May 21, 2016

Future F-35 fighter could control 10 to 100 drones

The Air Force’s chief scientist said F-35 fighter jet pilots will someday control a swarm of drones flying alongside the fighter jet to boost sensing, reconnaissance and targeting functions.

“The more autonomy and intelligence you can put on these vehicles, the more useful they will become,” he said.

Algorithms could progress to the point where a drone, such as a Predator or a Reaper, might be able to follow a fighter aircraft by itself – without needing its flight path navigated from human direction from the ground.

At the moment, multiple humans are often needed to control a single drone, and new algorithms increasing autonomy for drones could greatly change this ratio. Zacharias explained a potential future scenario wherein one human is able to control 10 – or even 100 - drones.

Scientists are now working on advancing autonomy to the point where a drone can, for example, be programmed to spoof a radar system, see where threats are and more quickly identify targets independently.

In September, 2013, the Air Force and Boeing flew an unmanned F-16 Falcon at supersonic speeds for the first time at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The unmanned fighter was able to launch, maneuver and return to base without a pilot.

US Army Studies Russian-Ukraine War for revolution in tank and drone warfare for modern close combat war lessons

The US Army has a project called The Russia New Generation Warfare study. It is an analysis of how Russia is re-inventing land warfare in the mud of Eastern Ukraine. Speaking recently at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., McMaster said that the two-year-old conflict had revealed that the Russians have superior artillery firepower, better combat vehicles, and have learned sophisticated use of UAVs for tactical effect. Should U.S. forces find themselves in a land war with Russia, he said, they would be in for a rude, cold awakening.

Previously the study of Yom Kippur war (1973) influenced the US army for the next 15 years.

The Russian-Ukraine study effort is focused on 20 separate “warfighting challenges”—including maintaining communications in the face of cyberattacks; developing a greater degree of battlefield intelligence; redesigning Army combat formations and tactics; and identifying new air defenses, weapons and ways to employ helicopters.

Indeed, where the Yom Kippur War analogy reaches its limits, say close observers, is the way in which Russia has also employed other, nonmilitary power—first during the Russian military annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 and then in its ongoing proxy war in eastern Ukraine.

“Look at the enemy countermeasures,” he said, noting Russia’s use of nominally semi-professional forces who are capable of “dispersion, concealment, intermingling with civilian populations…the ability to disrupt our network strike capability, precision navigation and timing capabilities.” All of that means “you’re probably going to have a close fight… Increasingly, close combat overmatch is an area we’ve neglected, because we’ve taken it for granted.”

So how do you restore overmatch? The recipe that’s emerging from the battlefield of Ukraine, says McMaster, is more artillery and better artillery, a mix of old and new.

Cross-Domain Fires

“We’re out-ranged by a lot of these systems and they employ improved conventional munitions, which we are going away from. There will be a 40- to 60-percent reduction in lethality in the systems that we have,” he said. “Remember that we already have fewer artillery systems. Now those fewer artillery systems will be less effective relative to the enemy. So we need to do something on that now.”

To remedy that, McMaster is looking into a new area called “cross domain fires,” which would outfit ground units to hit a much wider array of targets. “When an Army fires unit arrives somewhere, it should be able to do surface-to-air, surface-to-surface, and shore-to-ship capabilities. We are developing that now and there are some really promising capabilities,” he said

Thermobaric weapons wiped out two mechanized battalions in three minutes

The United States had long overemphasized precision artillery on the battlefield at the expense of mass fires. Since the 1980s, he said last October, at an Association for the United States Army event, the U.S. has given up its qualitative edge, mostly by getting rid of cluster munitions.

Munitions have advanced incredibly since then. One of the most terrifying weapons that the Russians are using on the battlefield are thermobaric warheads, weapons that are composed almost entirely of fuel and burn longer and with more intensity than other types of munitions.

“In a 3-minute period…a Russian fire strike wiped out two mechanized battalions [with] a combination of top-attack munitions and thermobaric warheads,” said Karber. “If you have not experienced or seen the effects of thermobaric warheads, start taking a hard look. They might soon be coming to a theater near you.”

The pro-Russian troops in Donbas were using an overlapping mobile radar as well as a new man-portable air defense that’s “integrated into their network and can’t be spoofed by [infrared] decoys” or flares.

Combat Vehicles and Defenses

The problems aren’t just with rockets and shells, McMaster said. Even American combat vehicles have lost their edge.

“The Bradley [Fighting Vehicle] is great,” he said, but “what we see now is that our enemies have caught up to us. They’ve invested in combat vehicles. They’ve invested in advanced protective systems and active protective systems. We’ve got to get back ahead on combat vehicle development.”

Carnigie Mellon will host its first Neurohackathon to solve human brain research goals

Carnegie Mellon University’s BrainHub will host its first Neurohackathon, sponsored by Qualcomm, May 24-25. The event is one of the first hackathons to engage computer scientists in using one of the hardest systems to crack: the structure of neural data and the brain.

The brain has billions of neurons and trillions of synapses, making it an excellent source of big data. BrainHub researchers from across CMU’s Pittsburgh campus have collected vast amounts of information from the brain using techniques including MRI and electrophysiological recordings. Through this hackathon, they hope to develop new methods for analyzing and understanding this data and foster new collaborative relationships between neuro-, data and computer scientists.

Getting these smart and creative young minds to look at neural data will bring 21st century tools and ideas to brain science research,” said Alison Barth, interim director of BrainHub and professor of biological sciences.

During the hackathon, graduate student will be given data sets gathered from the labs of neuroscience researchers in the College of Engineering, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Mellon College of Science and School of Computer Science and asked to develop solutions for analyzing the data. Datasets include:

  • Human brain neuroanatomy from MRI images: Assistant Professor of Psychology Tim Verstynen and Associate Professor of Machine Learning Aarti Singh mapped the trajectories of axonal connections using MRI data collected from 842 subjects and cataloged in the human connectome project. Teams will develop a supervised learning classifier to help classify pathways and identify false pathways caused by data noise.
  • How is running represented in the mouse cortex: Teams will analyze fluorescent activity recorded from 124 neurons while a mouse was running and at rest to try to establish a relationship between neural activity and mouse behavior. The data was recorded using two-photon calcium imaging in the lab of Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Sandra Kuhlman, with assistance from Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Steven Chase.
  • Epigenetic regulation of genome function and brain disease: Every brain cell has the same genomic sequence, but chemical modifications, referred to as epigenetics, result in a large diversity among cell types. Teams will use data on epigenetic changes across 80 human brain regions to determine if those changes can be linked to different brain regions and associated with different diseases. The data was gathered by Assistant Professor of Computational Biology Andreas Pfenning.
  • Cell-type identification through electrophysiological fingerprinting: Neurons in the cerebral cortex can be differentiated from each other by gene expression, anatomy and firing patterns. However, it is difficult to determine cell type using neuronal recordings taken from living animals. Recent studies have found that spontaneous firing patterns of neurons might contain a fingerprint for identifying cell type. Using data collected by Barth, teams will identify the fingerprints for different cell types, and test their classification method using recordings from unidentified cells.

