How Technology Is Killing NFL Defenses

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Kevin Clark explains how technology is killing NFL defenses:

For about the last four seasons, players have had tablets to watch film on. This year, the effects are being felt for perhaps the first time. “Things that used to be subtle, like a safety lining two yards outside of a hash mark, is now a dead giveaway,” said former NFL lineman Shaun O’Hara, now an analyst at the NFL Network.

This created a world in which players could watch significantly more game film than they could be before. They could watch their opponents’ third-down plays at the grocery store, or, some players admit, in the bathroom. It is a world in which everyone knows everything about everyone. Players have watched game film for decades, but never had this much information.

That, according to Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine, favors the offense.

“We have to tell our guys, ‘Don’t be that guy, don’t be the sucker on the tape,’ ” Pettine said. “You can’t tip off anything anymore, whether that’s a stance or even the eyes. There are so many little things they can find now, and all they need to do is find one.”

As a result, coaches say, getting to the quarterback has never been harder. Offenses can adjust quickly once they identify a blitzer, leaving more guys in to block on a given play and completely stopping the opposing pass rush.

“Access to video is the best thing we have,” said New Orleans Saints offensive-line coach Bret Ingalls. “We get to say, ‘Hey, every time a guy on this team points to the guard, it means he’ll try this or that.’ ”

Cameron Heyward, a Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman, said that research of pass-rushing moves has gotten so advanced that he rarely wants to make the first move, since the offense will know what’s coming. He said that offensive linemen have few “tells,” and even if they had any, it wouldn’t matter, since they rarely attempt the exotic maneuvers that defensive linemen resort to in their desperation to pressure the quarterback.

I suppose it’ll always be “film”…

Mega-Scale 3D Printing Is Here

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Mega-scale 3D printing has arrived:

The D-Shape technology uses a patented magnesium-based binding process to adhere sand or other construction materials together to form an artificial sandstone. The stone produced is reportedly indistinguishable from real marble, chemically environmentally friendly, and has a resistance and traction superior to portland cement. Kushner plans to source aggregate from the local area to use for his material.

With a build box of 6 x 6 x 6 meters, or about 19.7 x 19.7 x 19.7 feet, the D-Shape printer is reportedly the world’s largest 3D printer. Kushner’s house is considerably larger than the approximate 400-square-foot structure that can be built within this build box, so he’s designing the house so it can be printed in sections.

D-Shape Printer

Why would architects and contractors want to use the D-Shape 3D printing process rather than traditional building construction techniques?

Two primary reasons are the same reasons that many manufacturers in various industries are rapidly embracing 3D printing: increased design freedom and financial savings. Constructing a house, or other structure, using 3D printing allows for more advanced and intricate designs, some of which would be considerably more challenging or impossible to construct using traditional building techniques. Additionally, the “realization costs of D-Shape structures are 30%-50% lower than manual methods,” according to D-Shape’s website.

Furthermore, increased safety is a factor. The construction industry has one of the highest incidents of injuries and mortalities. Automating much of the building process means a substantially reduced risk of accidents.

If these advantages are, indeed, eventually realized, it’s easy to understand why Kushner fervently believes that “3D printing will result in a paradigm shift in the way we design and build structures.”

Isaac Asimov on Creativity

Monday, October 27th, 2014

In 1959, Arthur Obermayer invited Isaac Asimov to discuss creativity with his colleagues at Allied Research Associates in Boston, an MIT spinoff contracted to design a ballistic missile defense system:

He expressed his willingness and came to a few meetings. He eventually decided not to continue, because he did not want to have access to any secret classified information; it would limit his freedom of expression. Before he left, however, he wrote this essay on creativity as his single formal input.

The key to creativity, Asimov thought, was the ability to make a cross-connection:

Once the cross-connection is made, it becomes obvious. Thomas H. Huxley is supposed to have exclaimed after reading On the Origin of Species, “How stupid of me not to have thought of this.”

But why didn’t he think of it? The history of human thought would make it seem that there is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table. Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. It must, for any cross-connection that does not require daring is performed at once by many and develops not as a “new idea,” but as a mere “corollary of an old idea.”

It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. It seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat, or that it moved instead of the sun, or that objects required a force to stop them when in motion, instead of a force to keep them moving, and so on.

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.

Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)

Asimov also suggested that isolation is required for creative work:

The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

Nevertheless, a meeting of such people may be desirable, he says:

It seems to me then that the purpose of cerebration sessions is not to think up new ideas but to educate the participants in facts and fact-combinations, in theories and vagrant thoughts.

