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

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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Boeing Is Prepping to Launch Astronauts to Space Station

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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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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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 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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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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Robbers Tortured a Man With a Drill to Steal His Cryptocurrency

Home invaders tortured a crypto trader with an electric to force him to give up his cryptocurrency, according to a Dutch newspaper.

Crypto Crime

A key promise of the digital cash known as cryptocurrency is its security — because only you possess the password to access your money, it’s presumably more safe than it would be at a bank.

But a grisly crime in the Netherlands — in which home invaders tortured a crypto trader in an attempt to force him to give up his coins — shows that there’s also a dark side to having total control over your own wealth.

Robber Squad

According to the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, a trio of robbers disguised as police burst into the home of an unidentified cryptocurrency trader in late February.

Then, in view of the man’s four-year-old daughter, they tortured the crypto trader with an electric drill — causing injuries so severe that he was hospitalized for five days, according to a follow-up story.

It’s not clear whether they obtained any of the crypto trader’s funds before leaving, but if he did turn over his password, the criminals could have transferred the money to an anonymous account almost instantly.

Followup

Dutch police were horrified by the crime, according to De Telegraaf, and dispatched 15 officers to investigate. The cops refused to comment, but police sources confirmed to the newspaper that the criminals were after the man’s cryptocurrency holdings.

Crypto news site CoinTelegraph pointed out that there have been other examples of violent criminals attempting to steal cryptocurrency, such as a Russian businessman who was held hostage until he surrendered his Bitcoin funds.

“If you are rich and you own real estate, or stocks or a sports team, somebody can’t mug you and take your sports team away,” Bitcoin engineer Jameson Lopp told The New York Times in 2018. “Having liquid crypto assets makes you much more attractive for that type of criminal attack.”

READ MORE: Bitcoin Trader Brutally Tortured With Drill in Cryptocurrency Robbery [The Independent]

More on cryptocurrency: Did a Crypto CEO Fake His Own Death to Abscond With $190 Million?

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Robbers Tortured a Man With a Drill to Steal His Cryptocurrency

Psychedelic Mushrooms Can Boost Creativity and Empathy for a Week

The positive benefits of ingesting psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, can last for up to a week, according to a new study.

Magic Medicine

The benefits of taking psychedelics could last long after the trip ends.

A team of Dutch researchers has found that psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, doesn’t just increase a person’s creativity, empathy, and feeling of well-being while a user trips. It also allows them to experience all of those benefits for up to seven days — providing valuable insight into how we could tap into the therapeutic value of hallucinogenics.

Tea Time

For their study, which was recently published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, the team from Maastricht University recruited 55 attendees of a retreat of the Psychedelic Society in the Netherlands.

They asked the subjects, about half of whom hadn’t taken psilocybin before, to complete a series of tests designed to measure their creativity, empathy, and general satisfaction with life three times: once the evening before ingesting a tea made from psychedelic mushrooms, once the morning after drinking it, and then finally seven days later.

“We found that psilocybin, when taken in a naturalistic setting, increased aspects of creativity and empathy the morning after, and 7 days after use,” researcher Natasha Mason told PsyPost. “Furthermore, psilocybin also enhanced subjective well-being.”

Window of Opportunity

As Mason admitted to PsyPost, the study did have several limitations, including the lack of a control group and the fact that the participants were all people who chose to attend a psychedelic retreat.

However, she still believes the team’s study produced valuable insights into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.

“These findings are important in trying to understand psychedelics’ therapeutic utility in the treatment of certain pathologies,” Mason told PsyPost. “Specifically, in a therapy session, enhancements in empathy could increase feelings of openness and trust between patient and therapist, thus strengthening the therapeutic alliance.”

“Furthermore, enhancements in flexible, creative thinking could allow individuals to break out of their old patterns of thought, and generate new and effective cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies,” she continued. “Importantly, our data suggest that these effects outlast the acute phase and persist over time, thus potentially opening up a ‘window of opportunity’ where therapeutic interventions could prove more effective.”

READ MORE: A single dose of psilocybin enhances creative thinking and empathy up to seven days after use, study finds [PsyPost]

More on psychedelics: Scientist Tells World Leaders MDMA and Magic Mushrooms Should Be Legal

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Police Arrest Vandal Who Trashed Tesla Supercharger

Supercharger Vandalism

First, pickup truck owners started taking over Supercharger stations in apparent protest. Now a vandal has struck one of Tesla’s electric vehicles chargers.

