Categories
From The Editors Science

NASA Says the Moon is Shrivelling Up like a Raisin, Causing Moonquakes in the Process

Scientists have known for the last decade, or so, that the moon has shrunk by at least 150 feet (50 meters) over the last several hundred million years as its interior kept losing heat.

Giving the analogy of a shrinking and wrinkling grape as it transforms into a raisin, NASA says that the moon also shrank and wrinkled up as it cooled down.

However, owing to the fact that the lunar crust is brittle, unlike the supple exterior of a grape, it broke up, creating “thrust faults” where sections of the crust got pushed up over adjacent parts.

A team of researchers analyzing new images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft has found evidence that suggests the moon is continuing to shrink even today, causing thrust faults which, in turn, produce moonquakes as they slip.

“Our analysis gives the first evidence that these faults are still active and likely producing moonquakes today as the Moon continues to gradually cool and shrink,” said Thomas Watters, a senior scientist at the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, and the lead author of the research, published Monday (May 14) in Nature Geoscience.

“Some of these quakes can be fairly strong, around five on the Richter scale,” Watters added.

The new research was based on seismic data from the 1960s and 70s, recorded by four out of five seismometers left on the lunar surface by astronauts during Apollo missions  11, 12, 14, 15, and 16.

Barring the Apollo 11 seismometer, which lasted a mere three weeks, the remaining four registered a total of 28 shallow moonquakes, ranging from two to five on the Richter scale, between 1969 and 1977.

Using an algorithm, Watters and his team were able to get a better estimate of the location and epicenter of the quakes.

The new location-estimates revealed that 8 of the 28 quakes were not more than 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the thrust faults seen in lunar images, which led them to “tentatively” conclude that the quakes were caused by fault slips.

The researchers also noticed that six of the eight quakes occurred when the moon was at or approaching its apogee, the farthest point in its orbit around Earth, where tidal stress from Earth’s gravity is at peak levels, making the thrust faults more prone to “slip-events.”

To give more veracity to their conclusion, the researchers ran 10,000 simulations to determine whether so many quakes near the faults at the time of maximum stress could be a coincidence, only to discover that it was less than a four percent probability.

The possibility of meteoroid impacts causing the quakes was also ruled out because their seismic signature is different from that of quakes caused by slipping faults.

“We think it’s very likely that these eight quakes were produced by faults slipping as stress built up when the lunar crust was compressed by global contraction and tidal forces, indicating that the Apollo seismometers recorded the shrinking Moon and the Moon is still tectonically active,” said Watters.

Further evidence of the faults being active comes from high-definition images from the camera onboard the LRO, which has photographed more than 3,500 fault scarps – step-like cliffs on the lunar surface that are generally tens of meters high and can extend for several kilometers.

A number of these images show boulders and landslides at the bottom of the fault scarp slopes or nearby areas, which are relatively brighter than the rest of the surroundings, indicating freshly exposed patches that have not been darkened by solar and space radiation.

Now, that could most likely be the result of moonquakes sending debris down the slopes of the fault scarps.

Further confirmation that these are recent lunar events comes from some of the other LROC images that show tracks made by boulders rolling down a scarp slope during a moonquake caused by slipping faults.

Had the tracks not been recent enough, they would have been obliterated pretty quickly, geologically speaking, by constant micrometeoroid bombardment that the lunar surface is exposed to.

Faults in the Schrödinger basin of the moon show boulder tracks that scientists say are the result of recent boulder falls caused by seismic activity.

Here’s what LRO project scientist John Keller of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, had to say about the latest findings.

“It’s really remarkable to see how data from nearly 50 years ago and from the LRO mission has been combined to advance our understanding of the Moon while suggesting where future missions intent on studying the Moon’s interior processes should go.”

With a decade’s worth of LRO images at their disposal, Watters and his team are of the opinion that comparing images of specific fault areas from different times may provide more proof of recent moonquakes.

Study co-author Renee Weber, a planetary seismologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, says that more seismometers should be put on the moon for a better insight into lunar events.

“Establishing a new network of seismometers on the lunar surface should be a priority for human exploration of the Moon, both to learn more about the Moon’s interior and to determine how much of a hazard moonquakes present,” he said.

The Team

Thomas R. Watters (lead author) – Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA

Renee C. Weber (co-author) – NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, USA

Geoffrey C. Collins (co-author) – Physics and Astronomy Department, Wheaton College, Norton, MA, USA

Ian J. Howley (co-author) – NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, USA

Nicholas C. Schmerr (co-author) – the University of Maryland, Department of Geology, College Park, MD, USA

Catherine L. Johnson (co-author) – Dept. of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Categories
From The Editors Technology

Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes Thinks It’s Time to Break Up the Company

In an opinion piece, published Thursday (May 9) in The New York Times, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has called for regulators to break up the company.

Hughes blames the company’s slipshod privacy practices, violent rhetoric, fake news, and its lackadaisical response to Russian propaganda for the sharp decline in “Mark’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook” in the last couple of years.

Despite the fact that Hughes co-founded Facebook fifteen years ago and hasn’t been a part of the company in any capacity in a decade, he feels “a sense of anger and responsibility” for the way the company has gone about conducting its affairs.

According to Hughes, Zuckerberg’s obsession for growth, even if it came at the expense of security and ethics, led him to misuse the overwhelming influence and unbridled power he wields in the company.

“Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government,” writes Hughes, going on to add that Zuckerberg is the sole deciding authority when it comes to Facebook’s algorithm configurations.

It effectively means that he is the one who determines “what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered.”

“I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders,” he adds.

And the fact that the people around Mark are of the yes-sir-you’re-right-sir kind; a support team that “reinforces his beliefs” rather than question them; is rather worrying, Hughes laments.

Not too long ago, Zuckerberg was under tremendous investor pressure to step down as Facebook chairman after an NYT report accused the company of hiring a Washington-based consultant, Definers Public Affairs, to malign its critics and competitors.

According to the report, “Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros.”

The NYT investigation also revealed that Facebook didn’t even spare its business relationships, “lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”

The report went on to claim that a Definers affiliate called NTK Network – a conservative news site – ran dozens of articles attacking tech giants Apple and Google for indulging in “unsavory business practices.”

In fact, one particular story went to the extent of calling Apple CEO Tim Cook “hypocritical” for criticizing Facebook over privacy concerns, when the Cupertino-based company itself collects “reams of data from users.”

While an embattled Zuckerberg was still reeling from the NYT assault, another damaging piece by Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan came along to add to the man’s miseries.

Calling him an incapable leader of “the broken behemoth that is Facebook,” Sullivan wrote that Zuckerberg hides, denies, blame-shifts and “speaks in the worst kind of fuzzy corporate clichés.”

Citing what she called “two stunning pieces of journalism,” including the NYT story and another by feature writer Eli Saslow in the Washington Post, she said that Facebook is like a “rudderless ship sailing toward the apocalypse — and we’re all along for the ride.”

“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” Facebook investor and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer was quoted by Business Insider as saying, at the time.

All of Facebook’s woes can, essentially, be traced back to the “data breach” scandal involving British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, which surfaced in March 2018.

Facebook reportedly harvested the data of some 50 million Facebook users to help Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Cambridge Analytica, however, denied any wrongdoing on its part in regard to the alleged breach.

According to Facebook, Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University professor, used an app on its platform to collect information from 270,000 users on the pretext of a “personality test” – which the users volunteered for – and then, in a clear breach of trust, shared the data with Cambridge Analytica.

