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From The Editors Science

What Caused the Halley Bay Colony of Emperor Penguins in Antarctica to Disappear Overnight?

Emperor penguin colonies have thrived in Antarctica since time immemorial, as an abundance of sturdy patches of sea-ice serves as ideal breeding grounds for this tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species.

One such colony was in Halley Bay, on the edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea, where, on an average, some 14,000 to 25,000 breeding pairs flocked every year to breed and raise their fledglings until they were able to fend for themselves.

The colony was the world’s second-largest, representing 5 to 9 percent of the global population of these flightless beauties.

However, thousands of emperor penguin chicks were lost overnight, in 2016, when the sea-ice they were being raised on collapsed under the onslaught of a severe storm.

The hapless hatchlings drowned in the freezing waters of the Weddell Sea, as their feathers were not developed-enough for swimming.

The mass drowning of the little emperors was first spotted and reported by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists, Dr. Peter Fretwell and Dr. Phil Trathan, who noticed the missing Halley Bay colony while studying satellite images.

The species took a massive hit that fateful day, but what’s even more disturbing is that adult emperors have not returned to the breeding site ever since – probably due to the fact that a huge iceberg is predicted to disrupt the site, anyways.

Another reason that has kept the birds away from the spot is the fact that the sea-ice that broke off from the side of the sturdier Brunt shelf never really formed properly to support breeding.

Dr. Fretwell – who is the lead author of the paper entitled, “Emperors on thin ice: three years of breeding failure at Halley Bay,” published in the journal Antarctic Science, said:

“We have been tracking the population of this, and other colonies in the region, for the last decade using very high resolution satellite imagery.
“These images have clearly shown the catastrophic breeding failure at this site over the last three years.

“Our specialized satellite image analysis can detect individuals and penguin huddles, so we can estimate the population based on the known density of the groups to give reliable estimate of colony size.”

Being the tallest and heaviest of all extant penguin species, emperor populations as large as the doomed Halley Bay colony need strong and firm sea-ice under their feet – strong enough to withstand the forces of nature and last until their babies have developed the right feathers for swimming.

The length of time we’re looking at is about nine months, as the birds arrive in April and stay until their offspring fledge in December; that’s how long the sea-ice needs to stay colony-worthy.

If, for some reason, the sea-ice breaks up too soon, then a repeat of what happened in 2016 is a foregone conclusion.

Here’s how Dr. Fretwell explained the situation:

“The sea-ice that’s formed since 2016 hasn’t been as strong. Storm events that occur in October and November will now blow it out early. So there’s been some sort of regime change. Sea-ice that was previously stable and reliable is now just untenable.”

However, all is not lost, as a majority of the breeding pairs that lost their chicks in 2016, have moved to safer breeding sites across the waters of the Weddell, with one colony near the Dawson-Lambton Glacier witnessing a “ more than tenfold increase in penguin numbers,” say the authors.

They have, however, not been able to explain why the sea-ice did not redevelop on the Brunt Shelf’s edge; they have no reason or evidence to attribute this to climate change or to anomalies in atmospheric and oceanic conditions in the Brunt Shelf region.

“It is impossible to say whether the changes in sea-ice conditions at Halley Bay are specifically related to climate change, but such a complete failure to breed successfully is unprecedented at this site,” said Dr. Trathan.

That said, Dr. Trathan believes that global warming will impact the continent’s, and indeed the world’s, emperor penguin populations, in the long run, as strong sea-ice will become increasingly hard to come by in warmer waters.

If computer models of the effects of global warming are anything to go by, we could well be looking at a 50 to 70 percent depletion in the world’s emperor population by the end of this century.

“Even taking into account levels of ecological uncertainty, published models suggest that emperor penguins numbers are set to fall dramatically, losing 50-70 percent of their numbers before the end of this century as sea-ice conditions change as a result of climate change,” Trathan said.

“They’re an important part of the food web; they’re what we call a mesopredator. They’re both prey for animals like leopard seals but they also prey themselves on fish and krill species. So, they do play an important role in the ecosystem,” Dr. Michelle LaRue, an ecologist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, told BBC News.

“What’s interesting for me is not that colonies move or that we can have major breeding failures – we know that. It’s that we are talking here about the deep embayment of the Weddell Sea, which is potentially one of the climate change refugia for those cold-adapted species like emperor penguins,” Dr. Trathan said.

