August 20, 2016

Ships and Planes that dominate the US Military budget until 2030

The US has been Spending between $150-220 billion per year on military modernization. This does not include war budgets for MRAPs or field armor upgrades. Many programs were canceled because of cost overruns or other reasons which meant less of an actual modernization or buildup of equipment.

Several major programs dominate the US military budgets until 2030.

KC-46 is US Air Forces third most expensive program after the F35 and the Long Range bomber and it is entering initial production

The US Air force awarded Boeing a $2.8 billion modification to a previously awarded contract for the first two lots of low-rate initial production of the KC-46A Pegasus refueling tanker. The KC-76A is based on the 767. Boeing designed the KC-46 to carry passengers, cargo and patients. The aircraft can detect, avoid, defeat and survive threats using multiple layers of protection, which will enable it to operate safely in medium-threat environments.

The agreement calls for a total of 19 aircraft, four spare engines and 10 wing refueling pod kits across both lots, the announcement states. Work will be performed in Seattle and completed by Aug. 24, 2018

The Air Force’s top priority programs are the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Long Range Strike Bomber, and the KC-46 tanker

Technical challenges have resulted in program delays. Boeing had initially planned to deliver the first tranche of airplanes by August 2017, but that was pushed back until at least January 2018 in part because of parts of the aircraft needed to be reworked. Complete delivery of 179 tankers will be completed by 2027.

The Air Force plans to spend $48 billion to develop and build 179 of the planes to replace its aging fleet of KC-135s, according to Pentagon budget documents. Boeing forecasts an $80 billion global market for the new tankers.

Nuclear energy progress in China, Japan and the USA

1. Unit 2 of the Changjiang nuclear power plant on China's southern island province of Hainan has entered commercial operation.

The 650 MWe CNP-600 pressurized water reactor met all the conditions for entering commercial operation at 5.00pm on 12 August, having completed a 168-hour continuous demonstration run.

The reactor achieved first criticality on 9 June following the completion of loading 121 fuel assemblies into its core on 12 May. It was connected to the grid on 20 June.

The units will avoid the burning of some 300 million tonnes of coal and the resulting emission of about 7.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and 5.8 tonnes of sulfur dioxide, it claims.

Changjiang 2 becomes CNNC's 15th power reactor in commercial operation. It now has 12,162 MWe of generating capacity online. CNNC also has another nine units under construction and several more planned.

Changjiang units 1 and 2 (Image: CNNC)

Wave Computing massively parallel Deep learning system is 100X improved on inference versus GPU and FPGA systems

Wave Computing was founded with the vision of delivering deep learning computers with game-changing computational performance and energy efficiency. Their objective is to enable businesses to analyze complex data in real-time with more accurate results through a fluid discovery and improvement in Deep Neural Network (DNN) development and training with our family of computers.

To achieve their goal, Wave developed a novel Dataflow Processing Unit (DPU) architecture as part of a strategy to natively support a new wave of dataflow model based deep learning frameworks such as Google’s TensorFlow and Microsoft’s CNTK.

They have a massively parallel dataflow processing architecture called the Wave Dataflow Processing Unit (DPU) for deep learning.

Wave’s Deep Learning Computers for TensorFlow delivers more than 10x on model training and more than 100x improvement on inference over existing GPU and FPGA compute accelerator-based systems.

Supercomputer domination provides a global economic competitiveness advantage

China has created a High Performance Computing “ecosystem” in an amazingly short period of time. As history has shown, HPC (High performance computing - supercomputers- translates into innovations in aircraft, automobiles, oil and gas, biomedical, nuclear energy and military systems.

In 1993, when the first TOP500 list was published, China was not even on it.
Ten years ago, in 2006, China had 28 systems on the list and the U.S. dominated with 298 systems.
Five years ago the count was China 61 and the U.S. 255.
As of June 2016, the tables are turned. China has 168 systems on the list and the U.S. dropped to #2 overall with 165 systems.

The US stopped deploying large systems and let the US supercomputer lead slip away.

August 19, 2016

Researchers are getting close to metallic hydrogen and tiny diamond crystals bound by graphene is 4 times stronger than regular diamond crystal

Diamonds are formed from the same carbon atoms that also make up the soft graphite found in the centre of pencils. The difference between these two forms of carbon is the arrangement of the atoms The search for superhard materials begins by attempting to replicate the structure of diamond, but there are only a few elements able to bind together in this way.

One such material is boron nitride. Like carbon, this synthetic material comes in several different forms, but it is possible to replicate the structure of diamond by replacing the carbon atoms with nitrogen and boron atoms. First created in 1957 and known as cubic boron nitride, it was initially reported to be hard enough to scratch diamond – hopes that quickly dulled as later tests showed that it is less than half as hard as its carbon-based counterpart.

It was not until 2001 that a diamond-like boron carbon nitride was reported to have been produced by researchers at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Kiev with colleagues in France and Germany. But they found while the new material was harder than crystals of cubic boron nitride it was still fell short of diamond.

Seven years ago, Changfeng Chen, a physicist at the University of Nevada, and colleagues at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, thought they had hit on something that might topple diamond from its pedestal. They calculated that a bizarre hexagonal form of boron nitride, known as wurtzite boron nitride would be able to resist 18% more stress than diamond.

