Quick Science Roundup

By Carl Slaughter: (1) E.T.’s stand-ins. US military preparing for alien attack and Cold War in space. Reader reaction: “Build a dome around the Earth and make the aliens pay for it.” — “US military training space warriors for ‘extraterrestrial conflict'”.

A real life Independence Day may not be far away. Only this time there is no defined threat the military is working against, although it is about “extraterrestrial combat”.

Space Aggressors is what the US military is calling them, a team of soldiers training at a warehouse near Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Their job is to act like the enemy during mock space battles to help US units prepare for a conflict that may one day extend to outer space.

“We play the bad guys,” Captain Christopher Barnes, chief of training for the 26th Space Aggressor Squadron told the Seeker. “We study threats to the space realm, either coming from space or based on land. If we can’t directly replicate them with hardware, then we figure out if there’s a software solution or some way we can train people to the point where they can fight through them, if they have to, in a conflict,” he says.

(2) Eclipse safety glasses. The peeps look up. “Solar Eclipse Glasses: Where to Buy the Best, High-Quality Eyewear”

If you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who will experience the Great American Total Solar Eclipse on Aug. 21, hopefully you’ve heard by now that you’re going to need eye protection for the big event.

But not all solar viewers are created equal. Using the wrong gear (or using it incorrectly) can burn your retinas, causing irreparable damage to your eyes

(3) Holograms. “Five surprising ways holograms are revolutionising the world”

Technically, all of these are misrepresentations of holography — either special cinematic effects, video projections onto water and smoke, or a hi-tech version of an old Victorian stage trick called Pepper’s Ghost. But holograms are big business. It is suggested that by 2020 the market for genuine, display holograms will be worth US$5.5 billion — so how are they impacting society? Here are five of the most incredible ways they are being used.

1. Military mapping

Geographic intelligence is an essential part of military strategy and fully dimensional holographic images are being used to improve reconnaissance. One American company has delivered over 13,000 3D holographic maps of “battle-spaces” for the US army. This allows soldiers to view three-dimensional terrain, look “around” corners and helps with mission training.

The company does this by taking complex computerised image data, which they make into a holographic sheet. Not only can users “look into” the high quality 3D image of the terrain stored in the hologram sheet, but the technology is simple to use and can be rolled up for easy storage and transportation. It all sounds very Star Wars, but the maps are also useful in disaster evacuation and rescue scenarios.

(4) Drones. Court strikes down FCC regulation requiring drone registration. “The FAA was just forced to lift its drone registration requirements”.

Being a drone owner requires a few things. You need decent amount of cash if you want the high-end hardware, along with the patience and willingness to learn how to actually fly the thing. As of 2015, you also needed to register the aircraft (if weighs a half pound or more) with the Federal Aviation Administration. Now, a federal court in Washington, D.C. has ruled against that requirement, deeming the FAA’s mandatory registration “unlawful.

Around the World of Science

By Carl Slaughter: (1) Chinese cowboy astronauts. “China considering mission to ‘capture’ asteroid and fire it into moon’s orbit”.

China plans to ‘capture’ an asteroid by landing and anchoring a spacecraft on its surface, fire up multiple rocket boosters and project it into the orbit of the moon.

The excavation of mineral ores and its transportation back to Earth will be undertaken by robots, Ye was quoted as saying.

He estimated that it could take another four decades before China will have the necessary technology and infrastructure in place to mine the asteroid.

(2) Welcome to the Moon, Chinese astronaut.  Now park it. “China simulates extended moon stays amid space drive”.

China is testing the ability for future astronauts to stay on the moon for extended periods, as Beijing accelerates its space program and looks to put people on the surface of the moon within the next two decades.

The official Xinhua news agency said volunteers would live in a “simulated space cabin” for between 60-200 days over the next year helping scientists understand what will be needed for humans to “remain on the moon in the medium and long terms”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for China to become a global power in space exploration, with plans to send a probe to the dark side of the moon by 2018, the first ever such trip, and to put astronauts on the moon by 2036.

(3) Latest Silicon Valley perk:  freeze your (dead) body. “Cryonic freezing is the coolest employee perk in Silicon Valley — literally”.

The good news? Numerai‘s new employee benefit is — quite literally — the coolest one we have heard about. The bad news? You won’t be able to enjoy it until you’re dead.

“We are allowing employees cryonic body preservation as a benefit,” Richard Craib, founder of Numerai, told Digital Trends. “Employees sign up through a life insurance policy and upon legal death, the life insurance claim is handed over to cryonics provider Alcor.”

(4) Bioprint  –  body parts from 3-D printers. “Ability to ‘print off’ new body parts within next 10 years as 3D bioprinting continues to grow”.

Most promising is its potential applications within healthcare, where 3D printing is poised to open up a new age of regenerative medicine allowing doctors to print off human cells.

3D bioprinting is the process by which 3D printing technology is used to create artificial tissue. Recent advancements in the field have enabled researchers to 3D print living human skin, blood vessels and even a human ear.