The consultancy, in turn, used it to unfairly benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign; not only that, Kogan even shared the data of the volunteers’ friends.

Coming back to Thursday’s opinion piece, Hughes has also called for the creation of a dedicated agency to keep a strict vigil on tech companies.

Unhappy with Facebook’s monopolistic approach, and that’s putting it mildly, he suggests that the company should be broken up into multiple companies, and also forced to reverse its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp to create a level playing field.

“First, Facebook should be separated into multiple companies. The F.T.C., in conjunction with the Justice Department, should enforce antitrust laws by undoing the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions and banning future acquisitions for several years,” Hughes suggests.

Citing the antitrust claims against Whole Foods, which it settled by selling off Wild Oats brand and stores, he says that it’s still not too late for the Federal Trade Commission to act.

Hughes’ piece was bound to raise a few hackles in the Menlo Park company, and it did.

In a statement published by CNN’s Hadas Gold, former UK deputy prime minister and the current global affairs head at Facebook, Nick Clegg, said:

“Facebook accepts that success comes accountability. But “But you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the breakup of a successful American company.” 

Categories
From The Editors Technology

Google Employees Worldwide Stage Sit-in to Protest Retaliation at Workplace

Google employees held a #NotOKGoogle sit-in on Monday (May 1) at offices around the world to protest against the so-called “culture of retaliation” being pursued by the company against workers for staging a #GoogleWalkout last year.

“From being told to go on sick leave when you’re not sick, to having your reports taken away, we’re sick of retaliation,” organizers of the ‘Google Walkout For Real Change’ tweeted. “Six months ago, we walked out. This time, we’re sitting in. 11am tomorrow.”

“Today, Googlers from around the world are gathering at 11 am local time to sit together and show retaliation is #NotOkGoogle,” the organizers said in another tweet.

“The stories we’ve been collecting will be shared, our demands will be read, and all will be in solidarity with those withstanding this chilling practice.”

The sit-in comes a week after the organizers released a letter, accusing the Sundar Pichai-led company of pursuing a “culture of retaliation, which too often works to silence women, people of color, and gender minorities.”

Signed by Meredith Whittaker, Claire Stapleton, and 10 others, the letter goes on to say: “Retaliation isn’t always obvious. It’s often confusing and drawn out, consisting of icy conversations, gaslighting, project cancellations, transition rejections, or demotions.”

Whittaker is the head of Google’s Open Research Group and the Google Measurement Lab, while Stapleton is the marketing manager at YouTube.

The Mountain View tech giant, however, declined to comment on the sit-in when approached by Tech Crunch and Fox News other than give a standard scripted statement, which said:

“We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy. To make sure that no complaint raised goes unheard at Google, we give employees multiple channels to report concerns, including anonymously, and investigate all allegations of retaliation.”

Last year, more than 20,000 Google employees around the world staged a walk-out, following a damaging New York Times report on the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against Andy Rubin, the creator of Android mobile software.

The en-masse walk-out was also a protest against pay inequality and abuse of power to victimize employees that did not tow the company line.

“We were disgusted by the details of the recent New York Times article, which provided the latest example of a culture of complicity, dismissiveness, and support for perpetrators in the face of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse of power,” the #GoogleWalkout organizers told Fox News at the time.

“Sadly, this is part of a longstanding problem, one further amplified by systemic racism. We know this culture well,” the statement said.

Both Whittaker and Stapleton have allegedly been victimized for organizing the #GoogleWalkout, leaving them with no option but to call for the #NotOKGoogle sit-in to protest the injustices meted out to them and others, since.

In fact, last month, Whittaker posted a message to a number of internal Google mailing lists, accusing the company of disbanding its external AI ethics council earlier in the month.

She was allegedly told that she would lose her job if she didn’t “abandon” her role at AI Now Institute and her work on AI ethics.

Stapleton said she was threatened with demotion two months after the walk-out and faced even more retaliation when she brought the matter to the notice of Human Resources.

“My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick,” Stapleton wrote

Although the company was forced to conduct an investigation and reverse the demotion decision after she hired a lawyer, the environment remained “hostile.”

“While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day,” she wrote.

Employee protests at Google appear to have become a recurrent feature of late, as there was another protest between the #GoogleWalkout and the #NotOkGoogle that comes to mind.

About a month after the #GoogleWalkOut, an employee backlash over the company’s clandestine ‘Dragonfly’ search engine project in China snowballed into near- unmanageable proportions for the tech giant.

Ever since the company’s secret and highly questionable project in China was exposed in August, the search engine titan had faced fierce criticism from investigative journalists and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, in addition to mounting dissent among its own workforce.

An open letter demanding the immediate scrapping of the controversial tailored-version of Google’s popular search engine for China was published online late last year.

What started off as a 10-signatory letter entitled “We are Google employees. Google must drop Dragonfly,” was later backed by hundreds of signatories, which kept growing as murkier details continued to emerge.

The  letter started with a categorical demand to halt Dragonfly, calling the project “Google’s effort to create a censored search engine for the Chinese market that enables state surveillance.”

“We are among thousands of employees who have raised our voices for months,” read the letter.

“International human rights organizations and investigative reporters have also sounded the alarm, emphasizing serious human rights concerns and repeatedly calling on Google to cancel the project,” it continued. “So far, our leadership’s response has been unsatisfactory.”

“Many of us accepted employment at Google with the company’s values in mind, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and an understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits,” the letter read.

“After a year of disappointments including Project Maven, Dragonfly, and Google’s support for abusers, we no longer believe this is the case. This is why we’re taking a stand.”

Categories
From The Editors Travel

A Travel Guide to Paris

Apart from wanting to hear my stories, I know a lot of my readers here also looking for some good advice. This is why from time to time, I share other blogs that have helped me out a lot as well. I recently discovered INSIDR while I was looking for a clear guide on getting a tax refund from the EU. Their article that shared shopping hacks was really useful because I found out when the sales seasons are in France and got an easy guide to getting my tax refund. I found a lot more information than I intended to get and I’m sure my shopping experience in Paris will be a lot better!

I stumbled upon a complete guide to shopping for shoes in Paris. This is certainly a big temptation for any women. They gave complete recommendations from casual brands to luxurious brands. They recommend Galeries Lafayette as a one-stop shopping solution. We can find shoes, lingeries, even foods in one place. It is a good solution if you don’t have much time to spend to go around. They even offer a macaron class in English. This will be a lot more stories to tell, more than just trying these best macarons in town.

If you are a beauty product enthusiast, you would know that French beauty products have a great reputation! If you’re in Paris, you should seize the moment to go shopping for them! You’ll find INSIDR’s recommendations for the best French beauty products so you won’t get totally lost while you’re hunting for it, and even the best place to do the shopping! For example, in Pharmacie Monge, you can find a wide range of products with the best price, and you can directly get a tax refund there.

Now about the food, they’ve shared countless recommendations and a complete guide of restaurants in Paris, I don’t even know where to start! From a romantic place to have dinner to street food that you can get in Paris, you can get all the information there. You can even find recommendations for gluten-free restaurants and vegan restaurants in Paris. Of course, you would have to try all the typical French foods, like escargot, oysters, and truffles. The other thing that you just can’t forget when you’re in France: the pastries, all of the pastries! You can find all of the best pastries in Paris recommended by INSIDR and for sure, you won’t regret it. Try the best croissants and other delicacies while you’re there!

