Before the Predator attached the name "drone" to an anti-terror war machine, many militaries flew unmanned planes as targets, so that pilots and anti-aircraft gunners could practice shooting moving objects. Target drones are still flown today, both specific target models and ones converted from old jets specifically for this purpose. In the past, targets were generally plane-sized, and militaries used anti-aircraft weapons to shoot them down.
A group of hobbyists with a weirdly extensive machine gun collection decided to try a modern update to drone target practice. In this case, the targets were smaller drones ranging in size from remote-control toy airplanes to larger flying wings, about as big as the Army's hand-tossed RQ-11 Raven. Instead of special anti-air weapons, they tried a few different machine guns, which are more representative of the weapons insurgents might aim at drones. While many of the bullets fired hit the drones, it took direct hits to the tiny drone engines to make them stop flying.
Verdict: It's possible to bring down small drones with a machine gun, but it takes good aim and many shots—and it helps if the drone is just flying back and forth in front of you.
This target practice was part of the Big Sandy Shoot, an event in Arizona put on by a group of machine gun enthusiasts. Their spring shoot was the first week of April. For added fun and insanity, there was a night shooting session, where people shot at drones bedecked with glowsticks.
Think of it as a study of the natural behaviors of the troll. A team of information science researchers recently analyzed the comments people make on recorded TED talks. Actually, the researchers found that the majority of comments related to the content of the talks (progress!). But they also found that about six percent of YouTube comments on TED talks are insults and that female TED presenters are more likely to have commenters assess their appearance and style than male presenters (not progress).
TED is a nonprofit dedicated to putting on conferences with short lectures. It also posts its lectures online. This analysis of TED comments comes at a time when news and science media are still trying to figure out what to do about commenters. This weekend, the Chicago Sun-Times announced it's temporarily shutting off comments while it puts in a new system designed to "encourage increased quality of the commentary." Here at Popular Science, where we have a small staff for the website, we decided to remove comments from our homepage about seven months ago. You can still reach us via email, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and snail mail.TED talks are supposed to be fun and good for you, kind of like chocolate-chip granola bars.
In a paper they published in the journal PLOS ONE, the TED-analyzing researchers said they were hoping to gather some insight for science communicators. TED talks are 18-minute lectures about intellectual ideas, aimed at non-experts. They're supposed to be fun and good for you. Kind of like chocolate-chip granola bars? Anyway, the largest portion of the talks are about science and technology. As of November 2013, the researchers counted 917 science and technology TED talks, compared to 313 talks about design and 265 talks about entertainment. So the researchers, a team from the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, looked at TED talks as a proxy for, How do people respond to popular science media? They restricted their analysis to comments on science and technology talks only.
One of their big findings was that the website people use matters. TED talks are posted both on ted.com and YouTube, but comment trends differed a bit on the two platforms. After analyzing comments for the same set of 595 talks, the research team found that people were more likely to talk about the content of the video—rather than, say, about the speaker's looks or themselves—on the TED website than on YouTube. That said, the ted.com comments weren't always that deep. Many comments just reiterated points from the talk, the researchers noted. And the majority of YouTube comments, 57 percent, still referred to the content of the TED talk. It's just that an even larger portion of ted.com comments were on topic, 72 percent.
People were more likely to throw around personal insults on YouTube (5.7 percent of comments) than on ted.com (less than one percent of comments). YouTube did have one advantage. YouTubers were more likely to engage with one another than ted.com commenters. But if they're just insulting each other, maybe that's not so helpful.Commenters were more likely to discuss female presenters' looks than male presenters' looks.
Another major finding was that commenters react differently to male and female TED presenters. Commenters were more likely to discuss female presenters' looks (15 percent of comments) than male presenters' looks (10 percent of comments). Female presenters were also more likely to elicit both positive and negative comments about themselves than male presenters. People react really emotionally to lady TED talkers, I guess. Male and female TED presenters didn't have any statistically significant differences in the positive and negative comments they received about the content of their talks.
So it sounds like TED-talk comments aren't necessarily super intellectual, but they aren't a cesspool, either. Yay? In addition, perhaps TED should keep a sharper eye out for off-topic or hateful comments about its female speakers. It might help if the organization had more talks led by women in general. Another analysis, published about a year ago, found that women give less than a quarter of TED talks.
