Friday, November 21, 2014

House passes bill aimed at limiting “secret science” in the EPA


House passes bill aimed at limiting “secret science” in the EPA


The House of Representatives has passed legislation that prevents academic scientists on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Scientific Advisory committee from participating in “activities that directly or indirectly involve review of evaluation of their own work,” as quoted by The Huffington Post.


Bill HR-1422, also known as the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, passed the Republican-led House of Representatives with a vote of 229-191. The bill, sponsored by Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT), makes it so that a scientist cannot advise the EPA on the findings that’re contained within that scientist’s own published, peer-reviewed paper.


“HR-1422 would negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.” Said Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), on Tuesday, as quoted by Inhabitat. “I get it, you don’t like science. And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients. But we need science to protect public health and the environment.”


“Instead of an overly broad bill that would tie EPA’s hands, the Administration urges Congress to support the Administration’s efforts to make scientific and technical information more accessible and regulations more transparent,” said White House in a statement, as quoted by The Hill, in which it threatens to veto the legislation.


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This British company wants to crowdfund a mission to the moon


The British company wants to crowdfund a mission to the moon


Described by its creators as “the most inspirational lunar project since the Apollo landings,” a new project on Kickstarter known as Lunar Mission One is looking for £600,000 ($940,000) in crowdfunding to send an unmanned robotic landing module to a completely unexplored area of the moon, according to CNET.


Even more interesting is the fact that the ambitious project also involves drilling down to a depth of at least 20 meters, potentially as far down as 100 meters, where the spacecraft will bury a digital time capsule which should be preserved for roughly a billion years due to the conditions at the South Pole of the moon.


The time capsule isn’t the primary goal of the mission, however, it’s merely one of the ways the company plans to fund the endeavor. The mission’s primary goal is to learn more about the origins of Earth’s closest celestial body. A minimum pledge of £60 ($94) is all that’s needed to get space in the digital time capsule.


“Lunar Mission One will make a huge contribution to our understanding of the origins of our planet and the moon, and will inspire a generation to learn more about space, science and engineering, in the same way that my generation was inspired by the Apollo moon landings,” said David Iron, founder of Lunar Missions, as quoted by Space.


“It is increasingly difficult to fund space science and exploration of the kind aimed at developing understanding and knowledge,” continued Iron, as quoted by The Guardian. “We are introducing a new form of funding, and if it works we’ll have a legacy that shows it’s possible to fund these missions very differently.”


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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NYC is turning thousands of payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots


NYC is turning thousands of payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots


A new “communications network” known as LinkNYC has announced plans to turn all of the payphones in New York City, of which there are many, into public Wi-Fi stations, according to The New York Times. The kiosks will be taller and narrower than average phone booths, but will retain the advertising space.


NYC has been trying to figure out what to do with its dilapidated payphones for quite some time. The city did a miniscule rollout of Wi-Fi hotspots at 10 phone booths back in 2012, and in 2013, the Department of Information Technology and Communications made numerous proposals for redesigning and repurposing the booths into something more useful and aesthetically pleasing.


According to Tech Crunch, the LinkNYC network is a public-private partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation and CityBridge, which is a coalition of companies that includes Qualcomm, Antenna, Comark, and Transit Wireless (the company that has installed Wi-Fi in 47 stations of the city’s subway system).


The LinkNYC kiosks will offer “up to gigabit speeds,” feature charging stations for devices, have touch screens for accessing information about the city, and allow free domestic phone calls. While the consortium hasn’t elaborated about its gigabit capabilities, and it hasn’t mentioned any attempts to secure a contract with any of the ISPs in the area.


However, according to CNET, LinkNYC plans to deploy “the fastest and largest free municipal Wi-Fi deployment in the world” and claims that it will be “more than 20 times fast than the average home Internet service in NYC” with a “seamless roaming experience from Link to Link” and adds that this will all come “at no cost to taxpayers.”


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Friday, November 14, 2014

IBM’s Watson AI will give health advice based on your DNA


IBM’s Watson AI will give health advice based on your DNA


Personal health has become the latest battleground for technology giants, from apps that track your eating habits to wearable gadgets that help you exercise, companies such as Apple and Google are touting the benefits of their health-centric technology. All of that seems gimmicky to IBM, however, as the company wants to use its artificially intelligent supercomputer to analyze your DNA and interpret the results, according to The Wall Street Journal.


