the voice of the AI. “Only 8% of graphic designwork will be replaced by bots by 2024.”

Sitnikov could stand to profit from the hack: the letter he sent to thousands of hacked printers contains a coupon for a design course by author Michael Janda, with whom Sitnikov collaborated, and he was working on behalf of Skillbox, the online learning platform hosting Janda’s courses.

Singles In Your Area

To reach the finance bros’ printers, Sitnikov built a bot that accessed what’s called port 9100, through which many printers send and receive data. It’s not uncommon for hackers to exploit these publicly-accessible ports, so the hack itself isn’t all that revolutionary.

Accessing internet-connected printers by exploiting port 9100 is technically illegal, though most exploits tend to be harmless pranks. However,others have previously exploited port 9100 to commit hate crimes or send spam.

What is new, however, is using the vulnerability for a viral marketing campaign. While this ad comes under the guise of benevolence, Sitnikov’s campaign could open the doors to all sorts of advertisements churning out of your printer.

READ MORE: Bot Hacks Printers Worldwide to Warn Humans That Their Jobs Are at Risk from AI [Little Black Book]

More on viral marketing: The British Army Has an Official Viral Content Division

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Mercury Is Every Planet in the Solar System’s Closest Neighbor

Every picture of the solar system shows Venus as our closest neighbor. Sure, it comes closer to Earth than any planet, but on average Mercury is closer.

Well, Actually

You probably learned in school — or space camp — that Venus is Earth’s closest planetary neighbor.

Ready to get your mind blown? A new model of the planets’ orbit shuffles things around, calculating that Earth’s closest neighbor, on average, is actually Mercury. In fact, it says that every other planet in the solar system’s nearest neighbor is Mercury as well.

Averaging Out

Sure, Venus comes closer to Earth than Mercury, but it also spends a lot of time on the opposite side of the sun. Scientists from NASA, Los Alamos National Lab, and the U.S. Army put together a new model published Tuesday in Physics Today that breaks down the average distance among planets — and it turns out that they’re all, on average, closest to Mercury.

The team built an animation showing how even though Earth and Venus briefly pass each other, Mercury’s close proximity to the sun meant that its nearest and farthest distances from Earth weren’t that different. It’s that tight orbit around the sun which, when averaging out all the distances between the planets, keep Mercury from ever getting too far away from any given planet.

Orbituary

Sure, this doesn’t change much. The planets are still in the same order that they were in when you learned about them as a kid, in terms of orbits.

But if you want to blow someone’s mind — or maybe bore them with math — at Happy Hour, you can whip out some nifty new space trivia about the solar system.

READ MORE: Venus is not Earth’s closest neighbor [Physics Today]

More on space: Mercury is Alive: New Photos Show Evidence of Tectonic Activity

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Mayor Announces $10 Billion Plan to Save NYC From Rising Seas

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a plan to

Climate Proof

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan to “climate-proof” his city.

In an op-ed published in New York Magazine on Wednesday, de Blasio detailed his $10 billion plan to protect Manhattan from the coming rising sea levels and powerful storms that seem almost inevitable in the face of climate change.

“It will be one of the most complex environmental and engineering challenges our city has ever undertaken,” de Blasio wrote, “and it will, literally, alter the shape of the island of Manhattan.”

$10 Billion Buffer

To fortify most of Lower Manhattan, de Blasio’s plan allocates $500 million toward the creation of grassy stationary barriers in parks and removable barriers that the city can deploy just prior to a storm.

But those types of barriers won’t work to protect the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan, which de Blasio noted is just 8 feet above sea level — and tightly packed with vulnerable utilities, sewer systems, and subway lines.

The only option then, according to de Blasio, is to build more land — by pushing the coastline of Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Battery up to 500 feet into the East River.

“When we complete the coastal extension, which could cost $10 billion, Lower Manhattan will be secure from rising seas through 2100,” de Blasio wrote.

