In the tense moments of a long-range gun battle, unnecessary movements can give away a combatant's position, cause them to lose sight of the enemy, and possibly lead to fatalities. For America’s special forces, Sandia National Laboratories has developed a new sniper scope that, with the press of a button, adjusts focus. Called Rapid Adaptive Zoom for Assault Rifles (RAZAR), the lens has immediate uses on the battlefield, but in the future, it might just be a birdwatcher's best friend.
The adaptive zoom lens works, not by changing the distance between two lenses as in a traditional scope, but by changing the curvature of a given lens. This is similar to how human eyeballs switch focus. In humans, muscles in the eye pull the lens to flatten it for far-away vision, and contract to thicken the lens for objects up close.
RAZAR does this using minimal energy, with 10,000 focus changes burning through only two AA batteries. After the batteries are dead, the lens can’t adjust until new ones are put in. But unlike systems that use electronic cameras for zooming, the lens still works without power.
While Sandia Labs developed RAZAR to help special forces win gun battles, the technology is by no means limited to a military role. Most anything that uses lenses for zooming, rather than digital magnification, could use an adaptive lens. The birdwatchers of the future, hiding out in tall grass looking for whooping cranes, may very well owe their spectacular views to a scope designed for troops fighting battles abroad.
Watch a video about it below:
What do you do in a tsunami? For people living in areas prone to tsunamis, the advice is simple: get to higher ground as fast as possible. But for one town in Washington, safety will soon be as close as the local elementary school.
The artist rendering above might look like an average school building, but it has a second purpose. When it is finished next year, the building in Grays Harbor County, Washington, will be the first vertical tsunami evacuation structure in the country, capable of holding the approximately 1,000 people living within a 20-minute walking distance of the structure.TCF Architecture
That 20-minute walking time is important. If the Cascadia fault in the western Pacific Ocean were to produce a large earthquake (such as a magnitude 9) then people on the northwest coast would only have about 20 to 30 minutes to get to safety.
The problem with traditional evacuation methods is that they simply take too long, especially in metropolitan areas, where evacuation routes can become clogged with cars of people trying to get out of town. A community might only have 30 minutes of warning before a tsunami hits, and getting stuck in traffic while a wall of water is bearing down on your location is ... not ideal. Hence, the idea of moving on up. A building shelter in a central, densely populated area is more easily accessible than a distant high elevation only accessible by car.
Buildings that are meant to serve as vertical evacuation structures have to meet a lot of different criteria, including being able to withstand the forces of an earthquake and, obviously, a tsunami. That means that the foundation has to be strong, and the structural supports need to be able to handle the forces of water and debris crashing into them. Almost as important as the building itself is the location of the structure. In this case, the building is situated on a ridge, making the shelter area 55 feet above sea level. All those specifications require a significant amount of money to turn into reality, so Grays Harbor County passed a $13 million dollar bond to fund the construction of the new structure.
In the wake of the devastating Japanese tsunami in 2011 and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, other communities on the West Coast have begun considering similar structures to shelter the thousands of people who live in low-lying areas. Other places around the world are also looking into vertical evacuation strategies. In Japan, a few different structures have already been built, and in Indonesia, researchers at Stanford are looking into reinforcing existing buildings to make them safe spaces in the event of a tsunami.
A major selling point of self-driving cars is what they remove from the road: human error, driver exhaustion, distracted driving because someone has to keep reminding the urchins in the backseat that "No, we’re not there yet, and if you keep asking I'm pulling the car over right now." Less attention has been paid to the new capabilities driverless cars will open up, such as traveling at much higher speeds than a human driver could manage. Carmaker Audi claims they just set a speed record for driverless cars, zooming 149 mph around a racing circuit in (of course) Germany.
There are upper limits on how fast a human can drive a car. Some are physical; at high enough speeds, the gravitational forces acting on the driver become dangerous and incapacitating. Others are neurological; nerves relay signals only so fast, and human response time to risks (like a stalled car on top of a hill) is limited by how fast the driver can receive this information and act on it. Driverless cars use a variety of sensors with their own limitations, but these can be engineered and improved on a wide scale. In addition, driverless cars should be able to communicate with each other, reducing the traffic blindness that human drivers fall prey to.
