NASA’s Curiosity Rover has been roaming around Mars for more than five years. In that time, it’s sent back a ton of data about the red planet. Thanks to the robot, we know that the veins dotted around its craters were likely created by evaporating lakes. It also spotted more water evidence in possible mud cracks. And, its findings led scientists to theorize that ancient Mars had a lot more oxygen that they initially thought. But, all that riding around hasn’t been easy on the car-sized machine. In the past, it’s suffered a software scare here and there. This time round, its wheels are the problem.
A routine check of the Curiosity’s six aluminum wheels found that one had two small breaks in its grousers. These are the zig-zag shaped treads that extend about a quarter-inch outward from the skin of each wheel. Along with the robot’s traction control algorithm, they help it to manoeuvre around the planet’s uneven landscape. NASA discovered the wear and tear in an image from March, confirming that the damage occurred after its last check on January 27. As you can tell, the space agency is closely monitoring any signs of aging.
Don’t break out the Kleenex just yet, though, as NASA assures the robot has plenty of fuel left in the tank. Overall, it’s approaching the 10-mile mark of its run, and could still squeeze around 40 percent more life from its wheels. Although it may not sound like much ground has been covered, Curiosity has long outlived its primary mission.
The robot can currently be found examining sand dunes on a geological area called the Murray formation. It will also continue climbing Mount Sharp to investigate how the region’s ancient climate changed billions of years ago. Expect it to send back some epic images along the way.
Audi laid out its plans for autonomous vehicles and how it intends to use AI to us back in July, and now the automaker is ready to show off what it’s been working on. At this year’s IAA auto show in Frankfurt, Audi debuted the AIcon and ElAIne (above and below), a pair of cars capable of Level 4 autonomy (conditional, but fully automated driving) that it claims are empathetic to their drivers’ needs. “They will be able to continually interact with their surroundings and passengers, and thus adapt themselves in a better way than ever before to the requirements of those on board,” Audi wrote in a lengthy press release.
The idea is that, through machine learning, the platform will be able to anticipate what you want before you ask. The example Audi gives is one of its cars suggesting a service (think: Indian take-out or maybe a spa day) and booking it for the driver like a personal assistant might.
This also applies to things like music selection and your freeway driving style (average speed and distance from other cars). And because the information is stored in the cloud versus your locally, it can transfer across other vehicles — you won’t have to retrain your AI just because you buy a new ride. Audi Fit is at play here too, working to ensure a less stressful driving experience by suggesting breathing techniques and seat massages, using biofeedback and a wearable device.
Audi has already shown off the A8’s Level 3 autonomous capabilities (conditional, but fully autonomous driving for traffic jams), and it’s using the AIcon and ElAIne as showcases for Level 4 driving. The highway pilot system will take over from the driver on the interstate, automatically change lanes and pass slower drivers.
More than that, Audi dreams of a future where its AI Zone parking spots that you can park at, leave and your car will run errands for you.
“From there, the car drives automatically and unoccupied into a multistory parking garage offering a variety of services, such as a car wash, a package station, a gas station or a charging post,” the press release said. The tech will allow for the car to pick you back up at the AI Zone at a predetermined time, too. It’s also “almost ready” for production.
Audi confirmed to Motor Authority that could be as soon as 2019, for a 2020 ElAIne-like production model.
“This car won’t be coming to the US, but something much like it will,” Audi of America’s CEO Scott Keogh told the publication. “You can see it in the shapes that we have already with the A7 fastback and others like it, so what I would expect is something like this will be coming, and soon.”
Apple may have basically had a glorified two-hour commercial yesterday (that we all willingly, even eagerly, tuned in for), but that doesn’t mean they are finished with product launches for the week. Today, without much fanfare, Apple introduced urBeats3 Earphones with a lightning connector.
