New Hampshire’s fierce embrace of personal freedom confers drivers there a latitude found nowhere else in the nation. The Granite State is the only one that doesn’t legally mandate wearing a seat belt. Earlier this year, state legislators worked to repeal the 85-year-old law declaring, “No person, while hunting or obviously on his way to or from hunting, shall have a ferret in his possession, custody or control,” which we’re pretty sure is another issue only faced in New Hampshire. Looking to the future, Governor Chris Sununu signed House Bill 1182 into law. Covered by Forbes, the “Jetson Bill,” HB 1182 legalizes driving a flying car on public roads. Specifically, the law creates a way for the owner of a “roadable aircraft” to register with the Division of Motor Vehicles and pay a fee to get license plates, but using the car as a plane can still only happen at an airport.
Ex-State Rep. Keith Ammon is now the New Hampshire distributor for PAL-V flying cars (pictured). He worked with current State Rep. Steven Smith on the law — or as Smith put it, Ammon “brought me a list of stuff we needed to address.” Smith also heads his state’s autonomous vehicle review commission, and said, “I look for ways to boost our image as a state that embraces technology change. Maybe people will come here first.”
Since flying cars — whenever they take off — will need to be certified by the FAA as airworthy and flown by pilots, legislators worked to fill in the gaps between FAA and state motor vehicle regulations. FAA-certified mechanics conduct annual inspections, and the agency already requires seat belts, enforces rollover standards, and mandates a forward crumple zone. Pilots get annual physicals to keep their flying licenses current. The Jetson Bill adopts the plane ID number issued by the New Hampshire’s aeronautics agency as the vehicle’s VIN, plus each vehicle will have an FAA “N” number for national use and a New Hampshire license plate so local police can find out whose flying car they’re pulling over. The bill also establishes a committee to look more closely at the issue.
Of note, again, only trained pilots can fly the things, and takeoffs and landings will only be allowed at airports. We’re not sure how many pilots would benefit from not needing to catch a ride at their destination airport, but since the FAA hasn’t approved any flying cars yet, and there are none requesting approval yet, we have some time to answer those questions. Meanwhile, HB 1182 ushered in some more practical legislation related to tolls, impaired driving, and license revocation.
In addition to space tourism, Virgin Galactic has big plans for high-speed air travel. Those plans require a new kind of aircraft, and today, the company unveiled the initial design concepts for its March 3 high-speed plane. Virgin Galactic also announced its intent to work with Rolls-Royce.
The first stage design scope is for a Mach 3 certified delta-wing aircraft that will carry nine to 19 people and fly at an altitude of 60,000 feet. It will offer custom cabin layouts, like business or first class seating arrangements, and Virgin Galactic hopes to use sustainable aviation fuel.
“The design philosophy of the aircraft is geared around making high speed travel practical, sustainable, safe, and reliable, while making customer experience a top priority,” Virgin Galactic wrote in a press release.
Next, the company will define specific system architectures and will determine which materials to use in the design and manufacturing of the aircraft. Virgin Galactic also signed a non-binding memo with Rolls-Royce to collaborate on designing and developing engine propulsion technology for high-speed commercial aircraft.
It turns out nostalgic consumers won’t have to wait for Volkswagen’s ID Buzz to get their hands on an electric microbus. A German company called Electric Brands is working on a VW Bus-inspired EV called the eBussy (via The Drive). But there’s more to the eBussy than a mere nostalgia play. In addition to both urban and off-road chassis variants, you can configure the modular vehicle with 10 different body styles, allowing it to function as a minivan, pickup, flatbed, camper and more.
Another nifty feature of the EV is that you can slide the steering wheel across the dashboard to configure it for left, right or even center driving. That’s because both the steering and pedals use a drive-by-wire system, which means they’re electronically instead of mechanically connected to the front wheels. Powering the eBussy is a 10kWh battery that provides an approximate range of 124 miles. Built-in roof-mounted solar panels and a regenerative braking system can extend the range of the vehicle. You’ll also be able to configure it with a 30kWh battery, allowing the EV to travel approximately 373 miles on a single charge. In-hub electric motors produce a modest 20 horsepower but an impressive 737 pound-feet of torque. Depending on the configuration, the eBussy will weigh between 992 pounds and 1,322 pounds.