May 20, 2016

General Dynamics delivered the first new Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer to the US Navy

General Dynamics Bath Iron Works delivered the first Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer to the Navy on Friday, Naval Sea Systems Command announced.

The delivery of the 16,000-ton Zumwalt (DDG-1000) optimized for stealth and operations close to shore follows last month’s successful acceptance trials of the ship overseen by the service’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV), Navy officials told USNI News.

INSURV evaluated the ship’s hull, mechanical and engineering (HM&E) systems during the underway testing period last month.

“Zumwalt’s crew has diligently trained for months in preparation of this day and they are ready and excited to take charge of this ship on behalf of the U.S. Navy,” said Capt. James Kirk, commanding officer of Zumwalt in a statement. “These are 143 of our nation’s finest men and women who continue to honor Admiral Zumwalt’s namesake with their dedication to bringing this ship to life.”

Now that Zumwalt is delivered, the ship’s crew will move aboard and begin an about four-month training process to operate the ship ahead of the ship’s planned commissioning in Baltimore on Oct. 15.

Long term dimming of KIC8462852 within the large statistical uncertainty error level

Last fall Yale astronomer Tabetha (Tabby) Boyajian and colleagues posted a paper on an astronomy preprint server reporting a star (KIC 8462852) 1,480 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus had found fluctuations in the light coming from the otherwise ordinary F-type star (slightly larger and hotter than the sun).

The most remarkable of these fluctuations consisted of dozens of uneven, unnatural-looking dips that appeared over a 100-day period indicating that a large number of irregularly shaped objects had passed across the face of the star and temporarily blocked some of the light coming from it.

Then a study released in January by a Louisiana State University astronomer threw even more fuel on the fire of alien speculation by announcing that the brightness of Tabby’s star had dimmed by 20 percent over the last century: a finding particularly difficult to explain by natural means but consistent with the idea that aliens were gradually converting the material in the star’s planetary system into giant megastructures that have been absorbing increasing amounts of energy from the star for more than a century. That study has been accepted for publication in the peer reviewed Astrophysical Journal.

A new study indicates that no dimming of star KIC 8462852 can be found within the uncertainties of 0.2mag per century.

The short term fluctuations in the Kepler data has bee found to be rock-solid. The historic Harvard plates have an uncertainty (over 100 years) of order 0.1 to 0.2mag, and this was also visually evident.

Arxiv - A statistical analysis of the accuracy of the digitized magnitudes of photometric plates on the time scale of decades with an application to the century-long light curve of KIC 8462852

US Army will shoot down drones and mortars

The US Army is currently testing High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck (HELMTT) with a 10 kilowatt laser.

They are destroying drones and other targets in field tests.

They will upgrade the 10 kilowatt laser to a 60 kilowatt laser for more range and ability to operate in fog, rain and other conditions.

High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck (HELMTT)

The US Army is also getting antidrone and antiaircraft trucks with improved missile systems and rapid firing 50 mm guns that shoot guided grenades.

As the tests continue, the US Army will try out even more different missiles in a truck launcher. The final version could be able to destroy enemy planes and drones, blast incoming artillery rounds and attack targets on the ground. The Army hopes to have a completed design sometime in 2017.

Nuclear Fusion company Tri-alpha Energy has raised $500 million to make a prototype reactor in the 2020s

Tri Alpha Energy, nuclear fusion startup, has raised $500 million. Tri Alpha’s setup borrows some of the principles of high-energy particle accelerators, such as the Large Hadron Collider, to fire beams of plasma into a central vessel where the fusion reaction takes place. Last August the company said it had succeeded in keeping a high-energy plasma stable in the vessel for five milliseconds—an infinitesimal instant of time, but enough to show that it could be done indefinitely. Since then that time has been upped to 11.5 milliseconds.

The next challenge is to make the plasma hot enough for the fusion reaction to generate more energy than is needed to run it. How hot? Something like 3 billion °C, or 200 times the temperature of the sun’s core. No metal on Earth could withstand such a temperature. But because the roiling ball of gas is confined by a powerful electromagnetic field, it doesn’t touch the interior of the machine.

The photos seen here were taken a few days before Tri Alpha began dismantling the machine to build a much larger and more powerful version that will fully demonstrate the concept. That could lead to a prototype reactor sometime in the 2020s.

Tri-alpha energy was in stealth mode for many years but now has their own website.

Compact Toroidal injector test stand

The C2U is the world's largest compact toroid device. 20 meters in length and 1.4 meters in diameter. Magnetic fields of 3.5 tesla deliver 1 megajoule in microseconds forming and accelerating compact toroids to 600,000 kilometers per hour.

Tri Alpha’s machine produces a doughnut of plasma, but in it the flow of particles in the plasma produces all of the magnetic field holding the plasma together. This approach, known as a field-reversed configuration (FRC), has been known since the 1960s. But despite decades of work, researchers could get the blobs of plasma to last only about 0.3 milliseconds before they broke up or melted away. In 1997, the Canadian-born physicist Norman Rostoker of the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues proposed a new approach. The following year, they set up Tri Alpha, now based in an unremarkable—and unlabeled—industrial unit here. Building up from tabletop devices, by last year the company was employing 150 people and was working with C-2, a 23-meter-long tube ringed by magnets and bristling with control devices, diagnostic instruments, and particle beam generators. The machine forms two smoke rings of plasma, one near each end, by a proprietary process and fires them toward the middle at nearly a million kilometers per hour. At the center they merge into a bigger FRC, transforming their kinetic energy into heat.

Previous attempts to create long-lasting FRCs were plagued by the twin demons that torment all fusion reactor designers. The first is turbulence in the plasma that allows hot particles to reach the edge and so lets heat escape. Second is instability: the fact that hot plasma doesn’t like being confined and so wriggles and bulges in attempts to get free, eventually breaking up altogether. Rostoker, a theorist who had worked in many branches of physics including particle physics, believed the solution lay in firing high-speed particles tangentially into the edge of the plasma. The fast-moving incomers would follow much wider orbits in the plasma’s magnetic field than native particles do; those wide orbits would act as a protective shell, stiffening the plasma against both heat-leaking turbulence and instability.

May 19, 2016

Starry Station solves cost of providing high speed internet to the the last mile

Starry Station is a new internet provider who can use a two-foot-high rooftop unit able to serve between 600 and 900 customers within a roughly one-kilometer range with 300 Mbps to 1 Gbps internet. The cost per customer to setup is $25 instead of $2500 for other providers. This will solve the cost of providing the last mile of high speed internet.

