Tim the robot — monitoring the Large Hadron Collider

❝ Hundreds of feet below the French-Swiss border lays the Large Hadron Collider. The 17 miles of strange tunnels accelerate particles at close to the speed of light before smashing them together to see what happens.

That’s an oversimplification of a complicated process, one where a lot can go wrong. Someone has to monitor the miles of concrete, plastic, steel, and glass below the earth to avoid disaster and keep science moving. Someone does, someone called … TIM.

That tractor ain’t pulling a cargo trailer — it’s a huge hard drive!

snowmobileta

❝ Yes, today’s speediest internet connections make it faster to download movies than to go to the store and buy them. But downloading or uploading truly large amounts of data can still take days, months, or even years — think a film studio’s entire video archives or the satellite imagery collections of government agencies. That lag is a problem for Amazon, which wants companies to store their information in its lucrative cloud. But it’s also a natural one for Amazon — a logistics company at heart — to solve. So this week the company announced one of its strangest ideas yet: a tractor trailer that will transport your data to Amazon’s own data centers…

Amazon announced the new service, confusingly named Snowmobile, at its Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas this week. It’s designed to shuttle as many as 100 petabytes – around 100,000 terabytes – per truck. That’s enough storage to hold five copies of the Internet Archive (a comprehensive backup of the web both present and past), which contains “only” about 18.5 petabytes of unique data.

Amazon has long let businesses ship hard disks full of data to Amazon for uploading into the retail giant’s cloud. But copying 100 petabytes to individual hard drives isn’t practical. Snowmobile acts like a giant hard drive that comes to you…

❝ “On the security side, Snowmobile incorporates multiple layers of logical and physical protection, including chain-of-custody tracking and video surveillance,” Amazon cloud evangelist Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post announcing the service. In other words, Amazon is keeping a close eye on your data while it’s on the road. Each truck is weather-proofed and tamper-resistant and all data is encrypted, Barr says.

❝ …Amazon seems to believe that some companies will need multiple Snowmobiles. The site advertises itself as capable of handling data at the exabytes scale — or by Amazon’s new measurement, ten truckloads.

Cripes. Folks in logistics, nowadays, are solving problems that were’t even a figment of someone’s imagination just a decade ago.

VW, BMW, Ford to build charging network as part of the growing matrix of electric vehicles

❝ Ford Motor, Volkswagen Group, BMW Group and Daimler today said they plan to set up charging stations for electric vehicles along major highways in Europe. The move will be an important step toward facilitating the mass-market adoption of EVs, the companies said in a joint statement.

❝ The companies have signed an initial agreement to create the charging network in what they said is an “unprecedented collaboration.” The goal is to quickly build up a sizable number of stations in order to enable long-range travel for battery electric vehicle drivers.

The projected ultra-fast high-powered charging network with power levels up to 350 kW will be significantly faster than the most powerful charging system deployed today…

The buildup is planned to start in 2017. An initial target of about 400 sites in Europe is planned. By 2020 the customers should have access to thousands of high-powered charging points…”The charging experience is expected to evolve to be as convenient as refueling at conventional gas stations,” the automakers said.

❝ The network will be based on Combined Charging System standard technology. The planned charging infrastructure expands the existing technical standard for AC and DC charging of electric vehicles to a higher level of DC fast-charging capacity with up to 350 kilowatts. EVs engineered to accept 350 kW of power will be able to recharge in a fraction of the time as today’s EVs.

Here it comes. The historic auto truism hasn’t changed. Just about every advance in the auto craft starts in Europe.

The next army of American workers who will be automated out of existence are truckdrivers


AP Photo/Tony Avelar

❝ Carmaking giants and ride-sharing upstarts racing to put autonomous vehicles on the road are dead set on replacing drivers, and that includes truckers. Trucks without human hands at the wheel could be on American roads within a decade, say analysts and industry executives.

At risk is one of the most common jobs in many states, and one of the last remaining careers that offer middle-class pay to those without a college degree. There are 1.7 million truckers in America, and another 1.7 million drivers of taxis, buses and delivery vehicles. That compares with 4.1 million construction workers.

❝ While factory jobs have gushed out of the country over the last decade, trucking has grown and pay has risen. Truckers make $42,500 per year on average, putting them firmly in the middle class.

❝ On Sept. 20, the Obama administration put its weight behind automated driving, for the first time releasing federal guidelines for the systems. About a dozen states already created laws that allow for the testing of self-driving vehicles. But the federal government, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will ultimately have to set rules to safely accommodate 80,000-pound autonomous trucks on U.S. highways.

