The robot, developed by the Tartan Rescue team from the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University, is one of 17 competing in the U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Robotics Challenge. The challenge was launched in 2011 in response to the meltdown of Japan's Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant after it was hit by a massive earthquake-spawned tsunami. The backup power systems needed to cool plant's reactors failed and an emergency team from Tokyo Electric Power Company was unable to enter the damaged reactor building due to the intense radiation. DARPA sent robots designed to disarm improvised explosive devices in Iraq to Japan, yet by the time workers were trained to use them it was too late to prevent a nuclear meltdown.
China will expand its presence in Antarctica by building a fourth research base and finding a site for a fifth, a state-run newspaper said on Thursday, as the country steps up its increasingly far-flung scientific efforts. Chinese scientists are increasingly looking beyond China for their research, including sending submersibles to explore the bottom of the ocean and last weekend landing the country's first probe on the moon. Workers will build a summer field camp called Taishan and look for a site for another research station, the official China Daily reported. "As a latecomer to Antarctic scientific research, China is catching up," the report cited Qu Tanzhou, director of the State Oceanic Administration's Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, as saying.
China aims to launch its next unmanned lunar probe in 2017, with the key aim of collecting and bringing back lunar samples, an official said on Monday, after the country's first probe landed successfully on the moon over the weekend. China's leaders have set a priority on advancing its space program, with President Xi Jinping calling for the country to establish itself as a space power. The development of the Chang'e 5 probe, tasked with the moon sampling mission, is well underway and it is expected to be launched around 2017, a spokesman for the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense said. "After the success of the Chang'e 3's mission, the lunar exploration program will enter the third phase, with the main goal being to achieve unmanned automatic collection of samples and returning them (to the earth)," spokesman Wu Zhijian told a news conference.
Full recovery of the ozone layer, which shields Earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation, should occur around 2070, atmospheric scientist Natalya Kramarova, with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told reporters at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco last week. "Currently, we do not see that the ozone hole is recovering," she said. "It should become apparent in 2025." Researchers report puzzlingly large variations in the size of the annual ozone hole over Antarctica. In 2012 for example, the ozone hole was the second smallest on record, an apparently positive sign that the 1989 Montreal Protocol agreement - which called for the phasing out of Freon and other damaging chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs - was working.
By Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle OSLO (Reuters) - A kind of rock that often contains diamonds has been found in Antarctica for the first time, hinting at mineral riches in the vast, icy continent where mining is banned. "It would be very surprising if there weren't diamonds in these kimberlites," Greg Yaxley of the Australian National University in Canberra, who led the research, said in a telephone interview. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, an Australian-led team reported finding the kimberlite deposits around Mount Meredith, in the Prince Charles Mountains in East Antarctica. Kimberlite is a rare rock where diamonds are often found;
40 tons: the weight of the door to NASA's Chamber A, a room that recreates the deadly conditions of deep space and, because it can reach 11 Kelvin, is the coldest place on Earth
4: the number of spiral arms that make up the Milky Way, according to a new study (previous observations give our galaxy just two arms)
1 trillionth of a second: the time it should take scientists to heat water to 600 degrees Celsius using a clever new heating method
$11,720: the money raised via Indiegogo for an absurd device that claims to translate dog thoughts into English
$2 million: the top prize of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a Pentagon-funded competition to develop robotic first responders
$1 million: the prize the Methuselah Foundation is offering the the first research group to make a bioengineered liver
2 centimeters: the average amount of space between penguins in a huddle, according to researchers who created a mathematical model of penguin huddles
1.2 million: the estimated number of Americans who get salmonella infections each year (but don't worry, your eggnog is safe)
$199: the price of the Canary home security system, which includes a wide-angle HD camera, infrared motion sensor, temperature and humidity sensors, and microphone
1903: the year the Wright brothers first piloted a heavier-than-air craft. Read the story of their famous first flight in the September 1925 issue of Popular Science.
1976: the year of the last soft landing on the moon, until China's Chang'e 3 spacecraft touched down last week (video)
14,838: the number of pieces of large debris orbiting Earth (see where they are)
10 kilowatts: the power of a recently tested, truck-mounted Army laser that can zap incoming drones and mortar shells
For a small-time farmer, Neal Carter has received a lot of big-time attention. Carter is the owner of a 21-acre farm in Canada?s Okanagan Valley and the developer of Arctic apples, which are genetically engineered so their interiors stay white for hours after being cut.