Installing the infrastructure is so cheap it could allow for a profitable business even if only 5 to 10 percent of potential customers took service, far less than the 50 percent or more that is typically needed to provide enough payback on capital costs, he says.

Starry uses high-frequency radio spectrum—between 37 gigahertz and 40 gigahertz—able to carry vast amounts of data. Some companies already use a simple version of millimeter wave technology to provide wireless Internet access to customers, but existing systems are very limited in that they require one new antenna added to a tower for each new customer. They also require a direct line of sight to work, because such high-frequency signals are very easily blocked by objects—people, foliage, and even rain or snow.

The “active phased array” approach overcomes these obstacles. With these systems, wireless transmissions are distributed over arrays of 16 or more antennas, and dispatched in rapid and very complex pulses that allow one transmitter to serve hundreds of customers at a time. What’s more, these arrays can reach some customers’ antennas that aren’t in the line of sight.

Starry says it has measured speeds from 300 megabits per second to more than one gigabit per second at a range of between one and 1.5 kilometers—even amid rain or snow.

High-frequency radio signals used to required expensive chips made of an exotic material called gallium arsenide, making the technology so costly it was only practical for applications such as military radar systems. But recent advances have allowed silicon chips—built with standard fabrication methods—to do the same job.

Starry, which has 57 employees in Boston and New York, is prototyping parts of the system in-house.

Even though Google Fiber and other companies and municipalities are starting to provide gigabit service, today only about 8 percent of the country has access to such speeds

AT and T and Verizon have announced trials for millimeter wave fixed wireless systems, and major players like Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei, and Google are working on versions. Samsung is working on mobile technologies using 64 antennas to send and receive signals on ultra-high frequencies. And researchers at New York University have also tested advanced versions for mobile networks. But if a gigabit signal reaches your urban apartment, it might well come first from Starry.

Clock ticking on human Uber drivers as Uber begins robotic self driving car tests in Pittsburgh

Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) in Pittsburgh will begin testing a self driving car. The car, a hybrid Ford Fusion, will be collecting mapping data as well as testing its self-driving capabilities. When it’s in self-driving mode, a trained driver will be in the driver’s seat monitoring operations. The Uber ATC car comes outfitted with a variety of sensors including radars, laser scanners, and high resolution cameras to map details of the environment.

Real-world testing is critical to Uber's efforts to develop self-driving technology. Self-driving cars have the potential to save millions of lives and improve quality of life for people around the world. 1.3 million people die every year in car accidents — 94% of those accidents involve human error. In the future Uber believes this technology will mean less congestion, more affordable and accessible transportation, and far fewer lives lost in car accidents. These goals are at the heart of Uber’s mission to make transportation as reliable as running water — everywhere and for everyone.

While Uber is still in the early days of our self-driving efforts, every day of testing leads to improvements. Right now we’re focused on getting the technology right and ensuring it’s safe for everyone on the road — pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers. We’ve informed local officials and law enforcement about our testing in Pittsburgh, and our work would not be possible without the support we’ve received from the region’s leaders

Soldiers can toss two cameras into a room and get a 3D map so they virtually scout before physically entering

DARPA researchers have a way for soldiers to know exactly what they are getting into before they go in. Known as VirtualEye, a soldier armed with a laptop or tablet can throw a couple of cameras into a building and get a three-dimensional view of what's inside, moving around the space with a controller to see where the enemy might be hiding.

VirtualEye is an offshoot project from a DARPA program to create more efficient computer processors. In partnership with Nvidia, Tran found a perfect example of how efficient computing power small enough for a soldier to carry around can be a game changer on the battlefield

Using the VirtualEye view, a soldier can "walk" around a room and explore inside, looking under the couch, behind a column, or see what the inside of the door looks like. The two cameras work together to put together one cohesive virtual map.

The program doesn't require special cameras or other equipment. Tran said they are "camera agnostic" and can use just about any type.

"We think we can get it in the field pretty quickly, within the next two to three years."

Australia and partners Boeing, BAE Systems and DLR (German Aerospace Center) have a successful mach 7.5 hypersonic missile test

Chief Defence Scientist Dr Alex Zelinsky today congratulated an Australian-United States team on the success of an experimental hypersonic flight at the Woomera Test Range.

The experimental rocket reached an apogee of 278 km, achieving the targeted speed of Mach 7.5 (seven and a half times the speed of sound). The team estimates that its engine could get you from London to New York in 35 minutes, and London to Sydney in 2 hours.

The experimental flight was undertaken as part of a joint research program, HIFiRE (Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation Program) being conducted by the Defence Science and Technology Group and the US Air Force Research Laboratory with Boeing and the University of Queensland providing expert technical design and analysis.

“The success of this test launch takes us one step closer to the realisation of hypersonic flight,” Dr Zelinsky said.
HIFiRE 5b is one of a series of 10 flight experiments under the Australia-US collaborative project Hypersonic International Flight Research and Experimentation program aimed at investigating physical phenomena of flight at more than five times the speed of sound. The knowledge gained from these experiments will be applied to develop future flight vehicles and testing of advanced air-breathing hypersonic propulsion engines known as supersonic combustion ramjets (scramjets). HIFiRE partners include the University of Queensland, Boeing, BAE Systems and DLR (German Aerospace Center).Photographer: CPL Bill Solomou Copyright: © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence

Hypersonic flight, involving speeds of more than five times the speed of sound, has the potential to provide immense social and economic benefits.

“It is a game-changing technology identified in the 2016 Defence White Paper and could revolutionise global air travel, providing cost-effective access to space,” Dr Zelinsky said.

The program is aimed at exploring the fundamental technologies critical to the realisation of sustained hypersonic flight.

Boeing’s chief scientist for hypersonics Kevin Bowcutt said the HIFiRE program will accelerate the development of operational hypersonic systems by producing valuable scientific flight data.

Professor Michael Smart from the University of Queensland praised the highly skilled individuals involved in the program and said they were placing the Australian aerospace industry on the international stage.

The HIFiRE team has already achieved some significant milestones such as the design, assembly and pre-flight testing of the hypersonic vehicles and the design of complex avionics and flight systems. More test flights are scheduled in the next two years.

Vicarious will show off their progress to Artificial General Intelligence later this year

Silicon Valley Artificial Intelligence startup Vicarious is developing a new way of processing data, inspired by the way information seems to flow through the brain. The company’s leaders say this gives computers something akin to imagination, which they hope will help make the machines a lot smarter.

Vicarious is betting against the current trend in AI towards deep learning. Companies including Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft have made stunning progress in the past few years by feeding huge quantities of data into large neural networks in a process called “deep learning.” When trained on enough examples, for instance, deep-learning systems can learn to recognize a particular face or type of animal with very high accuracy. But those neural networks are only very crude approximations of what’s found inside a real brain.