“And so if we see major disturbances in these refugia – where we haven’t previously seen changes in 60 years – that’s an important signal,” he added

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From The Editors Technology

Ford Invests $500M in Rivian; Partnership to Produce Ford-Branded EV on the Startup’s EV Platform

Ford is all set to invest $500 million in automotive startup Rivian in a “strategic partnership” that will see both the Michigan-based companies work together to develop a Ford-branded all-new battery electric vehicle using the startup’s flexible skateboard platform.

Calling it a “strategic partnership,” Rivian founder and CEO R.J. Scaringe said that it “marks another key milestone” in the company’s endeavor to expedite the “transition to sustainable mobility.”

“Ford has a long-standing commitment to sustainability, with Bill Ford being one of the industry’s earliest advocates, and we are excited to use our technology to get more electric vehicles on the road,” he said.

“We are excited to invest in and partner with Rivian,” Ford’s executive chairman Bill Ford said in a statement.

“I have gotten to know and respect RJ, and we share a common goal to create a sustainable Future for our industry through innovation,” he added.

“As we continue in our transformation of Ford with new forms of intelligent vehicles and propulsion, this partnership with Rivian brings a fresh approach to both,” said Jim Hackett – president and CEO of Ford.

“At the same time, we believe Rivian can benefit from Ford’s industrial expertise and resources,” he added.’

Meanwhile, Ford North-America Product Communications manager, Mike Levine, said in a tweeted statement that the Rivian investment was “in addition to Ford’s previously announced $11 billion investment in Evs,” adding that the company had “already confirmed two key fully electric vehicles: a Mustang-inspired crossover coming in 2020 and a zero-emissions version of the best-selling F-150 pickup.”

Having maintained a low profile for almost a decade,  Rivian announced its all-electric 5-passenger pickup truck, capable of clocking 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds in its top configuration, as recently as November 2018.

Established in 2009, Rivian had since been surreptitiously developing its line of electric vehicles, officially launching its first two products – the R1T pickup truck and the R1S SUV – at the 2018 Los Angeles auto show.

To give you an idea of the company’s expertise in developing EVs, and what it can develop together with Ford, let’s take a look at what the startup has already achieved with the R1T.

At 215.5-inch long and 79.3-inch wide, the R1T is a tad larger than a Honda Ridgeline or a Nissan Navara, with a generously spacious cabin that comfortably accommodates five passengers.

Futuristically designed, the vehicle has a full-width LED light bar on the front, it’s continuity broken by two vertical sets of round LEDs housed inside oval “stadium lights.”

In the absence of a traditional grille, the truck looks pretty neat and flat front-on, with just a skid plate and a couple of recovery hooks at the lower edge.

As Rivian was a relatively unknown entity in the industry, it was imperative that the vehicle’s design stood out to give the brand the desired recognition, which it seems to have done, considering the recent announcement.

“We don’t have history, we are a new brand,” Jeff Hammoud, Rivian VP of vehicle design had said at the time.

“You’ll be able to describe this [truck] to your friends quite easily,” he added.

As is the current trend in so far as electric vehicles are concerned, the R1T sits on a “skateboard” platform, but what Riviana has done differently is that it has integrated four compact  – yet powerful -electric motors.

Each motor has a 147 kW power output or 197 horsepower, which translates to a combined output of 788 hp,  vindicating Scaringe’s claim of “nearly 800 horsepower.”

However, it’s a bit more complicated than that, as the R1T is being offered in three battery-pack configurations of 105-kWh, 135-kWh, and 180-kWh – each offering a different “input to gearbox” power of 300kW, 522kW and 562kW and a range of 230+, 300+ and 400+ miles, respectively.

The 105-kWh model is rated 402 hp and 413 pound-feet of torque; the 135-kWh version should give 754 hp, plus 826 pound-feet of torque; while the 180-kWh R1T will be rated 700 horsepower and 826 pound-feet of torque.

Post-purchase, online upgrades will allow buyers to “unlock” more power, somewhat along the lines of Tesla’s “Ludicrous Mode” upgrades via software.

The RT1 also boasts a payload capacity of 800 kg and a towing capacity of 5,000 kg, in addition to a plethora of other features.

“The R1T’s lockable Gear Tunnel aft of the cab, which extends from one side of the vehicle to the other, provides more than 350 liters of space for hauling gear of any size, whether it be snowboards, golf bags or strollers,” claims Rivian.

