Tag Archives: US & World

Drone Beat: Amazon Drones in India, National Parks Bans and More

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Pakistan’s cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan talks on the phone as a camera-equipped drone hovers outside a parliament in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Aug. 21, 2014.
Image: B.K. Bangash/Associated Press

Drone-Beat

The U.S. government uses them to bomb alleged terrorists in far-away places. Tech companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook are all toying with the idea of incorporating them into their businesses, and now they’re a photographer’s secret weapon.

Drones are a big part of our lives, whether we see them or not. Drone Beat collects the best and most important stories every week.

If you want more on Drones, subscribe to the Center for the Study of the Drone’s Weekly Roundup, which features news, commentary, analysis and updates on drone technology.

Drone Beat’s coverage areas this week

Last update: August 22, 11:45 a.m. ET

Will India be the launchpad for Amazon’s drones?

The cities of Mumbai and Bagalore in India might become the test sites for Amazon’s much hyped drone delivery program, known as Prime Air, according to a report by India’s newspaper the Economic Times.

In the United States, drone regulations are thorny and not business friendly for now. In late June, the Federal Aviation Administration specifically called out delivery by flying robot as something that is not allowed. India, on the other hand, would be an ideal candidate for Amazon because the country has no rules regarding the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

“Amazon will not be breaking any laws in India,” Bharat Malkani, an aviation expert and CEO of Mumbai-based Max Aerospace, told Quartz.

Amazon could be planning to start delivering packages via drone as early as October, taking advantage of the days ahead of the shopping-friendly festivity of Diwali.

More U.S. national parks ban drones

In June, the National Park Service issued a memorandum to ban drones from parks across the U.S. But that was just the first step, each park then needed to issue its own ban for it to be effective. Zion National Park in Utah and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona were the first ones to do so.

This week, more have joined in. The National Park Service’s office in Moab, Utah, officially banned drones in the Arches and Canyonlands national parks and in the Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments.

The National Park Service also banned drones from flying over the entire Appalachian Trail.

Yosemite National Park was the first to attempt to ban the flying robots, even before the rule was issued by the National Park Service.

It seems it’s just a matter of time before others join in. As a result, we might miss out on videos like these.

Rescuers use drones in aftermath of earthquake in China

First responders used drones to survey the areas hit by a 6.1-magnitude earthquake earlier this month in China’s Yunnan province.

After the quake, rescuers from the China Association for Disaster and Emergency Response Medicine got some help from a team of pilots at DJI, a large manufacturer of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles based in Hong Kong, as Motherboard reported.

“Aerial images captured by the team were used by workers in the epicenter area of Longtoushan, where most of the traditional buildings in the area collapsed,” the company told Motherboard. “The dense rubble and vegetation have made ground surveying extremely difficult, so using aerial images has helped identify where relief teams can focus on searching for survivors.”

Australian football team uses drones to film trainings

A team in the Australian Football League (AFL) has bought two small drones to film its training from above, according to local newspaper The Age.

The Hawthorn Football Club, also known as the Hawks, bought the drones in an attempt “to find an edge in technology to improve its on-field performance.”

There aren’t a lot of details on how the team plans to use its drones, but the newspaper said they’ll use them to analyze their strategies and plays from a better vantage point.

How will drone photography change society? A look into the past can help predict the future

In a fascinating, must-read article, author Clive Thompson opined that drones — with their high-resolution photo and video cameras — might change photography and society just as much as the first personal camera and the rise of the so-called “snapshot” in the late 19th century.

Drones “allow for entirely new forms of voyeurism: peering into windows, over fences or zooming above public crowds to pick out individuals,” but they are also “creating new aesthetics for picture-taking by everyday people — some of which are strikingly lovely and useful,” Thompson wrote in the Smithsonian article.

“For good and ill, photography is being born anew,” he said.

Read the full article here.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/08/25/drone-beat-amazon-parks/

Inside Mitt Romney’s Digital Campaign

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Mitt Romney’s social media guru does not quantify success in his candidate’s number of Facebook followers, but by their level of activity.

Despite a recent Pew report that pegs President Obama as winning the battle for digital audiences, Zac Moffatt, the head of the Romney campaign’s digital operation, says the Republican candidate is ahead of Obama in terms of building an engaged and dedicated online following.