(5) Trump consults Gore  –  twice. “Trump has been talking to Al Gore about the Paris Climate Agreement. Seriously.”

President Donald Trump can’t seem to make up his mind about whether to keep the U.S. in the landmark Paris Climate Agreement or pull out of the pact altogether, but there are signs he is getting advice from across the ideological spectrum.

(6) Robots are getting closer to fully imitating human motion. “This bipedal running robot is the last thing you’ll see before robots claim the Earth”.

Robotics engineers with companies like Boston Dynamics have been hard at work on complex computer systems paired with motion sensors and gyroscopes to give their bipedal robots the stability they need to, well, be useful. But what if such robots didn’t need computers to help them remain upright? A new robot design called the Planar Elliptical Runner, engineered and built by the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Florida, can not only run via two legs, it can do without any added stability technology.

Science Snapshots

By Carl Slaughter: (1) Trump bring space council out of retirement. “Executive Order Creating National Space Council Expected Soon”.

An executive order by President Trump reestablishing the National Space Council is already written and is likely to be formally issued in the near future, a key advisor said May 1.

The recreation of the council, which last operated during the administration of President George H.W. Bush a quarter-century ago, could play a key role fostering the development of so-called Ultra Low-Cost Access to Space (ULCATS) systems, said attendees of a symposium here on the subject.

“The recommendation coming out of the Trump campaign to create the National Space Council is going to happen,” said Robert Walker, the former chairman of the House Science Committee who served as a space policy advisor to the campaign last fall. “It’s a way of ensuring that the nation’s resources are all directed towards national goals.”

(2) Planet cloaking technology, and why we should use it. “Why And How Aliens May Know Humans Exist”.

What would it take to hide an entire planet? It sounds more like a question posed in an episode of “Star Trek” than in academic discourse, but sometimes the bleeding edge of science blurs with themes found in science fiction.

Of course we’ve been leaking our own position to distant stars via radio and television signals for six decades now, largely ignorant of the cosmic implications. But several notable scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, have publicly voiced concerns about revealing our presence to other civilizations. These concerns largely draw from the darker chapters of our own history, when a more advanced civilization would subjugate and displace a less advanced one.

It might be too late for us to withdraw back into invisibility, but maybe not for other intelligent alien civilizations out there. A far-off planet’s inhabitants might prefer to hide from the likes of us. Recently, my graduate student Alex Teachey and I published a paper that proposes a way to cloak planets, as well as a way to broadcast a civilization’s existence. Even if we’re not manipulating our own signal in this way, it doesn’t mean other planets out there aren’t. It’s possible what we see as we scan the universe for other habitable planets has been engineered to disguise or highlight the existence of other civilizations.

(3) Battlin’ bots. “Chinese inventors show off the gladiator robot they want to use to challenge the US’ ‘Megabot'”. (Video)

Chinese inventors have created a $14 million fighting robot called “The Monkey King”. This is the third “gladiator” robot to be revealed, after the US and Japan unveiled their models.

The team has officially challenged the US’ “MK III Megabot” to a duel, but will have to wait until after an announced fight between the US and Japan’s Kuratas. Both creators are touting the duel as “the world’s first public giant robot fight” and hope to make it a worldwide phenomenon

(4) Space exploration summit in Washington, DC, May 16th. “Senator Ted Cruz, NASA’s Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Space and Mars Experts to Join The Atlantic’s Summit on the Future of American Space Exploration”.

Space discovery has been an enduring source of national pride, since Project Mercury and the Vostok Program first competed to put men into orbit in the 1950s and ‘60s. In recent years, new players have taken prominent roles in ambitious missions, including space tourism and missions to Mars. At this junction in space exploration, The Atlantic will convene “On the Launchpad: Return to Deep Space,” a summit gathering policymakers, key players from NASA, and space industry experts to explore the future of extraterrestrial travel on Tuesday, May 16, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, will be interviewed at the event. Discussions will also include acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot on the future of NASA, and former NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan on what it would take for the U.S. to launch a mission to Mars. Chris Carberry, the CEO and co-founder of Explore Mars, Inc and Dr. Robert Zubrin, founder of Mars Society, will discuss the science of getting to the red planet.

(5) “Scientists should just be political.”  –  The Atlantic. “The Case for the Politicization of Science”.

“… It is a miserable time for science. America has an almost non-existent climate policy, its support for basic research is flagging, and its congressmen harass individual scientists in the name of ideology …”

“… Now, that remarkable and fictional woman—the discovery-obsessed doyenne whose face is in every public library in America—was here, on a sign, in the rain, near the White House, protesting a president who brags about grabbing women’s vaginas. I felt bad about the shabbiness of the whole scene, and I felt bad specifically for Ms. Frizzle, who, after a lifetime of teaching third graders, has to spend her twilight years doing … this …”

“… The problem of our political system isn’t an insufficient love of science. Sixty-seven percent of U.S. adults think scientists “should have a major role in policy decisions,” as do nearly half of self-identified conservative Republicans. When you set aside the issue of climate change, Americans of both parties do equally well on tests of basic scientific literacy …”

“…  So if scientists want to do politics, they should do it all out. They shouldn’t worry about the stain of asserting their self-interest. They should take chances—they should get messy.”