Wurtzite boron nitride becomes nearly 80% stronger under higher pressures. The snag is that wurtzite boron nitride is rather dangerous to create – it only occurs naturally in the extreme heat and pressure of volcanic eruptions and has to be created synthetically in explosions that mimic these conditions, meaning it is notoriously difficult to obtain in sufficient quantities and it has yet to be tested. Similar problems have limited the potential study of a related substance, known as lonsdaleite, that should be able to withstand up to 58% more stress than standard diamond crystals.

In 2015, Jagdish Narayan, and his colleagues at North Carolina State University revealed they had melted a non-crystalline form of carbon known as glassy-carbon with a rapid laser pulse, heating it to 3,700C (6690F) before rapidly cooling it. This cooling, or quenching, step led to the name Q-carbon. What they had produced was a strange, but exceptionally strong amorphous form of carbon. Unlike other forms of carbon it is magnetic and glows when exposed to light.

The structure of the material itself was mainly constructed from diamond-type bonding but also had about 10 to 15% graphite-type bonding. Tests by the research team suggest Q-carbon could be at least 60% harder than diamond, but this has yet to be definitively confirmed.

When crushing a sample of Q-carbon between two sharpened diamond points, this creates a problem. “The diamond tips deformed during hardness measurements of Q-carbon,” said Narayan.

Nanocrystalline diamond balls made of lots of tiny diamond crystals bound by graphene are over 4 times stronger than regular diamond crystal

Artificial intelligence can help track, monitor and predict global poverty from space images

Satellites are best known for helping smartphones map driving routes or televisions deliver programs. But now, data from some of the thousands of satellites orbiting Earth are helping track things like crop conditions on rural farms, illegal deforestation, and increasingly, poverty in the hard-to-reach places around the globe.

As much as that data has the potential to provide invaluable information to humanitarian organizations, watchdog groups, and policymakers, there is too much of it to sift through in order to draw insights that could influence important decisions. A team of researchers from Stanford University, however, says it has developed an efficient way. By creating a deep-learning algorithm that can recognize signs of poverty in satellite images – such as condition of roads – the team sorted through a million images to accurately identify economic conditions in five African countries, reported the scientists in the journal Science on Thursday.

For the majority of the world, we don’t have any labels for [satellite] images, so it’s not like people have gone and looked at satellite imagery and said, ‘Ok, here’s a house, here’s a tree, here’s a road,’” Neal Jean, a graduate student in electrical engineering at Stanford University and lead author on the Science paper, tells The Christian Science Monitor. “Since there’s so much imagery, a big part of the problem that we figuring out how to extract useful information from this unstructured data.”
Flying over East Asia, astronauts on the International Space Station took this night image of the Korean Peninsula on January 30, 2014. NASA

Science - Combining satellite imagery and machine learning to predict poverty

Breakthrough could reduce the cost of manufacturing plastic and improve the efficiency of the chemical industry

A research team from the Georgia Institute of Technology and ExxonMobil has demonstrated a new carbon-based molecular sieve membrane that could dramatically reduce the energy required to separate a class of hydrocarbon molecules known as alkyl aromatics.

The new material is based on polymer hollow fibers treated to retain their structure – and pore sizes – as they are converted to carbon through pyrolysis. The carbon membranes are then used in a new “organic solvent reverse osmosis” (OSRO) process in which pressure is applied to effect the separation without requiring a phase change in the chemical mixture.

The hollow carbon fibers, bundled together into modules, can separate molecules whose sizes differ by a fraction of a nanometer while providing processing rates superior to those of existing molecular sieve zeolites. Because it uses a commercial polymer precursor, the researchers believe the new membrane has potential for commercialization and integration into industrial chemical separation processes. The research was reported in the August 19 issue of the journal Science.

Separation is currently achieved through refining processes such as crystallization and adsorption with distillation, which are energy-intensive. Globally, the amount of energy used in conventional separation processes for alkyl aromatics is equal to that produced by about 20 average-sized power plants.

Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Ryan Lively (left) and Postdoctoral Fellow Dong-Yeun Koh hold bundles of hollow polymer fibers that serve as precursors for the carbon membrane fiber used to separate alkyl aromatic chemicals. (Credit: John Toon, Georgia Tech

When fully deployed this breakthrough could lower the cost of plastic manufacturing by $2 billion per year and prevent 45 million tons of CO2 emission.

Chemical plants account for eight of global energy demand and 15% of the projected growth in demand.

Russia will build 11 additional nuclear reactors by 2030 not including 5 under construction already

Russia plans to construct 11 new nuclear power reactors by 2030 - including two BN-1200 sodium-cooled fast neutron reactors. A document, which covers "territorial planning for energy" for the period, also identifies six points for radioactive waste disposal.

The 11 units do not include those already under construction - Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Novovoronezh and Rostov - or the floating reactor Academician Lomonosov. The BN-1200 reactors are to be built at the Beloyarsk and South Urals nuclear power plants.

The fast nuclear BN-1200 reactor will be vast improvement and upgrade over the BN-800

The BN-1200 reactor is a 1200 MW sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor project, under development by OKBM Afrikantov in Zarechny, Russia, and the design was originally planned to be complete by 2017. In 2015 Rosenergoatom postponed construction "indefinitely" to allow fuel design to be improved after more experience of operating the BN-800 reactor, and amongst cost concerns.