The raw numbers lean Obama’s way. He has more than 27 million “Likes” on his Facebook page, for example, versus fewer than 5 million for Romney. But according to Moffatt, Romney’s followers are more likely to share information, post and spread the word about their candidate.

He cites June 28, the day of the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act as an example. On that day, he says, the Romney campaign saw activity in the form of comments or sharing from 27% of its list of followers, compared to 1.7% for Obama. “That’s how I’d define success for us,” Moffatt says.

This is a tough sell. Obama’s campaign team is legendary for its online prowess and its data-driven digital outreach. The Obama campaign appears to have raised the bar yet again, with the release of a mobile app that integrates digital outreach with the door-to-door shoe-leather efforts of volunteers, providing canvassers with voter-registration lists, neighborhood maps, campaign talking points and a fundraising interface.

According to Moffatt, the release of this app so late in the game points to the challenges of leveraging digital assets in the real world.

“The Obama folks knew they were going to be running for president three years ago,” he says. “It took them 100 days to build out this app that does all these pieces. You should look at that as realistic of how difficult it is to build a multipurpose, integrated app.”

The Romney campaign “still has millions of doors being hit every month, whether or not we have an app,” Moffatt says.”That just reduces some of the barriers, but it’s not going to stop us from doing what we do every day.”

The Romney campaign does have a couple of apps, including one that was built to deliver advance news of the candidate’s vice presidential pick. Although the app failed to scoop the press on the news about Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., it did generate 100,000 “Likes” on the Romney campaign’s Facebook page, Moffatt says, while gathering email addresses and other data on potential supporters.

The campaign has been mum on how it is going to retool Mitt’s VP app for the general-election drive, but Moffatt says he has a plan. “I wouldn’t be much of a digital director otherwise,” he says.

Using search and other online media as a conduit to more standard advertising fare is an important part of the online media mix. Moffatt’s research has shown that in a given week, there are one in three voters who don’t watch live television other than sports. “That just means they live on DVR, Netflix and Hulu. If we ran our entire campaign predicated on TV, that’s a lot of voters we’re missing,” he says.

And in Ohio, that figure could be 2 million voters. “The election will be won or lost most likely in that group,” Moffatt says.

In the Nevada caucuses, for example, the Romney team placed an ad on Google that directed people searching for information on Newt Gingrich to an ad that criticized the former House Speaker for taking consulting fees from federally backed mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

In the 2012 cycle, Moffatt says, digital has seen a transformation from a “base list-building and fundraising effort” to “becoming a persuasion and mobilization tool.” In 2008, digital strategy was not a major piece of Romney’s primary election bid. Now, Moffatt says, the numbers make it impossible to ignore.

Romney’s immediate family is more engaged on digital than in the past, and this has meant greater exposure for the candidate to social media. Ann Romney was an early adopter of the photo-sharing site Pinterest. Romney’s sons are active on Twitter and Facebook.

Presumptive vice presidential nominee Ryan has a lot of everyday, hands-on experience with social media. “Whenever it breaks into your peer groups, it makes a difference,” Moffatt says.

Where the election won’t be won or lost is on Twitter. Moffatt says he’s a little irate about the Pew report, which gives the Romney campaign low marks for use of Twitter, and criticizes both campaigns for failing to engage ordinary users via retweets.

“We try to keep the Twitter account in Mitt’s voice, and have him be a part of it. It limits the amount we do. We’re not able to tweet 25 times a day like the Obama folks have.”

That’s not to say that the candidate is tapping out his own tweets, or even dictating them to staff. “It’s more often that something will occur, and he’s like, ‘We should get that out on Twitter,'” Moffatt says.

Image courtesy of Mitt Romney on Facebook.

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/22/mitt-romney-zac-moffatt/

Social Good Summit, Day 2: Watch the Global Conversations Live

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The Social Good Summit continues Sunday in New York — but you can still join in the global conversation even if you couldn’t make it to New York. This year’s livestream is available in seven languages — English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian and Hebrew.

This year’s Social Good Summit expands beyond the 92nd Street Y’s New York walls. Partner events, forming The Global Conversation are taking place in Beijing, China; Nairobi, Kenya; and Mogadishu, Somalia on Monday.

