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A Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo test flight suffered a 'serious anomaly' that led to one pilot being killed, and Virgin Galactic was reportedly warned on numerous occasions that this type of problem was possible. The company's "unconventional" fuel propulsion system to help the aircraft reach space broke apart while flying about 45,000-ft. above the Earth's surface - and a full investigation is currently under way.
The use of the hybrid propulsion system doesn't rely on carbon-based fuels and instead uses a mix of nitrous oxide and plastic fuel, with rocket engineers and safety experts weary of potential explosions. In fact, the Virgin Galactic website reportedly noted nitrous oxide was "benign" and "stable," despite the gas playing a major role in a spaceport explosion that killed three people in 2007.
"It's still very poorly understood in large quantities... the temperature of the fuel is critical," said Geoff Daly, a British rocket scientist, who warned the FAA last year. The delivery system is solid, the motor is bolted to the fuel tanks. There is no flexibility in the tank and motor, any vibration can result in the fracture and failure of the engine system."
French authorities reported another round of small "drone-type machines" that flew over two different nuclear power plants, indicating the incidents started on October 5. Additional sightings were seen on October 20 and again on October 31, as national police and military scramble to find new methods to ensure these drones don't pose a threat.
No aircraft are allowed to breach a three-mile no-fly zone around a nuclear power plant, or fly less than 3,300 ft. elevation near the facilities, according to French law.
"We're not talking about just one type of drone identified, but several," according to a nuclear expert, speaking to the French press. "Some were only a few dozen centimeters long with a very short range of several meters at most. So you'd need to be very close to the reactor. But others, and this is much more worryingly, were far bigger - perhaps two meters long so sufficiently big to carry an explosive charge."
Engineers helping create the next generation of US rockets plan to incorporate escape systems so crew members will have a chance to reach safety. The unmanned Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded shortly after liftoff earlier this week, giving viewers around the world another brutal reminder that space launches remain extremely dangerous.
NASA considered some form of escape system for the retired space shuttle fleet, but believed the aircraft were significantly safer, and the explosion of the Challenger shuttle in 1986 brought the world back to reality. However, the Launch Abort System is able to activate in just a few milliseconds, sending the crew 1.6 kilometers in altitude in a few seconds after activation.
"Under the original plan we were, as of now, about two years away from conducting the first launch of Antares with the second-generation propulsion system... I certainly think we can short that interval, but at this point I don't know by how much," said David Thompson, Orbital Sciences President and CEO.
The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo suffered a "serious anomaly" during a test flight in California over the Mojave desert, with one pilot killed in the incident. The other pilot suffered serious injuries and is being transported to the hospital, according to the company.
"The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft landed safely," said Virgin Galactic after the incident. "We will work closely with relevant authorities to determine the cause of this accident and provide updates ASAP."
The SpaceShipTwo is designed to be carried on a mother ship and then can be released to ignite its rocket to head into suborbit, and can return to Earth by gliding back. A flight starts at $250,000 and passengers undergo three days of pre-flight preparation to verify they are physically and mentally prepared for the trip.
The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) posted a warning that says drone operators that fly their aircraft near or over sports stadiums and racetracks could be punished by monetary fines and up to one year in jail. The rules will change flight patterns over 150 stadiums and racetracks with 30,000 or more people.
Drones will no longer be able to fly under 3,000 feet within three miles of a NCAA Division I college stadium, Major League Baseball (MLB) stadium, or National Football League (NFL) stadium - and the same rules apply for any Indy Car, NASCAR Sprint Cup or Champ series auto tracks.
The FAA is working to commercialize drone use, and while that has proven to be a drawn out mess, a growing number of private citizens are flying drones.
Lowe's has developed the OSHbot to see if robots on wheels will be able to improve the store's customer service, with testing currently being done in an Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose, California. The robot will greet customers as they enter the store, and ask to see if they need help finding an item. The robot has voice support for English and Spanish, with other languages to be supported in the future.
"Using science fiction prototyping, we explored solutions to improve customer experiences by helping customers quickly find the products and information they came in looking for," said Kyle Nel, from the Lowe's Innovation Labs. "As a result we developed autonomous retail service robot technology to be an intuitive tool customers can use to ask for help, in their preferred language, and expect a consistent experience."