Goals are enhanced safety (IV generation) and a breeding ratio of 1.2 to 1.3–1.35 for mixed uranium-plutonium oxide fuel and 1.45 for nitride fuel. Based on the BN-600 reactor, the core would use greater size fuel elements and require a simplified refueling procedure compared to BN-600 and BN-800 reactor. Boron carbide would be used for in-reactor shielding. Thermal power should be nominal 2900 MW with an electric output of 1220 MW. Primary coolant temperature at the intermediate heat exchanger is 550 °C and at the steam generator 527 °C. Gross efficiency is expected to be 42%, net 39%. Safety enhancements are the elimination of outer primary circuit sodium pipelines and a passive emergency heat removal. Projected unit service life is 60 years. OKBM expects to commission the first unit with MOX fuel in 2020, then eight more to 2030. SPb AEP also claims design involvement. It is intended to be a Generation IV design and produce electricity at RUR 0.65/kWh (US 2.23 cents/kWh), and Rosenergoatom is ready to involve foreign specialists in its design, with India and China particularly mentioned. Rosatom's Science and Technology Council has approved the BN-1200 reactor for Beloyarsk

The decree also approves building a facility to produce high-density U-Pu nitride fuel and the construction by 2025 of the BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor. BREST-OD-300 is part of Russian state nuclear corporation's 'Proryv', or Breakthrough, project to enable a closed nuclear fuel cycle. The ultimate aim is to eliminate production of radioactive waste from nuclear power generation.

In addition, the decree approves construction by 2030 of a VVER-600 unit for the Kola nuclear power plant and a total of seven VVER-TOI units at the sites of the following nuclear power plants - Kola II, Smolensk II, Nizhny Novgorod, Kostroma and (the planned) Tatar.

Russian nuclear engineering company OKBM Afrikantov is developing the BN-1200 reactor as a next step towards future reactor designs. The reactor was scheduled to start commercial operation in 2025, depending on experience of operating the pilot Beloyarsk 4, a 789 MWe fast-neutron reactor of the BN-800 design. The BN-800 should start operation by the end of this year. It has recently reached full operating power testing.

The BN-800 core with metallic fuel should have an average burnup 80 MW·days/kg. (fuel burn-up of 70-100 GWd/t). Normal light water reactors now have about 50 Gigawatts per day per ton of fuel, and new LWR will have about 65 GWd/t and annular /cylinder shaped for better hear management fuel will enable older reactors to have higher burnup. The BN-1200 followup russian fast reactor could have 120 GWd/t fuel burnup. This means about twice as efficient with uranium as improved light water reactors. Also, the left over fuel will be more easily processed offsite for use of the unburned or waste fuel.

China is buying of the BN-800 reactors. China would likely buy the BN-1200 technology if Russia fast nuclear reactor technology stays ahead of China's domestic fast nuclear reactor programs.

UCLA physicists discover ‘apparent departure from the laws of thermodynamics’

Research by Hudson and his UCLA team, published in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrates that ions never truly cool to the temperature of the surrounding gas. Also, very surprisingly, they discovered that under certain conditions, two final temperatures exist, and the temperature that the ions choose depends on their starting temperature.

“This apparent departure from the familiar laws of thermodynamics is akin to our warm apple pie either cooling as expected or spontaneously bursting into flames, depending on the pie’s exact temperature when it is placed in the window,” said Hudson, the senior author of the study.

For chemists and physicists, cooling samples of charged particles, also called ions, makes them easier to control and study. So they use a similar approach — called buffer gas cooling — to lower the temperature of ions by trapping them and then immersing them in clouds of cold atoms. Collisions with the atoms cool the originally hot ions by transferring energy from the ions to the atoms — much the same way a warm pie is cooled next to the cold window, said Eric Hudson, associate professor of physics at UCLA.

Emergence of nonequilbrium dynamics in a hybrid atom–ion trap.

Nature Communications - Blue-sky bifurcation of ion energies and the limits of neutral-gas sympathetic cooling of trapped ions

Efficient conversion of waste heat below 400 celsius to electricity would have a large impact on global energy

Waste heat recovery is a significant opportunity – in 2015, 59.2 quadrillion BTU of energy was wasted mainly in the form of heat. Much of the waste heat has been characterized by its source and its temperature, particularly in the transportation and power generation sectors, as well as in the industrial sector; only very limited waste heat characterization has been applied to the buildings sector. In total, approximately 71% of all waste heat sources have been well characterized.

US Navy Is Short on Submarine Hunters

The U.S. Navy will need to develop an organic carrier-based fixed-wing anti-submarine warfare capability to counter the resurgent threat from enemy submarines.

The Navy simply does not have enough attack submarines, cruisers, destroyers or helicopters to adequately protect the its deployed forces [aircraft carrier groups and other surface ships] from subsurface threats because its ASW capability has atrophied since the end of the Cold War.

The Navy will need a new platform to replace the retired S-3 Viking.

One option would be to bring the S-3 Viking back into service.

S-3 Viking

The Navy could also develop a follow-on S-4 — in a manned/unmanned or straight unmanned configuration. Or, the service could opt to build a follow-on to the developmental MQ-25A Stringray unmanned aerial refueler that could serve as an ASW platform.

