A Carbon Fiber Cage Could Crash-Proof Drone Delivery

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A Carbon Fiber Cage Could Crash-Proof Drone Delivery

For those worried about the fragility of the items shipped through the air, there may be a solution. Researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed a giant carbon fiber cage that sits around a drone to protect it—and its cargo —by providing “an all-round protective structure that physically separates the propellers from the environment.”

It also, says the team, provides a human something safe to grab onto if there’s no suitable place for the drone to land—but, as IEEE Spectrum notes, you may want to ensure your fingers don’t go too far through the cage and hit those spinning rotors. It’s also worth noting that the cage itself weighs about 2 pounds, which means that the load-carrying capacity of the drone is cut by the same amount. But last-minute Amazon orders of crystal glassware are now somewhere in your future, if you want them.

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Image credit:

  • EPFL

Posted by Jamie Condliffe

September 15th, 2017 11:06AM

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Today

A Carbon Fiber Cage Could Crash-Proof Drone Delivery

For those worried about the fragility of the items shipped through the air, there may be a solution. Researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed a giant carbon fiber cage that sits around a drone…Read more

For those worried about the fragility of the items shipped through the air, there may be a solution. Researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed a giant carbon fiber cage that sits around a drone to protect it—and its cargo —by providing “an all-round protective structure that physically separates the propellers from the environment.”

It also, says the team, provides a human something safe to grab onto if there’s no suitable place for the drone to land—but, as IEEE Spectrum notes, you may want to ensure your fingers don’t go too far through the cage and hit those spinning rotors. It’s also worth noting that the cage itself weighs about 2 pounds, which means that the load-carrying capacity of the drone is cut by the same amount. But last-minute Amazon orders of crystal glassware are now somewhere in your future, if you want them.

Source:

Image credit:

  • EPFL

Posted by Jamie Condliffe

September 15th, 2017 11:06AM

Facebook’s Anti-Semitic Ad-Targeting Disaster

Turns out Facebook will let you focus advertising at people with some horrible world views. An investigation by ProPublica published Thursday revealed that the company’s advertising platform allows people to send ads specifically to people who list topics…Read more

Turns out Facebook will let you focus advertising at people with some horrible world views. An investigation by ProPublica published Thursday revealed that the company’s advertising platform allows people to send ads specifically to people who list topics like “Jew hater” or “How to burn Jews” among their interests. Not only that, but it allowed ProPublica journalists to pay to promote posts to such groups.

When ProPublica pointed out the option to Facebook, the social network removed the categories. It also said that they had been created algorithmically, presumably by scraping user profiles and doing nothing to filter out offensive results. But Slate has since tried a similar approach and found that it could promote posts to people who listed “Nazi Elementary School” in their education history or “Ku Klux Klan” as an employer.

If only this were a new problem at Facebook. ProPublica has shown in the past that the company has allowed advertisers to exclude users by race. And its failure to consistently police content is well known: earlier this year, an investigation by the BBC showed that sexualized images of children lingered on Facebook pages .

Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly argued that Facebook has a very fine line to tread between policing offensive content and acting as a censor. He also thinks that AI will solve these kinds of problems . But AI is still a long way from helping. Until it does, Facebook will have to ensure that itsregular old humans do a better job of screening the social network for hate.

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Image credit:

  • Hamza Butt | Sole Treadmill

Posted by Jamie Condliffe

September 15th, 2017 10:19AM

Yesterday

Electric Trucks Are Finally Hitting American Roads

“The game has started.” So says Daimler Trucks Asia chief Mark Llistosella, more than a little ominously, in an interview with Reuters . He’s referring to the fact that electric trucks,once thought absurd, are finally taking to the roads.

Daimler has…Read more

“The game has started.” So says Daimler Trucks Asia chief Mark Llistosella, more than a little ominously, in an interview with Reuters . He’s referring to the fact that electric trucks,once thought absurd, are finally taking to the roads.

Daimler has today announced that UPS will start using three of the automaker’s new eCanter electric trucks in the U.S. And four smaller outfits in New York City—the Wildlife Conservation Society, New York Botanical Garden, Habitat for Humanity, and Big Reuse Brooklyn—will also start using the vehicles.