Most of the time, these features are touted as safety improvements. And, certainly, that’s a major part of the case for driverless cars: fast machines communicating with each other may very well make roads safer for the humans they carry. But it also means that, especially over long hauls at first, car travel can be faster, even making it competitive with short flight air travel.
Still, there is plenty of work to be done before we arrive at a future with self-driving cars. After Audi tested the autonomous car, they put a human driver on the same circuit. The human finished only five seconds slower than the robot, and NASCAR drivers regularly top out at over 200 mph.
Detergent, prepare to be disrupted.
The makers of a new fabric softener, Sofft, say they want our clothes to join us in the fight against stink and stains. While mixing with your clothes in the washing machine, Sofft coats organic and plastic fibers in a thin protective layer of hydrophobic molecules. These chemicals cause common stains like oil and juice to slide right off clothes (at least, that's how it seems in their promotional videos). The company says clothes would remain breathable.
Sofft's protection does not last forever. Clothes still have to get washed as the coating wears off, but most users would be able to get a few more wears in between trips to the laundromat. Plus, fewer loads in laundry machines could also ease the strain of detergent chemicals and water consumption on the environment.(All GIFs courtesy Vinod Nair)
Vinod Nair, founder and CEO of the Sofft company, calls the technique "prevention based laundry." In the manner of a Silicon Valley programmer hawking a revolutionary new app, he sells his product with the vision of a changed future. If Sofft succeeds, he says, "we would expect an ecosystem change. The washing machine would have to change." We would all do laundry less often, he argues, because our clothes would stay fresh longer. His company calls this imagined world "Laundry 2.0."
Sofft's hydrophobic qualities may also make it easier to filter out waste water than regular detergent. The molecules don't dissolve well, and Nair believes they could be extracted more easily than common laundry chemicals at waste treatment plants.
Sofft still faces challenges. Right now they have no large scale, efficient factories. Plus, 32-ounce bottles of the product cost $35 a pop, with enough fluid for about 15 light loads. The only way to order is through their Kickstarter campaign, which has already beaten its $25,000 goal by more than $10,000 with six days to go. They expect to ship in February 2015.
"Once we get to scale," Nair says, "our long term vision is to have this selling for $10 on the shelf at Walmart."
If that happens, he says mass use of Sofft and the competitors that would follow will require laundry machine makers to redesign their products as well.
"We're doing high performance chemistry in a washing machine," he says. Modern machines are very good at removing chemicals from clothing, but not great at adding others in their place. Clorox held patents now used in Sofft, Nair says, but balked at the expense of engineering an untested product. The laundry giant signed its rights over to retiring engineer Greg van Buskirk, who went on to design Sofft with Nair.
So now, the future of Sofft (and the future of laundry, according to Nair) is now in the hands of the Kickstarter-funding public.
About 63 light years from our Sun, you’ll find a relatively young star called Beta Pictoris. A mere 20 million years old, Beta Pictoris is surrounded by a very active and eclectic mix of objects – including clouds of gas and dust, as well as a plethora of orbiting comets.
Now researchers are learning a little bit more about the cometary hoard that circulates around this baby star. Utilizing very precise instruments at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, French astronomers analyzed hundreds of exocomets orbiting Beta Pictoris. They discovered two distinct types of comets: an older class that have passed by the sun many times, and younger, rougher comets that are perhaps the products of a planetary breakup or collision.
Astronomers have been studying Beta Pictoris for nearly 30 years, documenting subtle variations in its light over time. It is thought that these light changes denote a comet passing in front of the star. “When the comet passes in front, there is a cometary tail which absorbs some of the starlight,” Flavien Kiefer, lead author of the study, tells Popular Science. “And when that light is absorbed, it has an impact on the light spectrum.”
Kiefer and his team of researchers reviewed more than 1,000 observations of light changes around Beta Pictoris, which were captured by the HARPS instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope in Chile. They selected a sample of 493 separate exocomets, sometimes analyzing them on multiple passes by the star.Beta Pictoris In Infrared This composite image reveals the close environment of Beta Pictoris in near infrared light. The outer part shows the reflected light on the dust disc, and the inner part is the innermost part of the system. ESO/A.-M. Lagrange et al.