The earphones are available in three different colors — matte gold, matte silver and black. The availability is advertised as “this Fall,” so it’s not exactly clear when they’ll be ready for preorder or shipping. They’re designed with an “axial-aligned driver” that will optimize whatever you are listening to. The urBeats 3 Earphones will ship with four sizes of eartips, as well as removable wingtips, and are designed to be comfortable for all-day wearing. They are also equipped with RemoteTalk, so you can use them with Siri. A pair will cost you $99.95/£89.95.
But Apple hasn’t fully turned its back on the 3.5-mm headphone connector: The urBeats3 Earphones are also available in that form. You get a wider variety of colors, though they are more traditional — gray, white, black and blue. They have the same vague availability (“Coming this Fall”) and price point as their lightning counterparts.
Additionally, Apple also upgraded its wireless BeatsX Earphones line with new colors. You can grab these in matte gold or matte silver for $149.95/£129.95. They ship in 3–5 days.
Source: Apple (1), Apple (2), Apple (3)
Contraceptive app Natural Cycles is more effective than the pill, according to the latest and largest study into the app’s efficacy. After testing 22,785 women throughout 224,563 menstrual cycles, the startup found the app provided 99 percent contraceptive effectiveness if used perfectly. If used “typically”, the app was 93 percent effective. The contraceptive pill, meanwhile, is 91 percent effective.
The app shows users when it’s safe to have unprotected sex (a green day) or when other contraceptive methods such as condoms should be used (a red day) thanks to body temperature readings — after ovulation a rise in progesterone makes women’s bodies up to 0.8 Fahrenheit higher than usual. The app helps women both plan and prevent pregnancy, and has proven just as effective for those with irregular periods, or those who have just come off other cycle-disrupting forms of contraception, such as the pill or injections.
Natural Cycles was the first app to be approved as a form of contraception in the EU, and the company has made no secret of its plans to win certification worldwide. Getting FDA approval for use in the US would be a significant milestone. In August this year The Verge published an article examining Natural Cycles’ position in the mobile health space, noting that its published research to date didn’t yet meet contraceptive efficacy standards. This new study moves the goalposts, meaning that the FDA could approve a fertility app sooner than expected, and when it does, it will very likely be this one.
Yesterday, Apple unveiled its Series 3 Watch, which will have cellular LTE capability. The question many had, though, was about the cost. Not of the watch itself (the cellular version starts at $399), but how much on top of that will you have to pay your carrier to use it? Now, we can give you a number. An Apple Watch Series 3 will cost you $10 per month on your cell plan, and it appears that all US carriers will offer three months of free service (a $30 credit). However, we’re still waiting for confirmation from Sprint.
AT&T and Verizon are also offering free activation (a $25 and $30 fee, respectively). T-Mobile will waive its $25 new SIM card kit fee. We’ve reached out to Sprint for their activation fee policies and will update when we have more. It’s interesting that the Apple Watch Series 3 is $10/month on Verizon, when other smartwatches cost $5 on their plan. It’s not a surprise that they stuck with the standardized pricing, though a discount would have given them an edge over other carriers.
Captain Scott Kelly wasn’t kidding when he famously quipped that “space is hard”. Even getting to the launch pad can prove to be a daunting challenge. Take the Cassini mission to study Saturn, for example. Despite an investment of $3.4 billion and nearly a decade of development, Cassini wound up being very nearly scuttled at the last minute by protesters who thought they knew better than a federal agency that has put multiple men on the moon. Geez guys, it was just 73 pounds of plutonium riding aboard that Saturn orbiter — it wouldn’t have caused that much damage had something gone horribly wrong at launch.
The Cassini mission, named after the 17th century Italian-French astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini, marks the end of an era for NASA. It is likely the final “flagship-class” mission (those costing more than $1 billion) fielded by the space agency, if NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s claims from 2013 are still accurate. Other flagships included the vaunted Viking and Voyager missions as well as the Mars Curiosity rover and the Hubble Space telescope.
JPL engineers working on the Cassini orbiter propulsion module
The Cassini mission started in 1982 when the European Science Foundation and NASA were still kicking around the idea of conducting their own respective solo missions to Saturn. Despite an impassioned report from astronaut Sally Ride in 1986, titled NASA Leadership and America’s Future in Space, NASA and the ESA decided to go in halfsies on a joint mission.
