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UK environment laws under threat in ‘deregulatory free-for-all’
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 08:22:34 GMT

Campaigners say revoking of post-Brexit protections amounts to legislative vandalism

Hundreds of Britain’s environmental laws covering water quality, sewage pollution, clean air, habitat protections and the use of pesticides are lined up for removal from UK law under a government bill.

Environmentalists accused Liz Truss’s government of reneging on a commitment made after Brexit to halt the decline of nature by 2030. They say the revoking of 570 environmental laws that were rolled over from EU law after Brexit amounts to a deregulatory free-for-all leaving the environment unprotected.

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Match ID: 0 Score: 40.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 40.00 air pollution

Climate Change is NSF Engineering Alliance’s Top Research Priority
Tue, 20 Sep 2022 20:00:00 +0000


Since its launch in April 2021, the Engineering Research Visioning Alliance has convened a diverse set of experts to explore three areas in which fundamental research could have the most impact: climate change; the nexus of biology and engineering; and securing critical infrastructure against hackers.

To identify priorities for each theme, ERVA—an initiative funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation—holds what are termed visioning events, wherein IEEE members and hundreds of other experts from academia, industry, and nonprofits can conceptualize bold ideas. The results are distilled into reports that identify actionable priorities for engineering research pursuit. Reports from recent visioning events are slated to be released to the public in the next few months.


IEEE is one of more than 20 professional engineering societies that have joined ERVA as affiliate partners.

Research energy storage and greenhouse gas capture solutions

Identifying technologies to address the climate crisis was ERVA’s first theme. The theme was based on results of a survey ERVA conducted last year of the engineering community about what the research priorities should be.

“The resounding answer from the 500 respondents was climate change,” says Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska, EVRA’s principal investigator. She is a vice president for knowledge enterprise at Ohio State University, in Columbus.

During the virtual visioning event in December, experts explored solar and renewable energy, carbon sequestration, water management, and geoengineering. The climate change task force released its report last month.

These are some of the research areas ERVA said should be pursued:

  • Energy storage, transmission, and critical materials. The materials include those that are nanoengineered, ones that could be used for nontraditional energy storage, and those that can extract additional energy from heat cycles.
  • Greenhouse gas capture and elimination. Research priorities included capturing and eliminating methane and nitrous oxide released in agriculture operations.
  • Resilient, energy-efficient, and healthful infrastructure. One identified priority was research to develop low-cost coatings for buildings and roads to reduce heat effects and increase self-cooling.
  • Water, ecosystem, and geoengineering assessments. The report identifies research in creating sensing, measuring, and AI models to analyze the flow of water to ensure its availability during droughts and other disruptive events caused or worsened by climate change.

“The groundwork ERVA has laid out in this report creates a blueprint for funders to invest in,” Grejner-Brzezinska says, “and catalyzes engineering research for a more secure and sustainable world. As agencies and research organizations enact legislation to reduce carbon emissions and bolster clean-energy technologies, engineering is poised to lead with research and development.”

IEEE is developing a strategy to guide the organization’s response to the global threat.

Use biology and engineering to interrupt the transfer of viruses

A virtual visioning event on Leveraging Biology to Power Engineering Impact was held in March. The hope, as explained on the event’s website, is to transform research where biology and engineering intersect: health care and medicine, agriculture, and high tech.

“As agencies and research organizations enact legislation to reduce carbon emissions and bolster clean-energy technologies, engineering is poised to lead with research and development.”

The experts considered research directions in three areas: Use biology to inspire engineers to develop new components, adapt and adopt biological constructs beyond their original function, and create engineering systems and components that improve on biology. An example would be to interrupt the transfer of viruses from one species to another so as to reduce the spread of diseases.

The task force’s report on which research areas to pursue is scheduled to be released next month, according to Grejner-Brzezinska.

Protect infrastructure from hackers

One of today’s main engineering challenges, according to ERVA, is the protection of infrastructure against hackers and other threats. At the in-person visioning event held last month at MIT on the Engineering R&D Solutions for Unhackable Infrastructure theme, researchers discussed gaps in security technologies and looked at how to design trustworthy systems and how to build resilience into interdependent infrastructures.

ERVA describes unhackable as the ability to ensure safety, security, and trust in essential systems and services that society relies on.

The task force examined research themes related to physical infrastructure such as assets and hardware; software and algorithms; and data and communication networks. It also considered new security methods for users, operators, and security administrators to thwart cyberattacks.

Grejner-Brzezinska says the task force’s report will be released in mid-December.

Sustainable transportation networks

Planning has begun for the next visioning event, Sustainable Transportation Networks, to be held virtually on 2 and 3 November. The session is to explore innovative and sustainable transportation modes and the infrastructure networks needed to support them. Some of the areas to be discussed are green construction; longitudinal impact studies; interconnected transportation modes such as rail, marine, and air transport; and transportation equity.

Become an ERVA supporter

ERVA will convene four visioning events each year on broad engineering research themes that have the potential to solve societal challenges, Grejner-Brzezinska says. IEEE members who are experts in the fields can get involved by joining the ERVA Champions, now more than 900 strong. They are among the first to learn about upcoming visioning sessions and about openings to serve on volunteer groups such as thematic task forces, advisory boards, and standing councils. Members can sign up on the ERVA website.

“Becoming a champion is an opportunity to break out of your silos of disciplines and really come together with others in the engineering research community,” Grejner-Brzezinska says. “You can do what engineers do best: solve problems.”


Match ID: 1 Score: 25.71 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 3 days
qualifiers: 12.86 climate change, 12.86 carbon

Interview: New UN climate chief takes the fight personally
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 13:43:02 EDT
The United Nations official now in charge of the fight to curb climate change has a personal stake in the battle to reduce emissions
Match ID: 2 Score: 15.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 15.00 climate change

This dash for growth represents the death of green Toryism
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 16:00:08 GMT

Boris Johnson was far more eco-conscious than recent Conservative predecessors. But this mini-budget is a reversion to type

The dash for growth by Kwasi Kwarteng means unshackling City bankers and property developers from the taxes and regulations that prevent them from paving over what’s left of Britain’s green and pleasant land.

The humble concrete mixer will be elevated to exalted status. There will be more executive homes built on greenfield sites. More distribution sheds dotted along busy A-roads. And more urban renewal of the kind that involves tearing down buildings in a plume of dust and carbon emissions to replace them with something not much better, at least not in environmental terms.

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Match ID: 3 Score: 15.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 15.00 carbon

Philadelphia’s Diatom Archive Is a Way, Way, Wayback Machine
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 12:00:00 +0000
A cache of phytoplankton at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is helping researchers reconstruct historical coastlines.
Match ID: 4 Score: 15.00 source: www.wired.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 15.00 climate change

Decarbonising the energy system by 2050 could save trillions - Oxford study
2022-09-24T08:31:56+00:00
Decarbonising the energy system by 2050 could save trillions - Oxford study submitted by /u/editorijsmi
[link] [comments]

Match ID: 5 Score: 15.00 source: www.reddit.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 15.00 carbon

Mercedes’ F1 team cut its freight emissions by 89% with biofuel switch
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 14:47:08 +0000
16 trucks used biofuels to haul between the final three European races this year.
Match ID: 6 Score: 15.00 source: arstechnica.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 carbon

Yeti CFO Paul Carbone resigning effective Oct. 28, shares dip 3.5% premarket
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 12:06:08 GMT

Yeti Holdings Inc. said Friday that Chief Financial Officer Paul Carbone is resigning effective Oct. 28, to pursue a business opportunity that will allow him to be closer to family in Boston. The provider of outdoor products such as coolers and drinkware and backpacks has commenced a search for a replacement. Shares were down 3.5% premarket and have fallen 65% in the year to date, while the S&P 500 has fallen 21%.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.


Match ID: 7 Score: 15.00 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 carbon

Mini-budget fell far short of promoting low-carbon future for UK
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 12:00:08 GMT

While not devoid of green measures, Kwarteng’s announcement was more notable for what it did not include

The chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, has announced that the effective ban on onshore wind farms is to be lifted, and the poorest households will regain access to insulation and energy efficiency measures.

Polls show that onshore wind is popular, with more than 70% of people supporting it. Jess Ralston, a senior analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “The ban on onshore wind has been a major anomaly in British energy policy given it’s both cheap and popular with the public. So a decision to lift the ban suggests [Kwarteng] has listened to the experts and understands building more British renewables reduces our reliance on costly gas and so brings down bills.”

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Match ID: 8 Score: 15.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 carbon

Climate change risk to coastal castles - English Heritage
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 00:04:19 GMT
Rising sea levels are threatening ancient castles and forts at an accelerating rate, says English Heritage.
Match ID: 9 Score: 15.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 climate change

Climate change: Spike in Amazon emissions linked to law enforcement
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 23:00:23 GMT
Scientists say a huge increase in deforestation in the Amazon is linked to lax law enforcement.
Match ID: 10 Score: 15.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 climate change

Lawns Are Dumb. But Ripping Them Out May Come With a Catch
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 12:00:00 +0000
Meticulous turf is environmentally terrible. Yet grass does have one charm: It “sweats,” helping cool the local area.
Match ID: 11 Score: 15.00 source: www.wired.com age: 2 days
qualifiers: 15.00 climate change

Europe’s Heat Waves Offer a Grim Vision of the Future
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 11:00:00 +0000
Extreme temperatures are the direct result of climate change, which means more intense heat events, wildfires, and droughts to come.
Match ID: 12 Score: 15.00 source: www.wired.com age: 2 days
qualifiers: 15.00 climate change

UN chief: 'Tax fossil fuel profits for climate damage'
Tue, 20 Sep 2022 13:30:00 GMT
Tax fossil fuel companies' profits to pay for the damage done by climate change, says UN Secretary General.
Match ID: 13 Score: 10.71 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 4 days
qualifiers: 10.71 climate change

We Can Now Train Big Neural Networks on Small Devices
Tue, 20 Sep 2022 13:02:00 +0000


The gadgets around us are constantly learning about our lives. Smartwatches pick up on our vital signs to track our health. Home speakers listen to our conversations to recognize our voices. Smartphones play grammarian, watching what we write in order to fix our idiosyncratic typos. We appreciate these conveniences, but the information we share with our gadgets isn’t always kept between us and our electronic minders. Machine learning can require heavy hardware, so “edge” devices like phones often send raw data to central servers, which then return trained algorithms. Some people would like that training to happen locally. A new AI training method expands the training capabilities of smaller devices, potentially helping to preserve privacy.

The most powerful machine-learning systems use neural networks, complex functions filled with tunable parameters. During training, a network receives an input (such as a set of pixels), generates an output (such as the label “cat”), compares its output with the correct answer, and adjusts its parameters to do better next time. To know how to tune each of those internal knobs, the network needs to remember the effect of each one, but they regularly number in the millions or even billions. That requires a lot of memory. Training a neural network can require hundreds of times the memory called upon when merely using one (also called “inference”). In the latter case, the memory is allowed to forget what each layer of the network did as soon as it passes information to the next layer.


To reduce the memory demanded during the training phase, researchers have employed a few tricks. In one, called paging or offloading, the machine moves those activations from short-term memory to a slower but more abundant type of memory such as flash or an SD card, then brings it back when needed. In another, called rematerialization, the machine deletes the activations, then computes them again later. Previously, memory-reduction systems used one of those two tricks or, says Shishir Patil, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the lead author of the paper describing the innovation, they were combined using “heuristics” that are “suboptimal,” often requiring a lot of energy. The innovation reported by Patil and his collaborators formalizes the combination of paging and rematerialization.

“Taking these two techniques, combining them well into this optimization problem, and then solving it—that’s really nice,” says Jiasi Chen, a computer scientist at the University of California, Riverside, who works on edge computing but was not involved in the work.

In July, Patil presented his system, called POET (private optimal energy training), at the International Conference on Machine Learning, in Baltimore. He first gives POET a device’s technical details and information about the architecture of a neural network he wants it to train. He specifies a memory budget and a time budget. He then asks it to create a training process that minimizes energy usage. The process might decide to page certain activations that would be inefficient to recompute but rematerialize others that are simple to redo but require a lot of memory to store.

One of the keys to the breakthrough was to define the problem as a mixed integer linear programming (MILP) puzzle, a set of constraints and relationships between variables. For each device and network architecture, POET plugs its variables into Patil’s hand-crafted MILP program, then finds the optimal solution. “A main challenge is actually formulating that problem in a nice way so that you can input it into a solver,” Chen says. “So, you capture all of the realistic system dynamics, like energy, latency, and memory.”

The team tested POET on four different processors, whose RAM ranged from 32 KB to 8 GB. On each, the researchers trained three different neural network architectures: two types popular in image recognition (VGG16 and ResNet-18), plus a popular language-processing network (BERT). In many of the tests, the system could reduce memory usage by about 80 percent, without a big bump in energy use. Comparable methods couldn’t do both at the same time. According to Patil, the study showed that BERT can now be trained on the smallest devices, which was previously impossible.

“When we started off, POET was mostly a cute idea,” Patil says. Now, several companies have reached out about using it, and at least one large company has tried it in its smart speaker. One thing they like, Patil says, is that POET doesn’t reduce network precision by “quantizing,” or abbreviating, activations to save memory. So the teams that design networks don’t have to coordinate with teams that implement them in order to negotiate trade-offs between precision and memory.

Patil notes other reasons to use POET besides privacy concerns. Some devices need to train networks locally because they have low or no Internet connection. These include devices used on farms, in submarines, or in space. Other setups can benefit from the innovation because data transmission requires too much energy. POET could also make large devices—Internet servers—more memory efficient and energy efficient. But as for keeping data private, Patil says, “I guess this is very timely, right?”


Match ID: 14 Score: 10.71 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 4 days
qualifiers: 10.71 carbon

Satellite Imagery for Everyone
Sat, 19 Feb 2022 16:00:00 +0000


Every day, satellites circling overhead capture trillions of pixels of high-resolution imagery of the surface below. In the past, this kind of information was mostly reserved for specialists in government or the military. But these days, almost anyone can use it.

That’s because the cost of sending payloads, including imaging satellites, into orbit has dropped drastically. High-resolution satellite images, which used to cost tens of thousands of dollars, now can be had for the price of a cup of coffee.

What’s more, with the recent advances in artificial intelligence, companies can more easily extract the information they need from huge digital data sets, including ones composed of satellite images. Using such images to make business decisions on the fly might seem like science fiction, but it is already happening within some industries.


This image shows are variety of blue and green hues, interwoven in a geometrically intriguing way.

These underwater sand dunes adorn the seafloor between Andros Island and the Exuma islands in the Bahamas. The turquoise to the right reflects a shallow carbonate bank, while the dark blue to the left marks the edge of a local deep called Tongue of the Ocean. This image was captured in April 2020 using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA’s Terra satellite.

Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory


Here’s a brief overview of how you, too, can access this kind of information and use it to your advantage. But before you’ll be able to do that effectively, you need to learn a little about how modern satellite imagery works.

The orbits of Earth-observation satellites generally fall into one of two categories: GEO and LEO. The former is shorthand for geosynchronous equatorial orbit. GEO satellites are positioned roughly 36,000 kilometers above the equator, where they circle in sync with Earth’s rotation. Viewed from the ground, these satellites appear to be stationary, in the sense that their bearing and elevation remain constant. That’s why GEO is said to be a geostationary orbit.

Such orbits are, of course, great for communications relays—it’s what allows people to mount satellite-TV dishes on their houses in a fixed orientation. But GEO satellites are also appropriate when you want to monitor some region of Earth by capturing images over time. Because the satellites are so high up, the resolution of that imagery is quite coarse, however. So these orbits are primarily used for observation satellites designed to track changing weather conditions over broad areas.

Being stationary with respect to Earth means that GEO satellites are always within range of a downlink station, so they can send data back to Earth in minutes. This allows them to alert people to changes in weather patterns almost in real time. Most of this kind of data is made available for free by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.


This black-and-white image shows a narrow waterway blocked by a large ship. The resolution of the image is sufficient to make out individual shipping containers on its deck, as well as the tugboats arrayed around it.

In March 2021, the container ship Ever Given ran aground, blocking the Suez Canal for six days. This satellite image of the scene, obtained using synthetic-aperture radar, shows the kind resolution that is possible with this technology.

Capella Space


The other option is LEO, which stands for low Earth orbit. Satellites placed in LEO are much closer to the ground, which allows them to obtain higher-resolution images. And the lower you can go, the better the resolution you can get. The company Planet, for example, increased the resolution of its recently completed satellite constellation, SkySat, from 72 centimeters per pixel to just 50 cm—an incredible feat—by lowering the orbits its satellites follow from 500 to 450 km and improving the image processing.

The best commercially available spatial resolution for optical imagery is 25 cm, which means that one pixel represents a 25-by-25-cm area on the ground—roughly the size of your laptop. A handful of companies capture data with 25-cm to 1-meter resolution, which is considered high to very high resolution in this industry. Some of these companies also offer data from 1- to 5-meter resolution, considered medium to high resolution. Finally, several government programs have made optical data available at 10-, 15-, 30-, and 250-meter resolutions for free with open data programs. These include NASA/U.S. Geological Survey Landsat, NASA MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), and ESA Copernicus. This imagery is considered low resolution.

Because the satellites that provide the highest-resolution images are in the lowest orbits, they sense less area at once. To cover the entire planet, a satellite can be placed in a polar orbit, which takes it from pole to pole. As it travels, Earth rotates under it, so on its next pass, it will be above a different part of Earth.

Many of these satellites don’t pass directly over the poles, though. Instead, they are placed in a near-polar orbit that has been specially designed to take advantage of a subtle bit of physics. You see, the spinning Earth bulges outward slightly at the equator. That extra mass causes the orbits of satellites that are not in polar orbits to shift or (technically speaking) to precess. Satellite operators often take advantage of this phenomenon to put a satellite in what’s called a sun-synchronous orbit. Such orbits allow the repeated passes of the satellite over a given spot to take place at the same time of day. Not having the pattern of shadows shift between passes helps the people using these images to detect changes.




It usually takes 24 hours for a satellite in polar orbit to survey the entire surface of Earth. To image the whole world more frequently, satellite companies use multiple satellites, all equipped with the same sensor and following different orbits. In this way, these companies can provide more frequently updated images of a given location. For example, Maxar’s Worldview Legion constellation, launching later this year, includes six satellites.

After a satellite captures some number of images, all that data needs to be sent down to Earth and processed. The time required for that varies.

DigitalGlobe (which Maxar acquired in 2017) recently announced that it had managed to send data from a satellite down to a ground station and then store it in the cloud in less than a minute. That was possible because the image sent back was of the parking lot of the ground station, so the satellite didn’t have to travel between the collection point and where it had to be to do the data “dumping,” as this process is called.

In general, Earth-observation satellites in LEO don’t capture imagery all the time—they do that only when they are above an area of special interest. That’s because these satellites are limited to how much data they can send at one time. Typically, they can transmit data for only 10 minutes or so before they get out of range of a ground station. And they cannot record more data than they’ll have time to dump.

Currently, ground stations are located mostly near the poles, the most visited areas in polar orbits. But we can soon expect distances to the nearest ground station to shorten because both Amazon and Microsoft have announced intentions to build large networks of ground stations located all over the world. As it turns out, hosting the terabytes of satellite data that are collected daily is big business for these companies, which sell their cloud services (Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure) to satellite operators.

For now, if you are looking for imagery of an area far from a ground station, expect a significant delay—maybe hours—between capture and transmission of the data. The data will then have to be processed, which adds yet more time. The fastest providers currently make their data available within 48 hours of capture, but not all can manage that. While it is possible, under ideal weather conditions, for a commercial entity to request a new capture and get the data it needs delivered the same week, such quick turnaround times are still considered cutting edge.


The best commercially available spatial resolution is 25 centimeters for optical imagery, which means that one pixel represents something roughly the size of your laptop.


I’ve been using the word “imagery,” but it’s important to note that satellites do not capture images the same way ordinary cameras do. The optical sensors in satellites are calibrated to measure reflectance over specific bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. This could mean they record how much red, green, and blue light is reflected from different parts of the ground. The satellite operator will then apply a variety of adjustments to correct colors, combine adjacent images, and account for parallax, forming what’s called a true-color composite image, which looks pretty much like what you would expect to get from a good camera floating high in the sky and pointed directly down.

Imaging satellites can also capture data outside of the visible-light spectrum. The near-infrared band is widely used in agriculture, for example, because these images help farmers gauge the health of their crops. This band can also be used to detect soil moisture and a variety of other ground features that would otherwise be hard to determine.

Longer-wavelength “thermal” IR does a good job of penetrating smoke and picking up heat sources, making it useful for wildfire monitoring. And synthetic-aperture radar satellites, which I discuss in greater detail below, are becoming more common because the images they produce aren’t affected by clouds and don’t require the sun for illumination.

You might wonder whether aerial imagery, say, from a drone, wouldn’t work at least as well as satellite data. Sometimes it can. But for many situations, using satellites is the better strategy. Satellites can capture imagery over areas that would be difficult to access otherwise because of their remoteness, for example. Or there could be other sorts of accessibility issues: The area of interest could be in a conflict zone, on private land, or in another place that planes or drones cannot overfly.

So with satellites, organizations can easily monitor the changes taking place at various far-flung locations. Satellite imagery allows pipeline operators, for instance, to quickly identify incursions into their right-of-way zones. The company can then take steps to prevent a disastrous incident, such as someone puncturing a gas pipeline while construction is taking place nearby.


\u200bThis satellite image shows a snow-covered area. A tongue of darker material is draped over the side of a slope, impinging on a nearby developed area with buildings.

This SkySat image shows the effect of a devastating landslide that took place on 30 December 2020. Debris from that landslide destroyed buildings and killed 10 people in the Norwegian village of Ask.

SkySat/Planet



The ability to compare archived imagery with recently acquired data has helped a variety of industries. For example, insurance companies sometimes use satellite data to detect fraudulent claims (“Looks like your house had a damaged roof when you bought it…”). And financial-investment firms use satellite imagery to evaluate such things as retailers’ future profits based on parking-lot fullness or to predict crop prices before farmers report their yields for the season.

Satellite imagery provides a particularly useful way to find or monitor the location of undisclosed features or activities. Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama, for example, uses satellite imagery to locate archaeological sites of interest. 52Impact, a consulting company in the Netherlands, identified undisclosed waste dump sites by training an algorithm to recognize their telltale spectral signature. Satellite imagery has also helped identify illegal fishing activities, fight human trafficking, monitor oil spills, get accurate reporting on COVID-19 deaths, and even investigate Uyghur internment camps in China—all situations where the primary actors couldn’t be trusted to accurately report what’s going on.

Despite these many successes, investigative reporters and nongovernmental organizations aren’t yet using satellite data regularly, perhaps because even the small cost of the imagery is a deterrent. Thankfully, some kinds of low-resolution satellite data can be had for free.

The first place to look for free satellite imagery is the Copernicus Open Access Hub and EarthExplorer. Both offer free access to a wide range of open data. The imagery is lower resolution than what you can purchase, but if the limited resolution meets your needs, why spend money?

If you require medium- or high-resolution data, you might be able to buy it directly from the relevant satellite operator. This field recently went through a period of mergers and acquisitions, leaving only a handful of providers, the big three in the West being Maxar and Planet in the United States and Airbus in Germany. There are also a few large Asian providers, such as SI Imaging Services in South Korea and Twenty First Century Aerospace Technology in Singapore. Most providers have a commercial branch, but they primarily target government buyers. And they often require large minimum purchases, which is unhelpful to companies looking to monitor hundreds of locations or fewer.

Expect the distance to the nearest ground station to shorten because both Amazon and Microsoft have announced intentions to build large networks of ground stations located all over the world.

Fortunately, approaching a satellite operator isn’t the only option. In the past five years, a cottage industry of consultants and local resellers with exclusive deals to service a certain market has sprung up. Aggregators and resellers spend years negotiating contracts with multiple providers so they can offer customers access to data sets at more attractive prices, sometimes for as little as a few dollars per image. Some companies providing geographic information systems—including Esri, L3Harris, and Safe Software—have also negotiated reselling agreements with satellite-image providers.

Traditional resellers are middlemen who will connect you with a salesperson to discuss your needs, obtain quotes from providers on your behalf, and negotiate pricing and priority schedules for image capture and sometimes also for the processing of the data. This is the case for Apollo Mapping, European Space Imaging, Geocento, LandInfo, Satellite Imaging Corp., and many more. The more innovative resellers will give you access to digital platforms where you can check whether an image you need is available from a certain archive and then order it. Examples include LandViewer from EOS and Image Hunter from Apollo Mapping.

More recently, a new crop of aggregators began offering customers the ability to programmatically access Earth-observation data sets. These companies work best for people looking to integrate such data into their own applications or workflows. These include the company I work for, SkyWatch, which provides such a service, called EarthCache. Other examples are UP42 from Airbus and Sentinel Hub from Sinergise.

While you will still need to talk with a sales rep to activate your account—most often to verify you will use the data in ways that fits the company’s terms of service and licensing agreements—once you’ve been granted access to their applications, you will be able to programmatically order archive data from one or multiple providers. SkyWatch is, however, the only aggregator allowing users to programmatically request future data to be collected (“tasking a satellite”).

While satellite imagery is fantastically abundant and easy to access today, two changes are afoot that will expand further what you can do with satellite data: faster revisits and greater use of synthetic-aperture radar (SAR).

This image shows a sprawling compound of dozens of large buildings located in a desert area.

This image shows a race-track shaped structure with a tall chimney in the middle, built in an area where the ground is a distinctly reddish hue. Satellite images have helped to reveal China’s treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority. About a million Uyghurs (and other ethnic minorities) have been interned in prisons or camps like the one shown here [top], which lies to the east of the city of Ürümqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Another satellite image [bottom] shows the characteristic oval shape of a fixed-chimney Bull’s trench kiln, a type widely used for manufacturing bricks in southern Asia. This one is located in Pakistan’s Punjab province. This design poses environmental concerns because of the sooty air pollution it generates, and such kilns have also been associated with human-rights abuses.Top: CNES/Airbus/Google Earth; Bottom: Maxar Technologies/Google Earth

The first of these developments is not surprising. As more Earth-observation satellites are put into orbit, more images will be taken, more often. So how frequently a given area is imaged by a satellite will increase. Right now, that’s typically two or three times a week. Expect the revisit rate soon to become several times a day. This won’t entirely address the challenge of clouds obscuring what you want to view, but it will help.

The second development is more subtle. Data from the two satellites of the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 SAR mission, available at no cost, has enabled companies to dabble in SAR over the last few years.

With SAR, the satellite beams radio waves down and measures the return signals bouncing off the surface. It does that continually, and clever processing is used to turn that data into images. The use of radio allows these satellites to see through clouds and to collect measurements day and night. Depending on the radar band that’s employed, SAR imagery can be used to judge material properties, moisture content, precise movements, and elevation.

As more companies get familiar with such data sets, there will no doubt be a growing demand for satellite SAR imagery, which has been widely used by the military since the 1970s. But it’s just now starting to appear in commercial products. You can expect those offerings to grow dramatically, though.

Indeed, a large portion of the money being invested in this industry is currently going to fund large SAR constellations, including those of Capella Space, Iceye, Synspective, XpressSAR, and others. The market is going to get crowded fast, which is great news for customers. It means they will be able to obtain high-resolution SAR images of the place they’re interested in, taken every hour (or less), day or night, cloudy or clear.

People will no doubt figure out wonderful new ways to employ this information, so the more folks who have access to it, the better. This is something my colleagues at SkyWatch and I deeply believe, and it’s why we’ve made it our mission to help democratize access to satellite imagery.

One day in the not-so-distant future, Earth-observation satellite data might become as ubiquitous as GPS, another satellite technology first used only by the military. Imagine, for example, being able to take out your phone and say something like, “Show me this morning’s soil-moisture map for Grover’s Corners High; I want to see whether the baseball fields are still soggy.”

This article appears in the March 2022 print issue as “A Boom with a View.”

Editor's note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Maxar's Worldview Legion constellation launched last year.


Match ID: 15 Score: 7.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 217 days
qualifiers: 5.71 air pollution, 2.14 carbon

Solar-to-Jet-Fuel System Readies for Takeoff
Wed, 03 Aug 2022 17:00:00 +0000


As climate change edges from crisis to emergency, the aviation sector looks set to miss its 2050 goal of net-zero emissions. In the five years preceding the pandemic, the top four U.S. airlines—American, Delta, Southwest, and United—saw a 15 percent increase in the use of jet fuel. Despite continual improvements in engine efficiencies, that number is projected to keep rising.

A glimmer of hope, however, comes from solar fuels. For the first time, scientists and engineers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich have reported a successful demonstration of an integrated fuel-production plant for solar kerosene. Using concentrated solar energy, they were able to produce kerosene from water vapor and carbon dioxide directly from air. Fuel thus produced is a drop-in alternative to fossil-derived fuels and can be used with existing storage and distribution infrastructures, and engines.

Fuels derived from synthesis gas (or syngas)—an intermediate product that is a specific mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen—is a known alternative to conventional, fossil-derived fuels. Syngas is produced by Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis, in which chemical reactions convert carbon monoxide and water vapor into hydrocarbons. The team of researchers at ETH found that a solar-driven thermochemical method to split water and carbon dioxide using a metal oxide redox cycle can produce renewable syngas. They demonstrated the process in a rooftop solar refinery at the ETH Machine Laboratory in 2019.

Close-up of a spongy looking material Reticulated porous structure made of ceria used in the solar reactor to thermochemically split CO2 and H2O and produce syngas, a specific mixture of H2 and CO.ETH Zurich

The current pilot-scale solar tower plant was set up at the IMDEA Energy Institute in Spain. It scales up the solar reactor of the 2019 experiment by a factor of 10, says Aldo Steinfeld, an engineering professor at ETH who led the study. The fuel plant brings together three subsystems—the solar tower concentrating facility, solar reactor, and gas-to-liquid unit.

First, a heliostat field made of mirrors that rotate to follow the sun concentrates solar irradiation into a reactor mounted on top of the tower. The reactor is a cavity receiver lined with reticulated porous ceramic structures made of ceria (or cerium(IV) oxide). Within the reactor, the concentrated sunlight creates a high-temperature environment of about 1,500 °C which is hot enough to split captured carbon dioxide and water from the atmosphere to produce syngas. Finally, the syngas is processed to kerosene in the gas-to-liquid unit. A centralized control room operates the whole system.

Fuel produced using this method closes the fuel carbon cycle as it only produces as much carbon dioxide as has gone into its manufacture. “The present pilot fuel plant is still a demonstration facility for research purposes,” says Steinfeld, “but it is a fully integrated plant and uses a solar-tower configuration at a scale that is relevant for industrial implementation.”