They noticed some distinct differences in how the comet tails warped the star’s light, which revealed a lot about the physical properties and the origins of the comets. They also observed differences in the comets’ orbits.
“The two families had different behaviors,” Kiefer explains. “One family of comet had a wide variety of orbits. The orbits have an orientation, and we saw a wide variety of orientation of this family. While in the other family, we saw one particular formation of orbit.”
Taking all these observations into account, the research team concluded that two very different types of comets surround Beta Pictoris. The first type of comets are much older and smoother, having passed by the star many times. Their wide variety of orbits indicates that a planet is controlling them. This object could very well be the giant planet Beta Pictoris b.
The second exocomet family consists of more active comets that evaporate a lot of gas and dust, much more so than the first family. Many comets are rich in ices, but as they get closer to a star, these ices evaporate. Since the second comet class is still giving off a lot of gaseous material, it means they are much younger than their older comet counterparts.
The uniform orbits of the young comets also reveal something very cool about their origin. It’s likely that these exocomets are the result of a breakdown of a larger object, possibly a planet. And now, that object’s fragments are in an orbit that grazes Beta Pictoris.
All of these discoveries provide clues as to how this planetary system formed millions of years ago, as well as how our own solar system formed. Just like around Beta Pictoris, there are many different classes of comets in our own system, some of which are similar to those in the study. “We see objects that are very analogous to what we know. Comets in our solar system are trapped inside by Jupiter,” Kiefer says, comparing them to the older family of exocomets. “This is just one of many similar behaviors we see.”
The researchers published their work in the journal Nature.
Some people just don't like cats. That's okay. Some people don't like pizza. Or dogs. Or Harry Potter. But some cat-haters aren't satisfied with not owning cats themselves. They need to drag the rest of us down with them."Those who hate the cat hate him with a malignity which, I think, only snakes in the animal kingdom provoke to an equal degree."
The first thing you notice when you dig around in the seedy underworld of cat-bashing is that it's an old hobby. The haters have left their mark across poetry, literature, and art for centuries.
"There's always going to be someone in a group who's going to stand up and say cats are aloof, manipulative little devils," says cat researcher John Bradshaw.
In his 1922 cultural history of the domestic cat, The Tiger in the House, Carl Van Vechten notes, "One is permitted to assume an attitude of placid indifference in the matter of elephants, cockatoos, H.G. Wells, Sweden, roast beef, Puccini, and even Mormonism, but in the matter of cats it seems necessary to take a firm stand....Those who hate the cat hate him with a malignity which, I think, only snakes in the animal kingdom provoke to an equal degree."
Joseph Stromberg at Vox is only the most recent ailurophobe to launch a broadside against the feline species. His 28-paragraph essay on the supposed evils of Felis catus, published last week, tells readers that cats are "selfish, unfeeling, environmentally harmful creatures."
His argument breaks down into four simple points: "Your cat probably doesn't love you." "Your cat isn't really showing you affection." "Cats are an environmental disaster." And, "Your cat might be driving you crazy."
We called Bradshaw, an internationally recognized cat and dog researcher and author of several books on pet ownership, including Cat Sense, for his learned opinion on the "science" of cat-bashing.Feline Love Isn't Needy
Haters want you to believe cats don't really care about their people. Stromberg points to a series of studies by Daniel Mills at the University of London and other researchers that show cats don't look to humans for guidance in unfamiliar situations. Abandon your dog (or child) in a place it's never seen before, and it's likely to run to you on your return. Cats are more likely to explore the space on their own terms.
Compared to a stranger, the dogs become more disturbed when their owners leave, and interact with them more when they return. By contrast, Mills' cat experiments — which are still ongoing and haven't yet been published, but were featured in a BBC special last year—haven't come to the same conclusion. On the whole, the cats seem disinterested both when their owners depart and return.
Meanwhile, other experiments carried out by a pair of Japanese researchers have provided evidence for a fact already known to most cat owners: they can hear you calling their name, but just don't really care. As detailed in a study published last year, the researchers gathered 20 cats (one at a time) and played them recordings of three different people calling their name—two strangers, plus their owners.