Another thing I want to share is how much I’ve discovered about going around Paris at night.

INSIDR wrote in length about all the different activities at night that we can do to spend time in the city. Of course, there’s nothing wrong about sitting in a restaurant for dinner and some wine but I’m the type of person who needs to be doing something all the time, and even more so while I’m on a vacation! Paris Red Light District looks like an interesting area, and I loved reading about the Moulin Rouge.

INSIDR’s articles painted a really different picture from what I’ve heard. Their article on the history of the iconic cabaret also described the show and the dinners they have. I wish I could experience it for myself someday. This certainly looks like one of the best among many shows that we can enjoy in Paris. After watching some shows, we can enjoy the night by going to one of the hidden cocktails bars that we can find in Paris.

I also discovered some local brands that sell beautiful French souvenirs In their guide, they even gave some different variations of gifts, from affordable ones that we can get in the supermarket, to the original and more luxurious original made in France products. We can also get some of the typical French food products in Lafayette Gourmet, which is very practical because they basically have everything already. We can even get some of the best French beauty products for our loved ones! I really think you guys should check them out because they write not only for one type of audience but for everyone.

They also have extremely comprehensive guides to different cities in Europe like London and Barcelona. They share a lot about where to stay, what to do, and even what to eat!


Categories
From The Editors Science

Getting Started with Solar Energy – A Comprehensive Guide

What is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is radiant heat and light from the Sun. It is an important source of renewable energy. There are two types of these technologies called active solar or passive solar. The difference is how they catch and share solar energy versus how they catch and turn it into solar power.

What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is energy generated from natural resources which are renewable (naturally replenished). The United States currently relies on coal, oil, and natural gas for its energy. Fossil fuels are non-renewable. They draw on finite resources that will dwindle. They are becoming too expensive or too environmentally damaging to retrieve. In contrast, there are many types of renewable energy resources. Solar and wind energy are constantly replenished and will never run out.

Most renewable energy comes either directly or indirectly from the sun. Sunlight is our solar energy. The sun’s heat also drives the winds, captured with wind turbines. Then, the winds and the sun’s heat cause water to evaporate. Hydroelectric power is when this water vapor turns into rain or snow. Then, flows downhill into rivers or streams. Sunlight also causes plants to grow. The organic matter that makes up those plants is known as biomass. Biomass produces electricity, transportation fuels, or chemicals. Bioenergy is the name for using these. Hydrogen is another alternative. Once separated from another element, it is burned as a fuel or converted into electricity. It’s the most abundant element on the Earth. But it doesn’t occur naturally as a gas. Not all renewable energy resources come from the sun. Geothermal energy uses the Earth’s internal heat for a variety of uses. These include electric power production and the heating and cooling of buildings. The energy of the ocean’s tides come from the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun upon the Earth. This is tidal energy. Ocean energy comes from many sources. The ocean waves, from tides and winds. The temperature difference between surface and ocean depths. All these forms of ocean energy can be used to produce electricity.

Why is renewable energy important?

Renewable energy is important because of the benefits it provides. The main benefits are as follows:

Environmental Benefits

Renewable energy technologies are clean sources of energy. They have a much lower environmental impact than conventional energy technologies.

It is energy for our children’s children’s children.

Renewable energy will not run out. Ever. Other sources of energy are finite and will someday be gone.

Jobs and the Economy

Most renewable energy investments spend on materials and workmanship. To build and maintain the facilities, rather than on costly energy imports. Renewable energy investments are usually spent within the United States. Mostly in the same state, and often in the same town. In doing so energy dollars stay home to create jobs. It also fuels local economies, rather than going overseas.

Meanwhile, renewable energy technologies built in the United States are being sold overseas. This also provides a boost to the U.S. trade deficit.

Energy Security

In the early 1970s, the U.S. faced oil supply disruptions. Since then, the U.S. has increased its dependence on foreign oil supplies instead of decreasing it. This increased dependence impacts more than our national energy policy.

What are the types of Solar Energy?

Passive solar is the name for technologies that put buildings facing the Sun. They will find and use special materials that can scatter light. They will also have designs that help the airflow without any blockages.

Active solar uses special systems like solar panels also known as photovoltaic (PV) systems. Also, concentrated solar power (CSP) and solar water heating to save the energy.

What are the most common uses of Solar Energy?

The two most common uses of solar energy are Solar Thermal and Solar Photovoltaic:

  • Solar Thermal systems convert sunlight into thermal energy also known as heat. Most solar thermal systems use solar energy for space heating or to heat water, such as in a solar hot water system. The most common way solar energy is being used today by homeowners in America is by solar hot water systems. The heat from these systems can make steam. By using steam turbines, the steam can generate electricity.

Solar PV systems are systems that can convert sunlight into electricity. These systems use PV cells to do so. The more common term for PV cells is solar cells. Solar cells exist on rooftops,

  • building and even vehicles have them integrated. Power plants have them installed scaled to a megawatt size.

History of Solar Energy

Albert Einstein wrote a paper in 1905 on the photoelectric effect. Titled: “On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light”. This paper on the photovoltaic effect started to attract scientific attention.

Bell Laboratories worked on silicon semiconductors in the 1950’s. They discovered silicon had photoelectric properties. This helped to develop a silicon cell with 6% efficiency. Early satellites were the primary use for these first solar cells.

The “photovoltaic effect” is the ability of sunlight to excite the flow of electrons (electricity). It was first discovered more than 175 years ago.

Here is a summary of the first 175 years of humans discovery and use of photovoltaic technology:

  • 1839 – Nineteen-year-old French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel observes a physical phenomenon. Discovering light-electricity conversion. While experimenting with metal electrodes and electrolyte.
  • 1883 – American inventor Charles Fritts describes the first solar cells made from selenium wafers.
  • 1888 – First US patent for “solar cell” received by Edward Weston.
  • 1901 – US patent for “method of utilizing, and apparatus for the use of, radiant energy” received by Nikola Tesla.
  • 1905 – Albert Einstein publishes a paper on the theory behind the “photoelectric effect”. The same year he published the “theory of relativity” (E=MC2).

1916 – Robert Millikan experimented Einstein’s theory on the photoelectric effect.