But how to persuade creative people to do so? First and foremost, there must be ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness. The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object.

If a single individual present is unsympathetic to the foolishness that would be bound to go on at such a session, the others would freeze. The unsympathetic individual may be a gold mine of information, but the harm he does will more than compensate for that. It seems necessary to me, then, that all people at a session be willing to sound foolish and listen to others sound foolish.

If a single individual present has a much greater reputation than the others, or is more articulate, or has a distinctly more commanding personality, he may well take over the conference and reduce the rest to little more than passive obedience. The individual may himself be extremely useful, but he might as well be put to work solo, for he is neutralizing the rest.

The optimum number of the group would probably not be very high. I should guess that no more than five would be wanted. A larger group might have a larger total supply of information, but there would be the tension of waiting to speak, which can be very frustrating. It would probably be better to have a number of sessions at which the people attending would vary, rather than one session including them all. (This would involve a certain repetition, but even repetition is not in itself undesirable. It is not what people say at these conferences, but what they inspire in each other later on.)

For best purposes, there should be a feeling of informality. Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence — not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness. For this purpose I think a meeting in someone’s home or over a dinner table at some restaurant is perhaps more useful than one in a conference room.

Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.

To feel guilty because one has not earned one’s salary because one has not had a great idea is the surest way, it seems to me, of making it certain that no great idea will come in the next time either.

Yet your company is conducting this cerebration program on government money. To think of congressmen or the general public hearing about scientists fooling around, boondoggling, telling dirty jokes, perhaps, at government expense, is to break into a cold sweat. In fact, the average scientist has enough public conscience not to want to feel he is doing this even if no one finds out.

I would suggest that members at a cerebration session be given sinecure tasks to do — short reports to write, or summaries of their conclusions, or brief answers to suggested problems — and be paid for that; the payment being the fee that would ordinarily be paid for the cerebration session. The cerebration session would then be officially unpaid-for and that, too, would allow considerable relaxation.

I do not think that cerebration sessions can be left unguided. There must be someone in charge who plays a role equivalent to that of a psychoanalyst. A psychoanalyst, as I understand it, by asking the right questions (and except for that interfering as little as possible), gets the patient himself to discuss his past life in such a way as to elicit new understanding of it in his own eyes.

In the same way, a session-arbiter will have to sit there, stirring up the animals, asking the shrewd question, making the necessary comment, bringing them gently back to the point. Since the arbiter will not know which question is shrewd, which comment necessary, and what the point is, his will not be an easy job.

Elon Musk at MIT’s AeroAstro Centennial Symposium

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

At the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department’s Centennial Symposium, Elon Musk spoke.

He considers The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Heinlein’s best novel, and he wonders why rocket engines are always mounted on gimbals, and airplane engines never are.

New from TrackingPoint

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

TrackingPoint recently introduced the Shotglass:

The Shotglass can be used to aim and fire the weapon from complete concealment cover. It can record video. It’s most likely use in the real world, though, is as a way for the spotter to direct the sniper on target. We expect we will see more of these used with TrackingPoint’s long-range bolt action rifles than with its ARs, but time will tell.

Tracking Point Shotglass

The company now offers three ARs, including a .300 WinMag model:

Tracking Point AR in 300 WinMag

Transportation, Divergence, and the Industrial Revolution

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Nick Szabo explores transportation, divergence, and the Industrial Revolution:

After about 1000 AD northwestern Europe started a gradual switch from using oxen to using horses for farm traction and transportation.  This trend culminated in an eighteenth-century explosion in roads carrying horse-drawn carriages and wagons, as well as in canals, and works greatly extending the navigability of rivers, both carrying horse-drawn barges. This reflected a great rise in the use of cultivated fodder, a hallmark of the novel agricultural system that was evolving in northwestern Europe from the start of the second millennium: stationary pastoralism.  During the same period, and especially in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, most of civilized East Asia, and in particular Chinese civilization along its coast, navigable rivers, and canals, faced increasing Malthusian pressures and evolved in the opposite direction: from oxen towards far more costly and limited human porters. Through the early middle ages China had been far ahead, in terms of division of labor and technology, of the roving bandits of northern Europe, but after the latter region’s transition to stationary pastoralism that gap closed and Europe surged ahead, a growth divergence that culminated in the industrial revolution.  In the eighteenth century Europe, and thus in the early industrial revolution, muscle power was the engine of land transportation, and hay was its gasoline.