“The solar reactor produced syngas with selectivity, purity, and quality suitable for FT synthesis,” the authors noted in their paper. They also reported good material stability for multiple consecutive cycles. They observed a value of 4.1 percent solar-to-syngas energy efficiency, which Steinfeld says is a record value for thermochemical fuel production, even though better efficiencies are required to make the technology economically competitive.

Schematic of the solar tower fuel plant.  A heliostat field concentrates solar radiation onto a solar reactor mounted on top of the solar tower. The solar reactor cosplits water and carbon dioxide and produces a mixture of molecular hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which in turn is processed to drop-in fuels such as kerosene.ETH Zurich

“The measured value of energy conversion efficiency was obtained without any implementation of heat recovery,” he says. The heat rejected during the redox cycle of the reactor accounted for more than 50 percent of the solar-energy input. “This fraction can be partially recovered via thermocline heat storage. Thermodynamic analyses indicate that sensible heat recovery could potentially boost the energy efficiency to values exceeding 20 percent.”

To do so, more work is needed to optimize the ceramic structures lining the reactor, something the ETH team is actively working on, by looking at 3D-printed structures for improved volumetric radiative absorption. “In addition, alternative material compositions, that is, perovskites or aluminates, may yield improved redox capacity, and consequently higher specific fuel output per mass of redox material,” Steinfeld adds.

The next challenge for the researchers, he says, is the scale-up of their technology for higher solar-radiative power inputs, possibly using an array of solar cavity-receiver modules on top of the solar tower.

To bring solar kerosene into the market, Steinfeld envisages a quota-based system. “Airlines and airports would be required to have a minimum share of sustainable aviation fuels in the total volume of jet fuel that they put in their aircraft,” he says. This is possible as solar kerosene can be mixed with fossil-based kerosene. This would start out small, as little as 1 or 2 percent, which would raise the total fuel costs at first, though minimally—adding “only a few euros to the cost of a typical flight,” as Steinfeld puts it

Meanwhile, rising quotas would lead to investment, and to falling costs, eventually replacing fossil-derived kerosene with solar kerosene. “By the time solar jet fuel reaches 10 to 15 percent of the total jet-fuel volume, we ought to see the costs for solar kerosene nearing those of fossil-derived kerosene,” he adds.

However, we may not have to wait too long for flights to operate solely on solar fuel. A commercial spin-off of Steinfeld’s laboratory, Synhelion, is working on commissioning the first industrial-scale solar fuel plant in 2023. The company has also collaborated with the airline SWISS to conduct a flight solely using its solar kerosene.


Match ID: 16 Score: 4.29 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 52 days
qualifiers: 2.14 climate change, 2.14 carbon

Climate change: Pakistan floods 'likely' made worse by warming
Thu, 15 Sep 2022 22:41:45 GMT
Emissions from human activities played a role in the recent floods that have brought devastation to Pakistan.
Match ID: 17 Score: 2.14 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 8 days
qualifiers: 2.14 climate change

Ensuring Underwater Robots Survive in Hot Tropical Waters
Thu, 15 Sep 2022 15:00:00 +0000


The hot, humid environment of tropical marine areas such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef can wreak havoc on the marine autonomous systems. Underwater and surface MAS are used for marine monitoring, locating objects such as mines on the seafloor, and rescuing swimmers.

“Tropical conditions can cause systems to overheat or prevent high-density lithium batteries from recharging,” says Melanie Olsen, who is a project director of the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s (AIMS) ReefWorks, a technology testing and evaluation facility in northern Australia. “And the microbial and small creatures that thrive in these tropical environments grow rapidly on underwater surfaces and degrade the sensor performance and the hydrodynamics of the robotics and autonomous systems.”


Developing technology that can stand up to these conditions is part of Olsen’s job, as is supporting ReefWorks’ broader mission of helping others move their autonomous systems out of the lab. It’s essential to test these systems and collect compliance evidence to demonstrate they meet regulatory requirements and can be certified for operations, says Olsen, an IEEE senior member. But there are very few places to test marine robotics, autonomous systems, and artificial-intelligence (RAS-AI) technologies, which hampers the growth of the industry, Olsen says. “It’s difficult for RAS-AI vendors to progress from a prototype to a commercial product because the pathway to a certified system is complex.”

That’s why AIMS established ReefWorks. The facility is used to test crewed and uncrewed tropical and marine vessels as well as robots, sensors, and other innovations. “We are Australia’s—and possibly the world’s—first such testing facility in the tropics,” Olsen says. Examples of underwater and surface MAS include the ReefScan CoralAUV, which is used for marine monitoring, and the Wave Adaptive Modular Vessel, a surface vessel used for marine monitoring, locating mines and other objects on the seafloor, and rescuing swimmers.

AIMS has been testing equipment for over a decade, but this part of AIMS’s facilities opened to the public in December 2021. ReefWorks supports the entire development cycle, from digital-model validation and developmental testing to product and operational-level testing, Olsen says. Physical tests can be done at AIMS’s three marine field ranges, which offer different testing conditions. ReefWorks also has land-based facilities, plus the National Sea Simulator sensor test tank, and drone corridors between the at-sea ranges for verifying the performance of long-range marine autonomous systems.

“Our overall objective is to establish a sustainable marine autonomous systems [MAS] sector in Australia,” she says.

One of the ways ReefWorks helps its users make the most of their time on test ranges is to offer “digital twins” and virtual worlds. A digital twin is a virtual model of a real-world object, machine, or system that can be used to assess how the real-world counterpart is performing.

“Each of our test ranges is developing a digital twin,” Olsen says. “Developers will be able to conduct a test mission on the virtual range so when they get here, they can replay missions with real-time collected data, and validate their MAS digital-model performance.”

Olsen leads a team of five people and is currently recruiting another five. She expects the staff to triple in size in a few years as ReefWorks becomes more established in the region.

An IEEE senior member, Olsen is active with the IEEE Northern Australia Section. She served as the section chair in 2020 and 2021, during which time the section achieved the Region 10 Outstanding Small Section Award.

Integrating embedded AI and IOT edge computing

Before joining AIMS, Olsen spent a decade in Australia’s Department of Defence (DOD) as a lead engineer working on future technologies and maritime electronic-warfare systems.

Olsen grew up in a farming family and wasn’t really exposed to computers or engineers until an EE lecturer from James Cook University, in Australia, came to her rural high school to give a presentation. He brought along a remote-controlled quadrotor helicopter—a decade before quadcopters were commonplace.

The lecture led Olsen to pursue a bachelor’s degree in electrical, electronics, and computer systems, also from James Cook University, in Townsville. She went on to earn a master’s degree in systems engineering from Australia’s University of New South Wales, in Canberra. In 2016, Olsen took a job at AIMS as an engineering team leader in technology development.

“I’m very passionate about new technologies and seeing them integrated in the field,” she says. “During my decade at the [Australian] DOD, I grew my skills in systems engineering to solve more complex technology-integration challenges. AIMS offered me an opportunity to apply these skills to the challenges facing the tropical marine environment.”

“We are Australia’s—and possibly the world’s—first such testing facility in the tropics.”

There are many similarities between what Olsen had been doing at DOD and her role at ReefWorks. “My work at both DOD and AIMS requires an understanding of how electronic subsystems work, determining what’s viable for the use case, understanding the importance of modeling and simulation, and being able to communicate engineering terminology to an interdisciplinary team,” she says. “Both roles are all about engineering problem-solving.”

Olsen is currently working on integrating embedded AI and Internet of Things edge computing into AIMS infrastructure. “Artificial intelligence is used to increase a marine autonomous system’s capabilities,” she says. “For example, AI is used to train a MAS to navigate and avoid colliding with coral reefs, other vessels, or other objects or to allow the MAS to identify specific marine species, reef areas suitable for reseeding, and marine mines.”

IoT edge computing is used to process data closer to its point of origin. “This has the potential to speed up the decision process for vessels and operators while minimizing the communications and data bandwidth needed, which are key limitations when operating in marine northern Australia,” Olsen says.

Since GPS doesn’t work underwater, another of her team’s projects is looking for additional ways to conduct accurate geospatial positioning and control for missions that don’t require marine autonomous systems to come to the surface.

“We’re only just starting to get a feel for what marine autonomous systems can do—not just for our tropical marine waters but in general,” she says. “There are grand challenges no one can solve right now, like dealing with ocean pollution and the impacts of climate change.”

Robotics engineers needed

There’s nowhere near enough robotics engineers in the world, Olsen says. She recommends that engineering students take courses that include group projects.

“Group projects help you grow your ability to solve problems outside your knowledge or expertise,” she says. “They teach you how to work as an interdisciplinary team, who to ask for help, and where to find it.”

This article appears in the October 2022 print issue as “Melanie Olsen.”


Match ID: 18 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 9 days
qualifiers: 2.14 climate change

MOXIE Shows How to Make Oxygen on Mars
Thu, 08 Sep 2022 15:27:59 +0000


Planning for the return journey is an integral part of the preparations for a crewed Mars mission. Astronauts will require a total mass of about 50 tonnes of rocket propellent for the ascent vehicle that will lift them off the planet’s surface, including 31 tonnes of oxygen approximately. The less popular option is for crewed missions to carry the required oxygen themselves. But scientists are optimistic that it could instead be produced from the carbon dioxide–rich Martian atmosphere itself, using a system called MOXIE.

The Mars Oxygen ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization) Experiment is an 18-kilogram unit housed within the Perseverance rover on Mars. The unit is “the size of a toaster,” adds Jeffrey Hoffman, professor of aerospace engineering at MIT. Its job is to electrochemically break down carbon dioxide collected from the Martian atmosphere into oxygen and carbon monoxide. It also tests the purity of the oxygen.

Between February 2021, when it arrived on Mars aboard the Perseverance, and the end of the year, MOXIE has had several successful test runs. According to a review of the system by Hoffman and colleagues, published in Science Advances, it has demonstrated its ability to produce oxygen during both night and day, when temperatures can vary by over 100 ºC. The generation and purity rates of oxygen also meet requirements to produce rocket propellent and for breathing. The authors assert that a scaled-up version of MOXIE could produce the required oxygen for lift-off as well as for the astronauts to breathe.

Next question: How to power any oxygen-producing factories that NASA can land on Mars? Perhaps via NASA’s Kilopower fission reactors?

MOXIE is a first step toward a much larger and more complex system to support the human exploration of Mars. The researchers estimate a required generation rate of 2 to 3 kilograms per hour, compared with the current MOXIE rate of 6 to 8 grams per hour, to produce enough oxygen for lift-off for a crew arriving 26 months later. “So we’re talking about a system that’s a couple of hundred times bigger than MOXIE,” Hoffman says.

They calculate this rate accounting for eight months to get to Mars, followed by some time to set up the system. “We figure you'd probably have maybe 14 months to make all the oxygen.” Further, he says, the produced oxygen would have to be liquefied to be used a rocket propellant, something the current version of MOXIE doesn’t do.

MOXIE also currently faces several design constraints because, says Hoffman, a former astronaut, “our only ride to Mars was inside the Perseverance rover.” This limited the amount of power available to operate the unit, the amount of heat they could produce, the volume and the mass.

“MOXIE does not work nearly as efficiently as a stand-alone system that was specifically designed would,” says Hoffman. Most of the time, it’s turned off. “Every time we want to make oxygen, we have to heat it up to 800 ºC, so most of the energy goes into heating it up and running the compressor, whereas in a well-designed stand-alone system, most of the energy will go into the actual electrolysis, into actually producing the oxygen.”

However, there are still many kinks to iron out for the scaling-up process. To begin with, any oxygen-producing system will need lots of power. Hoffman thinks nuclear power is the most likely option, maybe NASA’s Kilopower fission reactors. The setup and the cabling would certainly be challenging, he says. “You’re going to have to launch to all of these nuclear reactors, and of course, they’re not going to be in exactly the same place as the [other] units,” he says. "So, robotically, you’re going to have to connect to the electrical cables to bring power to the oxygen-producing unit.”

Then there is the solid oxide electrolysis units, which Hoffman points out are carefully machined systems. Fortunately, the company that makes them, OxEon, has already designed, built, and tested a full-scale unit, a hundred times bigger than the one on MOXIE. “Several of those units would be required to produce oxygen at the quantities that we need,” Hoffman says.

He also adds that at present, there is no redundancy built into MOXIE. If any part fails, the whole system dies. “If you’re counting on a system to produce oxygen for rocket propellant and for breathing, you need very high reliability, which means you’re going to need quite a few redundant units.”

Moreover, the system has to be pretty much autonomous, Hoffman says. “It has to be able to monitor itself, run itself.” For testing purposes, every time MOXIE is powered up, there is plenty of time to plan. A full-scale MOXIE system, though, would have to run continuously, and for that it has to be able to adjust automatically to changes in the Mars atmosphere, which can vary by a factor of two over a year, and between nighttime and daytime temperature differences.


Match ID: 19 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 16 days
qualifiers: 2.14 carbon

How Pakistan floods are linked to climate change
Fri, 02 Sep 2022 13:42:00 GMT
Pakistan's geography - and its immense glaciers - make it vulnerable to climate change.
Match ID: 20 Score: 2.14 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 22 days
qualifiers: 2.14 climate change

Climate change: 'Staggering' rate of global tree losses from fires
Wed, 17 Aug 2022 09:00:36 GMT
A report says around 16 football pitches of trees per minute were lost to wildfires in 2021.
Match ID: 21 Score: 2.14 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 38 days
qualifiers: 2.14 climate change

Inside the Universe Machine: The Webb Space Telescope’s Staggering Vision
Wed, 06 Jul 2022 13:00:00 +0000


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

“Build something that will absolutely, positively work.” This was the mandate from NASA for designing and building the James Webb Space Telescope—at 6.5 meters wide the largest space telescope in history. Last December, JWST launched famously and successfully to its observing station out beyond the moon. And now according to NASA, as soon as next week, the JWST will at long last begin releasing scientific images and data.

Mark Kahan, on JWST’s product integrity team, recalls NASA’s engineering challenge as a call to arms for a worldwide team of thousands that set out to create one of the most ambitious scientific instruments in human history. Kahan—chief electro-optical systems engineer at Mountain View, Calif.–based Synopsys—and many others in JWST’s “pit crew” (as he calls the team) drew hard lessons from three decades ago, having helped repair another world-class space telescope with a debilitating case of flawed optics. Of course the Hubble Space Telescope is in low Earth orbit, and so a special space-shuttle mission to install corrective optics ( as happened in 1993) was entirely possible.

Not so with the JWST.

The meticulous care NASA demanded of JWST’s designers is all the more a necessity because Webb is well out of reach of repair crews. Its mission is to study the infrared universe, and that requires shielding the telescope and its sensors from both the heat of sunlight and the infrared glow of Earth. A good place to do that without getting too far from Earth is an empty patch of interplanetary space 1.5 million kilometers away (well beyond the moon’s orbit) near a spot physicists call the second Lagrange point, or L2.

The pit crew’s job was “down at the detail level, error checking every critical aspect of the optical design,” says Kahan. Having learned the hard way from Hubble, the crew insisted that every measurement on Webb’s optics be made in at least two different ways that could be checked and cross-checked. Diagnostics were built into the process, Kahan says, so that “you could look at them to see what to kick” to resolve any discrepancies. Their work had to be done on the ground, but their tests had to assess how the telescope would work in deep space at cryogenic temperatures.

Three New Technologies for the Main Mirror

Superficially, Webb follows the design of all large reflecting telescopes. A big mirror collects light from stars, galaxies, nebulae, planets, comets, and other astronomical objects—and then focuses those photons onto a smaller secondary mirror that sends it to a third mirror that then ultimately directs the light to instruments that record images and spectra.

Webb’s 6.5-meter primary mirror is the first segmented mirror to be launched into space. All the optics had to be made on the ground at room temperature but were deployed in space and operated at 30 to 55 degrees above absolute zero. “We had to develop three new technologies” to make it work, says Lee D. Feinberg of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the optical telescope element manager for Webb for the past 20 years.

The longest wavelengths that Hubble has to contend with were 2.5 micrometers, whereas Webb is built to observe infrared light that stretches to 28 μm in wavelength. Compared with Hubble, whose primary mirror is a circle of an area 4.5 square meters, “[Webb’s primary mirror] had to be 25 square meters,” says Feinberg. Webb also “needed segmented mirrors that were lightweight, and its mass was a huge consideration,” he adds. No single-component mirror that could provide the required resolution would have fit on the Ariane 5 rocket that launched JWST. That meant the mirror would have to be made in pieces, assembled, folded, secured to withstand the stress of launch, then unfolded and deployed in space to create a surface that was within tens of nanometers of the shape specified by the designers.

Images of the James Webb Space Telescope and Hubble Space Telescope to scale, compared to a human figure, who is dwarfed by their size The James Webb Space Telescope [left] and the Hubble Space Telescope side by side—with Hubble’s 2.4-meter-diameter mirror versus Webb’s array of hexagonal mirrors making a 6.5-meter-diameter light-collecting area. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA and the U.S. Air Force, which has its own interests in large lightweight space mirrors for surveillance and focusing laser energy, teamed up to develop the technology. The two agencies narrowed eight submitted proposals down to two approaches for building JWST’s mirrors: one based on low-expansion glass made of a mixture of silicon and titanium dioxides similar to that used in Hubble and the other the light but highly toxic metal beryllium. The most crucial issue came down to how well the materials could withstand temperature changes from room temperature on the ground to around 50 K in space. Beryllium won because it could fully release stress after cooling without changing its shape, and it’s not vulnerable to the cracking that can occur in glass. The final beryllium mirror was a 6.5-meter array of 18 hexagonal beryllium mirrors, each weighing about 20 kilograms. The weight per unit area of JWST’s mirror was only 10 percent of that in Hubble. A 100-nanometer layer of pure gold makes the surface reflect 98 percent of incident light from JWST’s main observing band of 0.6 to 28.5 μm. “Pure silver has slightly higher reflectivity than pure gold, but gold is more robust,” says Feinberg. A thin layer of amorphous silica protects the metal film from surface damage.

In addition, a wavefront-sensing control system keeps mirror segment surfaces aligned to within tens of nanometers. Built on the ground, the system is expected to keep mirror alignment stabilized throughout the telescope’s operational life. A backplane kept at a temperature of 35 K holds all 2.4 tonnes of the telescope and instruments rock-steady to within 32 nm while maintaining them at cryogenic temperatures during observations.

Metal superstructure of cages and supports stands on a giant platform in a warehouse-sized clean-room. A man in a cleanroom suit watches the operations. The JWST backplane, the “spine” that supports the entire hexagonal mirror structure and carries more than 2,400 kg of hardware, is readied for assembly to the rest of the telescope. NASA/Chris Gunn

Hubble’s amazing, long-exposure images of distant galaxies are possible through the use of gyroscopes and reaction wheels. The gyroscopes are used to sense unwanted rotations, and reaction wheels are used to counteract them.

But the gyroscopes used on Hubble have had a bad track record and have had to be replaced repeatedly. Only three of Hubble’s six gyros remain operational today, and NASA has devised plans for operating with one or two gyros at reduced capability. Hubble also includes reaction wheels and magnetic torquers, used to maintain its orientation when needed or to point at different parts of the sky.

Webb uses reaction wheels similarly to turn across the sky, but instead of using mechanical gyros to sense direction, it uses hemispherical resonator gyroscopes, which have no moving parts. Webb also has a small fine-steering mirror in the optical path, which can tilt over an angle of just 5 arc seconds. Those very fine adjustments of the light path into the instruments keep the telescope on target. “It’s a really wonderful way to go,” says Feinberg, adding that it compensates for small amounts of jitter without having to move the whole 6-tonne observatory.

Instruments

Other optics distribute light from the fine-steering mirror among four instruments, two of which can observe simultaneously. Three instruments have sensors that observe wavelengths of 0.6 to 5 μm, which astronomers call the near-infrared. The fourth, called the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), observes what astronomers call the mid-infrared spectrum, from 5 to 28.5 μm. Different instruments are needed because sensors and optics have limited wavelength ranges. (Optical engineers may blanch slightly at astronomers’ definitions of what constitutes the near- and mid-infrared wavelength ranges. These two groups simply have differing conventions for labeling the various regimes of the infrared spectrum.)

Mid-infrared wavelengths are crucial for observing young stars and planetary systems and the earliest galaxies, but they also pose some of the biggest engineering challenges. Namely, everything on Earth and planets out to Jupiter glow in the mid-infrared. So for JWST to observe distant astronomical objects, it must avoid recording extraneous mid-infrared noise from all the various sources inside the solar system. “I have spent my whole career building instruments for wavelengths of 5 μm and longer,” says MIRI instrument scientist Alistair Glasse of the Royal Observatory, in Edinburgh. “We’re always struggling against thermal background.”

Mountaintop telescopes can see the near-infrared, but observing the mid-infrared sky requires telescopes in space. However, the thermal radiation from Earth and its atmosphere can cloud their view, and so can the telescopes themselves unless they are cooled far below room temperature. An ample supply of liquid helium and an orbit far from Earth allowed the Spitzer Space Telescope’s primary observing mission to last for five years, but once the last of the cryogenic fluid evaporated in 2009, its observations were limited to wavelengths shorter than 5 μm.

Webb has an elaborate solar shield to block sunlight, and an orbit 1.5 million km from Earth that can keep the telescope to below 55 K, but that’s not good enough for low-noise observations at wavelengths longer than 5 μm. The near-infrared instruments operate at 40 K to minimize thermal noise. But for observations out to 28.5 μm, MIRI uses a specially developed closed-cycle, helium cryocooler to keep MIRI cooled below 7 K. “We want to have sensitivity limited by the shot noise of astronomical sources,” says Glasse. (Shot noise occurs when optical or electrical signals are so feeble that each photon or electron constitutes a detectable peak.) That will make MIRI 1,000 times as sensitive in the mid-infrared as Spitzer.

Another challenge is the limited transparency of optical materials in the mid-infrared. “We use reflective optics wherever possible,” says Glasse, but they also pose problems, he adds. “Thermal contraction is a big deal,” he says, because the instrument was made at room temperature but is used at 7 K. To keep thermal changes uniform throughout MIRI, they made the whole structure of gold-coated aluminum lest other metals cause warping.

Detectors are another problem. Webb’s near-infrared sensors use mercury cadmium telluride photodetectors with a resolution of 2,048 x 2,048 pixels. This resolution is widely used at wavelengths below 5 μm, but sensing at MIRI’s longer wavelengths required exotic detectors that are limited to offering only 1,024 x 1,024 pixels.

Glasse says commissioning “has gone incredibly well.” Although some stray light has been detected, he says, “we are fully expecting to meet all our science goals.”

NIRCam Aligns the Whole Telescope

The near-infrared detectors and optical materials used for observing at wavelengths shorter than 5 μm are much more mature than those for the mid-infrared, so the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) does double duty by both recording images and aligning all the optics in the whole telescope. That alignment was the trickiest part of building the instrument, says NIRCam principal investigator Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona.

Alignment means getting all the light collected by the primary mirror to get to the right place in the final image. That’s crucial for Webb, because it has 18 separate segments that have to overlay their images perfectly in the final image, and because all those segments were built on the ground at room temperature but operate at cryogenic temperatures in space at zero gravity. When NASA recorded a test image of a single star after Webb first opened its primary mirror, it showed 18 separate bright spots, one from each segment. When alignment was completed on 11 March, the image from NIRcam showed a single star with six spikes caused by diffraction.

Image of a star with six-pointed spikes caused by diffraction Even when performing instrumental calibration tasks, JWST couldn’t help but showcase its stunning sensitivity to the infrared sky. The central star is what telescope technicians used to align JWST’s mirrors. But notice the distant galaxies and stars that photobombed the image too!NASA/STScI

Building a separate alignment system would have added to both the weight and cost of Webb, Rieke realized, and in the original 1995 plan for the telescope she proposed designing NIRCam so it could align the telescope optics once it was up in space as well as record images. “The only real compromise was that it required NIRCam to have exquisite image quality,” says Rieke, wryly. From a scientific point, she adds, using the instrument to align the telescope optics “is great because you know you’re going to have good image quality and it’s going to be aligned with you.” Alignment might be just a tiny bit off for other instruments. In the end, it took a team at Lockheed Martin to develop the computational tools to account for all the elements of thermal expansion.

Escalating costs and delays had troubled Webb for years. But for Feinberg, “commissioning has been a magical five months.” It began with the sight of sunlight hitting the mirrors. The segmented mirror deployed smoothly, and after the near-infrared cameras cooled, the mirrors focused one star into 18 spots, then aligned them to put the spots on top of each other. “Everything had to work to get it to [focus] that well,” he says. It’s been an intense time, but for Feinberg, a veteran of the Hubble repair mission, commissioning Webb was “a piece of cake.”

NASA announced that between May 23rd and 25th, one segment of the primary mirror had been dinged by a micrometeorite bigger than the agency had expected when it analyzed the potential results of such impacts. “Things do degrade over time,” Feinberg said. But he added that Webb had been engineered to minimize damage, and NASA said the event had not affected Webb’s operation schedule.

Corrections 26-28 July 2022: The story was updated a) to reflect the fact that the Lagrange point L2 where Webb now orbits is not that of the "Earth-moon system" (as the story had originally reported) but rather the Earth-sun system
and b) to correct misstatements in the original posting about Webb's hardware for controlling its orientation.

Corrections 12 Aug. 2022: Alistair Glasse's name was incorrectly spelled in a previous version of this story, as was NIRCam (which we'd spelled as NIRcam); Webb's tertiary mirror (we'd originally reported only its primary and secondary mirrors) was also called out in this version.

This article appears in the September 2022 print issue as “Inside the Universe Machine.”


Match ID: 22 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 80 days
qualifiers: 2.14 toxic

NASA to Industry: Let’s Develop Flight Tech to Reduce Carbon Emissions
Wed, 29 Jun 2022 14:25 EDT
NASA announced Wednesday the agency is seeking partners to develop technologies needed to shape a new generation of lower-emission, single-aisle airliners that passengers could see in airports in the 2030s.
Match ID: 23 Score: 2.14 source: www.nasa.gov age: 86 days
qualifiers: 2.14 carbon

U.N. Kills Any Plans to Use Mercury as a Rocket Propellant
Tue, 19 Apr 2022 18:00:01 +0000


A recent United Nations provision has banned the use of mercury in spacecraft propellant. Although no private company has actually used mercury propellant in a launched spacecraft, the possibility was alarming enough—and the dangers extreme enough—that the ban was enacted just a few years after one U.S.-based startup began toying with the idea. Had the company gone through with its intention to sell mercury propellant thrusters to some of the companies building massive satellite constellations over the coming decade, it would have resulted in Earth’s upper atmosphere being laced with mercury.

Mercury is a neurotoxin. It’s also bio-accumulative, which means it’s absorbed by the body at a faster rate than the body can remove it. The most common way to get mercury poisoning is through eating contaminated seafood. “It’s pretty nasty,” says Michael Bender, the international coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG). “Which is why this is one of the very few instances where the governments of the world came together pretty much unanimously and ratified a treaty.”

Bender is referring to the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury, a U.N. treaty named for a city in Japan whose residents suffered from mercury poisoning from a nearby chemical factory for decades. Because mercury pollutants easily find their way into the oceans and the atmosphere, it’s virtually impossible for one country to prevent mercury poisoning within its borders. “Mercury—it’s an intercontinental pollutant,” Bender says. “So it required a global treaty.”

Today, the only remaining permitted uses for mercury are in fluorescent lighting and dental amalgams, and even those are being phased out. Mercury is otherwise found as a by-product of other processes, such as the burning of coal. But then a company hit on the idea to use it as a spacecraft propellant.

In 2018, an employee at Apollo Fusion approached the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nonprofit that investigates environmental misconduct in the United States. The employee—who has remained anonymous—alleged that the Mountain View, Calif.–based space startup was planning to build and sell thrusters that used mercury propellant to multiple companies building low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations.

Four industry insiders ultimately confirmed that Apollo Fusion was building thrusters that utilized mercury propellant. Apollo Fusion, which was acquired by rocket manufacturing startup Astra in June 2021, insisted that the composition of its propellant mixture should be considered confidential information. The company withdrew its plans for a mercury propellant in April 2021. Astra declined to respond to a request for comment for this story.

Apollo Fusion wasn’t the first to consider using mercury as a propellant. NASA originally tested it in the 1960s and 1970s with two Space Electric Propulsion Tests (SERT), one of which was sent into orbit in 1970. Although the tests demonstrated mercury’s effectiveness as a propellant, the same concerns over the element’s toxicity that have seen it banned in many other industries halted its use by the space agency as well.

“I think it just sort of fell off a lot of folks’ radars,” says Kevin Bell, the staff counsel for PEER. “And then somebody just resurrected the research on it and said, ‘Hey, other than the environmental impact, this was a pretty good idea.’ It would give you a competitive advantage in what I imagine is a pretty tight, competitive market.”

That’s presumably why Apollo Fusion was keen on using it in their thrusters. Apollo Fusion as a startup emerged more or less simultaneously with the rise of massive LEO constellations that use hundreds or thousands of satellites in orbits below 2,000 kilometers to provide continual low-latency coverage. Finding a slightly cheaper, more efficient propellant for one large geostationary satellite doesn’t move the needle much. But doing the same for thousands of satellites that need to be replaced every several years? That’s a much more noticeable discount.

Were it not for mercury’s extreme toxicity, it would actually make an extremely attractive propellant. Apollo Fusion wanted to use a type of ion thruster called a Hall-effect thruster. Ion thrusters strip electrons from the atoms that make up a liquid or gaseous propellant, and then an electric field pushes the resultant ions away from the spacecraft, generating a modest thrust in the opposite direction. The physics of rocket engines means that the performance of these engines increases with the mass of the ion that you can accelerate.

Mercury is heavier than either xenon or krypton, the most commonly used propellants, meaning more thrust per expelled ion. It’s also liquid at room temperature, making it efficient to store and use. And it’s cheap—there’s not a lot of competition with anyone looking to buy mercury.

Bender says that ZMWG, alongside PEER, caught wind of Apollo Fusion marketing its mercury-based thrusters to at least three companies deploying LEO constellations—One Web, Planet Labs, and SpaceX. Planet Labs, an Earth-imaging company, has at least 200 CubeSats in low Earth orbit. One Web and SpaceX, both wireless-communication providers, have many more. One Web plans to have nearly 650 satellites in orbit by the end of 2022. SpaceX already has nearly 1,500 active satellites aloft in its Starlink constellation, with an eye toward deploying as many as 30,000 satellites before its constellation is complete. Other constellations, like Amazon’s Kuiper constellation, are also planning to deploy thousands of satellites.

In 2019, a group of researchers in Italy and the United States estimated how much of the mercury used in spacecraft propellant might find its way back into Earth’s atmosphere. They figured that a hypothetical LEO constellation of 2,000 satellites, each carrying 100 kilograms of propellant, would emit 20 tonnes of mercury every year over the course of a 10-year life span. Three quarters of that mercury, the researchers suggested, would eventually wind up in the oceans.