  • 1922 – Albert Einstein wins Nobel Prize for 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect.
  • 1954 – Bell Labs exhibits first high-power silicon PV cell. The same year The New York Times forecasts solar cells will lead to a source of “limitless energy of the sun”.
  • 1963 – Japan installs a 242-watt PV array on a lighthouse, the world’s largest array at that time.  Sharp Corporation produces a viable photovoltaic module of silicon solar cells.
  • 1966 – NASA launches Orbiting Astronomical Observatory with a 1-kilowatt PV array.
  • The 1970s – Research drives PV costs down 80%. Reduced costs of offshore navigation warning lights and horns lighthouses. Also helped railroad crossings and remote use where utility grid connections are too costly.
  • 1976 – Kyocera Corp starts production of Silicon ribbon crystal solar modules.
  • 1977 – US Dept. of Energy establishes US Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, CO. This organization currently known as NREL, the National Renewable Energy Laboratories.
  • 1990 – Germany launches $500MM “100,000 Solar Roofs” program. The German’s spent the hard money when solar panels were still very expensive.
  • 1994 – Japan starts “70,000 Solar Roofs” PV subsidy program.
  • 2006 – The CA PUC launches the California Solar Initiative (CSI). A $3 billion solar subsidy program spanning 10 years.
  • 2007 – The CSI program starts. Well received by the market, with higher than expected application volume.
  • 2008 – The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58) created a 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC). For commercial and residential solar energy systems. Applicable January 1, 2006, through December 31, 2007. Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-432) extended credits one more year in December 2006. In 2007, global investment in clean energy topped $100 billion. Solar energy leads clean energy technology for venture capital and private equity investment. The solar tax credits helped to create growth in the U.S. solar industry from 2006-2007. Solar electric capacity installations doubled in 2007 compared to 2006. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-343) added an eight-year extension. Covering commercial and residential solar ITC. This eliminated the monetary cap for residential solar electric installations. Companies and utilities paying the alternative minimum tax (AMT) qualified for the credit. In 2009, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5) removed credit cap. The $2,000 credit cap on solar hot water installations no longer existed. This 30% Federal Tax credit renewed until 2016.
  • 2008 – 2012 – Stronger subsidies in Germany and new subsidy programs in Spain, Italy, and Australia. The cost of PV modules falls from approximately $5 per watt to the $1 per watt level.
  • 2010 – 2013 – Chinese manufacturing companies start to build large automated solar cell. Also, solar module production factories. This further reduced the cost of modules down towards $.70 per watt.
  • 2012 – 2015 – Residential solar installations became cost effective for average American households. In 2015, more solar powers installed at home in the US over 18 months than in all the cumulative history before this.
  • May 2015 – The Tesla Motor Company announces product launch of a lithium-ion battery storage. Price point would make it economic for ordinary American householders. Providing ability to store solar power generated during the day for use at night.
  • Dec 2015 – The US Congress passed an 8-year extension to the 30% Federal Income Tax Credit. Ensures the continued growth and adoption of photovoltaic solar power systems in America.

How does Solar Energy work?

Our Sun is a naturally occurring nuclear reactor. It releases tiny packets of energy called photons. These photons travel 93 million miles from the sun to Earth. This only takes about eight-and-a-half minutes. Every hour, enough photons hit our planet to meet global energy needs for an entire year. Yet, solar-generated power in the United States accounts for 0.4% of the total energy consumed. As solar technology is improving, costs are dropping. Our ability to harness the sun’s surplus of energy is on the rise. A report from International Energy Agency states a big change by 2050. Solar energy could become the largest global source of electricity.

In the coming years, everyone will enjoy the benefits. As solar-generated electricity grows more popular every day.

PV solar panels

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are made up of many solar cells. Solar cells are made of silicon, like semiconductors. They are constructed with a positive layer and a negative layer, which together create an electric field, just like in a battery. When photons hit a solar cell, they knock electrons loose from their atoms. If conductors are attached to the positive and negative sides of a cell, it forms an electrical circuit. When electrons flow through such a circuit, they generate electricity. Multiple cells make up a solar panel, and multiple panels (modules) can be wired together to form a solar array. The more panels you can deploy, the more energy you can expect to generate.

Basics of electricity

PV solar panels are built of many solar cells. We use silicon to make Solar cells, like semiconductors. They are constructed with a positive layer and a negative layer. Both layers come together to create an electric field, like in a battery. When photons hit a solar cell, they knock electrons loose from their atoms. We can form an electric circuit by attaching a conductor to both positive and negative sides of a cell. When electrons flow through such a circuit, they generate electricity. Many cells make up a solar panel. We create a solar array by wiring many panels (modules) together. The more panels you can deploy, the more energy you can expect to generate.

Alternating current is one form of electricity, also known as AC. This is when electrons are pushed and pulled, reversing direction. This exchange is much like the cylinder of a car’s engine. Generators create AC electricity when a coil of wire is spun next to a magnet. Many different energy sources can “turn the handle” of this generator. Examples include gas or diesel fuel, hydroelectricity, nuclear, coal, wind, or solar.

The U.S. electrical power grid chose AC electricity. It is less expensive to transmit over long distances. Yet, solar panels create DC electricity. The only way to get DC electricity into the AC grid is by using an inverter.

Inverters

A solar inverter takes the DC electricity from the solar array. It then uses that to create AC electricity. Inverters are like the brains of the system. Not only do they invert DC to AC power. They also provide ground fault protection. Provide system stats including voltage and current on AC and DC circuits. As well as stats on energy production, and largest power point tracking.

Central inverters have dominated the solar industry since the beginning. One of the biggest technology shifts in the PV industry was the introduction of micro-inverters. These inverters optimize for each individual solar panel. Rather than an entire solar system, as central inverters do. This enables every solar panel to perform at maximum potential. One solar panel will not drag down the performance of the entire solar array. In contrast, central inverters optimize for the weakest link.

Putting it all together

Here is an example of how a residential solar energy installation works. First, sunlight hits the solar panel or PV array on the roof. The panels convert the energy to DC current. This flows to the inverter. The inverter changes the solar DC power in 240V AC. This is suitable for your household appliances and feeding into the grid. Your home uses electricity from the solar PV modules first. Any additional demand is supplied from the Grid. A meter measures your electricity production and consumption. Any excess is exported to the electricity Grid.

The above example illustrates the basic idea of solar energy in the home. At this point, there may be a few questions. What happens if you are not at home to use the electricity the solar panels generate every sunny day? What happens at night when the solar system is not generating power in real time?

One way to solve this is to store the solar-generated energy for later use. If there is no home battery installed, the energy will flow back into the grid. But don’t worry, you still benefit from a system called “net metering”. This is the other solution.

Net metering

A grid-tied PV system has no batteries. Neighbors will receive any excess power generated that is not used. This is known as “back feeding” the grid. At night, the grid will provide energy for lights and other appliances as usual. This covers solar users in exchange for the excess energy they shared with the grid during the day. A net meter records the energy sent compared to the energy received from the grid.

Now over 20,000 megawatts of solar electric capacity is operating in the United States. Around 650,000 homes and businesses have now gone solar.

In 2014, every two-and-a-half minutes a new solar project was installed. Projections say solar capacity will double in the next two years. Solar energy is the wave of the future. The sun belongs to everyone. Anyone can enjoy the freedom solar power systems provides. We need to commit to unlocking its vast energy.  It all starts with a single solar cell.

How much energy can you get from solar electricity?

The map above shows the average amount of solar power produced each day from each state of the USA. Each number corresponds to the amount of kWh produced by the 1-kilowatt solar power system. As you can see the amount of electricity varies depending on your location. It also varies by the season and so the estimates given in the map above are annual averages.

Please note that these numbers are averages for the whole state. Some parts of some states have different climatic conditions. These numbers may not reflect when you live necessarily.

Across the USA daily production per kilowatt installed varies. From as little as 2.9 kWh per kW per day to almost to 4.7 kWh in very sunny locations.

The amount of electricity produced by each kW of solar you install will vary. This will depend on the level of solar irradiation that falls on your home or business. Solar irradiation is often measured in Sun Hours. Meteorologists measure Sun Hours in megajoules. Measuring total amount of irradiation in an area in each day. Next, they calculate complete hours compared to an area with 1000 megajoules per square meter on an area.

For example, if there were 500 megajoules falling on average over a 12 hour day then the Sun Hours would be 6.

These numbers may be confusing but are important. They relate to the output of solar panels. Solar panels are rated based on the power they produce. Per 1000 megajoules per square meter of irradiation falling on them.