Hendrix noted that during the battle of Midway, the storied carrier USS Yorktown was finally finished off by Japanese submarine-launched torpedoes. Thus, while anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles often garner the lion’s share of the attention, some of the deadliest threats faced by the carrier come from under the sea in the form of torpedoes.

Particularly troublesome are Russian-designed wake-homing torpedoes that are generally immune to most counter-measures — and are often an overlooked threat.

Moscow has proliferated those weapons to any nation that can afford to purchase a Kilo-class diesel-electric submarine.

Kilo class submarines can be purchased for about $200-250 million

Russian Kilo Submarine

DARPA wants artificial intelligence to explain conclusions and reasoning to humans

DARPA wants to have artificial intelligence have the capability of explaining and helping humans to trace the conclusions, decisions and reasoning of the AI.

Dramatic success in machine learning has led to an explosion of new AI capabilities. Continued advances promise to produce autonomous systems that perceive, learn, decide, and act on their own. These systems offer tremendous benefits, but their effectiveness will be limited by the machine’s inability to explain its decisions and actions to human users. This issue is especially important for the Department of Defense (DoD), which is facing challenges that demand the development of more intelligent, autonomous, and symbiotic systems. Explainable AI will be essential if users are to understand, appropriately trust, and effectively manage this incoming generation of artificially intelligent partners.

The problem of explainability is, to some extent, the result of AI’s success.

In the early days of AI, the predominant reasoning methods were logical and symbolic. These early systems reasoned by performing some form of logical inference on (somewhat) human readable symbols. Early systems could generate a trace of their inference steps, which then became the basis for explanation. As a result, there was significant work on how to make these systems explainable.

AI Tell it to me like I am a human six year old

DARPA is interested in creating technology to make this new generation of AI systems explainable. Because the most critical and most opaque components are based on machine learning, XAI (eXplainable Artificial Intelligence) is focusing on the development of explainable machine learning techniques. By creating new machine learning methods to produce more explainable models and combining them with explanation techniques, XAI aims to help users understand, appropriately trust, and effectively manage the emerging generation of AI systems.

The target of XAI is an end user who depends on decisions, recommendations, or actions produced by an AI system, and therefore needs to understand the rationale for the system’s decisions. For example, an intelligence analyst who receives recommendations from a big data analytics algorithm needs to understand why the algorithm has recommended certain activity for further investigation. Similarly, a test operator of a newly developed autonomous system will need to understand why the system makes its decisions so that he/she can decide how to use it in future missions.

This concept presents three related research and development challenges:
(1) how to produce more explainable models;
(2) how to design the explanation interface; and
(3) how to understand the psychological requirements for effective explanations.

August 18, 2016

Airbus plans to begin test fights of a flying taxi in 2017 with commercial service by 2026

Airbus wants to make flying taxis for city commuters.Rush-hour traffic is unbearable for many commuters today – and the problem is growing. By 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities, which is 10% more than today. To address this rising concern, Airbus Group is harnessing its experience to make the dream of all commuters and travellers come true one day: to fly over traffic jams at the push of a button.

Traffic problems are becoming more acute across the globe as a result of increasing urbanisation, particularly in “megacities” – urban centres with upwards of ten million inhabitants. A good illustration is the Brazilian metropolis Sao Paulo, which set a new record in 2014: on the roads around the city, the rush-hour traffic stretched out for 344 kilometres. According to a study, these huge back-ups in Sao Paulo cost the Brazilian economy at least 31 billion USD a year; another study found that Londoners lose the equivalent of 35 working days per year idling in traffic. The situation is even worse in cities such as Mumbai, Manila, or Tokyo.

In response, Airbus Group experts are looking skywards to develop radical concepts that will relieve urban congestion. Participating in these efforts is A3, the company’s innovation outpost located in the gridlocked Valley. A3 project executive Rodin Lyasoff and his team are actively pursuing a project coined Vahana, an autonomous flying vehicle platform for individual passenger and cargo transport.

Flight tests of the first vehicle prototype are slated for the end of 2017. As ambitious as that sounds, Lyasoff insists that it is feasible. “Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there,” explains the engineer. However, Vahana will likely also need reliable sense-and-avoid technology. While this is just starting to be introduced in cars, no mature airborne solutions currently exist. “That’s one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible,” says Lyasoff.

"In as little as ten years, we could have products on the market that revolutionize urban travel for millions of people." says Rodin Lyasoff, A3 project executive.

Russian 789 megawatt fast nuclear reactor reaches full power

Unit 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant started operating at 100% power for the first time today. The BN-800 fast neutron reactor is scheduled to enter commercial operation later this year.

The BN-800 reactor was brought to minimum controlled power for the first time in June 2014, at which time commercial operation was planned for the end of that year. However, in December 2014 Rosenergoatom announced that nuclear fuel for the unit would first be developed further. It was brought again to the minimum controlled power level in August 2015, and again in November 2015, eventually being connected to the grid on 10 December 2015.

Since the beginning of this year, during its ascent to full power, Beloyarsk 4 has generated more than 1.3 billion kWh of electricity. It is planned to produce 3.5 billion kWh during the whole of 2016.