Regardless of the order, the cats consistently reacted differently upon hearing their owner's voice (in terms of ear and head movement, as graded by independent raters who didn't know which voice belonged to the owner). However, none of them meowed or actually approached the speaker, as though they'd be interested in seeing the person.
Bradshaw says this interpretation draws too much out of limited study—research similar to work he has done himself. "It shows something about cats, but it doesn't show you that cats are not affectionate," he says.
Dogs have evolved to be "almost obsessively" dependent on humans, Bradshaw says. In unfamiliar situations, they look to their humans as sources of stability and guidance, much like small children. Cats, on the other hand, "prefer to deal with things in their own heads."
A creature that fails to run to your side in a strange situation does not necessarily have a cold, unfeeling heart. Some couples show up at parties and hold hands the entire time, talking mostly to one another. Others split up when they arrive, mingle, meet new people. But they still leave together when it ends. Your cat's a mingler—an explorer.Your Cat Really Is Showing Affection
After wedging a seed of doubt into the emotional relationships between humans and their cats, the enemies of felinekind try to insert themselves into the physical expressions of human-feline love. Stromberg is no exception:
Many cats... will rub up against the leg of their owner (or another human) when the person enters a room. It's easy to construe this as a sign of affection. But many researchers interpret this as an attempt, by the cat, to spread his or her scent — as a way to mark territory. Observations of semi-feral cats show that they commonly rub up against trees or other objects in the exact same way, which allows them to deposit pheromone-containing secretions that naturally come out of their skin.
In other words, all the squirming and rubbing cats lavish on their owners are just the feline equivalent to a dog lifting its leg and peeing all over a fire hydrant.
Bradshaw says this notion is way off-base. "Superficially, [rubbing against humans] looks like scent marking," he says, but "the display that goes on when a cat raises its tail and rubs its sides against another cat, or a person, is a social action.""Like all genuine affectionate relationships, [cat cuddling] is a two-way street."
Some researchers suggest the behavior has a its roots in the creation of a "clan scent" for packs of wild cats, but no one has published proof. What's important, Bradshaw says, is the interaction between creatures. The raised tail is a signal of good intent. When two cats know each other well they will rub their whole bodies against each other, including their sides, which have no scent glands. They often then lie down together and purr. Cats will do the same thing with their owners. Claiming this behavior is no deeper than a wild cat rubbing its face on tree bark is like saying that human handshakes are mostly about checking for secret weapons.
A 2013 study supposedly shows cats hate when humans pet them.
The research indeed found that cats pumped stress hormones into their bloodstreams when they were petted excessively. But Bradshaw points out that the research was conducted in Brazil, a country where house cats are far less common than small dogs. He thinks pet owners used to rough-and-tumble dogs might not prepared to handle cats in ways they enjoy. The cats grabbed and picked up for the study were reacting to a long history of unpleasant interactions, not simple human touch.
"Like all genuine affectionate relationships, [cat cuddling] is a two-way street," he says. "Dogs put up with harsher treatment. Yank on a choke chain, and the dog bounces back. Cats say goodbye."Your Cat Is Too Clumsy To Threaten Wildlife Threats To All Birdkind Tamboko The Jaguar via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Perhaps the most damning charge against cats is that they are natural murderers who can disrupt local ecosystems. Stromberg pounced gleefully once again:
In the US, domestic cats are an invasive species—they originated in Asia. And research shows that, whenever they're let outside, cats' carnivorous activity has a devastating effect on wild bird and small mammal populations, even if the cats are well-fed.
So what's an environmentally-conscious cat lover to do? Bradshaw says not to worry. It turns out, as long as your cat wasn't born feral or on a farm, it's probably a clumsy hunter. Birds and rodents zip away from its plodding, obvious approach.
Bradshaw says cats learn to kill from their mothers. In the wild, a kitten follows its mom on many hunts in the first eight weeks of its life. She teaches the skills of sneaking up on prey and pouncing with lethal precision. But housecats born at home or to breeders miss that crucial step. Kittens instead spend their first eight weeks yowling at cotton balls and bits of string. Unless you trained your pet in the art of war before the end of its second month—a crucial period in its development—it's probably next to useless against live prey (even if it does sometimes get lucky).