Carter thinks his invention could encourage people to eat more apples by making packaged, pre-sliced fruit more appealing. Anti-GMO activists, as well as the apple industry, oppose the introduction of Arctics, each for different reasons. Seattle Weekly has published a profile of Carter with detailed reporting on the technology?s contentious route to market. It?s a great read if you want to get caught up on the issue. Some highlights:The technology that goes into Arctic apples is different from that used to make many GMO products. Often, scientists make modified crops by inserting genes from other species into the crop plants? own DNA. Arctic apples use a newer technique that takes advantage of a process called RNA interference or RNAi. The apples get extra doses of native apple genes. That stimulates an immune reaction in the fruits so that they produce much lower amounts of the protein responsible for browning. The reason opposition to Arctic apples has been especially vehement is because, unlike the commonly-modified corn and soybeans, apples are ?a representation of America.? Also, they are a ?whole food? that you, you know, bite directly into: Lisa Archer, director of Friends of the Earth?s food and technology program, says that recent transgenic products like the Arctic apple have ignited a ?whole new level of concern,? since most are intended to be eaten as a whole food. Older GMOs such as corn and soy are typically processed for their derivatives and mixed with a lot of other ingredients to create packaged and canned foods. U.S. Department of Agriculture approval for Arctic apples is marching forward: In early November, the USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service released its assessments of the Arctic after three years of deliberations. . . . Considering the question of unintended targets [of the Arctic apple?s RNAi immune stimulation], the agency concluded that such an effect was unlikely. . . . The assessments countered other concerns, highlighted the apple?s good points, and indicated that it was on the verge of deregulation.
Making the rounds is the project you see here: a dog-to-speech translator. Put this EEG headset on your dog's head, and it'll pick up on its brain waves, then put those scans in plain ol' English. (I'm hungry, I'm tired, Who are you?) It's appeared with straight-faced reports on multiple news sites, usually accompanied by this video:
The future! Technology! Hip Scandinavians! A thing that translates your dog's thoughts into people-speak! Open up your check-book and post-date one for The Future! But wait. Isn't there something missing in this video? Something important?
Right. It doesn't show a real demonstration.
Even if it did, it would still be complete, utter bunk. But if it's a hoax (and the video almost makes it seem like some kind of parody) the team behind it is still asking people to pay for the pleasure of using it.
"What I saw in their video can't work," says Bruce Luber, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University. Luber specializes in brain stimulation and neurophysiology, trying to do, in some sense, what the people in this video (the Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery) are trying to do: translate what's happening in the brain directly to behavior. But Luber says it's not that simple: "We can't instantaneously tell very much."
If it worked, the government would be offering money hand-over-fist to fund this.
Some feelings are relatively easy to determine (and this applies to humans as well as animals). Phases of sleep, for example, can maybe be determined with only a few scalp electrodes attached to the head. (Although the animal might have to actually be falling asleep for that to be detected.) Feelings like hunger happen deep in the brain--physically deep, as in well below the surface. "You can't detect hunger, at least as we know it right now, with EEG," Luber says. Yet both blatantly appear in promotional materials for the headset. And this is actually the most reasonable of the team's claims: they go on to suggest they'll offer a more sophisticated device that can let a dog express more complicated emotions. ?I?m hungry ? but I don?t like this!? for one example. Can't wait to hear my dog's dissertation on Lacanian psychoanalysis!
