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.”


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

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.


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

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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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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

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.


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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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.


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.


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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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.


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


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

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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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Self-Powered Sensor Helps Track Firefighters in Burning Buildings

A sensor the size of a watch battery could help track firefighters and those in dangerous working conditions.

Heated Situation

No bigger than an ordinary watch battery, adding this little sensor to firefighter’s gear could help save lives.

Researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario announced on Friday they had created a fireproof, self-powered sensor that could be used to track people working in high-risk environments, such as firefighters, steelworkers, and miners. The research team – from McMaster, UCLA, and University of Chemistry and Technology Prague – published their work in the journal Nano Energy.

Cool Gadget

The self-powered sensor is embedded in the sole of a boot or under the arm of a jacket, areas where frequent motion can be registered by the device. The friction of motion generated in these areas charges the sensor, similar to the static charge you sometimes generate by sliding your socks on the carpet. If motion stops, the device alerts someone outside the hazardous area so help can be sent.

“If somebody is unconscious and you are unable to find them, this could be very useful,” said Ravi Selvaganapathy, a professor of mechanical engineering who oversaw the project. “The nice thing is that because it is self-powered, you don’t have to do anything. It scavenges power from the environment.”

High heat environments have posed a challenge to similar sensors. The new sensor is self-charging, since most batteries breakdown in hot environments, and thanks to its key material, a new carbon aerogel nanocomposite, it successfully withstood temperatures up to 300° Celsius (572° Fahrenheit), around the temperature most wood starts to burn.

Stayin’ Alive

The research team is hoping to connect with a commercial partner to help make the device more accessible to a larger market. Such a device could make a world of difference to those working in hostile environments and particularly to local fire departments.

“It’s exciting to develop something that could save someone’s life in the future,” said co-author Islam Hassan, a McMaster PhD student in mechanical engineering. “If firefighters use our technology and we can save someone’s life, that would be great.”

READ MORE: Tracking firefighters in burning buildings [EurekAlert]

More on Firefighting Tech: How Machine Learning Could Help California Fight Wildfires

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Why Cellphone Carriers Are Dreaming of a World Without Wi-Fi


Once relegated to coffee shops, by 2020 there will be more than 549 million global public and cable company-run Wi-Fi hot spots. As we strive to browse more, stream more, and download more, our networks will need to scale up to meet consumer demands. Enter two different visions on how companies plan to fulfill that need. While cellphone carriers can’t quit Wi-Fi just yet, that doesn’t mean they aren’t eyeing the exit. Developing 5G cellular networks will increase competition between cellular network providers and Wi-Fi connection providers, according to a new analysis from the Wall Street Journal.

Two Houses

Wi-Fi and cellular networks are similar in that both will enable you to stream Netflix’s Black Mirror, or whichever show you’re streaming at present. The major differences are that cellular networks provide coverage over a large area through cellphone carriers like AT&T and Verizon, while Wi-Fi covers a more localized area and delivers a connection to the internet from Internet Service Providers.

5G networks promise to more cheaply link multiple devices to cellphone networks which network providers would love as it means more traffic and more revenue. Ronan Dunne, head of Verizon Communications Inc.’s new consumer-focused unit, told the WSJ that many customers should be able to get rid of Wi-Fi at home once 5G is rolled out and new technologies spread its signal throughout homes. But to see a world without Wi-Fi, device manufacturers would need to replace almost all the internet-connected machines on the market, adding the cost of a cellular chip to gadgets currently without one.

Wi-Fi networks are also growing into a new generation of their own. A trade group of companies which provide Wi-Fi connectivity called the Wi-Fi Alliance recently announced Wi-Fi 6 as the industry designation for its own next generation. Wi-Fi 6 boasts faster download speed, faster even than early 5G spec, although it will depend on the capabilities of your home router.

Next Wave

Both Wi-Fi and cell network providers are in a race to offer the best connection in a bid to win over consumers. While the jury is still out on whether or not 5G connectivity will be beneficial to consumers the Federal Communications Commission is taking the first step in opening up the bandwidth of radio frequencies both forms of next-gen networks will depend on. Impressive strides are being made in an attempt to demonstrate the feasibility of new networks, such as the first 5G-powered surgical telementoring. Whether consumers are ready or not, new networks are coming.

READ MORE: Cellphone Carriers Envision World Without Wi-Fi [Wall Street Journal]

More on 5G: Welcome to the Age of 5G. No One Can Agree On Whether That’s A Good Thing.

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Controlling AI Weapons May Be Impossible, Warns Former US Secretary of State

Kai-Fu Lee, a venture capitalist who used to develop AI for Google and Microsoft, predicts that AI will automate 40 percent of the world's jobs in 15 years.

Kill Switch

AI arms control is all “fun and games” until someone accidentally recreates Skynet.

When looking to the future we can’t ignore the possibility of a potential artificial intelligence arms race as nations rush to outpace one another. That’s exactly the sort of future that former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is afraid of. Speaking last Thursday at a three-day event celebrating the opening of a new school of computing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kissinger warned that AI weapons might become harder to control than nuclear ones. Such systems will be developed in secrecy leading to a dangerous arms race, as Kissinger said according to MIT Tech Review, “With AI, the other side’s ignorance is one of your best weapons—sharing will be much more difficult.”

