I Love Science

Weekly Science Links Pt. 4

Man lives 555 days without a heart

While waiting for a human heart transplant, Stan Larkin lived 555 days without the organ at all. To passers-by, the 25-year-old Ypsilanti, Michigan, resident appeared to be a typical young adult. He enjoyed taking his three toddlers to the park and hanging out with his younger brother, Dominique. What wasn’t obvious was that a gray backpack Larkin carried was what kept him alive. Inside that bag was the power source for an artificial heart pumping in his chest.

Larkin’s real heart was removed from his body in November 2014. It was replaced with a device that allowed Larkin to stay home instead of in a hospital while waiting to receive a transplant.



The New NASA X-Plane Will Be Fully Electric

Last year, NASA announced its intention to disrupt the aviation industry by sticking fully electric commercial passenger planes in the sky in 20 years. In a small step toward that goal, space agency director Charles Bolden has just announced plans for the X-57, the first all-electric addition to the famous X-plane series.

Chief among the X-57’s innovations is the propulsion system, which consists of fourteen electric motors positioned across a thin wing. The motors will be powered by batteries that can be charged on the ground using solar cells, the Wall Street Journal reports.

While all fourteen motors will be used during takeoff and landing, only two—the larger motors positioned on each wing tip—are needed to keep the plane at cruising altitudes for short jaunts of up to 100 miles. The hope is that by distributing electric power across the wing, the plane will cut the energy needed to cruise at up to 175 mph by a factor of five.


http://www.wsj.com/articles/plans-for-electric-planes-gain-traction-1466108423 (note: article sits behind paywall)


IBM, The Weather Company use machine learning to predict impact of weather / Avoiding air turbulence may soon get easier

The Weather Company on Wednesday announced it’s launching a hyper-local, short-term custom forecaster called Deep Thunder. The new predictive model will use historical weather data to train machine learning models, which will help businesses better predict the real-world effects of weather.

Already, The Weather Company analyzes more than 100 terabytes of third-party data daily, and businesses around the world use its regional models to get new guidance every three hours. The new models, developed by IBM Research, are highly customized for business clients and have zeroed in on hyper-local forecasts, at a 0.2 to 1.2 mile resolution.

Similarly, a new partnership between IBM’s Weather Company and Gogo looks to change that situation to help improve airline safety.

Pilots flying aircraft equipped with Gogo inflight technology will now get air turbulence alerts in real-time, the two companies announced Thursday.

The Weather Company will put its turbulence detection algorithm into Gogo’s aircraft-based communications servers. That software will get access to data from planes in the air, and Gogo will process that data and send reports back and forth between air and ground officials using its communications networks.

Think of it like Google Maps using crowd-sourced data from lots of mobile phones to compile traffic information. Pilots traditionally receive verbal reports with limited data on flight conditions. They will now be able to receive this information directly through their existing cockpit systems.




Microsoft Launches Blockchain Fabric to Help Enterprises Form Consortia

Microsoft today unveiled a new project designed to make it easier for businesses across a wide range of industries to build consortiums that better take advantage of blockchain technology.

Since a distributed ledger technology is only as powerful as the number people or companies that use it, Microsoft intends this new suite of tools to help build those networks. The project will be open to multiple blockchain protocols, providing support to unspent transaction output (UTXO) protocols such as Hyperledger, and account-based protocols like Ethereum, with others added as they are developed. Microsoft built Project Bletchley as an “open, modular blockchain fabric” interacting with identity and key management, the ability to rapidly scale, and to help construct “members-only, permissioned” consortium blockchains, which Gray says have been deemed “ideal” by early adopters across industries.

As part of the Project Bletchley announcement, Microsoft also introduced what it calls two “new” concepts: blockchain middleware and cryptlets. Full whitepaper here: https://github.com/Azure/azure-blockchain-projects/blob/master/bletchley/bletchley-whitepaper.md

Enterprise Consortium Distributed Ledgers


Google Fiber explores using gigabit Wi-Fi for the last mile

Chairman Eric Schmidt says Google is thinking of using Wi-Fi links delivered via high-frequency/millimeter-wave spectrum – it provides more bandwidth than traditional mobile spectrum, but has less range and can struggle to penetrate walls – to deliver gigabit broadband without having to undertake the costly and time-consuming effort to bring fiber inside homes, apartments, and offices.