Last week, a 52 year-old man physically vandalized the charging cable and ports at all the docks of a local St. George, Utah’s Tesla Supercharger station, local news reports — the latest skirmish in a simmering culture war about electric vehicles.

Confession

It took local law enforcement less than 24 hours from the start of their investigation to find a suspect named Johnny Doak. According to St. George News, he had been drinking heavily that night and was “grieving the death of a family member.”

Doak later confessed to his crime. Whether it was his intention was to vandalize a Tesla Supercharger station in particular is unclear. Police estimate total repair costs to be $8,000.

ICEing

The news comes after pickup drivers in the U.S. were found to park their trucks in unoccupied Tesla Supercharger spots. The trend became known as “ICEing,” due to the symbolic weight of vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE) blocking access to electric vehicle charging stations.

Tesla developed a clever solution to the problem earlier this year by installing metal hurdles that could be lowered using a QR code on the Tesla owner’s phone.

It’s an ominous trend, but incidents have thus far been uncommon. But it goes to show that not everybody is happy about the spread of electric cars — for whatever reason.

READ MORE: Tesla Supercharger vandal has been arrested [Electrek]

More on “ICEing”: Tesla Found a Clever Way to Prevent Supercharger ICEing

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Police Arrest Vandal Who Trashed Tesla Supercharger

Watch a 3D Printed Self-Driving Shuttle Smash Into a Wall

Local Motors demonstrates how its Olli self-driving shuttle reacts during crash testing in a pair of video shared exclusively with The Verge.

Olli-Oops

Typically, the last thing an automaker wants the media to present is graphic video of its vehicles crashing. Not so with Local Motors.

The Arizona-based startup reached out to The Verge with exclusive video of its 3D-printed self-driving shuttle Olli in what CEO Jay Rogers calls its “worst-case scenario”: smashing into a wall at 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour).

“What I hope we’re showing, by showing people these vehicles crashing, is that we’re doing the due diligence,” Rogers told the outlet. “We want people to see the progress.”

Grand Slam

The video of the crash test, which was recorded in late 2018, is quite spectacular, with plenty of flying glass and buckled wheels.

“It was quite an experience,” Rogers told The Verge. “It’s kind of the first time I think anyone has really done any kind of large-scale crash testing with a 3D-printed vehicle, so it was pretty amazing to be part of that project and kind of be on the cutting edge of that pushing the science forward.”

Still, once the wreckage settles, it’s clear that the structure of the self-driving shuttle has remained largely intact. In another video shared with The Verge, Olli doesn’t appear to sustain any damage at all — though in that one, it’s only moving at 4.8 kph (3 mph).

self-driving shuttle
Image Credit: Local Motors

Fine Print

Local Motors is already testing Olli on public roads, where it operates at speeds that roughly split the difference of the two crash videos: 24 to 29 kph (15 to 18 mph).

According to Rogers, the fact that the vehicle is 3D printed tends to be a point of concern for potential passengers. But it’s the 3D printing that allows Local Motors to easily tweak Olli’s design to improve safety or incorporate the latest technology, he said.

“Many people just ask the question, ‘Well, is it safe or not? Like, am I riding around in something that a MakerBot printed?’” Rogers told The Verge, name checking a prominent brand of consumer-oriented 3D printer. “The answer is, not only is it as safe, but it will be safer in the future.”

self-driving shuttle
Image Credit: Local Motors

READ MORE: LOCAL MOTORS WANTS TO PROVE 3D-PRINTED SELF-DRIVING SHUTTLES ARE SAFE [The Verge]

More on Olli: An Autonomous, 3D Printed Bus That Talks to Passengers? Olli Has It All

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Watch a 3D Printed Self-Driving Shuttle Smash Into a Wall

Mitsubishi’s New Hybrid Can Power Your Home During a Blackout

Bi-Directional Charging

In the future, your car will charge your house.

That’s according to Japanese carmaker Mitsubishi, which is working on a solar platform — including a sizable home battery, charger and solar panels — called Dendo Drive House. The twist: it can use the company’s lineup of plug-in hybrid cars to store extra power.

It’s a futuristic concept: when the sun shines, both your car and home charge up at the same time thanks to a “bi-directional charger.” If you’re stuck with no power from the electric grid, your home is able to use up your plug-in hybrid car’s remaining battery reserves.

In its promotional video, Mitsubishi argues it might even save you some money — you can chose to charge your home from the grid at night, when electricity prices are lower.