However, by 1994, the mission’s Congressional critics had begun to question the value of such a mission. The program had already eclipsed $3.3 billion in development costs — that’s $5 billion in 2017 money, adjusted for inflation, or about half of what we spent on the new James Webb Space Telescope. It was only because the ESA was also contributing funds to the mission and NASA was able to demonstrate that technology developed for Cassini would carry over to the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Pathfinder and the Spitzer Space Telescope projects that this one was allowed to move forward.
That forward momentum came to a sudden halt three years later and just a day after then-President Clinton approved the mission. On October 4th, 1997, 800 protesters showed up (27 of which were arrested) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in opposition to the Cassini launch, which was then scheduled for October 7th.
Protesters outside of Cape Canaveral
The protesters were worried that, should the Titan IV rocket ferrying the orbiter into space suffer a catastrophic mishap during launch, it would vaporize the 73 pounds of Plutonium-238 that the Cassini carried and spread radioactive fallout across central Florida. The protesters were even more worried about that Cassini’s upcoming gravitational slingshot, which would use the Earth’s pull to accelerate the spacecraft into the outer solar system, could spread fallout across the globe, should Cassini accidentally re-enter orbit during the maneuver. The Green Party even went so far as to file a federal lawsuit against the government in a Hawaiian court to halt the launch.
“Winds can blow (plutonium) into Disney World, Universal City, into the citrus industry and destroy the economy of central Florida,” Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York, told Mother Jones. He calculated that as many as a million people could be exposed to radiation if the launch went wrong.
The protesters’ issue focused on, again, the 73 pounds of Plutonium-238 aboard the Cassini orbiter. This wasn’t the first time that NASA had utilized radioactive materials as a power source for its long-endurance spacecraft — New Horizons, Galileo, and Ulysses all carried similar setups — but none had ever carried this much Pu-238 at one time before. The orbiter actually employed three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) during its 11-year mission. They’re not for propulsion, mind you (that’s what the gravitational slingshots were for), but rather a means to power the onboard scientific instruments for the duration of the trip.
RTGs are fairly simple devices and have been used for both civilian and military applications since their development in the 1950s. They consist of a container of radioactive material with a pair of thermocouples attached to the outside. The opposite end of each thermocouple is also attached to a heat sink. As the material decays, it produces heat. The difference in temperature between the container and the heatsink enables the thermocouples to generate an electrical charge. It’s the same principle that allows camp stoves to also charge your phone.
Cassini’s instruments aren’t particularly power-hungry, drawing around 600 – 700 watts of electricity, but 11 years is a long time in the cold depths of interplanetary space. So why not just use solar panels, Cassini protesters argued, as NASA had for a bunch of other missions? The problem with that is the sheer distance between Saturn and the Sun — 888 million miles on average. NASA did actually look into outfitting Cassini with solar panels but the math simply didn’t work.
The Mars Rover does well enough with solar power, for example, but it’s six times closer to the Sun than Saturn. In order to produce the requisite wattage while in Saturn’s orbit, the Cassini would have had to sport panels the size of tennis courts. These would have had proven too bulky and too heavy to get the orbiter out of Earth’s atmosphere.
Plutonium-238 is 280 times more radioactive than Plutonium-239, the stuff we use to make nuclear weapons, and has a half life of 88 years. That makes it a potent and long-lasting power source. What’s more, the alpha particles that Pu-238 emits can’t penetrate further than a few cellular levels, so the biggest threat comes from inhaling the stuff. However, “it cannot be exploded like a bomb,” Beverly Cook of the Energy Department, told CNN. “It is an alpha emitter. Alpha radiation can be stopped by a piece of paper.”