Vicar artificiailious has introduced a new kind of neural-network algorithm designed to take into account more of the features that appear in biology. An important one is the ability to picture what the information it’s learned should look like in different scenarios—a kind of artificial imagination. The company’s founders believe a fundamentally different design will be essential if machines are to demonstrate more humanlike intelligence. Computers will have to be able to learn from less data, and to recognize stimuli or concepts more easily.

This year Vicarious will publish details of its research, and will have demos of what their systems involving robots.

Vicarious mathematical innovations, CEO Scott Phoenix says, more faithfully mimic the information processing found in the human brain. The relationship between the neural networks currently used in AI and the neurons, dendrites, and synapses found in a real brain is tenuous at best.

Vicarious has so far shown that its approach can create a visual system capable of surprisingly deft interpretation. In 2013 it showed that the system could solve any captcha (visual puzzles that are used to prevent spam-bots from signing up for e-mail accounts). As Phoenix explains it, the feedback mechanism built into Vicarious’s system allows it to imagine what a character would look like if it weren’t distorted or partly obscured

In an interview Scott Phoenix mentioned that their system can identify animals in clouds. It can look at clouds and say that it looks like a frog and then explain why it looks like a frog. It can say where it sees a frogs head or leg and then traces it out.

May 18, 2016

Google Custom Machine Learning Chip has ten times better performance per watt for machine learning for a seven year advantage

Google began a stealth project several years ago to see what they could accomplish with their own custom accelerators for machine learning applications. The result is called a Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), a custom ASIC they built specifically for machine learning — and tailored for TensorFlow. They have been running TPUs inside their data centers for more than a year, and have found them to deliver an order of magnitude better-optimized performance per watt for machine learning. This is roughly equivalent to fast-forwarding technology about seven years into the future (three generations of Moore’s Law).

TPU is tailored to machine learning applications, allowing the chip to be more tolerant of reduced computational precision, which means it requires fewer transistors per operation. Because of this, we can squeeze more operations per second into the silicon, use more sophisticated and powerful machine learning models and apply these models more quickly, so users get more intelligent results more rapidly. A board with a TPU fits into a hard disk drive slot in our data center racks.

TPU is an example of how fast we turn research into practice — from first tested silicon, the team had them up and running applications at speed in our data centers within 22 days.

TPUs already power many applications at Google, including RankBrain, used to improve the relevancy of search results and Street View, to improve the accuracy and quality of our maps and navigation. AlphaGo was powered by TPUs in the matches against Go world champion, Lee Sedol, enabling it to "think" much faster and look farther ahead between moves.

Tensor Processing Unit board

Server racks with TPUs used in the AlphaGo matches with Lee Sedol

Google's goal is to lead the industry on machine learning and make that innovation available to our customers. Building TPUs into our infrastructure stack will allow us to bring the power of Google to developers across software like TensorFlow and Cloud Machine Learning with advanced acceleration capabilities.

US Navy will create a global kill web of all sensors and weapons but have called it tactical cloud instead of Skynet

The Navy is creating an offensive anti-surface network that will tie targeting information from satellites, aircraft, ships, submarines and the weapons themselves to form a lethal “kill web” designed to keep pace with the expanding lethal power of potential adversaries.

The scheme will use information ranging from sensors in space to the undersea to share information in a so-called tactical cloud that will allow aircraft and ships to access a range of targeting information to launch weapons against surface targets, said Rear Adm. Mark Darrah, at the service’s program executive officer for Strike Weapons and Unmanned Aviation at the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), in a presentation at Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition 2016.

The All Domain Offensive Surface Warfare Capability is “integrated fires, leveraging all domains, the ability for us to utilize air-launched capabilities, surface launched capabilities and subsurface launched capabilities that are tied together with an all domain [information network],” he said.

“We call it the tactical cloud. We’re going to put data up in the cloud and users are going to go grab it and use it as a contributor to a targeting solution.”

The concept is a direct response the increased sophistication of adversary networked sensor systems.

“Specifically their ability to take all of their sensors and nets them together to project their ability to see me faster and farther away and [now] my sanctuary been decreased,” Darrah said.

“It’s about their ability to reduce the amount of space I have to operate in by tying their capability together and force me to operate from a farther distance from a threat.”

The scheme will allow the Navy to increase the effective ranges of their own weapons against surface targets.

Mixing computing clouds, big data, with navy ships, planes and missiles

In 2014, the Office of Naval Research laid out the foundation of the Tactical Cloud concept

University of New South Wales hits record 34.5% normal sunlight to electricity conversion efficiency which beat the old 24% record

Australian engineers have edged closer to the theoretical limits of sunlight-to-electricity conversion by photovoltaic cells with a device that sets a new world efficiency record.

A new solar cell configuration developed by engineers at the University of New South Wales has pushed sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiency to 34.5% – establishing a new world record for unfocused sunlight and nudging closer to the theoretical limits for such a device.

The record was set by Dr Mark Keevers and Professor Martin Green, Senior Research Fellow and Director, respectively, of UNSW’s Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, using a 28-cm2 four-junction mini-module – embedded in a prism – that extracts the maximum energy from sunlight. It does this by splitting the incoming rays into four bands, using a hybrid four-junction receiver to squeeze even more electricity from each beam of sunlight.

The new UNSW result, confirmed by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is almost 44% better than the previous record – made by Alta Devices of the USA, which reached 24% efficiency, but over a larger surface area of 800-cm2.

“This encouraging result shows that there are still advances to come in photovoltaics research to make solar cells even more efficient,” said Keevers. “Extracting more energy from every beam of sunlight is critical to reducing the cost of electricity generated by solar cells as it lowers the investment needed, and delivering payback faster.”

The result was obtained by the same UNSW team that set a world record in 2014, achieving an electricity conversion rate of over 40% by using mirrors to concentrate the light – a technique known as CPV (concentrator photovoltaics) – and then similarly splitting out various wavelengths. The new result, however, was achieved using normal sunlight with no concentrators.

What’s remarkable is that this level of efficiency had not been expected for many years,” said Green, a pioneer who has led the field for much of his 40 years at UNSW. “A recent study by Germany’s Agora Energiewende think tank set an aggressive target of 35% efficiency by 2050 for a module that uses unconcentrated sunlight, such as the standard ones on family homes.

“So things are moving faster in solar cell efficiency than many experts expected, and that’s good news for solar energy,” he added. “But we must maintain the pace of photovoltaic research in Australia to ensure that we not only build on such tremendous results, but continue to bring benefits back to Australia.”

Australia’s research in photovoltaics has already generated flow-on benefits of more than $8 billion to the country, Green said. Gains in efficiency alone, made possible by UNSW’s PERC cells, are forecast to save $750 million in domestic electricity generation in the next decade. PERC cells were invented at UNSW and are now becoming the commercial standard globally.

The record-setting UNSW mini-module combines a silicon cell on one face of a glass prism, with a triple-junction solar cell on the other.