One of the early Meetups took place Sunday morning in Madagascar:

All Meetups in dangerous regions of the world have been cleared with U.N. security officials, who are taking responsibility.

Are you taking part in a community Social Good Meetup? Let us know what’s taking place your region in the comments.

About Ericsson

Read more of Mashable’s coverage of the 2012 Social Good Summit:

Day One:

Day Two:

Day Three:

Thumbnail image courtesy of iStockphoto, skegbydave

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/23/social-good-livestream-summit/

Tropical Storm Isaac as Seen From NASA Satellite

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Tropical Storm Isaac will hit the Gulf Coast on Wednesday this week, and forecasters say it’s gaining enough speed to reach hurricane status by that time. Eerily enough, Isaac is set to make landfall in New Orleans on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

NASA just released an animation of satellite observations from Aug. 25-27, which shows Tropical Storm Isaac moving past Cuba and the Florida Keys and into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Created by the NASA GOES Project at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the visualization shows how quickly the storm evolved over the weekend.

When Isaac reaches maximum sustained winds of 74 mph, it will be classified as a category one hurricane. As of 11 a.m. Eastern on Monday, Isaac’s cloud extent is about 480 miles in diameter, as tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 240 miles from the center, according to NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder. Isaac is moving at a speed of about 14 mph, but it’s expected to slow down tomorrow as it approaches the Gulf Coast, which could make it a stronger storm.

How are you keeping up with Tropical Storm Isaac?

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/27/tropical-storm-isaac-nasa/

West Antarctic Glaciers Speeding Toward the Sea, Study Finds

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This aerial photo of Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, shows the New York skyline and harbor after Superstorm Sandy struck the city.
Image: Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Bad news from the Southern Hemisphere: the West Antarctic ice sheet is shedding ice at an accelerating rate, with six large glaciers in this region discharging nearly the same amount of ice as the entire Greenland ice sheet, according to a new study.

The study is the first to combine observations from satellites, radar data, and other remote sensing methods to construct a long-term record of ice movement trends for six of the fastest-flowing glaciers in Antarctica.

Published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the study examines glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment of West Antarctica. The glaciers in this region include the Pine Island Glacier, which made headlines in recent years by discharging massive icebergs into the ocean.

This region also encompasses the Thwaites, Haynes, Smith, Pope and Kohler glaciers, each of which are behemoths in their own right.

A research team from the University of California at Irvine and NASA found that the total amount of ice coming off these glaciers has increased by 77 percent since 1973, with much of that increase coming since 2000. Together, these glaciers drain one-third of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, or about 158 million square miles of ice, the study said.

We need to know how quickly and extensively parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet are melting in order to accurately project how high global sea levels are likely to rise during the next several decades. It’s melting land-based ice, not the melting North Pole sea ice, that contributes to rising seas.

Pine Island Glacier

A massive crack running about 18 miles Pine Island Glacier’s floating tongue in 2011.

Image: NASA

According to a 2013 report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), average global sea level rise will likely be in the range of 10.2 to 32 inches by the end of the century, depending on the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions between now and then.

If emissions continue on a business as usual path, which has been the trend in recent years, the IPCC said global average sea level rise could be closer to 40 inches — which would doom some low-lying coastal cities and nations, from Bangkok to Miami and Bangladesh.

Illustrating the high stakes involved in the fate of West Antarctica, the study found that these six glaciers contributed about 10% of all the global average sea level rise that occurred between 2005 and 2010. If all six glaciers were to melt completely (which is not expected to happen during this century), global average sea level would rise by a catastrophic 3.9 feet, the study said.

The new study also found, for the first time, that West Antarctic glaciers are not only flowing faster at the point where their base meets the ocean, which is known as the grounding line. Instead, areas as far inland as nearly 160 miles are also speeding up their march to the sea.

Until this study, it was not known that sections of glaciers deep into the interior are also speeding up their movement. This is a troubling sign because of what it implies for sea level rise in the future, according to the study’s lead author, Jeremie Mouginot of the University of California at Irvine.

“Increased ice discharge will have an impact on how [much] the sea level is going to rise,” Mouginot told Mashable.

Mouginot says most of the action is taking place at the grounding line, then having ripple effects inland.

