Passenger Drone lives up to its name with manned flight

There are quite a

few companies

working on developing drones for human transportation, but a new one has just jumped into the fray. With an almost fully developed prototype and plans to start producing them commercially next year, the aptly named

Passenger Drone

introduced itself by showing off a manned flight on its first prototype.

The company has been quietly working on its tech for the last three years and it has produced a lightweight, car-sized drone that can fly autonomously, be maneuvered remotely or be controlled manually. It’s lifted by 16 rotors and produces zero emissions. Passenger Drone says it plans to build five more prototypes and log over 1000 hours of flight time before proceeding with commercial production.

While Passenger Drone’s rig may be inching close to real life flights, it’s entering a

crowded field

. Companies like

EHang

,

Airbus

and Volocopter are just a few of the groups working on their own models and Volocopter’s drone took its

maiden test flight

earlier this month.

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To make space exploration easier, China will launch rockets from freighters and planes

China’s land-based Long March space launch rockets have been the backbone of its space program for more than 40 years. It looks like that’s about to change, as the nation is making moves to launch from aircraft and ships.

Starting next year, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC) will use 10,000-ton freighters as ocean-going launchpads for its Long March 11 launch rocket. The Long March 11 can carry up to 1,100 pounds into low-earth orbit. The plan is to bring the freighters to the equator, so the rockets require less fuel and can accommodate larger payloads.

Another alternative is from the air. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology announced this month that they’re developing a solid-fueled space launch rocket to be dropped from the Y-20. The rocket itself is expected to weigh about 60 tons (the Y-20’s payload is 66 tons) and has a low Earth orbit payload of 220 pounds. 

If you’re dropping a rocket from an airplane, as opposed to the launching from ground, the rocket’s first stage can be smaller, which means it’ll be more efficient and could handle a larger payload. That means greater flexibility and a potentially quicker launch—both considerable military advantages.

Much as with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch, and various U.S. military plans, China’s move to sea and air launches is an indicator of the country’s ambitions for low Earth orbit satellite constellations primed for communications, navigation, and Earth observation. 

Those ambitions also mesh well with the broader plan to become a space superpower. The country wants to develop Martian landers, manned moonshots, hypersonic spaceplanes, and reusable rockets. 

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FCC chair accused of ignoring investment data in push to end net neutrality

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai listens during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in Washington, DC on June 20, 2017.


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In his ongoing push to get rid of net neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai claimed this month that the rules caused capital investment in wireless networks to drop in 2016. But in doing so, Pai hasn’t addressed data from earlier years that doesn’t fit his anti-net neutrality narrative.

“The most concerning emerging issue we are seeing is that investment in wireless networks was down significantly in 2016,” Pai said in a speech at Mobile World Congress on September 12. “According to the UBS Wireless 411 report, in fact, investment was down 9 percent, a huge drop outside of a recession.”

Eliminating net neutrality rules and the related classification of broadband providers as common carriers will reverse the trend, Pai predicted. “In our Restoring Internet Freedom proceeding, the FCC is currently examining whether we should change our Internet regulations in order to encourage greater deployment and investment and bring digital opportunity to more Americans,” he said.

“False narrative”

Pai beat the drum again this week in the FCC’s annual report on wireless competition, which emphasizes the investment drop in 2016. The current net neutrality rules were voted in by the FCC in February 2015 and took effect in June 2015.

But investment also dropped between 2013 and 2015, before the current rules were in place, Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn pointed out. (There was no recession in those years, either.)

Clyburn said the following in her criticism of the report:

The discussion of investment in the mobile wireless services industry is fundamentally flawed. By highlighting a decrease in investment between 2015 and 2016, this section was clearly written to support the false narrative that the 2015 Open Internet Order deterred wireless carriers from investing in their networks.

Despite my office’s request, this Report does not include data from the 19th, 18th, and 16th Competition Reports, which showed investment from all commercial wireless companies declined from $33.1 billion in 2013 to $30.9 billion in 2015. In case you missed it, those reports predated the 2015 Order. Also, despite my request, this report does not include CTIA’s investment data indicating that investment per consumer measurements declined from 2006 to 2009. Just in case you missed it again, that predates the 2015 and 2010 Open Internet Orders. These statistics demonstrate that there must be other factors, other than the Open Internet Orders, that account for why wireless carriers decreased their investment in their networks.

