Category: Science

June 10, 2019 Off

To detect fake news, this AI first learned to write it

By Jill T Frey

One of the biggest problems in media today is so-called “fake news,” which is so highly pernicious in part because it superficially resembles the real thing. AI tools promise to help identify it, but in order for it to do so, researchers have found that the best way is for that AI to learn to create fake news itself — a double-edged sword, though perhaps not as dangerous as it sounds.

Grover is a new system created by the University of Washington and Allen Institute for AI (AI2) computer scientists that is extremely adept at writing convincing fake news on myriad topics and as many styles — and as a direct consequence is also no slouch at spotting it. The paper describing the model is available here.

The idea of a fake news generator isn’t new — in fact, OpenAI made a splash recently by announcing that its own … Read the rest

June 10, 2019 Off

NASA details Deep Space Atomic Clock and other tests launching on SpaceX Falcon Heavy

By Jill T Frey

SpaceX’s next mission for its Falcon Heavy high-capacity rocket is set for June 24, when it’ll take off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida with 20 satellites on board that comprise the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program-2. That’s not all it’ll carry however: There also will be cargo pertaining to four NASA missions aboard the private launch vehicle, including materials that will support the Deep Space Atomic Clock, the Green Propellant Infusion Mission and two payloads that will serve scientific missions.

NASA detailed all of these missions in a press conference today, going into more detail about what each will involve and why NASA is even pursuing this research to begin with.

Deep Space Atomic Clock

NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock mission, run from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will see a demonstration super-precise atomic clock into low Earth orbit, where it will act as a proof-of-concept for using … Read the rest

June 7, 2019 Off

NASA declares International Space Station ‘open for business,’ including private astronaut visits

By Jill T Frey

At an event on Friday, NASA laid out its plans for making the International Space Station a hub for commercial activity in low Earth orbit. The agency has long planned to make the ISS a key anchor point for helping private business operate in space.

“We’re here because the International Space Station is now open for business,” NASA lead spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz said at the conference outset. Twenty companies joined NASA officials onstage to launch this new commercial ability and discuss the opportunities and plan.

Part of the plan includes allowing private astronauts to visit and stay on the ISS, traveling on U.S. vehicles. It also includes allowing private business activities to take place on the ISS, including “in-space manufacturing,” marketing activities, healthcare research “and more,” NASA says.

NASA articulated a five-part plan that it says “doesn’t conflict” with government and public sector use of the ISS, but that stands … Read the rest

June 7, 2019 Off

NASA’s Mars Helicopter begins final testing phase before 2020 mission

By Jill T Frey

NASA’s Mars Helicopter will be a key experimental craft when it comes to shaping what humanity’s future exploring the Red Planet looks like — when it launches aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, it’ll head to Mars with the aim of testing the viability of flying heavier-than-air vehicles through another world’s atmosphere. After passing its most recent volley of tests, it’s now moving into the final stages of preparation ahead of the target July 2020 Mars launch.

The four-pound, autonomous test helicopter will be carried above the Mars 2020 rover during the flight to the planet, and will be deployed once the rover sets down in Mars’ Jezero Crater, on the target date of February 18, 2021, after its multi-month trip from Earth. The helicopter has a camera on board, as well as a solar panel to provide power. This version doesn’t have any other kinds of sensors or scientific … Read the rest

June 5, 2019 Off

Astronomers fret over ‘debilitating threat’ of thousands of satellites cluttering the sky

By Jill T Frey

The promise of today’s nascent communications satellite constellations is real: connecting everyone on the globe, no exceptions. But the dark side, or rather bright side, of these satellites threatens to pollute the sky with innumerable points of moving light. Astronomers warn that this may pose a “debilitating threat” if not addressed by regulators or industry.

The International Astronomical Union, a group of more than 10,000 astronomers and researchers all over the world, issued a statement this week politely but firmly pointing out the risks of this “new and largely unregulated frontier of space utilisation.”