(6) They fought the law. “Canada fought the war on science. Here’s how scientists won.”

Chris Turner is the author of The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper’s Canada

For Canadians like me, the March for Science, in particular, brought not just encouragement but a sense of déjà vu, tinged with relief. For President Trump is not the first chief executive of a major Western nation to wage a war on science. Until Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was voted out of power in 2015, it spent nearly a decade as the free world’s chief aggressor on this front. Under Harper, the Canadian government waged a steady attack on science and data the administration deemed unnecessary or unhelpful to its agenda. Harper cancelled the long-form census — the government’s most important data-gathering tool — and slashed budgets for climate science programs. He mothballed vital environmental research labs and rewrote environmental protection legislation in the fine print of budget bills.

… In the summer of 2012, in the wake of the introduction of Harper’s most aggressively anti-science budget, a few hundred protesters marched from an Ottawa conference center hosting a biology symposium to Parliament Hill, in a protest styled as a mock funeral for the Death of Evidence. As in the March for Science last weekend, many of the Ottawa marchers were working scientists who’d never before participated in a protest. Many wore white lab coats to signal their allegiance to a set of principles long assumed to be above the partisan fray.

Five years later, the Canadian government and its institutions are back in the hands of leaders who respect the scientific method and value the expertise of scientists on their payrolls (and beyond)….

Eight Pieces of Science

By Carl Slaughter:

(1) 3-D printer robot constructs building. “MIT researchers create a robot that can 3-D-print a building in hours”.

The future of construction just got a little bit more real. Researchers at MIT have created a mobile robot that can 3-D-print an entire building in a matter of hours — a technology that could be used in disaster zones, on inhospitable planets or even in our proverbial backyards.

Though the platform described in the journal Science Robotics is still in early stages, it could offer a revolutionary tool for the construction industry and inspire more architects to rethink the relationship of buildings to people and the environment.

(2) Time travel is “mathematically possible.”  It’s all in the curve. “Building a real-life TARDIS is mathematically possible, say physicists”.

Tippett and colleague David Tsang from the University of Maryland have used Einstein’s theory of general relativity to come up with their mathematical model for time travel. They claim that the division of space into three dimensions, with time in a separate dimension by itself, is incorrect. Their model instead conceptualizes space-time as a continuum, whereby different directions are connected within the curved fabric of the universe.

Tippett reminds us that time is curved in the same way that space is: “The time direction of the space-time surface also shows curvature. There is evidence showing the closer to a black hole we get, time moves slower. My model of a time machine uses the curved space-time — to bend time into a circle for the passengers, not in a straight line. That circle takes us back in time.”

(3) NASA is running out of spacesuits.  (This better be a hoax.) “NASA Is Running Out of Space Suits”.

NASA seems to be running out of space suits for astronauts, according to a new report by the space agency‘s auditor, NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG)…..

(4) Mystery excuse. Elon Musk we know, but what’s the National Reconnaissance Office? “SpaceX delays launch of secretive satellite for U.S. Intelligence agency”.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has pushed back its launch of a mysterious satellite for the U.S. intelligence community because of a sensor issue.

(5) “Our laser beam is better than your laser beam.” “Straight Out of ‘Star Wars’: This ‘Death Star’ Laser Actually Works”.

 If it has a beam and if it can destroy an enemy spaceship, it’s a laser.  And a laser is a laser is a laser.  But it seems there’s always one more laser that operates differently than the others.  “Yes, but our laser uses energy transmission.”  “Yes, but our laser uses directed energy.”  “Yes, but our laser uses X-rays.”  “Yes, but our laser is more destructive than your laser.”  “Yes, but out laser is portable.”  And now, “Yes, but out laser uses convergence.”  If your laser can destroy a terrorist bomb without detonating the bomb, then you’ve got something.  Me, I’ll settle for a laser in a doctor’s office if it can eliminate the mole on my face so I don’t cut it open when I shave.

(6) Why Living On The Starship Enterprise Would Actually Be Awful.

(7) Scientist celebrities. “‘Genius’ director Ron Howard reveals why he’s on a mission to turn scientists into celebrities”.

Ron Howard’s new television series “Genius” continues the filmmaker’s decades-long love affair with science.

“Look at what Silicon Valley has meant to our economy and our ongoing influence around the world. … What we don’t want to do is cede that position to other countries, other nations, other cultures,” Howard told Business Insider.

Howard was born in 1954, was around for the first moon landings, the rise of personal computing, and the advent of the internet — but he’s also seen the missed opportunities.

“We could have had the [Large] Hadron Collider. But 15 years ago we decided not to fund that. So I’ve always lamented the fact that we didn’t stay in that pole position on that front of exploration,” he said.

(8) Fortune magazine interviews Bill Nye. “‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye’s New Mission”.