Metcalfe’s Law states that a value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of its nodes.  In an area where good soils, mines, and forests are randomly distributed, the number of nodes valuable to an industrial economy is proportional to the area encompassed.  The number of such nodes that can be economically accessed is an inverse square of the cost per mile of transportation.  Combine this  with Metcalfe’s Law and we reach a dramatic but solid mathematical conclusion: the potential value of a land transportation network is the inverse fourth power of the cost of that transportation. A reduction in transportation costs in a trade network by a factor of two increases the potential value of that network by a factor of sixteen. While a power of exactly 4.0 will usually be too high, due to redundancies, this does show how the cost of transportation can have a radical nonlinear impact on the value of the trade networks it enables.  This formalizes Adam Smith’s observations: the division of labor (and thus value of an economy) increases with the extent of the market, and the extent of the market is heavily influenced by transportation costs (as he extensively discussed in his Wealth of Nations).

How Palmer Luckey Created Oculus Rift

Monday, October 20th, 2014

If there is a case to be made that unconventional schooling, without busywork or fixed schedules, helps unleash creativity, Palmer Luckey, creator of the Oculus Rift, might well be Exhibit A for the prosecution:

His mother, Julie, home-schooled all four of her children during a period of each of their childhoods (Luckey’s father, Donald, is a car salesman), but Palmer was the only one of the kids who never went back; he liked the flexibility too much. In his ample free time, he devoted most of his considerable energy to teaching himself how to build electronics from scratch.

No one else in Luckey’s family was especially interested in technology, but his parents were happy to give over half of the garage at their Long Beach, California, home to his experiments. There, Luckey quickly progressed from making small electronics to “high-voltage stuff” like lasers and electromagnetic coilguns. Inevitably, there were mishaps. While working on a live Tesla coil, Luckey once accidentally touched a grounded metal bed frame, and blew himself across the garage; another time, while cleaning an infrared laser, he burned a gray spot into his vision.

When Luckey was 15, he started “modding” video game equipment: taking consoles like the Nintendo GameCube, disassembling them, and modifying them with newer parts, to transform them into compact, efficient and hand-crafted devices. “Modding was more interesting than just building things entirely using new technologies,” Luckey told me. “It was this very special type of engineering that required deeply understanding why people had made the decisions they made in designing the hardware.”

Luckey soon became obsessed with PC gaming. How well, he wondered, could he play games? “Not skill level,” he clarified to me, “but how good could the experience be?” By this time, Luckey was making good money fixing broken iPhones, and he spent most of it on high-end gaming equipment in order to make the experience as immersive as possible. At one point, his standard gaming setup consisted of a mind-boggling six-monitor arrangement. “It was so sick,” he recalled.

But it wasn’t enough. Luckey didn’t just want to play on expensive screens; he wanted to jump inside the game itself. He knew the military sometimes trained soldiers using virtual reality headsets, so he set out to buy some — on the cheap, through government auctions. “You’d read that these VR systems originally cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you thought, clearly if they’re that expensive, they must be really good,” Luckey said. Instead, they fell miles short of his hopes. The field of view on one headset might be so narrow that he’d feel as if he was looking through a half-opened door. Another might weigh ten pounds, or have preposterously long lag between his head moving and the image reacting onscreen — a feature common to early VR that literally makes users nauseated.

So Luckey decided to do what he’d been doing for years with game consoles: He’d take the technology apart, figure out where it was falling short and modify it with new parts to improve it. Very quickly, he realized that this wasn’t going to be simple. “It turned out that a lot of the approaches the old systems were taking were dead ends,” he said.

The problem was one of fundamental design philosophy. In order to create the illusion of a three-dimensional digital world from a single flat screen, VR manufacturers had typically used complex optical apparatuses that magnified the onscreen image to fill the user’s visual field while also correcting for any distortion. Because these optics had to perform a variety of elaborate tricks to make the magnified image seem clear, they were extremely heavy and costly to produce.

Luckey’s solution to this dilemma was ingeniously simple. Why use bulky, expensive optics, he thought, when he could put in cheap, lightweight lenses and then use software to distort the image, so that it came out clear through them? Plus, he quickly realized that he could combine these lenses with screens from mobile phones, which the smartphone arms race had made bigger, crisper and less expensive than ever before. “That let me make something that was a lot lighter and cheaper, with a much wider field of view, than anything else out there,” he said.

