Hyundai puts Boston Dynamic’s Spot robot to work as a factory safety inspector

Boston Dynamics’ Spot has found itself a new job, and thankfully this time it doesn’t involve a potential battlefield role. Hyundai has started testing the robot at a Kia manufacturing plant in South Korea where it will be one of the tools the company uses to ensure the facility is safe for workers. The pilot represents the first public collaboration between the two companies since Hyundai acquired a majority stake in Boston Dynamics this past June.

You’ll notice the Spot featured in the video Hyundai released looks different from the robot we’ve seen in past clips. That’s because the automaker’s Robotics Lab outfitted it with what is essentially a backpack that features a host of enhancements, including a thermal camera, LiDAR and more powerful computing resources for handling additional AI tasks. The “AI Processing Service Unit” allows Spot to detect people, monitor temperatures and check for fire hazards. Additionally, a secure webpage allows factory personnel to monitor the robot remotely, and take over control if they want to inspect an area of the facility more closely.

According to Hyundai, the pilot will help it assess the effectiveness of Spot as a late-night security patrol robot before it goes on to deploy it at additional industrial sites. Automation, manufacturing and construction applications align with what the automaker said was its grand plan for Boston Dynamics when it bought the company.

via Engadget

September 17, 2021 at 01:09PM

Fering Pioneer off-roader breaks new ground with 4,350-mile range

A team of engineers in the UK led by Ben Scott-Geddes had supercar backgrounds, Scott-Geddes having worked on the McLaren F1, BMW LMS racer, Caparo T1, and Ferrari SF90, his crew bearing similar go-fast résumés. Instead of making what they knew, however, they made a left turn and headed for the literal hills about 18 months ago. The mission for their new company, Fering, is “to develop a vehicle that could traverse the globe with a lighter impact.” Scott-Geddes was especially interested in a vehicle that could cross an unsupported 4,000-kilometer section of the Arctic through Canada and Russia. The result is the Fering Pioneer, a range-extended electric off-roader packed with novelties.

The least unusual aspect is the powertrain, centered around a twin bank of lithium titanium oxide batteries with a combined 20-kWh capacity. The battery chemistry isn’t as efficient as lithium-ion, but it’s better at holding a charge in extreme heat and cold, and more resistant to fire, impacts, and punctures. The small unit is good for about 50 miles of pure electric driving, but it’s kept charged by an 800-cc diesel range-extender engine taken from a Smart. That combo powers two electric motors, one on each axle, that put out a combined 443 pound-feet of torque. Top speed is about 80 miles per hour.

The aluminum tube chassis contains welded, bolted, and bonded joints supplemented by composites for strength. The Pioneer stands at 189 inches long, 79 inches wide, and 77 inches tall; that’s one inch shorter, a couple inches wider, and six inches taller than a Ford Transit Connect. The modular frame design means the door frames are identical front to rear and side to side, yet again improving ease of repair.

The compact stance makes the 22.5-inch wheels appear gargantuan, Fering choosing that size because it’s a standard for heavy trucks around the world, easily replaceable from Borneo to Bolivia. Those rims hang off 2:1 geared hubs that multiply torque and help create a whopping 31.5 inches of ground clearance. The chassis has been draped in a rugged, durable fabric akin to what’s used in hiking boots; it won’t dent, and it’s easy to repair and replace. 

The package is claimed to weigh 3,307 pounds dry, and is capable of carrying its weight again as payload. Fering says the Pioneer will climb a 60% grade and a 19.7-inch step, traverse a 50-degree slope, and ford 55 inches of water. Created to get to and come back from the most remote environments, the real USP is when the Pioneer’s fitted with an extended-range fuel tank. Figured to get an average of 50 miles per gallon, the big tank enables a 7,000-kilometer range, or 4,350 miles. 

The company targets entering production next year, the plan to produce 150 to 200 Pioneers per annum, and Fering’s already taken its first deposit for a rig to work in the Amazon. Starting price will be about £150,000 ($206,700 U.S.), but that can balloon to the size of any budget, Fering promising almost endless customization and upgrade possibilities.