The base model eBussy will start at €15,800 ($18,525), with the most expensive model, the off-road camper, coming in at €28,800 ($33,309). Electric Brands also plans to build out a network of charging stations where eBussy owners will be able to exchange their depleted batteries for fresh ones. If all goes according to plan, the eBussy will make its way to European roads sometime next year. No word yet on if Electric Brands plans to bring the EV stateside.
It is, to still somehow understate things, an incredibly difficult time to be a teacher. Around the country, many schools are set to reopen this fall, but with covid-19 case numbers continuing to soar, danger will inevitably lurk in familiar halls. What will happen once class is in session? Will things even get that far? For now, one high school teacher, Zachary “Jaychalke” McCarter, is focusing on injustices he can actually do something about—namely, the quiet ravages of lunch debt.
Lunch debt is a serious issue in the United States. At many schools, kids (and their families) remain on the hook for all meals they eat, regardless of their ability to pay. Nearly 30 million children rely on free or reduced-price lunches, but in order to qualify for them, their families’ incomes must hover between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty line.
However, for many families who do not qualify, the cost of meals (typically a few dollars per day) adds up quickly. According to a 2019 Aljazeera piece on the issue, a high school student can rack up around $770 in annual bills on breakfast and lunch—enough to strain low- and middle-income families past the breaking point. With covid-19 leaving millions unemployed, many families are in dire straits, an issue at least slightly alleviated by lunch pickup programs that allow people to obtain free lunches from whichever school is closest without providing proof of low-income status. But now, though school systems are pushing the federal government to keep that program going through the fall, it’s on the verge of lapsing, with little hope of renewal from Trump’s Agriculture Department. Lunch debt, then, stands to punch a bigger hole in families’ incomes than ever.
McCarter, who used to teach in Oklahoma, but who recently moved to Omaha, Nebraska and is set to begin teaching German at a high school in the area this fall, takes issue with the whole system.
G/O Media may get a commission
“When I went to high school, I sometimes didn’t eat because I didn’t want to put my family in debt—I would always just skip lunch and just wait till I got home,” McCarter told Kotaku over a Discord voice call. “In my classroom, I have food in my cabinets so that when students come in who did not have a lunch, I can at least provide them with food. I would tell them, ‘Don’t feel bad at all because I know what it’s like to be hungry—the agitation that comes with it, the inattentiveness, the inability to pay attention in class that some teachers might misinterpret as you just not caring. I know how it is, and you can totally trust me—come into my classroom, get some food, and completely go about your day as if it never happened.’”
McCarter, who also regularly streams on Twitch, recently realized that he could do even more. Last week, he organized and ran a charity speedrun marathon called All Kids Deserve To Eat 2020. He aimed to raise $13,000 so as to completely wipe out the lunch debt of an elementary school in Ralston, Nebraska. He and the speedrunners he collaborated with blew past that goal, raising over $16,000 by the time it was all said and done.
Initially, All Kids Deserve To Eat was just going to be a 24-hour stream, but despite the fact that lunch debt often goes unremarked on in the labyrinthine nightmare bureaucracy that is America, McCarter was heartened to discover that a whole, whole lot of people cared.
“I set it up as something that people could sign up for that I would host on my channel for 24 hours,” he said. “It had so many submissions that I thought, ‘How about I break this into two days for 15 hours each?’ After that first day, it was beyond my wildest dreams of what we had raised at the time. I unlocked a third day, and we still started smashing goals that we had. So I opened up a fourth day that ended up being a 26-hour stream. So it was like a fifth day as well.”
All Kids Deserve To Eat unfolded almost like a miniature Games Done Quick event, with commentary, races, and donation incentives. It even included an infamous GDQ moment: the “save-kill” portion of Super Metroid, during which runners, fleeing from an exploding planet Zebes, must decide whether to save innocent animals who’ve helped Samus during her journey or shave a few precious screen frames off their runtimes. Tradition mandates that donators choose. McCarter sprinkled multiple Super Metroid runs throughout All Kids Deserve To Eat, so the animals, at least, died for a good cause.
“The save-kill donation incentive alone raised over $6,000,” said McCarter. “That was pretty mind-blowing.”
Other streamers and speedrunners joined in because they, too, know what it’s like to go hungry and don’t want to see kids and families impacted by that.
“I decided to help with this event because I have had financial issues in the past and have had to fight to pay for my own children’s lunches,” streamer Joshua “Unknownavailability” Weekley, who both provided graphical layouts for the marathon and ran a randomized version of Final Fantasy IV, told Kotaku in an email. “This cause just seemed to make sense, because there was nothing like it for such an obvious issue… It was a no-brainer for sure.”