The company also says that the R1T will be equipped with an extensive array of sensors for autonomous highway driving, including “camera, lidar, radar, ultrasonic and a high precision GPS coupled with high definition maps.”

According to the automaker, the R1T is expected to hit the roads sometime in the last quarter of 2020.

Rivian is doing a Tesla here by releasing the higher versions first – much like the Palo Alto-based company did with the Model 3.

This means, we can expect to see the 400+ and 300+ miles range versions at launch, while the 230+ miles base version will release “within 12 months of the start of production.”

The R1T will sell at a starting price of $69,000, which is not cheap by any stretch, however, it does offer fantastic value for all those dollars – at least on paper, for now.

Coming back to the Ford-Rivian tie-up, Wednesday’s press release said that Rivian would continue to remain an “independent company,” with the investment being “subject to customary regulatory approval.”

As part of the deal, Ford’s president of Automotive, Joe Hinrichs, will join the startup’s seven-member board once the investment formalities are over and done with.

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From The Editors Health

Researchers Develop ‘Brain Decoder’ That Can Translate Unspoken Thoughts into Speech

A team of researchers led by Dr. Edward Chang at the University of California in San Francisco has developed a ‘brain decoder’ – a kind of mind-reading device that effectively translates your neural activity into recognizable speech, 75% of the time.

The study entitled ‘Speech synthesis from neural decoding of spoken sentences,’ published Wednesday (April 24) in the journal Nature, involved five epileptic volunteers, including four women and one man awaiting neurosurgery for their condition.

The patients had temporary electrodes implanted on their brain surface as a pre-surgery procedure to help identify and map the areas of the brain responsible for their affliction.

For the study, additional sensors were attached to the lips, tongue, and teeth to monitor their movements as the volunteers were made to read out hundreds of sentences, mostly passages from children’s classics like Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, and The Frog Prince.

Electrical activity in the brains related to their vocal tract movement during the reading exercise was decoded and fed to a specially programmed computer system to produce intelligible sentences.

In humans, the vocal tract comprises the oral cavity, which includes the lips, inner cheeks, tongue, upper and lower gums, floor and roof of the mouth, and the small area behind the wisdom teeth, in addition to the nasal cavity, larynx, and the pharynx – all of which work in near-perfect harmony to produce intelligible sentences when we talk.

Dr. Chang’s team was able to equate the neural signals responsible for the movement of each of the vocal tract components with the participants’ speech.

The decoded neural activity was then converted into synthesized language with the help of a neural network linked to a voice synthesizer.

“Recurrent neural networks first decoded directly recorded cortical activity into representations of articulatory movement, and then transformed these representations into speech acoustics,” wrote the authors of the study.

To put it as simply as possible, it was, basically, a two-step process that involved translating neural activity into vocal movements and then transforming those movements into speech.

Although the reproduced speech sounds pretty much, well, synthetic, it is remarkably intelligible.

Also, considering that this is just the beginning, we can expect to see enhanced speech quality as the technology is further researched and fine-tuned in times to come.

This brief video clip will let you know exactly what we’re talking about here.

What’s amazing is that not only did the breakthrough decoder transform sentences that were read aloud, but it was also able to translate silently mimed sentences into audible speech.

In order to determine the recognizability of the decoded speech, hundreds of volunteers were asked to listen to 101 synthesized sentences and transcribe what they heard.

The results – as varied as they turned out to be – were nevertheless encouraging enough to warrant further research of the technology, as it has the potential to improve the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people suffering from speech impairment due to conditions such as paralysis, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ), throat cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

“Of the 101 synthesized trials, at least one listener was able to provide a perfect transcription for 82 sentences with a 25-word pool and 60 sentences with a 50-word pool,” wrote the authors, adding that the findings “may be an important next step in realizing speech restoration for patients with paralysis.”

Conventional speech-synthesizing technology in use today involves interpreting how speech sounds are represented in the brains – a tedious, time-consuming process that, at best, translates about eight words per minute; far slower than the 100-150 words per minute that natural speech is capable of.

The new technology has the potential to overcome these limitations and make near-normal conversation a reality, hopefully, in the not too distant future.

Dr. Chang’s team followed a different route, targeting those areas of the brain that send signals to the various vocal tract components, discussed earlier, in order for them to move in perfect unison, thereby enabling speech.

“For the first time … we can generate entire spoken sentences based on an individual’s brain activity,” said Chang.