"Obviously there's some deep ancestral memory of stalking prey," he says, "but a cat by itself is usually not a very good hunter."
Whenever local fauna succumb to feline hunting, he says, "it almost always turns out to be feral cats." Australian experiments with 24-hour cat curfews turned out to have minimal impacts. Still, the ASPCA suggests keeping cats indoors to prolong their lives, so it's probably a good idea. Also, spayed and neutered housecats will never birth feral kittens that could endanger wildlife.
If you really want to do right by the environment, Bradshaw says, cats are way better than dogs.Okay, Your Cat May Give You A Parasite That Controls Your Thoughts Toxoplasma gondii parasites form a cyst in a mouse brain. Jitinder P. Dubey via Wikimedia Commons Stromberg is wrong about cat love, but there's a chance he's right about horrible brain-controlling parasites in cat poop. Even Bradshaw can't defend your kitten now.
See, there's this parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. It enters the brains of prey animals like mice and alters their behavior to make them less afraid of predators. These bold, addled rodents ride their parasitic high all the way into your favorite pet's gnashing jaws, and some of those parasites make their way into your cat's litterbox. From there it's a short jump to a human owner's body.
Some reaserchers suspect that humans infected with T. gondii are susceptible to its nefarious mind control as well. Here's what Kathleen McCauliffe wrote about the parasite in her extensive coverage for the Atlantic:
The subjects who tested positive for the parasite had significantly delayed reaction times. [Parasite researcher Jaroslav] Flegr was especially surprised to learn, though, that the protozoan appeared to cause many sex-specific changes in personality. Compared with uninfected men, males who had the parasite were more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules. Infected women, on the other hand, presented in exactly the opposite way: they were more outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected women.
Infected men were more likely to wear rumpled old clothes; infected women tended to be more meticulously attired, many showing up for the study in expensive, designer-brand clothing. Infected men tended to have fewer friends, while infected women tended to have more. And when it came to downing the mystery fluid, reports Flegr, “the infected males were much more hesitant than uninfected men. They wanted to know why they had to do it. Would it harm them?” In contrast, the infected women were the most trusting of all subjects. “They just did what they were told,” he says.
Flegr goes on to note that even infected people may not be heavily impacted by the bug, and that cat poop is not the only way humans catch it. (In fact, it's incredibly common.) Not all researchers agree with Flegr's dire interpretations of the evidence, though T. gondii does turn dangerous when patients have damaged immune systems.
Ultimately, yes, your cat probably loves you, but that might just be the mind-controlling parasite talking.
With it’s teeny-tiny head and massive spiked tail, the Stegosaurus is instantly identifiable to dinosaur fans. But to predators like the Allosaurus, the Stegosaurus would have been identifiable as lunch.
Unfortunately for the Allosaurus, it turns out that those spikes on the Stegosaurus tail weren’t just for show. Even with a powerful tail, Stegosauruses were assumed to be fairly slow and lumbering, and none too bright, with a brain the size of a tangerine. But in a poster presented at the Geological Society of America conference, researchers found that in at least some interactions between the two species, the Stegosaurus had the last laugh.
The researchers examined the remains of an Allosaurus and found some pretty damning evidence that the carnivore died from the tail of a Stegosaurus. Namely, a hole in the pelvic bone that matched the shape of Stegosaurus tail spikes from the same period of time.
“A massive infection ate away a baseball-sized sector of the bone,” paleontologist and author of the poster Robert Bakker said in a press release. “Probably this infection spread upwards into the soft tissue attached here, the thigh muscles and adjacent intestines and reproductive organs.” Because there was no indication of healing around the wound, it's likely the Allosaur died of the injury.
Scientists had known for a while that Stegosauruses had incredibly strong, flexible tails, which they were able to maneuver with ease. But direct evidence of the species fighting prowess has been lost in the fossil record, which typically only records traumatic damage to bones, not soft tissue, where presumably a lot of injuries to predators would have occurred. Now, there is finally proof that Stegosauruses were fantastic fighters. In this case, the researchers believe that the Stegosaurus would have had to twist its tail so the spikes were facing the right way and then deliver the blow upwards with a considerable amount of force.