Jet lag occurs when your body's circadian rhythms fall out of sync with your surroundings, such as when you quickly move to an area that is 12 hours behind where you were previously. One thing that certain helps to adjust is exposure to sunlight--cells in your retina use this information to tell the brain that it is daylight, and that the body should be awake. But how much sunlight does the body need to adjust? And at what times?
Daniel Forger, a mathematical biologist at the University of Michigan who studies biological clocks and graduate student Olivia Walch created 1,000 possible trips, and combined them with studies on how light affects human circadian rhythms. They then used applied optimal control theory, a mathematical tool for finding ideal solutions. The results were published in PLOS Computational Biology, and the an app using the study's insights is called Entrain.
It turns out that to shift your clock, you really just need to adjust what your eyes and brain perceive as dawn and dusk, as explained in Scientific American:
Shifting your clock quickly just requires a new bedtime and long periods of bright light or complete darkness. These schedules significantly outperformed previous suggestions. Using this method, it takes only four days to fully sync after a 12-hour time zone shift. With other methods, it takes seven to 13 days or more. Even better, this method helps you “partially” sync in two days, which means you can sleep just fine.
Olivia Walch, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, then developed an iPhone app with the model, called Entrain, which allows users to set tailored schedules. First, you enter your normal sleep schedule and then choose the area you’re traveling to and the type of light you’ll be encountering on your trip (Are you hiking outdoors? Or attending an indoor conference?). The app then provides a custom schedule, telling you when you should be in the light or in the dark as well as how many days it will take to fully adjust.
Head over the iTunes store and try Entrain for yourself. It's free!
For more of the latest on high-tech snoozing, check out Popular Science's March 2014 issue on the science of sleep.
The magnetic-levitation technology works by creating magnetic fields with onboard superconducting magnets, which interact with ground coils in the rail, allowing the whole train to "float" just above the ground. And go really fast.
On Saturday (April 12), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy took a ride on a maglev train in Yamanashi Prefecture, according to the Japan Times. "The government is making arrangements so that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can offer the technological assistance when he meets with U.S. President Barack Obama in Tokyo on April 24," the Times added.
One group, known as Northeast Maglev, is hoping to bring just such technology to the US, to build a train from New York to Washington. Here's how Slate describes that idea:
The promise: New York to D.C. in an hour flat. That would be an hour and 40 minutes faster than today’s 150-mph Amtrak Acela trains, which are (rather pathetically) the fastest in the United States. In most cases, it would also be significantly faster than flying.
This doesn't have the best chance of happening in the near future, given (in part) the difficulty of funding rail projects in the US. But perhaps Japan's offer will change things. As Nikkei reported, "the Japanese government intends to finance half of the estimated construction cost of 1 trillion yen ($9.75 billion) through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation."
Flowers from the Ganjoji "space tree" also look a bit different, containing five petals, as opposed to about 30 like their parent trees.
The precocious pips have baffled the Buddhist monks and scientists alike. The project was not primarily a scientific one, rather "an educational and cultural project to let children gather the stones and learn how they grow into trees and live on after returning from space," said Miho Tomioka, a spokeswoman for the project's organizer, Japan Manned Space Systems (JAMSS). For that reason no "control" seeds were planted to contrast with the space-flown ones--although this cherry variety usually doesn't bloom until the age of 10.
The reason for the early flowering is a mystery. One guess is that "exposure to stronger cosmic rays accelerated the process of sprouting and overall growth," said Kaori Tomita-Yokotani, a plant physiologist at the University of Tsukuba who took part in the project. But "from a scientific point of view, we can only say we don't know why," Tomita-Yokotani added.
Update, 4/14/14: The SpaceX launch that was supposed to bring Robonaut 2 its legs has been postponed. The Falcon 9 rocket has a helium leak, NASA tweeted. R2 responded to the news on Twitter:April 14, 2014
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The International Space Station's humanoid robot is getting a pair of legs. The fresh gams are scheduled to go up to space today aboard a SpaceX-operated resupply mission.