“This is an exhilarating proof of principle that, with technology that is already within reach, we should be able to build a device that is clinically viable in patients with speech loss,” added the lead author of the paper.

Kate Watkins, a cognitive neuroscience professor at the University of Oxford, was quoted by The Guardian as saying that the research was a “huge advance” that could prove to be “really important for providing people who have no means of producing language with a device that could deliver that for them.”

“The brain is the most efficient machine that has evolved over millennia, and speech is one of the hallmarks of behavior of humans that sets us apart from even all the non-human primates,” Gopala Anumanchipalli, one of the co-authors of the study. was quoted by National Geographic as saying.

“And we take it for granted—we don’t even realize how complex this motor behavior is,” Anumanchipalli said.

In an accompanying News and Views article in the journal Nature, Yahia H. Ali and Chethan Pandarinath from Emory University, Atlanta, US, have expressed hope that continued research will go a long way in helping people with speech issues “regain the ability to freely speak their minds and reconnect with the world around them.”

While there’s still a lot of work left to be done before the technology can be perfected, it’s good to know that we’re headed in the right direction.

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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!


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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.

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From The Editors Science

Images of Giant Spinning Ice Disk in a Maine River Awes People Across the Globe

A huge spinning ice disk that suddenly appeared on the surface of the Presumpscot River in the city of Westbrook, Maine, this week, has generated a lot of interest on social media.

People are having a field day with their own explanations of this gigantic version of a rare natural phenomenon, with comparisons being drawn with crop circles and the surface of the moon, while some have even gone to the extent of calling it the handiwork of aliens.

“Cool! Looks like a moon,” said a certain Candice Dutil.

“Wessie,” wrote Matt Ireland.

“Frozen Crop Circle,” posted David Lawrence.

While sightings of rotating ice disks on water bodies dates as far back as the late nineteenth century, none has been as huge as the one the people of Westbrook have been treated to this week.

The intriguing circle of ice, which measures some 90 meters (300 feet) in diameter, was spinning counter-clockwise at the speed of what locals described as a “brisk walk.”

The disk has apparently stopped spinning and has moved to the other side of the river.

According to Kenneth G. Libbrecht, an ice physics expert and a professor at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., ice disks are generally twenty to thirty feet across, which effectively makes the Presumpscot River disk 10-15 times larger – a record, indeed.

“It might be a world-record size if anybody were keeping track,” Libbrecht told The New York Times.

Rob Mitchell, a local entrepreneur with business interests at the Presumpscot riverfront alerted Westbrook city’s marketing and communications manager Tina Radel about the somewhat eerie- looking formation on Monday.

“There were ducks sitting on it,” Mitchell said.

“The ducks were rotating on this big Lazy Susan. It was a big duck-go-round,” he added.

The incredible drone footage that Radel released later has gone viral on the internet, generating “an overwhelming reaction,” according to Radel.

“People are loving it,” she said.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the spinning sheet of ice has created almost as much buzz in Westbrook as the spotting of a giant snake devouring a beaver in the same area had done in 2016.

While there are no footages of the snake, which was dubbed “Wessie” by the locals, the rotating sheet of ice is a stark reality and the images and videos will always be there for all to see and marvel at, long after the ice has melted into the waters of Presumpscot.

Watch the drone footage here.

It kind of looks like a crop circle,” Doug Bertlesman, a web developer at Ethos Marketing, was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

“It’s pretty wild to look at,” he said, adding: “It’s certainly not every day that you can watch a spinning circle of ice in the river.”

While the disk was certainly rotating, it appeared to be doing so at a fixed spot, without going upstream or downstream at the time.

“It’s stuck right there. It’s not going anywhere,” Mitchell said. “I think it will continue to gain in thickness as long as it keeps spinning.”

However, as mentioned, the disk has shifted to the opposite bank of the river and appears to have stopped rotating.

The initial explanation for these ice disks was that swirling eddies caused circles of ice to form and rotate on rivers.

“Since the water in the eddy is flowing more slowly than the main current, it’s more likely to freeze, creating the icy disc,” The Boston Globe quoted John Huth – an experimental physicist at Harvard University, as saying

“The icy disc retains the rotation of the eddy, as it’s caught in it,” he explained.

However, this explanation is not entirely correct because if eddies were the sole cause for these spinning mysteries then smaller disks would spin faster than larger ones, but the fact is that these circles of ice are known to rotate at roughly the same speed regardless of their size.