Related video:

via Autoblog

September 16, 2021 at 04:47PM

How to Watch the SpaceX Inspiration4 Launch

On the Florida coast, at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the SpaceX team is readying the historic Inspiration4 mission for liftoff. It will be the first all-private, all-civilian spaceflight into orbit. The four crew members—Jared Isaacman, Sian Proctor, Chris Sembroski, and Hayley Arceneaux—have trained intensely for this day, although none of them are professional astronauts. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon craft has previously ferried NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station, but everyone aboard this flight is traveling as a guest of Isaacman, the billionaire CEO of  Shift4Payments, who paid for all four seats and played a part in selecting the other passengers through a series of contests. (You can read more about the selection process and the mission here.)

The Inspiration4 crew have a five-hour launch window that opens at 8:02 pm Eastern on Wednesday night. If the weather cooperates and all systems are go, the team will blast off on their Falcon 9 rocket, and in a little more than eight minutes, their space capsule will be propelled into orbit. They’ll fly about six times higher than Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos did during their edge-of-space jaunts earlier this summer, and stay in orbit for approximately three days.

As early as Saturday evening, the Dragon spacecraft will descend toward Earth and splash down at one of several possible landing sites off the Florida coast, where a SpaceX team will be waiting for them, ready to take the new astronauts ashore.

How to Watch

SpaceX’s webcast of the launch will go live at about 4 pm Eastern time on Wednesday, September 15, about four hours before the launch window opens. SpaceX’s preview coverage will include features on the crew and their lead-up activities. You can stream it here on YouTube or on the SpaceX website.

Weather condition forecasts have recently been upgraded from 70 percent to 90 percent favorable, so a launch tonight seems likely. But if they have to scrub tonight’s attempt, they’ll try again tomorrow. Their backup five-hour launch window starts Thursday, September 16, at 8:05 pm Eastern.

More Great WIRED Stories

via Wired Top Stories

September 15, 2021 at 02:15PM

Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years

Even though I was raised Catholic, for most of my adult life, I didn’t pay religion much heed. Like many scientists, I assumed it was built on opinion, conjecture, or even hope, and therefore irrelevant to my work. That work is running a psychology lab focused on finding ways to improve the human condition, using the tools of science to develop techniques that can help people meet the challenges life throws at them. But in the 20 years since I began this work, I’ve realized that much of what psychologists and neuroscientists are finding about how to change people’s beliefs, feelings, and behaviors—how to support them when they grieve, how to help them be more ethical, how to let them find connection and happiness—echoes ideas and techniques that religions have been using for thousands of years.

Science and religion have often been at odds. But if we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts. Over thousands of years, these experiments, carried out in the messy thick of life as opposed to sterile labs, have led to the design of what we might call spiritual technologies—tools and processes meant to sooth, move, convince, or otherwise tweak the mind. And studying these technologies has revealed that certain parts of religious practices, even when removed from a spiritual context, are able to influence people’s minds in the measurable ways psychologists often seek.

My lab has found, for example, that having people practice Buddhist meditation for a short time makes them kinder. After only eight weeks of study with a Buddhist lama, 50 percent of those who we randomly assigned to meditate daily spontaneously helped a stranger in pain. Only 16 percent of those who didn’t meditate did the same. (In reality, the stranger was an actor we hired to use crutches and wear a removable foot cast while trying to find a seat in a crowded room.) Compassion wasn’t limited to strangers, though; it also applied to enemies. Another study showed that after three weeks of meditation, most people refrained from seeking revenge on someone who insulted them, unlike most of those who did not meditate. Once my team observed these profound impacts, we began looking for other linkages between our previous research and existing religious rituals.