That amounts to 1 percent of global mercury emissions from a constellation only a fraction of the size of the one planned by SpaceX alone. And if multiple constellations adopted the technology, they would represent a significant percentage of global mercury emissions—especially, the researchers warned, as other uses of mercury are phased out as planned in the years ahead.

Fortunately, it’s unlikely that any mercury propellant thrusters will even get off the ground. Prior to the fourth meeting of the Minamata Convention, Canada, the European Union, and Norway highlighted the dangers of mercury propellant, alongside ZMWG. The provision to ban mercury usage in satellites was passed on 26 March 2022.

The question now is enforcement. “Obviously, there aren’t any U.N. peacekeepers going into space to shoot down” mercury-based satellites, says Bell. But the 137 countries, including the United States, who are party to the convention have pledged to adhere to its provisions—including the propellant ban.

The United States is notable in that list because as Bender explains, it did not ratify the Minamata Convention via the U.S. Senate but instead deposited with the U.N. an instrument of acceptance. In a 7 November 2013 statement (about one month after the original Minamata Convention was adopted), the U.S. State Department said the country would be able to fulfill its obligations “under existing legislative and regulatory authority.”

Bender says the difference is “weedy” but that this appears to mean that the U.S. government has agreed to adhere to the Minamata Convention’s provisions because it already has similar laws on the books. Except there is still no existing U.S. law or regulation banning mercury propellant. For Bender, that creates some uncertainty around compliance when the provision goes into force in 2025.

Still, with a U.S. company being the first startup to toy with mercury propellant, it might be ideal to have a stronger U.S. ratification of the Minamata Convention before another company hits on the same idea. “There will always be market incentives to cut corners and do something more dangerously,” Bell says.

Update 19 April 2022: In an email, a spokesperson for Astra stated that the company's propulsion system, the Astra Spacecraft Engine, does not use mercury. The spokesperson also stated that Astra has no plans to use mercury propellant and that the company does not have anything in orbit that uses mercury.

Updated 20 April 2022 to clarify that Apollo Fusion was building thrusters that used mercury, not that they had actually used them.


Match ID: 24 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 158 days
qualifiers: 2.14 toxic

Ahrefs vs SEMrush: Which SEO Tool Should You Use?
Tue, 01 Mar 2022 12:16:00 +0000
semrush vs ahrefs


SEMrush and Ahrefs are among the most popular tools in the SEO industry. Both companies have been in business for years and have thousands of customers per month.

If you're a professional SEO or trying to do digital marketing on your own, at some point you'll likely consider using a tool to help with your efforts. Ahrefs and SEMrush are two names that will likely appear on your shortlist.

In this guide, I'm going to help you learn more about these SEO tools and how to choose the one that's best for your purposes.

What is SEMrush?

semrush

SEMrush is a popular SEO tool with a wide range of features—it's the leading competitor research service for online marketers. SEMrush's SEO Keyword Magic tool offers over 20 billion Google-approved keywords, which are constantly updated and it's the largest keyword database.

The program was developed in 2007 as SeoQuake is a small Firefox extension

Features

  • Most accurate keyword data: Accurate keyword search volume data is crucial for SEO and PPC campaigns by allowing you to identify what keywords are most likely to bring in big sales from ad clicks. SEMrush constantly updates its databases and provides the most accurate data.
  • Largest Keyword database: SEMrush's Keyword Magic Tool now features 20-billion keywords, providing marketers and SEO professionals the largest database of keywords.

  • All SEMrush users receive daily ranking data, mobile volume information, and the option to buy additional keywords by default with no additional payment or add-ons needed
  • Most accurate position tracking tool: This tool provides all subscribers with basic tracking capabilities, making it suitable for SEO professionals. Plus, the Position Tracking tool provides local-level data to everyone who uses the tool.
  • SEO Data Management: SEMrush makes managing your online data easy by allowing you to create visually appealing custom PDF reports, including Branded and White Label reports, report scheduling, and integration with GA, GMB, and GSC.
  • Toxic link monitoring and penalty recovery: With SEMrush, you can make a detailed analysis of toxic backlinks, toxic scores, toxic markers, and outreach to those sites.
  • Content Optimization and Creation Tools: SEMrush offers content optimization and creation tools that let you create SEO-friendly content. Some features include the SEO Writing Assistant, On-Page SEO Check, er/SEO Content Template, Content Audit, Post Tracking, Brand Monitoring.

Ahrefs

ahrefs


Ahrefs is a leading SEO platform that offers a set of tools to grow your search traffic, research your competitors, and monitor your niche. The company was founded in 2010, and it has become a popular choice among SEO tools. Ahrefs has a keyword index of over 10.3 billion keywords and offers accurate and extensive backlink data updated every 15-30 minutes and it is the world's most extensive backlink index database.

Features

  • Backlink alerts data and new keywords: Get an alert when your site is linked to or discussed in blogs, forums, comments, or when new keywords are added to a blog posting about you.
  • Intuitive interface: The intuitive design of the widget helps you see the overall health of your website and search engine ranking at a glance.
  • Site Explorer: The Site Explorer will give you an in-depth look at your site's search traffic.
  • Domain Comparison
  • Reports with charts and graphs
  • JavaScript rendering and a site audit can identify SEO issues.
  • A question explorer that provides well-crafted topic suggestions

Direct Comparisons: Ahrefs vs SEMrush

Now that you know a little more about each tool, let's take a look at how they compare. I'll analyze each tool to see how they differ in interfaces, keyword research resources, rank tracking, and competitor analysis.

User Interface

Ahrefs and SEMrush both offer comprehensive information and quick metrics regarding your website's SEO performance. However, Ahrefs takes a bit more of a hands-on approach to getting your account fully set up, whereas SEMrush's simpler dashboard can give you access to the data you need quickly.

In this section, we provide a brief overview of the elements found on each dashboard and highlight the ease with which you can complete tasks.

AHREFS

ahrefs interface


The Ahrefs dashboard is less cluttered than that of SEMrush, and its primary menu is at the very top of the page, with a search bar designed only for entering URLs.

Additional features of the Ahrefs platform include:

  • You can see analytics from the dashboard, including search engine rankings to domain ratings, referring domains, and backlink
  • Jumping from one tool to another is easy. You can use the Keyword Explorer to find a keyword to target and then directly track your ranking with one click.
  • The website offers a tooltip helper tool that allows you to hover your mouse over something that isn't clear and get an in-depth explanation.

SEMRUSH

semrush domain overview


When you log into the SEMrush Tool, you will find four main modules. These include information about your domains, organic keyword analysis, ad keyword, and site traffic.

You'll also find some other options like

  • A search bar allows you to enter a domain, keyword, or anything else you wish to explore.
  • A menu on the left side of the page provides quick links to relevant information, including marketing insights, projects, keyword analytics, and more.
  • The customer support resources located directly within the dashboard can be used to communicate with the support team or to learn about other resources such as webinars and blogs.
  • Detailed descriptions of every resource offered. This detail is beneficial for new marketers, who are just starting.

WHO WINS?

Both Ahrefs and SEMrush have user-friendly dashboards, but Ahrefs is less cluttered and easier to navigate. On the other hand, SEMrush offers dozens of extra tools, including access to customer support resources.

When deciding on which dashboard to use, consider what you value in the user interface, and test out both.

Rank Tracking

If you're looking to track your website's search engine ranking, rank tracking features can help. You can also use them to monitor your competitors.

Let's take a look at Ahrefs vs. SEMrush to see which tool does a better job.

Ahrefs

ahrefs rank tracking


The Ahrefs Rank Tracker is simpler to use. Just type in the domain name and keywords you want to analyze, and it spits out a report showing you the search engine results page (SERP) ranking for each keyword you enter.

Rank Tracker looks at the ranking performance of keywords and compares them with the top rankings for those keywords. Ahrefs also offers:

You'll see metrics that help you understand your visibility, traffic, average position, and keyword difficulty.

It gives you an idea of whether a keyword would be profitable to target or not.

SEMRUSH

semrush position tracking


SEMRush offers a tool called Position Tracking. This tool is a project tool—you must set it up as a new project. Below are a few of the most popular features of the SEMrush Position Tracking tool:

All subscribers are given regular data updates and mobile search rankings upon subscribing

The platform provides opportunities to track several SERP features, including Local tracking.

Intuitive reports allow you to track statistics for the pages on your website, as well as the keywords used in those pages.

Identify pages that may be competing with each other using the Cannibalization report.

WHO WINS?

Ahrefs is a more user-friendly option. It takes seconds to enter a domain name and keywords. From there, you can quickly decide whether to proceed with that keyword or figure out how to rank better for other keywords.

SEMrush allows you to check your mobile rankings and ranking updates daily, which is something Ahrefs does not offer. SEMrush also offers social media rankings, a tool you won't find within the Ahrefs platform. Both are good which one do you like let me know in the comment.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is closely related to rank tracking, but it's used for deciding which keywords you plan on using for future content rather than those you use now.

When it comes to SEO, keyword research is the most important thing to consider when comparing the two platforms.

AHREFS



The Ahrefs Keyword Explorer provides you with thousands of keyword ideas and filters search results based on the chosen search engine.

Ahrefs supports several features, including:

  • It can search multiple keywords in a single search and analyze them together. At SEMrush, you also have this feature in Keyword Overview.
  • Ahrefs has a variety of keywords for different search engines, including Google, YouTube, Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, and other search engines.
  • When you click on a keyword, you can see its search volume and keyword difficulty, but also other keywords related to it, which you didn't use.

SEMRUSH



SEMrush's Keyword Magic Tool has over 20 billion keywords for Google. You can type in any keyword you want, and a list of suggested keywords will appear.

The Keyword Magic Tool also lets you to:

  • Show performance metrics by keyword
  • Search results are based on both broad and exact keyword matches.
  • Show data like search volume, trends, keyword difficulty, and CPC.
  • Show the first 100 Google search results for any keyword.
  • Identify SERP Features and Questions related to each keyword
  • SEMrush has released a new Keyword Gap Tool that uncovers potentially useful keyword opportunities for you, including both paid and organic keywords.

WHO WINS?

Both of these tools offer keyword research features and allow users to break down complicated tasks into something that can be understood by beginners and advanced users alike.

If you're interested in keyword suggestions, SEMrush appears to have more keyword suggestions than Ahrefs does. It also continues to add new features, like the Keyword Gap tool and SERP Questions recommendations.

Competitor Analysis

Both platforms offer competitor analysis tools, eliminating the need to come up with keywords off the top of your head. Each tool is useful for finding keywords that will be useful for your competition so you know they will be valuable to you.

AHREFS



Ahrefs' domain comparison tool lets you compare up to five websites (your website and four competitors) side-by-side.it also shows you how your site is ranked against others with metrics such as backlinks, domain ratings, and more.

Use the Competing Domains section to see a list of your most direct competitors, and explore how many keywords matches your competitors have.

To find more information about your competitor, you can look at the Site Explorer and Content Explorer tools and type in their URL instead of yours.

SEMRUSH



SEMrush provides a variety of insights into your competitors' marketing tactics. The platform enables you to research your competitors effectively. It also offers several resources for competitor analysis including:

Traffic Analytics helps you identify where your audience comes from, how they engage with your site, what devices visitors use to view your site, and how your audiences overlap with other websites.

SEMrush's Organic Research examines your website's major competitors and shows their organic search rankings, keywords they are ranking for, and even if they are ranking for any (SERP) features and more.

The Market Explorer search field allows you to type in a domain and lists websites or articles similar to what you entered. Market Explorer also allows users to perform in-depth data analytics on These companies and markets.

WHO WINS?

SEMrush wins here because it has more tools dedicated to competitor analysis than Ahrefs. However, Ahrefs offers a lot of functionality in this area, too. It takes a combination of both tools to gain an advantage over your competition.

Pricing

Ahrefs

  • Lite Monthly: $99/month
  • Standard Monthly: $179/month
  • Annually Lite: $990/year
  • Annually Standard: $1790/year

SEMRUSH

  • Pro Plan: $119.95/month
  • Guru Plan:$229.95/month
  • Business Plan: $449.95/month

Which SEO tool should you choose for digital marketing?

When it comes to keyword data research, you will become confused about which one to choose.

Consider choosing Ahrefs if you

  • Like friendly and clean interface
  • Searching for simple keyword suggestions

  • Want to get more keywords for different search engines like Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Baidu, and more

 

Consider SEMrush if you:

  • Want more marketing and SEO features
  • Need competitor analysis tool
  • Need to keep your backlinks profile clean
  • Looking for more keyword suggestions for Google

Both tools are great. Choose the one which meets your requirements and if you have any experience using either Ahrefs or SEMrush let me know in the comment section which works well for you.

 

 


Match ID: 25 Score: 2.14 source: www.crunchhype.com age: 207 days
qualifiers: 2.14 toxic

Filter efficiency 96.615 (26 matches/768 results)


********** UNIVERSITY **********
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Forget Oxbridge: St Andrews knocks top universities off perch
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 07:00:07 GMT

Latest Guardian University Guide shows leading trio are in league of their own for undergraduate courses

Oxbridge is being replaced at the apex of UK universities by “Stoxbridge” after St Andrews overtook Oxford and Cambridge at the top of the latest Guardian University Guide.

It is the first time the Fife university has been ranked highest in the Guardian’s annual guide to undergraduate courses, pushing Oxford into second and Cambridge into third.

Continue reading...
Match ID: 0 Score: 30.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 30.00 rankings

The Guardian University Guide 2023 – the rankings
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 06:59:07 GMT

Find a course at one of the top universities in the country. Our league tables rank them all subject by subject, as well as by student satisfaction, staff numbers, spending and career prospects

Continue reading...
Match ID: 1 Score: 30.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 30.00 rankings

Video Friday: Loona
Fri, 16 Sep 2022 18:19:52 +0000


Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

IROS 2022: 23–27 October 2022, KYOTO, JAPAN
ANA Avatar XPRIZE Finals: 4–5 November 2022, LOS ANGELES
CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Enjoy today's videos!


Another robotic pet on Kickstarter, another bunting of red flags.

Let's see, we've got: "she's so playful and affectionate you'll forget she's a robot." "Everything you can dream of in a best friend and more." "Get ready to fall in love!" And that's literally like the first couple of tiles on the Kickstarter post. Look, the hardware seems fine, and there is a lot of expressiveness going on, I just wish they didn't set you up for an inevitable disappointment when after a couple of weeks it becomes apparent that yes, this is just a robotic toy, and will never be your best friend (or more).

Loona is currently on Kickstarter for about USD $300.

[ Kickstarter ]

Inspired by the flexibility and resilience of dragonfly wings, we propose a novel design for a biomimetic drone propeller called Tombo propeller. Here, we report on the design and fabrication process of this biomimetic propeller that can accommodate collisions and recover quickly, while maintaining sufficient thrust force to hover and fly.

[ JAIST ]

Thanks Van!

Meet Tom, a software engineer at Boston Dynamics, as he shares insights on programming and testing the practical—and impractical—applications of robotics. Whether Spot is conducting inspections or playing an instrument, learn how we go from code on a computer to actions in the real world.

Yeah, but where do I get that awesome shirt?!

[ Boston Dynamics ]

This Ameca demo couples automated speech recognition with GPT 3 —a large language model that generates meaningful answers—the output is fed to an online TTS service which generates the voice and visemes for lip sync timing. The team at Engineered Arts Ltd. pose the questions.

"Meaningful answers."

[ Engineered Arts ]

The ANT project develops a navigation and motion control system for future walking systems for planetary exploration. After successful testing on ramps and rubble fields, the challenge of climbing rough inclines such as craters is being tackled.

[ DFKI ]

Look, if you’re going to crate-train Spot, at least put some blankets and stuffed animals in there or something.

[ Energy Robotics ]

With multitrade layout, all trades’ layouts are set down with a single pass over the floor by Dusty's FieldPrinter system. Trades experience unparalleled clarity and communication with each other, because they can see each others’ installation plans and immediately identify and resolve conflicts. Instead of fighting over the floor and pointing fingers, they start to solve problems together.

[ Dusty Robotics ]

We present QUaRTM—a novel quadcopter design capable of tilting the propellers into the forward flight direction, which reduces the drag area and therefore allows for faster, more agile, and more efficient flight.

[ HiPeRLab ]

Is there an option in the iRobot app to turn my Roomba into a cake? Because I want cake.

[ iRobot ]

Looks like SoftBank is getting into high-density robotic logistics.

[ Impress ]

GITAI S2 ground test for space debris removal. During this demonstration, a tool changer was also tested to perform several different tasks at OSAM.

[ GITAI ]

Recent advances allow for the automation of food preparation in high-throughput environments, yet the successful deployment of these robots requires the planning and execution of quick, robust, and ultimately collision-free behaviors. In this work, we showcase a novel framework for modifying previously generated trajectories of robotic manipulators in highly detailed and dynamic collision environments.

[ Paper ]

The LCT Hospital in South Korea uses “Dr. LCT” for robotic-based orthopedic knee procedures. The system is based on the KUKA LBR Med robotic platform, which is ideally suited for orthopedic surgery with its seven axes, software developed specifically for medical technology, and appropriate safety measures.

[ Kuka ]

A year in review. Compilation of 2022 video highlights of the Game Changing Development (GCD) Program. The Game Changing Development Program is a part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The program advances space technologies that may lead to entirely new approaches for the agency’s future space missions and provide solutions to significant national needs.

[ NASA ]

Naomi Wu reviews a Diablo mobile robot (with some really cool customizations of her own), sending it out to run errands in Shenzhen during lockdown.

[ Naomi Wu ]

Roundtable discussion on how teaching automation in schools, colleges, and universities can help shape the workers of tomorrow. ABB Robotics has put together a panel of experts in this field to discuss the challenges and opportunities.

[ ABB ]

On 8 September 2022, Mario Santillo of Ford talked to robotics students as the first speaker in the Undergraduate Robotics Pathways & Careers Speaker Series, which aims to answer the question “What can I do with a robotics degree?”

[ Michigan Robotics ]


Match ID: 2 Score: 2.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 7 days
qualifiers: 2.86 school

Filter efficiency 99.609 (3 matches/768 results)


********** WORLD AFFAIRS **********
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The Dark Odds Facing Iran's Brave Protesters
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 12:14:19 +0000

The overthrow of the Iranian regime would be just, but if recent history has taught us anything, its collapse is unlikely to be pretty.

The post The Dark Odds Facing Iran’s Brave Protesters appeared first on The Intercept.


Match ID: 0 Score: 65.00 source: theintercept.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 35.00 sanctions, 20.00 russia, 10.00 nuclear

Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright Conduct a MasterClass on the Banal Horror of U.S. Foreign Policy
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 11:00:54 +0000

Watching the 3.5 hour video is like being forced to eat gallons of stale banana pudding. Also, the pudding contains a small amount of botulism.

The post Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright Conduct a MasterClass on the Banal Horror of U.S. Foreign Policy appeared first on The Intercept.


Match ID: 1 Score: 65.00 source: theintercept.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 35.00 sanctions, 20.00 russia, 10.00 nuclear

Patience with Putin may be ebbing among friendlier countries
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 18:56:42 GMT

Turkey, India and China respond cooly to news of planned referendums in Ukrainian regions occupied by Russia

Signs that some countries willing to tolerate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are losing patience have emerged as Turkey, India and China responded cooly to the announcement that four Ukrainian regions occupied by Russia were planning referendums on joining the Russian Federation.

Turkey, which has been at the centre of mediation between the west and Russia, issued a sharp rebuke, saying in a statement that it was concerned by attempts to stage unilateral referendums.

Continue reading...
Match ID: 2 Score: 55.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 35.00 sanctions, 20.00 russia

Live updates: U.N. General Assembly
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 09:39:56 EDT
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina says she wants an immediate end to the war in Ukraine, as well as the related sanctions, for the sake of lives and livelihoods of the people across the world
Match ID: 3 Score: 35.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 35.00 sanctions

Mercedes’ F1 team cut its freight emissions by 89% with biofuel switch
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 14:47:08 +0000
16 trucks used biofuels to haul between the final three European races this year.
Match ID: 4 Score: 35.00 source: arstechnica.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 italy, 15.00 energy

Oil futures end higher as Russia bolsters its war efforts, lifting supply worries
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 18:42:14 GMT

Oil futures climbed on Thursday to recoup much of the losses seen a day earlier, as Russia's decision to partially mobilize reservists amid its war on Ukraine raised worries about global oil supplies. "Crude prices remain volatile as energy traders grapple with a deteriorating demand outlook that is still vulnerable to shortages," said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA. November WTI crude edged up by 55 cents, or 0.7%, to settle at $83.49 barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.


Match ID: 5 Score: 35.00 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 russia, 15.00 energy

Ukraine war: Putin not bluffing about nuclear weapons, EU says
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 07:16:34 GMT
The EU's warning comes after Russia's president said he could use "all the means available to us".
Match ID: 6 Score: 30.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia, 10.00 nuclear

Why the world is worried about Russia’s ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 16:41:51 EDT
The war in Ukraine has led to a resurgence of fears about the use of nukes.
Match ID: 7 Score: 30.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia, 10.00 nuclear

Ajuda militar dos EUA à Ucrânia cresce em proporções históricas – junto com riscos
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 07:00:51 +0000

A Ucrânia está a caminho de se tornar a maior beneficiária da assistência militar dos EUA no último século. Mas as dúvidas sobre as consequências permanecem.

The post Ajuda militar dos EUA à Ucrânia cresce em proporções históricas – junto com riscos appeared first on The Intercept.


Match ID: 8 Score: 30.00 source: theintercept.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 russia, 10.00 nuclear

Russians: tell us what you think about Putin’s escalation of war in Ukraine
Wed, 21 Sep 2022 10:33:21 GMT

We would like to hear views and opinions from Russians at this stage of the Russia-Ukraine war

Russia has announced a partial mobilisation in a major escalation that places the country’s people and economy on a wartime footing.

With president Vladimir Putin also threatening nuclear retaliation, we would like to hear from Russians about how ordinary people are reacting to the latest developments in the war on Ukraine.

Continue reading...
Match ID: 9 Score: 25.71 source: www.theguardian.com age: 3 days
qualifiers: 17.14 russia, 8.57 nuclear

US Midterms: Inflation's got her thinking she'd 'vote Trump again'
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 12:08:58 GMT
Economic pessimism in the crucial state of Pennsylvania could hurt Democrats in the midterms.
Match ID: 10 Score: 25.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 0 days
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Trump and DeSantis: Once allies, now in simmering rivalry with 2024 nearing
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 06:00:00 EDT
The two are widely seen in the Republican Party as potential rivals for the 2024 presidential nomination and public contrasts and behind-the-scenes tensions have already erupted.
Match ID: 11 Score: 25.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

The Power of Positive Declassifying
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 10:00:00 +0000
Poof! Just like that, what was secret is now not secret, all through the power of your beautiful, enormous, manifesting mind.
Match ID: 12 Score: 25.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Trump’s attempts to delay Mar-a-Lago inquiry largely fail as legal woes mount
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 09:00:05 GMT

Justice department gains access to about 100 documents with classified markings that the FBI seized from the resort

Attempts by Donald Trump to delay the criminal investigation into his unlawful retention of government secrets have been largely thwarted after the Department of Justice regained access to about 100 documents with classified markings that the FBI seized from the former US president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

The US appeals court for the 11th circuit this week set aside key parts of an order by a federal judge that barred the department from using the documents in its investigation, and additionally ruled that Trump’s lawyers need not review the documents over potential privilege concerns.

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Match ID: 13 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Só falta a terceira via, essa invenção da imprensa, embarcar no voto útil
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 09:00:11 +0000

Ciro e Tebet estão mais preocupados com suas carreiras políticas do que com a preservação da democracia. Mas ainda podem desistir.

The post Só falta a terceira via, essa invenção da imprensa, embarcar no voto útil appeared first on The Intercept.


Match ID: 14 Score: 25.00 source: theintercept.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Belgium To Shut Nuclear Reactor On Friday Amid Energy Crunch
2022-09-24T04:02:22+00:00
Belgium To Shut Nuclear Reactor On Friday Amid Energy Crunch submitted by /u/hzj5790
[link] [comments]

Match ID: 15 Score: 25.00 source: www.reddit.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 15.00 energy, 10.00 nuclear

Trump lawyers argue to limit White House aides’ testimony to Jan. 6 grand jury
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 23:00:47 EDT
The legal dispute could impact the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation.
Match ID: 16 Score: 25.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

How a Trump soundtrack became a QAnon phenomenon
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 21:34:47 EDT
A song’s journey from a Trump video to online forums and back to Trump rallies shows the melding of the MAGA and QAnon movements
Match ID: 17 Score: 25.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Donors spending millions on Trump's legal battles
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 22:46:26 GMT
The former president's mounting bills are being paid by donors and the Republican party.
Match ID: 18 Score: 25.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 0 days
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

The sex-trafficking investigation of Matt Gaetz, explained
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 14:32:20 EDT
The latest in the years-long investigation is that Gaetz sought a preemptive pardon from Trump for sex trafficking.
Match ID: 19 Score: 25.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Melania Wishes She Could Get Divorced Just by Thinking About It
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 17:21:32 +0000
Mrs. Trump said that doing so would require “a lot more than having the idea in my head.”
Match ID: 20 Score: 25.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

New Trump-backed super PAC formed ahead of midterms
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 12:58:55 EDT
The super PAC is a step toward former president Donald Trump's increased involvement in the midterm races, with an eye to his own presidential run in 2024.
Match ID: 21 Score: 25.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

If we may: A proposed script for Hannity to correct Trump’s falsehoods
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 12:40:37 EDT
Should Sean Hannity wish to ensure that his viewers aren't misinformed, here's what he could clarify for them.
Match ID: 22 Score: 25.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Trump’s special master pick turns into a headache
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 11:21:32 EDT
The point of calling for a special master would seem to be to delay the government's investigation. Instead, Raymond J. Dearie has pressed Trump's team on several baseless claims their client made out of court.
Match ID: 23 Score: 25.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

The political peril of using immigrants as props
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 11:16:03 EDT
Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump are making a dubious cost-benefit analysis.
Match ID: 24 Score: 25.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 14:59:40 +0000
A guide to pedestrian gridlock.
Match ID: 25 Score: 25.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

House GOP tries to embark on a united front as expected rifts loom
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 06:00:04 EDT
Recent polls suggest GOP gains in the House could be smaller than previously expected — a worry for lawmakers who believe a new class of Trump allies could embolden the ultraconservative and rebellious House Freedom Caucus.
Match ID: 26 Score: 25.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Are Mar-a-Lago and other Trump-owned properties over-valued?
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 22:42:36 GMT
A closer look at the former president's real estate, and allegations he lied about its value.
Match ID: 27 Score: 25.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 1 day
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Breaking Down New York’s Long-Awaited Fraud Lawsuit Against Donald Trump
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 19:04:49 +0000
Letitia James, the New York attorney general, claims that the Trump Organization illegally obtained hundreds of millions of dollars by systematically exaggerating the value of its properties.
Match ID: 28 Score: 25.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Nation Stunned to Learn Trump May Have Committed Fraud
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 16:09:06 +0000
Americans expressed shock and incredulity that one of America’s most successful and respected businessmen might have violated his own high ethical standards.
Match ID: 29 Score: 25.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 2 days
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

Watching Trump Embrace QAnon from the Historical Jewish Quarter of Kraków
Wed, 21 Sep 2022 20:17:05 +0000
Centers hold, until they don’t.
Match ID: 30 Score: 25.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 2 days
qualifiers: 25.00 trump

This Dangerous Meme in US Politics Is Over a Century Old
Wed, 21 Sep 2022 12:00:00 +0000
Many associate the “America First” movement with Trump, but its origins—and rebirth—are more complicated.
Match ID: 31 Score: 21.43 source: www.wired.com age: 3 days
qualifiers: 21.43 trump

Behind the Campaign to Put Election Deniers in Charge of Elections
Tue, 20 Sep 2022 19:20:14 +0000
The states’ secretaries of state are supposed to insure election integrity, but a far-right coalition seeks to transform that office.
Match ID: 32 Score: 21.43 source: www.newyorker.com age: 3 days
qualifiers: 21.43 trump

Russia-Ukraine war: Europe urged to accept Russians fleeing military draft as border crossings surge – live
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 17:50:14 GMT

Border crossings from Russia to Finland have doubled and queue to enter Georgia reported to be 10km long

Russian forces launched new strikes on Saturday, targeting infrastructure facilities, Zaporizhzhia city’s administrative head, Oleksandr Starukh, said via his Telegram channel.

One missile hit an apartment building causing a fire, killing one person and injuring seven others.

But if you get into the Russian army, sabotage any activity of the enemy, hinder any Russian operations, provide us with any important information about the occupiers – their bases, headquarters, warehouses with ammunition. And at the first opportunity, switch to our positions.

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Match ID: 33 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Kremlin stages votes in Ukraine, sees protests in Russia
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 13:37:49 EDT
Russian forces launched new strikes on Ukrainian cities as Kremlin-orchestrated votes took place in occupied regions of Ukraine to create a pretext for their annexation by Moscow
Match ID: 34 Score: 20.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Putin’s ship is sinking fast. Will he take everyone down? | Simon Tisdall
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 17:36:39 GMT

The scale of the Kremlin’s strategic failures in Ukraine is epic – and the exploded myth of Russian power may lead to the unravelling of the regime

More than ever, Vladimir Putin resembles the captain of the Titanic: steaming full speed ahead towards disaster, deluded by inaccurate assumptions about his ship’s invincibility, and blind to darkly looming hazards.

Everything the captain thinks he knows is wrong, the modern-day treasure hunter, Brock Lovett, says in the 1997 movie. And like the Titanic’s lookouts, wrong-headed Putin does not spot the iceberg until too late. There’s no avoiding catastrophe.

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Match ID: 35 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Expect dissent to rise as Putin’s call-up brings Ukraine war home to Russians
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 16:54:06 GMT

As men of fighting age flee the draft, observers say Kremlin should be more worried about mounting anger away from the cities

https://www.theguardian.com/world/series/ukraine-live/latest

In a caricature by the country’s most prominent political cartoonist, Sergey Elkin, Vladimir Putin is standing on top of the Kremlin wall with his arms outstretched.

“So what else do I need to do for you guys to finally start rebelling,” Putin asks, with a look of desperation.