In the same way that plaque slowly rots a tooth until it falls out, mild ocean temperatures are thought to be causing ice to thin and retreat where these glaciers meet the sea. This is likely setting in motion a chain of events that results in a far more unstable glacier.

Sea level rise

Projections of global mean sea level rise over the 21st century, depending on greenhouse gas emissions.

Image: U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The grounding line positions of these glaciers have been retreating at a rate of 0.6 miles per year, the study found, which is among the fastest rates of glacier retreat in the world.

According to Mouginot, all six of the glaciers in this study come into contact with the same body of water, which indicates that higher sea surface temperatures are likely playing a role in speeding up melting. Other studies have found evidence for this in other parts of the globe, including Greenland, and in other parts of Antarctica.

“I think there is more warm ocean going beneath the ice shelf,” Mouginot says.

It’s not absolutely clear exactly what is causing ocean temperatures to increase in that area — but global warming from the increased amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is almost certainly playing a role.

“What I can say is, if you look at Greenland, it is changing, and West Antarctica is changing a lot,” Mouginot says. “And they are really far apart from each other. I don’t think it’s a regional change occurring. I think it’s more global.”

The IPCC is scheduled to release another major climate report on Sunday evening eastern time, which is expected to detail some of the likely impacts of global sea level rise during the next several decades, among other findings.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/28/west-antarctic-ice-melting-sea-level/

Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than We Thought

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A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel — a concept popularized in television’s Star Trek — may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.

A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.

Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially brining the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.

“There is hope,” Harold “Sonny” White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center said at the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a meeting to discuss the challenges of interstellar spaceflight.

Warping Space-Time

An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.

(SPACE.com)

Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn’t being warped at all.

“Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light,” explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. “But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light.”

With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit.

The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.

But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.

Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.

“The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation,” White told SPACE.com. “The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.”

Warp-Drive Laboratory Tests

White and his colleagues have begun experimenting with a mini version of the warp drive in their laboratory.

They set up what they call the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer at the Johnson Space Center, essentially creating a laser interferometer that instigates micro versions of space-time warps.

“We’re trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million,” White said.

He called the project a “humble experiment” compared to what would be needed for a real warp drive, but said it represents a promising first step.

And other scientists stressed that even outlandish-sounding ideas, such as the warp drive, need to be considered if humanity is serious about traveling to other stars.

“If we’re ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we’re going to have to think outside the box a little bit, were going to have to be a little bit audacious,” Obousy said.

Image courtesy of Harold White

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/17/warp-drive-may-be-more-feasible-than-we-thought/

See the Rare Photo of Neil Armstrong on the Moon

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There is only one photograph of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, and in it, he has his back to the camera.

The first man to set foot on a planetary body other than Earth was not camera shy. It was just that for most of the time he and Buzz Aldrin were exploring the moon in July 1969, the checklist called for Armstrong to have their only camera.

When the news broke Saturday that Armstrong, 82, had passed away, it is likely that many people’s memories of the first man on the moon were of black and white television images or color film stills. If they did recall a photo captured during the Apollo 11 moonwalk, it was almost certainly one of Aldrin, whether it was of him saluting the flag or looking down at his bootprint.

In fact, perhaps the most iconic photo taken of an astronaut on the surface of the moon is also of Aldrin. A posed shot, he is facing the camera with the reflection of his photographer, Armstrong, caught in Aldrin’s golden helmet visor.

Of course, there were photographs taken of Neil Armstrong at other points during the moon flight, and on his previous mission, Gemini 8. Cameras were ready when he was named an astronaut seven years before walking on the moon, and were more than ever present after he returned to Earth as a history-making hero.

A few of those other photos ran alongside obituaries in the numerous newspapers that told of Armstrong’s death in their Sunday editions. But they — the photos, not necessarily the obituaries — only told part of the story. A great many lesser seen photos capture Armstrong as the research pilot, astronaut, engineer and, as his family described in a statement, “a reluctant American hero.”

To help illustrate that record, collectSPACE.com asked RetroSpaceImages.com to search its extensive archives of NASA photographs and pick out those that showed the Armstrong that the public didn’t always get to see. The three dozen photos they chose have been presented chronologically, with one exception: The gallery begins with the rare photo of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Where are space shuttle Atlantis’ launch director and mission management team today? Continue reading at collectSPACE.com.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/27/rare-photo-neil-armstrong/

Russian Soyuz Spacecraft Malfunction Delays Arrival at ISS by 2 Days

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The Soyuz TMA-12M rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 carrying Expedition 39 Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Steven Swanson of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos to the International Space Station.
Image: NASA Joel Kowsky

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft suffered an apparent malfunction in orbit late on March 25, forcing its three-man crew to circle the Earth two extra days before reaching the International Space Station as planned, NASA officials say.