An earlier, weaker set of net neutrality rules were approved by the FCC in 2010 but were vacated by a court decision in January 2014. The 2010 rules merely required mobile ISPs to disclose network management practices and prohibited them from blocking lawful websites—today, wireless providers face stricter rules against throttling and paid prioritization.

Investment rises and falls in cycles

Wireless network investment rose by 18.9 percent from 2011 to 2012 and rose another 10.1 percent from 2012 to 2013, despite there being limited net neutrality rules in place at the time, according to CTIA data cited by the FCC in its annual reports. As Clyburn noted, investment then declined from 2013 to 2015, despite there being no net neutrality rules for nearly all of 2014 and half of 2015.

The data shows investment going up and down in cyclical patterns, a trend the FCC has in previous years attributed to the beginnings and ends of technology upgrade cycles rather than to net neutrality rules.

In response to Clyburn’s statement, the FCC’s Republican majority edited a chart in the competition report to include annual capital expenditures by the four nationwide service providers since 2010. In the draft report released before the commission’s vote, the chart only went back to 2013.

But the final report doesn’t include all the data requested by Clyburn and is otherwise identical to the draft on the question of investment. The section on investment before the chart still makes no mention of the previous investment swings noted by Clyburn, focusing only on the most recent decline.

“According to the UBS Wireless 411 report, in 2016, wireless service providers spent an incremental $28.0 billion, which is a decline of approximately 9 percent from the $30.9 billion invested in 2015,” the report says.

The report also says that the four biggest carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless) “spent a combined $27.5 billion in 2016, $30.3 billion in 2015, and $31.2 billion in 2014, accounting for close to 100 percent of total industry capital investment as tracked by UBS in these time periods.”

The report is otherwise a glowing review of the wireless industry and finds for the first time in nearly a decade that US wireless customers are benefiting from “effective competition.” This finding could influence how strictly the FCC regulates wireless carriers and whether it approves mergers such as a possible combination of T-Mobile and Sprint.

When contacted by Ars this week, the FCC chairman’s office pointed out the inclusion of data going back to 2010 in the updated chart. But Pai’s spokespeople did not give us any response to the statement by Clyburn or provide a theory on what caused previous investment declines.

The cyclical nature of investment was described by the FCC in its March 2013 report, which noted that investment increases in 2010 and 2011 followed the decline in 2009. “This pattern of a period of declining investment followed by a period of rising investment is consistent with the cyclical nature of technological adoption in the mobile wireless service industry, with the upswing in capital investment since 2009 likely reflecting the transition from third- to fourth-generation wireless network technologies,” the FCC said at the time.

“Chairman Pai continues to hide the truth”

Consumer advocacy group Free Press criticized Pai for focusing only on the 2016 investment drop in a letter to Pai and in a press release titled “Chairman Pai Continues to Hide the Truth About Broadband Investment to Justify His Vendetta Against Net Neutrality.” (A spokesperson for Pai declined comment on Free Press’s accusations.)

“The easily verifiable truth is that wireless-industry investments peaked in 2013, as carriers completed the bulk of 4G LTE deployments,” the Free Press letter said. “Both that peak, and the ongoing decline from it, predate the entire proceeding that led to the 2015 reclassification of broadband as a lightly regulated Title II service. What’s more, this is by no means the only years-long downturn for the wireless sector: Such periods of slower spending are natural—and, in the recent past, have likewise occurred outside of recessions.”

Even AT&T verified this in comments to the FCC in 2010, Free Press said.

“There is no reason to expect capital expenditures to increase by the same amount year after year,” AT&T said at the time. Carriers spend a lot of money to expand or upgrade networks when a new generation of technology has been introduced “and then focus the next year on signing up customers and integrating those new facilities into their existing networks, and then make additional capital expenditures later, and so on,” AT&T continued. “Minor variations from year to year thus should not be surprising, much less an indication of declining competition.”

But those minor variations are exactly what Pai is citing to justify eliminating net neutrality rules and other consumer protections that were implemented along with those rules. The millions of Internet users urging Pai to keep the net neutrality rules in place aren’t likely to sway him; Pai has said that the “raw number” of comments supporting or opposing net neutrality rules “is not as important as the substantive comments that are in the record.”

Pai was recently asked in a Congressional hearing whether anything might change his mind. Pai said he might change course in response to “economic analysis that shows credibly that there’s infrastructure investment that has increased dramatically” since the net neutrality rules went into effect. Pai said he also would take evidence seriously if it shows that the overall economy would suffer from a net neutrality rollback or that startups and consumers can’t thrive without the existing rules.

