NASA’s “swarmies” robots designed to explore alien worlds


What could possibly go wrong?

A collection of autonomous robots designed to scuttle around on distant planets looking for resources and materials in much the same way that members of insect colonies do on Earth are currently being tested by NASA engineers. The robots, dubbed “swarmies,” are designed to individually survey an area, signal the others when they have found something of value, and then divide up the task of collecting the material and returning it back to base.

Currently, four of these robots have been built, each of which is fitted with a webcam, a Wi-Fi system to communicate with each other, and a GPS unit. Whilst the test terrain is a little less alien than they one day may encounter – the swarmies are being deployed in an empty car park at Kennedy Space Center in Florida – the tests are meant only to prove that the software is functioning as it should and that the robots are operating as expected.

In the tests the robots are searching for barcoded pieces of paper. However, in the future similar robots deployed on an asteroid, the moon or Mars could continuously scan the surface for water, fuel resources or other commodities vital to an away mission…

“Assuming this pays off, we know somebody’s going to take this and extend it and go beyond the four or five rovers we have here,” said Kurt Leucht, a Kennedy Space Center engineer working on the project. “So as we design this and work it through, we’re mindful about things like minimizing bandwidth. I’m sure there will be a team whether it’s us or somebody else who will take this and advance it and scale it up.”

A proper hive mentality, hive consciousness with complex interrelationships and specialization is an obvious avenue.

Of course, anyone who fears – or is comfortable with – the Borg will have interesting dreams. I’m not worried about any variety developed by government agencies. Redundancy will always be designed to guarantee the safety of the slow.

Now, when surplus gear becomes available on the cheap in some 22nd Century flea market – that’s a different story.

Thanks, Mike

Do-Nothing Republicans don’t care if the US is represented abroad

party of NO

As fighters affiliated with the self-declared Islamic State roll across the porous Turkish border into Syria, the United States has a problem: It has no ambassador to Turkey.

As the Ebola virus rages in Sierra Leone, the United States has no ambassador there. And as North Korea poses a nuclear threat, the United States has no ambassador in South Korea.

The same is true when Turkey demands an answer for US spying.

Nominations for the posts are among dozens languishing in the Senate, many for months. The would-be ambassador to Sierra Leone, for example, has been waiting more than 400 days for an up-or-down vote. Veteran diplomats say the Senate’s persistent gridlock over domestic matters is hurting the United States on the world stage.

The number of nominees awaiting confirmation now stands at 55 out of 226 positions, about one-fourth of all ambassador-ranked posts. For the vast majority of nominees who have been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are awaiting a full vote in the Senate, the average wait has been more than seven months, according to State Department statistics…

Unlike years past, when political clashes have held up small groups of nominees for brief periods, the current stand-off is more widespread and long-lasting, preventing all but a trickle of nominees from getting a vote.

“It really makes a joke of us abroad,” said Charles A. Ray, a former ambassador to Cambodia and Zimbabwe who spent 30 years in the foreign service. “Having the Senate literally block ambassadorial positions really sends a negative signal to countries we have relationships with. It makes them think that relationship doesn’t matter to us much.”

Cripes. I think half the backwater Neo-Confederate Republicans in Congress don’t even care about a relationship with the rest of the United States. As long as NASCAR keeps trundling around in a circle and state courts are allowed to enforce 19th Century rules about women – they’re as happy as can be.

Just keep those contributions coming in from coal companies and military-industrial gun-thugs.

Latest Snowden revelations piss off Turkey


“Do you think Snowden will ever go away?”

Turkey’s foreign ministry on Monday summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires, currently Washington’s most senior diplomat in Ankara, over a media report that the United States had spied on Turkey…

Here we go with 2 x stupid!

1. The Turkish government can’t summon the US ambassador because Republican do-nothings in Congress blocked that appointment. They would rather we have a dysfunctional government than to give in to the fact that Americans elected a non-white president.

2. The Democrat in the White House proves to be as dumb as his Republican predecessor – holding his hands over his eyes and hoping the NSA digital goon squad won’t be noticed by our “allies”. Somehow, hoping Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing will go away as if by magic.

German magazine Der Spiegel said in an article on its website on Sunday that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency had carried out “wide-scale spying against Turkey“, citing documents from the archive of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“For the reasons that the United States’ name was mentioned, and such claims were made … the charge d’affaires has been called to the foreign ministry and information has been received from him,” Arinc told reporters after the first meeting of Turkey’s new cabinet following a presidential election.

Der Spiegel said the U.S. intelligence services had also worked closely to support Ankara in its efforts to battle Kurdish militants, who waged a three-decade insurgency for greater Kurdish rights in the country’s southeast.

Yup. The United States cares so deeply about minority rights that we turn over whatever info our spies discover – to the heads of state who have dedicated their political careers to the suppression of minorities.

Then, the folks in the White House who rely on wishful thinking to manage foreign relations skip blithely past all the corruption previously made public by Edward Snowden and ignore the rest of the bad news waiting to come out. With half a brain, someone might have contacted the rest of our “friends” and let them know in advance how the paranoid policies of George W. Bush have been continued by “nice guy” Obama.

Is red the new black?


Click to enlargeRex Features

Crimson tide: Is red the new black? The presence of at least 14 scarlet women at the Emmys last night would seem to suggest so. Finding a shade that flatters skintone but doesn’t clash or merge into the carpet is a styling challenge.

Used to be celebrities hated to be seen in public looking very much like another celebrity.