As the Verge notes , the truck’s specifications won’t take your breath away. A battery pack with 83kWh of capacity—about the same as the long-range cars made by Tesla—means the eCanter can travel just 62 miles on a charge. And it can only haul four and a half tons of cargo, which is less than similar internal combustion trucks. Still, they are clean and quiet, and could do a great many favors for inner-city air quality.

Daimler isn’t alone in electrifying trucks. As we’ve reported before, Wrightspeed and Nikola Motor Company are both hoping to help haul freight using electrons . But perhaps most hotly anticipated of all is Tesla’s semi truck, which Elon Musk has today promised will be unveiled on October 26th. Expected to have a range of up to 300 miles , it won’t compete with regular semi trucks for long journeys—but it could still manage to shake up the industry for shorter-haul applications.

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Image credit:

  • Daimler AG

Posted by Jamie Condliffe

September 14th, 2017 12:59PM

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I come with very good news. We’re the only company in Silicon Valley that’s not building a car.

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, reassures automakers at the Frankfurt motor show that at least one tech titan isn’t planning to eat their lunch.

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Posted by Jamie Condliffe

September 14th, 2017 11:24AM

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Nope, We Can’t Trust Data Firms to Update Against Known Security Flaws

It seems Equifax was hacked using a two-month-old vulnerability that it could have protected itself against.

“We know that criminals exploited a U.S. website application vulnerability,” the company wrote in a statement . “The vulnerability was Apache…Read more

It seems Equifax was hacked using a two-month-old vulnerability that it could have protected itself against.

“We know that criminals exploited a U.S. website application vulnerability,” the company wrote in a statement . “The vulnerability was Apache Struts CVE-2017-5638.” But as Ars Technica points out , that flaw was identified and fixed on March 6, with a patch (albeit a complex and finicky one to implement) offered to users of the Web app software so that they didn’t get hacked. Equifax was hacked in mid-May, a full two months after the vulnerability was announced. In other words, it looks like Equifax fell foul of a known exploit that it hadn’t yet updated its systems against.

That would be careless if it was a security flaw on, say, your own home computer. But when failure to update software with a vulnerability like that—which, as Ars Technica has also reported , was used heavily by hackers in March—can result in the loss of personal data from as many as 143 million Americans , it’s negligent. And when a company claims, like Equifax, to be in the business of fraud prevention, identity management, and selling advice on how to manage data breaches? Well, I guess then we just find ourselves in the modern-day couldn’t-care-less corporate approach to cybersecurity.

Equifax’s CEO, Richard Smith, is due to testify before the House of Representatives on October 3 . Let’s hope he’s given a real hard time.

Source:

Image credit:

  • CafeCredit.com

Posted by Jamie Condliffe

September 14th, 2017 10:42AM

A New Mobile Chip Beams Data for Miles Using Almost No Power

For under a dime and with just a whisker of electricity, devices could send data throughout a building. Researchers at the University of Washington led by Shyam Gollakota, one of our 35 Innovators Under 35 in 2014 , have built a new chip that uses reflected…Read more

For under a dime and with just a whisker of electricity, devices could send data throughout a building. Researchers at the University of Washington led by Shyam Gollakota, one of our 35 Innovators Under 35 in 2014 , have built a new chip that uses reflected radio signals to efficiently transmit data over great distances.

The chip uses a technique called long-range backscatter to communicate with other devices. Instead of creating signals from scratch, it is able to selectively reflect radio waves that are already passing through space to create a new signal. The researchers built out several prototype devices that use the technology, including a skin patch and a connected contact lens like the one shown off by Gollakota at at EmTech MIT in 2016 , and tested them to find out how well they perform.

In a paper presented this week at UbiComp 2017 conference in Maui, Hawaii, the team explains that it’s found that the devices are able to create their signals when they’re as far as 475 meters from a radio frequency source, and send a signal just as far again at that distance from the source. When the chip is placed next to the radio frequency source, it can send data as far as 1.75 miles. For a more real-world example, the team also says it can send data through a 41-room office or three-story house.