In doing so, the feds have placed a bet that driverless cars and trucks will save lives. But autonomous big rigs, taxis and Ubers also promise to lower the cost of travel and transporting goods…

Trucking will likely be the first type of driving to be fully automated – meaning there’s no one at the wheel. One reason is that long-haul big rigs spend most of their time on highways, which are the easiest roads to navigate without human intervention.

But there’s also a sweeter financial incentive for automating trucks. Trucking is a $700-billion industry, in which a third of costs go to compensating drivers.

Decent, well-written article. You should read it. In most states, the number 1 or number 2 job category is truck driving. Probably half of those drivers are working over-the-road. Gonna be a lot of unhappy unemployed truck drivers, say, before the 2028 presidential elections.

Billion$ + 10 years = No air traffic control modernization, No final price tag, No end date

The Federal Aviation Administration has little to show for a decade of work on modernizing air traffic control, and faces barriers and billions more in spending to realize its full benefits, says a report released last Tuesday by a government watchdog.

The FAA estimates it will spend a total $5.7 billion to finish its current work on six “transformational” technology programs at the heart of its NextGen modernization effort, said the report by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general. But the agency’s current efforts don’t fully implement the programs, and there are no timetables or cost estimates for completion…

Moreover, there has been “significant ambiguity both within FAA and the aviation community about expectations for NextGen,” including the ability of core programs to deliver important new capabilities, the report said.

Most of the airline industry has made privatizing air traffic control their top legislative goal — with Congressman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., as their champion. They have the support of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents controllers. Paul Rinaldi, the union’s president, said controllers have lost faith in FAA’s modernization effort and want the new air traffic tools they see in use in other countries like Canada, which has privatized air traffic operations.

Most Democrats, other FAA unions and segments of the aviation industry, like business aircraft operators, are opposed to privatization.

“The inspector general’s report at most faults the FAA for describing NextGen programs as ‘transformational’ when they really just improve how the FAA manages air traffic,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the transportation committee.

It is far from clear that privatizing the air traffic control system would expedite NextGen and address the issues raised in the inspector general’s report, he said…

Air traffic control never recovered from the Reagan lockout in 1981. The United States muddled through with crap performance made acceptable by the Reagan White House and obedient flunkies in Congress. Trouble is that style of work remained in place over the decades since. Little attention paid to how computer systems have been modernized in both installation and use, common software and updates – and a helluva lot more traffic.

And then there are the lobbyists fiddling how anything is sold to the federal government and where that has gotten to following Reagan models – and Clinton copies of Reagan models.

20 percent of the world’s vacuum cleaners are now robots

❝ Robot vacuums may have once seemed an eccentricity, but they now represent a non-trivial portion of the overall vacuum market – 20 percent worldwide, according to iRobot CEO and co-founder Colin Angle…And Roomba makes up 70 percent of that market, giving iRobot a commanding lead in the space.

Exactly how many robots does that translate to? Over 14 million Roombas sold to date, Angle said, which is a steady business for a consumer product that starts at a price point that tends to be a bit higher than your average human-powered home cleaning hardware.

❝ iRobot’s lead in the market should be easily defensible, Angle says, because the company has a long lead in terms of working on the problem, and because it’s focused on consumer home cleaning products exclusively. iRobot’s become even more focused of late, since the company recently divested itself of its defense and security robotics division and is now focused entirely on the home consumer space.

How long will we continue with individual operating systems for each home electronic assistant – as artificial intelligence becomes more commanding. A deliberate choice, that word. Seems easier to have a centralized house intelligence to run home-based devices. Encrypted and secure from both private and government hackers, of course.

Israel gave Russia a farming drone and pissed-off Uncle Sugar, Spain, assorted military bureaucrats


Or would you rather have a cow?

❝ Never look a gift horse in the mouth, or so the saying goes. And it probably should have applied to the following laborious and comical international incident concerning a drone and Israel, Russia, and the United States.

❝ Uri Ariel, Israel’s agriculture minister, decided to give a $51,000 agricultural research drone to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on his recent visit to Israel’s Volcani agricultural research institute. “What a pleasant gesture,” you might be thinking, as the world creeps ever closer to an era where drone technology is used as international diplomatic currency.