The triple-junction cell targets discrete bands of the incoming sunlight, using a combination of three layers: indium-gallium-phosphide; indium-gallium-arsenide; and germanium. As sunlight passes through each layer, energy is extracted by each junction at its most efficient wavelength, while the unused part of the light passes through to the next layer, and so on.

Google IO 2016 introduced Google Assistant, Google Home and several big new things with Google Android

Google I / O 2016 (Google's annual developer conference) had its keynote this morning.

Google assistant

The Google assistant is conversational—an ongoing two-way dialogue between you and Google that understands your world and helps you get things done. It makes it easy to buy movie tickets while on the go, to find that perfect restaurant for your family to grab a quick bite before the movie starts, and then help you navigate to the theater. It’s a Google for you, by you.

They gave a preview of two new products where you’ll soon be able to draw on the Google assistant.

Google Home

Google Home is a voice-activated product that brings the Google assistant to any room in your house. It lets you enjoy entertainment, manage everyday tasks, and get answers from Google—all using conversational speech. With a simple voice command, you can ask Google Home to play a song, set a timer for the oven, check your flight, or turn on your lights. It’s designed to fit your home with customizable bases in different colors and materials. Google Home will be released later this year.

Home integrates with third-party services. It allows you to do things like call an Uber car or book a restaurant reservation using OpenTable.

Allo and Duo

Allo is a new messaging app that also comes complete with the Google assistant, so you can interact with it directly in your chats, either one-on-one or with friends. Because the assistant understands your world, you can ask for things like your agenda for the day or photos from your last trip. If you’re planning a dinner with friends, you can ask the assistant to suggest restaurants nearby, all in one thread.

Allo includes Smart Reply, which suggests responses to messages based on context, and comes with fun ways to make your chats more expressive, including emojis, stickers, and the ability to get creative with photos. There’s also an Incognito mode that provides end-to-end encryption, discreet notifications, and message expiration.

In addition to Allo, we’re introducing Duo, a companion app for one-to-one video calling. With Duo, our goal is to make video calling faster and more reliable, even on slower network speeds. We also introduced a feature called Knock Knock, which gives you a live video of the other caller before you answer.

Best of all, both Allo and Duo are based on your phone number, so you can communicate with anyone regardless of whether they’re on Android or iOS. Both apps will be available this summer

Android N

Google’s next major mobile software release is Android N, and it’s going to be a huge update when it’s released later this year.

Android N will include better performance for graphics and effects, reduced battery consumption and storage, background downloads of system updates, and streamlined notifications so you can power through them faster, and updated emojis including 72 new ones.

Mobile VR

On top of Android N, Google has built a new platform for high quality mobile VR called Daydream. Together with Android manufacturers, we're working on upcoming phones, and sharing designs with them for a VR viewer and controller that will be really immersive, comfortable and intuitive to use. Your favorite apps and games will be coming to Daydream too, including Google's—like YouTube, Street View, Play Movies, Google Photos and the Play Store. More to come this fall.

Android Wear 2.0

They previewed Android Wear 2.0, including a revamped user experience and standalone apps that run right on the watch, no matter where your phone is or even if it's off.

Finally, they introduced Android Instant Apps—which let you run Android apps instantly, without requiring installation.

Stealthier submarine technology on the new USS South Dakota Virginia class submarine will be advanced on the Ohio replacement and SSBN-X

The US Navy is building an upcoming Virginia-class attack submarine, the future USS South Dakota (SSN-790), with acoustic superiority features for the fleet to test out and ultimately include in both attack and ballistic missile submarines in the future.

Richard said the under-construction South Dakota will feature a large vertical array, a special coating and machinery quieting improvements inside the boat. The boat is on track to deliver early despite the changes, he said. Once South Dakota joins the fleet – in 2018, according to the boat’s commissioning committee – lessons learned from the acoustic superiority features will help inform enhancements built into future Virginia class boats and the Ohio Replacement Program boomers, as well as the legacy Ohio-class ballistic missile subs and some Virginia-class boats.

“Stealth is the cover charge, stealth is the price of admission, and while we have great access now we don’t take that for granted either,” Richard said.

“Making the right investments to maintain acoustic superiority over a potential adversary” is of high importance to the Navy today, and the South Dakota project represents “a clear national investment in acoustic superiority.”

Program Executive Officer for Submarines Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley told USNI News in a March 3 interview that acoustic superiority items, some of which will be built into the ship and some of which will be added during the ship’s post shakedown availability, “will kind of become the standard for what we do in various forms between Ohio Replacement, future Virginias and even backfit some on the Ohios and some of the delivered Virginias to make sure that submarine force is pacing the threat of these new highly capable submarines that are being delivered” from other navies like Russia and China.

Jabaley added that as the Navy looks at its next class of attack submarines, the SSN(X), stealth will be a key factor in the design and could lead to the Navy selecting an electric drive or other advanced propulsion system to eliminate as much noise as possible.

“I’m not just talking about the propeller or propulsor, it’s the whole propulsion system from power generation to motion through the water,” he said in the interview.

Electric drive is a propulsion system that uses an electric motor which turns the propeller of a ship/submarine. It is part of a wider (Integrated electric power) concept whose aim is to create an "all electric ship". Electric drive should reduce the life cycle cost of submarines while at the same time improving acoustic performance

The British Royal Navy Successor submarine (the class replacing the Vanguard class SSBNs) state that the submarines may have submarine shaftless drive (SSD) with an electric motor mounted outside the pressure hull. SSD was evaluated by the U.S. Navy as well but it remains unknown whether the Ohio class replacement will feature it. On contemporary nuclear submarines steam turbines are linked to reduction gears and a shaft rotating the propeller/pump-jet propulsor. With SSD, steam would drive electric turbogenerators (i.e., generators powered by steam turbines) which would be connected to a non-penetrating electric junction at the aft end of the pressure hull, with a watertight electric motor mounted externally (perhaps in an Integrated Motor Propulsor arrangement), powering the pump-jet propulsor, although SSD concepts without pump-jet propulsors also exist. More recent data, including a Ohio Replacement scale model displayed at the Navy League’s 2015 Sea-Air-Space Exposition, indicates that the Ohio Replacement will feature a pump-jet propulsor visually similar to the one used on Virginia class SSNs. The class will share components from the Virginia class in order to reduce risk and cost of construction.

Undersea warfare gamechangers - China building upgraded SOSUS and US upgrading sensor and fielding network of undersea robots

The China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) has proposed the construction of a network of ship and subsurface sensors that could significantly erode the undersea warfare advantage held by US and Russian submarines and contribute greatly to future Chinese ability to control the South China Sea (SCS).

Details of the network of sensors, called the 'Underwater Great Wall Project', were revealed in a CSSC booth at a public exhibition in China in late 2015.

While some elements of this network have been known for some time, CSSC is now in effect proposing an improved Chinese version of the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) that for a time gave the US a significant advantage in countering Soviet submarines during the Cold War. The system proposed by CSSC is likely being obtained by China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) but may also be offered for export.

