Category: Technology

First electric car victory at Pikes Peak hillclimb

2nd place overall also was under electric power.

The chuckle at the end is when Millen discusses his scant new record and reveals that he did the second half of the route on half-power.

Pigeons wearing bras go to war

The pigeon vest was a vest that was created to protect carrier pigeons as they parachuted through the air strapped to the chest of paratroopers during World War II. Once the paratroopers hit the ground behind enemy lines, they would release the pigeons so they could fly off to deliver important messages.

And what does this have to do with brassieres? The pigeon vest was designed and manufactured by the brassiere company, Maidenform. On December 22, 1944, Maidenform agreed to make 28,500 pigeon vests for the U.S. government, switching, as many companies did, from peacetime production to producing necessary supplies for the war. In addition to the pigeon vest, Maidenform also made parachutes.

RTFA. It all makes sense.

Don’t fear that killer Volkswagen robot

Headlines rang out across the internet…that a robot killed someone in Germany. Beneath the sensationalist surface, there was a tragic truth: an industrial robot at a Volkswagen plant in Germany had indeed killed a 22-year-old worker who was setting it up. Coverage notwithstanding, this didn’t seem like the start of a machine-led apocalypse–I wanted a second opinion before heading to my backyard bunker. Ryan Calo is a law professor at the University of Washington, and he’s published academic works on our coming robot future, and the interaction between robots and cyberlaw.

Here are some of the questions…paired with his responses:

Popular Science: Yesterday Twitter was all abuzz about an industrial robot killing someone. You said at the time “this is relatively common.” What did you mean by that?

Ryan Calo: In the United States alone, about one person per year is killed by an industrial robot. The Department of Labor keeps a log of such events with titles like “Employee Is Killed When Crushed By Robot” (2006) or “Employee Was Killed By Industrial Robots” (2004).

You’ve written before about the potential for unique errors from autonomous machines. In future “robot kills man” stories, what characteristics should we look out for that make something go from “industrial accident” to “error with autonomy”?

Right. Industrial robots tend to do the same thing again and again, like grabbing and moving, and cannot generally tell what it is they are working with. That’s why factories establish “danger” or “kill” zones that people have to stay out of while the robot is operating…

Initial reports attribute the death to human error. At what point do you think having a human “in the loop” for an autonomous system constitutes a liability, instead of a safety feature?

In industrial robotics, that ship has long sailed. You couldn’t have a person in the loop and maintain anything like today’s productivity. Rather, you have to try to make sure — through protocols, warnings, etc. — that people stay out of the robot’s way

RTFA for more of the same sensible discussion guaranteed never to make it into your local newspaper.

BTW, Professor Calo says he wouldn’t guarantee that Atherton’s questions weren’t being answered by a robot. :)

Solar Impulse 2 lands safely in Hawaii

Hawaii landing

Solar Impulse 2, piloted by Andre Borschberg, exceeded the previous record of 76 hours’ flying time.

The journey from Nagoya in Japan to Kalaeloa, Hawaii, breaks the absolute distance and duration world records for manned solar-powered aeroplanes – records set by Solar Impulse on earlier flights.

We watched the landing, live on BBC World, at 9:54 MDT.

Brick-laying robot can build the structure of a full-sized house in two days

As robots get smarter, cheaper and more versatile, they’re taking on a growing number of challenges – and bricklaying can now be added to the list. Engineers in Perth, Australia, have created a fully working house-building machine that can create the brick framework of a property in just two days, working about 20 times faster than a human bricklayer.

Named Hadrian (after Hadrian’s Wall in the UK), the robot has a top laying speed of 1,000 bricks per hour, which works out as the equivalent of about 150 homes a year. Of course there’s no need for the machine to sleep, eat or take tea breaks either, giving it another advantage over manual laborers…

“The Hadrian reduces the overall construction time of a standard home by approximately six weeks,” Fastbrick Robotics CEO Mike Pivac told Gizmag. “Due to the high level of accuracy we achieve, most other components like kitchens and bathrooms and roof trusses can be manufactured in parallel and simply fitted as soon as the bricklaying is completed…”

“The machine will fill the void that exists due to shrinking numbers of available bricklayers, whose average age is now nearly 50 in Australia,” he says. “[Hadrian] should attract young people back to bricklaying, as robotics is seen as an attractive technology.”

Surely beats the crap out of the romance of making adobes. :)

Solar plane starts on longest section of flight across Pacific Ocean

A solar-powered aircraft has now passed the point of no return on a record-breaking attempt to fly across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Hawaii…

The plane, which has a wingspan bigger than a jumbo jet, took off from Nagoya Airfield in Japan at 18:03 GMT on Sunday. On Monday morning it was off the east coast of Japan and, all going well, it is scheduled to land in Hawaii in approximately 120 hours.

Live video from the cockpit of the plane is being broadcast on YouTube, and shows the pilot André Borschberg wearing an oxygen mask and thick flight clothes to protect him from the cold…

The five-day leg from Japan to Hawaii is regarded as the most challenging part of the journey.

“If we did a five day flight across a continent and we encountered any problems – be it weather, operational issues, there’s an alternate airport we can land,” the project’s managing director Gregory Blatt told Al Jazeera.

“Crossing the Pacific, there no alternate airport so that’s what keeps me up at night, that’s what keeps up the teams, the engineers, the pilots. This is a first ever – are we going to be able to make it?”