The No More Woof device isn't even in the same quality zip code as the kinds of advanced electrode arrays (and attached software) researchers like Luber use, which, again, can't even do most of what this cheap device supposedly could. Animal studies require a bit more finesse, too, than a headset like this would provide. "We go through a whole process--with a monkey, move all the hair out of the way just to make some kind of contact through the head. It doesn't work with fur." The device appears to go snugly over your pug's head, over the fur, which is just about impossible to get accurate readings through. "I'll just say I've never been able to accomplish that," says Rebecca Packer, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Colorado State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
The promotional material on the No More Woof site makes it all sound so easy--dogs are simple creatures, so it should be easy to figure out what they want. But Packer higlights a few more issues. EEGs aren't good at looking in-depth into the brain, where mechanisms like hunger would be detected. The spot where you'd pinpoint hunger, for example, is located deep in the hypothalamus, and EEGs are used to pick up measurements that are closer to the brain's surface, like epileptic activity, Packer says. (But even seizures, which you'd think would be simple to detect, are complicated.) To really do this, you'd need a wearable fMRI or PET scan device--which don't exist. And it's even harder to get accurate readings in dogs than it is in people; dogs have thick muscles in the skull that create interference. Even using needle-based electrodes, which can go deeper, it's extremely hard to get an accurate reading. She also points out that electrical interference causes issues in readings, and trying to read your dog's mind while it's running through a home stuffed with gadgets is problematic, to say the least.
Not that it's doubtful the team will still ship out these headsets; there's no way for most folks to determine if they actually work. The headset says the dog's hungry, you put out some food, and the dog eats the food. Science on the march.
The team behind No More Woof is asking for money--they've started an Indiegogo campaign to fund research and are offering headsets as rewards--but, if it worked, and probably if it even showed legitimate promise, this is the kind of technology companies and the government would be offering money hand-over-fist to fund.
At best, trying to collect money to do research on it is naive. I asked Luber if it would be possible to one day have a device like this.
"If you get DARPA to put about $100 million toward it and get all of us working on it," he told me.
Which is, of course, the goal. This is the promise of neuroscience: intimately and rapidly understanding ourselves (or dogs). But it's not even close to that point.
On the project's Indiegogo page, right next to the other disclaimers--"We'd like to clearly state that the No More Woof is WORK IN PROGRESS"--there's this: "[T]o be completely honest, the first version will be quite rudimentary. But hey, the first computer was pretty crappy too." Sure. It also worked.
I took a job at Popular Science in 2006, fresh from a yearlong stint as a health and fitness editor. On my first day, in a story meeting, I confidently and casually praised the life-extending virtues of resveratrol, a compound found in red wine I?d been reading about that morning, and suggested we run a story about it. At that point, I?d mostly worked in publishing environments where the staff simply nodded at the ideas of the highest-paid person in the room. But no one was nodding. Instead, they were silent.
?Resveratrol is unproven,? Martha Harbison, our senior editor, told me flatly. I opened my mouth to speak, but she was already laying out, in a rising voice, the rickety case I was about to make, and then she dismantled it point by point. She?d seen enough hype, and damned if she was going to foist it on our readers. The staff of Popular Science, it turned out, held its work to a higher standard: yours.
I?ve spent the past seven years trying to meet that standard. Your demand for reliable reporting means nothing goes to print without an exhaustive internal and external vetting process. Your appetite for understanding how things work means we query the inventors we profile until they can plainly describe the guts of their creations. And your impatience with hype means we fight to avoid oversimplification and dramatization while making sure the stories we run are universally understandable.
In pursuit of those standards, I?ve experienced amazing things firsthand. Companies have handed me dozens of primitive, often brilliant prototypes?phones, projectors, a drone?months and sometimes years before the public saw them. I?ve wandered up to and into rockets, million-dollar cars, robotic fighter jets. This month, I discovered my limitations via a high-G spaceflight simulation.
And so it?s difficult to say good-bye. I?m leaving Popular Science to become the science and technology correspondent for Al Jazeera America, a new cable-news channel.
The central satisfaction of working in media is the opportunity to continually learn new things, and a job in television offers me a world of new things to learn. But the central satisfaction of working at Popular Science has been the people I worked with?and you, the people I worked for. My consolation is that I?ll carry your standards with me into this new role and all I do from now on. Thank you for an incredible seven years. And thank you, as ever, for reading Popular Science.
Click here to read the January 2014 issue.
For the tenth year in a row, miscroscope and camera manufacturer Olympus sponsored a light microscope photography contest, and the results are stunning. The winner, pictured above, is an aquatic carnivorous plant, photographed with many smaller microscopic plants inside its open trap.
The results show a strange, brilliant, and rarely seen world, all lit-up and magnified in the name of science.
Click here to enter the gallery.
And, in case you missed them: here are the winners from 2012 contest.