The chances of having Cassini’s payload of nuclear material vaporize during a catastrophic engineering failure were exceedingly remote, according to NASA. “This is not a nuclear reactor. They are nuclear batteries,” Wes Huntress, associate administrator for space science at NASA, explained to PBS Newshour. “They’re not used for propulsion. It’s not a nuclear power plant. We don’t have any nuclear reactions going on. We simply use the isotope to generate heat, and from the heat we generate electricity for the spacecraft.”
Even so, NASA spent a lot of time working out how to most safely utilize a plutonium-based power source. First, NASA isn’t just shoving glowing green rocks into the RTG and closing the hatch. The Plutonium-238 that NASA sends to space is actually plutonium dioxide, a more inert version that is produced exclusively for space missions by the Department of Energy. They’re basically marshmallow-sized insoluble ceramic nuggets. 72 of these were encased in iridium and graphite containers capable of the ludicrously intense heat generated during atmospheric reentry, much less a piddly launchpad explosion. And even if the pellets were exposed to vast amounts of heat, they’re designed to break down into chunks rather than vaporize, further reducing the chances that someone will breath them in.
And, as for the dangers posed by a botched gravitational assist, Huntress was not impressed by the protesters’ reasoning. “This Earth fly-by is something that we have done many, many times before at other planets, as well as at Earth, the last time being with the Galileo nuclear-powered spacecraft,” he told PBS. “And we manage these thing with very high precision. And Cassini is, in fact, not coming nearly as close to the Earth as did Galileo and Galileo’s approach managed with very fine — one kilometer accuracy — with no difficulty whatsoever.”
Despite these assurances, many of the protesters remained unconvinced. “Jimmy the Greek would say: Look at the track record,” Kaku said to Mother Jones. “The track record is one out of 20 booster rockets blow up on launch … Ten percent of our space probes actually come down.” Indeed, out of the 23 missions NASA has attempted with nuclear payloads, three failed. However, the RTGs in each instance survived the mishaps intact. Overall, NASA figured there was only a 1 in 1,400 chance at launch that the plutonium might be released, 1 in 476 during its trip into space and less than 1 in a million when the orbiter swung back past Earth in 1999 during its slingshot maneuver.
Richard Spehalski, program manager for Cassini at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was not impressed by the reasoning of Kaku and the protesters. “They’re taking our statements and our documentation out of context and citing consequences that aren’t even possible,” he responded in MoJo.
Even if the worst did happen: the orbiter failed its flyby and spread nuclear material over an estimated 5 billion people as it re-entered the atmosphere, NASA argued that the dosage of such an event would be about a millirem per year. For comparison, the average American sucks up about 620 millirem annually, roughly half of which comes from cosmic background radiation.
So despite Kaku’s continued complaints to MoJo — “This is a science experiment, and we are the guinea pigs,” he said — both the District Court in Hawaii and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Green Party’s lawsuit. Thus the launch was allowed to move forward. On October 15th, the Titan IV rocket successfully lifted off and launched its cargo on a seven-year journey towards perhaps the most recognizable planet in our solar system.
And it’s a damn good thing the courts agreed with NASA, given how many astronomical wonders Cassini has helped discover over the past decade. In 2005, it found geysers blasting liquid water from subsurface oceans (and theoretically, whatever was living there) into space. The orbiter mapped the liquid methane rivers of Titan; discovered massive hurricane-like storms at both of Saturn’s poles, imaged the vertical structure of the planet’s rings for the first time and delivered the Huygens probe, the only human-made machine to land on a moon in the outer solar system to date. That’s to say nothing of the trickle-down nature of space engineering and design that will see tech from this mission be adapted, improved and reused in future missions. What was Bolden even thinking?
Images: NASA (JPL and Cassini probe); Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images (Protesters)
Facebook announced new guidelines today about what sorts of content can collect ad revenue on its platform. While it clarified the types of publications that will no longer get ad money, it also removed the line between content that promotes unsavory or offensive subjects and content that’s reporting on them — a move that could have a big impact on the sorts of topics that will appear on Facebook.