How big a danger is fake science and science denial?
Science denial is a big concern right now. Carl Sagan wrote about this 40 years ago—that if you had a society that is increasingly dependent on technology and you have fewer and fewer people who know how it all works, that’s a formula for a disaster. If we have people who refuse to get vaccinated, they become petri dishes for mutating germs. Soon we are going to have 9 or 10 billion people in the world, and those people are going to have to eat, they are going to have to get along, and they all are going to want clean water. And that depends on science—depends on technology that’s derived from science. So if you have people who don’t accept the process by which we create all this wonderful stuff, you’re going to have trouble.

Science Six-Pack

By Carl Slaughter:  (1) Google’s super secret anti-aging research. “Google is super secretive about its anti-aging research. No one knows why.”.

We should pause for a moment to note how strange this is. One of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world has taken an interest in aging research, with about as much funding as NIH’s entire budget for aging research, yet it’s remarkably opaque.

Google also prides itself for being a leader on transparency and for its open culture. And we’re living in a time when the norms in science, particularly biomedical science, are centered around openness and data sharing. But these values have somehow eluded Calico.

For now, I think it’s safe to say Google has not solved aging. Or if it did, they haven’t told anybody.

(2) Inside DARPA. “Inside DARPA, The Pentagon Agency Whose Technology Has ‘Changed the World'”.

Welcome back to FRESH AIR. What are some of the most impressive successes of DARPA?

SHARON WEINBERGER: Well, let’s start with the first success that has really cemented DARPA’s reputation today. And that would be ARPANET, which was the precursor and laid the foundation for the modern Internet. That is undoubtedly the agency’s biggest success. And because of the name itself, ARPANET is sort of synonymous with DARPA today. But there are many other innovations that they get less credit for but in fact go back directly to the agency’s work. The driverless cars, autonomous self-driving cars that are now coming to fruition date back to a series of robotic car races that DARPA sponsored beginning in 2004, 2005.

Some of DARPA’s other biggest, quote, unquote, “successes” are stealth aircraft. They sponsored the development of the first stealth prototype aircraft in the 1970s. Precision weapons is another DARPA innovation. Drones, particularly the Predator drone that we now associate with the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere date back to DARPA sponsorship.

(3) Scientists versus politicians. “A Cold War theory for why scientists and the government have become so estranged”.

Indeed, a big reason why tens of thousands of scientists rallied in cities around the country last weekend was to counter what they see as “anti-science” attitudes taking hold in the United States — particularly in the US government. The March for Science, according to organizer Jonathan Berman, a biology postdoc at the University of Texas Health Science Center, sent “the message that we need to have decisions being made based on a thoughtful evaluation of evidence.”

But this raises the obvious question: Was the United States ever pro-science? Was there a golden age? And if so, why were things so different then? What’s changed?

(4) Space firms warn Congress. “US space firms tell Washington: China will take over the moon if you’re not careful”.

Robert Bigelow, a real-estate mogul who now operates an eponymous company dedicated to creating space habitats and building facilities on the moon, warned the Senate hearing that without a global legal framework, the US could be left behind.

“China is very pre-disposed to ownership, whether its creating the islands in South China Sea, properties in massive quantities that they’ve purchased in South America or Africa, whether you open a [foreign subsidiary in China] and can only own 49% of it,” he said. “China could exercise an effort to start to lay claim to certain lunar territories. I don’t think it’s a joke, I don’t think it’s something to be cavalier about. Such an ownership consequence would have an amazing impact on the image of China vis-a-vis the United States and the rest of the world, if they should own large amounts of territory on that body, if we stood back and we were not prepared.”

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (R), Chen Dong wave before the launch of Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft, in Jiuquan, China, October 17, 2016.

(5) Ted Cruz:  Unleash the commercial spaceships. “To infinity and beyond: Ted Cruz looks to encourage commercial space exploration”.

The Texas Republican convened a panel of top executives at private space exploration companies to solicit suggestions for reducing regulatory barriers to encourage further innovation.

By opening more commercial options for space exploration, Cruz said, they could be creating “the real possibility that in the not-too-distant future, American private citizens will be able to reach space from a launch pad or a runway in Texas.”

(6) Water covered planets. “Most Habitable Alien Planets May Be Totally Covered in Water”.

 Earth may be special because of its water, but not in the way you may think. A new study published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggests that we may actually have less of it than average.

Astronomer Fergus Simpson of the University of Barcelona ran a series of computer simulations to determine what planets orbiting in their star’s habitable zones would look like. Habitable zone planets like Earth are the perfect distance from their host stars for liquid water to form on the surface and are prime candidates in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Simpson simulated what would happen to a wide range of habitable zone planets given a variety of starting conditions. The results were that planets tend to be either mostly water or mostly land, with very few in the middle. Most planets with any significant amount of water are likely to be dominated by it, and most planets in the habitable zone are almost completely waterworlds.

Your Flying Car

By Carl Slaughter:  (1) Larry Page’s secret flying car project: “Welcome to Larry Page’s Secret Flying-Car Factories”.