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Match ID: 36 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Captured Briton Paul Urey's family raise repatriation funds
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 16:52:55 GMT
Paul Urey, 45, died in July after being detained by pro-Russian separatists at a checkpoint.
Match ID: 37 Score: 20.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Ukraine live briefing: Hundreds arrested in Russia during anti-mobilization protests
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 12:50:41 EDT
The Kremlin's staged referendums in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhizhia continued on Saturday.
Match ID: 38 Score: 20.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Russians occupying Kharkiv region demanded personal data in return for food
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 16:15:30 GMT

Ukrainians in newly liberated Balakliia describe how occupiers had been plotting the sham referendum on Moscow’s annexation

Balakliia’s only functioning shop was packed. Residents who had spent six months under Russian occupation queued to buy bread, salami and frozen mackerel. “When the Russians arrived I lost 10 kilograms. My wife lost eight kilograms. There was almost nothing to eat for the first two months,” one customer, Valery, recalled. Showing off his reduced waistline, he joked grimly: “That’s the upside of Moscow rule.”

Russian troops came to Balakliia in March. This was soon after Vladimir Putin’s invasion. They raised a Russian tricolour above the modern brick town administration building, and parked their tanks in a sprawling factory. Two weeks ago the Ukrainian army chased them out in a dramatic counter-offensive. Kyiv reclaimed almost all of the Kharkiv region, an area half the size of Wales.

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Match ID: 39 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Italy braces for sharp move to the right after election voting closes
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 16:11:12 GMT

Giorgia Meloni, who leads Brothers of Italy, looks likely to become the first woman to head a government

Italians were braced for seismic change on Saturday, on the eve of an election forecasted to hand Italy the most rightwing government since the second world war.

Giorgia Meloni, the head of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, is widely tipped to become the country’s first woman to head a government.

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Match ID: 40 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 italy

Missile strikes on Ukrainian cities as call-up causes chaos in Russia
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 15:53:20 GMT

Fresh wave of protests across Russia on Saturday after Putin’s ‘partial mobilisation’ of civilian men

Russia launched renewed strikes on Ukrainian cities on Saturday, as Moscow’s mobilisation drive to refresh its struggling war effort continued to provide scenes of chaos across Russia.

Ukrainian officials said a Russian missile hit an apartment building in the city of Zaporizhzhia, killing one person and injuring seven others, and said a total of three people were killed and 19 injured in strikes across the south and east of the country.

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Match ID: 41 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Dmitry Bulgakov: Putin fires deputy defence chief amid supply failures
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 15:44:21 GMT
Analysts have cited supply chains as a reason why Russia's invasion of Ukraine has faltered.
Match ID: 42 Score: 20.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Child Predators Mine Twitch to Prey on Kids
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 13:00:00 +0000
Plus: A leaked trove illuminates Russia’s internet regulator, a report finds Facebook and Instagram violated Palestinian rights, and more.
Match ID: 43 Score: 20.00 source: www.wired.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Propaganda newspapers show how Russia promoted annexation in Kharkiv
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 02:10:05 EDT
With cellphone and internet service cut in Izyum, occupying forces tried to use the information vacuum to promote Moscow's vision of a 'Russian world'
Match ID: 44 Score: 20.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Long before his war in Ukraine, Putin waged war on Russian journalists
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 02:00:59 EDT
President Vladimir Putin has sought for more than two decades to control — or shut down — reporters and editors in the country.
Match ID: 45 Score: 20.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Russia-Ukraine war latest: what we know on day 213 of the invasion
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 01:01:08 GMT

UN says Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine; Finland bars Russian tourists amid long queues to cross border after Putin’s military mobilisation

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Match ID: 46 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Ukraine live briefing: Russia stages annexation referendums, announces exceptions to military call-up
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 19:57:22 EDT
The referendums for Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia lay the groundwork for Russia to annex swaths of Ukraine.
Match ID: 47 Score: 20.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Undercover with Russia’s fake arms dealers
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 23:17:15 GMT
Russian media claims Ukraine is selling arms on the dark web, but the evidence suggests the ads are fake.
Match ID: 48 Score: 20.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Anger flares as Russia mobilization hits minority regions and protesters
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 18:27:38 EDT
Putin insisted only reservists would be called to duty but critics say military summonses are being issued to punish antiwar activists and persecute minorities
Match ID: 49 Score: 20.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Putin’s Escalation in Ukraine Is a Losing Strategy
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 22:05:10 +0000
The push to claim new territory and mobilize more troops is unlikely to reverse Russia’s losses on the battlefield—but it could move the war into its most dangerous phase yet.
Match ID: 50 Score: 20.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

England look more feeble than at any other point in the age of Southgate | Barney Ronay
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 21:49:21 GMT

No goal in almost 500 minutes of open play and now relegated, it’s hard to accuse England of peaking too early for World Cup

Well, it is a pretty weird World Cup anyway. Can we asterisk this thing? Just a thought, but is it actually too late to boycott? Norway did the T-shirts. Good optics.

For Gareth Southgate and England this was another cowed and pallid step towards Qatar 2022. What is the perfect prep for these four-yearly moments of destiny anyway? How about not scoring a goal from open play for almost 500 minutes? How about three defeats in five games, topped by a 1-0 here against a so-so Italy? How about getting relegated?

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Match ID: 51 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 italy

Americans in Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap wondered if death was near
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 17:12:24 EDT
Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh, who had been held captive in Ukraine since June, were under the care of U.S. officials in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
Match ID: 52 Score: 20.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Russia-Ukraine war: Russians flee to avoid draft as west says Putin faces ‘major challenges’ to recruit 300,000 – as it happened
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 19:43:06 GMT

Western officials say true target could be higher but significant hurdles remain to mobilise stated target of 300,000

The British Ministry of Defence has giving its latest intelligence update on how it sees the situation on the ground in the war. It says that “the battle situation remains complex” but that “Ukraine is now putting pressure on territory that Russia considers essential to its war aims”, with fighting along the Oskil River, and a Ukrainian assault on the town of Lyman, Donetsk, which Russia captured in May.

This is Martin Belam in London with the live blog now for the next few hours. You can reach me at martin.belam@theguardian.com

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Match ID: 53 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Ukraine war round-up: Disputed polls open and climate of 'total fear'
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 18:58:33 GMT
Referendums begin in occupied Ukraine and activists speak of a climate of fear in Russia over the military call-up.
Match ID: 54 Score: 20.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 0 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Respect for the war resisters in Russia | Brief letters
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 16:24:39 GMT

Putin’s military draft | Banking on bonuses | Rich pickings on tax | Six-pack of PMs | News for Zoe

I am disappointed that your report uses the derogatory term “draft dodgers” to describe those Russians who are taking action to avoid being forced to fight in an appalling war (‘I’d rather leave than fight’: Russians react to Putin’s draft, 21 September). They are taking this action often at great cost to themselves, risking imprisonment or exile. More respectful terms might be “war resisters” or “conscientious objectors”.
Chris Booth
Edinburgh

• Amazing how bankers need access to limitless bonuses to attract and motivate them whereas the care sector, drastically short of staff, can go whistle for a pay rise.
Howard Pilott
Lewes, East Sussex

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Match ID: 55 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Kremlin proxies stage referendums as Russia aims to seize Ukrainian land
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 11:42:29 EDT
Moscow says it will honor the outcome of "voting" in parts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, but Western leaders denounced the process as a "sham."
Match ID: 56 Score: 20.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Bitter cabbage harvest brings South Korea’s kimchi crisis to a head
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 09:56:30 EDT
Extreme weather damaged crops in the country's alpine areas, leading to soaring prices of the beloved national dish.
Match ID: 57 Score: 20.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 korea

Saudi foreign minister defends role in securing Ukraine prisoner swaps
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 10:11:21 GMT

Prince Faisal bin Farhan al Saud decries as ‘cynical’ accusations his country was trying to improve its image after Khashoggi killing

It would be cynical to see Saudi Arabia’s efforts to secure the release of international prisoners held by Russian proxies in Ukraine as an attempt to improve the country’s image after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, its foreign minister has said.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan al Saud said on Friday that Riyadh had first approached the UK government in April, shortly after Aiden Aslin, a British citizen, and others were captured at Mariupol, and had acted for compassionate reasons, hoping to negotiate their release.

This story was amended on Friday 23 September 2022 to correct the name of the Saudi foreign minister.

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Match ID: 58 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Your Italian Mother’s Secret Pasta-Sauce Recipe
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 10:00:00 +0000
Step 4: Crush tomatoes with a spoon, like your mom crushed your teen-age dreams of having friends sit on a sofa without plastic.
Match ID: 59 Score: 20.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 italy

What Putin’s Mobilization Means for the War in Ukraine
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 10:00:00 +0000
The Kremlin announced a draft to dramatically increase its fighting force. Will the Russian public fight back?
Match ID: 60 Score: 20.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

South Korea president criticised over gaffes at Queen’s funeral and UN
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 09:18:13 GMT

Yoon Suk-yeol accused of discourtesy in London and of swearing after chat to Joe Biden

South Korea’s president has been accused of causing a “diplomatic disaster” after his first major international trip, to the Queen’s funeral and the UN general assembly, was marred by alleged discourtesy and an expletive directed at members of the US congress.

Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative who was already battling low approval ratings only months after taking office, drew criticism from across the South Korean political spectrum after he failed to attend the Queen’s lying in state despite traveling to London.

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Match ID: 61 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 korea

Seoul subway murder sparks fury over South Korea’s stalking laws
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 23:19:43 GMT
The shocking attack on a young woman in a toilet prompts anger at weak anti-stalking laws.
Match ID: 62 Score: 20.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 korea

Ukraine war: 'What's happening in Russia now is total fear'
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 23:06:22 GMT
In Lithuania, Russians opposing Vladimir Putin's war say their home country is "like a huge prison".
Match ID: 63 Score: 20.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Yellen says inflation will come down next year
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 19:07:02 GMT

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday said she believes high U.S. inflation will come down "certainly next year," but noted risks to the outlook including the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine. Speaking at an event sponsored by the Atlantic, Yellen said the Federal Reserve is "clearly committed to bringing inflation down." The Fed on Wednesday delivered its third consecutive super-sized increase in interest rates and signaled more big hikes before the end of the year, as it stepped up its fight against inflation.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.


Match ID: 64 Score: 20.00 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

The Man Who Explains Italy
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 18:41:09 +0000
In the lead-up to a historic election, Francesco Costa has become a new-media phenomenon, cutting through the insularity of the big papers to deliver funny, incisive commentary.
Match ID: 65 Score: 20.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 20.00 italy

Gold futures settle higher for a second session
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 17:43:44 GMT

Gold futures climbed on Thursday, with the haven precious metal finding support for a second straight session after Russia raised its war efforts in Ukraine, ordering a partial mobilization of reservists into service. Still, strength in the U.S. dollar following the Federal Reserve's decision Wednesday to hike interest rates by 75 basis points helped to limit gold's gains, analysts said. December gold rose $5.40, or 0.3%, to settle at $1,681.10 an ounce on Comex.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.


Match ID: 66 Score: 20.00 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 2 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Ukraine war: 'I will break my arm, my leg... anything to avoid the draft'
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 14:19:00 GMT
Russian men explain how they are trying to resist Vladimir Putin's call-up of 300,000 military reservists.
Match ID: 67 Score: 20.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 2 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Russians Return to Streets to Protest Widening of Putin's War on Ukraine
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 14:07:14 +0000

After Putin announced mandatory military service, demonstrators called the mobilization a “burialization” — and more than 1,000 were arrested in cities across Russia.

The post Russians Return to Streets to Protest Widening of Putin’s War on Ukraine appeared first on The Intercept.


Match ID: 68 Score: 20.00 source: theintercept.com age: 2 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Putin Expands His War as Biden Tries to Rally the U.N.
Thu, 22 Sep 2022 00:14:06 +0000
The world body has proved weak and dysfunctional in solving existential crises.
Match ID: 69 Score: 20.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 2 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

The Russians risking freedom to protest against Putin's war
Wed, 21 Sep 2022 23:03:07 GMT
Activists describe the conflict as "horrific" and don masks to spray messages on Russian streets.
Match ID: 70 Score: 20.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 2 days
qualifiers: 20.00 russia

Posts I Didn’t Realize Would Get Me Banned from Truth Social
Tue, 20 Sep 2022 18:00:00 +0000
I’m just a regular law-abiding, fossil-fuel-loving American who wanted to join a social network to connect with my community.
Match ID: 71 Score: 17.86 source: www.newyorker.com age: 4 days
qualifiers: 17.86 trump

Why Is Trump Openly Embracing QAnon Now?
Tue, 20 Sep 2022 16:54:48 +0000
The former President is likely signalling to prosecutors that he won’t go quietly, so they had better beware.
Match ID: 72 Score: 17.86 source: www.newyorker.com age: 4 days
qualifiers: 17.86 trump

Trump Demands Special Master Be Fired and Replaced with Extra-Special Master
Tue, 20 Sep 2022 15:27:46 +0000
The former President told reporters that Judge Raymond Dearie is “asking for information like you wouldn’t believe. He’s a bad or sick guy.”
Match ID: 73 Score: 17.86 source: www.newyorker.com age: 4 days
qualifiers: 17.86 trump

Shadowy Russian Cell Phone Companies Are Cropping Up in Ukraine
Wed, 21 Sep 2022 11:00:00 +0000
But as Ukrainians retake ground, some of the firms are erasing their online presence.
Match ID: 74 Score: 17.14 source: www.wired.com age: 3 days
qualifiers: 17.14 russia

Sweetcorn and spicy salad: Joe Woodhouse’s recipes for grilled vegetables
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 13:00:04 GMT

Mexican-style barbecued sweetcorn, smothered in mayo, then rolled in a punchy lime and parmesan coating, and grilled pepper salad with pomegranate molasses

Barbecue season may have passed, but all grilling – outdoor or indoor – imparts an addictive smokiness to food. Today’s Turkish salad uses the initial energy of the flames; I love tumbling veg on to a barbecue (or griddle pan), where the high heat cooks them quickly, which helps keep them juicy. And just about everyone loves elotes, a Mexican street food of grilled and dressed sweetcorn. Mind you, everything is better cooked over fire or scorched.

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Match ID: 75 Score: 15.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

Britain is crying out for radical solutions, but Labour still thinks it’s in the 1990s | Jeremy Gilbert
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 09:00:00 GMT

Support for strikes demonstrates a shifting public mood. Unless politicians listen, something more sinister may fill the vacuum

The past few weeks of British politics have been very strange indeed. As one of the hottest summers on record drew to a close, a wave of militant strike action propelled union leaders on to the national stage for the first time in decades. A new mass movement to combat the cost of living crisis attracted tens of thousands of supporters within days. With Britain facing an imminent recession, Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng announced tax cuts for the rich in a “fiscal event” that felt like a surreal exercise in looting the country.

It’s clear that nobody in the political mainstream is offering solutions that are remotely up to the task of dealing with the climate crisis, the imminent recession or the spiralling costs of energy bills and other basic essentials. The new Conservative leadership has a policy agenda that would have seemed like satire or science fiction in the 1980s, while Labour has become so preoccupied with its factional war against the left that it seems not to care that Jeremy Corbyn’s core policy programme always enjoyed broad popular support.

Jeremy Gilbert and Alex Williams are the authors of Hegemony Now, published by Verso.

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Match ID: 76 Score: 15.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

Decarbonising the energy system by 2050 could save trillions - Oxford study
2022-09-24T08:31:56+00:00
Decarbonising the energy system by 2050 could save trillions - Oxford study submitted by /u/editorijsmi
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Match ID: 77 Score: 15.00 source: www.reddit.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

Fears for Indigenous rock art as construction begins on WA’s Burrup peninsula
Sat, 24 Sep 2022 02:00:01 GMT

Ex-chair of Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation says hydrogen plant, gas facility and proposed urea plant are all threats to cultural sites

Traditional custodians fighting to protect ancient rock art on the Burrup peninsula have raised concerns that construction work has begun at multiple sites despite the federal government ordering a cultural heritage assessment of the area.

The peninsula in northern Western Australia is home to industrial operations including of the country’s largest gas producer Woodside, the Yara Pilbara ammonia plant and a proposed urea plant by Indian company Perdaman.

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Match ID: 78 Score: 15.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

Plunge in sterling leaves drivers paying £6 more for tank of petrol, says AA
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 23:01:47 GMT

While oil prices are back to pre-Ukraine war levels, a weaker pound results in higher costs for motorists

The plunge in the value of the pound has left drivers paying an extra £6 for a tank of petrol, an analysis from the AA has found.

The recent fall in sterling, exacerbated by Friday’s market-spooking mini-budget, has hit hard-pressed motorists in the pocket, the motoring group said.

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Match ID: 79 Score: 15.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

Energy sector pummeled, all of the S&P 500's sectors trade sharply lower
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 19:19:43 GMT

U.S. stocks are tumbling in the final hour of trading, with all 11 sectors of the S&P 500 selling off sharply as the index trades around its 2022 closing low that it hit in June. The energy sector is hardest hit with a loss of around 7% amid a drop in oil prices, according to FactSet data, at last check. The consumer discretionary sector was suffering the next biggest loss with a decline of around 3%, followed by a 2.8% drop in shares of materials companies in the index. The S&P 500 was down 2.5% in late afternoon trading, FactSet data show, at last check.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.


Match ID: 80 Score: 15.00 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 0 days
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

The Guardian view on the Tory trickle up policies: redistributing to the rich | Editorial
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 16:55:21 GMT

Kwasi Kwarteng thinks Britain needs to give millionaires huge handouts and concrete over the country. He’s wrong

Kwasi Kwarteng came to the Commons determined to bury the politics of redistribution. But the Conservative chancellor revived it with a “mini-budget” that attached rocket boosters on to bankers’ pay, gave millionaires a £40,000 handout by abolishing the top rate of tax and cut levies for businesses and buy-to-let landlords. It is in a cost of living crisis that Mr Kwarteng has chosen to show his true colours. Ordinary families are choosing between heating and eating. The nation’s public services are falling apart. The chancellor’s medicine for such ailments is to shower money – and to loosen regulatory safeguards – on the City, energy companies and housebuilders.

These were not policies characterised by a withering away of the state but those conducted by an interventionist administration. The government is borrowing around £200bn this year to place the commanding heights of economic policy in the hands of an asset-owning class. Some of this money will be used to keep energy bills low for households and companies facing an inflationary shock. But a large chunk will be handed to the wealthiest in society. The New Economics Foundation calculates that the chancellor’s plan will see incomes for the poorest 10% of families on average this year fall behind rising costs by £900, while incomes for the richest 5% will exceed them by £8,500.

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Match ID: 81 Score: 15.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

Fracking could shake the Conservative vote | Letter
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 16:26:05 GMT

Tremors above magnitude 3 could be destructive – not least to the Tory party if people’s houses start crumbling, writes David Nowell

Having been taught seismology by Prof Peter Styles, who developed a traffic-light monitoring system in the 1980s that dramatically reduced the impact of coal mining under Swansea for local residents, I believe Jacob Rees-Mogg has a risible scientific understanding about shale gas extraction (Tory MPs angrily challenge Rees-Mogg’s fracking revival plan, 22 September). Vibrations from quarries and building sites tend not to be widespread, compared to shaking generated a few kilometres beneath an area.

The current 0·5 magnitude limit was set so tremors should not rise above 2·5, “because of the increased risk of larger magnitude events”, according to a recent British Geological Survey report. Proposing a higher limit would be reckless, as any anthropogenic tremors above 3 could prove to be destructive – not least to the Tory vote, if people’s houses start crumbling.

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Match ID: 82 Score: 15.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

The Physics of Going Fast—but Not Too Fast—on a Giant Slide
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 13:00:00 +0000
If you want to attain high speeds without getting airborne, it helps to know a little something about friction.
Match ID: 83 Score: 15.00 source: www.wired.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

Energy stocks suffer broad beating as crude oil futures continue to sink
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 13:00:37 GMT

Shares of oil and gas companies were taking a broad beating ahead of Friday's open, as growing concerns of a coming recession has sent crude oil futures sinking toward an eight-month low. The SPDR Energy Select Sector ETF slumped 3.2% in premarket trading, with all 21 components selling off, as crude futures shed 3.4% and while futures for the S&P 500 fell 1.4%. Within energy ETF, the biggest decliners were shares of Marathon Oil Corp. and Devon Energy Corp. , which both fell 4.0%. Among the more-active components, shares of Occidental Petroleum Corp. slid 3.5% and Exxon Mobil Corp. declined 2.9%. The best performer was Williams Companies Inc.'s stock , which gave up 2.3%.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.


Match ID: 84 Score: 15.00 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

NextEra's Florida Power & Light unit to refund tax savings to electricity customers
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 12:58:14 GMT

NextEra Energy Inc.'s Florida Power & Light unit said it plans to refund about $400 million in federal tax savings to its 5.8 million customers. The savings stem from a federal production tax credit (PTC) for the development of the company's current stable of 50 operational solar power sites. FPL said it will provide a one-time, $25 million refund in January, plus it will phase in nearly $360 million in additional federal tax savings for future planned solar projects. "Federal tax savings will begin to provide some relief to customers next year as high natural gas prices continue to put upward pressure on bills," Florida Power & Light CEO Eric Silagy said in a prepared statement. Shares of NextEra Energy are down 10.5% in 2022, compared to a 21.2% loss by the S&P 500 .

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.


Match ID: 85 Score: 15.00 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

Mini-budget fell far short of promoting low-carbon future for UK
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 12:00:08 GMT

While not devoid of green measures, Kwarteng’s announcement was more notable for what it did not include

The chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, has announced that the effective ban on onshore wind farms is to be lifted, and the poorest households will regain access to insulation and energy efficiency measures.

Polls show that onshore wind is popular, with more than 70% of people supporting it. Jess Ralston, a senior analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “The ban on onshore wind has been a major anomaly in British energy policy given it’s both cheap and popular with the public. So a decision to lift the ban suggests [Kwarteng] has listened to the experts and understands building more British renewables reduces our reliance on costly gas and so brings down bills.”

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Match ID: 86 Score: 15.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

The Wild Plan to Export Sun From the Sahara to the UK
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 11:00:00 +0000
An ambitious cable project aims to power thousands of homes with renewable energy by 2030.
Match ID: 87 Score: 15.00 source: www.wired.com age: 1 day
qualifiers: 15.00 energy

Ukraine war to take centre stage at UN as west and Russia vie for support
Tue, 20 Sep 2022 05:00:03 GMT

General assembly is expected to see fresh tussles over future of Ukraine, as well as famine and climate crisis threats in global south

The UN general assembly summit this week will be dominated by a struggle – between the US and its allies on one side and Russia on the other – for global support over the fate of Ukraine, as the global south fights to stop the conflict from overshadowing the existential threats of famine and the climate crisis.

With a return to fully in-person general debate, presidents and prime ministers will be converging on New York, many of them direct from London, where the diplomacy got under way on the sidelines of the Queen’s funeral.

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Match ID: 88 Score: 14.29 source: www.theguardian.com age: 4 days
qualifiers: 14.29 russia

Climate Change is NSF Engineering Alliance’s Top Research Priority
Tue, 20 Sep 2022 20:00:00 +0000


Since its launch in April 2021, the Engineering Research Visioning Alliance has convened a diverse set of experts to explore three areas in which fundamental research could have the most impact: climate change; the nexus of biology and engineering; and securing critical infrastructure against hackers.

To identify priorities for each theme, ERVA—an initiative funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation—holds what are termed visioning events, wherein IEEE members and hundreds of other experts from academia, industry, and nonprofits can conceptualize bold ideas. The results are distilled into reports that identify actionable priorities for engineering research pursuit. Reports from recent visioning events are slated to be released to the public in the next few months.


IEEE is one of more than 20 professional engineering societies that have joined ERVA as affiliate partners.

Research energy storage and greenhouse gas capture solutions

Identifying technologies to address the climate crisis was ERVA’s first theme. The theme was based on results of a survey ERVA conducted last year of the engineering community about what the research priorities should be.

“The resounding answer from the 500 respondents was climate change,” says Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska, EVRA’s principal investigator. She is a vice president for knowledge enterprise at Ohio State University, in Columbus.

During the virtual visioning event in December, experts explored solar and renewable energy, carbon sequestration, water management, and geoengineering. The climate change task force released its report last month.

These are some of the research areas ERVA said should be pursued:

  • Energy storage, transmission, and critical materials. The materials include those that are nanoengineered, ones that could be used for nontraditional energy storage, and those that can extract additional energy from heat cycles.
  • Greenhouse gas capture and elimination. Research priorities included capturing and eliminating methane and nitrous oxide released in agriculture operations.
  • Resilient, energy-efficient, and healthful infrastructure. One identified priority was research to develop low-cost coatings for buildings and roads to reduce heat effects and increase self-cooling.
  • Water, ecosystem, and geoengineering assessments. The report identifies research in creating sensing, measuring, and AI models to analyze the flow of water to ensure its availability during droughts and other disruptive events caused or worsened by climate change.

“The groundwork ERVA has laid out in this report creates a blueprint for funders to invest in,” Grejner-Brzezinska says, “and catalyzes engineering research for a more secure and sustainable world. As agencies and research organizations enact legislation to reduce carbon emissions and bolster clean-energy technologies, engineering is poised to lead with research and development.”

IEEE is developing a strategy to guide the organization’s response to the global threat.

Use biology and engineering to interrupt the transfer of viruses

A virtual visioning event on Leveraging Biology to Power Engineering Impact was held in March. The hope, as explained on the event’s website, is to transform research where biology and engineering intersect: health care and medicine, agriculture, and high tech.

“As agencies and research organizations enact legislation to reduce carbon emissions and bolster clean-energy technologies, engineering is poised to lead with research and development.”

The experts considered research directions in three areas: Use biology to inspire engineers to develop new components, adapt and adopt biological constructs beyond their original function, and create engineering systems and components that improve on biology. An example would be to interrupt the transfer of viruses from one species to another so as to reduce the spread of diseases.

The task force’s report on which research areas to pursue is scheduled to be released next month, according to Grejner-Brzezinska.

Protect infrastructure from hackers

One of today’s main engineering challenges, according to ERVA, is the protection of infrastructure against hackers and other threats. At the in-person visioning event held last month at MIT on the Engineering R&D Solutions for Unhackable Infrastructure theme, researchers discussed gaps in security technologies and looked at how to design trustworthy systems and how to build resilience into interdependent infrastructures.

ERVA describes unhackable as the ability to ensure safety, security, and trust in essential systems and services that society relies on.

The task force examined research themes related to physical infrastructure such as assets and hardware; software and algorithms; and data and communication networks. It also considered new security methods for users, operators, and security administrators to thwart cyberattacks.

Grejner-Brzezinska says the task force’s report will be released in mid-December.

Sustainable transportation networks

Planning has begun for the next visioning event, Sustainable Transportation Networks, to be held virtually on 2 and 3 November. The session is to explore innovative and sustainable transportation modes and the infrastructure networks needed to support them. Some of the areas to be discussed are green construction; longitudinal impact studies; interconnected transportation modes such as rail, marine, and air transport; and transportation equity.

Become an ERVA supporter

ERVA will convene four visioning events each year on broad engineering research themes that have the potential to solve societal challenges, Grejner-Brzezinska says. IEEE members who are experts in the fields can get involved by joining the ERVA Champions, now more than 900 strong. They are among the first to learn about upcoming visioning sessions and about openings to serve on volunteer groups such as thematic task forces, advisory boards, and standing councils. Members can sign up on the ERVA website.

“Becoming a champion is an opportunity to break out of your silos of disciplines and really come together with others in the engineering research community,” Grejner-Brzezinska says. “You can do what engineers do best: solve problems.”


Match ID: 89 Score: 12.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 3 days
qualifiers: 12.86 energy

We Can Now Train Big Neural Networks on Small Devices
Tue, 20 Sep 2022 13:02:00 +0000


The gadgets around us are constantly learning about our lives. Smartwatches pick up on our vital signs to track our health. Home speakers listen to our conversations to recognize our voices. Smartphones play grammarian, watching what we write in order to fix our idiosyncratic typos. We appreciate these conveniences, but the information we share with our gadgets isn’t always kept between us and our electronic minders. Machine learning can require heavy hardware, so “edge” devices like phones often send raw data to central servers, which then return trained algorithms. Some people would like that training to happen locally. A new AI training method expands the training capabilities of smaller devices, potentially helping to preserve privacy.

The most powerful machine-learning systems use neural networks, complex functions filled with tunable parameters. During training, a network receives an input (such as a set of pixels), generates an output (such as the label “cat”), compares its output with the correct answer, and adjusts its parameters to do better next time. To know how to tune each of those internal knobs, the network needs to remember the effect of each one, but they regularly number in the millions or even billions. That requires a lot of memory. Training a neural network can require hundreds of times the memory called upon when merely using one (also called “inference”). In the latter case, the memory is allowed to forget what each layer of the network did as soon as it passes information to the next layer.


To reduce the memory demanded during the training phase, researchers have employed a few tricks. In one, called paging or offloading, the machine moves those activations from short-term memory to a slower but more abundant type of memory such as flash or an SD card, then brings it back when needed. In another, called rematerialization, the machine deletes the activations, then computes them again later. Previously, memory-reduction systems used one of those two tricks or, says Shishir Patil, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the lead author of the paper describing the innovation, they were combined using “heuristics” that are “suboptimal,” often requiring a lot of energy. The innovation reported by Patil and his collaborators formalizes the combination of paging and rematerialization.

“Taking these two techniques, combining them well into this optimization problem, and then solving it—that’s really nice,” says Jiasi Chen, a computer scientist at the University of California, Riverside, who works on edge computing but was not involved in the work.

In July, Patil presented his system, called POET (private optimal energy training), at the International Conference on Machine Learning, in Baltimore. He first gives POET a device’s technical details and information about the architecture of a neural network he wants it to train. He specifies a memory budget and a time budget. He then asks it to create a training process that minimizes energy usage. The process might decide to page certain activations that would be inefficient to recompute but rematerialize others that are simple to redo but require a lot of memory to store.

One of the keys to the breakthrough was to define the problem as a mixed integer linear programming (MILP) puzzle, a set of constraints and relationships between variables. For each device and network architecture, POET plugs its variables into Patil’s hand-crafted MILP program, then finds the optimal solution. “A main challenge is actually formulating that problem in a nice way so that you can input it into a solver,” Chen says. “So, you capture all of the realistic system dynamics, like energy, latency, and memory.”

The team tested POET on four different processors, whose RAM ranged from 32 KB to 8 GB. On each, the researchers trained three different neural network architectures: two types popular in image recognition (VGG16 and ResNet-18), plus a popular language-processing network (BERT). In many of the tests, the system could reduce memory usage by about 80 percent, without a big bump in energy use. Comparable methods couldn’t do both at the same time. According to Patil, the study showed that BERT can now be trained on the smallest devices, which was previously impossible.

“When we started off, POET was mostly a cute idea,” Patil says. Now, several companies have reached out about using it, and at least one large company has tried it in its smart speaker. One thing they like, Patil says, is that POET doesn’t reduce network precision by “quantizing,” or abbreviating, activations to save memory. So the teams that design networks don’t have to coordinate with teams that implement them in order to negotiate trade-offs between precision and memory.

