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NASA

NASA Awards $127 Million Contract For Refueling Mission Spacecraft (gizmodo.com) 36

Satellites cost millions of dollars to be launched into space and there's no guarantee that they will work without electrical or mechanical problems once in orbit. NASA has recently announced that it will award a $127 million contract to a company that aims to use a robotic spacecraft to fix satellites in space, thus potentially saving millions of dollars in the long-run by fixing satellites that would otherwise be "expensive e-waste." Gizmodo reports: NASA has just announced that it will award a $127 million contract to the California-based satellite company Space Systems/Loral for Restore-L, a robotic spacecraft capable of grasping, refueling and relocating a satellite in low Earth orbit, in addition to testing technologies for future missions. SSL has three years to build the bot, which is projected to launch in 2020. Without the ability to refuel, a satellite's lifespan is restricted by the amount of propellant engineers can pack in its tank at launch. That lifespan can be cut even shorter should the spacecraft encounter any electrical or mechanical problems on orbit. As more and more satellites reach the end of their operational lifespans, government agencies and private companies have been working to remedy this problem by developing robots that can give satellites a tune-up in zero-gravity. DARPA, for instance, recently launched a program aimed at designing robots capable of servicing satellites at the hard-to-reach but highly-desirable perch of geosynchronous orbit, 22,000 miles above Earth. NASA's Satellite Servicing Division, meanwhile, has a handful of on-orbit repair and refueling technology demonstrators in the works, including a robotic arm with the same range of motion as a human arm, a navigation system designed to help robots rendezvous with moving objects in space, and Restore-L, which combines these and other capabilities into a multi-purpose space mechanic. For now, Restore-L's primary goal is to refuel Landsat 7, a critical Earth-monitoring satellite operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. If successful, the spacecraft may be modified for all sorts of other useful tasks, from mopping up the ever-growing halo of space junk encircling our planet, to servicing exciting new science missions like the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which will grab a multi-ton boulder from the surface of an asteroid and tow it back to orbit around the Moon.
AI

Microsoft Researchers Offer Predictions For AI, Deep Learning (theverge.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Microsoft polled 17 women working in its research organization about the technology advances they expect to see in 2017, as well as a decade later in 2027. The researchers' predictions touch on natural language processing, machine learning, agricultural software, and virtual reality, among other topics. For virtual reality, Mar Gonzalez Franco, a researcher in Microsoft's Redmond lab, believes body tracking will improve next year, and then over the next decade we'll have "rich multi-sensorial experiences that will be capable of producing hallucinations which blend or alter perceives reality." Haptic devices will simulate touch to further enhance the sensory experience. Meanwhile, Susan Dumais, a scientist and deputy managing director at the Redmond lab, believes deep learning will help improve web search results next year. In 2027, however, the search box will disappear, she says. It'll be replaced by search that's more "ubiquitous, embedded, and contextually sensitive." She says we're already seeing some of this in voice-controlled searches through mobile and smart home devices. We might eventually be able to look things up with either sound, images, or video. Plus, our searches will respond to "current location, content, entities, and activities" without us explicitly mentioning them, she says. Of course, it's worth noting that Microsoft has been losing the search box war to Google, so it isn't surprising that the company thinks search will die. With global warming as a looming threat, Asta Roseway, principal research designer, says by 2027 famers will use AI to maintain healthy crop yields, even with "climate change, drought, and disaster." Low-energy farming solutions, like vertical farming and aquaponics, will also be essential to keeping the food supply high, she says. You can view all 17 predictions here.
Communications

Weather Channel To Breitbart: Stop Citing Us To Spread Climate Skepticism (weather.com) 448

Breitbart.com published an article last week that erroneously claims global warming is coming to an end, claiming "global land temperatures have plummeted by 1 degree Celsius since the middle of the year -- the biggest and steepest fall on record." The Weather Channel finds this report especially upsetting as it's not only inaccurate but it features a video from weather.com at the top of the article. The Weather Channel reports: Breitbart had the legal right to use this clip as part of a content-sharing agreement with another company, but there should be no assumption that The Weather Company endorses the article associated with it. The Breitbart article -- a prime example of cherry picking, or pulling a single item out of context to build a misleading case -- includes this statement: "The last three years may eventually come to be seen as the final death rattle of the global warming scare." In fact, thousands of researchers and scientific societies are in agreement that greenhouse gases produced by human activity are warming the planet's climate and will keep doing so. Along with its presence on the high-profile Breitbart site, the article drew even more attention after a link to it was retweeted by the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The Breitbart article heavily references a piece that first appeared on U.K. Daily Mail's site. The Weather Channel went on to refute the Breitbart article's hypothesis: This number comes from one satellite-based estimate of temperatures above land areas in the lower atmosphere. Data from the other two groups that regularly publish satellite-based temperature estimates show smaller drops, more typical of the decline one would expect after a strong El Nino event. Temperatures over land give an incomplete picture of global-scale temperature. Most of the planet -- about 70 percent -- is covered by water, and the land surface warms and cools more quickly than the ocean. Land-plus-ocean data from the other two satellite groups, released after the Breitbart article, show that Earth's lower atmosphere actually set a record high in November 2016.
Cellphones