If successful, the 120-plus hour flight to Hawaii will be the longest solo flight in aviation history. It will also break records for being the longest distance flown by a aircraft powered only by the sun.

Stay in touch folks. Here’s the link, again, for the live YouTube link.

Powering desalination with the sun — in India and New Mexico


Natasha WrightPhoto/Bryce Vickmark

When graduate student Natasha Wright began her PhD program in mechanical engineering, she had no idea how to remove salt from groundwater to make it more palatable, nor had she ever been to India, where this is an ongoing need.

Now, three years and six trips to India later, this is the sole focus of her work.

Wright joined the lab of Amos Winter, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, in 2012. The lab was just getting established, and the aim of Wright’s project was vague at first: Work on water treatment in India, with a possible focus on filtering biological contaminants from groundwater to make it safe to drink.

There are already a number of filters on the market that can do this, and during her second trip to India, Wright interviewed a number of villagers, finding that many of them weren’t using these filters. She became skeptical of how useful it would be to develop yet another device like this.

Although the available filters made water safe to drink, they did nothing to mitigate its saltiness — so the villagers’ drinking water tasted bad and eroded pots and pans, providing little motivation to use these filters. In reviewing the list of questions she had prepared for her interviews with locals, Wright noticed that there were no questions about the water’s salty taste…

Almost 60 percent of India has groundwater that’s noticeably salty, so later, after returning to MIT, Wright began designing an electrodialysis desalination system, which uses a difference in electric potential to pull salt out of water.

This type of desalination system has been around since the 1950s, but is typically only used municipally, to justify its costs. Wright’s project aims to build a system that’s scaled for a village of 5,000 people and still cost-effective…

Wright’s solution offers an alternative to grid power: She’s designed a village-scale desalination system that runs on solar power. Since her system is powered by the sun, operational and maintenance costs are fairly minimal: The system requires an occasional cartridge filter change, and that’s it.

The system is also equipped to treat the biological contaminants that Wright initially thought she’d be treating, using ultraviolet light. The end result is safe drinking water that also tastes good

Although Wright’s work is currently focused on rural villages in India, she sees many uses for the technology in the United States as well. In isolated areas, such as the ranches in New Mexico where she tested her system at full scale, poor access to water pipelines often leads to a heavy reliance on well water. But some ranchers find that even their livestock won’t tolerate the saltiness of this water.

“It’s useful to install a small-scale desalination system where people are so spread out that it’s more costly to pump in water from a municipal plant,” she says. “That’s true in India and that’s also true in the U.S.”

It’s certainly true in downstate New Mexico. We have beaucoup brackish fossil water in great quantities. Not being used for much of anything, now.

Thanks, Om

A pool parasite — not carrying a beer

Cryptosporidium
Yes – highly magnified

A hardy parasite has led federal health officials to warn pool goers to be careful in the water this summer.

Outbreaks related to pools, hot tubs and other recreational uses of water can be dangerous and according to a new report the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 90 outbreaks between 2011 to 2012 resulted in 1,788 illnesses, 95 hospitalizations and one death.

A major cause of the outbreaks in treated water, including hot tubs and pools, is a hardy parasite called Cryptosporidium, which is encased in a tough shell and causes acute gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea.

Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, said the parasite is particularity troubling due to how long it can live in treated water.

It can survive for 10 days,” Hlavasa told ABC News, noting that other bacteria including E. coli are killed in minutes to hours in a treated pool.

“With these outbreaks, we see they disproportionately affect young children,” Hlavasa said. “They’re the ones who can go to a pool and young children tend to carry lots of germs.”…

To stay safe, pool goers should look to see if their pool’s most recent inspection was posted through their local health department or even look into buying their own chlorine tests that can be used to test if the water is properly treated.

Eeoough! You’re often better off if you can avoid the young of your own species. :)

Never can tell what you’ll find — beachcombing in Tijuana

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A motorized surfboard loaded with $100,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine was found washed up on a Tijuana beach…

Police said the surfboard, powered by a turbine connected to eight batteries, was found Tuesday night by beach-goers in the borough of Playas de Tijuana.

Investigators said the surfboard was found to be hollowed out and filled with 20 pounds of meth, worth an estimated $100,000.

The surfboard, believed to be a means of smuggling drugs into the United States, suffered an apparent mechanical failure when water entered the electrical compartment…

Breaking bad on the beach doesn’t refer to surf – I guess.

Winnipeg coppers’ sex discussion broadcast to neighborhood – from the sky

winnipeg copper chopper
Voices in the night – from your local copper chopper

Police in the Canadian city of Winnipeg apologized on Tuesday after a lewd conversation about sex was broadcast from the loudspeakers of a police helicopter to a neighborhood below.

Officers on a routine helicopter patrol on Monday night inadvertently activated the aircraft’s public address system while they were having a private conversation…

News of the R-rated conversation took off on Twitter as the city residents who could hear the conversation took to social media to urge the police to turn off their loudspeaker.

Pilots in the Winnipeg police helicopter having a conversation with their loudspeaker on. Pretty funny to hear,” tweeted one resident.

“Does the #Winnipeg chopper realize the entire West End can hear their convo about blow jobs right now?” tweeted another, who noted she was listening from her backyard.

The police service said the incident was being reviewed.

Reviewed? How many stars did it get?