Patil notes other reasons to use POET besides privacy concerns. Some devices need to train networks locally because they have low or no Internet connection. These include devices used on farms, in submarines, or in space. Other setups can benefit from the innovation because data transmission requires too much energy. POET could also make large devices—Internet servers—more memory efficient and energy efficient. But as for keeping data private, Patil says, “I guess this is very timely, right?”


Match ID: 90 Score: 10.71 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 4 days
qualifiers: 10.71 energy

NASA’s DART Mission Aims to Save the World
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 15:52:53 +0000


Armageddon ruined everything. Armageddon—the 1998 movie, not the mythical battlefield—told the story of an asteroid headed straight for Earth, and a bunch of swaggering roughnecks sent in space shuttles to blow it up with a nuclear weapon.

Armageddon is big and noisy and stupid and shameless, and it’s going to be huge at the box office,” wrote Jay Carr of the Boston Globe.

Carr was right—the film was the year’s second biggest hit (after Titanic)—and ever since, scientists have had to explain, patiently, that cluttering space with radioactive debris may not be the best way to protect ourselves. NASA is now trying a slightly less dramatic approach with a robotic mission called DART—short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test. On Monday at 7:14 p.m. EDT, if all goes well, the little spacecraft will crash into an asteroid called Dimorphos, about 11 million kilometers from Earth. Dimorphos is about 160 meters across, and orbits a 780-meter asteroid, 65803 Didymos. NASA TV plans to cover it live.

DART’s end will be violent, but not blockbuster-movie-violent. Music won’t swell and girlfriends back on Earth won’t swoon. Mission managers hope the spacecraft, with a mass of about 600 kilograms, hitting at 22,000 km/h, will nudge the asteroid slightly in its orbit, just enough to prove that it’s technologically possible in case a future asteroid has Earth in its crosshairs.

“Maybe once a century or so, there’ll be an asteroid sizeable enough that we’d like to certainly know, ahead of time, if it was going to impact,” says Lindley Johnson, who has the title of planetary defense officer at NASA.

“If you just take a hair off the orbital velocity, you’ve changed the orbit of the asteroid so that what would have been impact three or four years down the road is now a complete miss.”

So take that, Hollywood! If DART succeeds, it will show there are better fuels to protect Earth than testosterone.

The risk of a comet or asteroid that wipes out civilization is really very small, but large enough that policymakers take it seriously. NASA, ordered by the U.S. Congress in 2005 to scan the inner solar system for hazards, has found nearly 900 so-called NEOs—near-Earth objects—at least a kilometer across, more than 95 percent of all in that size range that probably exist. It has plotted their orbits far into the future, and none of them stand more than a fraction of a percent chance of hitting Earth in this millennium.

An infographic showing the orientation of Didymos,  Dimorphos, DART, and LICIACube. The DART spacecraft should crash into the asteroid Dimorphos and slow it in its orbit around the larger asteroid Didymos. The LICIACube cubesat will fly in formation to take images of the impact.Johns Hopkins APL/NASA

But there are smaller NEOs, perhaps 140 meters or more in diameter, too small to end civilization but large enough to cause mass destruction if they hit a populated area. There may be 25,000 that come within 50 million km of Earth’s orbit, and NASA estimates telescopes have only found about 40 percent of them. That’s why scientists want to expand the search for them and have good ways to deal with them if necessary. DART is the first test.

NASA takes pains to say this is a low-risk mission. Didymos and Dimorphos never cross Earth’s orbit, and computer simulations show that no matter where or how hard DART hits, it cannot possibly divert either one enough to put Earth in danger. Scientists want to see if DART can alter Dimorphos’s speed by perhaps a few centimeters per second.

The DART spacecraft, a 1-meter cube with two long solar panels, is elegantly simple, equipped with a telescope called DRACO, hydrazine maneuvering thrusters, a xenon-fueled ion engine and a navigation system called SMART Nav. It was launched by a SpaceX rocket in November. About 4 hours and 90,000 km before the hoped-for impact, SMART Nav will take over control of the spacecraft, using optical images from the telescope. Didymos, the larger object, should be a point of light by then; Dimorphos, the intended target, will probably not appear as more than one pixel until about 50 minutes before impact. DART will send one image per second back to Earth, but the spacecraft is autonomous; signals from the ground, 38 light-seconds away, would be useless for steering as the ship races in.

A golden cubesat with a bright light and lines The DART spacecraft separated from its SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, 55 minutes after liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California, 24 November 2021. In this image from the rocket, the spacecraft had not yet unfurled its solar panels.NASA

What’s more, nobody knows the shape or consistency of little Dimorphos. Is it a solid boulder or a loose cluster of rubble? Is it smooth or craggy, round or elongated? “We’re trying to hit the center,” says Evan Smith, the deputy mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is running DART. “We don’t want to overcorrect for some mountain or crater on one side that’s throwing an odd shadow or something.”

So on final approach, DART will cover 800 km without any steering. Thruster firings could blur the last images of Dimorphos’s surface, which scientists want to study. Impact should be imaged from about 50 km away by an Italian-made minisatellite, called LICIACube, which DART released two weeks ago.

“In the minutes following impact, I know everybody is going be high fiving on the engineering side,” said Tom Statler, DART’s program scientist at NASA, “but I’m going be imagining all the cool stuff that is actually going on on the asteroid, with a crater being dug and ejecta being blasted off.”

There is, of course, a possibility that DART will miss, in which case there should be enough fuel on board to allow engineers to go after a backup target. But an advantage of the Didymos-Dimorphos pair is that it should help in calculating how much effect the impact had. Telescopes on Earth (plus the Hubble and Webb space telescopes) may struggle to measure infinitesimal changes in the orbit of Dimorphos around the sun; it should be easier to see how much its orbit around Didymos is affected. The simplest measurement may be of the changing brightness of the double asteroid, as Dimorphos moves in front of or behind its partner, perhaps more quickly or slowly than it did before impact.

“We are moving an asteroid,” said Statler. “We are changing the motion of a natural celestial body in space. Humanity’s never done that before.”


Match ID: 91 Score: 10.00 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 1 day
qualifiers: 10.00 nuclear

Video Friday: Loona
Fri, 16 Sep 2022 18:19:52 +0000


Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

IROS 2022: 23–27 October 2022, KYOTO, JAPAN
ANA Avatar XPRIZE Finals: 4–5 November 2022, LOS ANGELES
CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Enjoy today's videos!


Another robotic pet on Kickstarter, another bunting of red flags.

Let's see, we've got: "she's so playful and affectionate you'll forget she's a robot." "Everything you can dream of in a best friend and more." "Get ready to fall in love!" And that's literally like the first couple of tiles on the Kickstarter post. Look, the hardware seems fine, and there is a lot of expressiveness going on, I just wish they didn't set you up for an inevitable disappointment when after a couple of weeks it becomes apparent that yes, this is just a robotic toy, and will never be your best friend (or more).

Loona is currently on Kickstarter for about USD $300.

[ Kickstarter ]

Inspired by the flexibility and resilience of dragonfly wings, we propose a novel design for a biomimetic drone propeller called Tombo propeller. Here, we report on the design and fabrication process of this biomimetic propeller that can accommodate collisions and recover quickly, while maintaining sufficient thrust force to hover and fly.

[ JAIST ]

Thanks Van!

Meet Tom, a software engineer at Boston Dynamics, as he shares insights on programming and testing the practical—and impractical—applications of robotics. Whether Spot is conducting inspections or playing an instrument, learn how we go from code on a computer to actions in the real world.

Yeah, but where do I get that awesome shirt?!

[ Boston Dynamics ]

This Ameca demo couples automated speech recognition with GPT 3 —a large language model that generates meaningful answers—the output is fed to an online TTS service which generates the voice and visemes for lip sync timing. The team at Engineered Arts Ltd. pose the questions.

"Meaningful answers."

[ Engineered Arts ]

The ANT project develops a navigation and motion control system for future walking systems for planetary exploration. After successful testing on ramps and rubble fields, the challenge of climbing rough inclines such as craters is being tackled.

[ DFKI ]

Look, if you’re going to crate-train Spot, at least put some blankets and stuffed animals in there or something.

[ Energy Robotics ]

With multitrade layout, all trades’ layouts are set down with a single pass over the floor by Dusty's FieldPrinter system. Trades experience unparalleled clarity and communication with each other, because they can see each others’ installation plans and immediately identify and resolve conflicts. Instead of fighting over the floor and pointing fingers, they start to solve problems together.

[ Dusty Robotics ]

We present QUaRTM—a novel quadcopter design capable of tilting the propellers into the forward flight direction, which reduces the drag area and therefore allows for faster, more agile, and more efficient flight.

[ HiPeRLab ]

Is there an option in the iRobot app to turn my Roomba into a cake? Because I want cake.

[ iRobot ]

Looks like SoftBank is getting into high-density robotic logistics.

[ Impress ]

GITAI S2 ground test for space debris removal. During this demonstration, a tool changer was also tested to perform several different tasks at OSAM.

[ GITAI ]

Recent advances allow for the automation of food preparation in high-throughput environments, yet the successful deployment of these robots requires the planning and execution of quick, robust, and ultimately collision-free behaviors. In this work, we showcase a novel framework for modifying previously generated trajectories of robotic manipulators in highly detailed and dynamic collision environments.

[ Paper ]

The LCT Hospital in South Korea uses “Dr. LCT” for robotic-based orthopedic knee procedures. The system is based on the KUKA LBR Med robotic platform, which is ideally suited for orthopedic surgery with its seven axes, software developed specifically for medical technology, and appropriate safety measures.

[ Kuka ]

A year in review. Compilation of 2022 video highlights of the Game Changing Development (GCD) Program. The Game Changing Development Program is a part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The program advances space technologies that may lead to entirely new approaches for the agency’s future space missions and provide solutions to significant national needs.

[ NASA ]

Naomi Wu reviews a Diablo mobile robot (with some really cool customizations of her own), sending it out to run errands in Shenzhen during lockdown.

[ Naomi Wu ]

Roundtable discussion on how teaching automation in schools, colleges, and universities can help shape the workers of tomorrow. ABB Robotics has put together a panel of experts in this field to discuss the challenges and opportunities.

[ ABB ]

On 8 September 2022, Mario Santillo of Ford talked to robotics students as the first speaker in the Undergraduate Robotics Pathways & Careers Speaker Series, which aims to answer the question “What can I do with a robotics degree?”

[ Michigan Robotics ]


Match ID: 92 Score: 10.00 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 7 days
qualifiers: 5.71 korea, 4.29 energy

Puzzling Out the Drone War Over Ukraine
Fri, 25 Mar 2022 12:26:23 +0000


In 2014, Ukrainian soldiers fighting in Crimea knew that the sight of Russian drones would soon be followed by a heavy barrage of Russian artillery. During that war, the Russian military integrated drones into tactical missions, using them to hunt for Ukrainian forces, whom they then pounded with artillery and cannon fire. Russian drones weren’t as advanced as those of their Western counterparts, but the Russian military’s integration of drones into its battlefield tactics was second to none.

Eight years later, the Russians are again invading Ukraine. And since the earlier incursion, the Russian military has spent approximately US $9 billion to domestically produce an armada of some 500 drones (a.k.a. unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs). But, astonishingly, three weeks into this invasion, the Russians have not had anywhere near their previous level of success with their drones. There are even signs that in the drone war, the Ukrainians have an edge over the Russians.

How could the drone capabilities of these two militaries have experienced such differing fortunes over the same period? The answer lies in a combination of trade embargoes, tech development, and the rising importance of countermeasures.

Since 2014’s invasion of Crimea, Russia’s drone-development efforts have lagged—during a time of dynamic evolution and development across the UAV industry.

First, some background. Military drones come in a wide variety of sizes, purposes, and capabilities, but they can be grouped into a few categories. On one end of the spectrum are relatively tiny flying bombs, small enough to be carried in a rucksack. On the other end are high-altitude drones, with wingspans up to 25 meters and capable of staying aloft for 30 or 40 hours, of being operated from consoles thousands of kilometers from the battlefield, and of firing air-to-surface missiles with deadly precision. In between are a range of intermediate-size drones used primarily for surveillance and reconnaissance.

Russia’s fleet of drones includes models in each of these categories. However, sanctions imposed after the 2014 invasion of Crimea blocked the Russian military from procuring some key technologies necessary to stay on the cutting edge of drone development, particularly in optics, lightweight composites, and electronics. With relatively limited capabilities of its own in these areas, Russia’s drone development efforts became somewhat sluggish during a time of dynamic evolution and development elsewhere.

Current stalwarts in the Russian arsenal include the Zala Kyb, which is a “loitering munition” that can dive into a target and explode. The most common Russian drones are midsize ones used for surveillance and reconnaissance. These include the Eleron-3SV and the Orlan-10 drones, both of which have been used extensively in Syria and Ukraine. In fact, just last week, an Orlan-10 operator was awarded a military medal for locating a site from which Ukrainian soldiers were ambushing Russian tanks, and also a Ukrainian basing area outside Kyiv containing ten artillery pieces, which were subsequently destroyed. Russia’s only large, missile-firing drone is the Kronshtadt Orion, which is similar to the American MQ-1 Predator and can be used for precision strikes as well as reconnaissance. An Orion was credited with an air strike on a command center in Ukraine in early March 2022.

Meanwhile, since the 2014 Crimea war, when they had no drones at all, the Ukrainians have methodically assembled a modest but highly capable set of drones. The backbone of the fleet, with some 300 units fielded, are the A1-SM Fury and the Leleka-100 reconnaissance drones, both designed and manufactured in Ukraine. The A1-SM Fury entered service in April 2020, and the Leleka-100, in May, 2021.

On offense, the Ukrainian and Russian militaries are closely matched in the drone war. The difference is on defense.

The heavy hitter for Ukraine in this war, though, is the Bayraktar TB2 drone, a combat aerial flyer with a wingspan of 12 meters and an armament of four laser-guided bombs. As of the beginning of March, and after losing two TB2s to Russian-backed separatist forces in Lugansk, Ukraine had a complement of 30 of the drones, which were designed and developed in Turkey. These drones are specifically aimed at destroying tanks and as of 24 March had been credited with destroying 26 vehicles, 10 surface-to-air missile systems, and 3 command posts. Various reports have put the cost of a TB2 at anywhere from $1 million to $10 million. It’s much cheaper than the tens of millions fetched for better-known combat drones, such as the MQ-9 Reaper, the backbone of the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of combat drones.

The Ukrainian arsenal also includes the Tu-141 reconnaissance drones, which are large, high-altitude Soviet-era drones that have had little success in the war. At the small end of the Ukraine drone complement are 100 Switchblade drones, which were donated by the United States as part of the $800 million weapons package announced on 16 March. The Switchblades are loitering munitions similar in size and functionality to the Russian Zala Kyb.

The upshot is that on offense, the Ukrainian and Russian militaries are closely matched in the drone war. The difference is on defense: Ukraine has the advantage when it comes to counter-drone technology. A decade ago, counter-drone technology mostly meant using radar to detect drones and surface-to-air missiles to shoot them down. It quickly proved far too costly and ineffective. Drone technology advanced at a brisk pace over the past decade, so counter-drone technology had to move rapidly to keep up. In Russia, it didn’t. Here, again, the Russian military was hampered by technology embargoes and a domestic industrial base that has been somewhat stagnant and lacking in critical capabilities. For contrast, the combined industrial base of the countries supporting Ukraine in this war is massive and has invested heavily in counter-drone technology.

Russia has deployed electronic warfare systems to counter enemy drones and have likely been using the Borisoglebsk 2 MT-LB and R-330Zh Zhitel systems, which use a combination of jamming and spoofing. These systems fill the air with radio-frequency energy, increasing the noise threshold to such a level that the drone cannot distinguish control signals from the remote pilot. Another standard counterdrone technique is sending false signals to the drone, with the most common being fake (“spoofed”) GPS signals, which disorient the flyer. Jamming and spoofing systems are easy to target because they emit radio-frequency waves at fairly high intensities. In fact, open-source images show that Ukrainian forces have already destroyed three of these Russian counterdrone systems.

The exact systems that have been provided to the Ukrainians is not publicly known, but it’s possible to make an educated guess from among the many systems available.

Additionally, some of the newer drones being used by the Ukrainians include features to withstand such electronic attacks. For example, when one of these drones detects a jamming signal, it switches to frequencies that are not being jammed; if it is still unable to reestablish a connection, the drone operates autonomously with a series of preset maneuvers until a connection can be reestablished.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has access to the wide array of NATO counterdrone technologies. The exact systems that have been provided to the Ukrainians is not publicly known, but it’s possible to make an educated guess from among the many systems available. One of the more powerful ones, from Lockheed Martin, repurposes a solid-state, phased-array radar system developed to spot incoming munitions, to detect and identify a drone. The system then tracks the drone and uses high-energy lasers to shoot it down. Raytheon’s counterdrone portfolio includes similar capabilities along with drone-killing drones and systems capable of beaming high-power microwaves that disrupt the drone’s electronics.

While most major Western defense contractors have some sort of counterdrone system, there has also been significant innovation in the commercial sector, given the mass proliferation of commercial drones. While many of these technologies are aimed at smaller drones, some of the technologies, including acoustic sensing and radio-frequency localization, are effective against larger drones as well. Also, a dozen small companies have developed jamming and spoofing systems specifically aimed at countering modern drones.

Although we don’t know specifically which counterdrone systems are being deployed by the Ukrainians, the images of the destroyed drones tell a compelling story. In the drone war, many of the flyers on both sides have been captured or destroyed on the ground, but more than half were disabled while in flight. The destroyed Ukrainian drones often show tremendous damage, including burn marks and other signs that they were shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile. A logical conclusion is that the Russians’ electronic counterdrone systems were not effective. Meanwhile, the downed Russian drones are typically much more intact, showing relatively minor damage consistent with a precision strike from a laser or electromagnetic pulse. This is exactly what you would expect if the drones had been dispatched by one of the newer Western counterdrone systems.

In the first three weeks of this conflict, Russian drones have failed to achieve the level of success that they did in 2014. The Ukrainians, on the other hand, have logged multiple victories with drone and counterdrone forces assembled in just 8 years. The Russian drones, primarily domestically sourced, have been foiled repeatedly by NATO counterdrone technology. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian drones, such as the TB2s procured from NATO-member Turkey, have had multiple successes against the Russian counterdrone systems.
Match ID: 93 Score: 10.00 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 183 days
qualifiers: 5.00 sanctions, 2.86 russia, 2.14 energy

Is It Time to Consider Lifting Tariffs on Chinese Imports?
2022-09-01T00:00:00Z
Many of the tariffs levied by the Trump administration on Chinese goods remain in place. James Heskett weighs whether the US should prioritize renegotiating trade agreements with China, and what it would take to move on from the trade war.
Match ID: 94 Score: 5.71 source: hbswk.hbs.edu age: 23 days
qualifiers: 3.57 trump, 2.14 trump

MOXIE Shows How to Make Oxygen on Mars
Thu, 08 Sep 2022 15:27:59 +0000


Planning for the return journey is an integral part of the preparations for a crewed Mars mission. Astronauts will require a total mass of about 50 tonnes of rocket propellent for the ascent vehicle that will lift them off the planet’s surface, including 31 tonnes of oxygen approximately. The less popular option is for crewed missions to carry the required oxygen themselves. But scientists are optimistic that it could instead be produced from the carbon dioxide–rich Martian atmosphere itself, using a system called MOXIE.

The Mars Oxygen ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization) Experiment is an 18-kilogram unit housed within the Perseverance rover on Mars. The unit is “the size of a toaster,” adds Jeffrey Hoffman, professor of aerospace engineering at MIT. Its job is to electrochemically break down carbon dioxide collected from the Martian atmosphere into oxygen and carbon monoxide. It also tests the purity of the oxygen.

Between February 2021, when it arrived on Mars aboard the Perseverance, and the end of the year, MOXIE has had several successful test runs. According to a review of the system by Hoffman and colleagues, published in Science Advances, it has demonstrated its ability to produce oxygen during both night and day, when temperatures can vary by over 100 ºC. The generation and purity rates of oxygen also meet requirements to produce rocket propellent and for breathing. The authors assert that a scaled-up version of MOXIE could produce the required oxygen for lift-off as well as for the astronauts to breathe.

Next question: How to power any oxygen-producing factories that NASA can land on Mars? Perhaps via NASA’s Kilopower fission reactors?

MOXIE is a first step toward a much larger and more complex system to support the human exploration of Mars. The researchers estimate a required generation rate of 2 to 3 kilograms per hour, compared with the current MOXIE rate of 6 to 8 grams per hour, to produce enough oxygen for lift-off for a crew arriving 26 months later. “So we’re talking about a system that’s a couple of hundred times bigger than MOXIE,” Hoffman says.

They calculate this rate accounting for eight months to get to Mars, followed by some time to set up the system. “We figure you'd probably have maybe 14 months to make all the oxygen.” Further, he says, the produced oxygen would have to be liquefied to be used a rocket propellant, something the current version of MOXIE doesn’t do.

MOXIE also currently faces several design constraints because, says Hoffman, a former astronaut, “our only ride to Mars was inside the Perseverance rover.” This limited the amount of power available to operate the unit, the amount of heat they could produce, the volume and the mass.

“MOXIE does not work nearly as efficiently as a stand-alone system that was specifically designed would,” says Hoffman. Most of the time, it’s turned off. “Every time we want to make oxygen, we have to heat it up to 800 ºC, so most of the energy goes into heating it up and running the compressor, whereas in a well-designed stand-alone system, most of the energy will go into the actual electrolysis, into actually producing the oxygen.”

However, there are still many kinks to iron out for the scaling-up process. To begin with, any oxygen-producing system will need lots of power. Hoffman thinks nuclear power is the most likely option, maybe NASA’s Kilopower fission reactors. The setup and the cabling would certainly be challenging, he says. “You’re going to have to launch to all of these nuclear reactors, and of course, they’re not going to be in exactly the same place as the [other] units,” he says. "So, robotically, you’re going to have to connect to the electrical cables to bring power to the oxygen-producing unit.”

Then there is the solid oxide electrolysis units, which Hoffman points out are carefully machined systems. Fortunately, the company that makes them, OxEon, has already designed, built, and tested a full-scale unit, a hundred times bigger than the one on MOXIE. “Several of those units would be required to produce oxygen at the quantities that we need,” Hoffman says.

He also adds that at present, there is no redundancy built into MOXIE. If any part fails, the whole system dies. “If you’re counting on a system to produce oxygen for rocket propellant and for breathing, you need very high reliability, which means you’re going to need quite a few redundant units.”

Moreover, the system has to be pretty much autonomous, Hoffman says. “It has to be able to monitor itself, run itself.” For testing purposes, every time MOXIE is powered up, there is plenty of time to plan. A full-scale MOXIE system, though, would have to run continuously, and for that it has to be able to adjust automatically to changes in the Mars atmosphere, which can vary by a factor of two over a year, and between nighttime and daytime temperature differences.


Match ID: 95 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 16 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy, 1.43 nuclear

Pentagon Aims to Demo a Nuclear Spacecraft Within 5 Years
Thu, 09 Jun 2022 16:44:41 +0000


In the latest push for nuclear power in space, the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) awarded a contract in May to Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear to advance its nuclear power and propulsion concepts. The company is making a soccer ball–size radioisotope battery it calls EmberCore. The DIU’s goal is to launch the technology into space for demonstration in 2027.

Ultra Safe Nuclear’s system is intended to be lightweight, scalable, and usable as both a propulsion source and a power source. It will be specifically designed to give small-to-medium-size military spacecraft the ability to maneuver nimbly in the space between Earth orbit and the moon. The DIU effort is part of the U.S. military’s recently announced plans to develop a surveillance network in cislunar space.

Besides speedy space maneuvers, the DIU wants to power sensors and communication systems without having to worry about solar panels pointing in the right direction or batteries having enough charge to work at night, says Adam Schilffarth, director of strategy at Ultra Safe Nuclear. “Right now, if you are trying to take radar imagery in Ukraine through cloudy skies,” he says, “current platforms can only take a very short image because they draw so much power.”

Radioisotope power sources are well suited for small, uncrewed spacecraft, adds Christopher Morrison, who is leading EmberCore’s development. Such sources rely on the radioactive decay of an element that produces energy, as opposed to nuclear fission, which involves splitting atomic nuclei in a controlled chain reaction to release energy. Heat produced by radioactive decay is converted into electricity using thermoelectric devices.

Radioisotopes have provided heat and electricity for spacecraft since 1961. The Curiosity and Perseverance rovers on Mars, and deep-space missions including Cassini, New Horizons, and Voyager all use radioisotope batteries that rely on the decay of plutonium-238, which is nonfissile—unlike plutonium-239, which is used in weapons and power reactors.

For EmberCore, Ultra Safe Nuclear has instead turned to medical isotopes such as cobalt-60 that are easier and cheaper to produce. The materials start out inert, and have to be charged with neutrons to become radioactive. The company encapsulates the material in a proprietary ceramic for safety.

Cobalt-60 has a half-life of five years (compared to plutonium-238’s 90 years), which is enough for the cislunar missions that the DOD and NASA are looking at, Morrison says. He says that EmberCore should be able to provide 10 times as much power as a plutonium-238 system, providing over 1 million kilowatt-hours of energy using just a few pounds of fuel. “This is a technology that is in many ways commercially viable and potentially more scalable than plutonium-238,” he says.

One downside of the medical isotopes is that they can produce high-energy X-rays in addition to heat. So Ultra Safe Nuclear wraps the fuel with a radiation-absorbing metal shield. But in the future, the EmberCore system could be designed for scientists to use the X-rays for experiments. “They buy this heater and get an X-ray source for free,” says Schilffarth. “We’ve talked with scientists who right now have to haul pieces of lunar or Martian regolith up to their sensor because the X-ray source is so weak. Now we’re talking about a spotlight that could shine down to do science from a distance.”

Ultra Safe Nuclear’s contract is one of two awarded by the DIU—which aims to speed up the deployment of commercial technology through military use—to develop nuclear power and propulsion for spacecraft. The other contract was awarded to Avalanche Energy, which is making a lunchbox-size fusion device it calls an Orbitron. The device will use electrostatic fields to trap high-speed ions in slowly changing orbits around a negatively charged cathode. Collisions between the ions can result in fusion reactions that produce energetic particles.

Both companies will use nuclear energy to power high-efficiency electric propulsion systems. Electric propulsion technologies such as ion thrusters, which use electromagnetic fields to accelerate ions and generate thrust, are more efficient than chemical rockets, which burn fuel. Solar panels typically power the ion thrusters that satellites use today to change their position and orientation. Schilffarth says that the higher power from EmberCore should give a greater velocity change of 10 kilometers per second in orbit than today’s electric propulsion systems.

Ultra Safe Nuclear is also one of three companies developing nuclear fission thermal propulsion systems for NASA and the Department of Energy. Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking companies to develop a fission-based nuclear thermal rocket engine, with demonstrations expected in 2026.

This article appears in the August 2022 print issue as “Spacecraft to Run on Radioactive Decay.”


Match ID: 96 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 107 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy, 1.43 nuclear

Outside the Box: The Trump administration wants to discourage your 401(k) from including ESG investment options
Tue, 08 Sep 2020 21:11:24 GMT
Two proposed rules imply that investment managers promote social goals over sound investment analysis — but that’s not what actually happens.
Match ID: 97 Score: 3.57 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 745 days
qualifiers: 3.57 trump

Ukraine’s Cyberwar Chief Sounds Like He’s Winning
Wed, 14 Sep 2022 11:00:00 +0000
Yurii Shchyhol gives WIRED a rare interview about running the country’s Derzhspetszviazok and the state of the online conflict with Russia.
Match ID: 98 Score: 2.86 source: www.wired.com age: 10 days
qualifiers: 2.86 russia

Why is Vladimir Putin so obsessed with Ukraine?
Wed, 14 Sep 2022 09:41:51 GMT

Guardian correspondent Luke Harding chronicles the key historical events that led to the invasion of Ukraine, from the Euromaidan protests to the annexation of Crimea, and explains why Putin's belief that Russians and Ukrainians are 'one people' is rooted in history from a thousand years ago

Continue reading...
Match ID: 99 Score: 2.86 source: www.theguardian.com age: 10 days
qualifiers: 2.86 russia

This Clever Anti-Censorship Tool Lets Russians Read Blocked News
Thu, 08 Sep 2022 11:00:00 +0000
Samizdat Online syndicates banned news sites by hosting them on uncensored domains—allowing people to access independent reporting.
Match ID: 100 Score: 2.86 source: www.wired.com age: 16 days
qualifiers: 2.86 russia

G-7 announces price cap deal on Russian oil in win for Yellen
Fri, 02 Sep 2022 10:03:34 EST
The plan touted by the U.S. Treasury secretary aims to diminish the Kremlin's revenue while preserving the global oil supply.
Match ID: 101 Score: 2.86 source: www.politico.com age: 22 days
qualifiers: 2.86 russia

The Russian Spy in My Econ Class
Thu, 01 Sep 2022 12:00:00 +0000
Johns Hopkins' long history with student-spies suggests this most recent incident will not lead to much change—but maybe that's OK.
Match ID: 102 Score: 2.86 source: www.wired.com age: 23 days
qualifiers: 2.86 russia

Who Pays for an Act of Cyberwar?
Tue, 30 Aug 2022 13:00:00 +0000
Cyberinsurance doesn't cover acts of war. But even as cyberattacks mount, the definition of "warlike" actions remains blurry.
Match ID: 103 Score: 2.86 source: www.wired.com age: 25 days
qualifiers: 2.86 russia

NASA’s Artemis I Revives the Moonshot
Sun, 28 Aug 2022 13:00:00 +0000



Update 5 Sept.: For now, NASA’s giant Artemis I remains on the ground after two launch attempts scrubbed by a hydrogen leak and a balky engine sensor. Mission managers say Artemis will fly when everything's ready—but haven't yet specified whether that might be in late September or in mid-October.

“When you look at the rocket, it looks almost retro,” said Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA. “Looks like we’re looking back toward the Saturn V. But it’s a totally different, new, highly sophisticated—more sophisticated—rocket, and spacecraft.”

Artemis, powered by the Space Launch System rocket, is America’s first attempt to send astronauts to the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972, and technology has taken giant leaps since then. On Artemis I, the first test flight, mission managers say they are taking the SLS, with its uncrewed Orion spacecraft up top, and “stressing it beyond what it is designed for”—the better to ensure safe flights when astronauts make their first landings, currently targeted to begin with Artemis III in 2025.

But Nelson is right: The rocket is retro in many ways, borrowing heavily from the space shuttles America flew for 30 years, and from the Apollo-Saturn V.