Senate Democrats are trying to block Pai’s confirmation to another five-year term on the commission, with his views on net neutrality playing a central role on the debate. But Pai has held firm when his investment claims have been questioned, even when it’s pointed out that ISPs themselves have told investors the rules don’t affect their investment.

“Since coming into office with the Trump administration, Pai has repeatedly lied about the state of broadband investment since the 2015 open-Internet rules came into effect,” Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said. “He’s trying to paint a picture of decline and dysfunction to justify destroying the protections that Internet users need.”

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Break free from the screen: The best card and board games for your kids

Our A.V. Club Field Guide To Parenting is designed to guide you toward the best kids’ books, shows, movies, and music, just like we do with The A.V. Club for adults. Every month or so, we will feature a new subject with a few essential pop culture takes parents should know, saving you from the mountains of kids’ dreck

Read more…

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Hundreds of Species Sailed Across the Pacific on Trash After the Fukushima Earthquake

Marine sea slugs from a Japanese vessel that washed ashore in Oregon in April 2015. Image: John Chapman

When a powerful earthquake rocked the Pacific coast of Tōhoku in March 2011, it didn’t just upend life in Japan. A massive tsunami wave swept countless coastal organisms into the open ocean, clinging to human garbage. An “extraordinary” trash-fueled migration from Japan to to North America ensued, the likes of which scientists have never seen.

That is the startling conclusion of a paper published today in the journal Science, which documents nearly 300 Japanese marine coastal species from 16 phyla that rafted across the Pacific, to Hawaii and the west coast of North America, in the six years following Great East Japan Earthquake, the most powerful quake ever recorded in Japan. Many of these hapless migrants made the long journey on human-made objects—Styrofoam cups, bottles, tires, ships, and pieces of docks—which collectively fueled the “longest transoceanic survival and dispersal of coastal species by rafting.”

It’s a bizarre event, but one we might see more of in the future, as booming, trash-producing coastal cities collide with earthquakes, hurricanes, and potentially, climate change-juiced natural disasters.

“I didn’t think that most of these coastal organisms could survive at sea for long periods of time,” study co-author Greg Ruiz, a marine biologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, said in a statement. “But in many ways they just haven’t had much opportunity in the past. Now, plastic can combine with tsunami and storm events to create that opportunity on a large scale.”

Japanese vessel washed ashore in Longbeach, Washington. Image: Russ Lewis

Just as low levels of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster seeped across the Pacific, debris stirred up by the quake and subsequent tsunami has been washing up on shorelines from Hawaii to Alaska to California since 2012. For the new study, researchers from Williams College, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and elsewhere partnered with government officials, private citizens and coastal cleanup crews to collect and analyze 634 pieces of “Japanese marine tsunami debris” that harbored live animal communities. The authors note that the debris, collected over a five year span following the 2011 quake, represents “only a fraction” of the total junk that washed ashore—many other items weren’t reported, weren’t recognized as tsunami debris, or were in areas impossible to reach.

“What we’re learning is that what happens ordinarily isn’t necessarily the thing that determines what happens globally over the long term. Rare events can have an enormous impact.”

Still, this small sampling of quake-driven flotsam contained an impressive array of would-be colonists: at least 289 living invertebrate and fish species, “none of which were previously reported to have rafted transoceanically between continents,” according to the new study. These critters run the gamut from single-celled protozoans to Asian isopods, shipworms, and enormous colonies of mussels and barnacles. Amazingly, the flow of debris didn’t appear to taper off from 2012 to 2016, although the number of highly-diverse rafted communities declined over time.

“It is surprising that living species from Japan continue to arrive after nearly 6 years at sea, 4 or more years longer than previous documented instances of the survival of coastal species rafting in the ocean,” the authors write, noting that the population structure of the rafted colonies suggests many animals, despite their hardship, still managed to reproduce en route.

Time will tell whether any of these ocean-swept migrants establish themselves on new shores—that question was beyond the scope of the study. But the researchers do note that 35% of the species identified were already known to occur on the Pacific coast, suggesting “a climactic match as well as a broad range of matching habitats.”

Japanese sea stars found on a fisheries dock near Newport, Oregon. Image: John Chapman.