The 789 MWe BN-800 Beloyarsk 4 is fuelled by a mix of uranium and plutonium oxides arranged to produce new fuel material as it burns. Its capacity exceeds that of the world's second most powerful fast reactor - the 560 MWe BN-600 Beloyarsk 3.

The BN-800 core with metallic fuel should have an average burnup 80 MW·days/kg. (fuel burn-up of 70-100 GWd/t). Normal light water reactors now have about 50 Gigawatts per day per ton of fuel, and new LWR will have about 65 GWd/t and annular /cylinder shaped for better hear management fuel will enable older reactors to have higher burnup. A followup russian fast reactor could have 120 GWd/t fuel burnup

Russia plans to build two BN-1200 reactors by 2030

Here are some specs on the BN-800 and a prospective BN-1200

Modified rice has five times the zinc and iron and could help eliminate micronutrient deficiency to save over 1 million lives each year and boost GDP of poor nations over 20%

By modifying rice to enrich its nutritional value for people growing it in developing countries, a University of Melbourne researcher is helping prevent iron-deficiency anaemia and maternal mortality

Being able to prevent anemia and micronutrient deficiency in nearly two billion poor people will save over a million lives each year, prevent stunting which reduces IQ and boost productivity and GDP by over 20%. Success in this public health area would be one of the biggest things in reducing world poverty and improving public health in those countries.

Iron and zinc deficiencies are widespread in the developing world and cause serious human disorders, such as child stunting, increased maternal mortality and iron-deficiency anaemia. In some communities, up to 80 percent of the diet comes from rice, which is a poor source of these vital nutrients.

Zinc deficiency is a major cause of stunting among children. About 165 million children with stunted growth run a risk of compromised cognitive development and physical capability. The IQ scores of the severely stunted children at eight years of age were 11 points lower than those of the children who were not stunted. When the children in the study were tested again at age 11, those who had been most severely stunted at age 2 still scored lower on the intelligence test than children who had not been stunted, although the gap was narrower at about 5 IQ points.

The World Health Organisation estimates two billion people, or 30 per cent of the world’s population, are anaemic, in many cases due to iron deficiency. This condition leaves people weak and lethargic and poses a significant and even fatal health risk to pregnant women and their children. Equal numbers are at risk of zinc deficiency with severe health consequences including stunted growth and impaired immune function.

Nature - Biofortified indica rice attains iron and zinc nutrition dietary targets in the field

IBM Scientists Imitate the Functionality of Neurons with a Phase-Change Device and each neuron update uses less than five picojoules

IBM scientists have created randomly spiking neurons using phase-change materials to store and process data. This demonstration marks a significant step forward in the development of energy-efficient, ultra-dense integrated neuromorphic technologies for applications in cognitive computing.

Inspired by the way the biological brain functions, scientists have theorized for decades that it should be possible to imitate the versatile computational capabilities of large populations of neurons. However, doing so at densities and with a power budget that would be comparable to those seen in biology has been a significant challenge, until now.

“We have been researching phase-change materials for memory applications for over a decade, and our progress in the past 24 months has been remarkable,” said IBM Fellow Evangelos Eleftheriou. “In this period, we have discovered and published new memory techniques, including projected memory, stored 3 bits per cell in phase-change memory for the first time, and now are demonstrating the powerful capabilities of phase-change-based artificial neurons, which can perform various computational primitives such as data-correlation detection and unsupervised learning at high speeds using very little energy.”

Nanotechnology journal - All-memristive neuromorphic computing with level-tuned neurons

3D games could get 100X faster for metallic and shiny surfaces

3D games and CGI just received a massive boost as a new breakthrough 3D technology promises 100X faster rendering of metallic and shiny surfaces. Computer scientists at University of California-San Diego developed a method to improve how computer graphics software reproduces the way light interacts with extremely small details, called glints, on the surface of a wide range of materials, including metallic car paints, metal finishes for electronics and injection-molded plastic finishes.

The method developed by Ramamoorthi and colleagues is 100 times faster than the current state of the art. They are presenting their work this month at SIGGRAPH 2016 in Anaheim, California. The method requires minimal computational resources and can be used in animations. Current methods can only reproduce these so-called glints in stills.

Iron Man’s suit. Captain America’s shield. The Batmobile. These all could look a lot more realistic thanks to a new algorithm developed by a team of U.S. computer graphics experts.

A scratched stainless steel kettle rendered with our method (left). The kettle is lit by small area lights and an environment map, with surface microstructure modeled using a high-resolution normal map. Our method uses millions of 4D Gaussians to fit the position-normal distribution induced by the normal map; this lets us approximate the normal distribution function of a given pixel almost as accurately as Yan et al. [2014], but our evaluation is two orders of magnitude faster. Moreover, our technique can integrate area and environment lighting, and multiple importance sampling, which was not practical with Yan et al. [2014]. Our rendering takes only 1.4× longer than a standard microfacet BRDF rendering (right).

Position-Normal Distributions for Efficient Rendering of Specular Microstructure

White dwarf star Nova caught in the act which occurs every 10,000 to 1 million years

A team of researchers affiliated with the Warsaw University Observatory has captured for the first time the events that led to a classical nova exploding, the explosion itself and then what happened afterwards. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team describes how they happened to capture the star activity and why they believe it may help bolster the theory of star hibernation.