SOSUS, an acronym for sound surveillance system, is a chain of underwater listening posts located around the world in places such as the Atlantic Ocean near Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom—the GIUK gap—and at various locations in the Pacific Ocean. The United States Navy's initial intent for the system was for tracking Soviet submarines, which had to pass through the gap to attack targets further west. It was later supplemented by mobile assets such as the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS), and became part of the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS).

SOSUS consists of high-gain long fixed arrays in the deep ocean basins

BEAM accesses form beams from multiple hydrophone arrays trained on the seafloor to provide signal gain obtained through beam forming.

PHONE accesses individual hydrophones from arrays throughout the oceans provides omni-directional coverage.

CSSC says that, among other things, its objective is to provide customers with "a package solution in terms of underwater environment monitoring and collection, real-time location, tracing of surface and underwater targets, warning of seaquakes, tsunamis, and other disasters as well as marine scientific research".

The corporation says in the document that its "R and D and production bases in Beijing and Wuxi [have] the ability to support the whole industry chain covering fundamental research, key technology development, solution design, overall system integration, core equipment development, production, and operation service support".

The shipbuilding conglomerate says it has 10 series of products on offer that include systems relating to marine observation, oceanographic instrumentation, underwater robotics, and ship support.

Specific components of CSSC's surveillance system include surface ships, sonar systems, underwater security equipment, marine oil and gas exploration equipment, underwater unmanned equipment, and marine instrument electronic equipment.

US Anti-submarine Warfare

From a Statemeent before the house armed services seapower and projection subcommittee on “Game Changers - Undersea Warfare"
October 27,2015 Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

When the Soviet Navy began fielding nuclear submarines, the American Navy exploited its “first mover” advantage in passive sonar to establish the passive Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) network off the U.S. coast and at key chokepoints between the Soviet Union and the open ocean.

The combination of passive sonar Anti submarine Warfare (ASW) systems and its own sound-silencing efforts gave the U.S. Navy a significant advantage over relatively noisy Soviet submarines. This overmatch, however, slowly began to erode in the mid-1970s after the Soviet Union learned of their submarines’ acoustic vulnerability from the John Walker-led spy ring and obtained technology for submarine quieting from a variety of sources. Newer Soviet submarines such as the Akula and Sierra classes were much quieter than their predecessors, but were only fielded in small numbers before the Soviet economy began to falter, leading to delayed construction and inadequate sustainment.

Efforts to protect submarines from being detected since the Cold War have emphasized quieting, since passive sonar is the predominant sensor used for ASW. But today a growing number of new ASW systems do not listen for a submarine’s radiated noise. For example, low-frequency active sonar is now widely used by European and Asian navies in variable depth sonar (VDS) systems and will be part of the U.S. Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) ASW mission package. Non-acoustic ASW technologies that detect chemical or radiological emissions or bounce laser light off a submarine are becoming more operationally useful due to improved computer processing and modeling of the undersea environment.

These active sonar and non-acoustic capabilities are likely to be best exploited by mobile platforms such as unmanned vehicles, aircraft, and ships because they are smaller than passive sonar systems. In contrast, to achieve long detection ranges passive sonars must be physically large so they can hear faint noise at the lower frequencies that suffer less attenuation. This makes fixed systems on the sea floor like SOSUS or towed systems such as SURTASS better able to exploit passive sonar improvements.

The same advancements that are improving ASW capabilities will also enable a new generation of sophisticated counter-detection technologies and techniques. For example, against passive sonar a submarine or unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) could emit sound to reduce its radiated noise using a technique similar to that of noise cancelling headphones. Against active sonars, undersea platforms could—by themselves or in concert with UUVs and other stationary or floating systems—conduct acoustic jamming or decoy
operations similar to those done by electronic warfare systems against radar.

New power and control technologies are improving the endurance and reliability of UUVs, which will likely be able to operate unrefueled for months within the next decade. The autonomy of UUVs will remain constrained, however, by imperfect situational awareness. For example, while a UUV may have the computer algorithms and control systems to avoid safety hazards or security threats, it may not be able to understand with certainty where hazards and threats are and what they are doing. In the face of uncertain data, a human operator can make choices and be accountable for the results

The U.S. surface naval force employs state-of-the-art ASW technology aboard numerous Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The SQQ-89A(V)15 Combat System, which will be aboard 64 destroyers by 2020, and the new MFTA (multi-function towed arrays) are game-changers in ASW operations. The combined capabilities alter how the surface Navy searches and tracks submarines. With enhanced sensor capability and data processing, the surface naval forces have an increased role in integrated ASW operations.

ASW surface ships can remain longer on station in comparison to aircraft and provide real-time command and control capability beyond that of a submarine," he wrote. "In stride with the surface Navy's technological advancements, the aviation community has new platforms to meet the ASW mission. The MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter and P-8A Poseidon aircraft are to be fully integrated in the fleet by 2020 [and] are already providing an improved ASW capability in fleet operations... The rotary aircraft has an enhanced active dipping sonar to increase detection ranges from three to seven times compared to legacy systems.

"The P-8A adds an improved sensor search capability by utilizing a multi-static active coherent (MAC) system, which comprises sonobuoys (source and receiver) and advanced processing. In addition to the new platforms and technological advancements, all ASW ships and aircraft in the future will employ the Mk 54 lightweight torpedo, which integrates several years of weapons technology. By 2020, these new improvements collectively in the surface and aviation communities will create a powerful ASW capability. The Navy must further improve requisite training to meet the new capabilities and foster a fleetwide culture that prioritizes the ASW mission."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., has been pursuing two ASW programs: Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting (DASH) and ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV). DASH was designed to reverse the asymmetric advantage of the threat from quiet new submarines through the development of advanced standoff sensing from unmanned systems.

Billion dollar startup Otto developing $30,000 self driving kit to retrofit freight trucks

Levandowski left Google earlier this year to pursue his vision at Otto, a San Francisco startup the he co-founded with two other former Google employees, Lior Ron and Don Burnette, and another robotics expert, Claire Delaunay.

Otto is aiming to equip trucks with software, sensors, lasers and cameras so they eventually will be able to navigate the more than 220,000 miles of U.S. highways on their own, while a human driver naps in the back of the cab or handles other tasks.

"Our goal is to make trucks drive as humanly as possible, but with the reliability of machines," Levandowski says.

Otto is looking for 1,000 truckers to volunteer to have self-driving kits installed on their cabs, at no cost, to help fine-tune the technology. The volunteer truckers would still be expected to seize the wheel and take control of the truck if the technology fails or the driving conditions make it unsafe to remain in autonomous mode, mirroring the laws governing tests of self-driving cars on public streets and highways.