Former Samsung Engineers Build Smart Umbrella That Tells If It's Going To Rain (mashable.com) 85

A team of former Samsung engineers have developed a smart umbrella, dubbed Opus One, that tells its owner if it's going to rain with the shake of the handle. International Business Times reports: Developed by a team of former Samsung engineers, Opus One smart umbrella works when it is connected to the smartphone via Bluetooth 4.1 through its companion app Jonas. The device gets weather reports every morning from credible sources and sends alert to its owner when its handle is shaken. Red light on the device indicates rain on that particular day, while a green one indicates clear skies. Jonas collects weather data of select cities and sends the information to Opus One smart umbrella, thus helping the owner to know if it's going to rain on a particular day. The device notifies its owner by vibrating if the smartphone connected to the app receives calls, emails or text messages. The smart umbrella also vibrates if its owner leaves behind the smartphone that is connected to it before the user gets too far away. The smartphone too will vibrate and alert its owner if the smart umbrella is left behind. This will help prevent loss of both the products. The umbrella runs on AAA batteries and costs about $105.
Robotics

Scientists Develop Robotic Hand For People With Quadriplegia (phys.org) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Scientists have developed a mind-controlled robotic hand that allows people with certain types of spinal injuries to perform everyday tasks such as using a fork or drinking from a cup. The low-cost device was tested in Spain on six people with quadriplegia affecting their ability to grasp or manipulate objects. By wearing a cap that measures electric brain activity and eye movement the users were able to send signals to a tablet computer that controlled the glove-like device attached to their hand. Participants in the small-scale study were able to perform daily activities better with the robotic hand than without, according to results published Tuesday in the journal Science Robotics. It took participants just 10 minutes to learn how to use the system before they were able to carry out tasks such as picking up potato chips or signing a document. According to Surjo R. Soekadar, a neuroscientist at the University Hospital Tuebingen in Germany and lead author of the study, participants represented typical people with high spinal cord injuries, meaning they were able to move their shoulders but not their fingers. There were some limitations to the system, though. Users had to have sufficient function in their shoulder and arm to reach out with the robotic hand. And mounting the system required another person's help.
AI

Apple To Start Publishing AI Research To Hasten Deep Learning (bloomberg.com) 25

In what is a major deviation in its strategy, Apple will allow its artificial intelligence teams to publish research papers for the first time. From a report on Bloomberg: When Apple introduced its Siri virtual assistant in 2011, the company appeared to have a head start over many of its nearest competitors. But it has lost ground since then to the likes of Alphabet's Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa. Researchers say among the reasons Apple has failed to keep pace is its unwillingness to allow its AI engineers to publish scientific papers, stymieing its ability to feed off wider advances in the field. That policy has now changed, Russ Salakhutdinov, an Apple director of AI research, said Monday at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in Barcelona. One attendee posted a photo of a slide from Salakhutdinov's presentation stating "Can we publish? Yes. Do we engage with academia? Yes."
Education

White House Silence Seems To Confirm $4 Billion 'Computer Science For All' K-12 Initiative Is No More 276

theodp writes: "2016 as a year of action builds on a decade of national, state, and grassroots activity to revitalize K-12 computer science education," reads the upbeat White House blog post kicking off Computer Science Education Week. But conspicuous by its absence in the accompanying fact sheet for A Year of Action Supporting Computer Science for All is any mention of the status of President Obama's proposed $4 billion Computer Science For All initiative, which enjoyed support from the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. On Friday, tech-backed Code.org posted An Update on Computer Science Education and Federal Funding, which explained that Congress's passage of a 'continuing resolution' extending the current budget into 2017 spelled curtains for federal funding for the program in 2016 and beyond. "We don't have any direct feedback yet about the next administration's support for K-12 CS," wrote CEO Hadi Partovi and Govt. Affairs VP Cameron Wilson, "other than a promise to expand 'vocational and technical education' as part of Trump's 100-day plan which was published in late October. I am hopeful that this language may translate into support for funding K-12 computer science at a federal level. However, we should assume that it will not."
Government