National Security

Ninety thousand people call Lower Manhattan home, but the need to protect the area is about far more than the local population. Lower Manhattan is also home to New York’s Financial District, which includes the United States’ — and, arguably, the world’s — economic center: Wall Street.

According to de Blasio, climate-proofing this area “should be as much a national priority as a local one — protecting the global center of commerce, the Federal Reserve, the home to a sector of our economy that touches every town and region in America.”

But the threat of climate change isn’t limited to New York — as de Blasio noted, other coastal cities, including Miami, Houston, and Charleston, are also staring down the same alarming fate.

“Preparing for climate change has to be a national priority, backed by tens of billions in federal investment,” de Blasio wrote. “Lives are on the line.”

READ MORE: My New Plan to Climate-Proof Lower Manhattan [New York Magazine]

More on climate change: Why Sea Levels Along the US East Coast Are Rising at Different Rates

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Facebook Had a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Facebook and Instagram users across the globe experienced outages for most of Wednesday starting around 1 pm EST and ending late Wednesday night. But why?

You Had a Bad Day

Facebook just had a very bad day.

Facebook, including Messenger, and Instagram users across North America experienced outages for most of Wednesday, starting in the afternoon and ending late the same night. Third party outage sites suggested it affected users across the entire globe.

The media reported it was perhaps the longest interruption ever experienced by two of the largest social networks in the world. But nobody really knows what specifically caused the outage — beyond a tweet today blaming the outage on a “server configuration change.”

“We’ve now resolved the issues and our systems are recovering,” read the tweet. “We’re very sorry for the inconvenience and appreciate everyone’s patience.”

Yesterday, as a result of a server configuration change, many people had trouble accessing our apps and services. We've now resolved the issues and our systems are recovering. We’re very sorry for the inconvenience and appreciate everyone’s patience.

— Facebook (@facebook) March 14, 2019

“Server Configuration Change”

Theories swirled on Twitter about what could have caused the massive outage on Facebook, which didn’t respond to questions from Futurism.  Facebook quickly ruled out one of the most popular theories via a tweet: it wasn’t a denial-of-service attack (DDoS) — an attack that involves countless infected computers being leveraged to attack a single target system.

It was an outage that didn’t just enrage individual users: Facebook likely felt the pressure from countless ad partners and businesses that relied on the network.

Founder and CEO of free encrypted messaging app Telegram announced that the service signed up three million new users on the day of Facebook’s outage.

Break ‘Em Up

The outage came days after senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren announced a bold plan Friday to break up tech giants Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

“Unwinding these mergers will promote healthy competition in the market — which will put pressure on big tech companies to be more responsive to user concerns, including about privacy,” Warren wrote in a Medium post.

To make Facebook’s terrible day even worse, the company was hit with a criminal investigation by New York prosecutors about data deals Facebook struck with other tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Sony.

A grand jury in New York requested records from two device makers who had active partnerships with Facebook, the New York Times reported yesterday. The exact focus of the investigation isn’t yet clear.

READ MORE: Facebook’s Data Deals Are Under Criminal Investigation [The New York Times]

More on Facebook: Elizabeth Warren Shares Plan to Break up Facebook, Google, Amazon

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DARPA Is Building an Open Source Voting Machine

DARPA is developing technology that could finally lead to secure voting machines. It plans to have experts from professors to hackers kick the tires.

Cracking Down

Voting booths are notoriously buggy. Whether they’ve been actively hacked or just improperly calibrated, every election season is rife with complaints that machines misrecorded ballots or that an election has been compromised by hackers.

To prevent us from having to take a technological step backwards to paper ballots, U.S. Department of Defense’s research division DARPA is working with cybersecurity firm Galois to develop open source voting machine technology that would let people verify that their votes were tallied correctly, according to Motherboard.

Open Source

The ultimate goal isn’t to sell machines, but to develop tech that would beef up existing voting machine vendors’ security.

“We will not have a voting system that we can deploy. That’s not what we do,” Linton Salmon, the DARPA scientist managing the project, told Motherboard. “We will show a methodology that could be used by others to build a voting system that is completely secure.”

