Robotic Deep Sea Explorer Uncovers Treasure Trove of Freaky Marine Life

The NOAA explorers encountered this unidentified species of snailfish. (Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.)

Last month, scientists aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer visited a poorly-explored deep sea area about 940 miles west of Hawaii. From giant sea spiders and rare snailfish through to comb jellies and glass-like corals, these are some of the weirdest critters we’ve seen in a while.

Laulima O Ka Moana, as the expedition was called, took NOAA to a region around the Johnston Atoll. From July 7 to August 2, 2017, NOAA scientists explored these deep waters using a pair of remotely operated subs, Deep Discoverer and Seirios. The expedition is part of the three-year CAPSTONE mission, an initiative to collect deepwater data in support of science and management decisions in and around protected US marine areas. To that end, the scientists investigated vulnerable marine habitats and seamounts, carefully documenting the marine life forms as they were encountered.

As usual, the expedition resulted in some fairly remarkable discoveries. Here are some highlights.

Glass sponge

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

Also known as hexactinellids, glass sponges have skeletons made of silica, the same material used to make glass. They live attached to hard surfaces and suck up bacteria and plankton from the surrounding water. The skeleton of the glass sponge, along with various chemicals, provide defense against many predators. It’s definitely one of the most unusual organisms on the planet.

A “turbocharger” glass sponge

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

This one’s called a “turbocharged” glass sponge on account of the distinctive tubes arising along its upper edge.

Gangly sea spider

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

Looking like something out an Alien movie, this large sea spider, a marine arthropod, was seen at 1,495 meters (4,905 feet).

Snailfish

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

A possible new species of deepwater snailfish in the family Liparidae, this critters was seen at a depth of 2,55 meters (8,380 feet). These tadpole-like fish can be found from the Arctic to the Antarctic, but very little is known about them. Snailfish are well suited for deep waters, featuring well-developed sensory pores on their heads.

Comb Jelly

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

A stunning shot of a translucent comb jelly, taken at a depth of about 600 meters (1,970 feet).

Cusk eel

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

A cusk eel hangs out above the seafloor at about 1,840 meters (6,035 feet) depth, basking in the glow of Deep Discoverer’s lights.

Slime star

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

This particular slime star, the pterasterid Hymenaster, measures more than four inches (10 centimeters) wide and has a soft, gelatinous surface held up over its body surface. These strange stars can spew mucus as a defense when harassed.

A stalked glass sponge

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

A close-up of a very dandelion-looking stalked glass sponge. The red coloring at its anterior portion is quite striking—it almost seems to glow.

Tiny jelly

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

A very tiny cnidarian, a jellyfish known as Aegina, is seen feeding on the polyps of bamboo corals.

Dandelion siphonophore

This dandelion siphonophore was the first one observed by NOAA explorers on the expedition. “Found at approximately 2,530 meters (8,300 feet), we were able to see the feeding tentacles extended around the animal like a spider web as well as the pulsating nectophores, found just below and around the ‘float,’ which helped to keep the central body suspended,” noted NOAA.

Black corals

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

Black corals like this one (Bathypathes) were not seen in the sedimented area where the dive began, but became more common as Deep Discoverer explored the region’s rocky ridge and crest.

Brown nudibranch

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

The NOAA researchers considered this large brown nudibranch to be among the most unusual animals observed during the expedition. This specimen, which measures about four inches (10 cm) in length, was found a depth not typically seen for these creatures. Nudibranches are often confused with sea slugs, but they’re actually soft-bodied mollusks that shed their shells after a larval stage.

Farreid glass sponges

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

This gorgeous photo shows a pair of farreid glass sponges at a depth of 2,360 meters (7,740 feet) depth. Corals were also present, but in lower abundance. Iridogorgia and bamboo coral can be seen in the background.

Precious pink Hemicorallium

An amazing specimen of pink Hemicorallium, a type of coral. This photo was taken at a depth of 2,400 meters (7,875 feet) when the Hemicorallium had most of its tentacles drawn in.

Incredible corals

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

Iridogorgia and bamboo coral can be seen in the foreground, while octocorals appear further back. This photo was taken near the East “Wetmore” Seamount.

Sea star eating corals

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

The right side of this bamboo coral has been stripped clean by this sea star at a depth of 1,510 meters (4,955 feet) on “Pierpoint” Seamount.

Another fantastic mission has come to an end, but the good news is that NOAA will be exploring the Musicians Seamounts, a group of deep sea mounts in the North Pacific, from September 6-30. We’ll be sure to track their progress.

[NOAA]

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DIY Prop Shop: How to Build a TRON Helmet at Home for Under $50!