The problem is that we have graduated from an era where we were launching a satellite every month or so to one where dozens might be launched every week. The competing communications constellations from Starlink, OneWeb, and others will number in the tens of thousands once deployed, outnumbering by far every other satellite in the sky.… Read the rest

June 5, 2019 Off

MIT’s robot boats can self-assemble to build bridges, stages or even markets

By Jill T Frey

MIT researchers have created a new autonomous robot boat prototype — which they have named “roboats” to my everlasting glee — that can target and combine with one another Voltron-style to create new structures. Said structures could be bigger boats, but MIT is thinking a bit more creatively — it envisions a fleet of these being able to join up to form on-demand urban infrastructure, including stages for concerts, walking bridges or even entire outdoor markets.

The roboats would of course be able to act as autonomous water taxis and ferries, which could be particularly useful in a setting like Amsterdam, which is why MIT teamed up with Amsterdam’s Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions on this. Equipped with sensors, sub-aquatic thrusters, GPS, cameras and tiny computer brains, the roboats can currently follow a pre-determined path, but testing on newer 3D-printed prototypes introduced a level of autonomy that can accomplish a … Read the rest

June 4, 2019 Off

Sequoia-backed Whole Biome wants to heal your gut with medical-grade probiotics

By Jill T Frey

Whole Biome has pulled in $35 million in Series B financing from a list of investing titans, including Sequoia, Khosla, True Ventures, the Mayo Foundation and AME Ventues — just to name a few. The goal? To heal what ails you using microscopic bugs.

Medical science has caught on in the last few years about the importance of gut health using these bugs (also known as probiotics). Now startups are pitching in using venture money to come up with new and novel ideas.

“We’re at a unique point in time as the field of microbiome biology converges with enabling cutting-edge technologies and bioinformatics that will open up a whole new world of innovative health products,” said Colleen Cutcliffe, Whole Biome’s co-founder and chief executive officer.

Cutliffe, who hails from DNA sequencing company Pacific Biosciences, along with her partners Jim Bullard and John Eid, built a platform able to compute information … Read the rest

June 4, 2019 Off

KLM Airlines wants to help build a more efficient jet with in-wing seating

By Jill T Frey

Air travel accounts for a significant chunk of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, and the amount of air travel has risen steadily over the past few decades, with emissions from aviation predicted to grow significantly through 2020 and beyond. Electric passenger planes are in the works, but unlikely to replace our workhorse passenger jets any time soon — which is why efforts like a new type of conventional-fuel aircraft are being backed by KLM Airlines.

The new aircraft design was conceived by designer Justus Benad and is being further realized by a team of researchers at the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology, per CNN. The look of the aircraft is clearly different from the start, ditching the typical cylindrical tube main fuselage for a “squat slice of pizza” look that extends the body through the wings of the plane.

This beefed-up core holds passengers, fuel and cargo, … Read the rest

June 4, 2019 Off

NASA research crew embarks on mock mission to Mars moon

By Jill T Frey

Space is hard on humans — it’s just not what we’re used to, because it’s very unlike this Earth most of us generally occupy for most of our lives. That’s why researchers do plenty of experimentation to figure out what it’s like for people to live and work in space, like a new experiment underway as of May 24 in which a crew of four will be isolated in a spacecraft for 45 days living and working together — but without ever leaving the confines of our planet.

In fact, the crew, which consists of Barret Schlegelmilch, Christian Clark, Ana Mosquera and Julie Mason, won’t even leave the confines of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. But that’s the point — confined living and working space, for a simulated mission to Phobos, one of Mars’ two moons. The experiment is what NASA calls a “Human Exploration Research Analog,” which is … Read the rest

June 2, 2019 Off

Where are all the biotech startups raising?

By Jill T Frey

Where are all the biotechnology companies raising these days? We crunched some numbers to arrive at an answer.

Using funding rounds data from Crunchbase, we plotted the count of venture capital funding rounds raised by companies in the fairly expansive biotechnology category in Crunchbase. Click the chart below and you can hover over individual data points to see the number of venture rounds raised in a given metro area between the start of 2018 and late May 2019 (as of publication). Although there are biotechnology companies located throughout the world, we focused here on just the U.S.

Unlike in the software-funding business, where New York City (and … Read the rest