Kicking The Tires

To make sure that any new voting machines built with DARPA software are actually better than today’s, the plan is to invite experts ranging from academic computer scientists to hackers to test it out and search for vulnerabilities, according to Motherboard.

One way that the new system might improve upon others is by printing out a sheet showing a voter’s selections so that they can look it over before feeding it into a separate machine that will actually record the vote.

“That receipt does not permit you to prove anything about how you voted, but does permit you to prove that the system accurately captured your intent and your vote is in the final tally,” Galois principal scientist Joe Kiniry told Motherboard.

READ MORE: DARPA Is Building a $10 Million, Open Source, Secure Voting System [Motherboard]

More on election security: Could Digital Voting Create a Society That Is Truly Governed by the People?

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DARPA Is Building an Open Source Voting Machine

New Research: People Who Get Defeated By AI Feel Horrible

According to a new experiment, people find losing to robots and AI particularly demoralizing, which could have implications for our automated workplaces.

Rigged Game

Whether it’s chess, Go, or Starcraft II, computer scientists are getting pretty good at building artificial intelligence that excels at games once dominated by people.

For the hapless humans who are left eating the pro-gamer AI’s dust, coming second to the bots again and again has a noticeable demoralizing effect, according to a study presented at a recent conference on human-robot interaction. While the psychological effects of playing games against a robot may not be groundbreaking, the study has dire implications for people who see more and more of their co-workers replaced by robots and AI — in other words, as we all start to lose at the game of work.

On Your Mark

In the study, human participants competed against an algorithm in a letter-counting task. Presented with a random string of letters, people had to count the amount of times the letter “G” appeared and drag a block on a computer screen to a space corresponding with the right answer. A correct answer earned them a point, while an incorrect answer froze their screen for ten seconds.

Earning more points than the AI competitor within a two-minute span would earn the participant the chance to win a cash prize, which the experimenters tweaked every now and then to see how it affected people’s motivation.

Throwing in The Towel

It turns out that people weren’t motivated by a higher pot on its own, but the extent to which they were discouraged by a superior AI increased when the prize value grew.

“I felt very stressed competing with the robot,” one participant is quoted in the research paper. “In some rounds, I kept seeing the robot’s score increasing out of the corner of my eye, which was extremely nerve-racking.”

READ MORE: Here’s what robots destroy when they compete with humans [MarketWatch]

More on automation: North America Put More Robots to Work in 2018 Than Ever Before

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Scientists Create Material That Blocks Sound, but Not Air or Light

A new

Listen Up

By combining math with 3D printing, researchers from Boston University have created a new material that seemingly defies logic: light and air have no trouble passing through it — but sound cannot.

“The idea is that we can now mathematically design an object that can block the sounds of anything,” researcher Xin Zhang said in a press release — meaning the future could be far quieter than the present.

Silent Treatment

In a paper published in the journal Physical Review B , the researchers describe the work that went into creating what they call their “acoustic metamaterial.”

They started by calculating the dimensions and specification a material would need to have to be able to reflect incoming sound waves back to their source without blocking air or light. Then they 3D printed the material into a donut shape and attached it to one end of a PVC pipe, the other end of which they attached to a loudspeaker.

When they blasted a high-pitched note from the loudspeaker, they found that the shape blocked 94 percent of the sound coming through the pipe.

“The moment we first placed and removed the silencer…was literally night and day,” researcher Jacob Nikolajczyk said in the press release. “We had been seeing these sorts of results in our computer modeling for months — but it is one thing to see modeled sound pressure levels on a computer, and another to hear its impact yourself.”

A Quiet Place

The researchers envision many applications for their acoustic metamaterial, which they claim isn’t limited to the donut shape demonstrated by their research.

“Our structure is super lightweight, open, and beautiful,” Zhang and her fellow researcher Reza Ghaffarivardavagh said in the press release. “Each piece could be used as a tile or brick to scale up and build a sound-canceling, permeable wall.”