The Engelberg Tourer

The reveal came alongside the announcement of Mitsubishi’s Engelberg Tourer, a “next-generation crossover SUV concept” at this year’s Geneva Motor Show.

The Tourer is meant to skip the need for charging infrastructure altogether, according to the press release, thanks to its generous battery pack — and of course the Dendo Drive House platform with its bi-directional charging capability.

It’s not the first time the idea has cropped up: Tesla CEO Elon Musk mentioned the idea in a July 2018 tweet, pointing out it might make sense for his electric vehicle company to “revisit” the idea.

Like many concepts of its kind, there’s no guarantee Mitsubishi’s SUV and the Dendo Drive House platform will ever be released to the public.

While Tesla has already shown the benefits of mounting a massive home battery packs to your garage wall, the efficiency of home solar panel technology still has a way to go.

But who wouldn’t want to save some money on their energy bills while ensuring that their energy demands are met even during a power outage?

READ MORE: This SUV powers your house–and your house powers this SUV [Fast Company]

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Seaweed Straw “Looks, Feels, and Acts Like Plastic,” Says Startup

To address the world's plastic problem, startup Loliware has created seaweed straws that can be composted or allowed to biodegrade in the ocean.

Seaweed Sippers

Every day, Americans use an estimated 500 million plastic straws — and the vast majority are ending up in landfills or oceans, where they’ll likely remain for hundreds of years.

More and more locations are starting to ban these straws, but rather than asking people to live a straw-less existence, a startup called Loliware thinks we should provide them with an environmentally friendly alternative — and that’s why they’re now proposing we sip our sodas through seaweed.

Breaking It Down

Loliware has developed a straw that the company’s sustainability adviser, Daniela Saltzman, told Business Insider “looks, feels, and acts like plastic.” However, it’s actually created out of “hyper-compostable” seaweed that biodegrades much like a banana peel on land and breaks down in weeks in water.

“A disposable product that’s built to last for centuries — i.e., a plastic straw — makes no sense,” Saltzman said, “but one that can be composted or safely biodegrades in the ocean, that’s obviously fine.”

This summer the company will begin shipping its seaweed straws to several customers, including hospitality chain Marriott and beverage company Pernod Ricard.

By the end of 2020, Loliware expects to be able to produce 30 billion straws in a variety of styles, according to a Fast Company story, and it’s aiming for a production cost about the same as paper straws.

Grasping at Straws

Loliware isn’t the first company to produce an alternative to plastic straws, but existing options leave much to be desired.

Reusable stainless steel straws can be a pain to clean, bamboo ones can leave a woody taste in the drinker’s mouth, and glass straws are a bad idea for klutzes prone to dropping things.

Paper straws are disposable, so that’s a benefit, but they can also become mushy quickly and cause whatever you’re drinking to taste like, well, paper.

According to Loliware, its seaweed straws only start to turn soft after 18 hours of use. They also have a “neutral” taste, CEO Chelsea Briganti told Business Insider, and while the straws are edible, she doesn’t recommend eating them.

“It can be eaten, but this is not a food per se, or a snack,” she said. “Don’t expect to eat your whole straw as if it’s a candy.”

READ MORE: These Straws Work Like Plastic, but They’re “Hyper-Compostable” [Fast Company]

More on plastic pollution: Stop Whining That Your Plastic Straws Are Disappearing. Be Glad They’re Not Ending up in Oceans.

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Zuckerberg Said to Have “Panic Chute” for Escape From Facebook HQ

here are persistent rumors among workers at the social giant that the company's security staff installed a secret

Panic Chute

Business Insider investigation into Facebook’s security practices provides a riveting look at how the company protects its celebrity executives — but the strangest revelations were about the company’s extraordinary efforts to keep CEO Mark Zuckerberg safe.

One persistent rumor exemplifies the company’s apparent paranoia: Workers at the social media giant claim that the company’s security staff installed a secret “panic chute” at the company’s headquarters that Zuckerberg’s security detail can use to evacuate him in the case of an emergency.

Zuck Truck

Facebook’s executive-protection team is run by a former U.S. Secret Service special agent named Jill Leavens Jones, according to BI, and she has serious resources to protect Zuckerberg, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and others — including a $10 million annual budget dedicated solely to protecting the CEO and his family.

That funding has led to some futuristic security features, according to BI‘s investigation.