Gratitude, for instance, is something we had studied closely, and a key element of many religious practices. Christians often say grace before a meal; Jews give thanks to God with the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon awakening. When we studied the act of giving thanks, even in a secular context, we found it made people more virtuous. In a study where people could get more money by lying about the results of a coin flip, the majority (53 percent) cheated. But that figure dropped dramatically for people who we first asked to count their blessings. Of these, only 27 percent chose to lie. We’ve also found that when feeling gratitude to a person, to fate, or to God, people become more helpful, more generous, and even more patient.

Even very subtle actions—like moving together in time—can exert a significant effect on the mind. We see synchrony in almost every religion the world over: Buddhists and Hindus often chant together in prayer; Christians and Muslims regularly kneel and stand in unison during worship; Jews often sway, or shuckle, when reciting prayers together. These actions belie a deep purpose: creating connection. To see how it works, we asked pairs of strangers to sit across a table from one another, put on headphones, and then tap a sensor on the table in front of them each time they heard a tone. For some of these pairs, the sequence of tones matched, meaning they’d be tapping their hands in unison. For others, they were random, meaning hand movements wouldn’t be synchronized. Afterward, we created a situation where one member of each pair got stuck doing a long and difficult task. Not only did those who had been moving their hands in unison report feeling more connection with and compassion for their partner who was now toiling away, 50 percent of them decided to lend the partner a hand—a big increase over the 18 percent who decided to help without having just moved in sync.

The combined effects of simple elements like these—ones that change how we feel, what we believe, and who we can depend on—accumulate over time. And when they’re embedded in religious practices, research has shown they can have protective properties of sorts. Regularly taking part in religious practices lessens anxiety and depression, increases physical health, and even reduces the risk of early death. These benefits don’t come simply from general social contact. There’s something specific to spiritual practices themselves.

via Wired Top Stories

September 14, 2021 at 08:03AM

Virgin Galactic delays next spaceflight to investigate possible component defect

Virgin Galactic has pushed its next mission back a bit to investigate a possible manufacturing defect that might affect its VSS Unity space plane.

The upcoming flight, known as Unity 23, will carry members of the Italian Air Force to and from suborbital space. Virgin Galactic had been targeting late September or early October for Unity 23, but that window has now closed.

“During preparation for the Unity 23 test flight, a third-party supplier recently flagged a potential manufacturing defect in a component of the flight control actuation system that they supply to Virgin Galactic,” Virgin Galactic representatives said in a statement on Friday (Sept. 10).

“At this point, it is not yet known whether the defect is present in the company’s vehicles and what, if any, repair work may be needed,” the statement reads. “Out of an abundance of caution, and in line with Virgin Galactic’s established safety procedures, the company is in the process of conducting inspections in partnership with the vendor.”

In photos: Virgin Galactic’s 1st fully crewed spaceflight with Richard Branson

The earliest conceivable liftoff for Unity 23 is mid-October at this point, Virgin Galactic representatives said. They did not name the vendor that supplies the component in question.

The defect issue isn’t the only hurdle Virgin Galactic needs to clear before it launches again. During its most recent space mission, a landmark July test flight whose passengers included Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, VSS Unity flew outside its designated airspace for 101 seconds, as Nicholas Schmidle reported earlier this month in The New Yorker. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is investigating what happened on the flight and has effectively grounded VSS Unity until that inquiry wraps up, as Schmidle has noted.

The current defect issue is unrelated to the events of the July test flight, Virgin Galactic representatives said.

The six-passenger, two-pilot VSS Unity takes off beneath the wings of a carrier plane known as VMS Eve. At an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters), Eve drops Unity, and the rocket plane then makes its own way to suborbital space.

Passengers experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and see the curve of Earth against the blackness of space, an experience that Virgin Galactic is currently selling for $450,000 per seat

VSS Unity has reached space four times to date, all on test flights. Unity 23 will be its final flight for a while. After that mission is over, Virgin Galactic plans to perform extensive maintenance and upgrade work on Eve, which is expected to sideline the carrier plane until the middle of next year. 