Powder Keg

It isn’t the first time Kissinger, a controversial figure in American foreign policy, has warned of the potential dangers of AI technology. In an op-ed for The Atlantic Kissinger opined that the U.S. government should “consider a presidential commission of eminent thinkers to help develop a national vision” on AI. He’s not alone in that consideration.

Last month, a group of experts — including ethics professors and human rights advocates — called for a ban on the development of AI-controlled weapon systems over fears that there are too many questions left as of yet unanswered such as “who is responsible when a machine decides to take a human life?”

Progress Marches On

Still, despite concerns, nations continue to develop tanks, planes, and bipedal androids. Just last month, President Donald Trump issued an order encouraging the United States to “prioritize AI”, lest the US fall behind other nations in AI development.

While AI still has more jovial applications which are being explored, like generating cat pictures and creating works of fine art, autonomy continues to creep into weapon systems development causing a backlash from the employees of companies like Google and Microsoft. The uncertain future and unbound potential of AI may require more reflection from humanity before we act on AI.

READ MORE: AI arms control may not be possible, warns Henry Kissinger [MIT Tech Review]

More on AI Ethics: Scientists Call for a Ban on AI-Controlled Killer Robots

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Controlling AI Weapons May Be Impossible, Warns Former US Secretary of State

Journalists Reported a News Story Using Machine Learning

An experiment about reporting news stories with machine learning just released its first effort — a deep dive into Lyft's IPO.

Machine Journalism

In November, the news website Quartz unveiled a bold idea: a studio, funded by the Knight Foundation, dedicated to reporting the news using machine learning techniques.

Today, the Quartz AI Studio’s first story dropped — and it’s an intriguing peek at how advancements in artificial intelligence could provide journalists with new tools for digging into public documents.

Face Lyft

For the story, Quartz reporters trained an algorithm to examine the section of ride-hailing app Lyft’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) that lists risks the company anticipates — and to identify the most “distinctive,” or unusual, things that rattle Lyft’s executives.

The resulting list of Lyft’s unusual concerns range from the fairly obvious to the moderately surprising. In addition to having concerns about “public perception,” the company’s leaders are also worried about how healthcare privacy laws will affect customers who use its service to catch rides to medical appointments. They’re also sweating whether cyberattacks could affect Amazon Web Services, which runs its platform.

Data Journalism

Quartz’s Lyft story isn’t the most groundbreaking work of journalism in the world, but it’s an interesting proof of concept about how reporters can leverage new tools to pull interesting takeaways from otherwise dry public records — and, perhaps, a preview of things to come.

“This is taking [data journalism] to the next level where we’re trying to get journalists comfortable using computers to do some of this pattern matching, sorting, grouping, anomaly detection — really working with especially large data sets,” John Keefe, Quartz’s technical architect for bots and machine learning, told Digiday back when the Quartz AI Studio first launched.

READ MORE: Here’s what Lyft talks about as risk factors that other companies don’t [Quartz]

More on machine learning: Statistician: Machine Learning Is Causing A “Crisis in Science”

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Journalists Reported a News Story Using Machine Learning

Elon Musk Wants to Build a “Permanently Occupied Human Base” on the Moon

To the ISS and Beyond

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk hasn’t gotten much sleep this weekend. But true to form, he’s already dreaming of something far more ambitious.

“To be frank, I’m a little emotionally exhausted,” Musk said at a post-launch press conference at four o’clock in the morning on Saturday. “Because that was super stressful. But it worked, so far.”

The private space company has achieved a lot within the last 48 hours. Their futuristic passenger spacecraft Crew Dragon launched early Saturday morning from the Kennedy Space Center and successfully docked autonomously with the International Space Station some 26 hours later.

If all goes well, two astronauts will fly on board the spacecraft to the ISS as soon as July.

Beyond Earth’s Orbit

But, as expected, Musk has much bigger plans — for traveling to beyond Earth’s orbit. “We should have a base on the moon, like a permanently occupied human base on the moon, and then send people to Mars,” Musk said at the press event. “Maybe there’s something beyond the space station, but we’ll see.”

The Starship Enterprise

Earlier this year, Musk admitted that he wanted to get to the Moon – and “as fast as possible,” he wrote in a Jan 31 tweet.

The vehicle that could fulfill that dream: the stainless-steel monstrosity dubbed Starship. But getting Starship to the Moon will be a much harder feat to pull off than any NASA project ever.

“It won’t be easy for us or SpaceX,” Walt Engelund, director of Space Technology and Exploration Directorate at NASA, told Business Insider in a February interview.

But one step at a time. “We’ve got to focus on getting [the Crew Dragon missions] right, for sure. That’s the priority,” Musk admitted at Saturday’s press event.

“But then, after that, maybe something beyond low-Earth orbit.”

READ MORE: Elon Musk says he would ride SpaceX’s new Dragon spaceship into orbit — and build a moon base with NASA [Business Insider]

More on Crew Dragon: Watch SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Dock Autonomously With the ISS

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Elon Musk Wants to Build a “Permanently Occupied Human Base” on the Moon