In the handful of news articles that ensued, all the startup would say was that it wasn’t affiliated with Google or any other technology company. Then it stopped answering media inquiries altogether. Employees say they were even given wallet-size cards with instructions on how to deflect questions from reporters. After that, the only information that trickled out came from amateur pilots, who occasionally posted pictures of a strange-looking plane taking off from a nearby airport.

Turns out, Zee.Aero doesn’t belong to Google or its holding company, Alphabet. It belongs to Larry Page, Google’s co-founder. Page has personally funded Zee.Aero since its launch in 2010 while demanding that his involvement stay hidden from the public, according to 10 people with intimate knowledge of the company. Zee.Aero, however, is just one part of Page’s plan to usher in an age of personalized air travel, free from gridlocked streets and the cramped indignities of modern flight. Like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, Page is using his personal fortune to build the future of his childhood dreams.

Previously known patents registered by Zee.Aero show a craft that matches this description, with a thin central fuselage and twin rows of propellors like outriggers. The patent, filed in 2012, says the aircraft is capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and is described as a “safe, quiet, easy to control, efficient and compact aircraft.” Not quite a flying car, then, but certainly a vision of personal aviation.

The other startup Page has been investing in, Kitty Hawk, has reportedly been building its own craft “that resembles a giant version of a quadcopter drone,” according to Bloomberg‘s sources. The startup is smaller than Zee.Aero, and kept separate from its older rival. Some of its engineers come from AeroVelo — a firm that previously won the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize in 2013 for building a human-powered helicopter that can stay aloft for more than a minute (see the video below). And Kitty Hawk wouldn’t be the first firm to design a quadcopter-inspired aircraft; similar concepts have been floated by Chinese firm Ehang and even built by lone engineers.

(2) Uber hires NASA engineer to develop flying car — “Uber hires NASA veteran to help it figure out flying cars”.

Mark Moore, a 30-year veteran of NASA, has left the aeronautics agency for a seemingly more terrestrial business: ride-hailing giant Uber. But Moore won’t be working on anything as boring as expanding Uber’s ground operation. According to Bloomberg, he will be working on the company’s nascent on-demand aviation service, also known as Uber’s flying car project.

To be sure, Moore won’t be building a flying car for Uber — at least not yet. Last October, the company released a white paper that envisioned a flying taxi service as a network of lightweight, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically from preexisting urban heliports and skyscraper rooftops. These VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing, pronounced vee-tol) aircraft would operate using fixed wings with tilt prop-rotors.

(3) Europeans take flight in cars. “Flying cars take off on French Riviera”.

Bratislava-based Aeromobil, whose first prototype presented two years ago suffered an accident, is back with a “new generation” of flying vehicle named after the firm which makes it.

“We are taking reservations from today for deliveries expected in 2020, after the process of (regulatory) approvals is completed,” the Slovak firm’s spokesman Stefan Vadocz told AFP.

The Aeromobil vehicle, six metres long and with a fully-deployed span of nine metres, is a normal four-wheeled car which can unfold its wings to transform itself into a plane able to fly two passengers at a cruising speed of 260 km/h for up to 750 kilometres.

Flying cars, that perennial dream for futurists that always seem to be at least five years away, may be a little closer to reality than we realize. A lot of prototypes have been showcased recently, and a lot of money is being tossed around. More people than ever seem to buy into the crazy notion that in the near future we’ll be buzzing between rooftops in private, autonomous drones. Today, Munich-based Lilium Aviation announced an important milestone: the first test flight of its all-electric, two-seater, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) prototype.

In a video provided by the Munich-based startup, the aircraft can be seen taking off vertically like a helicopter, and then accelerating into forward flight using wing-borne lift.

 

(4) China does passenger drones. “Passenger-Carrying EHang 184 Drone Unveiled At CES”

Imagine dressing for work, grabbing your lunch, and then hopping in a drone for your commute.

That is what Chinese company EHang imagines life could be like with its man-sized drone — although the company is light so far on evidence that it can actually pull it off.

(5) Forget flying cars, passenger drones are the future. “Forget Flying Cars: Passenger Drones May Be Hovering Soon at a Location Near You”

At first blush, human-carrying drones sound no more realistic than flying cars. Until recently inventors had never been able to marry automobiles and aircraft in a practical way. Yet a few companies have kept at it: Woburn, Mass.–based Terrafugia, for example, has since 2006 been developing Transition, a “roadable aircraft” that resembles a small airplane that can fold its wings and drive on roads. A personal flying car in every garage has proved to be a tough sell, however, and there are serious safety concerns about asking the average commuter to train for a pilot’s license and take to the skies.

Passenger drones, by contrast, would operate autonomously and leave the “roadable” part behind in favor of larger versions of aircraft that already exist. Chinese start-up EHANG last month announced it would debut its passenger drone service in Dubai in July. The EHANG184 autonomous aerial vehicle resembles an overgrown quadcopter with a passenger cab perched on top. Last October ride-hailing service Uber publicized its Elevate program for urban air transportation and announced support for companies building vehicles similar to the 184. Uber recently bolstered its plans by hiring Mark Moore, an aircraft engineer at NASA Langley Research Center and pioneer in vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft designs. Several other companies, including Joby Aviation and Silicon Valley start-ups Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk—the latter two backed by Google co-founder Larry Page—are racing to develop electric-powered VTOL aircraft that could help make Elevate a reality. Terrafugia likewise plans to eventually offer a VTOL flying vehicle—the TF-X—in addition to the Transition.