They also note the potential to use the material to dampen the sound of drones, HVAC systems, or even MRI machines — seemingly anything that makes noise could make less noise with the addition of this new material.

READ MORE: Scientists have discovered a shape that blocks all sound – even your co-workers [Fast Company]

More on acoustics: MIT Used a Laser to Transmit Audio Directly Into a Person’s Ear

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See the Most Breathtaking Views of the Martian Surface Yet

Mars in Stereo

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which launched in 2016, just sent back some spectacular images of the Martian surface.

The orbiter is equipped to take images of the Martian surface in glorious 3D. The picture below shows the Columbus Crater on Mars’ southern hemisphere — which NASA discovered that sulfate particles contain hydrated minerals.

Peekaboo, InSight

Another amazing shot: a pic of NASA’s InSight lander hammering away at the Martian surface earlier this month. It’s the first time a European orbiter has taken a picture of InSight — though NASA’s own Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted InSight from orbit in December.

InSight’s heat shield, landing parachutes protective shell can also be seen as small dots.

Martian Dust Devils

A stereoscopic image shows dust devil streaks, in blue, on the edge of a massive crater. Throw on a pair of basic 3D glasses to appreciate the full effect.

The following images shows the edge of the Burroughs crater roughly 120 miles northwest of Mars’ northern polar ice cap. Some of the northernmost mounds are thought to be completely made up of “nearly pure water ice.”

READ MORE: InSight lander among latest ExoMars image bounty [ESA]

More on InSight: NASA’s InSight Mars Rover Runs Into Trouble Digging a Hole

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This Autonomous Robot Arm Feeds People Who Can’t Feed Themselves

Mealtime Tech

An estimated one million Americans can’t feed themselves. That leaves them little choice but to rely on another person at mealtime, which can be both awkward and time-consuming.

But now, researchers from the University of Washington have built Assistive Dexterous Arm (ADA), an artificially intelligent robot arm capable of using a fork to move food from a person’s plate to their mouth — another encouraging example of how AI and robotics can help people with disabilities live more independent lives.

Food for Bot

In a pair of recently published papers, the UW team describes how a pair of algorithms give ADA the ability to feed a person.

The first algorithm, RetinaNet, is an object-detection system. It scans a plate to determine the types of food on it, placing a “frame” around each item.

The second algorithm, SPNet, analyzes the food in a frame and sends instructions to the robot arm that let it know how to skewer the food in a way that’ll be easy for a person to eat — it might instruct the bot to stab a piece of banana in its center, for example, but a carrot near one end.

Giving the system the contextual knowledge that not all food should be treated the same way was a key part of ADA’s development process, according to researcher Siddhartha Srinivasa.

“If we don’t take into account how easy it is for a person to take a bite, then people might not be able to use our system,” he said in a press release. “There’s a universe of types of food out there, so our biggest challenge is to develop strategies that can deal with all of them.”

Team Effort

Once the robotic arm, which attaches to a wheelchair, receives its instructions from the algorithm, it relies on a system of sensors and cameras to skewer each piece of food with a 3D-printed fork and move it to a person’s mouth so they can eat it.

While Srinivasa is hopeful that ADA will provide people who have trouble feeding themselves with a new level of independence, he doesn’t see envision the system eliminating the need for human help altogether.

“Ultimately our goal is for our robot to help people have their lunch or dinner on their own,” he said in the press release. “But the point is not to replace caregivers: We want to empower them. With a robot to help, the caregiver can set up the plate, and then do something else while the person eats.”

READ MORE: Food-Focused Autonomous Robot Arm Knows How to Use the Forks [New Atlas]

More on AI: New Google App Describes Objects to Blind People

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Boeing Is Prepping to Launch Astronauts to Space Station

Commercial Crew Program

SpaceX isn’t the only company attempting to revolutionize the way we send astronauts to space.