“When I found out it was to eliminate school lunch debt, I knew I had to help get [McCarter] to his goal and participate,” streamer Cinaeth Gaming, who ran Levelhead, Celeste, and Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, and helped with production and commentary, told Kotaku in an email. “There are a few reasons behind that: The first is I personally did have some trouble buying food while I was younger, though not during my school career. The second was I knew we could do something very special that would inspire people as other online gaming charities have done.”
McCarter also said that some Omaha-area teachers and a couple students from the school he’ll be teaching at this fall popped into his chat: “I’ve been on the local news, and they saw that and were able to come into my channel and say, ‘Hey, I love what you’re doing.’”
McCarter is thrilled that the event was such a success, but it’s bittersweet: After all, in a country as wealthy as the United States, a charity event like this really shouldn’t even be necessary.
“It’s tough because the fact that I had to do this charity in this first place is saddening,” he said. “My goal in life, and my motto, is that we talk about lunch debt in the past tense. Like, we think about it and go ‘Whoa, do you remember when elementary school students had to pay to eat the meal they might depend on at school? And they were shamed or otherwise prevented from doing things [if they didn’t]?’”
He hopes to push for progress in that direction by turning All Kids Deserve To Eat into a larger organization that will host an annual event on Twitch, as well as other initiatives.
“We’re actually going to be establishing All Kids Deserve To Eat as a nonprofit organization,” he said. “The biggest reason for that is, you look around at the different NPOs, and there really isn’t anything that focuses on lunch, specifically. There are great organizations for other things education-related related to feeding children, but I wanted something that focused on that lunch aspect.”
It’s a lofty goal. First, though, he’s got to get through a nerve-wrackingly uncertain school year. It won’t be easy, and it might end up endangering him, as well as kids he’s teaching—especially those from low-income families that are disproportionately impacted by issues like lunch debt. For now, though, McCarter is just focusing on what he can do for his students.
“It’s possible that we could start school, and things could get so much worse that we might close down and go virtual again,” he said. “I’m just gonna try and do my best. I’m always, always wanting to do my best for the kids, because they’re what matters. My personal opinion on things, I can think about that at home. But the moment I step into that classroom with my students, they’re what matters.”
Ford is bringing a couple Boston Dynamics robot dogs to Michigan to prowl around into its Van Dyke Transmission Plant. They’ll be doing more than just creeping out plant workers with their freakishly impressive capabilities, too.
The two dogs, named Fluffy and Spot, are there to laser scan the plant so engineers can be prepared to retool it in the future. Ford is able to send the two dogs out into the plant and control them with remote controls. Each robot dog is equipped with five cameras that allow it to scan the facility in detail. If it weren’t for the robot dogs, Ford says the scanning and documenting of the floor layout would take twice as long.
“We used to use a tripod, and we would walk around the facility stopping at different locations, each time standing around for five minutes waiting for the laser to scan,” Mark Goderis, Ford’s digital engineering manager says. “Scanning one plant could take two weeks. With Fluffy’s help, we are able to do it in half the time.”
Ford needs to scan its plants because they get updated and changed often enough without documentation that they need a totally new engineering model to work off when retooling. The old way of doing that was reportedly expensive, costing nearly $300,000 to scan a whole facility. Ford says renting the dogs is much cheaper, coming in at a fraction of the cost.
One other benefit of the dogs is their small size and agility. They’re able to squeeze into small (and potentially dangerous) places inside the plant that humans couldn’t. Ford says they move through the plants at a maximum speed of 3 mph for about two hours at a time, restricted only by their battery charge.
Ultimately, Ford expects these dogs could save time and money with tedious tasks like this one in all its plants. It’s not the first time the company has latched onto some wacky robots, either. One of them being named Fluffy is irony at its best, as the Boston Dynamics dogs always remind us of Black Mirror’s murder dogs. These ones are designed to be benevolent. And in case you were thirsty for more creepy robot dog content, check out this video of a pack of Boston Dynamics dogs tugging a big truck.
In the near future, you’ll be able to launch and navigate Android and iOS apps using Alexa voice commands. Today, Amazon released a bunch of new developer tools. The most interesting might be Alexa for Apps, which allows developers to add Alexa functions to their Android and iOS apps.
