Top Stories for the Week of June 14, 2017

  • Episode 508
  • June 14, 2017
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Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday June 14, 2017

Boeing wants to make their passenger airplanes entirely autonomous.

The days of listening to the captain speaking on a flight may be numbered, according to Boeing.

The aerospace giant has been actively working on pilotless technology and has already built an automatic take-off and landing system into its newest model, the 787 Dreamliner. The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots, so Boeing is looking for a high-tech solution.

Mike Sinnett, VP at Boeing responsible for future technologies says, "The basic building blocks of the technology are clearly available. There's going to be a transition from the requirement to have a skilled aviator operate the airplane to having a system that operates the vehicle autonomously--if we can do that with the same level of safety."

He goes on to say, "That's a really big 'if'."

The gold standard, he explained, is to build an AI flight system that can replicate Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's 2009 landing of a crippled jet on the Hudson river in New York, losing no passengers in the process. The captain was praised for choosing his unusual landing spot rather than trying to make it to an airport – which, as was later realized, was highly unlikely to have worked. However, getting a computer to make the same decision is a challenge.

Sinnett said, "We are not smart enough to pre-program all those things. The machine has to be capable of making the same set of decisions. If it can't, we cannot go there."


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Amazon Kindle's book charts are being badly skewed by bots, and it's hurting authors' bottom lines.

Fake books – powered by clickfarms – are gatecrashing Amazon’s charts. And despite being aware of the issue for well over a year, Amazon has thus far failed to resolve it.

First of all, it's important to understand that authors share a lump sum pot of money in the Kindle Unlimited program. A progressively big issue with this is that scammers have been raiding the Kindle Unlimited pot using a simple, but effective trick. They usually pilfer the content first of all – often by stealing a legitimate author’s original work and running it through a synonymizer – and then upload it to Amazon, thus avoiding the automatic plagiarism detectors. They make sure the “book” is as long as possible, but as they are enrolling the title in Kindle Unlimited, they keep it under the program’s limit of 3,000 pages.

These thieves make the book free for a few days, and then use a variety of banned methods to generate a huge and immediate surge in downloads – generally suspected to be bots or clickfarms or dummy accounts, or some combination thereof. These fake books then suddenly jump into the Top 20 of the free charts, displacing authors who have gone to considerable effort to put together an advertising campaign for their work.

When authors and readers report these fake books to Amazon, no action usually gets taken until the following Monday. By then it’s often too late, and these titles have returned to the paid listings, and the subsequent boost in page reads (which normally follows a free run), enables them to grab a huge chunk of the Kindle Unlimited pot – the same shared pot that all authors get paid from.


Sent to us by: Bekah Ferguson

A battery powered by trash is now a proven reality.

Pursuing more efficient sources of renewable energy has led to many iterations of the battery. But researchers just brought a really interesting new version to the table, one made from potassium ions and trash.

The scientists started with rusty, recycled stainless steel mesh and used a potassium ferrocyanide solution -- which is also used in wine production and in fertilizers -- to dissolve ions out of the mesh's layer of rust. Those ions, including iron and nickel, then combined with other ions in the solution. Together, they formed a salt that clung to the mesh as scaffolded nanocubes that could store and release potassium ions. The movement of potassium ions allows for conductivity, which was boosted with an added coating of oxidized graphite.

Lithium batteries have been the go-to version for renewable energy storage, but lithium is expensive and exists in limited amounts. Plus, lithium batteries have a had a troublesome history of exploding. Sodium-ion batteries have been suggested as an alternative because sodium is plentiful and cheap, two qualities that also apply to the potassium ions used in this study.

Though this battery was just a proof of concept study for the researchers, it has an impressive result: the battery has high capacity, discharge voltage and cycle stability. Its use of recycled materials makes it an especially appealing possibility.


Sent to us by: Jeff Weston

The new Mars rover looks like something Batman might drive.

Parker Brothers Concepts, the same Florida-based custom vehicle shop that built a TRON-inspired electric motorcycle, has now designed and built a new NASA rover for humans to drive around on Mars.

The result looks like something Adam West would be proud to drive around the surface of the Red Planet.

At two to three times the size of the Mars Curiosity rover, and weighing in at over three times heavier, it would not be easy getting this new concept vehicle to Mars, or landing it all in one piece, it would be well-worth the attempt.

The scientifically-themed Mars rover concept vehicle operates on an electric motor, powered by solar panels and a 700-volt battery. The rover separates in the middle with the front area designed for scouting and equipped with a radio and navigation provided by the Global Positioning System. The back section serves as a full laboratory which can disconnect for autonomous research.

It's doubtful that this vehicle will ever leave Earth, however some of the ideas represented in it may be incorporated into future rover designs, including the upcoming Mars 2020 mission.


Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson


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