Among the content that will likely get publishers cut off from ad revenue are misappropriations of children’s characters, debated social issues, violence, adult content, drug and alcohol use, offensive language and graphic content. You can see the full descriptions here. If what’s published is deemed to be in violation of these guidelines, publishers will be notified that ads have been removed from the material — a decision that can be appealed.
Throughout the list of content that could render publishers ineligible for monetization, Facebook notes that the rules can apply “even if the intention is to promote awareness or education” and even if the post is “in the context of news.” That means that publishers may choose to not post content about important but messy topics because they might not be able to make money off of it.
Along with these guidelines, Facebook also announced new tools for advertisers. The site is working on adding additional third-party measurements of ad performance from DoubleVerify and Meetrics, which will join existing partners Nielsen, Oracle Data Cloud and others. Facebook is also seeking Media Rating Council accreditation, which will provide reviews and information on audience measurement practices. Additionally, the company is adding 3,000 content reviewers and will begin providing advertisers with reports on where their ads ran.
These are the latest changes to how Facebook uses ads on its site. While other tweaks have been in the name of fighting fake news, these appear to be largely to please advertisers. As of now, the new content guidelines apply to videos but they will be extended to Instant Articles in the future.
Source: Facebook (1), (2), (3)
Ahead of the 2017 International Broadcasting Convention set to take place on September 14, Adobe has shared details on a series of updates to its video and sound editing software that will be announced at the event. Adobe’s fall Creative Cloud updates will focus on Premiere Pro, After Effects, Character Animator, and Audition, introducing new tools for VR, animations, and audio.
Premiere Pro CC, Adobe’s video editing software aimed at professionals, features collaboration tools that let users work on multiple open projects simultaneously. Using a tab-based structure, Premiere Pro CC eliminates the need to open and close multiple timelines and allows for copying parts of one project into another with just a few clicks.
There’s also a feature for locking a project to prevent edits from being overwritten while also leaving read-only access available, and there are new tools for viewing personal auto-save history, bringing an asset from a previous auto-save to the current version, and creating a new Team Project from an auto-save.
The Essential Graphics panel in Premiere Pro has been updated with time and position-based controls for building Responsive Design into motion graphics, there’s a new feature for selecting and manipulating multiple graphic layers at the same time, and there are Motion Graphics templates included in Adobe Stock.
Other new features in Premiere Pro include an updated startup experience that walks users through the editing process, new color labels, and automatic gap removal to make editing the timeline faster and more streamlined.
After Effects CC, Adobe’s pro-level app for creating motion graphics and visual effects, includes new Data Driven Animations that use JSON data to create charts and graphs, and expressions for path points on masks, shape layers, and paint brush strokes. Improvements have been made to performance when rendering layer transforms, motion blur, and other effects on the GPU, there’s a font menu with live previews, and Adobe has added a new visual map for mapping keyboard shortcuts.
Both After Effects and Premiere Pro feature an immersive display, letting editors experience the content they’re editing while wearing VR headsets like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. There are also new orientation-based audio editing tools, new immersive video transitions, and new effects like VR Blur, VR Glow, VR Sharpen, VR De-Noise, and VR Chromatic Aberration.
Adobe Character Animator CC features a new Controls panel for posing and animating characters, a Triggers & Behavior panel, auto stapling for limbs, eye and eyebrow improvements for more expressive looks, and several new behaviors including Layer Picker, Collisions, and Fader. Visual representations of audio waveforms and integration with Adobe Audition have been added, and there are improvements to lip syncing and walk behaviors.
As for Audition CC, Adobe’s professional audio editing app, there are editing and performance enhancements, auto-ducking in the Essential Sound panel, smart input monitoring, a new Timecode overlay display, and more.
Adobe plans to make all of these features available to its Creative Cloud users later this year. Creative Cloud plans are available from Adobe.com and start at $50 per month for an individual plan.
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With the launch of a new Apple Watch comes a few refreshed collections that the device is available in, requiring users to choose from specific case/band combinations to enter the Apple Watch ecosystem. The Apple Watch Series 3 is available in both non-LTE and LTE-capable models, but there is one downside: if you want a Series 3 in Stainless Steel or Ceramic, you have no choice but to buy a cellular-enabled Apple Watch.