Sun Hours measure irradiation. With this number, we can work out the actual amount of power we will produce. Real world solar power systems do produce less than their rated output.

The factors that reduce power rating include:

  • Inverter inefficiency – most inverters will lose 3-5% of electricity when converting from DC to AC
  • Cable Losses – small amounts of power lost through resistance in the cables
  • Dirt – dirt, and grime on solar panels will reduce their real world performance.
  • Temperature losses – solar panels are rated based on what they produce at 25 degrees celsius. As the cells in solar panels get hotter there is more resistance to the flow of electrons across the cells. Their power output reduces compared to when they are at a lower temperature. Even with the same level of irradiation.

Overall, total losses due to these derating factors will generally be between 20-30%. Yet, when we are working out the real world power of a system we usually use a derating factor of around 25%.

Please note when using the map above, estimates assume a perfect installation. Positioned due south, at an optimal tilt angle, and unshaded.

Pros and Cons for Solar Energy

Below are the advantages and disadvantages of installing solar panels on your home.

Advantages of Solar Energy

Marginal cost of generation is zero

Once the capital cost of installing a solar power system has returned, the energy is free. This is the most significant attraction for American homeowners. The only remaining question is how long the payback period will last. When comparing, it is possible this is a better deal than other ways to invest money.

Most homeowners are more interested in financial aspects of installing this system. Rather than the environmental benefits.

Insurance against rising power prices

Current solar panels have a year life of at least 25 years. By installing a solar power system on you home, you lock in a price for energy during this period. First, you need to calculate how much energy the solar panels will produce. Next, you can get an accurate price quote calculating each kilowatt-hour over the next 25 years. Many consumers are now able to get a Levelized cost of energy of $0.10 per kilowatt-hour. Next work out your average amount to pay for power over the next 25 years. Once your quote is available, you can compare the savings.

The average consumer with a $150 per month power bill can see savings in the range of $30,000 over the life of a solar system. At the beginning, the monthly savings are not huge. This may only be $50 per month but in the 25th year, it can reach savings of up to $300 per month.

Renewable

Solar energy is a renewable energy source. NASA estimates that the sun will shine for another 6.5 billion years. This means that solar energy is abundant, and will never run out in our lifetime. The surface of the earth receives 120,000 terawatts of solar radiation (sunlight). This is 20,000 times more power than what needed to supply the entire world.

Environmentally Friendly

Harnessing solar energy does not generally cause pollution. There are some emissions during production and installation of solar energy equipment. These emissions are minimal when compared to generating electricity from fossil fuels. An Australian government research body (The CSIRO) estimates energy payback is 1.5 years. This means it takes a solar panel 1.5 years to generate the amount of power it took to make it. These numbers are from a statistic back in 2009. It is likely a lot quicker payback now. As solar panels last 25 years, this is good news.

Geographically widely available

The level of solar irradiation that falls upon the earth varies with the geography of the planet. Generally, the closer to the equator the more accessible solar energy is. What most do not realize is that solar energy is available anywhere.

In the sunniest parts of America, a solar system will produce on average 4.7 kWh of power per 1 kilowatt of solar panels.

The least sunny areas are different, such as in the mountains and northeast. In this area, it will produce 2.9-kilowatt hours per kilowatt, per day. Some areas are better than others are. For solar power, it is still viable in almost all locations.

Reduces Electricity Costs

Two schemes have been recently introduced net metering and feed-in tariff (FIT) schemes. Homeowners can now “sell” excess electricity or receive bill credits. This is possible during times a home produces more electricity than consumed. This means that homeowners can reduce their electricity expenses by going solar.

Data from www.solar-estimate.org show that adding solar panels can bring big savings. Annual savings of well above $1000 per year in many states. 

In California, residents save on average $28,000 after 20 years! The availability of solar finance options has made it more affordable and available. Through Solar PPA agreements and zero down loans.

Community Solar can be used to overcome installation issues

Many American homes are unfit for solar panels. Due to shading, insufficient space and ownership issues.

With the introduction of shared solar, homeowners can subscribe to “community solar gardens”.  With this approach, your own rooftop does not need any solar panels. the community generates the solar electricity.

Installation costs of many panels installed on vacant land are cheaper. This is a great advantage.

With this approach, Legislation is a need. This enables installations of community solar in each state. This has been available for some time now, but only started to arrive in California and New York.

No moving Parts means no noise and little maintenance

Solar panel systems have no moving parts. Also, there is no noise from the PV technology. When compared to other renewable technologies, solar wins in this category. One alternative like wind turbines has moving parts and causes noise pollution.

Financial Support from Government/State

In December 2015, the US Senate passed an extension of the 30% Renewable Tax Credit. This federal incentive extended the tax credit for a further 8 year.

There are also rebates available in some jurisdictions. Available at either the state, county or utility company level.

Technology is improving

Technology is always developing new advancements. This includes the design and manufacture of solar power equipment. Solar cells are becoming more efficient at turning solar energy into electricity. The amount of space required to generate a specific amount of solar power is reducing. As the popularity of solar increases, so will the dramatic advances. Improvements are incremental. Nothing revolutionary yet, but the future is bright.

Disadvantages of Solar Energy

High Capital Cost

Most people understand that solar power is expensive. This is one of the most debatable topics on the entire solar energy pros and cons list. Politics is the driving forces behind the development of solar energy.

Solar power received government subsidies. Yet, oil and coal industries have also been subsidized.

In 2010, coal received $1,189 billion in federal subsidies. Coal also received support for electricity production. Meanwhile, solar is not far behind at $968 billion.

Nowadays, the best solar panels can be cheaper than buying electricity.

Solar energy is an intermittent energy source

There are three aspects to the intermittent nature of solar power:

  • The sun does not shine at night meaning solar panels do not generate power at night.
  • The sun shines with different intensity. This changes based on location and time of year. Also, each day the sun shines at different times.
  • Cloud cover can have a significant effect on the amount of energy produced by solar panels.

In the past, all these factors have meant that solar power is unreliable. It is a risk if relied on for baseload or for mission critical applications.

This is now changing. Tesla Motors announced last year a new product to solve this issue. A Lithium Ion battery for the home. This solution will allow consumers to cost-effectively store solar power energy.

Energy Storage is Expensive

Energy storage systems such as batteries will help smoothen out demand and load. This will make solar power more stable, but these technologies are currently expensive.

Looking at the numbers, we are fortunate. There is a good relation between our access to solar and energy demand. Our electricity peaks in the middle of the day. That is the same time there is a lot of sunlight!

Associated with Pollution

While solar power is less polluting than fossil fuels, some problems do exist. There are some greenhouse gas emissions associated with some manufacturing processes. Nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride are the talked about ones. The production of solar panels has found traces of these.

These are some of the most potent greenhouse gasses. Having many, thousand times the impact on global warming compared to carbon dioxide. Transportation and installation of solar power systems can also cause pollution.

The lesson of the day is: There is nothing that is completely risk-free in the energy world. Yet, solar power is most favorable when compared with all other technologies.

Exotic Materials

Certain solar cells need materials that are expensive and rare in nature. This is especially true for thin-film solar cells. Based on either cadmium telluride (CdTe) or copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS).

Requires Space

Power density is also called watt per square meter (W/m2). Used when looking at how much power an energy source has in a certain area. In this case, we are looking at real estate. Low power density means we need more real estate to get the power we demand at a good price. The global mean power density for solar radiation is 170 W/m². This is more than any other renewable energy source. But it cannot compare to oil, gas and nuclear power. Not yet anyway.