The Soyuz TMA-12M space capsule launched into space March 25 carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts on what was expected to be a standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station. But a malfunction on the Soyuz spacecraft prevented a critical engine burn to keep the capsule on course for its planned orbital arrival on the night of March 25.

Riding aboard the Soyuz are NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. The U.S.-Russian crew will now arrive at the station on the evening of March 27, NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said in an update.

“The crew is fine, but the ground teams are taking a look at what exactly happened aboard the Soyuz and what caused that [engine] burn to be skipped,” Byerly said during NASA’s televised coverage.

Russian Soyuz engineers are unsure if a software glitch or a mechanical malfunction caused the problem, Byerly said. An initial look at conversations between mission flight controllers in Moscow and Houston suggests, that the problem may beem caused by the Soyuz not being in the proper orientation for the planned engine burn, according to a NASA status update.

The Soyuz capsule launched into orbit atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:17 p.m. EDT. Its crew planned to join three other crewmates already aboard the station with docking at 11:05 p.m. EDT.

Now, Swanson and his crewmates must wait until March 27 at 7:58 p.m. EDT to link up with the International Space Station, Byerly said, adding that the exact time of the docking could change.

“They have supplies to keep them in orbit for many, many days,” Byerly said of the three space travelers.

Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft originally flew on two-day rendezvous flights to the space station similar to the backup trajectory the current Soyuz mission is forced to fly now. It is a two-day trip that includes 32 orbits of Earth in order to catch up with the space station. The last two-day Soyuz trip before this mission was in December 2012.

Russia’s Federal Space Agency began flying shorter, six-hour trips to the space station with unmanned cargo ships in 2012. The first crewed single-day trips to station on Soyuz vehicles launched in 2013.

Expedition 39 Launch
This long expsoure photograph shows the flight path of the Soyuz TMA-12M rocket as it launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

A standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station includes four orbits of the Earth and requires four major engine burn maneuvers, performed automatically by the spacecraft, in order to reach the International Space Station.

Byerly said the Soyuz TMA-12M’s flight computer failed to perform the third maneuver in the flight sequence slated for 7:48 p.m. EDT.

“Right now we don’t understand exactly what happened, so we’ll analyze and review all the telemetry of it,” a Russian flight controller radioed the Soyuz crew, according to a audio translation.

Russia’s three-person Soyuz spacecraft are currently the only vehicles capable of ferrying astronaut and cosmonaut crews to and from the International Space Station. NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, and is dependent on Russian Soyuz vehicles to fly American astronauts to the station and back. The U.S. space agency plans to fly American astronauts on commercial U.S. spacecraft beginning in 2017.

Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev are due to spend nearly six months in space during their current mission, which will bridge the space station’s Expedition 39 and 40 crews. The trio will join Expedition 29’s Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin already aboard the station, then stay on to serve as the outpost’s Expedition 40 crew.

Editor’s Note:

This story was updated at 10:50 pm ET to clarify that the cause of the Soyuz spacecraft’s missed engine burn is being studied as a possible software issue, mechanical malfunction or incorrect attitude.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/26/russian-soyuz-spacecraft-malfunction/

New Tool for Hurricane Trackers: Drones

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Federal hurricane trackers this year will be experimenting with powerful new tools: unmanned boats and aircraft, including a massive drone more known for spying on battlefields than monitoring nature’s violence.

Researchers at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are hoping a pair of military-surplus Global Hawk spy drones can provide new insight into the storms that routinely ravage the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The aircraft, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, won’t be keeping an eye on Hurricane Isaac, which barreled down on the Gulf Coast on Tuesday. That storm is being monitored by more traditional means, including manned “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft, but officials expect to have the drones up and running in time for the height of hurricane season.

On Friday, the first of two Global Hawk aircraft is scheduled to arrive at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, with a shakedown flight scheduled to happen as soon as Monday. The second aircraft is expected to arrive in coming weeks with officials hoping for a first flight in mid-September.