Also, if eddies were the reason, ice disks would not have spun on still water which they are also known to do.

Subsequent experiments, however, suggested that the water melting off the disks sank straight down because of being colder and, hence, denser than the surrounding waters of the river.

Just like the water in your kitchen sink spins before draining out, the sinking cold water from the melting disk also swirls like an eddy as it goes down, causing the ice to spin on the surface.

https://twitter.com/daisandconfused/status/1085022237986615296

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From The Editors Science

China’s Chang’e-4 Mission Witnesses the First Seeds Germinate on Moon

Update: The lunar cottonseed sprouts died after mission scientists were forced to cut the power supply to the batteries that kept them alive.

The news came two days after it was announced that cottonseeds had sprouted on the moon.

The extreme conditions on the inhospitable far side of the moon also caused other seeds, yeast and fruit fly eggs to die too.

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China’s Chang’e-4 mission has literally sown the first seeds for future lunar living by managing to sprout cotton seeds it carried with it to the far side of the moon.

Images beamed back by Chang’e-4 and released by the Advanced Technology Research Institute at Chongqing University clearly show small green shoots that have sprouted through a grid-like structure inside a canister in which the experimental cotton seeds are housed.

Although the probe has also carried with it seeds for potato, rockcress, and rape plant, these were the only seeds that have sprouted so far; it remains to be seen when, or if, the others follow suit.

The lunar lander has also carried with it some experimental silkworm eggs, fruit fly pupae, and yeast.

While similar experiments have been successfully carried out on the International Space Station, this is the first time seed of any kind has sprouted on the moon, which is being seen as a significant step towards sustaining extended space missions where the ability to grow plants will come in super handy.

“This is the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface,” said Xie Gengxin, who led the design of the experiment, on Tuesday (Jan 15).

Earlier this year, in a never-before-attempted mission, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) soft-landed a robotic probe, the Chang’e-4, in a crater within a crater on the far side of the moon.

The spacecraft made a picture-perfect touch down in the Von Karman Crater – a huge southern hemisphere impact crater, measuring about 112 miles (180 kilometers) in diameter, located within an even bigger impact crater – the 1,600-mile (2,500-kilometer) South Pole-Aitken Basin.

Although Chang’e-4 had made it to the Moon’s orbit four days after launch, it began its final descent about three weeks later from an elliptical landing orbit almost 10 miles above the lunar surface.

When it was 100 meters above the landing site, the spacecraft briefly paused in its vertical approach, hovering over the landing zone to survey the topography below and selecting a relatively flat spot before resuming its descent.

The impeccable touchdown was appreciated by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who congratulated the mission team on “a successful landing on the far side of the Moon,” calling it “a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment.”

The final approach phases were achieved autonomously by the spacecraft, as remote intervention from mission control in China was not possible during this stage of the mission.

“This is a great technological accomplishment as it was out of sight of Earth, so signals are relayed back by their orbiter, and most of the landing was actually done autonomously in difficult terrain,” Prof. Andrew Coates of UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) in Surrey, England, was quoted by The Guardian as saying.

“The landing was almost vertical because of the surrounding hills,” Prof. Coates added.

Soon after landing, Chang’e-4 deployed its lunar rover named “Yutu-2” – Chinese for “Jade Rabbit-2” – which sent back the first ever close-up shot of the mysterious far side of our only known natural satellite.

The Chinese space agency also shared an image of Yutu-2’s deployment, along with pre- and post-landing images, all of which were relayed through the Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) satellite orbiting at the Earth-moon Lagrange point 2 beyond the far side.

Queqiao was, in fact, launched in May last year for the exact same purpose because direct communication with the far side of the Moon is impossible, what with the Moon’s entire mass blocking the exchange of direct signals to and from Earth.

While humans have glimpsed, and even mapped, the lunar far side in the past – thanks to NASA’s Apollo 8 mission half a century ago and the Soviet Luna 3 mission a decade prior to that – no spacecraft had ever touched down on the untrodden ground, until Chang’e-4 changed all of that.

In the past decade. or so, China has made rapid advances in space technology and is the only country in the world to have soft-landed a space vehicle on the Moon since the then Soviet Union’s 1976 Luna 24 mission to retrieve samples Moon soil.