Boeing, the largest aerospace company in the world, is looking to send up its own take on a passenger spacecraft, which it calls the CST-100 Starliner, to the International Space Station. Boeing is planning to launch the capsule — uncrewed for now, as a test flight — on an Atlas 5 rocket as early as April, according to NASA.

Starliner

Boeing’s commercial spacecraft shares similarities with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon: it can seat a crew of seven, be operated from a central control panel, dock autonomously with the ISS, and can also be reused multiple times.

Boeing’s Starliner is the result of a $4.2 billion contract signed with NASA in 2014 under the Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX signed a very similar contract for its Crew Dragon mission at the same time, although it paid SpaceX just $2.4 billion.

Race to the ISS

SpaceX successfully launched its passenger spacecraft to the ISS on Saturday, becoming the first ever private American spacecraft to do so. It also marked the first time astronauts launched into space from American soil since the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Boeing has tests to complete before it takes off.

“There still are many critical steps to complete before launch and while we eagerly are anticipating these launches, we will step through our test flight preparations and readiness reviews,” Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager at NASA said in an official update.

SpaceX is planning a crewed test flight in July of this year. Boeing wants to do the same only a month later — and its first pilots are already on stand-by.

READ MORE: Crew Dragon and Starliner: A Look at the Upcoming Astronaut Taxis [Space.com]

More on Starliner: NASA Announces The First Commercial Astronauts to Pilot The Next Generation of Spacecraft

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China: New “Artificial Sun” Will Be Completed This Year

A Chinese official claims the nation is poised to wrap up construction on the HL-2M tokamak, a new

On the Horizon

In November, Chinese researchers announced that the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor — an “artificial sun” designed to mimic the nuclear fusion process the real Sun uses to generate energy — had hit a milestone by achieving an electron temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius.

Now, officials are saying they believe they’ll wrap up construction on a new artificial sun this year, and they claim this device will be able to hit a milestone in ion temperature — putting us one step closer to harnessing the power of nuclear fusion.

Hot Tech

On Sunday Duan Xuru, an official at the China National Nuclear Corporation, announced during the annual session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference that engineers would wrap up construction on the nation’s HL-2M Tokamak in 2019.

“The artificial sun’s plasma is mainly composed of electrons and ions,” Duan told the media, according to the Global Times, “and the country’s existing Tokamak devices have achieved an electron temperature of over 100 million degrees C in its core plasma, and an ion temperature of 50 million C, and it is the ion that generates energy in the device.”

Tokamak

According to Duan, the HL-2M Tokamak will be able to achieve an ion temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius, about seven times hotter than the real Sun’s ion temperature. This meets meeting what the Global Times calls “one of the three challenges to reach the goal of harnessing the nuclear fusion.”

If he’s right, the device could serve as a template for future nuclear fusion reactors, bringing the dream of unlimited clean energy one step closer to reality.

READ MORE: Nation to complete new artificial sun device this year [Global Times]

More on the device: China’s “Artificial Sun” Is Now Hot Enough for Nuclear Fusion

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China: New “Artificial Sun” Will Be Completed This Year

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Spacecraft Splashes Down in the Atlantic

Welcome Home

Mission Demo-1 is officially complete.

After successfully undocking from the International Space Station in the early morning hours and burning through Earth’s atmosphere, SpaceX’s passenger spacecraft slowly descended back down to Earth, before safely splashing down into the Atlantic Ocean — and right on schedule at 8:45 am EST.

.@SpaceX’s #CrewDragon returned to Earth with a splash in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s eastern shore at 8:45am ET, completing an end-to-end flight test to the @Space_Station and back as part of our @Commercial_Crew Program. Learn more: https://t.co/MFB7dVb60c pic.twitter.com/8lFL6X3Tue

— NASA (@NASA) March 8, 2019

The Descent

Crew Dragon’s descent was slowed thanks to four large parachutes it deployed once it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.

Astronauts loaded roughly 300 pounds (136 kg) of cargo from the ISS into the spacecraft on Thursday to send back down to Earth.