From 2009 to 2012, while also taking college classes and working at the University of Southern California’s VR-focused Institute for Creative Technologies, Luckey poured countless hours into creating a working prototype from this core vision. He tinkered with different screens, mixed and matched parts from his collection of VR hardware, and refined the motion tracking equipment, which monitored the user’s head movements in real-time. Amazingly, considering the eventual value of his invention, Luckey was also posting detailed reports about his work to a 3-D gaming message board. The idea was sitting there for anyone to steal.

But, as Brendan Iribe put it to me, “Maybe his name is Luckey for a reason.” By that point, no one was interested in throwing more money away on another doomed virtual reality project.

Then, in early 2012, luck struck again when the legendary video game programmer John Carmack stumbled onto his work online and asked Luckey if he could buy one of his prototypes. Luckey sent him one for free. “I played it super cool,” he assured me. Carmack returned the favor in a big way: At that June’s E3 convention — the game industry’s gigantic annual commercial carnival — he showed off the Rift prototype to a flock of journalists, using a repurposed version of his hit game “Doom 3” for the demonstration. The response was immediate and ecstatic. “I was in Boston at a display conference at the time,” Luckey said, “and people there were like, ‘Dude, Palmer, everyone’s writing articles about your thing!’”

The rest, as they say, is virtual history: Over the next 21 months, Luckey partnered with Iribe, Antonov and Mitchell, launched a Kickstarter campaign that netted $2.4 million in funding — nearly ten times its initial goal — and joined the Facebook empire, thereby ensuring the company the kind of financial backing that most early-stage tech companies can only dream of.

The Oculus Rift is now entering its final stages of development — it’s slated for commercial release next year — and this fall Samsung will release a scaled-down product for developers and enthusiasts, powered by Oculus technology, that will clip over the company’s Galaxy Note 4 smartphone. But Luckey knows that success is by no means assured. “To this point, there has never been a successful commercial VR product, ever,” Luckey told me. “Nobody’s actually managed to pull this off.” Spend a few minutes inside the Rift, though, and one can’t help but believe that Luckey will be the one to do it.

Apple’s Next Big Imitative Leap

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Apple is just buying time until its next big imitative leap:

Samsung debuted its first, much maligned and hugely successful Galaxy Note — the first phone with a bigger-than-5-inch screen — in September, 2011. For two years afterwards, Apple was content to present incremental improvements to the iPhone. Compared with the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5s just added a fingerprint sensor and an improved camera (plus a few other features that most consumers didn’t care about).

Meanwhile Apple carefully observed the “phablet” market, watched other handset makers follow Samsung’s example and erode its market share, and experimented with ways to make a big phone easier to navigate one-handed. It struck just when Samsung started posting lower profits, because of the increased competitive pressure.

It was a perfectly-timed attack and, after setting a first-weekend record — 10 million iPhones sold — iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are continuing their rampage. Apple chief executive Tim Cook said yesterday that the first sales month for the two new phones was the company’s best ever “by a lot. A whole lot.”

The iPad Air 2′s most important improvements on last year’s device are, again, a fingerprint sensor and a better camera. As with iPhone 5s in 2013, it may appear as if Apple is stuck in a rut of timid, incremental innovation. My bet, however, is that it’s watching another innovator collect bumps, get bad reviews, then get things right. Once that innovator’s success is assured, Apple will pounce.

This time it isn’t a Samsung product Apple is watching, but Microsoft’s Surface Pro.

Microsoft hit on the idea of producing a tablet-laptop cross in 2012, incurring losses and writing off inventory as it refined the concept. This year, it finally produced a device that reviewers liked — the Surface Pro 3. It’s reasonably convincing both as a laptop and as a tablet, albeit a large and heavy one. Microsoft has not released numbers, saying only that the Pro 3 was its fastest-selling tablet yet — the company underestimated demand, creating shortages in some markets.

The analysis company Gartner puts the Surface Pro in the same category — “premium ultra-mobile” computers — as Apple’s MacBook Air laptops.

Compact Fusion Reactor

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works plans to develop a compact fusion reactor (CFR):

Until now, the majority of fusion reactor systems have used a plasma control device called a tokamak, invented in the 1950s by physicists in the Soviet Union. The tokamak uses a magnetic field to hold the plasma in the shape of a torus, or ring, and maintains the reaction by inducing a current inside the plasma itself with a second set of electromagnets. The challenge with this approach is that the resulting energy generated is almost the same as the amount required to maintain the self-sustaining fusion reaction.