Otto hasn't set a timetable for completing its tests, but hopes to eventually retrofit all the U.S. trucks on the road. That would encompass more than 4.7 million trucks, according to the American Trucking Associations.

Otto is developing a $30,000 kit that can make any truck built since 2013 autonomous. Otto, which comes out of hiding today, is led by Anthony Levandowski, who worked at Google on Streetview and mapping, and Lior Ron, who was the Google Maps Product Lead. They’re moving fast—the company launched in January and has about 40 employees nicked from Apple, Tesla, and Cruise, the autonomous startup GM recently bought for $1 billion.

Autonomous trucks aren’t as sexy as driverless cars, but they could have a bigger impact on our lives. Within years, they could make the roads safer, the air cleaner, and deliveries cheaper.

According to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration analysis, the driver was the key factor in 87 percent of big-rig crashes, poor decisions caused more than a third

Otto’s “pack” includes extra cameras, radar, and LIDaR sensors, a common combination for advanced autonomous vehicles. To control the vehicle, Otto adds power steering and redundant braking systems. A custom computer is the brains of the operation, making real-time driving decisions. “What unlocks the capability of moving with no driver in the driver’s seat is the quality of the algorithms,” says Levandowski.

Otto’s kit also uses detailed mapping data

All of this is closer than you think. Last year, Daimler unveiled the world’s first autonomous semi. Volvo is working with Europe’s Project Sartre to develop road trains where a caravan of robo-trucks follows a leader.

The effort makes sense when you consider that trucks carry around 70 percent of the freight that transported across the US, and demand is growing. But shiny new trucks like the Daimler’s autonomous Freightliner will a long time to penetrate the market. Daimler says that won’t start happening until about 2025, meaning the 3.46 million big-rigs already on US roads aren’t getting any smarter anytime soon.

Zika Virus link to shrunken baby brains confirmed and the case for delaying the Olympic games in Brazil

The Zika virus could spread to Europe this summer, although the likelihood of an outbreak is low to moderate, the World Health Organization has said.

Areas most at risk are those where Aedes mosquitoes may spread the virus, like the Black Sea coast of Russia and Georgia and the island of Madeira.

Countries with a moderate risk include France, Spain, Italy and Greece, while the risk in the UK is low.
The UN agency is not issuing any new travel advice at this time.

The WHO is calling on countries to eliminate mosquito breeding sites and to make sure that people - particularly pregnant women - have information on the potential harmful consequences of the disease.

The agency says most countries that could be affected are well prepared to pick up any new cases and deal with them quickly - but others must bolster their ability to diagnose the virus.

Brain defects

Zika has been linked to a rise in brain defects in babies and the virus has been seen in more than 50 countries during this outbreak.

Researchers have deliberately infected developing mice pups and tiny clusters of lab-grown brain cells so they could observe and measure the damage that ensued.

The results of these experiments nail down the causal link between Zika and the rash of birth defects seen over the past year in Brazil. And they begin to show how a virus thought to be little more than a pest crosses the placental barrier and makes a beeline for a fetus' brain.

The new studies, published Wednesday in the journals Nature, Cell and Cell Stem Cell, suggest that when the Zika virus takes hold in the first trimester, it makes its way quickly to the uterus and to cells that line and normally help protect the placenta.

While that firewall between mother and child is still immature, Zika attacks those cells and penetrates the placental barrier. As it does so, the virus also disrupts the growth of placental blood vessels, limiting blood flow to the baby and stunting fetal development.

If the fetus survives the onslaught, the virus will make its way to its developing brain. There it will wreak destruction on the stem cells that are meant to develop into a mature organ.

As Zika replicates madly, these stem cells and immature neurons die off in droves, the researchers found. The differentiation of tissues that normally produces a healthy brain goes awry — sometimes subtly, sometimes horribly.

In humans, scientists have observed microcephaly, diffuse calcium deposits and brain structures that are either abnormally large or small. In surviving mouse pups, researchers found that brains infected in utero were abnormal in a variety of ways, not all of them identical to effects seen in humans.
"Zika alone is enough" to cause these effects, Diamond said.

That collective finding puts to rest many scientists' suspicions that Zika might need to interact with some other factor — say, a past infection with dengue fever — for brain damage to result in a fetus.

"That’s not to say there aren't other factors that may predispose people to get Zika," Diamond said. "But you don’t need all those things" for brain damage to occur, he added.

Nature - The Brazilian Zika virus strain causes birth defects in experimental models

Calls to postpone the Olympic games in Brazil

Harvard Public Health Review is calling for the Olympic games in Brazil to be delayed

  1. Rio de Janeiro is more affected by Zika than anyone expected, rendering earlier assumptions of safety obsolete. When in January the International Olympic Committee declared Rio a “safe environment” for the Games, it was speculating, because Brazil’s Ministry of Health temporized until February to declare Zika a notifiable disease and begin counting cases. Now with those data finally available, the situation seems not so safe: Rio de Janeiro’s suspected Zika cases are the highest of any state in in Brazil (26,000), and its Zika incidence rate is the fourth worst (157 per 100,000). Or in other words: according to the Brazil’s official data, Rio is not on the fringes of the outbreak, but inside its heart.
  2. Although Zika virus was discovered nearly seventy years ago, the viral strain that recently entered Brazil is clearly new, different, and vastly more dangerous than “old” Zika. Phylogenetic mapping demonstrates that this particular virus arrived in Brazil from French Polynesia in 2013. Although the danger went unnoticed in French Polynesia at first, retrospective analyses now show that the risk of microcephaly increased by 23 to 53 fold.
  3. Brazil’s Zika inevitably will spread globally — given enough time, viruses always do — it helps nobody to speed that up. In particular, it cannot possibly help when an estimated 500,000 foreign tourists flock into Rio for the Games, potentially becoming infected, and returning to their homes where both local Aedes mosquitoes and sexual transmission can establish new outbreaks
  4. When (not if) the Games speed up Zika’s spread, the already-urgent job of inventing new technologies to stop it becomes harder. Basic Zika research is already on the fast track, and with time, the odds are excellent that scientists can develop, test and prove an effective Zika vaccine, antiviral drug, insecticide, or genetically-engineered mosquito. But by spreading the virus faster and farther, the Games steal away the very thing – time – that scientists and public health professionals need to build such defenses.
  5. Proceeding with the Games violates what the Olympics stand for. The International Olympic Committee writes that “Olympism seeks to create … social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles”. But how socially responsible or ethical is it to spread disease?

May 17, 2016

$1 billion Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission directly measuring interface of Earth's magnetic field with interplanetary field

For the first time, scientists are looking at real data -- not computer models, but direct observation -- about what is happening in the fascinating region where the Earth's magnetic field breaks and then joins with the interplanetary magnetic field.

They don't know exactly what this new window of science will open to us -- that's the thrill of discovery and, for some, the scary part, too.