The OSHbot stands 5-feet tall and includes a front and back screen that can be used for video conferences with other store employees, along with displaying in-store specials. The OSHbot also includes a 3D scanner able to identify items.
The US Air Force Hospital Langley is now using the "Saul" virus-zapping robot to try to keep hospitals safer by killing viruses, including Ebola, working with the Xenex company. The robot is able to use powerful ultraviolet light to ensure the hospital's patient and operating rooms are safe from germ pathogens that could infect others. It only takes five minutes for the robot to disinfect an entire room, with surfaces cleaned in just two minutes, according to Xenex.
"We are very proud to be the first Air Force hospital to have this robot," said Col. Marlene Kerchenski, 633rd MDG Surgeon General chief of nursing services. "Saul will provide an extra measure of safety for both our patients and our intensive care unit staff."
Xenex has already grabbed headlines when it was announced the Gigi robot would be used in hospitals to help kill viruses, including Ebola, in hospital rooms. These pricey machines are designed to help keep hospitals a cleaner, safer environment for staff, patients, and visitors.
Google is getting much more serious about artificial intelligence, with the Mountain View-based search giant hiring more than a dozen leading academics and experts in the field of AI. The company has also announced it has reached a partnership with Oxford University, to "accelerate" its efforts in AI.
When it comes to the partnership between Oxford and Google, the company will be making a "substantial contribution" in order to kick start a new research partnership with the University's computer science and engineering departments. Google's goal? To develop the intelligence of machines and software, to reach human-like levels. Google hasn't said just how much it will be contributing, but it will have a program of student intern ships and a series of joint lectures and workshops so that it can "share knowledge and expertise".
It was only in January that the company dumped down $400 million to acquire DeepMind, an AI firm. This new partnership with Oxford University will see a quicker, and brighter future in AI, even if Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors says that pioneering AI will be like "summoning the devil".
The last hyperbolic headline we had about Elon Musk and artificial intelligence was just a couple of months ago now when the Tesla Motors founder said that AI could be "more dangerous than nukes" and now he's back with a new statement. Musk has said that pioneering AI is like "summoning the demon".
Musk had some interesting things to say during a speech at MIT on Friday, where he told an audience that the technology sector should be "very careful" of pioneering AI, calling it "our biggest existential threat". Why is Musk afraid? Multiple times during his speech, he reiterated that such a technology is a massive risk, because it can't be controlled. He ended up using the metaphor of "with artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon".
We've all seen AI and what it does to the human race in movies like the Terminator and The Matrix franchises, but Musk lined AI up in the real-world to a horror movie, where the protagonists call forth spirits who end up doing a lot of bad things. Musk said: "In all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it's like yeah he's sure he can control the demon. Didn't work out". Considering there's already a lot of important things that computers do for us on the daily, such as financial trading, high-end computing and countless other important jobs, AI is an eventuality.
An incredible new technology created by a Silicon Valley startup would allow dispatchers some crucial details on when, and where police offers fire their weapons. Yardam Technologies' latest device would notify dispatchers in real-time when an officer's gun has been removed from its holster, when it was fired, and in which direction it was fired, as well as tracking the gun's location.
Phil Wowak, Santa Cruz County Sheriff is one of two officers testing the technology, saying it would allow the sheriff's office to see whether deputies are in trouble, and unable to ask for assistance. He said: "That's the worst nightmare for any police officer in the field". As it stands, this technology will not allow for a remote disabling mechanism, even though the company was showing off that technology in Las Vegas last year, it has since abandoned that effort.
In the previous iteration of the technology, it would've allowed a dispatcher, or someone else in control, to hit a button and safely disable the weapon. This would've come in handy in countless scenarios, such as when an officer drops their gun, is hit, or killed and their weapon can be used by the assailant. Jim Schaff, the Marketing Vice President of Yardarm Technologies didn't detail the reasoning behind removing the remote disabling feature, but the company has said that their latest technology is not out to create a smart gun, but is more "police gunfire tracking technology".