SpaceX successfully launched the spacecraft on Saturday. It marks the first time a passenger spacecraft launched from American soil to the ISS — and returned safely back down to Earth — since the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Mission Accomplished

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon docked itself, with no robotic arm required, to an open port of the International Space Station early Sunday morning. It then spent five days docked to the station while astronauts checked out the inside of what could one day become their ride back home.

A lot could’ve gone wrong. The cargo Dragon variant featured a different parachute system and had a differently shaped hull.

“I see hypersonic re-entry as probably my greatest concern,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during a post-launch press event on Saturday.

In July, SpaceX is hoping to send the Crew Dragon capsule back into space — but this time with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board.

READ MORE:

More on Crew Dragon: Expert: SpaceX Just Made Russia’s Space Program “Null and Void”

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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Spacecraft Splashes Down in the Atlantic

New SETI Plan: Detect Alien Starships Powered by Black Holes

A new paper suggests that we could spot an alien civilization by looking for signs of starships powered by the radiation thrown off by small black hole.

Alien Starships

To detect alien civilizations, astronomers need to make some assumptions about the forms they might take — and the traces their technological artifacts could leave behind.

An outrageous new paper by a mathematician at Kansas State University does just that, positing that a sufficiently advanced alien civilization would likely build starships powered by the radiation thrown off by small black holes — and speculating that astronomers could use gamma telescopes to spot evidence of these black hole starships.

Black Holes

The basic idea, according to mathematician Louis Crane, is that a spaceship powered by a black hole would leave distinctive spillover from gamma rays. He suggests astronomers could detect that spillover using a telescope like the orbital Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

“If some advanced civilization already had such starships, current [very high energy] gamma ray telescopes could detect it out to 100 to 1,000 light years if we were in its beam,” Crane said in a press release. “They could be distinguished from natural sources by their steadily changing redshift over a period of years to decades.”

Game SETI Match

Crane also said, provocatively, that he believes astronomers may have already spotted several gamma ray sources “for which no natural explanation has been given.”

He also speculated about what it would mean for a civilization to be capable of creating an artificial black hole — and it sounds absolutely epic.

“To produce an artificial black hole, we would need to focus a billion-ton gamma ray laser to nuclear dimensions,” Crane said in the press release. “It’s like making as many high-tech nuclear bombs as there are automobiles on Earth. Just the scale of it is beyond the current world economy. A civilization which fully utilized the solar system would have the resources.”

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New SETI Plan: Detect Alien Starships Powered by Black Holes

NASA Is About to Test a Giant Solar Drone That Broadcasts 5G

The Hawk 30

Japanese tech giant SoftBank partnered with NASA and U.S. aerospace company AeroVironment to build a massive solar-powered drone that can beam 5G connectivity down to practically anywhere in the world.

A maiden voyage of SoftBank’s Hawk 30 prototype could take place as soon as next week, according to a November Space Act Agreement with NASA. More test flights will follow within the next three months — an initiative that if successful could bring wireless connectivity to the most remote regions of the globe.

Remote Areas

The Hawk 30 is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that features ten electric engines and can fly at altitudes of over 65,600 feet (20 km) according to IEEE Spectrum. Other than that, details are sparse.

The Hawk 30 won’t be the first UAV of its kind to attempt to bring connectivity to remote areas. The drone that holds the record of any winged horizontal aircraft was set by AeroVironment’s previous prototype, the Helios. That prototype was “an elegant flying wing wider than a 747 but weighing less than just one of the jumbo jet’s 18 landing wheels,” IEEE Spectrum writes.

It flew at an altitude of 93,000 feet back in 2001, but splintered into tiny pieces and fell into the Pacific Ocean just two years later due to turbulence.

Facebook and Google

Facebook also jumped on the bandwagon with its Aquila solar-powered drone. The Aquila project was an experiment to see if it was possible to bring internet connectivity to remote areas as well. A prototype stayed aloft for almost two hours over the Arizona desert in June 2017 during its second test flight. But the project was grounded in June 2018.