California State Senator Introduces Bill That Would Mandate Reporting of 'Superbug' Infections, Deaths (reuters.com) 75

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A California state senator introduced a bill on Monday that would mandate reporting of antibiotic-resistant infections and deaths and require doctors to record the infections on death certificates when they are a cause of death. The legislation also aims to establish the nation's most comprehensive statewide surveillance system to track infections and deaths from drug-resistant pathogens. Data from death certificates would be used to help compile an annual state report on superbug infections and related deaths. In September, a Reuters investigation revealed that tens of thousands of superbug deaths nationwide go uncounted every year. The infections are often omitted from death certificates, and even when they are recorded, they aren't counted because of the lack of a unified national surveillance system. Because there is no federal surveillance system, monitoring of superbug infections and deaths falls to the states. A Reuters survey of all 50 state health departments and the District of Columbia found that reporting requirements vary widely. Hill's bill would require hospitals and clinical labs to submit an annual summary of antibiotic-resistant infections to the California Department of Health beginning July 1, 2018; amend a law governing death certificates by requiring that doctors specify on death certificates when a superbug was the leading or a contributing cause of death; and require the state Health Department to publish an annual report on resistant infections and deaths, including data culled from death certificates.
Facebook

Tech Billionaires Award Top Scientists $25 Million In 'Breakthrough' Prizes (fortune.com) 55

Tonight at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Morgan Freeman emceed a glamorous, Oscars-style celebration that recognizes scientific achievements with money from tech billionaires. An anonymous reader writes: Donors for the Breakthrough Prize included Google's Sergey Brin, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, Alibaba founder Jack Ma and his wife Cathy Zhang, and billionaire venture capitalist Yuri Milner, according to an article in Fortune. TechCrunch has a list of the winners, which included Princeton math professor Jean Bourgain, who won a $3 million prize "for his many contributions to high-dimensional geometry, number theory, and many other theoretical contributions."

Three more physics researchers -- two from Harvard, and one from U.C. Santa Barbara -- will share a $3 million prize recognizing "meaningful advances in string theory, quantum field theory, and quantum gravity." And another $1 million prize honored the leaders of three teams responsible for "collaborative research on gravitational waves and its implications for physics and astronomy," with another $2 million to be shared among the 1,012 members of their research groups.

17-year-old Deanna See from Singapore also won the $250,000 "Breakthrough Junior Challenge" prize -- and more money for her teachers and school -- for her video about antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Google has created a special page where you can read more about some of the other winners.
EU

CO2 Researchers Are Now Hacking Photosynthesis (chicagotribune.com) 119

Remember that story about the "artificial leaf" solar cells? Long-time Slashdot reader managerialslime quotes the Chicago Tribune: University of Illinois at Chicago researchers have developed a way to mimic plants' ability to convert carbon dioxide into fuel, a way to decrease the amounts of harmful gas in the atmosphere and produce clean energy. The artificial leaf essentially recycles carbon dioxide. And it's powered entirely by the sun, mimicking the real photosynthesis process.
But meanwhile, in Germany: Biochemists led by Tobias Erb at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology...have developed a new, super-efficient method for living organisms to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. Plants, algae, and other organisms turn CO2 into fuel. Erb and his colleagues reengineered this process, making it about 25 percent more energy efficient and potentially up to two or three times faster... Erb hopes that one day the CETCH cycle could be genetically engineered into living organisms, helping them more rapidly reduce atmospheric CO2 while producing useful materials.
The researchers created their new CO2-transforming cycle using 11 carefully chosen enzymes.
Biotech

Our Brains Use Binary Logic, Say Neuroscientists (sciencedaily.com) 68

"The brain's basic computational algorithm is organized by power-of-two-based logic," reports Sci-News, citing a neuroscientist at Augusta University's Medical College. hackingbear writes: He and his colleagues from the U.S. and China have documented the algorithm at work in seven different brain regions involved with basics like food and fear in mice and hamsters. "Intelligence is really about dealing with uncertainty and infinite possibilities," he said. "It appears to be enabled when a group of similar neurons form a variety of cliques to handle each basic like recognizing food, shelter, friends and foes. Groups of cliques then cluster into functional connectivity motifs to handle every possibility in each of these basics. The more complex the thought, the more cliques join in."
Earth