These chips, which are predicted to cost about ten cents each to make at mass-production scale, also use up to 1,000 times less power than other wireless data transmission systems such as Wi-Fi. That means that devices could also make use of Gollakota’s radio frequency power scavenging technology, too—which we named one of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2016 —rather than requiring a battery.

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Image credit:

  • University of Washington

Posted by Jamie Condliffe

September 14th, 2017 9:49AM

September 13, 2017

IBM Has Used Its Quantum Computer to Simulate a Molecule—Here’s Why That’s Big News

We just got a little closer to building a computer that can disrupt a large chunk of the chemistry world, and many other fields besides. A team of researchers at IBM have successfully used their quantum computer, IBM Q, to precisely simulate the molecular…Read more

We just got a little closer to building a computer that can disrupt a large chunk of the chemistry world, and many other fields besides. A team of researchers at IBM have successfully used their quantum computer, IBM Q, to precisely simulate the molecular structure of beryllium hydride (BeH 2 ). It’s the most complex molecule ever given the full quantum simulation treatment.

Molecular simulation is all about finding a compound’s ground state—its most stable configuration. Sounds easy enough, especially for a little-old three-atom molecule like BeH 2 . But in order to really know a molecule’s ground state, you have to simulate how each electron in each atom will interact with all of the other atoms’ nuclei, including the strange quantum effects that occur on such small scales. This is a problem that becomes exponentially harder as the size of the molecule increases.

While today’s supercomputers can simulate BeH 2 and other simple molecules, they quickly become overwhelmed and chemical modellers—who attempt to come up with new compounds for things like better batteries and live-saving drugs—are forced to approximate how an unknown molecule might behave, then test it in the real world to see if it works as expected.

The promise of quantum computing is to vastly simplify that process by exactly predicting the structure of a new molecule, and how it will interact with other compounds. In work published today in Nature (paywall)—and also available on the Arxiv (PDF)—the IBM team have shown that they can use a new algorithm to calculate the ground state of BeH 2 on their seven-qubit chip.

In some ways, it’s a small advance. But it’s an important step on the path of ever-greater complexity in molecular simulation using quantum computers that will ultimately lead to commercially important breakthroughs.

Even now, as the research team notes in their blog post on the work , IBM offers access to a 16-qubit quantum computer as a free cloud service. The more qubits a chip has—that is, quantum bits that can be used to encode data in multiple states at once—the greater the complexity of calculations it should be able to handle. At least in theory. As we pointed out when we made practical quantum computers one of our Breakthrough Technologies of 2017 , one of the big challenges in designing quantum computers is making sure qubits remain in their delicate quantum state long enough to perform calculations. The more qubits a chip has, though, the harder that has been for researchers to do.

Still, the day when quantum computers surpass classical machines—an inflection point known as quantum supremacy—is rapidly approaching. Some observers think a chip with 50 qubits would be enough to get there. And while the chemistry world stands to benefit immensely from such advances, it isn’t the only field. Quantum computers are expected to be superstars at any kind of optimization problem, which should help propel big advances in everything from artificial intelligence to how companies deliver packages to customers .

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Image credit:

  • IBM Research | Nature

Posted by Michael Reilly

September 13th, 2017 3:09PM

New Driverless Car Guidelines Don’t Provide Much Guidance

The government doesn’t want to stand in the way of autonomous vehicles. That’s the biggest message to emerge from the Trump administration’s newly updated guidelines for the nascent robo-car industry.

The guidelines—and they are very much guidelines,…Read more

The government doesn’t want to stand in the way of autonomous vehicles. That’s the biggest message to emerge from the Trump administration’s newly updated guidelines for the nascent robo-car industry.

The guidelines—and they are very much guidelines, not rules or regulations, which is a message frequently reiterated in the document—build on a set of 15 points published this time last year by the Obama administration . But transportation secretary Elaine Chao has decided to thin those out to make life easier for tech companies and automakers.

Companies don’t need to wait for federal approval before they start testing autonomous vehicles on the roads. Submission of documentation, about the safety standards and precautions in place in the vehicles, to the government is purely optional. And the guidelines also urge states not to adopt their own rules for driverless cars, which many do right now, over concerns that doing so may slow innovation.