In this type of binary system, a white dwarf sucks gas from a much bigger partner star until it blows up - about every 10,000 to one million years.

The consistent stream of images snapped for that project, the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment, allowed the researchers to go back and see what the star system looked like before the explosion brought it to their attention in May 2009.

Even though it is 20,000 light-years away - a terribly faint pinprick of light barely visible among brighter stars, even in magnified images - this was a rare opportunity to study the build-up and aftermath of a classical nova.

"Thanks to our long-term observations, we observed the nova a few years before and a few years after the explosion," Przemek Mróz, the study's first author and a PhD student at the Warsaw University Astronomical Observatory

Scientists Uncover the Superfluid Origin of High-Temperature Superconductivity in Copper-Oxide Compound

Analysis of thousands of samples reveals that the compound becomes superconducting at an unusually high temperature because local electron pairs form a "superfluid" that flows without resistance.

Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have an explanation for why the temperature at which cuprates become superconducting is so high. After growing and analyzing thousands of samples of a cuprate known as LSCO for the four elements it contains (lanthanum, strontium, copper, and oxygen), they determined that this "critical" temperature is controlled by the density of electron pairs—the number of electron pairs per unit area. This finding, described in a Nature paper published August 17, challenges the standard theory of superconductivity, which proposes that the critical temperature depends instead on the strength of the electron pairing interaction.

Nature - Dependence of the critical temperature in overdoped copper oxides on superfluid density

By 2021, combat lasers with hundreds of kilowatt power will demo shooting down ballistic missiles in the boost phase

The US Congress has appropriated $119 billion for U.S. missile defense projects, including ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, deployable THAAD interceptors, and radars, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The Pentagon has asked Congress for $34.87 billion for these projects between fiscal 2017 and 2021.

Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency say that lasers could ultimately augment existing missile interceptors. They want lasers for two main reasons:
lasers could shoot down missiles earlier than today’s interceptors and
lasers are much cheaper to fire.

U.S. military officials said “directed energy” is near the point where they could use it on the battlefield.

The goal is to reduce the size and weight of existing lasers, something the Pentagon has been trying to do for the past decade.

The Missile Defense Agency plans to conduct “a lot of” testing with lasers mounted on Reaper drones “over the next few years” culminating with a “low-power laser demonstrator” project in 2021, Syring said. Pentagon officials hope to decide what that demonstrator might look like “in a few years.” The goal of that project is to fly a powerful laser at a high altitude that can track possibly kill a missile soon after it is launched, during its boost phase.

In addition to lasers on drones, the Army is eying lasers on the ground to shoot down missiles.

Within 5 years, the military expects to demonstrate shooting down ballistic missiles in the boost phase.

In 2012, the US Navy initiated the SSL Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) program, in which industry teams led by BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon, among others, competed to develop a shipboard laser with a beam power of 100 kW to 150 kW by 2016.

Boosting beam power further—to something like 200 kW or 300 kW—could permit a laser to counter at least some ASCMs. Even stronger beam powers—on the order of at least several hundred kW, if not one megawatt (MW) or more—could improve a laser’s effectiveness against ASCMs (Anti-Ship Cruise Missile) and enable it to counter ASBMs (Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile.

By 2020, it should be possible to demonstrate a 250-500 kW laser weapon system, one appropriate for deployment on current surface combatants and capable of being a game changer in the Navy’s struggle to address the growing A2/AD challenge.

The Army’s Avenger project is a Humvee-mounted system that fires Stinger missiles at cruise missiles, with lasers or other forms of directed energy.

August 17, 2016

Doubling battery power from lithium metal batteries for smartphones and other devices

SolidEnergy Systems has developed an “anode-free” lithium metal battery with several material advances that make it twice as energy-dense, yet just as safe and long-lasting as the lithium ion batteries used in smartphones, electric cars, wearables, drones, and other devices.

The battery essentially swaps out a common battery anode material, graphite, for very thin, high-energy lithium-metal foil, which can hold more ions — and, therefore, provide more energy capacity. Chemical modifications to the electrolyte also make the typically short-lived and volatile lithium metal batteries rechargeable and safer to use. Moreover, the batteries are made using existing lithium ion manufacturing equipment, which makes them scalable.

SolidEnergy plans to bring the batteries to smartphones and wearables in early 2017, and to electric cars in 2018. But the first application will be drones, coming this November. “Several customers are using drones and balloons to provide free Internet to the developing world, and to survey for disaster relief,” Hu says. “It’s a very exciting and noble application.”
Putting these new batteries in electric vehicles as well could represent “a huge societal impact,” Hu says: “Industry standard is that electric vehicles need to go at least 200 miles on a single charge. We can make the battery half the size and half the weight, and it will travel the same distance, or we can make it the same size and same weight, and now it will go 400 miles on a single charge.”