Alien Life Could Thrive In the Clouds of Failed Stars (sciencemag.org) 67

sciencehabit writes: There's an abundant new swath of cosmic real estate that life could call home -- and the views would be spectacular. Floating out by themselves in the Milky Way galaxy are perhaps a billion cold brown dwarfs, objects many times as massive as Jupiter but not big enough to ignite as a star. According to a new study, layers of their upper atmospheres sit at temperatures and pressures resembling those on Earth, and could host microbes that surf on thermal updrafts. The idea expands the concept of a habitable zone to include a vast population of worlds that had previously gone unconsidered. "You don't necessarily need to have a terrestrial planet with a surface," says Jack Yates, a planetary scientist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who led the study. Atmospheric life isn't just for the birds. For decades, biologists have known about microbes that drift in the winds high above Earth's surface. And in 1976, Carl Sagan envisioned the kind of ecosystem that could evolve in the upper layers of Jupiter, fueled by sunlight. You could have sky plankton: small organisms he called "sinkers." Other organisms could be balloonlike "floaters," which would rise and fall in the atmosphere by manipulating their body pressure. In the years since, astronomers have also considered the prospects of microbes in the carbon dioxide atmosphere above Venus's inhospitable surface. Yates and his colleagues set out to update Sagan's calculations and to identify the sizes, densities, and life strategies of microbes that could manage to stay aloft in the habitable region of an enormous atmosphere of predominantly hydrogen gas. On such a world, small sinkers like the microbes in Earth's atmosphere or even smaller would have a better chance than Sagan's floaters, the researchers will report in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal. But a lot depends on the weather: If upwelling winds are powerful on free-floating brown dwarfs, as seems to be true in the bands of gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, heavier creatures can carve out a niche. In the absence of sunlight, they could feed on chemical nutrients. Observations of cold brown dwarf atmospheres reveal most of the ingredients Earth life depends on: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, though perhaps not phosphorous.
Government

Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City Will Ban Diesel Vehicles By 2025 (bbc.com) 240

The mayors of four major global cities -- Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens -- announced plans to stop the use of all diesel-powered cars and trucks by 2025. The leaders made their commitments in Mexico at a biennial meeting of city leaders. BBC reports: At the C40 meeting of urban leaders in Mexico, the four mayors declared that they would ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 and "commit to doing everything in their power to incentivize the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles." "It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic," said the city's mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera. "By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs." Paris has already taken a series of steps to cut the impact of diesel cars and trucks. Vehicles registered before 1997 have already been banned from entering the city, with restrictions increasing each year until 2020. The use of diesel in transport has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as concerns about its impact on air quality have grown. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that around three million deaths every year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Diesel engines contribute to the problem in two key ways -- through the production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Very fine soot PM can penetrate the lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illness and death. Nitrogen oxides can help form ground level ozone and this can exacerbate breathing difficulties, even for people without a history of respiratory problems. The diesel ban is hugely significant. Carmakers will look at this decision and know it's just a matter of time before other city mayors follow suit.
AI

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI Is Going To Decimate Middle Class Jobs (businessinsider.com) 468

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that "the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining." He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines. Automation will, "in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world," Hawking wrote. "The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive." He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: "We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent." Combined with other issues -- overpopulation, climate change, disease -- we are, Hawking warns ominously, at "the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity." Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.
Earth

Climate Change Will Stir 'Unimaginable' Refugee Crisis, Says Military (theguardian.com) 331

Citing military experts, The Guardian is reporting that if the rise in global warming is held under 2 degrees Celsius, there still could be a major humanitarian crisis to sort out. From the report: Climate change is set to cause a refugee crisis of "unimaginable scale," according to senior military figures, who warn that global warming is the greatest security threat of the 21st century and that mass migration will become the "new normal." The generals said the impacts of climate change were already factors in the conflicts driving a current crisis of migration into Europe, having been linked to the Arab Spring, the war in Syria and the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency. Military leaders have long warned that global warming could multiply and accelerate security threats around the world by provoking conflicts and migration. They are now warning that immediate action is required. "Climate change is the greatest security threat of the 21st century," said Maj Gen Munir Muniruzzaman, chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on climate change and a former military adviser to the president of Bangladesh. He said one metre of sea level rise will flood 20% of his nation. "Weâ(TM)re going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people."
Science

Four New Elements Finally Get Their Official Names, Added To Periodic Table (universityherald.com) 102