China achieved the feat in December 2013, landing its Chang’e-3 rover on Mare Imbrium –  a vast lava plain within the Imbrium Basin on the near side of the Moon, becoming only the third country after Russia and the United States to achieve a lunar touchdown.

Encouraged by Chang’e-3’s success, China stepped up its lunar program for an even bigger mission, the first phase of which came to a successful conclusion with Chang’e-4’s Thursday landing on the targeted far side.

Comprising of a lander and a small rover, Chang’e-4 was, in fact, a backup spacecraft manufactured with the Chang’e-3.

It was only in 2015 that China announced its plans of using the spare space vehicle to launch something so complex that it had never been attempted before.

The nearly four-metric-ton Chang’e-4 has carried with it eight scientific instruments – four each on the lander and the rover.

The lander is equipped with the Landing Camera (LCAM), the Terrain Camera (TCAM), the Low-Frequency Spectrometer (LFS), and the Lunar Lander Neutrons and Dosimetry (LND).

And, the rover is carrying the Panoramic Camera (PCAM), the Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR), the Visible and Near-Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (VNIS), and the Advanced Small Analyzer for Neutrals (ASAN).

As mentioned, Chang’e-4 also carried with it a small experimental payload of silkworm eggs, fruit fly pupae and yeast, in addition to seeds for potato, rockcress, rape plant, and cotton to check how they develop in the inhospitable lunar environment.

The huge amounts of scientific data and information that the spacecraft’s state-of-the-art instruments are capable of garnering will go a long way in helping researchers understand why the far side of our Moon is so vastly different from the side we’re familiar with.

For example, the lunar terrain on the tidally-locked near side is largely dark basaltic plains called the lunar maria, while the far side is mountainous and rugged and, hence, difficult to land anything on.

Since the Moon takes the same amount of time (28 days) to orbit our planet as it does to rotate once on its axis, we always get to see the same side of the natural satellite, with the opposite side forever hidden from view.

“Since the far side of the moon is shielded from electromagnetic interference from the Earth, it’s an ideal place to research the space environment and solar bursts, and the probe can ‘listen’ to the deeper reaches of the cosmos,” CNSA’s deputy director for the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center, Tongjie Liu, was quoted by CNN as saying.

China’s next lunar run will be the Chang’e-5 sample-retrieval mission, which CNSA started preparing for in October 2014 when it launched the Chang’e-5T1 mission to run atmospheric re-entry tests on the -4Chang’e-5 capsule.

“Experts are still discussing and verifying the feasibility of subsequent projects, but it’s confirmed that there will be another three missions after Chang’e 5,” said Wu Yanhua, deputy head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), at a press conference.

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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.”

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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 Technology

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500: The Beast is Unleashed

U.S. automaker Ford took the cover of its new 700-plus-horsepower beast, the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, at the Detroit Auto Show on Monday (Jan 14), which the company claims is the quickest street legal Mustang ever to roll out of a Ford facility.

The monster of a car features the iconic cobra logo in all its glory and uses further development and supercharged versions of the Mustang GT350’s 5.2-liter V8 engine.

Power is delivered to the rear wheels through a carbon fiber driveshaft, and in pursuit of set and move to improve drag and lap time, the new GT500 has been given a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, perfect for those 100-millisecond gear shifts.

The different drive-modes include Normal, Weather, Sport, Drag and Track.

Unfortunately, the GT500 hundred doesn’t come in a manual transmission option but the company might just give in to public demand and introduce a manual version sometime in the future.

Ford predicts a 0 to 60mph time in the mid-three-second range and a quarter mile in under eleven seconds, which, as mentioned, makes it the fastest ever Mustang.

The Detroit carmaker has also said that it isn’t just for the quarter mile, as it will be able to handle all the corners and hammering around big road courses, too.

The new GT500 will be a lot faster around the track than the previous GT350R, although there’s no official track time, yet.

Apparently, this 2020 model is going to be more refined and more friendly; so, does that mean there’s going to be no more crowd killers? We’ll see.

As mentioned, it borrows technology from the Ford GT Supercar as well as the race-tuned Mustang GT 4.

As for changes, the all-aluminum hand-built engine requires a much larger airflow, so the grille is much larger than before.

There is also a new hood (with hood pins) covering the engine of the new GT500 and there’s also a huge vent; in fact, it’s one of the biggest vents that’s been put on a production Ford.

The large front grille and louvered bonnet vents create fifty percent more airflow than the GT350 and help generate more downforce than any of the factory Mustang.