Since the time of Darwin, ecologists have been aware that animals establish themselves in new parts of the world by rafting across the high seas. But there’s a longstanding debate over how often this occurs, and how important the process is in shaping global biodiversity. As Lawrence Heaney, Curator and Head of the Division of Mammals at the Field Museum, told Earther, the new study offers one of the richest datasets yet that can help address that question.

“In terms of scientific impact, this is a fabulous experiment,” Heaney, who wasn’t involved with the study, told Earther, noting that the research supports the idea that catastrophic events have a disproportionate impact on the global species shuffle. “What we’re learning is that what happens ordinarily isn’t necessarily the thing that determines what happens globally over the long term. Rare events can have an enormous impact.”

“I simultaneously love and am terrified by the fact that some species reproduced while on their raft”

Bruce Patterson, the MacArthur Curator of Mammals at the Field Museum of Natural History, who also wasn’t involved, voiced a similar sentiment. “As a terrestrial biologist, and one fascinated by questions of how and when did the ancestors of New World monkeys and guinea pig-like rodents cross the South Atlantic, rafting offers a critically important if highly infrequent event,” he told Earther in an email. “This article shows how extended those events can be, lasting for years beyond their environmental-geological trigger.”

A Japanese barnacle alongside a native gooseneck barnacle found in 2014 in Long Beach, Washington. Image: James Carlton

The fact that so many animals hitched a ride on garbage adds an Anthropocene-era twist to an age old story of species dispersal. As the authors note, many human-made materials don’t decompose readily, meaning they can potentially serve as lifeboats over incredibly long distances and timespans.

“We’ve known for a long time that human debris in the ocean is bad, but normally it’s put in the context of animals eating them or being affected by BPA in the water,” Allison Fritts-Penniman, a marine zoologist at the California Academy of Sciences, told Earther via email. “The idea that it facilitates long-distance dispersal via rafting, and potentially leads to species invasions, is new and fascinating, especially because human-made rafts last longer than natural rafts.”

“I simultaneously love and am terrified by the fact that some species reproduced while on their raft,” Fritts-Penniman added. “I love it because it paints a nice picture of survival for this little island community traveling the world, but it terrifies me because it means these species probably have a good chance of surviving as an invasive species wherever they land.”

The study’s authors seem to agree that more rafting-driven colonization could be in our future, seeing as coastal populations are booming and dumping their garbage into the ocean at staggering rates. While there’s still plenty of research to be done, it’s another plausible avenue by which humans are inadvertently scrambling the tree of life.

It also reminds us that trash is far more than an eyesore—it has become an inextricable part of Earth’s ecosystems.

[Science]

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The Senate Intelligence Committee Is Very Angry About Jared Kushner’s Personal Email Account

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, close confidant and senior adviser, found himself in hot water this week over the revelation he and other administration staffers used personal email accounts to conduct official White House business—not a good look after President Donald Trump won the election in part by suggesting he might have Hillary Clinton prosecuted for using her own private server to handle her State Department emails.

Among those super steamed about Baby Kush’s private email account, it seems, are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who say he failed to disclose the existence of the account. The committee members are conducting a wide-ranging investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and per CNN, they seem very angry to have learned about Kushner’s email from the news rather than him.

“The Committee was concerned to learn of this additional email account from the news media, rather than you, in your closed staff interview,” Chairman Richard Burr and Vice Chairman Mark Warner wrote in an official letter. “Please confirm that the document production that you made to the Committee—and any and all searches of email accounts for that document production—included the additional ‘personal email account’ described to the news media, as well as all other email accounts, messaging apps, or similar communications channels you may have used, or that may contain information relevant to our inquiry.”

Image: Screengrab via CNN

As CNN noted, the difference between this being a frustrating moment in Kushner-Senate relations and a very serious problem for the boy wonder is whether he failed to turn over documents related to the investigation. Even worse would be if Kushner was attempting to use the personal email to hide anything from Senate investigators—something which there is currently no evidence to suggest happened, but would be stupid in catastrophic terms if it did.

Even worse, news of the Senate letter emerged thanks to Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, who CNN said accidentally forwarded it to the same prankster who earlier this year impersonated various high-ranking White House staff while successfully trolling other members of the administration via email.

The prankster, of course, promptly sent the document to CNN.

For his part, Lowell told CNN the Senate investigators were already informed they had everything relevant.

“It is perfectly normal that the committees would want to make sure that they received all pertinent records,” Lowell wrote. “We did review this account at the time and there were no responsive or relevant documents there. The committee was so informed when documents were produced and there is no issue here.”

[CNN]

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