Solar doesn’t move house

One disadvantage with installing solar panels on your home is that it is expensive to move. If you move house, it is not easy to bring it with you. The net metering agreement with your utility is fixed to the property.

Yet, in practice, solar panels add value to a home. If you do move, you are likely to see the value of your investment in solar panels reflected in a higher sale price. The easiest way, in this case, is to buy the solar panels outright. With a lease or PPA, you need the new owner to agree to take over the agreement. That can be tricky.

Categories
From The Editors Technology

Rokid Project Aurora: USB-C Smart Glasses That Tethers to Mobile Devices

After debuting at the Consumer Electronics Show last year, augmented reality smartglasses manufacturer Rokid was back in Las Vegas for CES 2019 with its latest prototype as well as an update on its standalone Rokid Glass.

The Chinese AI and robotics startup announced Project Aurora on Jan 7, describing the new prototype smart glasses as a device that is designed to function as an extended interface of mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, gaming consoles, and the likes.

“Project Aurora is a new initiative by Rokid that allows you to tether to any mobile device and take your experience further,” says the company website.

“Visualize immersive and spatial 3D content, connect and share experiences with those close to you, and discover new possibilities for interaction even for something as simple as a phone call,” it adds.

For example, you can connect your smartphone to the Project Aurora smartglasses using the USB-C connection and play a smartphone game, controlling it with your hands on the handset but actually viewing the action on the Rokid device you’re wearing, as seen in the demo video.

The prototype device boasts features like dual depth cameras, 6 degrees of freedom (DoF) tracking, SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping), an RGB camera, stereo speakers, and a USB-C port, which according to Rokid is a testimony to the company’s expertise in computer vision, AR, and AI.

The company claims that the smart glasses are capable of face recognition, object recognition, and real-time audio translation in several languages, including English, Chinese, French, Spanish, and Japanese, when identifying objects.

“With the mission of extending mobile device capabilities and experiences, we’re excited to announce Rokid’s Project Aurora,” said Reynold Wu, Rokid’s head of product and business operations, in a statement.

“By leveraging the ever-increasing computing power of mobile devices, Project Aurora supplements these robust experiences by providing a lightweight form factor, industry-leading display quality, and multimodal handsfree input,” Wu added.

“Project Aurora will connect consumers to rich, immersive AR content and experiences that were previously unattainable with such a lightweight smart glass,” Wu also said, adding: “We’re excited to share how the future looks through it.”

.

As of now, that’s about all that anybody knows about Project Aurora in so far as which types of mobile, tablets, and gaming consoles it is designed to support.

However, since the company’s Rokid Pebble smart-speaker is Android-based, there’s every likelihood that the Rokid smartglasses will also be an Android-friendly device but, then, that’s pure speculation.

Also, the fact that it’s just a prototype with no release date, we can’t really be sure if it’s ever going to become a buyable product on the market.

The company also showcased a new version of last year’s standalone Rokid Glass which is 40% smaller, weighs about 120 grams, and features a touchpad controller on the side arm of the device.

While the standalone device has a single display in one eye like the Google Glass or Vuzix Blade, the Project Aurora headset has two displays for 3D viewing and, as mentioned, can be connected to external devices via USB-C, serving as the connected device’s interface.

The company said the Rokid standalone glasses, which it calls the Rokid Glass, will ship sometime in spring this year but has not yet revealed the price.

Here are some of the basic specs of Project Aurora as revealed by the company.

  • 3D stereo display, 45-degree FOV, binocular 1,280×720-pixel resolution, waveguide optics
  • 13MP RGB camera
  • 2 microphones
  • IMU (Inertial Measuring Unit) with three-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer
  • SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping)-capable
  • 6DOF (6 degrees of freedom) depth-tracking camera
  • Built-in stereo speakers
  • Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi
  • USB-C port
  • Weight: around 120g
Categories
From The Editors Science

Citizen Scientists Find “Super Earth” in Habitable Zone of Binary Star System 226 Lightyears Away

Two NASA interns and a team of amateur astronomers have discovered a new exoplanet roughly twice the size of Earth while gleaning through data captured by the U.S. space agency’s now-defunct Kepler space telescope.

Although the so-called “Super Earth” was first spotted by the “citizen scientists,” using information gathered by the Kepler space telescope during Campaign 4 of its extended K2 “Second Light” mission back in 2015, the data was discarded as unreliable due to issues with two of Kepler’s reaction wheels.

The same team analyzed the Campaign 4 data a second time and uploaded the re-processed information on Exoplanet Explorers – a new Zooniverse project open to public searches of Kepler’s K2 observations to locate new transiting planets – in 2017.

To cut a long story short, mistakes were made but follow-up observations, using data from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, NASA’s Infrared Telescope – also in Hawaii, the agency’s Spitzer Space Telescope, and European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Gaia space observatory, allowed the team to confirm the existence of K2-288Bb at the 233rd American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle on January 7, 2019.

“It’s a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon,” said Adina Feinstein, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Illinois, and the lead author of the study paper due to be published in The Astronomical Journal.

“It took the keen eyes of citizen scientists to make this extremely valuable find and point us to it,” Feinstein said.

Officially known as K2-288Bb, the exoplanet is possibly a rocky, or a gas-rich planet along the lines of Neptune.

It is located in the habitable zone, also known as “Goldilocks’ zone,” of a binary star system of the same name minus the suffix “b” in the constellation Taurus some 226 lightyears away from Earth.

The binary stellar system K2-288B, which K2-288Bb is a part of, contains two dim stars about 5.1 billion miles (8.2 billion kilometers) apart.

The larger and brighter of the two stars is about half the mass and size of our own Sun, while its stellar companion is about one-third of our Sun’s mass and girth.

However, it’s the lesser of the two stars that K2-288Bb orbits once every 31.3 Earth-days.

Exoplanets

Simply put, an exoplanet is a planet that does not orbit our Sun but belongs to a different planetary system and orbits the star (sun) of that particular system.

They are also referred to as extrasolar planets; aptly so because they’re not part of our Solar System.

An exoplanet is named after the star of the system to which it belongs with a lower case letter added to the name as a suffix.

The first exoplanet discovered in the system gets the suffix ‘b’, with subsequent discoveries getting the letters c, d, e, and so forth, in the order they are found.

That is why the new exoplanet is named K2-288Bb – the ‘b’ at the end being the suffix for the first planet discovered in the stellar system K2-288B.

To give another example, TRAPPIST-1, an ultra-cool dwarf star in the constellation Aquarius, 39 light-years away from the Earth, has ten known exoplanets

Hence, based on the aforementioned naming methodology, the seven latest discoveries, starting from the planet closest to the star, are named TRAPPIST-1b, TRAPPIST-1c, TRAPPIST-1d, TRAPPIST-1e, TRAPPIST-1f, TRAPPIST-1g, and TRAPPIST-1h.

The letter ‘a’ by default goes to the parent star, though not shown with the name.

Habitable Zone (Goldilocks’ Zone)

An planet or exoplanet is said to be in the habitable zone of a planetary system when it is orbiting at an ideal distance from the system’s star/sun to potentially support life of any kind – not too close to the star to be too hot to support water formation, neither too far for water to be in a permanent freeze.

Kepler Space Observatory

Named after the astronomer, Johannes Kepler, the Kepler space observatory had been in an “Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit” ever since its launch in March 2009 as part of NASA’s program to discover Earth-sized exoplanets.