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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September 14, 2021 at 09:29AM

Autonomous tugboat will make a trailblazing 1,150 mile voyage

There are a number of autonomous boats under development, but we’ve seen few commercial self-driving ships plying waterways. Now, a company called Sea Machines has announced that it will send an autonomous, remotely commanded tugboat on a 1,000 nautical mile (1,150 mile) "Machine Odyssey" voyage around Denmark. 

The tug ("Nellie Bly") will have "full onboard vessel control managed by autonomous technology," but be operated under the authority of officers located in the US. The aim is to show "global companies that operate the fleets of cargo ships, tugs, ferries, and the many other types of commercial workboats that they can integrate autonomous technology into their vessel operations for a host of technology-driven benefits."

Autonomous tugboat will make a trailblazing 1,150 mile voyage
Sea Machines

The tug will be steered by Sea Machines’ SM300 autonomous system equipped with long-range computer vision. It’s a "sensor-to-propeller" system that employs "path-planning, obstacle avoidance replanning, vectored nautical chart data and dynamic domain perception" to control a voyage from start to finish. At the same time, it shows the remote human commanders information like live augmented overlays of the mission, vessel state, situational awareness, environmental data and "real-time vessel-born audio and video from the many streaming cameras."

It appears that the Nellie Bly will set sail ahead of Yara’s crewless electric cargo ship that’s supposed to launch by the end of 2021. That vessel will use a 7MWh battery and 900kW propulsion system to steam at 13 knots from Herøya to Brevik, Norway — a distance of around 13km (8 miles). Sea Machines’ tug is built by the Dutch shipyard Damen and appears to be powered by a pair of outboard motors.

When Sea Machines’ tugboat launches, you’ll be able to follow it yourself as the voyage will be streamed 24/7, the company said. It’s set to launch on October 1st from Germany.

via Engadget

September 14, 2021 at 08:09AM

The latest Rolls-Royce concept is a hybrid dump truck

Is a standard Rolls-Royce not big and imposing enough for you? Perhaps the company’s latest concept can get you to pass the Grey Poupon. Behold, the Rolls-Royce MTU hybrid haul truck.

The Cullinan might come with 22-inch rims, but when equipped with its R63 Michelin XDRs, each wheel and tire combo of the ultimate Roller will stand over 13 feet tall. With a driver’s seat a full story off the ground, it’s so lofty you won’t even see the plebes that you crush in their feeble Coachbuild Dawns as indifferently as Loxodonta africana steamrolls a line of ants. Serve as your own life-size Spirit of Ecstasy as you look down at the puny Parthenon radiators of run-of-the-mill Phantoms from atop your soaring grille, located a full flight of stairs above the lowly earth.

All jokes aside, the Rolls-Royce truck mainly serves to promote its new MTU V12 2000-series industrial 12-cylinder engines. Rolls-Royce doesn’t even produce the haul trucks; typically, they provide the engines for installation into rigid dumpers built by Liebherr, Hitachi, or Selex.

The new hybrid mill produces 1,560 horsepower, meant to replace the V16 4000-series 16-cylinder engines making 2,500 horsepower. However, Rolls-Royce says performance will be the same while dropping carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent in new installations, or 22 percent with retrofits.

Like a Prius, the engine uses a battery pack to store regenerative energy captured as the trucks descend into quarries, then expends that juice to climb back up. It also requires no additional space for an exhaust gas treatment system or diesel urea additives, which are apparently concerns in a mining truck.

In addition, Rolls-Royce is in the process of engineering its industrial engines to run on sustainable fuels such as hydrogen brewed from renewable energy (not the way we do it in the U.S.). The company hopes to have hydrogen fuel engines ready by 2023 in stationary applications. It’s all part of the company’s goals for a — say it with us — carbon-neutral future.

The concept truck was conceived for MINExpo 2021, a mining convention taking place September 26-29 in Las Vegas. Hopefully they’ll put it into production and offer a constellation headliner in the cab.

via Autoblog

September 14, 2021 at 06:45AM