Much of Artemis’s hardware is refurbished: Its four main engines, and parts of its two strap-on boosters, all flew before on shuttle missions. The rocket’s apricot color comes from spray-on insulation much like the foam on the shuttle’s external tank. And the large maneuvering engine in Orion’s service module is actually 40 years old—used on 19 space shuttle flights between 1984 and 1992.

“I have a name for missions that use too much new technology—failures.”
—John Casani, NASA

Perhaps more important, the project inherits basic engineering from half a century of spaceflight. Just look at Orion’s crew capsule—a truncated cone, somewhat larger than the Apollo Command Module but conceptually very similar.

Old, of course, does not mean bad. NASA says there is no need to reinvent things engineers got right the first time.

“There are certain fundamental aspects of deep-space exploration that are really independent of money,” says Jim Geffre, Orion vehicle-integration manager at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The laws of physics haven’t changed since the 1960s. And capsule shapes happen to be really good for coming back into the atmosphere at Mach 32.”

Roger Launius, who served as NASA’s chief historian from 1990 to 2002 and as a curator at the Smithsonian Institution from then until 2017, tells of a conversation he had with John Casani, a veteran NASA engineer who managed the Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini probes to the outer planets.

“I have a name for missions that use too much new technology,” he recalls Casani saying. “Failures.”

The Artemis I flight is slated for about six weeks. (Apollo 11 lasted eight days.) The ship roughly follows Apollo’s path to the moon’s vicinity, but then puts itself in what NASA calls a distant retrograde orbit. It swoops within 110 kilometers of the lunar surface for a gravity assist, then heads 64,000 km out—taking more than a month but using less fuel than it would in closer orbits. Finally, it comes home, reentering the Earth’s atmosphere at 11 km per second, slowing itself with a heatshield and parachutes, and splashing down in the Pacific not far from San Diego.

If all four, quadruply redundant flight computer modules fail, there is a fifth, entirely separate computer onboard, running different code to get the spacecraft home.

“That extra time in space,” says Geffre, “allows us to operate the systems, give more time in deep space, and all those things that stress it, like radiation and micrometeoroids, thermal environments.”

There are, of course, newer technologies on board. Orion is controlled by two vehicle-management computers, each composed of two flight computer modules (FCMs) to handle guidance, navigation, propulsion, communications, and other systems. The flight control system, Geffre points out, is quad-redundant; if at any point one of the four FCMs disagrees with the others, it will take itself offline and, in a 22-second process, reset itself to make sure its outputs are consistent with the others’. If all four FCMs fail, there is a fifth, entirely separate computer running different code to get the spacecraft home.

Guidance and navigation, too, have advanced since the sextant used on Apollo. Orion uses a star tracker to determine its attitude, imaging stars and comparing them to an onboard database. And an optical navigation camera shoots Earth and the moon so that guidance software can determine their distance and position and keep the spacecraft on course. NASA says it’s there as backup, able to get Orion to a safe splashdown even if all communication with Earth has been lost.

But even those systems aren’t entirely new. Geffre points out that the guidance system’s architecture is derived from the Boeing 787. Computing power in deep space is limited by cosmic radiation, which can corrupt the output of microprocessors beyond the protection of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field.

Beyond that is the inevitable issue of cost. Artemis is a giant project, years behind schedule, started long before NASA began to buy other launches from companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab. NASA’s inspector general, Paul Martin, testified to Congress in March that the first four Artemis missions would cost US $4.1 billion each—“a price tag that strikes us as unsustainable.”

Launius, for one, rejects the argument that government is inherently wasteful. “Yes, NASA’s had problems in managing programs in the past. Who hasn’t?” he says. He points out that Blue Origin and SpaceX have had plenty of setbacks of their own—they’re just not obliged to be public about them. “I could go on and on. It’s not a government thing per se and it’s not a NASA thing per se.”

So why return to the moon with—please forgive the pun—such a retro rocket? Partly, say those who watch Artemis closely, because it’s become too big to fail, with so much American money and brainpower invested in it. Partly because it turns NASA’s astronauts outward again, exploring instead of maintaining a space station. Partly because new perspectives could come of it. And partly because China and Russia have ambitions in space that threaten America’s.

“Apollo was a demonstration of technological verisimilitude—to the whole world,” says Launius. “And the whole world knew then, as they know today, that the future belongs to the civilization that can master science and technology.”

Update 7 Sept.: Artemis I has been on launchpad 39B, not 39A as previously reported, at Kennedy Space Center.


Match ID: 104 Score: 2.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 27 days
qualifiers: 2.86 russia

Boycotting Russian Scientists Is a Hollow Victory
Wed, 24 Aug 2022 12:00:00 +0000
Science agencies around the world halted partnerships with Russia after it invaded Ukraine. But such actions are shortsighted and do more harm than good.
Match ID: 105 Score: 2.86 source: www.wired.com age: 31 days
qualifiers: 2.86 russia

Putin's Russia: dictator syndrome and the rise of a 'mafia state' – video
Mon, 20 Jun 2022 11:00:52 GMT

Guardian correspondent Luke Harding chronicles the defining moments in Putin's early presidency that helped turn Russia into a 'mafia state' – from the clampdown on the independent media, to shocking assassinations and the emergence of pro-western democratic movements in neighbouring Georgia and Ukraine

Continue reading...
Match ID: 106 Score: 2.86 source: www.theguardian.com age: 96 days
qualifiers: 2.86 russia

DARPA Wants a Better, Badder Caspian Sea Monster
Thu, 19 May 2022 19:31:02 +0000


Arguably, the primary job of any military organization is moving enormous amounts of stuff from one place to another as quickly and efficiently as possible. Some of that stuff is weaponry, but the vast majority are things that support that weaponry—fuel, spare parts, personnel, and so on. At the moment, the U.S. military has two options when it comes to transporting large amounts of payload. Option one is boats (a sealift), which are efficient, but also slow and require ports. Option two is planes (an airlift), which are faster by a couple of orders of magnitude, but also expensive and require runways.

To solve this, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to combine traditional sealift and airlift with the Liberty Lifter program, which aims to “design, build, and flight test an affordable, innovative, and disruptive seaplane” that “enables efficient theater-range transport of large payloads at speeds far exceeding existing sea lift platforms.”

DARPA

DARPA is asking for a design like this to take advantage of ground effect, which occurs when an aircraft’s wing deflects air downward and proximity to the ground generates a cushioning effect due to the compression of air between the bottom of the wing and the ground. This boosts lift and lowers drag to yield a substantial overall improvement in efficiency. Ground effect works on both water and land, but you can take advantage of it for only so long on land before your aircraft runs into something. Which is why oceans are the ideal place for these aircraft—or ships, depending on your perspective.

During the late 1980s, the Soviets (and later the Russians) leveraged ground effect in the design of a handful of awesomely bizarre ships and aircraft. There’s the VVA-14, which was also an airplane, along with the vehicle shown in DARPA’s video above, the Lun-class ekranoplan, which operated until the late 1990s. The video clip really does not do this thing justice, so here’s a better picture, taken a couple of years ago:

Oblique overhead view of a huge grey seaplane on the water Instagram

The Lun (only one was ever made) had a wingspan of 44 meters and was powered by eight turbojet engines. It flew about 4 meters above the water at speeds of up to 550 kilometers per hour, and could transport almost 100,000 kilograms of cargo for 2,000 km. It was based on an earlier, even larger prototype (the largest aircraft in the world at the time) that the CIA spotted in satellite images in 1967 and which seems to have seriously freaked them out. It was nicknamed the Caspian Sea Monster, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that the West understood what it was and how it worked.

In the mid 1990s, DARPA itself took a serious look at a stupendously large ground-effect vehicle of its own, the Aerocon Dash 1.6 wingship. The concept image below is of a 4.5-million-kg vehicle, 175 meters long with a 100-meter wingspan, powered by 20 (!) jet engines:

A black and white wireframe drawing of a huge streamlined aircraft Wikipedia

With a range of almost 20,000 km at over 700 km/h, the wingship could have carried 3,000 passengers or 1.4 million kg of cargo. By 1994, though, DARPA had decided that the potential billion-dollar project to build a wingship like this was too risky, and canceled the whole thing.

A concept image of a massive grey seaplane skimming over the ocean

Less than 10 years later, Boeing’s Phantom Works started exploring an enormous ground-effect aircraft, the Pelican Ultra Large Transport Aircraft. The Pelican would have been even larger than the Aerocon wingship, with a wingspan of 152 meters and a payload of 1.2 million kg—that’s about 178 shipping containers’ worth. Unlike the wingship, the Pelican would take advantage of ground effect to boost efficiency only in transit above water, but would otherwise use runways like a normal aircraft and be able to reach flight altitudes of 7,500 meters. Operating as a traditional aircraft and with an optimal payload, the Pelican would have a range of about 12,000 km. In ground effect, however, the range would have increased to 18,500 km, illustrating the appeal of designs like these. But Boeing dropped the project in 2005 to focus on lower cost, less risky options.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t at least briefly mention two other massive aircraft: the H-4 Hercules, the cargo seaplane built by Hughes Aircraft Co. in the 1940s, and the Stratolaunch carrier aircraft, which features a twin-fuselage configuration that DARPA seems to be favoring in its concept video for some reason.

From the sound of DARPA’s announcement, they’re looking for something a bit more like the Pelican than the Aerocon Dash or the Lun. DARPA wants the Liberty Lifter to be able to sustain flight out of ground effect if necessary, although it’s expected to spend most of its time over water for efficiency. It won’t use runways on land at all, though, and should be able to stay out on the water for 4 to 6 weeks at a time, operating even in rough seas—a significant challenge for ground-effect aircraft.

DARPA is looking for an operational range of 7,500 km, with a maximum payload of at least 90,000 kg, including the ability to launch and recover amphibious vehicles. The hardest thing DARPA is asking for could be that, unlike most other X-planes, the Liberty Lifter should incorporate a “low cost design and construction philosophy” inspired by the mass-produced Liberty ships of World War II.

With US $15 million to be awarded to up to two Liberty Lifter concepts, DARPA is hoping that at least one of those concepts will pass a system-level critical design review in 2025. If everything goes well after that, the first flight of a full-scale prototype vehicle could happen as early as 2027.

This article appears in the September 2022 print issue as “DARPA Reincarnates Soviet-Era Sea Monster.”


Match ID: 107 Score: 2.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 127 days
qualifiers: 2.86 russia

U.N. Kills Any Plans to Use Mercury as a Rocket Propellant
Tue, 19 Apr 2022 18:00:01 +0000


A recent United Nations provision has banned the use of mercury in spacecraft propellant. Although no private company has actually used mercury propellant in a launched spacecraft, the possibility was alarming enough—and the dangers extreme enough—that the ban was enacted just a few years after one U.S.-based startup began toying with the idea. Had the company gone through with its intention to sell mercury propellant thrusters to some of the companies building massive satellite constellations over the coming decade, it would have resulted in Earth’s upper atmosphere being laced with mercury.

Mercury is a neurotoxin. It’s also bio-accumulative, which means it’s absorbed by the body at a faster rate than the body can remove it. The most common way to get mercury poisoning is through eating contaminated seafood. “It’s pretty nasty,” says Michael Bender, the international coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG). “Which is why this is one of the very few instances where the governments of the world came together pretty much unanimously and ratified a treaty.”

Bender is referring to the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury, a U.N. treaty named for a city in Japan whose residents suffered from mercury poisoning from a nearby chemical factory for decades. Because mercury pollutants easily find their way into the oceans and the atmosphere, it’s virtually impossible for one country to prevent mercury poisoning within its borders. “Mercury—it’s an intercontinental pollutant,” Bender says. “So it required a global treaty.”

Today, the only remaining permitted uses for mercury are in fluorescent lighting and dental amalgams, and even those are being phased out. Mercury is otherwise found as a by-product of other processes, such as the burning of coal. But then a company hit on the idea to use it as a spacecraft propellant.

In 2018, an employee at Apollo Fusion approached the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nonprofit that investigates environmental misconduct in the United States. The employee—who has remained anonymous—alleged that the Mountain View, Calif.–based space startup was planning to build and sell thrusters that used mercury propellant to multiple companies building low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations.

Four industry insiders ultimately confirmed that Apollo Fusion was building thrusters that utilized mercury propellant. Apollo Fusion, which was acquired by rocket manufacturing startup Astra in June 2021, insisted that the composition of its propellant mixture should be considered confidential information. The company withdrew its plans for a mercury propellant in April 2021. Astra declined to respond to a request for comment for this story.

Apollo Fusion wasn’t the first to consider using mercury as a propellant. NASA originally tested it in the 1960s and 1970s with two Space Electric Propulsion Tests (SERT), one of which was sent into orbit in 1970. Although the tests demonstrated mercury’s effectiveness as a propellant, the same concerns over the element’s toxicity that have seen it banned in many other industries halted its use by the space agency as well.

“I think it just sort of fell off a lot of folks’ radars,” says Kevin Bell, the staff counsel for PEER. “And then somebody just resurrected the research on it and said, ‘Hey, other than the environmental impact, this was a pretty good idea.’ It would give you a competitive advantage in what I imagine is a pretty tight, competitive market.”

That’s presumably why Apollo Fusion was keen on using it in their thrusters. Apollo Fusion as a startup emerged more or less simultaneously with the rise of massive LEO constellations that use hundreds or thousands of satellites in orbits below 2,000 kilometers to provide continual low-latency coverage. Finding a slightly cheaper, more efficient propellant for one large geostationary satellite doesn’t move the needle much. But doing the same for thousands of satellites that need to be replaced every several years? That’s a much more noticeable discount.

Were it not for mercury’s extreme toxicity, it would actually make an extremely attractive propellant. Apollo Fusion wanted to use a type of ion thruster called a Hall-effect thruster. Ion thrusters strip electrons from the atoms that make up a liquid or gaseous propellant, and then an electric field pushes the resultant ions away from the spacecraft, generating a modest thrust in the opposite direction. The physics of rocket engines means that the performance of these engines increases with the mass of the ion that you can accelerate.

Mercury is heavier than either xenon or krypton, the most commonly used propellants, meaning more thrust per expelled ion. It’s also liquid at room temperature, making it efficient to store and use. And it’s cheap—there’s not a lot of competition with anyone looking to buy mercury.

Bender says that ZMWG, alongside PEER, caught wind of Apollo Fusion marketing its mercury-based thrusters to at least three companies deploying LEO constellations—One Web, Planet Labs, and SpaceX. Planet Labs, an Earth-imaging company, has at least 200 CubeSats in low Earth orbit. One Web and SpaceX, both wireless-communication providers, have many more. One Web plans to have nearly 650 satellites in orbit by the end of 2022. SpaceX already has nearly 1,500 active satellites aloft in its Starlink constellation, with an eye toward deploying as many as 30,000 satellites before its constellation is complete. Other constellations, like Amazon’s Kuiper constellation, are also planning to deploy thousands of satellites.

In 2019, a group of researchers in Italy and the United States estimated how much of the mercury used in spacecraft propellant might find its way back into Earth’s atmosphere. They figured that a hypothetical LEO constellation of 2,000 satellites, each carrying 100 kilograms of propellant, would emit 20 tonnes of mercury every year over the course of a 10-year life span. Three quarters of that mercury, the researchers suggested, would eventually wind up in the oceans.

That amounts to 1 percent of global mercury emissions from a constellation only a fraction of the size of the one planned by SpaceX alone. And if multiple constellations adopted the technology, they would represent a significant percentage of global mercury emissions—especially, the researchers warned, as other uses of mercury are phased out as planned in the years ahead.

Fortunately, it’s unlikely that any mercury propellant thrusters will even get off the ground. Prior to the fourth meeting of the Minamata Convention, Canada, the European Union, and Norway highlighted the dangers of mercury propellant, alongside ZMWG. The provision to ban mercury usage in satellites was passed on 26 March 2022.

The question now is enforcement. “Obviously, there aren’t any U.N. peacekeepers going into space to shoot down” mercury-based satellites, says Bell. But the 137 countries, including the United States, who are party to the convention have pledged to adhere to its provisions—including the propellant ban.

The United States is notable in that list because as Bender explains, it did not ratify the Minamata Convention via the U.S. Senate but instead deposited with the U.N. an instrument of acceptance. In a 7 November 2013 statement (about one month after the original Minamata Convention was adopted), the U.S. State Department said the country would be able to fulfill its obligations “under existing legislative and regulatory authority.”

Bender says the difference is “weedy” but that this appears to mean that the U.S. government has agreed to adhere to the Minamata Convention’s provisions because it already has similar laws on the books. Except there is still no existing U.S. law or regulation banning mercury propellant. For Bender, that creates some uncertainty around compliance when the provision goes into force in 2025.

Still, with a U.S. company being the first startup to toy with mercury propellant, it might be ideal to have a stronger U.S. ratification of the Minamata Convention before another company hits on the same idea. “There will always be market incentives to cut corners and do something more dangerously,” Bell says.

Update 19 April 2022: In an email, a spokesperson for Astra stated that the company's propulsion system, the Astra Spacecraft Engine, does not use mercury. The spokesperson also stated that Astra has no plans to use mercury propellant and that the company does not have anything in orbit that uses mercury.

Updated 20 April 2022 to clarify that Apollo Fusion was building thrusters that used mercury, not that they had actually used them.


Match ID: 108 Score: 2.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 158 days
qualifiers: 2.86 italy

Satellite Imagery for Everyone
Sat, 19 Feb 2022 16:00:00 +0000


Every day, satellites circling overhead capture trillions of pixels of high-resolution imagery of the surface below. In the past, this kind of information was mostly reserved for specialists in government or the military. But these days, almost anyone can use it.

That’s because the cost of sending payloads, including imaging satellites, into orbit has dropped drastically. High-resolution satellite images, which used to cost tens of thousands of dollars, now can be had for the price of a cup of coffee.

What’s more, with the recent advances in artificial intelligence, companies can more easily extract the information they need from huge digital data sets, including ones composed of satellite images. Using such images to make business decisions on the fly might seem like science fiction, but it is already happening within some industries.


This image shows are variety of blue and green hues, interwoven in a geometrically intriguing way.

These underwater sand dunes adorn the seafloor between Andros Island and the Exuma islands in the Bahamas. The turquoise to the right reflects a shallow carbonate bank, while the dark blue to the left marks the edge of a local deep called Tongue of the Ocean. This image was captured in April 2020 using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA’s Terra satellite.

Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory


Here’s a brief overview of how you, too, can access this kind of information and use it to your advantage. But before you’ll be able to do that effectively, you need to learn a little about how modern satellite imagery works.

The orbits of Earth-observation satellites generally fall into one of two categories: GEO and LEO. The former is shorthand for geosynchronous equatorial orbit. GEO satellites are positioned roughly 36,000 kilometers above the equator, where they circle in sync with Earth’s rotation. Viewed from the ground, these satellites appear to be stationary, in the sense that their bearing and elevation remain constant. That’s why GEO is said to be a geostationary orbit.

Such orbits are, of course, great for communications relays—it’s what allows people to mount satellite-TV dishes on their houses in a fixed orientation. But GEO satellites are also appropriate when you want to monitor some region of Earth by capturing images over time. Because the satellites are so high up, the resolution of that imagery is quite coarse, however. So these orbits are primarily used for observation satellites designed to track changing weather conditions over broad areas.

Being stationary with respect to Earth means that GEO satellites are always within range of a downlink station, so they can send data back to Earth in minutes. This allows them to alert people to changes in weather patterns almost in real time. Most of this kind of data is made available for free by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.


This black-and-white image shows a narrow waterway blocked by a large ship. The resolution of the image is sufficient to make out individual shipping containers on its deck, as well as the tugboats arrayed around it.

In March 2021, the container ship Ever Given ran aground, blocking the Suez Canal for six days. This satellite image of the scene, obtained using synthetic-aperture radar, shows the kind resolution that is possible with this technology.

Capella Space


The other option is LEO, which stands for low Earth orbit. Satellites placed in LEO are much closer to the ground, which allows them to obtain higher-resolution images. And the lower you can go, the better the resolution you can get. The company Planet, for example, increased the resolution of its recently completed satellite constellation, SkySat, from 72 centimeters per pixel to just 50 cm—an incredible feat—by lowering the orbits its satellites follow from 500 to 450 km and improving the image processing.

The best commercially available spatial resolution for optical imagery is 25 cm, which means that one pixel represents a 25-by-25-cm area on the ground—roughly the size of your laptop. A handful of companies capture data with 25-cm to 1-meter resolution, which is considered high to very high resolution in this industry. Some of these companies also offer data from 1- to 5-meter resolution, considered medium to high resolution. Finally, several government programs have made optical data available at 10-, 15-, 30-, and 250-meter resolutions for free with open data programs. These include NASA/U.S. Geological Survey Landsat, NASA MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), and ESA Copernicus. This imagery is considered low resolution.

Because the satellites that provide the highest-resolution images are in the lowest orbits, they sense less area at once. To cover the entire planet, a satellite can be placed in a polar orbit, which takes it from pole to pole. As it travels, Earth rotates under it, so on its next pass, it will be above a different part of Earth.

Many of these satellites don’t pass directly over the poles, though. Instead, they are placed in a near-polar orbit that has been specially designed to take advantage of a subtle bit of physics. You see, the spinning Earth bulges outward slightly at the equator. That extra mass causes the orbits of satellites that are not in polar orbits to shift or (technically speaking) to precess. Satellite operators often take advantage of this phenomenon to put a satellite in what’s called a sun-synchronous orbit. Such orbits allow the repeated passes of the satellite over a given spot to take place at the same time of day. Not having the pattern of shadows shift between passes helps the people using these images to detect changes.




It usually takes 24 hours for a satellite in polar orbit to survey the entire surface of Earth. To image the whole world more frequently, satellite companies use multiple satellites, all equipped with the same sensor and following different orbits. In this way, these companies can provide more frequently updated images of a given location. For example, Maxar’s Worldview Legion constellation, launching later this year, includes six satellites.

After a satellite captures some number of images, all that data needs to be sent down to Earth and processed. The time required for that varies.

DigitalGlobe (which Maxar acquired in 2017) recently announced that it had managed to send data from a satellite down to a ground station and then store it in the cloud in less than a minute. That was possible because the image sent back was of the parking lot of the ground station, so the satellite didn’t have to travel between the collection point and where it had to be to do the data “dumping,” as this process is called.

In general, Earth-observation satellites in LEO don’t capture imagery all the time—they do that only when they are above an area of special interest. That’s because these satellites are limited to how much data they can send at one time. Typically, they can transmit data for only 10 minutes or so before they get out of range of a ground station. And they cannot record more data than they’ll have time to dump.

Currently, ground stations are located mostly near the poles, the most visited areas in polar orbits. But we can soon expect distances to the nearest ground station to shorten because both Amazon and Microsoft have announced intentions to build large networks of ground stations located all over the world. As it turns out, hosting the terabytes of satellite data that are collected daily is big business for these companies, which sell their cloud services (Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure) to satellite operators.

For now, if you are looking for imagery of an area far from a ground station, expect a significant delay—maybe hours—between capture and transmission of the data. The data will then have to be processed, which adds yet more time. The fastest providers currently make their data available within 48 hours of capture, but not all can manage that. While it is possible, under ideal weather conditions, for a commercial entity to request a new capture and get the data it needs delivered the same week, such quick turnaround times are still considered cutting edge.


The best commercially available spatial resolution is 25 centimeters for optical imagery, which means that one pixel represents something roughly the size of your laptop.


I’ve been using the word “imagery,” but it’s important to note that satellites do not capture images the same way ordinary cameras do. The optical sensors in satellites are calibrated to measure reflectance over specific bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. This could mean they record how much red, green, and blue light is reflected from different parts of the ground. The satellite operator will then apply a variety of adjustments to correct colors, combine adjacent images, and account for parallax, forming what’s called a true-color composite image, which looks pretty much like what you would expect to get from a good camera floating high in the sky and pointed directly down.

Imaging satellites can also capture data outside of the visible-light spectrum. The near-infrared band is widely used in agriculture, for example, because these images help farmers gauge the health of their crops. This band can also be used to detect soil moisture and a variety of other ground features that would otherwise be hard to determine.

Longer-wavelength “thermal” IR does a good job of penetrating smoke and picking up heat sources, making it useful for wildfire monitoring. And synthetic-aperture radar satellites, which I discuss in greater detail below, are becoming more common because the images they produce aren’t affected by clouds and don’t require the sun for illumination.

You might wonder whether aerial imagery, say, from a drone, wouldn’t work at least as well as satellite data. Sometimes it can. But for many situations, using satellites is the better strategy. Satellites can capture imagery over areas that would be difficult to access otherwise because of their remoteness, for example. Or there could be other sorts of accessibility issues: The area of interest could be in a conflict zone, on private land, or in another place that planes or drones cannot overfly.

So with satellites, organizations can easily monitor the changes taking place at various far-flung locations. Satellite imagery allows pipeline operators, for instance, to quickly identify incursions into their right-of-way zones. The company can then take steps to prevent a disastrous incident, such as someone puncturing a gas pipeline while construction is taking place nearby.


\u200bThis satellite image shows a snow-covered area. A tongue of darker material is draped over the side of a slope, impinging on a nearby developed area with buildings.

This SkySat image shows the effect of a devastating landslide that took place on 30 December 2020. Debris from that landslide destroyed buildings and killed 10 people in the Norwegian village of Ask.

SkySat/Planet



The ability to compare archived imagery with recently acquired data has helped a variety of industries. For example, insurance companies sometimes use satellite data to detect fraudulent claims (“Looks like your house had a damaged roof when you bought it…”). And financial-investment firms use satellite imagery to evaluate such things as retailers’ future profits based on parking-lot fullness or to predict crop prices before farmers report their yields for the season.

Satellite imagery provides a particularly useful way to find or monitor the location of undisclosed features or activities. Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama, for example, uses satellite imagery to locate archaeological sites of interest. 52Impact, a consulting company in the Netherlands, identified undisclosed waste dump sites by training an algorithm to recognize their telltale spectral signature. Satellite imagery has also helped identify illegal fishing activities, fight human trafficking, monitor oil spills, get accurate reporting on COVID-19 deaths, and even investigate Uyghur internment camps in China—all situations where the primary actors couldn’t be trusted to accurately report what’s going on.

Despite these many successes, investigative reporters and nongovernmental organizations aren’t yet using satellite data regularly, perhaps because even the small cost of the imagery is a deterrent. Thankfully, some kinds of low-resolution satellite data can be had for free.

The first place to look for free satellite imagery is the Copernicus Open Access Hub and EarthExplorer. Both offer free access to a wide range of open data. The imagery is lower resolution than what you can purchase, but if the limited resolution meets your needs, why spend money?

If you require medium- or high-resolution data, you might be able to buy it directly from the relevant satellite operator. This field recently went through a period of mergers and acquisitions, leaving only a handful of providers, the big three in the West being Maxar and Planet in the United States and Airbus in Germany. There are also a few large Asian providers, such as SI Imaging Services in South Korea and Twenty First Century Aerospace Technology in Singapore. Most providers have a commercial branch, but they primarily target government buyers. And they often require large minimum purchases, which is unhelpful to companies looking to monitor hundreds of locations or fewer.

Expect the distance to the nearest ground station to shorten because both Amazon and Microsoft have announced intentions to build large networks of ground stations located all over the world.

Fortunately, approaching a satellite operator isn’t the only option. In the past five years, a cottage industry of consultants and local resellers with exclusive deals to service a certain market has sprung up. Aggregators and resellers spend years negotiating contracts with multiple providers so they can offer customers access to data sets at more attractive prices, sometimes for as little as a few dollars per image. Some companies providing geographic information systems—including Esri, L3Harris, and Safe Software—have also negotiated reselling agreements with satellite-image providers.

Traditional resellers are middlemen who will connect you with a salesperson to discuss your needs, obtain quotes from providers on your behalf, and negotiate pricing and priority schedules for image capture and sometimes also for the processing of the data. This is the case for Apollo Mapping, European Space Imaging, Geocento, LandInfo, Satellite Imaging Corp., and many more. The more innovative resellers will give you access to digital platforms where you can check whether an image you need is available from a certain archive and then order it. Examples include LandViewer from EOS and Image Hunter from Apollo Mapping.

More recently, a new crop of aggregators began offering customers the ability to programmatically access Earth-observation data sets. These companies work best for people looking to integrate such data into their own applications or workflows. These include the company I work for, SkyWatch, which provides such a service, called EarthCache. Other examples are UP42 from Airbus and Sentinel Hub from Sinergise.

While you will still need to talk with a sales rep to activate your account—most often to verify you will use the data in ways that fits the company’s terms of service and licensing agreements—once you’ve been granted access to their applications, you will be able to programmatically order archive data from one or multiple providers. SkyWatch is, however, the only aggregator allowing users to programmatically request future data to be collected (“tasking a satellite”).

While satellite imagery is fantastically abundant and easy to access today, two changes are afoot that will expand further what you can do with satellite data: faster revisits and greater use of synthetic-aperture radar (SAR).

This image shows a sprawling compound of dozens of large buildings located in a desert area.

This image shows a race-track shaped structure with a tall chimney in the middle, built in an area where the ground is a distinctly reddish hue. Satellite images have helped to reveal China’s treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority. About a million Uyghurs (and other ethnic minorities) have been interned in prisons or camps like the one shown here [top], which lies to the east of the city of Ürümqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Another satellite image [bottom] shows the characteristic oval shape of a fixed-chimney Bull’s trench kiln, a type widely used for manufacturing bricks in southern Asia. This one is located in Pakistan’s Punjab province. This design poses environmental concerns because of the sooty air pollution it generates, and such kilns have also been associated with human-rights abuses.Top: CNES/Airbus/Google Earth; Bottom: Maxar Technologies/Google Earth

The first of these developments is not surprising. As more Earth-observation satellites are put into orbit, more images will be taken, more often. So how frequently a given area is imaged by a satellite will increase. Right now, that’s typically two or three times a week. Expect the revisit rate soon to become several times a day. This won’t entirely address the challenge of clouds obscuring what you want to view, but it will help.

The second development is more subtle. Data from the two satellites of the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 SAR mission, available at no cost, has enabled companies to dabble in SAR over the last few years.

With SAR, the satellite beams radio waves down and measures the return signals bouncing off the surface. It does that continually, and clever processing is used to turn that data into images. The use of radio allows these satellites to see through clouds and to collect measurements day and night. Depending on the radar band that’s employed, SAR imagery can be used to judge material properties, moisture content, precise movements, and elevation.

As more companies get familiar with such data sets, there will no doubt be a growing demand for satellite SAR imagery, which has been widely used by the military since the 1970s. But it’s just now starting to appear in commercial products. You can expect those offerings to grow dramatically, though.

Indeed, a large portion of the money being invested in this industry is currently going to fund large SAR constellations, including those of Capella Space, Iceye, Synspective, XpressSAR, and others. The market is going to get crowded fast, which is great news for customers. It means they will be able to obtain high-resolution SAR images of the place they’re interested in, taken every hour (or less), day or night, cloudy or clear.