After nine years of service to science and space research, Kepler was decommissioned by the space agency on October 30, 2018.

The spacecraft was designed to scan an area of the galaxy in the vicinity of our own solar system to identify Earth-like exoplanets in and around the ‘habitable zones’ of their planetary systems.

Equipped with a photometer that continuously monitored the brightness of over 145,000 main sequence stars in a fixed field of view, Kepler beamed the collected data back to Earth for analysis.

The method involved detecting the periodic dimming which happens when exoplanets cross in front of their host star – similar to the Eclipse concept.

Due to noise interference in the data from the stars as well as the spacecraft, the mission was supposed to be extended till 2016 in order to achieve all mission targets.

However, built to endure the harsh space conditions for a maximum of 3.5 years, Kepler ran into trouble on July 14, 2012, when one of the four reaction wheels of the craft stopped turning.

Incident-free functioning of the three remaining reaction wheels was now critical to the completion of the mission but fate would have it differently.

On May 11, 2013, the continuation of the mission was seriously jeopardized when a second reaction wheel stopped working.

NASA failed in its attempt to fix the two out-of-commission reaction wheels, publicly throwing in the towel on August 15, 2013, with an announcement to the effect.

The agency then appealed to the space science community for alternative plans for continuing the search for exoplanets using the two working reaction wheels and thrusters.

The K2 “Second Light” proposal, which involved using the limited capabilities of the handicapped Kepler to track habitable planets around smaller and dimmer red dwarfs, was made in Nov 2013, getting NASA’s official nod in May 2014.

Since then until its demise, the space telescope’s had surveyed and cataloged hundreds of new planetary candidates.

Categories
From The Editors Technology

Google Unveils Upgraded Version of its ‘Street View Trekker’ Backpack

In 2012, Google introduced the first Street View Trekker, effectively taking its powerful Street View system to places accessible only on foot, such as mountain trails, national parks, ruins, and inside castle and museums – to give a few examples.

The Android-powered backpack system weighed 18 kilograms (about 40 pounds) and came equipped with fifteen 5-megapixel cameras for a seamless 360-degree experience.

It also included a hard drive for onboard storage, and a twin-battery setup good enough to power an all-day walkathon.

Now, more than six years on, based on feedback from partners like “tourism boards, airports and transit operators,” Google finally unveiled an upgraded version of the Street View Trekker on Tuesday (Dec 18).

“Over the years, we’ve gathered feedback from people and our partners who have used the Trekker around the world,” Danny Cheung, Technical Program Manager for Street View, wrote in a Tuesday blog post.

The new backpack’s ‘sleeker design’ and reduced weight makes it easier to carry about, while the updated camera system, with increased aperture and higher resolution sensors, promises “sharper imagery.”

“Like previous Trekker generations, the new version can be put on cars, boats or even ziplines,” Cheung said.

“This helps when capturing hard-to-access places, or when building maps for developing countries and cities with complex structures,” he wrote.

Although heavier and bulkier, the previous generation Street View Trekker produced some amazing 360-degree imagery over the years, which the company made accessible throughout the world on Google Maps.

“From climbing 3,000 feet up El Capitan in Yosemite to floating the canals of Venice to exploring the ancient city of Petra, people and organizations all over the world have used the Street View Trekker to document the places they’re passionate about,” says the blog post.

“Together, we’ve published these adventures in 360 degree view on Google Maps for anyone in the world—no matter where you are—to enjoy,” it claims.

.

Google, by the way, is not the only company that uses such a system; the Nature Valley Trail View website employs similar backpack-mounted cameras to capture 360-degree imagery of trails in some of America’s top national parks, including the Grand Canyon National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Yellowstone National Park.

Through the company’s Trekker loan program, you can hire the new backpack to capture 360-degree imagery of your adventures and share it with the world by way of Google Maps.

“This program is open to pro photographers, travelers, and organizations (such as tourism boards, non-profits, government agencies, universities or research groups),” Google says on its online loan application form.

“It’s also open to others seeking to promote areas of cultural, historical or touristic significance as well as those who intend to photograph business interiors,” it says.

For now, though, the Trekker loan scheme is limited to a few countries, but Google says it’s working on making it accessible in more countries in the future.

Acceptance or rejection of an application is the sole discretion of the company.

Here’s a short video clip of the Street View Trekker on the go.

The announcement comes as a breath of fresh air from Google after the recent Dragonfly search engine controversy the company found itself embroiled in.

Ever since it’s secret and highly questionable Dragonfly project in China was exposed in August, the tech titan had been facing fierce criticism from investigative journalists and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, in addition to dissent among its own workforce.

An open letter demanding the immediate scrapping of the controversial tailored version of Google’s popular search engine for China was published online late last month.

What started off as a 10-signatory letter entitled “We are Google employees. Google must drop Dragonfly,” was later backed by hundreds of employee signatures, as murkier details started emerging.

The letter started with a categorical demand on the company to halt Dragonfly, calling the project “Google’s effort to create a censored search engine for the Chinese market that enables state surveillance.”

“We are among thousands of employees who have raised our voices for months,” read the letter.

“International human rights organizations and investigative reporters have also sounded the alarm, emphasizing serious human rights concerns and repeatedly calling on Google to cancel the project,” it continued. “So far, our leadership’s response has been unsatisfactory.”

“Many of us accepted employment at Google with the company’s values in mind, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and an understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits,” the letter said.

The noise against Google’s corporate values and privacy ethics had reached such a crescendo that Liz Fong-Jones, an engineer in the company, started publicly pooling a strike fund in support of all those who stood against the Dragonfly project.

Categories
From The Editors Technology

High-Tech Russian Robot Turns Out to be a Man in an Expensive Costume

Boris the Robot – touted as “one of the most advanced robots in the world” by the Russian state news network, Rossiya 24 – actually turned out to be a man inside a ‘Robot Alyosha’ costume manufactured by a company called ‘Shows

The presumed-robot was paraded on stage at this year’s “Proyektoria ” youth forum, an annual Russian technology event that showcases the country’s latest products, intended for an audience of hundreds of school children.

Embarrassed at being hoodwinked into believing that the country has managed to develop one of the world’s most high-tech robots that could likely encourage aspiring students to “commit themselves to robotics,” the news network had to retract its report.

However, the video was back online, soon enough, with Rossiya 24 claiming that its anchor Arseny Kondratyev was simply playing along and was not fooled at any point into believing it was a real robot, as several reports suggested

Here’s the clarification from Kondratyev:

“I was just completely sure that everyone, by analogy with Santa Claus, would definitely recognize an animator in a suit.

“But the whole project was created for children and practically all modern technologies and developments there are presented in the form of projects, such as the railway, which is presented in a model on which a small train rides.

“After all, no one doubted that with this example the guys would study real projects of a real railway, interchanges and trains on remote control.
“That’s the same with this robot.”

Footages of the event, viewed around the world, showed Boris walking, talking, doing math, and even executing some cool dance moves.

“I know mathematics well, but I also want to know how to draw and write music!” Boris said, to the excitement of the young audience.

He then danced to Russian rave band Little Big’s popular song Skibidi, which had gone viral after its video release in October.

Local reporters and bloggers were quick to notice several anomalies that couldn’t have been consistent with a real robot.

For example, the suit was a perfect size, complete with proportionate limbs, for a human to fit inside.