The GT500 also features magnetic ride control and 16.5-inch front disks which Ford claims are the largest on any domestic production coupe.

The car has a set of six-piston Brembo calipers in the wheels up front and four-piston units at the back.

The GT500 gets its own unique rear diffuser with four 5-inch exhaust tips sticking out at the back.

It sits on four performance-specific Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer tires for the Carbon Fiber Track Pack option.

The Carbon Fiber Track Pack also includes 20-inch carbon fiber wheels and adjustable rear wing and deletes the rear seats to reduce wear.

As for the interior of the new GT500, it has only slightly changed from the GT350, including a nice carbon fiber dash, unique magnesium gear shifters for the automatic, a 12-speaker B&O Play audio system, power-adjustable seats with optional swede fabric or Recaro bucket seats that are safety harness-compatible.

The car does, however, retain the 12-inch instrument cluster and 8-inch Sync 3 touchscreen infotainment, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

The gearshift lever has been replaced with a rotary dial and instead of a regular handbrake the GT500 has an automatic electric handbrake – so, it’s just a little switch.

The GT500’s massive 700 HP engine is supposed to rival that of the 707 HP Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

To give an even better perspective, the previous 2007 GT500 model, which was revealed at the 2005 New York Auto Show, used a supercharged and Intercool modular 5.4-liter V8 engine rated at 500 HP and 480 lb-ft of torque.

The GT500 is essentially a street track car for the Mustangs.

There are claims that the new GT500 Shelby will surprise Supercar owners with its Ford performance racing track and supercharged engine.

The GT500 has been in development for over a year, now, with Ford having previously confirmed the car’s wide longitudinal body stripes in a teaser video released before the Detroit Auto Show last year.

The car will go on sale in the US later this year, replacing the GT350 as a flagship of the Mustang line-up.

The price hasn’t been announced yet.

The car will be made available in five color options, including Lime Green, Iconic Silver, Twister Orange, Red Hot.

The Blue on display at the Detroit event didn’t look any less stunning, too.

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Entertainment From The Editors

First Trailer for Final Season of ‘Game of Thrones’ Released: Premiering April 14, 2019

HBO has released the first teaser trailer of the final season of Game of Thrones, premiering April 14, 2019.

While the first six seasons had ten episodes each and the seventh had seven, the eighth and final season is going to have only six episodes.

However, rumor has it that each new episode will be ninety minutes long – about feature film-length.

At the post-Golden Globes bash on Sunday, HBO chief Richard Plepler claimed that he had seen parts of all six episodes of the upcoming season of GOT, according to ‘Variety.’

“It’s a spectacle. The guys have done six movies. The reaction I had while watching them was, ‘I’m watching a movie’,” Plepler was quoted by the magazine as saying.

Speaking highly of showrunners Benioff and Weiss, Plepler told ‘Variety.’

“They knew the bar was high. They’ve exceeded the bar. I’ve watched them twice without any CGI and I’m in awe. Everybody’s in for an extraordinary treat of storytelling and of magical, magical production.”

The one-and-a-half-minute trailer of the fantasy drama television series is entirely focussed on the Stark children – Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), Sansa (Sophie Turner), and Arya (Maisie Williams) – who are apparently reuniting at the family crypt at Winterfell.

Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is, however, missing from the teaser, which is not really surprising given there’s no love lost between him and his siblings, especially in his new avatar as the Three-Eyed Raven.

As Jon Snow walks past the statue of his mother, Lyanna Stark, a feather falls to the ground and Jon turns around to look, as if he heard the feather fall behind him.

The brief trailer shows the three siblings walk past the statues of their fallen family members, hearing voices from the past – voices of Lyanna, Ned, and Catelyn whispering bygone events – as they go through the foreboding Winterfell crypt.

They finally come to the end of the hallway and guess what, they are standing face to face with their own statues even as an eerie winter chill creeps up towards them, blowing out their torch and forcing them to draw their swords.

There’s hardly anything that the teaser gives away and, for all we know, the entire footage could have been shot purely for marketing purposes and, probably, doesn’t even include actual scenes from the season – but that’s just a thought.

That said, whatever little the teaser has revealed has been enough to send GOT fans in a tizzy, with many a speculation flying around.

Here are some reactions on Twitter.

Game of Thrones | Season 8 | Official Tease: Crypts of Winterfell (HBO)