(6) Hover golf cart.  See a video report — “The Amazing Hovering Golf Cart of the Future”.

(7) Yes, but will it come with a parachute? “Flying cars may be poised to take off, but survey shows Americans want a parachute “.

As for takeoff and landing, most respondents — 83% — would prefer vertical launch to taking flight runway-style. (The survey didn’t ask, but earth-bound cars and truck drivers may feel even more strongly about it.)

Nearly 80% said a parachute would be “very” or “extremely” important.

Last Friday, the AeroMobil 3.0 prototype, recently featured in Popular Science’s 2015 Invention Awards, crashed during a flight test in Slovakia. When the flying car ran into trouble, its pilot, company co-founder Štefan Klein, deployed a whole-aircraft parachute, which slowed the descent and saved Klein’s life. But the impact on the ground seems to have destroyed the craft itself.

(8) Yes, but does it meet FAA standards? “FAA Gives Flying Car Prototype the Go-Ahead as a Light Sport Aircraft”.

The Terrafugia Transition is a prototype automobile-aircraft that is about the closest thing to a flying car that we have. It’s street legal and it can fly, and now the FAA has granted the Woburn, Massachusetts-based company exemption from weight and stall-speed limits so the Transition flying car can be certified as a light sport aircraft (LSA), according to Aviation Week.

(9) Never happen. “Man will never walk on the Moon.”  “Man will never have flying taxis.” “Uber’s Flying Car Ambitions Are Lofty And Ridiculous”.

So Uber is mostly skipping the car part, instead making a plane that takes off and lands like a helicopter, and designing it to fly from helipads. Helicopters–an existing, proven technology–already meet most of the needs for Uber’s planned flying machine, but they’re too slow for the commuter flights of 20 minutes or less that Uber wants from urban hubs to residential suburbs (or the downtown hubs of suburban areas). To meet this, Uber wants an aircraft that can fly between 150 mph and 200 mph. That’s speedier than all but the most cutting edge military helicopters, but within the range of VTOL aircraft–which is why Uber wants it to switch to flying like a plane once it’s off the ground. On top of all that, the company wants the vehicle to be all-electric, to keep down noise and emissions.

They Blinded Me With Science News

By Carl Slaughter: (1) We are rapidly approaching a new singularity.  Not a singularity in which the universe collapses under its own gravity.  Not a singularity in which the progress of AIs outpaces the input of their creators.  But a singularity in which scientists bring inventions out of the lab faster than science fiction writers can imagine them or craft stories about them, faster than patent attorneys can file claims for them.  Only a few years ago, Pacific Rim depicted giant, piloted robots used for military purposes.  This prototype bears a striking resemblance.  The Pentagon is planning to use them to patrol the border of North Korea.  I’m sure there’s no shortage of American warriors willing to climb into one of these mechanical beasts and adopt Idris Elba-esque.

“This giant manned robot might patrol the North Korean border” says BGR reporter Mike Wehner:

Robots can be terrifying all on their own, but stick a human being inside and give them control of the mechanical muscles that provide superhuman strength and you’ve got a recipe for a horror movie. South Korean robotics firm Hankook Mirae Technology has done exactly that, and its Method-2 robot just took its first steps towards world domination this week.

(2) It’s not (just) rocket science. The key to a successful, manned mission to Mars is the “invisible tool” of biotechnology.  So says Maxx Chatsko, editor of Syn Bio Data, in “Boeing and SpaceX Aren’t Going Anywhere Without Biotechnology” for The Motley Fool.  I would say, forget biotechnology for now.  Instead, develop robotics, AI, and data analysis technology.  Let androids pave the way for humans.

Radiation is far from the only threat to our health during interplanetary travel. Eighty percent of astronauts who participate on long-duration missions in space return to Earth with permanently altered vision. The condition was first recognized in astronaut John Phillips, who left Earth with 20/20 vision and returned with 20/100 vision after a six-month stay on the International Space Station. Doctors discovered that the shape of his eyes changed during his mission, which was shorter than a trip to Mars, because of pressure imbalances in the skull.

The only known treatment involves spinal taps or drilling holes into a patient’s skull and must be conducted at the onset, meaning in the zero-gravity environment of space. Aside from the logistical hurdles of performing invasive procedures in space, astronauts and future colonists — SpaceX and Boeing customers — would probably prefer a biological solution.

(3) Russian Terminator prototype. “Stay calm, citizens: Russia’s gun-wielding robot is definitely ‘not Terminator’”.

When it comes to fears of robots taking over the world, mental images inspired by Terminator immediately spring to mind. But if robots really were going to wage war against their creators some day, they wouldn’t be walking around with guns, would they? Thanks to Russia’s new military robot, a future filled with armed humanoid machines might actually be in the cards.