In addition to the rumored panic chute, Zuckerberg himself has access to a room with bullet-resistant windows and a “panic button.” Nobody is allowed to park in the spot in the parking garage directly below his desk for fear of car bombs.

Friends Forever

The strangest takeaway from the story, though, isn’t what Facebook does to protect Zuckerberg from stalkers and potential threats — it’s the company’s efforts to protect him from Facebook employees themselves, who aren’t even allowed to take photos of the enigmatic CEO.

“If you’ve ever been close to his office, you’ll see there are big burly people sitting there staring at screens,” one Facebook employee wrote on Quora. “They pretend to be software engineers, but everyone knows that they are security guards.”

READ MORE: Mark Zuckerberg is rumored to have a secret escape passageway beneath his conference room for emergencies [Business Insider]

More on Zuckerberg: Mark Zuckerberg Insists That Facebook Promotes Privacy

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Residents Are Furious About Google’s Drone Delivery Service

Google parent company Alphabet is preparing to launch what the Australian Broadcasting Corporation says is the first commercial drone delivery service.

Project Wing

Google parent company Alphabet is gearing up to launch what the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports will be the world’s first commercial drone delivery service, which will fall under its Project Wing arm.

But Alphabet may be in for a fight before the delivery program takes flight in Australia by this coming June, according to the ABC — because local residents are furious about the idea of buzzing drones invading their community.

The Sky is Falling

Alphabet says its drones will be able to deliver coffee, food and medication — but residents of Canberra, where the program will take place, are worried about what it’ll be like living among the drones.

“Things fall out of the sky, it’s quite hard to get drones to work properly, it’s quite hard to deal with drones when they lose communications… we should be treating it that way and applying the precautionary principle and getting out ahead of the problem,” said Roger Clarke, a professor at Australian National University.

Robotics Technologies

For its part, Alphabet recently tested a quieter version of its delivery drone.

“We’re trying to be as transparent and as open as we can,” Project Wing CEO James Burgess told the Canberra Times.

But not all residents are convinced.

“That is what is going to happen with some forms of these new robotics technologies unless corporations deal the public in, and get the downsides understood and prevented or mitigated, and they’re not doing it,” Clarke said.

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NASA’s Stunning Image: Supersonic Shockwaves Smashing Together

NASA engineers have captured the first images of the interaction between shockwaves from a pair of flying supersonic aircraft — and they are stunning.

Supersonic Flight

NASA engineers have captured the first images of the interaction between shockwaves from a pair of flying supersonic aircraft — and they are stunning.

“We’re seeing a level of physical detail here that I don’t think anybody has ever seen before,” senior research engineer Dan Banks said in a NASA press release. “Just looking at the data for the first time, I think things worked out better than we’d imagined.”

“We never dreamt that it would be this clear, this beautiful,” physical scientist J.T. Heineck added.

Making Waves

When an object moves faster than the speed of sound, it causes rapid air pressure changes called shockwaves.

To record the interaction between shockwaves from two craft, NASA had two T-38 jets from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base fly at supersonic speeds, with one jet about 30 feet behind and 10 feet below the other.

NASA then flew a B-200 King Air aircraft in a holding pattern at an altitude of approximately 30,000 feet. Using a special recording system, including a camera capable of recording 1,400 frames per second, the team then captured footage of the two T-38s as they passed about 2,000 feet below the B-200 at supersonic speeds.

“The biggest challenge was trying to get the timing correct to make sure we could get these images,” sub-project manager Heather Maliska said. “I’m absolutely happy with how the team was able to pull this off… They were rock stars.”

Sounds Great

When shockwaves merge, they produce sonic booms, loud noises that are one of the reasons supersonic flight is currently restricted over land. NASA is developing a craft called the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology X-plane that’s designed to fly at supersonic speeds without producing any sonic booms — just a quiet rumble.

However, if NASA hopes to convince regulators to change existing restrictions on supersonic flight over land — and enable travelers to get from one part of the U.S. to the other far more quickly —  they’ll need to be able to produce highly detailed, statistically sound images of the upcoming X-59 demonstrations.

And now, the agency knows it has an imaging system capable of producing those photos.

“I am ecstatic about how these images turned out,” Heineck said in the news release. “With this upgraded system, we have, by an order of magnitude, improved both the speed and quality of our imagery from previous research.”

READ MORE: NASA Captures First Air-to-Air Images of Supersonic Shockwave Interaction in Flight [NASA]

More on the X-59: NASA Starts Tests to Prepare for Flight of “Quiet” Supersonic Jet

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