DIY Prop Shop: How to Build a TRON Helmet at Home for Under $50!

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Watch as the folks from DIY Prop Shop build a homemade version of the TRON helmet in honor of franchise’s 35th anniversary for under $50!

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2017 Wireless Carrier Speed Test Battle Time: Let’s See Those Screenshots!

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With so much talk these days about wireless network speeds and companies like Verizon trying to hit those 1Gb downloads, it seemed like a nice time to open up a speed test battle. I don’t think we’ve done one of these in a good 3 or 4 years for some reason (since Verizon launched XLTE), and maybe that’s because everyone’s network started catching up to each other. But now that there seems to be a new focus on who the fastest wireless carrier is, this could be fun.

So, like we used to do, all you need to do is jump off WiFi, attach to your wireless network and run a speed test with Ookla’s Speedtest.net app. Once done, screenshot it and head into the comments to attach it to a comment. Be sure to tell us which carrier you are on as well. What good is a speed test battle if we don’t know which carrier only gave you 2Mbps down on? We need to know who to point the finger at while laughing.

For those curious, the three phones above are attached to AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile (in that order). I just ran those tests simultaneously moments ago. I really do live in the Verizon Black Hole of Signal Death. Go easy on them.

Ready? Go!

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Inmates Escape Prison Life with Dungeons & Dragons [Video]

Inmates Escape Prison Life with Dungeons & Dragons [Video]

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All across America, hardened criminals are donning the cloaks of elves and slaying dragons all in orange jumpsuits, under blazing fluorescent lights and behind bars.

In this video, the folks from Waypoint meet with two former cellmates who played D&D together in a maximum security prison and how they are now using the game to integrate back into civil society.

[Waypoint]

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Boeing Dreamliner Crew Draws Enormous Outline Of Their Plane In The Sky

The flight path of a Boeing 787-800 that traced out an image of the aircraft.

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The flight path of a Boeing 787-800 that traced out an image of the aircraft.

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It’s not so much skywriting as it is skydoodling.

To pass the time during a routine test flight, a team of Boeing pilots used their own flightpath to draw a giant outline of the very plane they were flying — a 787-800 Dreamliner. The picture they sketched stretched over 22 U.S. states and took 18 hours of flight time to complete.

“The nose is pointing at the Puget Sound region, home to Boeing Commercial Airplanes,” the aircraft maker said in a statement.

“The wings stretch from northern Michigan near the Canadian border to southern Texas. The tail touches Huntsville, Alabama,” it added.

There’s no word on how flight controllers reacted to the rather unique flight path. But the folks at Flightradar24, a flight tracker website, took note when all but the trailing edge of the starboard wing was complete.

And they weren’t the only ones to notice. #Dreamliner.

Back in February, a team test flying a Boeing 737 ‘Max’ pulled a similar maneuver, writing the plane’s moniker in the sky.

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Cadillac’s Super Cruise — look, Elon, no hands!

Cadillac is about to start selling vehicles with an autonomous driving mode and TechCrunch got an early look at the technology in a production car.

“Wait for the green light and let go,” the Cadillac engineer instructed. That’s it. The car was driving itself. I, the person behind the steering wheel, was no longer the driver. Cadillac’s Super Cruise system was driving.

The 2018 Cadillac CT6 sped along U.S. 23 under the direction of Super Cruise. Traffic was light and the weather was perfect. The system held the Cadillac sedan in lane and responded appropriately to traffic. I spent an hour on the expressway and touched the steering wheel and pedals only a few times.

Super Cruise made the drive boring. I think that’s the point.

Here’s how it works

Super Cruise is available once the driver navigates the vehicle onto an expressway. When ready, a little icon is displayed by the speedometer and the driver hits a button on the steering wheel to switch it on.

Once the light bar on top of the steering wheel turns green, the driver can let go. Super Cruise is driving.This steering wheel light bar is key to the operation. When green, the driver knows Super Cruise is in control. Blue means the driver interrupted the system to change lanes and red means Super Cruise needs the driver to confirm they’re paying attention and not checking Twitter.

When active, Super Cruise controls the steering and speed, but again, only on an expressway. This is done through onboard sensors and using GPS and mapping data. GM employed GeoDigital, a startup in GM Venture’s portfolio, to map 160,000 miles of expressways in the U.S. and Canada. The car company then used Super Cruise-equipped vehicles to test each mile.

This combination of onboard systems combined with map data makes the system feel polished and sophisticated. During my admittedly limited time in the vehicle, the CT6 precisely held its position in the lane and confidently handled sweeping curves at speed. There was no wiggling or squirming — from the Cadillac or myself. The car was in control, and I felt safe.