People will no doubt figure out wonderful new ways to employ this information, so the more folks who have access to it, the better. This is something my colleagues at SkyWatch and I deeply believe, and it’s why we’ve made it our mission to help democratize access to satellite imagery.

One day in the not-so-distant future, Earth-observation satellite data might become as ubiquitous as GPS, another satellite technology first used only by the military. Imagine, for example, being able to take out your phone and say something like, “Show me this morning’s soil-moisture map for Grover’s Corners High; I want to see whether the baseball fields are still soggy.”

This article appears in the March 2022 print issue as “A Boom with a View.”

Editor's note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Maxar's Worldview Legion constellation launched last year.


Match ID: 109 Score: 2.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 217 days
qualifiers: 2.86 korea

Faster, Meaner, Deadlier: The Evolution of “BattleBots”
Thu, 15 Sep 2022 16:13:51 +0000


Earlier this year, friend-of-IEEE Spectrum and fashiontech designer Anouk Wipprecht gave a peek of what it’s like to be a competitor on “BattleBots,” the 22-year-old robot-combat competition, from the preparation “pit” to the arena. Her team, Ghostraptor, was knocked out of the regular competition after losing its first and second fights, though they regained some glory by winning a round in the bonus Golden Bolt tournament, which recently finished airing on the TBS TV channel.

This week, tickets went on sale for audience seating for the next season of “BattleBots”; filming will commence in October in Las Vegas. We thought it was a good moment to get a different perspective on the show, so Spectrum asked one of the founders of “BattleBots” and its current executive producer, Greg Munson, about how two decades’ worth of technological progress has impacted the competition.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen, technology-wise, over 20 years or so?

Greg Munson: Probably the biggest is battery technology. “BattleBots” premiered on Comedy Central in, I think it was, 2000. Now we’re 22 years later. In the early days, people were using car batteries. Then NiCad packs became very popular. But with the advent of lithium technology, when the battery packs could be different sizes and shapes, that’s when things just took off in terms of power-to-weight ratio. Now you can have these massively spinning disk weapons, or bar weapons, or drum weapons that can literally obliterate the other robot.

A bearded man in a black hat and t-shirt that say Battlebots Greg MunsonGabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Second is the [improvement in electronic speed control (ESC) circuitry]. We built a robot called Bombmachine back in the day. And besides its giant gel cell batteries, which were probably a third of the [bot’s total] weight, we had this big old Vantex speed controller with a big giant heat sink. The ESC form factors have gotten smaller. They’ve gotten more efficient. They’re able to handle way more amperage through the system, so they don’t blow up. They’ve got more technology built into them, so the team can have a person monitoring things like heat, and they’ll know when to, for instance, shut a weapon down. You see this a lot now on the show where they’re spinning up really fast, going in for a hit. And then they actually back off the weapon. And watchers will think, “Oh, the weapon’s dead.” But no, they’re actually just letting it cool down because the monitor guy has told his driver, “Hey, the weapon’s hot. I’m getting some readings from the ESC. The weapon’s hot. Give me five seconds.” That kind of thing. And that’s a tremendous strategy boon.

So instead of just one-way remote control, teams are getting telemetry back from the robots now as well?

Munson: A lot of that is starting to happen more and more, and teams like Ribbot are using that. I think they’re influencing other teams to go that route as well, which is great. Just having that extra layer of data during the fight is huge.

CAD gives the robots more personality and character, which is perfect for a TV show.

What other technologies have made a big difference?

Munson: CAD is probably just as big of a technology boost since the ’90s compared to now. In the early “BattleBots” era, a lot of teams were using pencil and paper or little wooden prototypes. Only the most elite, fancy teams back then would use some early version of Solidworks or Autodesk. We were actually being hit up by the CAD companies to get more builders into designing in CAD. Back in the day, if you’re going to build a robot without CAD, you think very pragmatically and very form-follows-function. So you saw a lot of robots that were boxes with wheels and a weapon on top. That’s something you can easily just draw on a piece of paper and figure out. And now CAD is just a given. High-school students are designing things in CAD. But when you’ve got CAD, you can play around and reshape items, and you can get a robot like HyperShock—it looks like there’s no right-angled pieces on HyperShock.

CAD gives the robots more personality and character, which is perfect for a TV show because we want the audience to go, “Hey, that’s HyperShock, my favorite!” Because of the silhouettes, because of the shape, it’s branded, it’s instantly identifiable—as opposed to a silver aluminum box that has no paint.

It quickly became obvious that if there’s a battery fire in the pit, with the smoke and whatnot, that’s a no-go.

When Anouk was writing about being a competitor, she pointed out that there’s quite a strict safety regime teams have to follow, especially with regard to batteries, which are stored and charged in a separate area where competitors have to bring their robots before a fight. How did those rules evolve?

Munson: It’s part “necessity is the mother of invention” and part you just know the lithium technology is more volatile. We have a really smart team that helps us do the rules—there are some EEs on there and some mechanical engineers. They know about technology issues even before they hit the awareness of the general public. The warning shots were there from the beginning—lithium technology can burn, and it keeps on burning. We started out with your basic bucket full of sand and special fire extinguishers along the arena side and in the pit where people were fixing the robots. Every row had a bucket of sand and a protocol for disposing of the batteries properly and safely. But it quickly became obvious that if there’s a battery fire in the pit, with the smoke and whatnot, that’s a no-go. So we quickly pivoted away from that [to a separate] battery charging pit.

We’ve seen batteries just go up, and they don’t happen in the main pit; they happen in the battery pit—which is a huge, huge win for us because that’s a place where we know exactly how to deal with that. There’s staff at the ready to put the fires out and deal with them. We also have a battery cool-down area for after a fight. When the batteries have just discharged massive amounts of energy, they’re hot and some of them are puffing. They get a full inspection. You can’t go back to the pit after your match. You have to go to the battery cool-down area—it’s outside, it’s got fans, it’s cool. A dedicated safety inspector is there inspecting the batteries, making sure they’re not on the verge of causing a fire or puffing in any kind of way. If it’s all good, they let them cool down and stay there for 10, 15 minutes, and then they can go back to the battery-charging tent, take the batteries out and recharge them, and then go back to fixing the robot. If the batteries are not good, they are disposed of properly.

The technology has become more flexible, but how do you prevent competitors from just converging on a handful of optimal design solutions, and all start looking alike?

Munson: That’s a constant struggle. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. A lot of it is in the judging rules, the criteria. We’ve gone through so many iterations of the judging rules because builders love to put either a fork, a series of forks, or a wedge on their bot. Makes total sense because you can scoop the guy up and hit them with your weapon or launch them in the air. So okay, if you’re just wedging the whole fight, is that aggressive? Is that control? Is that damage? And so back in the day, we were probably more strict and ruled that if you all you do is just wedge, we actually count it against you. We’ve loosened up there. Now, if all you do is wedge, it only counts against you just a little bit. But you’ll never win the aggression category if all you’re going to do is wedge.

Because a wedge can beat everything. We often saw the finals would be between a big gnarly spinner and a wedge. Wedges are a very effective, simple machine that can clean up in robot combat. So we’re tweaking how we count the effectiveness of wedges and our judging guide if the fight goes to judges. Meanwhile, we don’t want it to go to judges. We want to see a knockout. So we demand that you have to have an active weapon. You can’t just have a wedge. It has to be a robust, active weapon that can actually cause damage. You just can’t put a Home Depot drill on the top of your robot and call it a day. That was just something we knew we needed to have to push the sport forward. What seems to be happening is the vertical spinners are now sort of the dominant class.

We don’t want the robots to be homogenized. That’s one of the reasons why we allow modifications during the actual tournament. Certain fans have gotten mad at us, like, “Why’d you let them add this thing during the middle of the tournament?” Because we want that. We want that spirit of ingenuity and resourcefulness. We want to break any idea of “vertical spinners will always win.” We want to see different kinds of fights because people will get bored otherwise. Even if there’s massive amounts of destruction, which always seems to excite us, if it’s the same kind of destruction over and over again, it starts to be like an explosion in Charlie’s Angels that I’ve seen 100 times, right? A lot of robots are modular now, where they can swap out a vertical spinner for a horizontal undercutter and so on. This will be a constant evolution for our entire history. If you ask me this question 20 years from now, I’m going to still be saying it’s a struggle!


Match ID: 110 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 9 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

Switching to renewable energy could save trillions - study
Tue, 13 Sep 2022 15:26:00 GMT
New report says falling cost of renewable energy makes switch from fossil fuels cheapest option.
Match ID: 111 Score: 2.14 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 11 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

Nvidia’s New Chip Shows Its Muscle in AI Tests
Mon, 12 Sep 2022 14:59:24 +0000


It’s time for the “Olympics of machine learning” again, and if you’re tired of seeing Nvidia at the top of the podium over and over, too bad. At least this time, the GPU powerhouse put a new contender into the mix, its Hopper GPU, which delivered as much as 4.5 times the performance of its predecessor and is due out in a matter of months. But Hopper was not alone in making it to the podium at MLPerf Inferencing v2.1. Systems based on Qualcomm’s AI 100 also made a good showing, and there were other new chips, new types of neural networks, and even new, more realistic ways of testing them.

Before I go on, let me repeat the canned answer to “What the heck is MLPerf?”

MLPerf is a set of benchmarks agreed upon by members of the industry group MLCommons. It is the first attempt to provide apples-to-apples comparisons of how good computers are at training and executing (inferencing) neural networks. In MLPerf’s inferencing benchmarks, systems made up of combinations of CPUs and GPUs or other accelerator chips are tested on up to six neural networks that perform a variety of common functions—image classification, object detection, speech recognition, 3D medical imaging, natural-language processing, and recommendation. The networks had already been trained on a standard set of data and had to make predictions about data they had not been exposed to before.

Cartoons of a cat, people, a magnifying glass, and other symbols. This slide from Nvidia sums up the whole MLPerf effort. Six benchmarks [left] are tested on two types of computers (data center and edge) in a variety of conditions [right].Nvidia

Tested computers are categorized as intended for data centers or “the edge.” Commercially available data-center-based systems were tested under two conditions—a simulation of real data-center activity where queries arrive in bursts and “offline” activity where all the data is available at once. Computers meant to work on-site instead of in the data center—what MLPerf calls the edge, because they’re located at the edge of the network—were measured in the offline state; as if they were receiving a single stream of data, such as from a security camera; and as if they had to handle multiple streams of data, the way a car with several cameras and sensors would. In addition to testing raw performance, computers could also compete on efficiency.

The contest was further divided into a “closed” category, where everybody had to run the same “mathematically equivalent” neural networks and meet the same accuracy measures, and an “open” category, where companies could show off how modifications to the standard neural networks make their systems work better. In the contest with the most powerful computers under the most stringent conditions, the closed data-center group, computers with AI accelerator chips from four companies competed: Biren, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Sapeon. (Intel made two entries without any accelerators, to demonstrate what its CPUs could do on their own.)

While several systems were tested on the entire suite of neural networks, most results were submitted for image recognition, with the natural-language processor BERT (short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) a close second, making those categories the easiest to compare. Several Nvidia-GPU-based systems were tested on the entire suite of benchmarks, but performing even one benchmark can take more than a month of work, engineers involved say.

On the image-recognition trial, startup Biren’s new chip, the BR104, performed well. An eight-accelerator computer built with the company’s partner, Inspur, blasted through 424,660 samples per second, the fourth-fastest system tested, behind a Qualcomm Cloud AI 100-based machine with 18 accelerators, and two Nvidia A100-based R&D systems from Nettrix and H3C with 20 accelerators each.

But Biren really showed its power on natural-language processing, beating all the other four-accelerator systems by at least 33 percent on the highest-accuracy version of BERT and by even bigger margins among eight-accelerator systems.

An Intel system based on two soon-to-be-released Xeon Sapphire Rapids CPUs without the aid of any accelerators was another standout, edging out a machine using two current-generation Xeons in combination with an accelerator. The difference is partly down to Sapphire Rapids’ Advanced Matrix Extensions, an accelerator worked into each of the CPU’s cores.

Sapeon presented two systems with different versions of their Sapeon X220 accelerator, testing them only on image recognition. Both handily beat the other single-accelerator computers at this, with the exception of Nvidia’s Hopper, which got through six times as much work.

A pair of vertical bar charts with six sets of bars each. Computers with multiple GPUs or other AI accelerators typically run faster than those with a single accelerator. But on a per-accelerator basis, Nvidia’s upcoming H100 pretty much crushed it.Nvidia

In fact, among systems with the same configuration, Nvidia’s Hopper topped every category. Compared to its predecessor, the A100 GPU, Hopper was at least 1.5 times and up to 4.5 times as fast on a per-accelerator basis, depending on the neural network under test. “H100 came in and really brought the thunder,” says Dave Salvator, Nvidia’s director of product marketing for accelerated cloud computing. “Our engineers knocked it out of the park.”

Hopper’s not-secret-at-all sauce is a system called the transformer engine. Transformers are a class of neural networks that include the natural-language processor in the MLPerf inferencing benchmarks, BERT. The transformer engine is meant to speed inferencing and training by adjusting the precision of the numbers computed in each layer of the neural network, using the minimum needed to reach an accurate result. This includes computing with a modified version of 8-bit floating-point numbers. (Here’s a more complete explanation of reduced-precision machine learning.)

Because these results are a first attempt at the MLPerf benchmarks, Salvator says to expect the gap between H100 and A100 to widen, as engineers discover how to get the most out of the new chips. There’s good precedence for that. Through software and other improvements, engineers have been able to speed up A100 systems continuously since its introduction in May 2020.

Salvator says to expect H100 results for MLPerf’s efficiency benchmarks in future, but for now the company is focused on seeing what kind of performance they can get out of the new chip.

Efficiency

On the efficiency front, Qualcomm Cloud AI 100-based machines did themselves proud, but this was in a much smaller field than the performance contest. (MLPerf representatives stressed that computers are configured differently for the efficiency tests than for the performance tests, so it’s only fair to compare the performance of systems configured to the same purpose.) On the offline image-recognition benchmark for data-center systems, Qualcomm took the top three spots in terms of the number of images they could recognize per joule expended. The contest for efficiency on BERT was much closer. Qualcomm took to the top spot for the 99-percent-accuracy version, but it lost out to an Nvidia A100 system at the 99.99-percent-accuracy task. In both cases the race was close.

The case was similar for image recognition for edge systems, with Qualcomm taking nearly all the top spots by dealing with streams of data in less than a millisecond in most cases and often using less than 0.1 joules to do it. Nvidia’s Orin chip, due out within six months, came closest to matching the Qualcomm results. Again, Nvidia was better with BERT, using less energy, though it still couldn’t match Qualcomm’s speed.

Sparsity

There was a lot going on in the “open” division of MLPerf, but one of the more interesting results was how companies have been showing how well and efficiently “sparse” networks perform. These take a neural network and prune it down, removing nodes that contribute little or nothing toward producing a result. The much smaller network can then, in theory, run faster and more efficiently while using less compute and memory resources.

For example, startup Moffett AI showed results for three computers using its Antoum accelerator architecture for sparse networks. Moffett tested the systems, which are intended for data-center use on image recognition and natural-language processing. At image recognition, the company’s commercially available system managed 31,678 samples per second, and its coming chip hit 95,784 samples per second. For reference, the H100 hit 95,784 samples per second, but the Nvidia machine was working on the full neural network and met a higher accuracy target.

Another sparsity-focused firm, Neural Magic, showed off software that applies sparsity algorithms to neural networks so that they run faster on commodity CPUs. Its algorithms decreased the size of a version of BERT from 1.3 gigabytes to about 10 megabytes and boosted throughput from about 10 samples per second to 1,000, the company says.

And finally, Tel Aviv-based Deci used software it calls Automated Neural Architecture Construction technology (AutoNAC) to produce a version of BERT optimized to run on an AMD CPU. The resulting network sped throughput more than sixfold using a model that was one-third the size of the reference neural network.

And More

With more than 7,400 measurements across a host of categories, there’s a lot more to unpack. Feel free to take a look yourself at MLCommons.


Match ID: 112 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 12 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

Video Friday: DARPA ANCILLARY
Fri, 09 Sep 2022 15:55:30 +0000


Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CLAWAR 2022: 12–14 September 2022, AZORES, PORTUGAL
IROS 2022: 23–27 October 2022, KYOTO, JAPAN
ANA Avatar XPrize Finals: 4–5 November 2022, LOS ANGELES
CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Enjoy today’s videos!


DARPA’s AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY X-Plane program, nicknamed ANCILLARY, aims to develop and flight demonstrate critical technologies required for a leap ahead in vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), low-weight, high-payload, and long-endurance capabilities.

[ DARPA ]

Behold the tastiest robot ever, thanks to the 40 kilograms of dark chocolate that it’s made of.

[ Amaury Guichon ]

When a video features a robot operating outdoors while being pursued by a human with a laptop on a cart, you know it’s going to be some cutting-edge stuff. In this case, it’s the University of Michigan’s Cassie autonomously navigating based on directions from a hand-drawn map.

First, we show Cassie a map with a hand-drawn path, which she needs to follow. Second, she localizes herself into the OpenStreetMap, used as a topological global map. Third, she then converts the drawn path to her own understanding in the OpenStreetMap. Fourth, she determines terrain types such as sidewalks, roads, and grass. Fifth, she decides what categories she should walk on at the moment. Sixth, a multi-layered map is built. Seventh, a reactive CLF planning algorithm is guiding Cassie to walk safely without hitting obstacles. Finally, the planning signal is sent to Cassie’s 20 degree-of-freedom motion controller.

[ University of Michigan ]

Thanks, Bruce!

Apparently Indonesia drone laws are very permissive? Or they are for DJI, anyway.

[ DJI Avata ]

Waymo Co-CEO Dmitri Dolgov recently took another rider-only trip around San Francisco. Watch as the Waymo Driver reacts dynamically to other human drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians during the nearly hour-long ride.

[ Waymo ]

This capacitive sensing skin will keep you from getting whacked by a robot arm.

[ Paper ]

Dexterous Teleoperation combining shadow hand with real-time volumetric telepresence rendering in VR.

[ Extend Robotics ]

Breathtaking landscape aerial cinematography is made easy when using Skydio drone technology! Enjoy some of our favorite scenic landscape moments from the Skydio community.

[ Skydio ]

Most people think of intelligence as existing in the computer or our brain. Artificial intelligence recognizes faces, understands speech, picks movies, and corrects typos. These tasks are well-suited for computers. But when it comes to roboticists, they are all about physical tasks in the real world. And intelligence is no longer confined to the realm of the bits; the intelligent agent is a robot. Professor Matei Ciocarlie’s Robotic Manipulation and Mobility lab is embodying intelligence in robot hands to solve the problem of physical interaction in our complicated world.

[ ROAM Lab ]

In this episode of our Robot Spotlight series, we showcase a Polaris GEM electric vehicle that has been outfitted with our OutdoorNav autonomy software. Watch the video to learn how it all came together and to find out if the team was able to use the autonomy software to navigate the vehicle through a local shopping plaza and through a Starbucks drive thru.

[ Clearpath ]

Two research talks from UPenn’s GRASP lab: Nadia Figueroa on Collaborative Human-Aware Robotics, and M. Ani Hsieh on Robots for Climate, Energy, and Stability.

[ GRASP Lab ]


Match ID: 113 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 15 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq snap 3-session skid as stocks eke out gains
Wed, 24 Aug 2022 16:01:33 -0500
U.S. stocks finished modestly higher Wednesday, with all three major stock benchmarks ending a 3-session skid, as investors picked up shares after a sharp market selloff earlier this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose about 61 points, or 0.2%, ending near 32,970, while the S&P 500 index closed up 0.3% and the Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 0.4%. Stocks booked modest gains as investors remained focused on the Federal Reserve's inflation fight and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's speech at the Jackson Hole, Wyo. symposium on Friday. Recession worries also were in focus, with pending homes sales falling in July, a sign that rate hikes have been helping cool demand, even through shelter costs, specifically rents, have contributed to high U.S. inflation. Benchmark lending climbed Wednesday, with the 10-year Treasury rate climbing to 3.105% Wednesday, the highest since June 28, according to Dow Jones Market Data based on 3 p.m. Eastern levels. The S&P 500's energy sector helped lead the way higher, up 1.2%, while financial rose 0.5%, according to FactSet
Match ID: 114 Score: 2.14 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 30 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

Solar-to-Jet-Fuel System Readies for Takeoff
Wed, 03 Aug 2022 17:00:00 +0000


As climate change edges from crisis to emergency, the aviation sector looks set to miss its 2050 goal of net-zero emissions. In the five years preceding the pandemic, the top four U.S. airlines—American, Delta, Southwest, and United—saw a 15 percent increase in the use of jet fuel. Despite continual improvements in engine efficiencies, that number is projected to keep rising.

A glimmer of hope, however, comes from solar fuels. For the first time, scientists and engineers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich have reported a successful demonstration of an integrated fuel-production plant for solar kerosene. Using concentrated solar energy, they were able to produce kerosene from water vapor and carbon dioxide directly from air. Fuel thus produced is a drop-in alternative to fossil-derived fuels and can be used with existing storage and distribution infrastructures, and engines.

Fuels derived from synthesis gas (or syngas)—an intermediate product that is a specific mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen—is a known alternative to conventional, fossil-derived fuels. Syngas is produced by Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis, in which chemical reactions convert carbon monoxide and water vapor into hydrocarbons. The team of researchers at ETH found that a solar-driven thermochemical method to split water and carbon dioxide using a metal oxide redox cycle can produce renewable syngas. They demonstrated the process in a rooftop solar refinery at the ETH Machine Laboratory in 2019.

Close-up of a spongy looking material Reticulated porous structure made of ceria used in the solar reactor to thermochemically split CO2 and H2O and produce syngas, a specific mixture of H2 and CO.ETH Zurich

The current pilot-scale solar tower plant was set up at the IMDEA Energy Institute in Spain. It scales up the solar reactor of the 2019 experiment by a factor of 10, says Aldo Steinfeld, an engineering professor at ETH who led the study. The fuel plant brings together three subsystems—the solar tower concentrating facility, solar reactor, and gas-to-liquid unit.

First, a heliostat field made of mirrors that rotate to follow the sun concentrates solar irradiation into a reactor mounted on top of the tower. The reactor is a cavity receiver lined with reticulated porous ceramic structures made of ceria (or cerium(IV) oxide). Within the reactor, the concentrated sunlight creates a high-temperature environment of about 1,500 °C which is hot enough to split captured carbon dioxide and water from the atmosphere to produce syngas. Finally, the syngas is processed to kerosene in the gas-to-liquid unit. A centralized control room operates the whole system.

Fuel produced using this method closes the fuel carbon cycle as it only produces as much carbon dioxide as has gone into its manufacture. “The present pilot fuel plant is still a demonstration facility for research purposes,” says Steinfeld, “but it is a fully integrated plant and uses a solar-tower configuration at a scale that is relevant for industrial implementation.”

“The solar reactor produced syngas with selectivity, purity, and quality suitable for FT synthesis,” the authors noted in their paper. They also reported good material stability for multiple consecutive cycles. They observed a value of 4.1 percent solar-to-syngas energy efficiency, which Steinfeld says is a record value for thermochemical fuel production, even though better efficiencies are required to make the technology economically competitive.

Schematic of the solar tower fuel plant.  A heliostat field concentrates solar radiation onto a solar reactor mounted on top of the solar tower. The solar reactor cosplits water and carbon dioxide and produces a mixture of molecular hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which in turn is processed to drop-in fuels such as kerosene.ETH Zurich

“The measured value of energy conversion efficiency was obtained without any implementation of heat recovery,” he says. The heat rejected during the redox cycle of the reactor accounted for more than 50 percent of the solar-energy input. “This fraction can be partially recovered via thermocline heat storage. Thermodynamic analyses indicate that sensible heat recovery could potentially boost the energy efficiency to values exceeding 20 percent.”

To do so, more work is needed to optimize the ceramic structures lining the reactor, something the ETH team is actively working on, by looking at 3D-printed structures for improved volumetric radiative absorption. “In addition, alternative material compositions, that is, perovskites or aluminates, may yield improved redox capacity, and consequently higher specific fuel output per mass of redox material,” Steinfeld adds.

The next challenge for the researchers, he says, is the scale-up of their technology for higher solar-radiative power inputs, possibly using an array of solar cavity-receiver modules on top of the solar tower.

To bring solar kerosene into the market, Steinfeld envisages a quota-based system. “Airlines and airports would be required to have a minimum share of sustainable aviation fuels in the total volume of jet fuel that they put in their aircraft,” he says. This is possible as solar kerosene can be mixed with fossil-based kerosene. This would start out small, as little as 1 or 2 percent, which would raise the total fuel costs at first, though minimally—adding “only a few euros to the cost of a typical flight,” as Steinfeld puts it

Meanwhile, rising quotas would lead to investment, and to falling costs, eventually replacing fossil-derived kerosene with solar kerosene. “By the time solar jet fuel reaches 10 to 15 percent of the total jet-fuel volume, we ought to see the costs for solar kerosene nearing those of fossil-derived kerosene,” he adds.

However, we may not have to wait too long for flights to operate solely on solar fuel. A commercial spin-off of Steinfeld’s laboratory, Synhelion, is working on commissioning the first industrial-scale solar fuel plant in 2023. The company has also collaborated with the airline SWISS to conduct a flight solely using its solar kerosene.


Match ID: 115 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 52 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

Inside the Universe Machine: The Webb Space Telescope’s Chilly Sun Shield
Thu, 07 Jul 2022 13:48:57 +0000


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When Apollo astronauts sent back the first pictures of Earth as a disk in space, the poet Archibald MacLeish wrote of it as “that bright loveliness in the eternal cold.” He was not far off. Deep space has a temperature of 2.7 kelvins—just 2.7 degrees above absolute zero.

If the James Webb Space Telescope is to work—looking so far out and therefore so far back in time that it can see the first galaxies forming after the big bang—it will have to image objects so faint that they barely stand out from the cold around them. The world will begin finding out how well the observatory works as soon as next week, when JWST is expected to release its first trove of scientific images and spectroscopic data.

So, for argument’s sake, let’s assume all indications so far do in fact point to a successful kickoff of the (hopefully long and storied) scientific data-gathering phase of Webb’s mission. How then did the engineers and designers of this massive telescope ever make it possible to cool the telescope down enough—all at a remove of nearly four times the distance from Earth to the moon—to possibly do its job?

After more than 25 years’ work and technological hurdles beyond counting, the Webb team has launched and stationed its mammoth observatory in solar orbit—and brought its instruments below 40 kelvins (-233 °C), cold enough to see the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago. Remarkably, most of the cooling has been done passively, by shielding the telescope from the sun and letting physics take care of the rest.

“Webb is not just the product of a group of people. It’s not the product of some smart astronomers—Webb is truly the product of our entire world’s capability,” says Keith Parrish, a leader on the Webb team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “Taken as a whole, Webb is truly the result of our entire know-how of how to build complex machines.”

Parrish joined the project in 1997, ultimately becoming its commissioning manager through the years of design, assembly, testing, delay and, finally, launch on 25 December 2021. He says almost everything about it—its shape and location, the materials from which it’s made—was dictated by the need to have an observatory that would survive for years at supercold temperatures.

Photo of clean room with five giant foil-like sheets stacked atop one another, with three scientists in the distance, inspecting the sunshield In this photo, the five-layered JWST sunshield is being unfurled and inspected in a clean room. The layers of coated Kapton E never touch, minimizing the transmission of heat from one layer to the next. Alex Evers/Northrop Grumman

The Webb is an infrared observatory for many reasons, not the least of which is that as the universe expands, the wavelength of light from distant objects is lengthened, causing dramatic redshift. Infrared is also good for seeing through cosmic dust and gas, and for imaging cold things such as comets, Kuiper Belt objects, and perhaps planets orbiting other stars.

But infrared radiation is often best measured as heat, which is why it’s important for the Webb to be so cold. If, like the Hubble Telescope, it were in low Earth orbit, and it had no shielding from the sun, most of its targets would be drowned out by the sun and ground, and by heat in the telescope itself.

“If my signal is heat—and infrared is heat—then what I can’t have is other heat sources that are noise in the system,” says Jim Flynn, the sunshield manager at Northrop Grumman, the prime contractor for the Webb.

So the Webb has been sent to circle a spot in space called L2, 1.5 million kilometers away, opposite the sun, one of the locations known as Lagrange points. These "L" points are where the gravity of Earth and the sun exactly conspire to keep it in a stable and relatively "fixed" orbit with respect to the Earth as it makes its way around its 365.256-day course circling the sun. It’s a good compromise: Earth is distant enough that it doesn’t interfere with observations, but close enough that communication with the spacecraft can be relatively fast. And since the ship isn’t flying from day to night and back on every orbit, its temperature is relatively stable. All it needs is a really, really good sunshade.

“Four [layers of sunshield] would have probably done the job. Five gave us a little bit of an insurance policy. I’d like to say it was way more sophisticated than that, but that’s really not what it was at all.”
—Keith Parrish, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

“The engineering was pushed above and beyond to meet the scientific goals,” says Alexandra Lockwood, a project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Webb. “It is specifically designed the way that it is because they wanted to do intensive infrared science.”

It makes for an ungainly-looking ship in many renderings, with the telescope assembly, intentionally open to space to prevent heat buildup, attached to its silvery sunshield, about 14 meters wide and 21 meters long, with five layers of insulating film to keep the telescope in almost total darkness.

From its sunlit side the sunshield roughly resembles a kite. The elongated shape, engineers found, would be the most efficient way to keep the Webb’s optics out of the sun. They considered a square or octagon, but the final version covers more area without much more mass.

“It’s no larger than it needs to be to meet the science field-of-view requirements, and that unique kite shape is the result,” says Parrish. “Any larger than it is now, it just makes everything more complex.”

The shield’s five layers are made of Kapton E, a plastic film first developed by DuPont in the 1960s and used for spacecraft insulation and printed circuits. The layers are coated in aluminum and silicon. Each is thinner than a human hair. But engineers say they are, together, very effective in blocking the sun’s heat. The first layer reduces its strength by about an order of magnitude (or 90 percent), the second layer removes another order of magnitude, and so on. The layers never touch, and they’re slightly flared as one gets away from the center of the shield, so that heat will escape out the sides.

The result: Temperatures on the sunny side of the shield approach 360 K (87 °C), but on the dark side they’re below that all-important 40 K (-233 °C). Or, put another way: More than 200 kilowatts of solar energy fall on the first layer, but only 23 milliwatts make it all the way through the fifth.