But enormous amounts of data now are arriving daily -- and publicly accessible -- from NASA's $1 billion Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, called MMS for short, which was launched in March 2015.

On May 12, 2016 on its website, the journal Science published the team's first analysis of data received from the MMS sensors

In the MMS mission, each of the four identical spacecraft has numerous instruments measuring magnetic and electric fields as well as the motion of ions and electrons. Launched in March 2015, the craft began gathering data late that summer, flying in a tetrahedral formation 10 kilometers apart. In 6 months they made 4000 passes through the magnetopause. But on 16 October they got lucky with the four craft flying right through a region where reconnection was in progress. They had another five direct encounters after that.

Science - Electron-scale measurements of magnetic reconnection in space

MinXSS CubeSat deployed from ISS to study sun's soft X-rays

On May 16, 2016, the bread loaf-sized Miniature X-Ray Solar Spectrometer, or MinXSS, CubeSat deployed from an airlock on the International Space Station to begin its journey into space. The NASA-funded MinXSS studies emissions from the sun that can affect our communications systems. MinXSS will operate for up to 12 months. The CubeSat observes soft X-rays from the sun, which can disrupt Earth's upper atmosphere and hamper radio and GPS signals traveling through the region. The intensity of the soft x-ray emissions emitted from the sun is continuously changing over a large range - with peak emission levels occurring during large eruptions on the sun called solar flares.

MinXSS data will also help us understand the physics behind solar flares. The soft X-rays carry information about the temperature, density and chemical composition of material in the sun's atmosphere, allowing scientists to trace how events like flares and other processes heat the surrounding material in the sun's atmosphere - which are still being debated among solar scientists.

On May 16, 2016, the NASA-funded MinXSS CubeSat deployed from an airlock of the International Space Station to enter an orbit around Earth. MinXSS observes soft X-rays from the sun -- such X-rays can disturb the ionosphere and thereby hamper radio and GPS signals. CREDIT Credits: ESA/NASA

Artificial intelligence replaces physicists as machines controls lasers to cool Bose Einstein condensate to nanokelvins

Physicists are putting themselves out of a job, using artificial intelligence to run a complex experiment.

The experiment, developed by physicists from The Australian National University (ANU) and UNSW ADFA, created an extremely cold gas trapped in a laser beam, known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, replicating the experiment that won the 2001 Nobel Prize.

"I didn't expect the machine could learn to do the experiment itself, from scratch, in under an hour," said co-lead researcher Paul Wigley from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

"A simple computer program would have taken longer than the age of the Universe to run through all the combinations and work this out."

Bose-Einstein condensates are some of the coldest places in the Universe, far colder than outer space, typically less than a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.

They could be used for mineral exploration or navigation systems as they are extremely sensitive to external disturbances, which allows them to make very precise measurements such as tiny changes in the Earth's magnetic field or gravity.

The experiment, featuring the small red glow of a BEC trapped in infrared laser beams. CREDIT Stuart Hay, ANU

IBM reliably stores 3 bits per data cell in phase change memory

For the first time, scientists at IBM (NYSE: IBM) Research have demonstrated reliably storing 3 bits of data per cell using a relatively new memory technology known as phase-change memory (PCM).

The current memory landscape spans from venerable DRAM to hard disk drives to ubiquitous flash. But in the last several years PCM has attracted the industry’s attention as a potential universal memory technology based on its combination of read/write speed, endurance, non-volatility and density. For example, PCM doesn’t lose data when powered off, unlike DRAM, and the technology can endure at least 10 million write cycles, compared to an average flash USB stick, which tops out at 3,000 write cycles.
This research breakthrough provides fast and easy storage to capture the exponential growth of data from mobile devices and the Internet of Things.


IBM scientists envision standalone PCM as well as hybrid applications, which combine PCM and flash storage together, with PCM as an extremely fast cache. For example, a mobile phone’s operating system could be stored in PCM, enabling the phone to launch in a few seconds. In the enterprise space, entire databases could be stored in PCM for blazing fast query processing for time-critical online applications, such as financial transactions.

Machine learning algorithms using large datasets will also see a speed boost by reducing the latency overhead when reading the data between iterations.

DARPA demo day highlights exoskeletons, robotic arms and nanotechnology

Here are some highlights from the DARPA demo day

Assembling nano structures from atoms to products

DARPA is working on a number of micro-technologies; one example is the effort to build a machine that can assemble nano-structures. The incredibly-intricate structures made of carbon fiber can be very strong, yet very light.

DARPA recently launched its Atoms to Product (A2P) program, with the goal of developing technologies and processes to assemble nanometer-scale pieces—whose dimensions are near the size of atoms—into systems, components, or materials that are at least millimeter-scale in size. At the heart of that goal was a frustrating reality: Many common materials, when fabricated at nanometer-scale, exhibit unique and attractive “atomic-scale” behaviors including quantized current-voltage behavior, dramatically lower melting points and significantly higher specific heats—but they tend to lose these potentially beneficial traits when they are manufactured at larger “product-scale” dimensions, typically on the order of a few centimeters, for integration into devices and systems.

DARPA recently selected 10 performers to tackle this challenge: Zyvex Labs, Richardson, Texas; SRI, Menlo Park, California; Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts; University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana; HRL Laboratories, Malibu, California; PARC, Palo Alto, California; Embody, Norfolk, Virginia; Voxtel, Beaverton, Oregon; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Draper Laboratory, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Microscopic tools such as this nanoscale “atom writer” can be used to fabricate minuscule light-manipulating structures on surfaces. DARPA has selected 10 performers for its Atoms to Product (A2P) program whose goal is to develop technologies and processes to assemble nanometer-scale pieces—whose dimensions are near the size of atoms—into systems, components, or materials that are at least millimeter-scale in size. (Image credit: Boston University)

Brain controlled Robo-arm

Matheney was a highlight of the DEMO Day, drawing a crowd with his ability to move his mechanical elbow, wrist and five fingered-hand. He shook hands with a gentle touch. He said he has enough control to gently hold a toddler's hand one minute, and exhibit significant strength the next.

Johnny Matheney, a civilian who lost his arm to cancer in 2008, demonstrated his one-of-a-kind prosthetic. This DARPA prototype is integrated directly onto the bone and uses sensors to pick up nerve signals from the brain to generate movement


This soft robotic exoskeleton runs a series of cables that helps legs to walk. With soldiers carrying heavy loads over long distances, DARPA has funded work at Harvard to try to reduce fatigue. The current prototypes weigh 10 pounds total, with the motor mounted above the rucksack. Sensors help the machine understand walking patterns and adjusts to pace and movements, and the motor pulls the cables to reduce the effort the wearer has to put into it. Three remains years of work to optimize and economize it.

Spc. Rafael Boza, a Soldier from the 1st Infantry Division, tests the prototype smart suit on a three-mile course of paved roads and rough terrain at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., Oct. 3, 2014. (Photo: Army)

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