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The Curiosity rover traveling across the surface of Mars has stumbled across organic matter, with scientists saying they saw a tenfold spike in methane. The discovery means there must be a "relatively localized source," with many potential sources, both biological and non-biological, as Curiosity continues to drill into the Martian surface.
"This first confirmation of organic carbon in a rock on Mars holds much promise," said Roger Summons, MIT scientist and Curiosity participating researcher, in a press statement. "Organics are important because they can tell us about the chemical pathways by which they were formed and preserved. In turn, this is informative about Earth-Mars differences and whether or not particular environments represented by Gale Crater sedimentary rocks were more or less favorable for accumulation of organic materials."
Researchers are using unmanned drones to fly into Western and Midwestern storms, as they try to better learn how tornadoes form. Using drones is a realistic and more affordable way to reach storms that most scientific instruments simply can't reach.
The Unmanned Aircraft System and Severe Storms Research Group was created by the University of Colorado and University of Nebraska, with both universities creating a custom research consortium. Both universities will strengthen their relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to receive approval for flying drones in extreme weather.
"For most of the past decade, CU-Boulder's UAS research group has collaborated closely with Dr. [Adam] Houston and his UNL severe-storm research group," said Brian Argrow, CU-Boulder aerospace engineers. "Our creation of the new consortium establishes a forum to productively engage current and future collaborations with whom we will work to use UAS to better understand the origins and evolution of severe storms, and to potentially revolutionize severe-storm forecasting and warning systems."
Northern California is enjoying a rather wet December, and the rainfall has helped increase the state's largest water reservoir from 26 percent to 31 percent capacity, but still needs as much rain as possible. The state still needs 11 trillion gallons of water to recover from three years of relatively mild winters, according to NASA satellite data.
Mandatory water restrictions occurred throughout the state over the summer, with low water levels in reservoirs and lakes, while also hurting agriculture. Since 2011, there has been a decreased volume of four trillion gallons of water per year at the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins.
"We will need two or three winters of above average precipitation," said Jay Famiglietti from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement made to CBS News during the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference in San Francisco. "Every rain storm is like a deposit in a bank account by the size of the deficit is so big. We are going to need a lot of rain to accumulate that storage."
There should be plenty of new drone fliers in the new year, as drone sales are reportedly soaring ahead of Christmas. Amazon is selling more than 10,000 drones per month alone, according to industry officials, as interest increases while prices continue to fall.
"It's out of control," said Patric Egan, editor at UASNEWS.com. "I was at the grocery store and you can buy a drone. Everybody's selling them now. It's going to get weird."
However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said there have been more than 40 drone safety incidents per month, and that number will only increase as novice operators take their shiny new toys to the sky. The FAA instructs hobbyists to fly drones only by line of sight, and not to use video image tools, but it's not difficult to find video equipment available for sale online. Drone owners can also purchase long-range radio links, another feature that should only be utilized by experienced drone operators.
iRobot has announced the Create 2, a preassembled robot platform that is based off the company's successful Roomba robot. This new platform will allow educators to boost interest in STEM research among students, with a robot unit, 3D printable files, faceplate drilling template, and educational instructions and projects lined up for students.
The platform is now available for $199.99, and has everything necessary for students to immediately begin developing their own robotics platform.
"As a global leader in robotics technology, iRobot believes its greatest social responsibility is to ignite students' passion for STEM-related careers through the excitement of robots," said Colin Angle, iRobot chairman and CEO, in a press statement. "Robots have a cool factor unlike any other learning tool. Create 2, with its online resources, reliable hardware born of the award winning Roomba, and ease of customization simply delivers more robot than anything available to students an educators at or near its price. We are so excited to be able to make this available to the educational community."
The US Navy and Boston Engineering created a new underwater drone called the GhostSwimmer, a reconnaissance drone that looks just like a shark. GhostSwimmer measures five feet in length, weighs around 100 pounds, and can "swim" in water from 10 inches to 300 feet in depth. The UUV can operate while tethered or swim independently, with personnel controlling it using joysticks.
"GhostSwimmer will allow the Navy to have success during more types of missions while keeping divers and sailors safe," said Michael Rufo, Boston Engineering Advanced System Group director, in a press statement.
The US Navy has boosted efforts to create a fleet of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) it can use or reconnaissance, security - and one day help launch stealth attacks - against select targets. There is increased research into robotics and drone development based on natural movement of wild animals.
Stanford University will study artificial intelligence over the next 100 years, as part of a long-lasting study to see how AI impacts the US economy, war, crime, and society as a whole. There is growing concern that AI developments, while extremely impressive, could displace human workers and create something that may have disastrous long-term effects.
"Loss of control of A.I. systems has become a big concern," said Dr. Horvitz, Microsoft Research managing director, in a statement to the New York Times. "Rather than simply dismiss these dystopian claims, he said, scientists instead must monitor and continually evalutate the technologies. Even if the anxieties are unwarranted, they need to be addressed."
Dr. Horvitz will lead a committee of leading computer, math and engineering professors and representatives from around the country - and carefully chosen scientists will create a report on the current state of AI that will be published in late 2015.
Students studying unmanned aerial systems and aviation at the Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, will be able to test their creations in a custom 40-foot high pavilion. The school wanted students to be able to test their flying aircraft in a controlled environment, while also not worrying about any Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restrictions.
"We think it is really important for students to be able to experience the capabilities of flying, said Deb Norris, Sinclair VP for workforce development and corporate services, in a statement published by the Associated Press.
As drones are expected to have a larger role in the United States, colleges and universities want to prepare students for job opportunities - and to give them real-world training in how to design, repair, and use them.
Seattle non-profit group Urban Death Project has a wacky idea: to provide human composting, so recently deceased human bodies can be used to help nurture plant life. Non-profit organizers want to begin the service within three years, but must complete fundraising and build a facility to conduct research. The Washington State Department of Licensing said the group will also have to receive a license to operate as a funeral home.
The bodies would be stored up to 10 days in a refrigeration unit, and no embalming would be required.
"The idea is to fold the dead back into the city," said Katrina Spade, founder and executive director of the Urban Death Project, in a statement. "The options we currently have for our bodies are lacking, both from an environmental standpoint, but also, and perhaps more importantly, from a meaning standpoint."
American workers will need to diversify and learn new skillsets, as a growing number of robots are beginning to take hold in the workforce. Recent technological developments have allowed newer generations of humanoid robots, such as models being used in manufacturing, logistics, clerical work, and other key industries.
Economists and researchers have shown concern that robots in the workforce could cannibalize human jobs, despite creating a number of new positions. However, there is great potential for humans to work alongside robots to help complement skillsets and help human workers boost productivity, while robots ease the workload.
"This isn't some hypothetical future possibility," said Lawrence H. Summers, former US Treasury secretary, when speaking about robot workers being developed. "This isn't some hypothetical future possibility. This is something that's emerging before us right now."