Apple’s non-LTE Series 3 Apple Watch brings about all of the usual performance improvements over the previous generation, including a faster processor, W2 chip, barometric altimeter, and more. The LTE models include all of this, on top of cellular capabilities that further de-tether your iPhone from your Apple Watch, so you can make calls, send messages, stream Apple Music, and more right on your wrist.
Apple added in non-LTE versions of the Series 3 for those users who don’t think they need a cellular Apple Watch, but it’s limited collections for these models to just Aluminum cases. All Series 3 collections in Stainless Steel — of which there are only four non-Hermés models — come with LTE, as do both White Ceramic and Gray Ceramic collections. There are also eight Hermés collections with Stainless Steel cases, each one backing the new cellular features.
If you want the improved features of a new Apple Watch Series 3 without LTE, you’ll have to choose from four Apple Watch Sport models: one Silver Aluminum Case with Fog Sport Band, one Gold Aluminum Case with Pink Sand Sport Band, and two Space Gray Aluminum Cases (one with a Gray Sport Band and one with a Black Sport Band).
There are also two Series 3 Nike+ collections without LTE, both in Aluminum: a Silver Aluminum Case with Pure Platinum/Black Nike Sport Band and a Space Gray Aluminum Case with Anthracite/Black Nike Sport Band.
That makes six total Apple Watch Series 3 collections without LTE among Apple’s 31 new collections of the revamped wearable device. Also of note is that in launch countries where Apple isn’t yet offering cellular support, buyers will then be left with Aluminum as their only option.
Non-cellular available: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the UK, the US and US Virgin Islands.
Cellular available: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, the UK and the US
The first impressions of the Apple Watch Series 3 have been largely positive, particularly thanks to its improved performance, Siri’s ability to speak aloud, and new heart rate detection metrics. Some initial hands-on reports have noted uncertainty about LTE, but like most premium features the usefulness of a cellular-capable Apple Watch will vary greatly person-to-person.
For a look at all of the new bands that Apple launched yesterday, check out our blog post right here.
Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 3, watchOS 4
Buyer’s Guide: Apple Watch (Don’t Buy)
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While the Apple Watch Series 3 officially launches September 22 in the first wave of countries, those interested in Nike+ models will have to wait a bit longer.
In fine print, Apple announced that new Series 3 models of Apple Watch Nike+ will be available in limited quantities starting Thursday, October 5. Apple Watch Nike+ pre-orders still start September 15 like regular Series 3 models.
Apple Watch Nike+ comes with all the features of Apple Watch Series 3, including cellular, which lets you take calls, send messages, and soon stream Apple Music without needing to pair the watch to your iPhone.
Apple Watch Nike+ models have exclusive Nike watch faces designed specifically for Apple Watch, with digital and analog styles. You can launch the Nike+ Run Club app directly from the face by tapping the complication.
With just a tap, you can start an in-ear Audio Guided Run featuring the voice of a Nike+ Run Club coach, world-class athlete, or special guest. Each guided run features coach-curated soundtracks to keep you in the zone.
Apple Watch Nike+ comes in four styles in both 38mm and 42mm sizes, with both cellular and Wi-Fi + GPS only models to choose from:
- Silver Aluminum Case with Pure Platinum/Black Nike Sport Band
- Silver Aluminum Case with Bright Crimson/Black Nike Sport Loop
- Space Gray Aluminum Case with Anthracite/Black Nike Sport Band
- Space Gray Aluminum Case with Black/Pure Platinum Nike Sport Loop
Apple Watch Nike+ models are priced between $329 and $429 in the United States. Additional Nike+ bands are $49 each.
Launch countries include the United States, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guam, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Macau, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.
Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 3, watchOS 4
Tags: Nike+, Apple Watch Nike+ Edition
Buyer’s Guide: Apple Watch (Don’t Buy)
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