Amazon has tested the tool with companies like TikTok, Uber, Yellow Pages and Sonic. So already, you can ask Alexa to start your TikTok recording or open the Sonic app so you can check the menu. If you book an Uber ride through Alexa, the voice assistant will ask if you want to see the driver’s location on a map in the app.
As more developers use the tool, you’ll be able to ask Alexa to open apps, run quick searches, view more info and access key functions. This will work through the Alexa app, Alexa built-in phones or mobile accessories like Echo Buds.
This could give Alexa an advantage over other voice assistants like Siri and Google Assistant because it will allow Alexa to cross the iOS-Android divide. But as The Verge points out, it could also be more work for developers. Many apps already work with both Siri and Google Assistant, and now they’ll have to work with Alexa too.
Alexa for Apps is still in preview, and interested developers can request early access.
In 1927, while trying to understand how atoms bind to form molecules, the German physicist Friedrich Hund discovered one of the most beguiling aspects of quantum mechanics. He found that, under certain conditions, atoms, electrons, and other small particles in nature can cross physical barriers that would confound macroscopic objects, moving like ghosts through walls. By these rules, a trapped electron could escape confinement without outside influence, like a golf ball sitting in the first hole of a course suddenly vanishing and appearing in the second hole without anyone lifting a club. The phenomenon was utterly alien, and it came to be known as “quantum tunneling.”
Since then, physicists have found that tunneling plays a key role in some of nature’s most dramatic phenomena. For example, quantum tunneling makes the sun shine: It enables hydrogen nuclei in stars’ cores to snuggle close enough to fuse into helium. Many radioactive materials, such as uranium-238, decay into smaller elements by ejecting material via tunneling. Physicists have even harnessed tunneling to invent technology used in prototype quantum computers, as well as the so-called scanning tunneling microscope, which is capable of imaging single atoms.
Still, experts don’t understand the process in detail. Publishing in Nature today, physicists at the University of Toronto report a new basic measurement about quantum tunneling: how long it takes. To go back to the golf analogy, they essentially timed how long the ball is in between holes. “In the experiment, we asked, ‘How long did a given particle spend in the barrier?’” says physicist Aephraim Steinberg of the University of Toronto, who led the project.
A “barrier” for an atom is not a material wall or divider. To confine an atom, physicists generally use force fields made of light or perhaps an invisible mechanism such as electric attraction or repulsion. In this experiment, the team trapped rubidium atoms on one side of a barrier made of blue laser light. The photons in the laser beam formed a force field, pushing on the rubidium to keep it confined in the space. They found that the atoms spent about 0.61 milliseconds in the light barrier before popping out on the other side. The exact amount of time depended on the thickness of the barrier and the speed of the atoms, but their key finding is that “tunneling time is not zero,” says physicist Ramón Ramos, who was Steinberg’s graduate student at the time and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Spain.
This result contradicts an experimental finding from last year, also published in Nature, says physicist Alexandra Landsman of Ohio State University, who was not involved in either experiment. In that paper, a team led by physicists at Griffith University in Australia presented measurements suggesting that tunneling occurs instantaneously.
So which experiment is right? Does tunneling occur instantaneously, or does it take about a millisecond? The answer may not be so simple. The discrepancies between the two experiments stem from a long-simmering disagreement in the quantum physics community over how to keep time on the nanoscale. “In the last 70, 80 years, people have come up with a lot of definitions for time,” says Landsman. “In isolation, a lot of the definitions make a lot of sense, but at the same time they make predictions that contradict each other. That’s why there has been so much debate and controversy over the last decade. One group would think that one definition makes sense, while another group would think another.”
The debate gets math-heavy and esoteric, but the gist is that physicists disagree on when a quantum process starts or stops. The subtlety is evident when you remember that quantum particles mostly do not have definite properties and exist as probabilities, just like a coin flipping in the air is neither heads nor tails but has the possibility of being either until it lands. You can think of an atom as a wave, spread out in space, where its exact position is not defined—it might have a 50 percent likelihood of being in one location and 50 percent in another, for example. With these vague properties, it’s not obvious what counts as the particle “entering” or “exiting” the barrier. On top of that, physicists have the added technical challenge of creating a timing mechanism precise enough to start and stop in unison with the particle’s motion. Steinberg has been fine-tuning this experiment for more than two decades to achieve the level of control needed, he says.