Although the driving conditions were perfect for my test ride, during adverse weather, the system will work normally until one of the key systems is unable to operate. Say heavy rain is affecting the front facing camera from capturing data, or side cameras are unable to see lane markers because of snow — at this point, Super Cruise will alert the driver, and after the driver has regained the wheel, the system will turn off.

Don’t call Super Cruise Autopilot

Super Cruise is Cadillac’s answer to Tesla’s Autopilot. The system shares a lot of the same marketable points, but there are key differences. For one, Super Cruise only works on expressways. Cadillac’s system also lacks several autonomous features found on Autopilot including the ability to pull the car out of a garage and change lanes by using the turn signals.

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Cadillac’s version of this technology is, as the Super Cruise name suggests, a smart version of cruise control.

Cadillac is quick to point out Super Cruise is the first true hands-free driving system for the highway. That’s a direct shot at Tesla’s Autopilot, which requires drivers to put their hands on the steering wheel every few minutes. Cadillac’s version uses an IR sensor mounted on the steering column that monitors various aspects of the driver to ensure they’re paying attention. During my time with the CT6, I went a significant amount of time without touching the steering wheel.

Tesla’s system is slightly different. After it debuted in 2015, videos started popping up showing drivers climbing in the backseat while the car was driving. Because some people are idiots, Tesla had to implement a system to ensure drivers were still alert and part of that is requiring the driver to touch the wheel.

It feels like Cadillac built Super Cruise with these Tesla goofball videos in mind. Sensible safety checks are present throughout the system even though, in the end, drivers do not have touch the steering wheel at all to use Super Cruise.

Limited availability, extensive safety

Super Cruise’s IR sensors tracks eye location and head movements. As long as the driver looks at the road every seven to 20 seconds, the system works as expected. The faster the vehicle goes, the shorter this interval becomes. Essentially, if you’re stuck in traffic, crawling along at 20 mph, you’re less likely to make a mess eating a taco.

Let’s say a driver fails to watch the road. At this point the car uses different levels of alerts that escalate in severity. First, the light bar on top of the steering will start to flash green and then red. If this doesn’t cause the driver to look back at the road, the seat starts to vibrate or an alarm sounds and the car starts to coast.

If a driver fails to respond to the previous warnings, the alerts go batty. A spoken alert will urge the driver to regain control of the vehicle. Meanwhile, the car had activated the hazard lights and is using onboard sensors to safely comes to a stop in its lane. A call is also placed to OnStar to see if the driver needs medical attention. If it comes to this level, Super Cruise cannot be reactivated until the car is turned off and turned back on.

These systems follow a logical order of operations. I tried to break them during my drive in the CT6. Closing my eyes activated the system as well as looking away too long. It’s nearly impossible to miss the flashing light on the steering wheel. The alarm is loud. Though I didn’t test the final warning protocols, my experience tells me that a person would have to work hard (or be in genuine distress) to hit this level.

Super Cruise is nearly a SAE Level 3 automated driving system, though it’s still likely Level 2 technically for the purposes of regulatory compliance, given that it requires a driver to be paying most of the time. But GM won’t say specifically how they classify the car by SAE standards. Instead, during my time with a handful of Cadillac engineers and marketing executives, when pressed, they would completely push aside assigning a label. Instead, they said repeatedly that this is a “hands-free driving system for the highway,” explaining that most consumers do not understand the SAE levels anyway.

Cadillac built a fantastic system with the Super Cruise. Its next task is to sell it to consumers.

Super Cruise is unlike anything currently offered for sale from the Detroit Three automakers. As such, it’s likely Super Cruise will be the first autonomous system buyers will experience. Dealers will have to answer plenty of what-ifs, and it’s important to remember that Cadillac salespeople are not Cadillac employees. Tesla salespeople are employed directly by Tesla.

Cadillac has a large task of educating dealers and consumers alike about the benefits and limitations of Super Cruise. It won’t be an easy task. General Motors will have to rely on independently owned dealerships to correctly position this product and train buyers on its capabilities.

General Motors has packaging on its side. For better or worse, Super Cruise is built into the CT6 like a standard system and not something a driver must use every time they’re on an expressway. This should help timid buyers.

Super Cruise feels like a feature ready for the masses. The system is deeply integrated into the vehicle and using it is akin to using cruise control or turning on the lights. There’s a button for Super Cruise on the steering wheel. Press the button when the system is available and it works. It’s that easy to turn a driver into a passenger.

Written by Matt Burns for TechCrunch.

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