Even Google tried its hand, testing its SkyBender system in 2016. High-altitude balloons made more sense to the company in the end — the project was replaced by Alphabet’s Loon project in 2017.

It’s a concept with a poor track record so far. But that’s not stopping companies from learning from their mistakes and trying again.

READ MORE:  SoftBank Hopes Its Solar Internet Drone Will Soar Where Facebook’s and Google’s Sank [IEEE Spectrum]

More on connectivity UAVs: An AT&T Drone Is Connecting Puerto Ricans to Wireless Service

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NASA Is About to Test a Giant Solar Drone That Broadcasts 5G

NASA Announces World’s First All-Female Spacewalk

On March 29, NASA astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch will leave the ISS to embark on the world's first all-female spacewalk.

The Female Frontier

Two of NASA’s astronauts are scheduled to make history this month.

On March 29, Anne McClain and Christina Koch will leave the relative safety of the International Space Station for a spacewalk to upgrade the craft’s batteries.

Though rare, a spacewalk alone isn’t history-making. What’s exciting is the fact that this spacewalk will be the first to feature only women astronauts — an inspiring sign that women are catching up with men in exploring the final frontier.

Spacewalk This Way

On Wednesday, NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz confirmed the all-female spacewalk with CNN.

“As currently scheduled, the March 29 spacewalk will be the first with only women,” she told the network.

In addition to McClain and Koch, Schierholz pointed out that two other women will play important roles behind the scenes for this spacewalk — Mary Lawrence and Jackie Kagey will serve as the spacewalk’s lead flight director and lead spacewalk flight controller, respectively.

A third woman, Canadian Space Agency flight controller Kristen Facciol, will support the spacewalk from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. She’s the one who first broke the news of the all-female spacewalk with an exuberant tweet on March 1.

I just found out that I’ll be on console providing support for the FIRST ALL FEMALE SPACEWALK with @AstroAnnimal and @Astro_Christina and I can not contain my excitement!!!! #WomenInSTEM #WomenInEngineering #WomenInSpace

— Kristen Facciol (@kfacciol) March 1, 2019

As with anything space-related, there is always a chance the spacewalk might not go as planned, with Schierholz telling CNN that “assignments and schedules could always change.”

Still, right now, it’s looking like McClain and Koch will spacewalk their way into the history books on March 29.

READ MORE: 2 astronauts are scheduled for the first all-female spacewalk in history [CNN]

More on the ISS: First-Ever 360-Degree Video of Spacewalk Lets You Feel Like an ISS Astronaut

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NASA Announces World’s First All-Female Spacewalk

Stalkers Are Pretending to be Cops to Steal Your Phone’s Location

By telling companies such as Verizon and T-Mobile they're cops, stalkers and scammers can get users' real-time location data.

Just Ask

A loophole designed to protect lives is actually endangering them.

While cell phone companies typically require a court order before they’ll give law enforcement officials a customer’s real-time location data, they will make exceptions under “exigent circumstances” — for example, if turning over the data might prevent someone from being harmed.

Now, Motherboard is reporting that phone companies are also turning over this data to people impersonating officials — another troubling example of how little tech companies are doing to protect your personal data.

Scam Alert

According to Motherboard’s sources — which included Valerie McGilvrey, a skip tracer hired to find people’s locations — Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint have all turned over real-time location data to scammers who claimed to be law enforcement officials.

In some instances, the scammers were bounty hunters or debt collectors. In others, they were stalkers and domestic abusers trying to track down their victims. The stories they spin vary, but fake child kidnappings seem to be common approach.

“So many people are doing that and the telcos have been very stupid about it,” McGilvrey told Motherboard. “They have not done due diligence and called the police [departments] directly to verify the case or vet the identity of the person calling.”

Unprotected

This is far from the first example of tech companies inadequately protecting user data — from Facebook to Google, we constantly hear about companies experiencing data breaches, with users’ personal data ending up in the hands of people who were never meant to have access to it.

