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There is concern that robots could one day steal jobs from human workers, but there is a niche opportunity for robots able to help in dangerous work zones. In addition to natural disasters, scenarios such as 9/11, Fukushima, and similar hazardous locations would be the ideal opportunity to launch robots to help human first responders.
DARPA, UCLA and the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab visited the Fukushima Daiichi power station to get a firsthand view of the chaos - and have a better idea of what the next generation of robots need to be able to accomplish in case of similar disasters.
DARPA launched a competition in 2012 for engineers to design disaster robotics technology, with participants undergoing an intense obstacle course to see which robots would succeed. There are a number of high-level university programs focused on robotics research, and the potential monetary awards are lucrative.
DARPA wants companies to submit plans for military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can be used as part of the Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program. The FLA program wants to make it possible for small UAVs to be agile and navigate urban warfare environments, such as rooms, corridors, stairways, and other tight areas before ground troops begin their operation.
The drones should be able to travel up to 45 m.p.h., and be nimble enough to fit through an open window, without the need of GPS waypoints. DARPA hopes the algorithms will allow for UAV enhancements so troops can conduct unmanned surveillance to identify ambush points, traps, and other potential threats while out in the field.
"Birds of prey and flying insects exhibit the kinds of capabilities we want for small UAVs," said Mark Micire, DARPA program manager, in a statement published by Phys.org. "Goshawks, for example, can fly very fast through a dense forest without smacking into a tree. Many insects, too, can dart and hover with incredible speed and precision. The goal of the FLA program is to explore non-traditional perception and autonomy methods that would give small UAVs the capacity to perform in a similar way, including an ability to easily navigate tight spaces at high speed and quickly recognize if it had already been in a room before."
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has teamed with drone manufacturers and groups to launch the Know Before You Fly campaign, aimed at educating drone operators about proper - and safe - drone flight.
The effort warns drone operators to fly their craft below 400 feet, learn to fly with local clubs, take a lesson before flying, and to stay away from crowded areas. As more first-time drone operators take to the skies, there is growing concern of potential incidents with aircraft - and other citizens on the ground, in case of drone crashes and other problems.
"There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm around [drones], and the technology is becoming the must-have holiday gift," said Michael Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) group, in a statement. " The 'Know Before You Fly' campaign fills a critical education gap just in time for the holiday season. We want to ensure that all prospective operators have the tools they need to fly safely and responsibly."
Les Baugh is able to use his brain to control two prosthetic arms, as DARPA and the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory show great development in next-generation medical technology. Baugh can functionally control the Modular Prosthetic Limbs, carefully connected to his nerves, despite the limbs not permanently attached to his body.
When Baugh thinks about moving his arms and hands, the prosthetics are able to respond accordingly - as medical researchers were able to measure how his muscles and nerves react when given commands.
"I think we're just getting started at this point," said Mike McLoughlin, program director at Johns Hopkins' Revolution Prosthetics, in the video. "There's just a tremendous amount of potential ahead of us, and we just started down this road. I think the next five, 10 years are going to bring some really phenomenal advancements."
Three Dutch researchers conducted a study using hydraulic software and 'boats' to determine the three prisoners from Alcatraz could have survived and made it to land. It's possible they could have hit the beach north of the Golden Gate Bridge if they started their terrifying voyage from 11:00 p.m. to midnight - if they left earlier, it would be almost certain that the strong current would have swept them underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and to certain death.
The bodies of John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris were never discovered, but FBI agents and prison officials said there was little chance they could have survived in their homemade raft consisting of rain coats.
"We didn't know exactly when the inmates launched their boats, or their precise starting point, and so we decided to release 50 'boats' every 30 minutes between 20:00 and 04:00 (11:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m.) from a range of possible escape spots at Alcatraz to see where they would end up," said Fedor Baart, Deltares hydraulic engineer, in a statement. "We added a paddling effect to the 'boats,' as we assumed the prisoners would paddle as they got closer to land."
Oceanographers filmed a ghostly deep-sea snailfish 8,145 meters, around five miles, below the surface in the Mariana Trench. The 30-day research voyage took place aboard the Falkor ocean vessel, which also led to two or three other new species also recorded.
"We're pretty confident it's a snailfish," said Dr. Alan Jamieson, from the University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab, in an interview with ABC News. "Not that we know. It's a new species."
Snailfish tend to persevere in tough environments, but researchers were shocked to find the new ghostly species living so deep in the trench. However, this unique creature has broader fins which are translucent, an eel-like tail and stringy appendages that give it a better physical ability to live under so much water pressure.
There is such a drastic increase in lighting during the holidays that NASA has picked up on it, according to a press release published by the U.S. space agency. Specifically, the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite found that metropolitan areas increased 20 to 50 percent brighter during the Christmas holiday season and New Year's.
"It's a near ubiquitous signal. Despite being ethnically and religiously diverse, we found that the U.S. experiences a holiday increase that is present across most urban communities," noted Miguel Roman, NASA Goddard research physical scientist. "These lighting patterns are tracking a national shared tradition."
A new Associated Press-GfK poll discovered 41 percent Americans opposed drones for commercial use, with just 21 percent favoring commercial drone use, and 35 percent still sitting on the fence. Only three percent of those surveyed have flown small drones, but that number is expected to increase in the coming years.
Congress will likely push the FAA to help move things along faster, as the drone industry is expected to create 100,000 jobs and provide $82 billion for the economy in the first 10 years.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will continue to move forward with private and commercial drone use - and companies continue to push forward with drone use for deliveries, filming in Hollywood, agriculture, engineering, and other verticals.
It wasn't too long ago when the Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft was considered a lost cause, due to problems with its reaction wheels. Instead, the spacecraft proved its worth yet again, as it found the HIP 116454b exoplanet, larger than Earth and smaller than Neptune, orbiting around a star in just nine days. The planet is too hot for life, and is more than 180 light-years away from Earth, located in the Pisces constellation.
Planets such as HIP 116454b are good prospects for future follow-up ground studies, as researchers try to gain mass measurements.
"Today, thanks to an innovative idea and lots of hard work by the NASA and Ball Aerospace team, Kepler may well deliver the first candidates for follow-up study by the James Webb Space Telescope to characterize the atmospheres of distance world's and search for signatures of life," said Paul Hertz, NASA astrophysics division director.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is fully embracing the looming storm connected devices, with students creating dozens of connected devices in its custom Internet of Things Lab. Students have created a smart kitchen inventory, smart tech football helmet able to detect injuries, and other cutting-edge products - all part of a unique effort that isn't for a class, so students set aside their own time to learn more.
Sandra Bradley, the lab's research director for consumer and retailer applications, broke down IoT: "Imagine everything you touch could have an Internet connection with sensing and data, and it could do more. Your refrigerator keeps things cold. What if it could give you shopping lists or monitor spoilage of food? This is about things people touch every day, and say, 'What if?'"
Preparing students for IoT research, engineering and programming is an important effort - analysts believe there will be 50 billion connected devices in our lives by 2020. The job market should boom around connected technology, so this is an innovative program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.