Compact Fusion Reactor Diagram

The problem with tokamaks is that “they can only hold so much plasma, and we call that the beta limit,” McGuire says. Measured as the ratio of plasma pressure to the magnetic pressure, the beta limit of the average tokamak is low, or about “5% or so of the confining pressure,” he says. Comparing the torus to a bicycle tire, McGuire adds, “if they put too much in, eventually their confining tire will fail and burst—so to operate safely, they don’t go too close to that.” Aside from this inefficiency, the physics of the tokamak dictate huge dimensions and massive cost. The ITER, for example, will cost an estimated $50 billion and when complete will measure around 100 ft. high and weigh 23,000 tons.

The CFR will avoid these issues by tackling plasma confinement in a radically different way. Instead of constraining the plasma within tubular rings, a series of superconducting coils will generate a new magnetic-field geometry in which the plasma is held within the broader confines of the entire reaction chamber. Superconducting magnets within the coils will generate a magnetic field around the outer border of the chamber. “So for us, instead of a bike tire expanding into air, we have something more like a tube that expands into an ever-stronger wall,” McGuire says. The system is therefore regulated by a self-tuning feedback mechanism, whereby the farther out the plasma goes, the stronger the magnetic field pushes back to contain it. The CFR is expected to have a beta limit ratio of one. “We should be able to go to 100% or beyond,” he adds.

This crucial difference means that for the same size, the CFR generates more power than a tokamak by a factor of 10. This in turn means, for the same power output, the CFR can be 10 times smaller. The change in scale is a game-changer in terms of producibility and cost, explains McGuire. “It’s one of the reasons we think it is feasible for development and future economics,” he says. “Ten times smaller is the key. But on the physics side, it still has to work, and one of the reasons we think our physics will work is that we’ve been able to make an inherently stable configuration.” One of the main reasons for this stability is the positioning of the superconductor coils and shape of the magnetic field lines. “In our case, it is always in balance. So if you have less pressure, the plasma will be smaller and will always sit in this magnetic well,” he notes.

The Bot Crossing Point

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

In the last quarter of 2011, more iPhones were sold than babies were born, John Robb notes:

That’s interesting because that is also the quarter that Siri shipped.

FYI: Apple’s Siri is the first mass market bot that was designed to act like a human.

In hindsight, this apparently minor observation may be considered something more important: a tombstone milestone for humanity.

It’s the quarter when our future replacements on this planet began to outpace us.

Sandworm

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

The Russians have been spying on foreign powers — shocking, I know — using software that researchers have dubbed Sandworm:

Although iSight only has a small view of the number of victims targeted in the campaign, the victims include among others, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Ukrainian and European Union governments, energy and telecommunications firms, defense companies, as well as at least one academic in the US who was singled out for his focus on Ukrainian issues. The attackers also targeted attendees of this year’s GlobSec conference, a high-level national security gathering that attracts foreign ministers and other top leaders from Europe and elsewhere each year.

It appears Sandworm is focused on nabbing documents and emails containing intelligence and diplomatic information about Ukraine, Russia and other topics of importance in the region. But it also attempts to steal SSL keys and code-signing certificates, which iSight says the attackers probably use to further their campaign and breach other systems.

The researchers dubbed the operation “Sandworm” because the attackers make multiple references to the science fiction series Dune in their code. [...] It was encoded references to Dune — which appear in URLs for the attackers’ command-and-control servers — that helped tie some of the attacks together. The URLs include base64 strings that when decoded translate to “arrakis02,” “houseatreides94,” and “epsiloneridani0,” among others.

“Some of the references were very obscure so whoever was writing the malware was a big Dune geek,” says John Hultquist, senior manager for iSight’s Cyber Espionage Threat Intelligence team.

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”

Forget Electric Cars

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

The co-CEOs of Nat G CNG Solutions urge us to forget electric cars:

At Mike Scully’s Apple Towing in Houston, just one of their big Ford F650 tow trucks saves more gasoline each year than 20 Nissan Leaf electric cars. When it comes to reducing carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants, Mike’s F650s are equally impressive, and his fuel cost per mile is about the same as that of a four-seat Jeep Wrangler. What is Apple Towing’s secret? The F650 tow trucks run on natural gas, which they refuel for less than $1.70 per gasoline-gallon equivalent, or gge.

PIRA Energy Group estimates that natural gas in transportation will approach 800 million gges this year. Do some simple math and it quickly becomes apparent that natural-gas vehicles (NGVs) will displace 10-12 times more gasoline and diesel than the 250,000 electric cars currently on the road. When complete, Apple Towing’s small fleet of 24 natural-gas tow trucks will displace more gasoline than around 700 Chevy Volts. And here is a nice side benefit: Those Volts would cost federal taxpayers a whopping $5.3 million in subsidies while Mr. Scully’s F650 Fords cost them nothing.