The issue has now gotten to the point that some legislators are suggesting bills to jail the execs of companies that don’t adequately protect user data — and if there’s one thing more worthy of punishment than accidentally leaking personal data, it might be willingly handing it over like these telephones companies are doing.

READ MORE: Stalkers and Debt Collectors Impersonate Cops to Trick Big Telecom Into Giving Them Cell Phone Location Data [Motherboard]

More on data breaches: New Bill Would Let FTC Jail Execs for Data Breaches

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Stalkers Are Pretending to be Cops to Steal Your Phone’s Location

Elizabeth Warren Shares Plan to Break up Facebook, Google, Amazon

Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren announced a bold plan today to break up tech giants Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

Breaking Up

Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren announced a bold plan on Friday to break up tech giants Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

“Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else,” Warren wrote in a Medium post about the plan. “That’s why my Administration will make big, structural changes to the tech sector to promote more competition — including breaking up Amazon, Facebook, and Google.”

Baby Bells

In particular, Warren singled out “anti-competitive mergers,” such as Amazon’s ownership of Whole Foods and Zappos, Facebook’s WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google’s Waze, Nest, and DoubleClick.

“Unwinding these mergers will promote healthy competition in the market? — ?which will put pressure on big tech companies to be more responsive to user concerns, including about privacy,” Warren wrote in the post.

It’s not unprecedented for the U.S. government to break up large enterprises. In the 1980s, it divided the American Telephone and Telegraph Company into so-called “Baby Bells” — several of which later re-merged into Verizon.

Zuckerberg Beware

Warren also alluded to how huge tech interests have upset the balance in the marketplace of ideas, noting how state actors may have used Facebook and other platforms to try to influence the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

“We must help America’s content creators — from local newspapers and national magazines to comedians and musicians — keep more of the value their content generates, rather than seeing it scooped up by companies like Google and Facebook,” Warren wrote on Medium. “And we must ensure that Russia — or any other foreign power — can’t use Facebook or any other form of social media to influence our elections.”

READ MORE: Elizabeth Warren’s new plan: Break up Amazon, Google and Facebook [CNN]

More on Facebook: Facebook Mods Are so Traumatized They’re Getting High at Work

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New Zealand Farmers Are Using Drones to Herd Sheep

Farmers in New Zealand have a new tool to herd sheep and cows, according to Radio New Zealand: drones outfitted with speakers so they can bark like dogs.

Sheep Drones

Farmers in New Zealand have a new tool to herd sheep and cows, according to Radio New Zealand: drones outfitted with speakers that blast the sounds of dogs barking.

“That’s the one thing I’ve noticed when you’re moving cows and calves that the old cows stand up to the dogs, but with the drones, they’ve never done that,” shepherd Corey Lambeth told the station.

Radio New Zealand video shows Lambeth corralling cows and sheep using a drone with a harsh digital bark.

Dog Days

Lambeth’s employer, Ben Crossley, confirmed that his fourth-generation farm is indeed using drones to control sheep. One favored model: the DJI Mavic Enterprise, which is already outfitted to play sounds — such as barking — over a speaker.

The Washington Post noted that farmers are already using drones around the world for a variety of farming tasks, *including* surveying crops.

The Washington Post noted that farmers are already using drones around the world for a variety of farming tasks, including surveying crops. Having the devices deal directly with animals is less common — but it could be a vision of the future of agriculture.

Drone Pups

Dogs, which were already used for herding in New Zealand, are learning to work alongside the drones, according to another story by Radio New Zealand.

“There’s definitely going to be places for dogs always on farm,” Lambeth told the station, but “the one downside of the Mavic [drones] or anything electronic is you still need to bring them in and charge them.”

READ MORE: Barking drones used on farms instead of sheep dogs [Radio New Zealand]

More on drones: Autonomous Drones Are Dropping Rat Poison Bombs on This Island

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