SolidEnergy Systems' battery (far right) is twice as energy-dense, yet just as safe and long-lasting as the lithium ion batteries used in consumer electronics. The battery uses a lithium metal foil for an anode, which can hold more ions and is several times thinner and lighter than traditional lithium metal, graphite, carbon, or silicon anodes. A novel electrolyte also keeps the battery from heating up and catching fire. Courtesy of SolidEnergy Systems

Solid Energy Systems shows what a replacement battery for the iPhone would look like

China develops an anti-submarine missile-torpedo hybrid weapon

China has developed a hybrid missile-torpedo (ASW missile Yu-8) that literally joins the two capabilities into a single weapon. The chief advantage of this arrangement, of course, is to vastly expand the range and speed of the torpedo system. Yet another advantage is that the attacking torpedo system would not likely be detected by a submerged submarine until it had plunged into the water relatively close to the intended victim, limiting the reaction time of the submarine’s crew for taking evasive action and deploying countermeasures.

China’s ASW torpedo development has, for the most part, “European origins” and the U.S. Mark 46 lightweight ASW torpedo. The US exported the Mark 46 to China in the 1980s.

The Yu- missile is expected to be about five meters in length, and to weigh less than 700 kilograms. The range is said to be approximately thirty kilometers at a speed of Mach .9 to .95. The torpedo part of the weapon is estimated to be 324 millimeters in width and capable of detection (both passive and active) over 1.1 to 2.5 kilometers.

China plans to increase the missile’s overall flight range to fifty-five to seventy kilometers.

The system may be an attempt to remedy a long-time weakness in China’s ASW system: the inability of its ASW helicopters to heft multiple torpedoes. Helicopters transmit targeting information to the ship launched Yu-8 ASW missile.

In 2015, Popular Science looked at China's sub hunting plane and a 7-8q missile-torpedo.

Neuroprosthesis to mimic, repair and improve cognition

Kernel is a startup that has a mission to dramatically increase quality of life as we increasingly extend healthy lifespans.

They have developed a ready-for-the-clinic brain prosthetic to help people with memory problems. The broad target market includes people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as well as those who have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Surgeons will one day implant Kernel’s tiny device in their patients’ brains—specifically in the brain region called the hippocampus. There, the device’s electrodes will electrically stimulate certain neurons to help them do their job—turning incoming information about the world into long-term memories.

In Berger’s approach, electrodes in the hippocampus first record electrical signals from certain neurons as they learn something new and encode the memory. These electrical signals are the result of neurons “firing” in specific patterns. Berger studied how electrical signals associated with learning are translated into signals associated with storing that information in long-term memory. Then his lab built mathematical models that take any input (learning) signal, and produce the proper output (memory) signal.

Spacex plans to use a lot more carbon fiber for lighter rockets as reusing stages justifies higher expenses for better rockets

Spacex plans to use a lot more carbon fiber components instead of aluminum in their rockets. SpaceX aims to hold down expenses by reusing rockets and spacecraft. Originally, the company made rockets mostly out of aluminum to keep costs low, using carbon fiber only for a few parts, such as connecting joints.

Japanese materials maker Toray Industries will supply a lot of carbon fiber to SpaceX for use in the bodies of rockets and space vehicles.

The multiyear deal with Tesla founder Elon Musk's 14-year-old venture is estimated to be worth 200 billion yen to 300 billion yen ($1.99 billion to $2.98 billion) in total. The two sides are aiming to finalize the agreement this fall after hammering out prices, time frames and other terms.

Carbon fibers are more elastic than similar material used in aircraft and thus will be able to withstand the harsh conditions of space travel. Re-using space vehicles will help slow the proliferation of debris, which has become a substantial risk to space exploration.

The Falcon 9 first stage weighs about 40,000 pounds and the second stage about 6000 pounds. When Aluminum is swapped out for carbon fiber typically 40% of the weight can be saved in airplanes and probably rockets.

Dry mass of the rocket is about 26 tons with a fuel mass of 396 tons, that is 5.9%, so you could save 2.3% by making it 40% lighter (this includes the thrust assembly/engines). A lighter system would also save on fuel usage.

The reuse and landing of rocket stages makes it worthwhile to put more money into making higher performing and lighter stages.

The size of the deal suggests that a lot of carbon fiber will be used for Spacex Mars Colonial transports and/or spacex will be making a lot of rockets.

History of Babylon 5 / Star Trek DS9 repeating with Star Trek Axanar and Star Trek Discovery

CBS' new Star Trek series Discovery says the show will be set ten years before the events of the original Star Trek adventures with Captain Kirk and the Enterprise

Star Trek: Discovery is an upcoming American television series created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman for CBS All Access, due to premiere in January 2017.

This seems to be a repetition of the Babylon 5 and Star Trek DS9 situation. Various elements were lifted from Babylon 6 and baked into DS9.

CBS decides to start a new series 11 years after the last Star Trek TV show (Enterprise) and they could put it into the 22nd through 25th century and they decide to got right about the same fictional time as Axanar.

This time CBS and Paramount still own all the rights so they filed a lawsuit to get rid of the Axanar "competition" while last time Babylon 5 production went forward as well. The lawsuit has still not been dropped. The guidelines for Star Trek fan films exclude quality productions like Axanar. The current guidelines are you can make one if it is made with less than $25,000.

This time CBS and Paramount do own all of it, but Axanar will not detract from Star Trek Discovery. Clearly the executives need the outside help and input to make better shows. They should adopt the Marvel-Disney methodology. Marvel uses the comics to tryout stories and then select the best out of hundreds or thousands to be developed into TV shows. Then the animated and other show stories sometimes get further reworked for the larger budget movies. Comics de-risk stories for TV shows and Comics and TV de-risk the movie stories. CBS should view the fan fiction as a method to de-risk TV show stories.