[...]

Apple Towing’s Mr. Scully asked our company, Nat G Solutions, to upgrade his F650s and at the same time install a natural-gas fueling compressor in his parking lot and hook it up to his city gas line. The great infrastructure crisis disappeared.

[...]

For diesel trucks, a new generation of retrofit systems — from companies like NGV Motori USA and Landi Renzo — allow us to upgrade the big diesel engines to run on a 60/40 blend of natural gas and diesel, which is combined in real-time inside the engine. If the compressed natural gas runs dry, the truck switches back to 100% diesel and keeps on driving. This dual-fuel approach is now opening the door for long-haul natural-gas trucking without the need for multibillion-dollar infrastructure incentives or even the need to go out and buy new tractor-trailers.

[...]

Ford has been leading the way in building “gas prepped” trucks — typically a $350 option — which enables any Ford-certified “qualified vehicle modifier” to install an approved natural-gas system without affecting the original power-train warranty. Nearly the entire F-series line, from F150s to F650s, is now available in a natural-gas-ready version as are the Transit and E-series work vans. GM has taken a more incremental approach, with fewer models available so far, but the industry has responded by creating aftermarket EPA-certified upgrades for nearly every GM truck and SUV on the market.

Most of this new technology remains aimed squarely at the work-truck market, exactly where it ought to be focused. This segment drives the most miles, drives the biggest vehicles, and burns the most fuel.

Elon Musk on Mars Colonisation

Monday, October 6th, 2014

We’ve been sending unmanned probes to Mars, and, as Elon Musk likes to point out, they are very expensive probes:

They aren’t exactly bargain-basement. The last RC car we sent to Mars cost more than $3 billion. That’s a hell of a droid. For that kind of money, we should be able to send a lot of people to Mars.

A Soft Exoskeleton

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Soft ExoskeletonDARPA has granted $2.9 million to Harvard researchers developing a soft exoskeleton made of spandex, nylon, cables, and motors:

The Harvard exoskeleton is highly efficient because it applies force in a way that closely aligns with the natural movements of muscles and tendons. Sensors monitor the wearer’s motion, and battery-powered motors move cables to pull up on the heel, or on part of the leg near the hip — adding a propelling tug at just the right moment as the wearer steps forward. “It’s quite lightweight, flexible, and conformal,” says Conor Walsh, a professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Harvard. “It doesn’t disrupt normal walking and movement.”

The machine is designed to fit easily under clothes, and novel, soft sensors made of silicone rubber are integrated into the suit. The sensors, developed at another lab at Harvard, include embedded channels filled with a conductive liquid that changes in resistivity as the silicone is stretched.

Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector

Friday, September 26th, 2014

The US Marine Corps recently showed off a half-scale prototype of its Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector (UHAC):

The tracks, which are made of what the Marines call “captured-air foam blocks,” extend like flippers to propel the craft through the water. When it hits the beach, the foam flattens to become like the tracks on a tank or a bulldozer, only much softer, according to a report from Stars and Stripes.

Last week, the UHAC prototype, which is about half the size of envisioned production models, carried an assault vehicle from the Rushmore to the beach. The Marine Corps says a full-size UHAC would be able to carry much more.

“The full-scale model should be able to carry at least three tanks and a HMMVW (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle),” Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Perera, the Warfighting Lab’s Infantry Weapons Project officer, said in a statement. That’s about three times the load that the Corps’ current craft assigned to the task, called a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), can handle.

It also will be able to surmount bigger obstacles. While an LCAC can only get over a 4-foot-high sea wall, a full-size UHAC will be able to get over sea walls as high as 10, 12 or even 16 feet, according to the Corps.

The UHAC prototype type is not armored or armed, but Perera said production models would have armor plating and a .50-caliber machine guns for protection.
They also would be much faster. The prototype could only go 5 mph on the water, but a full-size UHAC should do 25 mph, Gen. Kevin Killea, commander of the Corps’ Warfighting Lab, told Stars and Stripes.

The UHAC prototype used last week is the third in the program, built upon a concept originally proposed by the Hawaii-based shipbuilding and research firm Navatek, Ltd.

“There has been a one-fifth scale model, then a one-quarter scale model and this is a half-scale model, so we have been progressing,” Frank Leban, program officer at the Office of Naval Research, said in a statement. “Every vehicle has incorporated more features and technology to help get us to the full scale.”