But no. It turns out that the drone Medvedev took a liking to last week at Israel’s agriculture center may have contained US-manufactured components, and it certainly wasn’t Ariel’s to give. Researchers at Volcani were reportedly very disgruntled by Ariel’s autarchic decision — they claimed their entire research program had been compromised. Moreover, if the drone did indeed contain sensitive US-made technology, relations between the US, Israel, and Russia could be damaged…

❝ It turns out, this Israeli drone was actually manufactured by Alpha Unmanned Systems, according to the Jerusalem Post, a drone manufacturer based in Spain. The camera that Alpha Unmanned Systems had allegedly used on the drone was manufactured by US company Flir — famous for its infrared technologies. Did Alpha Unmanned Systems even have a license to use US-made Flir technology on a drone, which was then given to Israel, which subsequently ended up in Russian hands despite Putin’s existence on the short end of a NATO arms embargo?…

❝ A report…from Haaretz, though, cites an anonymous official in Jerusalem who’s saying that US embassy diplomats are now asking for clarification about the drone, and want to ensure it doesn’t contain any US technology.

The official said, “the “drone affair” has caused Israel significant diplomatic embarrassment with the Americans…”

To be continued…

I expect a made-for-TV movie for next years’s summer season on FOX. Who knows. Might become a series like Fargo?

Computer simulation demonstrates global 100 percent renewable electricity system


Click to enlargeKalkbult Scatec Solar

❝ A new model developed by Lappeenranta University of Technology shows how an electricity system mainly based on solar and wind works in all regions of the world. It shows the functioning of an electricity system that fulfils the targets set by the Paris agreement by using only renewable energy sources.

The global Internet of Energy Model visualizes a 100 percent renewable energy system for the electricity sector for 2030. It can do this for the entire world which, in the model, has been structured into 145 regions, which are all visualised, and aggregated to 9 major world regions…

❝ The model is designed to find the most economical solution for a renewable electricity system. The model shows how the supply of electricity can be organised to cover the electricity demand for all hours of the year. This means that best mix of renewable energy generation, storage and transmission components can be found to cover the electricity demand, leading to total electricity cost roughly between 55 and 70 euros per megawatt-hour for all 9 major regions in the world.

But the story does not end here. The researchers have ambitious goals to develop the model further. Future upgrades will go from looking only at the electricity sector to showing the full energy sector, including heat and mobility sectors. The model will also describe how to transition from the current energy system towards a fully sustainable one.

❝ According to the researchers the model debunks myths about what renewables can and cannot achieve. One of the myths is that a fully renewable energy system cannot possibly run stable for all hours of the year, due to the intermittent character of solar and wind energy. Another myth is the idea that without large base load generation capacities, such as coal or nuclear plants, an electricity system cannot work. According to the researchers, both of these are incorrect and the facts can be checked from the model.

The core of this effort – for me – is that over time it demonstrates a pattern of initiative that can result in the desired ends, e.g., diminution of greenhouse gases and a path to a healthier environment.

That university researchers have moved this far speaks well for our future. Even with creepy politics slithering into portions of the equation now and then. 🙂

A tiny USB drive will soon tell you if you have HIV — and how much

usb-hiv-test

❝ Rapid, at-home HIV tests aren’t new: OraQuick, which was released with much fanfare in 2012, provides reasonably accurate results using an oral swab in just 20 minutes. That product allows those who might not otherwise get tested for HIV — because of stigma or lack of access to treatment — to have a better chance of detecting the disease early and getting to a doctor.

But a new at-home device promises to do one better: Using a drop of blood, the USB stick test can actually detect the amount of virus present in a patient’s bloodstream in just half an hour. While OraQuick helps individuals figure out their HIV status so that they can seek medical treatment, the new device described this week in Scientific Reports could show a patient how well their ongoing medical treatment is working — and how transmissible their HIV might be…

❝ Why is that important? The more HIV virus present in a patient’s blood, the more taxed their immune response. A patient with a higher viral load will have fewer of the white blood cells that protect them from other infections. If HIV is allowed to run rampant in the bloodstream, patients can develop AIDS. But if anti-retroviral medication is used to lower the viral count — these days, often to zero — a patient can live normally, in good health and with a typical lifespan…

❝ More research is needed to confirm the accuracy of the device, and making it widely available across HIV-ravaged regions would be no small task. But the idea that monitoring HIV status could soon be as simple as checking blood sugar levels is certainly appealing, and provides hope that researchers may one day be able to all but eradicate the virus.

Bravo! Hopefully, to be manufactured and distributed by a firm with as much heart as profit motive.