Before this, Robonaut 2—the first humanoid robot in space—did not have legs. It was just a torso mounted on a short post. The new limbs will give R2 a decidedly spidery nine-foot "leg span." The legs are also a bit more flexible than most humans'. They have seven joints each, plus pincer-like feet that are able to grip handrails and sockets inside and outside the space station. The feet even have small cameras to help them identify grips. So now R2 will be able to move around the space station and work with both hands while keeping itself in place in microgravity using its feet.Robonaut 2's New Legs NASA
Researchers are developing Robonauts to perform repetitive or dangerous tasks aboard the space station, so human astronauts don't have to. Humans can tele-operate the robot or program it to do some things autonomously. Kind of like an intern, however, R2 is both working and learning at the same time. Since it first flew to space in 2011, it hasn't done a lot of helpful tasks. Instead, it's undergone a number of experiments checking its ability to push buttons, flip switches, and use tools that people normally operate. In 2012, NASA announced R2 did its first helpful bit of work, checking air flow in the ship. It's also used the station's RFID inventory scanner.
The ship Okeanos Explorer set out last Thursday across the Gulf of Mexico for a three-week, deep-sea expedition… and you can follow along! The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is livestreaming the whole trip. So far, the expedition has explored some gas seeps on the ocean floor and snapped a photo of an underwater brine pool. In the coming weeks, Okeanos' crew will send out remotely-operated vehicles to examine coral beds, deep-sea canyons and 200-year-old shipwrecks. You can watch the expeditions three streams right here. The streams should show feed from the remotely operated vehicle's camera when it's underwater, views of Okeanos' deck when the expedition is not making a dive, and one view of the real-time data scientists are seeing streamed to their command center on dry land.
As of this writing, Okeanos' science crew just dropped its remotely operated vehicle in to see some coral! Missed the coral bed dive? You can check what the expedition plans to do next under the "Latest Status Updates" section of the Okeanos site. Okeanos will make dives in the Gulf of Mexico until April 30.
The Okeanos crew uses a remotely operated vehicle named Deep Explorer that's able to descend 6,000 meters under the sea. Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ran a similar expedition with remotely-operated vehicles that explored a series of extinct underwater volcanoes off the New England coast.
English philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that men living in anarchy would lead “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” lives. So as much as I’d enjoy rebuilding civilization from piles of trash after an apocalypse, I’d first worry about a way to send petrol-marauding punk rockers scrambling and make infectious zombies take a dirt nap.
A gun would do the trick. That is, until my ammunition ran out. Then I’d just have an awkward club. A crossbow, on the other hand, would mean business: The weapon has a fierce reputation for raw power and accuracy, and ammo can be made or retrieved with relative ease.
Going into this build, my crossbow knowledge was limited, but I knew I wanted something quiet, compact, and powerful enough to punch through our contemporary version of armor: a car. If my crossbow could shoot through a car door, I reasoned, then it would be a success.
A bowed weapon’s strength is measured by its draw weight in pounds. The greater the pull on the prod (or bow), the more energy a bolt (or arrow) will deliver. I recovered a leaf spring from a truck chassis thinking it’d make a good prod. The power estimates I calculated seemed crazy, yet valid: Bending the 3/8-inch-thick bar just two inches could pull 500 pounds. That kind of tension, coupled with a dense bolt, would create a force to be reckoned with.
I fashioned whatever I could find in my scrap bin into functional parts. I made a receiver to hold the trigger from an old metal pipe, and a winch from a threaded rod and hoisting hooks. An aircraft cable served as a string, a six-inch chunk of rebar as a bolt, and a discarded bike seat as a shoulder brace.
After days of tinkering, it was time to fire the crossbow—and that’s when the leaf-spring prod revealed a disastrous flaw. Years of bouncing along roads created hidden stress fractures in the metal, which, partway through cocking, burst into shrapnel. (Luckily, none of it hit me.) I plan to rebuild the crossbow with a new leaf spring, but the surest post-apocalypse plan is to raid a sporting-goods store for a bow and some arrows. I’d never give a medieval archer a run for his money, but at least I’d send the dimmest zombies lurching elsewhere.
Warning: Don’t even think about attempting this project. You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Popular Science.