The aircraft, built by Northrop Grumman, were among the first batch to be tested by the military. When the military sought upgraded aircraft, the drones ended up in the hands of NASA researchers, who, along with their counterparts at NOAA, have now fitted them with specialized sensors for monitoring storms.

Weather researchers have used or experimented with various unmanned vehicles for years (not to mention the original unmanned vehicles: weather satellites). But officials are now taking the technology to new levels.

NASA’s Global Hawks, for example, were first used for a limited number of experimental flights in 2010, but technical issues have kept them from gathering hurricane data until now, said Scott Braun, a NASA investigator who helps oversee the Global Hawk program.

The three-year program is just starting, and for now NASA’s plan is focused on basic research, rather than real-time forecasting. Still, with a 116-foot wingspan and an ability to stay in the air for nearly 30 hours, the Global Hawk promises to be extremely useful for observing hurricanes.

But don’t look for drones to replace the famous manned “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft that fly directly into the middle of hurricanes anytime soon.

Researchers have small UAVs that can survive the forces inside a hurricane, but they are too small to carry a wide range of sensors, Braun said. Larger aircraft like the Global Hawk, meanwhile, can’t handle such extreme weather. While manned flights into hurricanes can seem dangerous, only four such aircraft have been lost since 1943, the last one in 1974.

“We are still a long ways away from replacing manned flights,” he said. Instead, the UAVs will supplement manned flights by flying at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet, thousands of feet above the thrashing winds and rain. One aircraft is designed to gather data about the environment around a storm, while the other UAV will study the storm itself.

It’s not the first time NASA has turned to spy aircraft for weather research. Since the 1970s, the space agency has used a version of the military’s U-2 aircraft to conduct a range of observations on everything from wildfires to migratory birds, as well as hurricanes. (During the 1960s, NASA unsuccessfully tried to help cover up Francis Gary Powers’s failed U-2 spy mission in the Soviet Union by claiming he got lost while conducting weather research.)

Like the military, NASA and NOAA are now looking to unmanned vehicles to either replace or bolster more traditional vehicles.

While Global Hawks may soon be a regular fixture above hurricanes, NOAA is experimenting with small, unmanned watercraft to penetrate storms at sea level.

The Wave Glider is a solar-powered floating platform that can take measurements from both the air and sea. Wave Gliders have been used for a range of weather and climate research, but now NOAA is experimenting with placing the craft in the path of oncoming hurricanes.

Unlike other craft, in theory, the Wave Glider can stay out indefinitely thanks to its solar panels, said NOAA’s Alan Leonardi. “The idea is to position a string of these in the path of a hurricane and gather data in a way we haven’t been able to before,” he said.

Also in the expanding NOAA arsenal of unmanned research vehicles is EMILY, a 65-inch watertight unmanned surface vehicle outfitted with a range of sensors and a high-definition camera. This year, scientists hope to remotely guide the craft into the center of hurricanes to gather data in some of the most dangerous areas of the storms.

“With unmanned craft, we’re not risking anybody’s life,” said Justyna Nicinska, program manager for NOAA’s EMILY, which was originally developed to help lifeguards with tricky sea rescues. Like other officials, Nicinska expects EMILY to compliment, rather than replace current systems. “EMILY will really fill gaps in our observation,” she said.

Image of Hurricane Isaac courtesy of NASA.

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/28/hurricane-trackers-drones/

Human Rights Watch Urges Fully Autonomous Weapons Ban

Human-rights-watch-urges-fully-autonomous-weapons-ban-video--77a3cb424a

Nonprofit group Human Rights Watch released a report this week calling for a worldwide ban on all fully autonomous weapons.

The 50-page report, called “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots,” acknowledges that while fully autonomous weapons are not quite yet a reality, current trends — like the increased use of drones and unmanned vehicles by governments — are heading down that route.


The group warns that further advancement of autonomous weaponry would eventually lead to a lack of human controls — the kind of controls that “provide legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians.”

Watch the video up top to learn more. What are your thoughts on fully autonomous weaponry?

Drone

Image courtesy of Flickr, DrLianPinKoh and ConservationDrones.org

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/20/ban-autonomous-weapons/