The New York-based technology giant is joining forced with a startup called Pathway Genomics in order to create an advanced app that tracks your fitness and diet using DNA sequencing and Watson, IBM’s artificially intelligent machine, to give users custom health recommendations. While it certainly won’t be a replacement for a human doctor, the app will act as a tool for being healthy on a day-to-day basis, according to Market Watch.


“Say you’ve just flown from your house on the coast to a city that’s 10,000 feet above sea level,” said Pathway Genomics’s chief medical officer Michael Nova in a recent blog post, as quoted by Gizmodo. “You might want to ask how far you could safely run on your first day after getting off the plane, and at what pulse rate should you slow your jogging pace. Or say you’re diabetic and you’re in a city you have never visited before. You had a pastry for breakfast and you want to know when you should take your next shot of insulin. In an emergency, you’ll be able to find specialized healthcare providers near where you are who can take care of you.”


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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Amazon is looking for drone testing pilots in the UK


Amazon is looking for drone testing pilots in the UK


Amazon announced its ambitious plans for special package delivery drones, a project known as Amazon Prime Air, late last year but hasn’t had much to say about the project since then, until now that is. The project has numerous obstacles to overcome, but the American e-commerce giant is making progress.


According to Tech Crunch, Amazon is expanding its delivery drone testing to Cambridge, with a plan to fully staff a large research lab in the British city, expanding on the foothold that the company acquired when it bought Cambridge-based speech tech startup Evi Technologies two years ago.


“If you want to apply state-of-the-art technologies to solve extreme-scale real world problems… If you want the satisfaction of providing visible benefit to end-users in an iterative fast paced environment… This is your opportunity,” the company wrote on the career page of it’s website, as quoted by The Telegraph.


“You can expect to collaborate on test plans, plan the test evolution, and execute the flights while working closely with our flight engineering and flight test teams in Seattle. We’re looking for aerospace, systems, or other engineers with extensive UAS flight experience. Success will require attention to detail, a safety-oriented attitude, flexibility, and creative problem solving.”


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Advanced carbon-mapping could help slow deforestation in the Amazon


Advanced carbon-mapping could help slow deforestation in the Amazon


The immense jungle canopy of the Amazon simply looks like a muddled sea of green to the human eye when viewed from space, but satellites and other high-tech instruments can provide an infinitely more nuanced view of the biological Mecca, right down to the household level.


While that kind of technology seems more suited for the CIA, there’s another audience that could benefit even more from it: forest managers and scientists that’re looking to sequester as much carbon dioxide as possible, as the Amazon Rainforest absorbs a staggering amount of the carbon dioxide that’s emitted by humans and natural sources.


Unchecked logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, and fossil fuel exploration threaten to damage this crucial carbon dioxide sponge, which could have harsh consequences if not stopped. In order to combat this, scientists have published details on a new high-resolution mapping technique using satellite imagery and an airborne remote-sensing technology called Lidar.


“We found that nearly a billion metric tons of above-ground carbon stocks in Peru are at imminent risk of emission into the atmosphere due to land uses such as fossil fuel oil exploration, cattle ranching, oil palm plantations and gold mining,” said researcher, Greg Asner, as quoted by Telesur. “This new map provides the evidence needed to start negotiating in the carbon market on a bigger scale.”


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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

New “Ozzy Osbourne” frog discovered in the Brazilian Amazon


New “Ozzy Osbourne” frog discovered in the Brazilian Amazon


The first animal that pops into your mind when you think of Ozzy Osbourne most likely isn’t a frog. Instead, you’d probably think of a bat, right? A team of scientists had a similar though too, which is why when they discovered a new species of frog that mimics the sounds that bats make, they decided to name it after the legendary rock star.


According to Loudwire, the new species was discovered by Pedro Peloso and a group of colleagues during a month-long expedition into the Brazilian Amazon back in 2009. Referred to as the Bat Frog, the creature’s official scientific name is Dendropsophus ozzyi, as detailed in the journal Zootaxa.


The tiny tree frog emits a unique and highly unusual bat-like call, which was an immediate giveaway to the group of scientists that the species was unknown to science. Peloso said that he has “never heard anything like it” and, being avid fans of Black Sabbath, decided to name the two-centimeter-long species after the band’s lead singer, Ozzy Osbourne.