As the Washington Post notes , Chao has removed mention of ethical considerations from the Obama-era quidelines, claiming that previous guidance was “speculative in nature.” In some contrast, Germany is already drafting rules about how autonomous cars should be programmed to react in life-and-death situations. (Spoiler: they should kill dogs before humans.)

Tech firms and automakers will be pleased about the new guidelines, as they allow plenty of breathing room within which to experiment. But John Simpson from Consumer Watchdog tells the Financial Times (paywall) that the document is “a road map that allows manufacturers to do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want, turning our roads into private laboratories for robot cars with no regard for our safety.”

So, the government doesn’t want to stand in front of autonomous cars. And for now, those of you who are as nervous as Simpson about driverless vehicles might not want to, either.

Source:

Image credit:

  • Ford

Posted by Jamie Condliffe

September 13th, 2017 10:42AM

China Reportedly Has a Secure Quantum Communication Network

Hacking the Chinese government may have just gotten a littler harder. State news outlet China Daily claims that 200 Chinese officials in Shandong now have a quantum encrypted network at their disposal for secure phone calls and data transmission.

It’s…Read more

Hacking the Chinese government may have just gotten a littler harder. State news outlet China Daily claims that 200 Chinese officials in Shandong now have a quantum encrypted network at their disposal for secure phone calls and data transmission.

It’s not yet clear exactly how the new system works. But it’s likely based on a quirk of quantum mechanics that allows two particles, like photons, to be entangled so that changes to one affect the other, even at a distance. That’s promising for encryption: send a crypto key using the particles and eavesdropping is easy to spot, as any inspection of the particle changes its properties.

China has been pushing hard to advance its own quantum communication systems recently. This year, some of the nation’s researchers have reported a string of successful experiments demonstrating their ability to entangle quantum particles over huge distances andin space.

The new network would appear to put that kind of research into practice, though it seems to be very much Earth-bound. China Daily notes that “hundreds of pieces of equipment connected by hundreds of kilometers of fiber optics were installed within five months” to get it working.

Western countries have been working on quantum networking for years. But, if the reports are accurate, this is, to our knowledge, the first time that a working quantum network has been put to real-world use for communications, rather than being confined to experiments.

Source:

Image credit:

  • Wu Yi | Unsplash

Posted by Jamie Condliffe

September 13th, 2017 8:40AM

September 12, 2017

Can Artificial Intelligence Master the Art of the Deal?

A bot might someday take your job, but perhaps it can help you negotiate a nice severance package, too.

A recent research paper (PDF) suggests that AI agents could do all sorts of useful haggling, providing they become a little bit smarter, and users…Read more

A bot might someday take your job, but perhaps it can help you negotiate a nice severance package, too.

A recent research paper (PDF) suggests that AI agents could do all sorts of useful haggling, providing they become a little bit smarter, and users can be persuaded to trust them.

The authors envision a world where an AI agent negotiates on your behalf, like buying a house or working out the details of a pay raise. And they write that such technology could allow negotiations in new areas like figuring out the terms of an energy-sharing deal with your neighbor, or the amount of money you should receive for giving up some privacy information to a mobile app. The team has experimented with an Android app that lets you do just that , in fact.

In an interview with Science , one of the authors, Tim Baarslag from Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica in Amsterdam, says the key challenges are giving such systems deep understanding of a particular domain, like real estate or energy, as well as enabling some sort of long-term perspective, so that it can negotiate with an entity that it’s dealt with before.

AI agents are, in fact, already used for all sorts of more narrow negotiations, like figuring out the correct price for an online ad, or the right bid for a stock. But it’s fascinating to imagine them taking on more human areas of deal-making. Perhaps AI may someday play a vital role in future standoffs like the one between the U.S. and North Korea?

One interesting observation from the researchers’ paper, however, provides a little pause for thought. “People may show less regard for fairness and ethical behavior when negotiating through a third (human) party,” the authors write. “This raises the question as to whether agents should similarly lie on behalf of a user, for example by using argumentation and persuasion technology. Analogous to recent research on ethical dilemmas in self-driving cars , people may claim that negotiation agents should be ethical, but sacrifice these ideals if it maximizes their profits.”

Image credit:

  • Charles Forerunner | Unsplash

Posted by Will Knight

September 12th, 2017 4:35PM

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