(4) World’s largest X-ray laser. “Milestone on way to switching on world’s biggest X-ray laser”.

Scientists say they’ve reached a milestone on the way to switching on the world’s biggest X-ray laser, designed to capture images of structures and processes at the atomic level.

The DESY research center near Hamburg, Germany, said Wednesday it successfully fired electrons through a 2.1 kilometer (1.3 mile) particle accelerator.

(5) First glimpse of dark matter.  “Scientists Created the First Composite Image of Dark Matter” at Yahoo! News.

Dark matter, which apparently looks at least a little like a ghost face, doesn’t absorb or reflect light, which makes it impossible to spot through traditional means. The only way to detect it is through gravity.

(6) Asia commercial space programs. “SpaceX doesn’t scare Asia’s space players” according to Yahoo! Finance.

The commercial space industry is dominated by Western heavyweights, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos ‘ Blue Origin. But players in Asia say they aren’t worried about that competition.

As corporate spending eclipses government activity throughout the global space sector, Japan ‘s PD Aerospace and China ‘s Kuang-Chi Science are among Asia’s homegrown private firms planning to offer spaceflight services to civilians.

Shuji Ogawa, CEO of PD Aerospace, acknowledges that it’s unlikely Asian companies can rival SpaceX , Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin , but he said there’s more than enough demand to go around.

(7) Asteroid Hits Ocean, Humans Sleep Sound. A USA Today video shows “No, an asteroid hitting the ocean wouldn’t cause waves of destruction”.

Simulations show that unless an asteroid hit really close to the shore, humans would probably be safe.

(8) The game of alien life. “Gamers help scientists find exoplanets and maybe even extraterrestials”, a Newsweek interview with Michael Mayor, who made the first exoplanet discovery in 1995.

EVE Online’s fans are quick to remind you that it isn’t just a video game, it’s a hobby. You control a spaceship, mine asteroids and engage in massive space battles or old-fashioned piracy. But you don’t control your character in real time, instead setting up spreadsheets and codes that let the game play itself. EVE requires an analytical mind and is played by people who love numbers; computer programmers, software coders and even a NASA scientist or two.

Lights, Tricorders, Action!

By Carl Slaughter: More science links.

Satellite killers. Chinese laser weapons.

China’s military is developing powerful lasers, electromagnetic railguns and high-power microwave weapons for use in a future “light war” involving space-based attacks on satellites.

Beijing’s push to produce so-called directed-energy weapons aims to neutralize America’s key strategic advantage: the web of intelligence, communication and navigation satellites enabling military strikes of unparalleled precision expeditionary warfare far from US shores.

Check out this diagram and these videos illustrating railguns.

I’m a doctor not a… Early model tricorders.

These handy medical devices are inspired by the ‘Star Trek’ tricorder.

Two hundred years from now, medical tricorders like the ones depicted in Star Trek will be as common as tongue depressors. They’ll be unremarkable, mobile tools on our SpaceX starships shuttling us back and forth to Mars.

It’s in the stars. Republican Controlled Congress, Trump, and NASA. “What do the stars hold for the Trump administration? Here’s how NASA’s mission could change”.

Some big changes could be in store for American space exploration under President Trump and the Republican Congress. Sending more humans to the moon, as well as a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa seem to be part of a plan that extends years beyond the Trump administration.”

Miner change in plans. Trump wants to mine the Moon.

“NASA envisions a future in which low Earth orbit is largely the domain of commercial activity while NASA leads its international and commercial partners in the human exploration of deep space,” the agency wrote. So while Trump’s motivations may sound a bit sinister on the face of things, it’s about getting as much back as possible from the research and investments NASA makes and not necessarily about Trump lining his pockets with cash from commercial space endeavors.

Writers and Scientists, Saving the Future

By Carl Slaughter: Scientists and science fiction writers speak out on Trump, science, climate change, and environmental responsibility.

Getting warmer. Sci-fi writers sound off about climate change — “We Asked Sci-Fi Writers About The Future Of Climate Change”.

Jeff VanderMeer, Lidia Yuknavitch and others discuss solutions to the urgent problem.

Voting with their feet. Will they or won’t they? “Update: Some 100 groups have now endorsed the March for Science”.

The March for Science, set for 22 April, is creating a buzz in the scientific community. The march arose as a grassroots reaction to concerns about the conduct of science under President Donald Trump. And it has spurred debate over whether it will help boost public support for research, or make scientists look like another special interest group, adding to political polarization.

Leaders of many scientific societies have been mulling whether to formally endorse or take a role in the event, which will include marches in Washington, D.C. and some 400 other locations.

Pinning it down. Some will be wearing a special decoration: “These pins defend scientists and science in the Trump era”.

The couple behind the pins that said “I love you” in American Sign Language, made for the Women’s March in January, are back with a new pin raising money for science and research.

Ahead of the “March for Science” on April 22 in Washington, D.C. and all over the world, Kate Lind and Nate Stevens of Pincause designed a new pin with illustrator Penelope Dullaghan. This one says “Science not silence,” with a rocket ship launching into space.