Don't feel too bad for the Allosaur though. As the authors note in the abstract, "we interpret the Allosaur as a victim of herbivore defense."
In Xbox One’s newest software updates, which roll out in November, the gaming console's television functions will be integrated with Twitter. This means you can watch a show on the top portion of the screen and simultaneously send out tweets in the "Snap" sidebar. An optional bottom pane will show tweets that are tied to whatever TV series is being played.
An obvious use will be to enable fans to converse more easily during a television show's broadcast. People can yell about poorly written plot points, discuss theories for a mystery, or just applaud a particularly witty line from a sitcom. A TV series lives or dies on how big the ratings for the show are. Building up an invested fanbase on social media is one way for shows to grow and survive to another season.
But integrating TV and Twitter will have a larger impact on the news. Imagine being able to read everyone’s reaction in real-time as national news breaks. You could read live reports on a natural disaster from people who are actually there, see instant reactions to political debates, or even monitor the backlash of a celebrity’s faux pas. Reading such tweets adds a human and emotional component to the litany of happenings in the world.
And what would happen if television producers take notice of these features? Some news shows already pander to Twitter users, posing questions and discussing on-air some of the answers tweeted back. Such segments could become fully integrated on 24-hour cable news. And with live events like disasters, car chases, political debates, news outlets would not even have to ask for online responses, they could just grab those that are already being tweeted out.
As for dramas, sitcoms, and other televised fiction, there could be more fostering of a community discussing the surprises and mysteries in a show. Think of the fanatical Lost fanbase from years ago, but amped up by sharing theories about the show's riddles live while it airs. Of course, that could also mean live Game of Thrones spoilers, with book readers announcing what will happen on the show moments before it does. That would take trolling to a whole new level. Would television studios find ways to fight that? Would they ask Microsoft to filter out spoiler tweets?
The updates will also show users what the Twittersphere is watching at that moment. Thus, you can tune in to become part of the conversation.
Xbox’s senior director, Lisa Gurry, says, "With these added features, we’re making it easy for our fans to discover new shows to love."Now trending. Don't know what to watch? Xbox One users will soon able to see what shows are trending on Twitter. Microsoft
A team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon have built a robot that will send video from the moon to the Earth. And the robot will be controlled by the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, with the 3-D camera on the robot turning to match the head movements of the user.
"The vision was simple -- let anyone on Earth experience the Moon live through the eyes of a robot," team leader Daniel Shafrir told BBC News. "We weren't just going to go to the Moon. We are going to bring the Moon back."
This telepresence robot is named Andy, after Andrew Carnegie, the famed industrialist who founded the college. Currently, only the operator controlling this moon rover will be able to see through its "eyes" thousands of miles away.
The project is being worked on in partnership with Astrobotic, a company that was spun off from Carnegie Mellon. The company builds a variety of space robots for various purposes such as transportation, exploration, and mining. Astrobotic has a deal with SpaceX, the private space exploration company, to include Andy on a mission to the moon scheduled for 2016.
"Imagine the feeling of looking out and seeing rocks and craters billions of years old. Turn your head to the right and you see the dark expanse of space. Turn your head to the left and you see home, Earth," said Mr Shafrir.Andy Lunar telepresence robot Andy leaves his mark during a test Astrobotic Ever wanted to be an astronaut exploring the moon? You may one day be able to live that experience through telepresence and virtual reality.
The project is competing with 17 others for the Google Lunar XPrize, a $30 million reward for the first team that can land a robot on the Moon, have it travel there for 500 meters, and beam video of the moon surface back to Earth.
While concrete plans on how Carnegie Mellon and Astrobotic will share this live VR experience with others has not been created, the creators want to make it a reality. The team behind Andy wants to have "hundreds of the robots on the Moon", said Mr Shafrir. "With an Oculus headset in every classroom, allowing kids to experience what, to this date, has only been experienced by 12 human beings."
The Oculus Rift headset currently only exists as prototype development kits for software developers to make virtual reality programs. The final VR headsets are expected to be released in 2015.