The fact that Marvel movie stories have already been mostly seen in comics or TV stories have been seen in comics or get repeated in TV does not harm later TV or movies with the same or similar stories.

There is a deep public appetite for good superhero stories and science fiction stories and good stories in general. Good stories can build the market and earnings of the next similar story. This was shown with the increasing box office of the three Captain America movies. It is shown with Star Wars the Force Awakens which was a semi-remake of the first Star Wars movie. Axanar and other good Star Trek stories can build the earnings and interest in other good Star Trek shows and movies.

Successful Prelude to Axanar set two decades before the old series

Prelude to Axanar and long title: The Four Years War Part III: Prelude to Axanar was a 2014 American fan made short film, directed by Christian Gossett and written by Christian Gossett and Alec Peters. It was funded through Kickstarter, production sought $10,000 in funding, but raised $101,000. They raised $638,000 on Kickstarter through the creation and release of Prelude to Axanar, Alec Peters went into pre-production for the feature film Star Trek: Axanar, with production slated to begin in October 2015.

Axanar was starting to have success over a year before the new Star Trek TV show was announced.

The fictional timeline of Star Trek 23rd century is here

Recent evidence seems to confirm that Star Trek DS9 ripped off Babylon 5.

An IO9 commenter named Steven Hopstaken claimed to work at Paramount at the time in question.

Paramount decided to launch a new network on their own and screwed Warner Bros. over. That sent Warner Bros. scrambling to create their own network; grabbing up any station not already committed to Paramount and getting WGN to show the WB network on cable.

So Paramount definitely knew about the Babylon 5 script, I don’t know about the DS9 show runners, but I find it hard to believe they didn’t know.

This notion sort of matches up with JMS’s 1992 theory that Berman and Piller didn’t know about Babylon 5, but that the powers-that-be might have manipulated the DS9 showrunners in certain directions. In the end, the two shows ended up being different enough to allow both to survive, and the characters and stories became divergent to the point of making everyone forget there was ever a controversy. And yet, the superficial similarities present at the start of both shows are staggering.

China returning to faster 350 kph high speed rail operation using improved trains

China has a new all domestic high speed train. It is the "China-standard" train G8041. It started operation on Harbin-Dalian line between Harbin, capital of China's northernmost province of Heilongjiang, and the port city of Dalian in Liaoning province, August 15, 2016.

The "China-standard" bullet trains, officially known as electric multiple unit (EMU) trains, have started operation in northeast China's Liaoning Province. The new trains can operate at a speed of 350 kilometers per hour, have been independently researched and manufactured by China Railway Corporation, the national rail operator. The trains mark a new milestone in the country's effort to build a high tech railway network in the country.

After the 2011 Wenzhou train collision, the Chinese Minister of Railways cut the operating speed of Chinese high-speed trains. The speed of the second-tier 'D' trains reduced from 250 to 200 km/h (155 to 124 mph). The speed of the remaining 350 km/h (220 mph) trains between Shanghai and Hangzhou was reduced to 300 km/h (186 mph) as of 28 August 2011.

China has the world's largest high-speed rail network, with a total operating length reaching 19,000 km by the end of 2015, about 60 percent of the world's total.

China Railway Corporation plans to spend 800 billion yuan, or around 120 billion dollars on railways in 2016, especially in less-developed central and western regions of the country.

LIDAR on a chip should be 1000 times cheaper and scan 1000 times faster to revolutionize self-driving cars, drones, and robots

DARPA and MIT are leading an effort to take what are now bulky expensive Light Imaging, Detection, And Ranging (LIDAR) systems and make them small enough to fit on a microchip.

LIDAR is one of the key parts of Google's self driving car.

MIT’s Photonic Microsystems Group is developing a lidar-on-a-chip system that is smaller than a dime, has no moving parts, and could be mass-produced at a very low cost for use in self-driving cars, drones, and robots.

Light detection and ranging, or lidar, is a sensing technology based on laser light. It’s similar to radar, but can have a higher resolution, since the wavelength of light is about 100,000 times smaller than radio wavelengths. For robots, this is very important: Since radar cannot accurately image small features

By bringing down LIDAR's size and costs the project could spark a technological revolution like that from the miniaturization of cameras for mobile phones, Josh Conway, programme manager of the Microsystems Technology Office for DARPA.

Today, commercially available high-end lidar systems can range from $1,000 to upwards of $70,000, which can limit their applications where cost must be minimized.

The new lidar chips are produced on 300-millimeter wafers, making their potential production cost on the order of $10 each at production volumes of millions of units per year. They also have the potential to be much more robust because of the lack of moving parts, with a non-mechanical beam steering 1,000 times faster than what is currently achieved in mechanical lidar systems.

The chip is enabled by development of 300-mm silicon photonics.

At the moment, our on-chip lidar system can detect objects at ranges of up to 2 meters, though we hope to achieve a 10-meter range within a year. The minimum range is around 5 centimeters. We have demonstrated centimeter longitudinal resolution and expect 3-cm lateral resolution at 2 meters. There is a clear development path towards lidar on a chip technology that can reach 100 meters, with the possibility of going even farther.

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