Various carriers looking to use 5G for last-mile broadband also plan to rely on high-band spectrum. Likewise, Facebook wants to enable multi-gigabit broadband in dense urban areas via Terragraph, a wireless technology relying on base stations operating in the 60Ghz. band and placed every 200-250 meters. There are still technical challenges to work out, but Moore’s Law and antenna advances appear likely to make last-mile gigabit wireless commercially viable within a few years. In Google’s case, that could do a lot to further the company’s goal of extensively providing Fiber in major U.S. metro areas, and become a bigger headache for incumbent broadband ISPs.

Enterprise Consortium Distributed Ledgers



Google’s Bold Move To Reinvent Every Device On The Planet

Artificial intelligence has been in Google’s wheelhouse for years. The company invested in fundamental building blocks such as voice recognition, language understanding and machine translation long before most of its rivals.

AI Battle Royal

Google Photos, released a year ago, brought those improvements to the masses and wowed the tech world with its ability to recognize and search images and to automatically organize them. What worked for image recognition turned out to work when applied to voice recognition, translation and other similar tasks. Similarly, the techniques used to recognize images in Google Photos are able to power StreetView’s ability to “read” signs and Project Sunroof’s ability to identify rooftops that are suitable for solar panels based on aerial images. It’s also enabling a small experimental team at Google to effectively detect diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease that can lead to blindness, by looking at iris scans.



NPD: U.S. physical retail video game sales rose 19% Y/Y in May

After dropping an estimated 22% in April, new titles helped U.S. physical game sales fare much better in May. Sony’s Uncharted led the way, and another Sony title (MLB 16: The Show) came in at #9. Take-Two also had a good month, with Battleborn, Grand Theft Auto V, and NBA 2K16 coming in at #4, #5, and #7. Activision’s Overwatch and Call of Duty: Black Ops III were respectively #3 and #8. Electronic Arts was shut out of the top-10, and console sales fell 10%.

NPD’s numbers don’t cover digital game, subscription, or content sales. PwC estimates U.S. digital console game revenue will rise from $2.01B in 2015 to $3.61B in 2020, and physical console game revenue decline from $7.6B to $6.23B over the same time. Total PC game revenue is expected to rise from $3.53B to $4.78B, with digital growth more than offsetting physical game declines.

US Games Industry Sales



Eager to grow in competitive video gaming

Eager to grow in competitive video gaming, Electronic Arts on Sunday announced plans to substantially expand competitions for its own titles, starting with Madden. That includes four “majors” — EA-owned and operated tournaments, complete with corporate sponsors, broadcast partners and $1 million in prizes over the course of the series.

The effort puts it on par with some of the bigger events in professional video gaming, also known as e-sports. The 2015 Call of Duty world championships had a $1 million prize pool, as did a recent Major League Gaming event that featured some of the world’s best Counter-Strike players. While the biggest prize purse in e-sports history is more than $18 million, only a handful of events crack the million-dollar mark.



Machines can generate sound effects that fool humans

Can machines come up with plausible sounds effects for video? Recently, MIT’s artificial intelligence (CSAIL) lab created a sort of Turing test that fooled folks into thinking that machine-created letters were written by humans. Using the same principal, the researchers created algorithms that act just like Hollywood “Foley artists,” adding sound to silent video. In a psychological test, it fooled subjects into believing that the computer-generated banging, scratching and rustling was recorded live.

The AI isn’t perfect — it can get faked out by a near-hit, and can’t pick up sounds not related to a visual action, like a buzzing computer. However, they believe the work could eventually help robots figure out whether a surface is cement-solid or has some give, like grass. Knowing that, they could predict how to step and avoid a (hilarious) accident. If the team can enlarge its database of sounds, the machines could eventually do a Foley artist’s job — with no need for coconuts.



Giant holes are bursting open in Siberia, and you can hear the explosions from 60 miles away

Since the crater appeared in winter 2013,  more have shown up – including a 100-foot-wide crater on Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, which a pilot first spotted n 2014. Lacking a better explanation, aliens and underground missiles were floated as possible theories, according to the  Washington Post.

But the truth – which the new eyewitness reports may help support – is that the holes might come from a threat not even Mulder and Scully are equipped to handle: climate change.

Scientific American reports that Arctic zones are  warming at a breakneck pace, and the summer of 2014 was warmer than average by an alarming 9 degrees Fahrenheit, according to another  story in Nature. As a result, scientists at NOAA think that permafrost, the permanently frozen ground that covers the tundra, is starting to thaw in these warmer temperatures.

So how does frozen methane blow a 100-foot-wide hole in the ground?

Given low enough temperatures and high enough pressure, methane and water can freeze together into what’s called a “methane hydrate.” Permafrost keeps everything bottled up but when it thaws, so does the hydrate. Methane is released as a gas, building up pressure – until the ground explodes.



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