“This is a critical time for not just the science community, but for humanity and our planet. Staying silent is no longer an option,” Lind said in an email.

What’s at risk. What science will be sliced from the budget? “Trump wants to cut billions from the NIH. This is what we’ll miss out on if he does”.

The Trump administration wants to cut billions of dollars from funding biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health. It’s unclear if it will be able to, considering how funding for cancer, diabetes, and other disease research tends to have bipartisan consensus, and many prominent Republicans in Congress are opposing the cuts.

The White House has suggested the size of the agency’s budget — roughly $32 billion in 2016 — is the problem. “Only in Washington do you literally judge the success of something by how much money you throw at the problem, not actually whether it’s solving the problem or coming up with anything,” Sean Spicer, President Trump’s press secretary, said in March, defending the proposed cuts of $6 billion to the 2018 budget. (There’s also talk of slashing $1.2 billion from NIH research grants this year.)

Bu we can judge the success of the NIH by measures other than the amount of money being spent at it. Because for decades scientists have been studying a version of this question: “What does public spending on biomedical research actually buy us?”

A lot, it turns out. So let’s run through some of the evidence…

Astronomy Update

By Carl Slaughter: A roundup of astronomy news.

Dry country. Water on Mars  — gone, baby, gone.

“We’ve determined that most of the gas ever present in the Mars atmosphere has been lost to space,” Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator of the MAVEN mission, explains. That lost gas — somewhere in the neighborhood of 65% — greatly depleted the planet’s atmosphere, causing oceans, lakes, and rivers to dry up as the vital elements were swept away into space by intense radiation and solar wind.

The count. Nine planets, 100 planets.  Why stop there  Redefine a sun, redefine a moon, redefine an asteroid.  Go all the way and redefine life.

Most of us grew up learning that there are nine planets in our solar system. Back in 2006 that all changed, when Pluto was demoted from being labeled a proper planet to its new classification as a dwarf planet, leaving just eight true planets in our celestial neighborhood. Now, a group of scientists says Pluto should definitely be added back to the planet list — oh, and that there are over 100 other objects in our solar system that should also be called planets.

Right stuff. A super-earthlike planet.

Do you like Earth? Yeah, it’s pretty neat, huh? Well despite living on a planet as awesome as our own, astronomers are super eager to find more Earths, just for fun. A planet called Gliese 1132 B (GJ 1132b if you feel like making it slightly shorter) is one such planet. It’s called a “Super Earth” because it’s larger than our own planet, but is thought to be made of similar stuff, and researchers just discovered something extremely awesome that makes GJ 1132b the most Earth-like exoplanet humans have ever found: it has an atmosphere.

The new Number 9. Planet 9 – convincing evidence.

Using data from the SkyMapper telescope at the Australian National University, nearly 21,000 citizen volunteers browsed an astounding 100,000 images of the region of the solar system where the mythical Planet Nine is thought to exist. The group labeled over five million objects, and rapidly completed the classifications in just a few days, instead of the years upon years that it would have taken a single astronomer to perform the same task.

Disturbance in the force 11,000 neighboring galaxies fizzle out.

When we think about the survival of the human race we often focus on making sure our planet stays alive and habitable, but out there in the depths of space there are entire galaxies being killed off in a manner that is utterly perplexing scientists. A new paper (PDF) from researchers working at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research addresses the odd and extremely troubling trend and attempts to propose an answer for what exactly is leading literally thousands of galaxies to die premature deaths.

There goes the neighborhood. The Borg, solar flares, crashing meteors, now a traveling black hole.  The universe just isn’t safe any more.

Supermassive black holes are one of the scariest, most destructive and utterly intimidating forces in the universe, but the good news is that they usually don’t do a whole lot of moving around. They often reside at the center of large galaxies, like our own Milky Way, with a gravitational pull keeps us all swirling around it. So what could be more frightening than a stationary black hole? How about one that is flying through space like a colossal vacuum, sucking up whatever it happens upon? Astronomers think they’ve spotted one doing exactly that.

Say cheese. First picture of a black hole.

The closest astronomers have come to directly “seeing” a black hole happened last year, when the LIGO observatory detected the spacetime-warping gravitational waves radiating from a pair of black holes that collided some 1.3 billion years ago.

That’s cool. But for astronomers, it’s not enough. What’s eluded them is a view of the event horizon, the boundary of the black hole from which, when crossed, there is no return. After the event horizon, gravity is so intense that not even light can escape.

We’ve never seen a direct image of a black hole. But if an audacious experiment called the Event Horizon Telescope is successful, we’ll see one for the first time.

More on black holes. “Massive explosion from unknown source billions of light years away baffles astronomers”

At 10:49pm Western Australian time on February 2 this year, cosmic gamma rays hit the Nasa satellite, Swift, orbiting the Earth. Within seconds of the detection, an alert was automatically sent to the University of WA’s Zadko Telescope. It swung into robotic action, taking images of the sky location in the constellation Ophiuchus.