The new species was discovered in the Floresta Nacional de Pau-Rosa area of the Brazilian Amazon. Almost two dozen specimens were collected from three different areas, which suggests that the animal is probably common and widespread. Considering how well-explored the region is, it serves as a reminder of just how rich in biodiversity the Amazon Rainforest is.


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NASA agrees to lease the Moffett Federal Airfield to Google


NASA agrees to lease the Moffett Federal Airfield to Google


NASA has agreed to lease the Moffett Federal Airfield in the San Francisco Bay Area to Google, according to Tech Crunch. The technology giant will pay NASA $1.16 billion over the course of six decades in order to rent the 1,000-acre site, which includes a working airfield, a golf course, and numerous other buildings.


Google made the deal through Planetary Ventures, one of the company’s subsidiaries, which won the ability to negotiate for the airfield earlier this year. Ever since then, Google and NASA have been working out the terms of the agreement, which most people expected to go through, considering Google’s significant interest in acquiring the land and NASA’s equally significant interest in getting rid of it.


“As NASA expands its presence in space, we are making strides to reduce our footprint here on Earth,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement, as quoted by The Verge. “We want to invest taxpayer resources in scientific discovery, technology development and space exploration – not in maintaining infrastructure we no longer need.”


According to USA Today, Google plans to invest more than $200 million into the facility in order to refurbish the hangers and add numerous other improvements, such as an educational facility or a museum that will showcase the airfield’s history, as well as that of Silicon Valley. Planetary Ventures also will use the facility for “research, development, assembly, and testing in the areas of space exploration, aviation, rover/robotics and other emerging technologies.”


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Sunday, November 9, 2014

DARPA wants to kill the next Ebola crisis in the womb


DARPA wants to kill the next Ebola crisis in the womb


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the research organization of the United States military which, since its founding, been tasked with developing advanced military technology. However, according to Engadget, now DARPA has turned its attention towards the Ebola crisis, or more specifically, how to prevent it from even getting off of the ground.


“We keep seeing these unexpected bio-threats pop up along the globe, and we don’t want to be in the position where we are reactive,” said Alicia Jackson, deputy director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, as quoted by FedScoop. “We want to be in a position where we’re building a platform technology that can be applied not just to Ebola, but the next thing.”


“DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, which launched earlier this year, looks at biology as a technology, with a focus on harnessing living systems or integrating those systems with nonliving systems,” said Jackson, as quoted by RT. “We are trying to rethink that paradigm. We’re not just interested in solving the Ebola crisis. We want to be prepared for the next thing. We’re looking for a way to completely transform the way we’re attacking these problems, either with a vaccine or therapeutics or diagnostics.”


“We don’t just throw money over the fence and hope a good idea comes to fruition,” Jackson said. “We really work with the person who we’re funding to structure their technical project in a way that allows us to gauge and measure progress every step of the way. Biology is the most ancient and most powerful technology that we know of,” Jackson said. “It can do things that no other man-made machine or synthetic chemistry can even begin to approach in terms of the materials it can create and the functions that it can do.”


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BMW wants to recharge electric vehicles using street lights


BMW wants to recharge electric vehicles using street lights


One of the biggest issues that electric vehicles face is the lack of places to charge them up when you’re away from home. While the obvious solution would be to develop a standalone recharging network, that takes time to implement and is very costly. Fortunately, BMW has a solution that’s both easy to implement and affordable.


According to a new report from Reuters, the German automaker has developed two prototype street lights that equip a standard LED street light design with a charging socket for an electric vehicle. The idea is ingeniously simple, as it utilizes an already-existing piece of infrastructure, and could make driving an electric vehicle much more practical in urban areas.


BMW will begin a pilot project for the technology next year in its home city of Munich. The lights can be grafted directly onto the city’s existing local authority street lighting infrastructure and can be used by as many drivers as possible, regardless of the kind of electric vehicle model that a person has or the company that provides the electricity.


The German automaker has already installed two of these charging street lights in front of its headquarters. Drivers will be able to pay to charge their vehicles by using a dedicated mobile app. BMW has created some of the most advanced electric vehicles available, but the market for such vehicles has struggled to take off due to insufficient infrastructure.


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