Plus, the dance moves looked very much like those of a human burdened with a ten-kilogram costume, rather than a robot that has machine-learned how to dance.

The conspicuously absent external sensors was another big giveaway, but what really sealed the deal in favor of the robot actually being a costume-clad actor were pictures that clearly showed part of a human neck through a chink between the head and body of the suit.

Here’s one of the tell-tale pictures that accompanied a tweet in Russian whose English translation read:

“The first day of the forum “Projector” opened 6 copyright lessons of the best teachers of Russia,”

It looks like the media and others have read too much into it, with some going to the extent of calling it “fake news.”

Had that been the case, MBH Media would not have published a photograph showing a man in the Robot Alyosha suit ahead of the Tuesday forum in Yaroslavl, a city 160 miles northeast of Moscow.

“Here is the same “modern robot” – an exclusive photo of the preparations for the Putin youth forum in Yaroslavl,” tweeted MBH.

Photo: MBH Media
Photo: MBH Media

“This is not a robot, we understood perfectly that this is a game, a small performance,” said the deputy minister of education of the Russian Federation.

“Each of our lessons represented a small performance, in which the child just had to be dragged,” the minister added, going on to say that “despite the form, these are serious topics” and “the problem of how the robot and the person coexist.”

Arseny Semenov, one of the forum members, said that an anthropomorphic robot may look like a human but can’t move like one “at the moment,” adding that the ones that can are in the developmental stage and restricted to laboratories – at least for now.

“It was clear from the movements, by how he behaves on the stage that he is a man,” Semenov said.

Mikhail Bitter, another forum member, said that the robot’s walk was enough to give the game away.

“I looked at his walk, it became clear that this is a man,” he said.

“Why not? It was interesting, it was also possible, such progress could be said as part of an entertaining event,” Bitter justified

“It was such a high-quality performance, it pleased most of the audience,” he added.

“The design and technical execution of this costume create an almost complete illusion that you have a real robot,” claims the manufacturer, which is offering a ten percent discount on the 250,000-ruble (about $3,800) costume, on its website.

“Therefore, everyone wants to make a selfie with him,” says the company.

Some of the other robot costumes the company manufactures include “Optimus Prime,” “Transformer Bumblebee,” “Iron Man, Diablo,” “LED Luminoid,” among others.

Not only that, but the company also organizes robot shows for different events, boasting more than “20 units of robots and a wide selection of show programs.”

“Our robots will surprise everyone!”

Categories
From The Editors Health

China Orders Researcher He Jiankui to Stop Work on Genetically-Engineered Babies

Chinese researcher He Jiankui from the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, shocked the scientific community and the world at large on Monday (Nov 26) when he announced that he had successfully created the planet’s first genetically-altered human babies.

Jiankui’s claims were neither backed by any independent substantiation nor had the findings been published in any scientific journal where it could be scrutinized by experts in the field.

His work, which academics say is “unconscionable” and of “grave ethical concern”, also flouts the stringent rules governing the use of gene-editing techniques on humans.

His university has claimed ignorance about the experiment, saying the researcher had been on unpaid leave since February, and that the university would soon initiate an investigation into the matter.

Speaking to state-run media outlet China Central Television (CCTV), China’s vice minister of science and technology, Xu Nanping, condemned Jiankui’s research, saying it was unethical and in stark violation of the country’s laws governing the subject.

“The genetically edited infant incident reported by media blatantly violated China’s relevant laws and regulations,” CCTV quoted the minister as saying on Thursday.

“It has also violated the ethical bottom line that the academic community adheres to,” Xu told the news outlet, adding that it was “shocking and unacceptable” and that the Chinese government was “resolutely opposed to it.”

Although he said his ministry had ordered an investigation, he did not highlight specific actions taken by the government.

Jiankui’s Monday announcement sent shockwaves across the scientific community, prompting several scientists to condemn the researcher’s genetic experimentation with human embryos.

Dr. Sarah Chan, a bioethicist at the University of Edinburgh, said the experiment was “of grave ethical concern,” if there was any truth in the claim.

“Whether or not the veracity of these reports is eventually borne out, making such claims in a way that seems deliberately designed to provoke maximum controversy and shock value is irresponsible and unethical,” The Guardian quoted Dr. Chan as saying.

“The claim made by those responsible for the research is that the babies have been genome-edited in an attempt to make them immune to HIV,” she added.

“The lifetime risk of contracting HIV is extremely low in the first place; there are other means of prevention and it is no longer an incurable, inevitably terminal disease,” said Dr. Chan, adding that “putting these children at such drastic risk for such a marginal gain is unjustifiable.”

“If true, this experiment is monstrous. The embryos were healthy – no known diseases,” Prof. Julian Savulescu, an expert in ethics at the University of Oxford, was quoted by BBC as saying.

“Gene editing itself is experimental and is still associated with off-target mutations, capable of causing genetic problems early and later in life, including the development of cancer,” Savulescu said.

“There are many effective ways to prevent HIV in healthy individuals – for example, protected sex. And there are effective treatments if one does contract it,” the Oxford professor added.”

Defending his work at the International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong on Wednesday (Nov 28), Jiankui said he was proud of his achievement, calling it a “wonderful progress in HIV therapy.”

Although he said he had submitted his study findings for review by a scientific journal, he didn’t reveal the name of the concerned journal.

The beleaguered researcher was scheduled to address the conference again on Thursday, but he left Hong Kong, saying through a spokesman-delivered statement: “I will remain in China, my home country, and cooperate fully with all inquiries about my work. My raw data will be made available for third party review.”

“How can a scientific experiment with so many uncertainties be kept as a secret for such a long time?” questioned He Kaiwen, a researcher at Interdisciplinary Research Centre on Biology

“This shows that there’s huge problem with the transparency of scientific research,” she said.

“This is a completely new situation. This question is one we have never faced before,” Keiwen added.

Center for Genetics and Society Wednesday issued a civil society statement to the organizers of the Hong Kong summit.

The statement which so far has 142 signatories, including 129 individuals and 13 organizations, says:

“The undersigned individuals and organizations wish to express our dismay and outrage at He Jiankui’s claims of creating genetically engineered babies.

“Though these claims are unverified, his actions violate a key provision of the concluding statement issued at the First International Summit on Human Gene Editing in 2015, that such dangerous experiments should not proceed until there was broad societal consensus in their favor.”

The statement goes on to condemn what it calls the “rogue actions” of Jiankui for taking such a “consequential decision” all by himself, calling on governments and the United Nations to legislate enforceable regulations to ban “reproductive experiments with human genetic engineering.”

It says that such moratoria are necessary to discourage an international one-upmanship in genetic-engineering, that would potentially lead to “a new form of eugenics.”

“If the summit and other scientific bodies do not act, it will fall to civil society and policy makers to do so, in order to ensure the avoidance of disastrous consequences for global society,” the statement warns.

The organizing committee – including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and U.S.

National Academy of Medicine, the Royal Society of the United Kingdom, and the Chinese Academy of Science – released a statement of its own at the conclusion of the summit.

It said that changes to the DNA of embryos or gametes had its potential benefits, but warned that “heritable genome editing of either embryos or gametes poses risks that remain difficult to evaluate.”

“Germline editing could produce unintended harmful effects for not just an individual but also for that individual’s descendants,” said the committee’s statement.

“Changes to a particular trait may have unanticipated effects on other traits that could vary from person to person and in response to environmental influences,” it added.