Scientists have updated the periodic table to add four new elements, namely: Nihonium, Moscovium, Tennessine and Oganesson. The super-heavy elements discovered by scientists from Japan, Russia, and America, complete the seventh row of the table. Their inclusion also marks the first additions since 2011. From an article on University Herald: Now that the new elements have their names, the seventh row of the periodic table is now complete. The approval was done by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The elements were confirmed back in January. They were assigned temporary names and symbols: ununtrium (Uut), ununpentium (Uup), ununseptium (Uus), and ununoctium (Uuo). It was noted that the teams of Russian, American and Japanese researchers behind the discoveries were given the task of naming the elements that they uncovered. They submitted their proposals in June.
ISS

Russian Supply Rocket Malfunctions, Breaks Up Over Siberia En Route To ISS (npr.org) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: An unmanned cargo rocket bound for the International Space Station was destroyed after takeoff on Thursday. The Russian rocket took off as planned from Baikonur, Kazahkstan, on Thursday morning but stopped transmitting data about six minutes into its flight, as NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell reported: "'Russian officials say the spacecraft failed [...] when it was about 100 miles above a remote part of Siberia. The ship was carrying more than 2 1/2 tons of supplies -- including food, fuel and clothes. Most of that very likely burned up as the unmanned spacecraft fell back toward Earth. NASA says the six crew members on board the International Space station, including two Americans, are well stocked for now.'" This is the fourth botched launch of an unmanned Russian rocket in the past two years. Roscomos officials wrote in an update today: "According to preliminary information, the contingency took place at an altitude of about 190 km over remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Republic of Tyva. The most of cargo spacecraft fragments burned in the dense atmosphere. The State Commission is conducting analysis of the current contingency. The loss of the cargo ship will not affect the normal operations of the ISS and the life of the station crew."
Businesses

Nestle Discovers 'Breakthrough' Method To Cut Sugar In Chocolate By 40% Without Affecting Taste (theguardian.com) 327

Nestle and its scientists have discovered how to "structure sugar differently" to reduce the amount of sugar in some of its products by 40%. What's more is that it can be done reportedly without compromising the taste. The Guardian reports: The new process is said to make sugar dissolve faster so that even when less is used, the tongue perceives an identical level of sweetness. It plans to patent the process, discovered by its scientists, which it says will enable it to significantly decrease the total sugar in its confectionery products. A four-finger milk chocolate Kit Kat currently contains 23.8g of sugar, a plain (milk chocolate) Yorkie contains 26.9g and a medium peppermint Aero has 24.9g of sugar. If the amount of sugar in each of these products was cut by 40% the new amounts would be 14.3g, 16.1g and 14.9g respectively.
Earth

Earthquake-Sensing Mobile App 'MyShake' Detects Over 200 Earthquakes Large and Small (techcrunch.com) 25

Back in February, researchers at UC Berkeley released an app called MyShake that detects strong earthquakes seconds before the damaging seismic waves arrive. Several months have passed since its release and app has already detected over 200 earthquakes in more than ten countries. TechCrunch reports: The app has received nearly 200,000 downloads, though only a fraction of those are active at any given time; it waits for the phone to sit idle so it can get good readings. Nevertheless, over the first six months the network of sensors has proven quite effective. "We found that MyShake could detect large earthquakes, but also small ones, which we never thought would be possible," one of the app's creators, Qingkai Kong, told New Scientist. A paper describing the early results was published in Geophysical Research Letters -- the abstract gives a general idea of the app's success: "On a typical day about 8000 phones provide acceleration waveform data to the MyShake archive. The on-phone app can detect and trigger on P waves and is capable of recording magnitude 2.5 and larger events. The largest number of waveforms from a single earthquake to date comes from the M5.2 Borrego Springs earthquake in Southern California, for which MyShake collected 103 useful three-component waveforms. The network continues to grow with new downloads from the Google Play store everyday and expands rapidly when public interest in earthquakes peaks such as during an earthquake sequence." You can download the app for Android here.
News

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin is Being Emergency Evacuated From the South Pole (businessinsider.com) 184

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Thursday morning that it will provide a "humanitarian medical evacuation flight" from the South Pole for an "ailing" Buzz Aldrin. BusinessInsider adds: Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon, joining Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 Lunar Module in July 1969. He has since become an author and advocate for crewed missions to Mars. He is 86, and no further information is available as to his condition. The NSF's statement said that an NSF plane will fly Aldrin from the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole to McMurdo Station on the Antarctic coast. At that point ski-equipped LC-130 cargo planes flown by the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard will haul him to New Zealand "as soon as possible."

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