The Two Sides of the Webb Telescope


illustration depicting features of JWST's sunshield

Why five layers? There was a lot of computer modeling, but it was hard to simulate the shield’s thermal behavior before flight. “Four would have probably done the job. Five gave us a little bit of an insurance policy,” says Parrish. “I’d like to say it was way more sophisticated than that, but that’s really not what it was at all.”

The ability to cool the telescope naturally, first calculated in the 1980s to be possible, was a major advance. It meant the Webb would not have to rely on a heavy, complex cryogenic apparatus, with refrigerants that could leak and shorten the mission. Of its four main scientific instruments, only one, a midinfrared detector called MIRI, needs to be cooled to 6.7 K. It’s chilled by a multistage cryocooler, which pumps cold helium gas through pulse tubes to draw heat away from the instrument’s sensor. It uses the Joule-Thomson effect, reducing the temperature of the helium by making it expand after it’s forced through a 1-millimeter valve. Pressure comes from two pistons—the cryocooler system’s only moving parts—facing opposite directions so their movements will cancel each other out and not disturb observations.

Building the telescope proved immensely complicated; it fell years behind while its budget ballooned toward US $10 billion. The sunshield needed lengthy redesign after testing, when Kapton tore and fasteners came loose.

“We just bit off way more than we could chew,” Parrish says now. “That’s exactly what NASA should be doing. It should be pushing the envelope. The problem is that eventually Webb got too big to fail.”

But it’s finally deployed, sending data, and surprising engineers who expected at least some failures as it began to operate. Keith Parrish, his work done, is moving on to other projects at Goddard.

“I think Webb,” he says, “is just a great product of what it means to be an advanced civilization.”


Update: 26 July 2022: The story was updated to clarify that the gravity at Lagrange point L2 does not "cancel" (as the story had previously stated) but in fact adds to keep an object at L2 orbiting at the precise same orbital period as, in this case, the Earth—i.e. at 365.256 days.


Match ID: 116 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 79 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

Inside the Universe Machine: The Webb Space Telescope’s Staggering Vision
Wed, 06 Jul 2022 13:00:00 +0000


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

“Build something that will absolutely, positively work.” This was the mandate from NASA for designing and building the James Webb Space Telescope—at 6.5 meters wide the largest space telescope in history. Last December, JWST launched famously and successfully to its observing station out beyond the moon. And now according to NASA, as soon as next week, the JWST will at long last begin releasing scientific images and data.

Mark Kahan, on JWST’s product integrity team, recalls NASA’s engineering challenge as a call to arms for a worldwide team of thousands that set out to create one of the most ambitious scientific instruments in human history. Kahan—chief electro-optical systems engineer at Mountain View, Calif.–based Synopsys—and many others in JWST’s “pit crew” (as he calls the team) drew hard lessons from three decades ago, having helped repair another world-class space telescope with a debilitating case of flawed optics. Of course the Hubble Space Telescope is in low Earth orbit, and so a special space-shuttle mission to install corrective optics ( as happened in 1993) was entirely possible.

Not so with the JWST.

The meticulous care NASA demanded of JWST’s designers is all the more a necessity because Webb is well out of reach of repair crews. Its mission is to study the infrared universe, and that requires shielding the telescope and its sensors from both the heat of sunlight and the infrared glow of Earth. A good place to do that without getting too far from Earth is an empty patch of interplanetary space 1.5 million kilometers away (well beyond the moon’s orbit) near a spot physicists call the second Lagrange point, or L2.

The pit crew’s job was “down at the detail level, error checking every critical aspect of the optical design,” says Kahan. Having learned the hard way from Hubble, the crew insisted that every measurement on Webb’s optics be made in at least two different ways that could be checked and cross-checked. Diagnostics were built into the process, Kahan says, so that “you could look at them to see what to kick” to resolve any discrepancies. Their work had to be done on the ground, but their tests had to assess how the telescope would work in deep space at cryogenic temperatures.

Three New Technologies for the Main Mirror

Superficially, Webb follows the design of all large reflecting telescopes. A big mirror collects light from stars, galaxies, nebulae, planets, comets, and other astronomical objects—and then focuses those photons onto a smaller secondary mirror that sends it to a third mirror that then ultimately directs the light to instruments that record images and spectra.

Webb’s 6.5-meter primary mirror is the first segmented mirror to be launched into space. All the optics had to be made on the ground at room temperature but were deployed in space and operated at 30 to 55 degrees above absolute zero. “We had to develop three new technologies” to make it work, says Lee D. Feinberg of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the optical telescope element manager for Webb for the past 20 years.

The longest wavelengths that Hubble has to contend with were 2.5 micrometers, whereas Webb is built to observe infrared light that stretches to 28 μm in wavelength. Compared with Hubble, whose primary mirror is a circle of an area 4.5 square meters, “[Webb’s primary mirror] had to be 25 square meters,” says Feinberg. Webb also “needed segmented mirrors that were lightweight, and its mass was a huge consideration,” he adds. No single-component mirror that could provide the required resolution would have fit on the Ariane 5 rocket that launched JWST. That meant the mirror would have to be made in pieces, assembled, folded, secured to withstand the stress of launch, then unfolded and deployed in space to create a surface that was within tens of nanometers of the shape specified by the designers.

Images of the James Webb Space Telescope and Hubble Space Telescope to scale, compared to a human figure, who is dwarfed by their size The James Webb Space Telescope [left] and the Hubble Space Telescope side by side—with Hubble’s 2.4-meter-diameter mirror versus Webb’s array of hexagonal mirrors making a 6.5-meter-diameter light-collecting area. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA and the U.S. Air Force, which has its own interests in large lightweight space mirrors for surveillance and focusing laser energy, teamed up to develop the technology. The two agencies narrowed eight submitted proposals down to two approaches for building JWST’s mirrors: one based on low-expansion glass made of a mixture of silicon and titanium dioxides similar to that used in Hubble and the other the light but highly toxic metal beryllium. The most crucial issue came down to how well the materials could withstand temperature changes from room temperature on the ground to around 50 K in space. Beryllium won because it could fully release stress after cooling without changing its shape, and it’s not vulnerable to the cracking that can occur in glass. The final beryllium mirror was a 6.5-meter array of 18 hexagonal beryllium mirrors, each weighing about 20 kilograms. The weight per unit area of JWST’s mirror was only 10 percent of that in Hubble. A 100-nanometer layer of pure gold makes the surface reflect 98 percent of incident light from JWST’s main observing band of 0.6 to 28.5 μm. “Pure silver has slightly higher reflectivity than pure gold, but gold is more robust,” says Feinberg. A thin layer of amorphous silica protects the metal film from surface damage.

In addition, a wavefront-sensing control system keeps mirror segment surfaces aligned to within tens of nanometers. Built on the ground, the system is expected to keep mirror alignment stabilized throughout the telescope’s operational life. A backplane kept at a temperature of 35 K holds all 2.4 tonnes of the telescope and instruments rock-steady to within 32 nm while maintaining them at cryogenic temperatures during observations.

Metal superstructure of cages and supports stands on a giant platform in a warehouse-sized clean-room. A man in a cleanroom suit watches the operations. The JWST backplane, the “spine” that supports the entire hexagonal mirror structure and carries more than 2,400 kg of hardware, is readied for assembly to the rest of the telescope. NASA/Chris Gunn

Hubble’s amazing, long-exposure images of distant galaxies are possible through the use of gyroscopes and reaction wheels. The gyroscopes are used to sense unwanted rotations, and reaction wheels are used to counteract them.

But the gyroscopes used on Hubble have had a bad track record and have had to be replaced repeatedly. Only three of Hubble’s six gyros remain operational today, and NASA has devised plans for operating with one or two gyros at reduced capability. Hubble also includes reaction wheels and magnetic torquers, used to maintain its orientation when needed or to point at different parts of the sky.

Webb uses reaction wheels similarly to turn across the sky, but instead of using mechanical gyros to sense direction, it uses hemispherical resonator gyroscopes, which have no moving parts. Webb also has a small fine-steering mirror in the optical path, which can tilt over an angle of just 5 arc seconds. Those very fine adjustments of the light path into the instruments keep the telescope on target. “It’s a really wonderful way to go,” says Feinberg, adding that it compensates for small amounts of jitter without having to move the whole 6-tonne observatory.

Instruments

Other optics distribute light from the fine-steering mirror among four instruments, two of which can observe simultaneously. Three instruments have sensors that observe wavelengths of 0.6 to 5 μm, which astronomers call the near-infrared. The fourth, called the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), observes what astronomers call the mid-infrared spectrum, from 5 to 28.5 μm. Different instruments are needed because sensors and optics have limited wavelength ranges. (Optical engineers may blanch slightly at astronomers’ definitions of what constitutes the near- and mid-infrared wavelength ranges. These two groups simply have differing conventions for labeling the various regimes of the infrared spectrum.)

Mid-infrared wavelengths are crucial for observing young stars and planetary systems and the earliest galaxies, but they also pose some of the biggest engineering challenges. Namely, everything on Earth and planets out to Jupiter glow in the mid-infrared. So for JWST to observe distant astronomical objects, it must avoid recording extraneous mid-infrared noise from all the various sources inside the solar system. “I have spent my whole career building instruments for wavelengths of 5 μm and longer,” says MIRI instrument scientist Alistair Glasse of the Royal Observatory, in Edinburgh. “We’re always struggling against thermal background.”

Mountaintop telescopes can see the near-infrared, but observing the mid-infrared sky requires telescopes in space. However, the thermal radiation from Earth and its atmosphere can cloud their view, and so can the telescopes themselves unless they are cooled far below room temperature. An ample supply of liquid helium and an orbit far from Earth allowed the Spitzer Space Telescope’s primary observing mission to last for five years, but once the last of the cryogenic fluid evaporated in 2009, its observations were limited to wavelengths shorter than 5 μm.

Webb has an elaborate solar shield to block sunlight, and an orbit 1.5 million km from Earth that can keep the telescope to below 55 K, but that’s not good enough for low-noise observations at wavelengths longer than 5 μm. The near-infrared instruments operate at 40 K to minimize thermal noise. But for observations out to 28.5 μm, MIRI uses a specially developed closed-cycle, helium cryocooler to keep MIRI cooled below 7 K. “We want to have sensitivity limited by the shot noise of astronomical sources,” says Glasse. (Shot noise occurs when optical or electrical signals are so feeble that each photon or electron constitutes a detectable peak.) That will make MIRI 1,000 times as sensitive in the mid-infrared as Spitzer.

Another challenge is the limited transparency of optical materials in the mid-infrared. “We use reflective optics wherever possible,” says Glasse, but they also pose problems, he adds. “Thermal contraction is a big deal,” he says, because the instrument was made at room temperature but is used at 7 K. To keep thermal changes uniform throughout MIRI, they made the whole structure of gold-coated aluminum lest other metals cause warping.

Detectors are another problem. Webb’s near-infrared sensors use mercury cadmium telluride photodetectors with a resolution of 2,048 x 2,048 pixels. This resolution is widely used at wavelengths below 5 μm, but sensing at MIRI’s longer wavelengths required exotic detectors that are limited to offering only 1,024 x 1,024 pixels.

Glasse says commissioning “has gone incredibly well.” Although some stray light has been detected, he says, “we are fully expecting to meet all our science goals.”

NIRCam Aligns the Whole Telescope

The near-infrared detectors and optical materials used for observing at wavelengths shorter than 5 μm are much more mature than those for the mid-infrared, so the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) does double duty by both recording images and aligning all the optics in the whole telescope. That alignment was the trickiest part of building the instrument, says NIRCam principal investigator Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona.

Alignment means getting all the light collected by the primary mirror to get to the right place in the final image. That’s crucial for Webb, because it has 18 separate segments that have to overlay their images perfectly in the final image, and because all those segments were built on the ground at room temperature but operate at cryogenic temperatures in space at zero gravity. When NASA recorded a test image of a single star after Webb first opened its primary mirror, it showed 18 separate bright spots, one from each segment. When alignment was completed on 11 March, the image from NIRcam showed a single star with six spikes caused by diffraction.

Image of a star with six-pointed spikes caused by diffraction Even when performing instrumental calibration tasks, JWST couldn’t help but showcase its stunning sensitivity to the infrared sky. The central star is what telescope technicians used to align JWST’s mirrors. But notice the distant galaxies and stars that photobombed the image too!NASA/STScI

Building a separate alignment system would have added to both the weight and cost of Webb, Rieke realized, and in the original 1995 plan for the telescope she proposed designing NIRCam so it could align the telescope optics once it was up in space as well as record images. “The only real compromise was that it required NIRCam to have exquisite image quality,” says Rieke, wryly. From a scientific point, she adds, using the instrument to align the telescope optics “is great because you know you’re going to have good image quality and it’s going to be aligned with you.” Alignment might be just a tiny bit off for other instruments. In the end, it took a team at Lockheed Martin to develop the computational tools to account for all the elements of thermal expansion.

Escalating costs and delays had troubled Webb for years. But for Feinberg, “commissioning has been a magical five months.” It began with the sight of sunlight hitting the mirrors. The segmented mirror deployed smoothly, and after the near-infrared cameras cooled, the mirrors focused one star into 18 spots, then aligned them to put the spots on top of each other. “Everything had to work to get it to [focus] that well,” he says. It’s been an intense time, but for Feinberg, a veteran of the Hubble repair mission, commissioning Webb was “a piece of cake.”

NASA announced that between May 23rd and 25th, one segment of the primary mirror had been dinged by a micrometeorite bigger than the agency had expected when it analyzed the potential results of such impacts. “Things do degrade over time,” Feinberg said. But he added that Webb had been engineered to minimize damage, and NASA said the event had not affected Webb’s operation schedule.

Corrections 26-28 July 2022: The story was updated a) to reflect the fact that the Lagrange point L2 where Webb now orbits is not that of the "Earth-moon system" (as the story had originally reported) but rather the Earth-sun system
and b) to correct misstatements in the original posting about Webb's hardware for controlling its orientation.

Corrections 12 Aug. 2022: Alistair Glasse's name was incorrectly spelled in a previous version of this story, as was NIRCam (which we'd spelled as NIRcam); Webb's tertiary mirror (we'd originally reported only its primary and secondary mirrors) was also called out in this version.

This article appears in the September 2022 print issue as “Inside the Universe Machine.”


Match ID: 117 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 80 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

Andrew Ng: Unbiggen AI
Wed, 09 Feb 2022 15:31:12 +0000


Andrew Ng has serious street cred in artificial intelligence. He pioneered the use of graphics processing units (GPUs) to train deep learning models in the late 2000s with his students at Stanford University, cofounded Google Brain in 2011, and then served for three years as chief scientist for Baidu, where he helped build the Chinese tech giant’s AI group. So when he says he has identified the next big shift in artificial intelligence, people listen. And that’s what he told IEEE Spectrum in an exclusive Q&A.


Ng’s current efforts are focused on his company Landing AI, which built a platform called LandingLens to help manufacturers improve visual inspection with computer vision. He has also become something of an evangelist for what he calls the data-centric AI movement, which he says can yield “small data” solutions to big issues in AI, including model efficiency, accuracy, and bias.

Andrew Ng on...

The great advances in deep learning over the past decade or so have been powered by ever-bigger models crunching ever-bigger amounts of data. Some people argue that that’s an unsustainable trajectory. Do you agree that it can’t go on that way?

Andrew Ng: This is a big question. We’ve seen foundation models in NLP [natural language processing]. I’m excited about NLP models getting even bigger, and also about the potential of building foundation models in computer vision. I think there’s lots of signal to still be exploited in video: We have not been able to build foundation models yet for video because of compute bandwidth and the cost of processing video, as opposed to tokenized text. So I think that this engine of scaling up deep learning algorithms, which has been running for something like 15 years now, still has steam in it. Having said that, it only applies to certain problems, and there’s a set of other problems that need small data solutions.

When you say you want a foundation model for computer vision, what do you mean by that?

Ng: This is a term coined by Percy Liang and some of my friends at Stanford to refer to very large models, trained on very large data sets, that can be tuned for specific applications. For example, GPT-3 is an example of a foundation model [for NLP]. Foundation models offer a lot of promise as a new paradigm in developing machine learning applications, but also challenges in terms of making sure that they’re reasonably fair and free from bias, especially if many of us will be building on top of them.

What needs to happen for someone to build a foundation model for video?

Ng: I think there is a scalability problem. The compute power needed to process the large volume of images for video is significant, and I think that’s why foundation models have arisen first in NLP. Many researchers are working on this, and I think we’re seeing early signs of such models being developed in computer vision. But I’m confident that if a semiconductor maker gave us 10 times more processor power, we could easily find 10 times more video to build such models for vision.

Having said that, a lot of what’s happened over the past decade is that deep learning has happened in consumer-facing companies that have large user bases, sometimes billions of users, and therefore very large data sets. While that paradigm of machine learning has driven a lot of economic value in consumer software, I find that that recipe of scale doesn’t work for other industries.

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It’s funny to hear you say that, because your early work was at a consumer-facing company with millions of users.

Ng: Over a decade ago, when I proposed starting the Google Brain project to use Google’s compute infrastructure to build very large neural networks, it was a controversial step. One very senior person pulled me aside and warned me that starting Google Brain would be bad for my career. I think he felt that the action couldn’t just be in scaling up, and that I should instead focus on architecture innovation.

“In many industries where giant data sets simply don’t exist, I think the focus has to shift from big data to good data. Having 50 thoughtfully engineered examples can be sufficient to explain to the neural network what you want it to learn.”
—Andrew Ng, CEO & Founder, Landing AI

I remember when my students and I published the first NeurIPS workshop paper advocating using CUDA, a platform for processing on GPUs, for deep learning—a different senior person in AI sat me down and said, “CUDA is really complicated to program. As a programming paradigm, this seems like too much work.” I did manage to convince him; the other person I did not convince.

I expect they’re both convinced now.

Ng: I think so, yes.

Over the past year as I’ve been speaking to people about the data-centric AI movement, I’ve been getting flashbacks to when I was speaking to people about deep learning and scalability 10 or 15 years ago. In the past year, I’ve been getting the same mix of “there’s nothing new here” and “this seems like the wrong direction.”

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How do you define data-centric AI, and why do you consider it a movement?

Ng: Data-centric AI is the discipline of systematically engineering the data needed to successfully build an AI system. For an AI system, you have to implement some algorithm, say a neural network, in code and then train it on your data set. The dominant paradigm over the last decade was to download the data set while you focus on improving the code. Thanks to that paradigm, over the last decade deep learning networks have improved significantly, to the point where for a lot of applications the code—the neural network architecture—is basically a solved problem. So for many practical applications, it’s now more productive to hold the neural network architecture fixed, and instead find ways to improve the data.

When I started speaking about this, there were many practitioners who, completely appropriately, raised their hands and said, “Yes, we’ve been doing this for 20 years.” This is the time to take the things that some individuals have been doing intuitively and make it a systematic engineering discipline.

The data-centric AI movement is much bigger than one company or group of researchers. My collaborators and I organized a data-centric AI workshop at NeurIPS, and I was really delighted at the number of authors and presenters that showed up.

You often talk about companies or institutions that have only a small amount of data to work with. How can data-centric AI help them?

Ng: You hear a lot about vision systems built with millions of images—I once built a face recognition system using 350 million images. Architectures built for hundreds of millions of images don’t work with only 50 images. But it turns out, if you have 50 really good examples, you can build something valuable, like a defect-inspection system. In many industries where giant data sets simply don’t exist, I think the focus has to shift from big data to good data. Having 50 thoughtfully engineered examples can be sufficient to explain to the neural network what you want it to learn.

When you talk about training a model with just 50 images, does that really mean you’re taking an existing model that was trained on a very large data set and fine-tuning it? Or do you mean a brand new model that’s designed to learn only from that small data set?

Ng: Let me describe what Landing AI does. When doing visual inspection for manufacturers, we often use our own flavor of RetinaNet. It is a pretrained model. Having said that, the pretraining is a small piece of the puzzle. What’s a bigger piece of the puzzle is providing tools that enable the manufacturer to pick the right set of images [to use for fine-tuning] and label them in a consistent way. There’s a very practical problem we’ve seen spanning vision, NLP, and speech, where even human annotators don’t agree on the appropriate label. For big data applications, the common response has been: If the data is noisy, let’s just get a lot of data and the algorithm will average over it. But if you can develop tools that flag where the data’s inconsistent and give you a very targeted way to improve the consistency of the data, that turns out to be a more efficient way to get a high-performing system.

“Collecting more data often helps, but if you try to collect more data for everything, that can be a very expensive activity.”
—Andrew Ng

For example, if you have 10,000 images where 30 images are of one class, and those 30 images are labeled inconsistently, one of the things we do is build tools to draw your attention to the subset of data that’s inconsistent. So you can very quickly relabel those images to be more consistent, and this leads to improvement in performance.

Could this focus on high-quality data help with bias in data sets? If you’re able to curate the data more before training?

Ng: Very much so. Many researchers have pointed out that biased data is one factor among many leading to biased systems. There have been many thoughtful efforts to engineer the data. At the NeurIPS workshop, Olga Russakovsky gave a really nice talk on this. At the main NeurIPS conference, I also really enjoyed Mary Gray’s presentation, which touched on how data-centric AI is one piece of the solution, but not the entire solution. New tools like Datasheets for Datasets also seem like an important piece of the puzzle.

One of the powerful tools that data-centric AI gives us is the ability to engineer a subset of the data. Imagine training a machine-learning system and finding that its performance is okay for most of the data set, but its performance is biased for just a subset of the data. If you try to change the whole neural network architecture to improve the performance on just that subset, it’s quite difficult. But if you can engineer a subset of the data you can address the problem in a much more targeted way.

When you talk about engineering the data, what do you mean exactly?

Ng: In AI, data cleaning is important, but the way the data has been cleaned has often been in very manual ways. In computer vision, someone may visualize images through a Jupyter notebook and maybe spot the problem, and maybe fix it. But I’m excited about tools that allow you to have a very large data set, tools that draw your attention quickly and efficiently to the subset of data where, say, the labels are noisy. Or to quickly bring your attention to the one class among 100 classes where it would benefit you to collect more data. Collecting more data often helps, but if you try to collect more data for everything, that can be a very expensive activity.

For example, I once figured out that a speech-recognition system was performing poorly when there was car noise in the background. Knowing that allowed me to collect more data with car noise in the background, rather than trying to collect more data for everything, which would have been expensive and slow.

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What about using synthetic data, is that often a good solution?

Ng: I think synthetic data is an important tool in the tool chest of data-centric AI. At the NeurIPS workshop, Anima Anandkumar gave a great talk that touched on synthetic data. I think there are important uses of synthetic data that go beyond just being a preprocessing step for increasing the data set for a learning algorithm. I’d love to see more tools to let developers use synthetic data generation as part of the closed loop of iterative machine learning development.

Do you mean that synthetic data would allow you to try the model on more data sets?

Ng: Not really. Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re trying to detect defects in a smartphone casing. There are many different types of defects on smartphones. It could be a scratch, a dent, pit marks, discoloration of the material, other types of blemishes. If you train the model and then find through error analysis that it’s doing well overall but it’s performing poorly on pit marks, then synthetic data generation allows you to address the problem in a more targeted way. You could generate more data just for the pit-mark category.

“In the consumer software Internet, we could train a handful of machine-learning models to serve a billion users. In manufacturing, you might have 10,000 manufacturers building 10,000 custom AI models.”
—Andrew Ng

Synthetic data generation is a very powerful tool, but there are many simpler tools that I will often try first. Such as data augmentation, improving labeling consistency, or just asking a factory to collect more data.

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To make these issues more concrete, can you walk me through an example? When a company approaches Landing AI and says it has a problem with visual inspection, how do you onboard them and work toward deployment?

Ng: When a customer approaches us we usually have a conversation about their inspection problem and look at a few images to verify that the problem is feasible with computer vision. Assuming it is, we ask them to upload the data to the LandingLens platform. We often advise them on the methodology of data-centric AI and help them label the data.

One of the foci of Landing AI is to empower manufacturing companies to do the machine learning work themselves. A lot of our work is making sure the software is fast and easy to use. Through the iterative process of machine learning development, we advise customers on things like how to train models on the platform, when and how to improve the labeling of data so the performance of the model improves. Our training and software supports them all the way through deploying the trained model to an edge device in the factory.

How do you deal with changing needs? If products change or lighting conditions change in the factory, can the model keep up?

Ng: It varies by manufacturer. There is data drift in many contexts. But there are some manufacturers that have been running the same manufacturing line for 20 years now with few changes, so they don’t expect changes in the next five years. Those stable environments make things easier. For other manufacturers, we provide tools to flag when there’s a significant data-drift issue. I find it really important to empower manufacturing customers to correct data, retrain, and update the model. Because if something changes and it’s 3 a.m. in the United States, I want them to be able to adapt their learning algorithm right away to maintain operations.

In the consumer software Internet, we could train a handful of machine-learning models to serve a billion users. In manufacturing, you might have 10,000 manufacturers building 10,000 custom AI models. The challenge is, how do you do that without Landing AI having to hire 10,000 machine learning specialists?

So you’re saying that to make it scale, you have to empower customers to do a lot of the training and other work.

Ng: Yes, exactly! This is an industry-wide problem in AI, not just in manufacturing. Look at health care. Every hospital has its own slightly different format for electronic health records. How can every hospital train its own custom AI model? Expecting every hospital’s IT personnel to invent new neural-network architectures is unrealistic. The only way out of this dilemma is to build tools that empower the customers to build their own models by giving them tools to engineer the data and express their domain knowledge. That’s what Landing AI is executing in computer vision, and the field of AI needs other teams to execute this in other domains.

Is there anything else you think it’s important for people to understand about the work you’re doing or the data-centric AI movement?

Ng: In the last decade, the biggest shift in AI was a shift to deep learning. I think it’s quite possible that in this decade the biggest shift will be to data-centric AI. With the maturity of today’s neural network architectures, I think for a lot of the practical applications the bottleneck will be whether we can efficiently get the data we need to develop systems that work well. The data-centric AI movement has tremendous energy and momentum across the whole community. I hope more researchers and developers will jump in and work on it.

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This article appears in the April 2022 print issue as “Andrew Ng, AI Minimalist.”


Match ID: 118 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 227 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

Following the Money in the Air-Taxi Craze
Tue, 08 Feb 2022 15:04:00 +0000


When entrepreneur JoeBen Bevirt launched Joby Aviation 12 years ago, it was just one of a slew of offbeat tech projects at his Sproutwerx ranch in the Santa Cruz mountains. Today, Joby has more than 1,000 employees and it’s backed by close to US $2 billion in investments, including $400 million from Toyota Motor Corporation along with big infusions from Uber and JetBlue.

Having raked in perhaps 30 percent of all the money invested in electrically-powered vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft so far, Joby is the colossus in an emerging class of startups working on these radical, battery-powered commercial flyers. All told, at least 250 companies worldwide are angling to revolutionize transportation in and around cities with a new category of aviation, called urban air mobility or advanced air mobility. With Joby at the apex, the category’s top seven companies together have hauled in more than $5 billion in funding—a figure that doesn’t include private firms, whose finances haven’t been disclosed.

But with some of these companies pledging to start commercial operations in 2024, there is no clear answer to a fundamental question: Are we on the verge of a stunning revolution in urban transportation, or are we witnessing, as aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia puts it, the “mother of all aerospace bubbles”?

Even by the standards of big-money tech investment, the vision is giddily audacious. During rush hour, the skies over a large city, such as Dubai or Madrid or Los Angeles, would swarm with hundreds, and eventually thousands, of eVTOL “air taxis.” Each would seat between one and perhaps half a dozen passengers, and would, eventually, be autonomous. Hailing a ride would be no more complicated than scheduling a trip on a ride-sharing app.

“We’re going to have to get the consumer used to thinking about flying in a small aircraft without a pilot on board. I have reservations about the general public’s willingness to accept that vision.”
—Laurie Garrow, Georgia Tech

And somehow, the cost would be no greater, either. In a discussion hosted by the Washington Post last July, Bevirt declared, “Our initial price point would be comparable to the cost of a taxi or an Uber, but our target is to move quickly down to the cost of what it costs you to drive your own car. And we believe that's the critical unlock to making this transformative to the world and for people’s daily lives.” Asked to put some dollar figures on his projection, Bevirt said, “Our goal is to launch this service [in 2024] at an average price of around $3 a mile and to move that down below $1 a mile over time.” The cost of an Uber varies by city and time of day, but it’s usually between $1 and $2 per mile, not including fees.

Industry analysts tend to have more restrained expectations. With the notable exception of China, they suggest, limited commercial flights will begin with eVTOL aircraft flown by human pilots, a phase that is expected to last six to eight years at least. Costs will be similar to those of helicopter trips, which tend to be in the range of $6 to $10 per mile or more. Of the 250+ startups in the field, only three—Kittyhawk, Wisk Aero (a joint venture of Kittyhawk and Boeing), and Ehang—plan to go straight to full autonomy without a preliminary phase involving pilots, says Chris Anderson, Chief Operating Officer at Kittyhawk.

To some, the autonomy issue is the heart of whether this entire enterprise can succeed economically. “When you figure in autonomy, you go from $3 a mile to 50 cents a mile,” says Anderson, citing studies done by his company. “You can’t do that with a pilot in the seat.”

Laurie A. Garrow, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, agrees. “For the large-scale vision, autonomy will be critical,” she says. “In order to get to the vision that people have, where this is a ubiquitous mode of transportation with a high market share, the only way to get that is by… eliminating the pilot.” Garrow, a civil engineer who co-directs the university’s Center for Urban and Regional Air Mobility, adds that autonomy presents challenges beyond technology: “We’re going to have to get the consumer used to thinking about flying in a small aircraft without a pilot on board. I have reservations about the general public’s willingness to accept that vision, especially early on.”

“The technical problems are, if not solved, then solvable. The main limiters are laws and regulations.”
—Chris Anderson, COO, Kittyhawk

Some analysts have much more fundamental doubts. Aboulafia, managing director at the consultancy AeroDynamic Advisory, says the figures simply don’t add up. eVTOL startups are counting on mass-manufacturing techniques to reduce the costs of these exotic aircraft, but such techniques have never been applied to producing aircraft on the scale specified in the projections. Even the anticipated lower operating costs, Aboulafia adds, won’t compensate. “If I started a car service here in Washington, D.C., using Rolls Royces, you’d think I was out of my mind, right?,” he asks. “But if I put batteries in those Rolls Royces, would you think I was any less crazy?”

What everyone agrees on is that achieving even a modest amount of success for eVTOLs will require surmounting entire categories of challenges, including regulations and certification, technology development, and the operational considerations of safely flying large numbers of aircraft in a small airspace.

To some, certification will be the highest hurdle. “The technical problems are, if not solved, then solvable,” says Anderson. “The main limiters are laws and regulations.”

There are dozens of aviation certification agencies in the world. But the three most important ones for these new aircraft are the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S., the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). Of the three, the FAA is considered the most challenging, for several reasons. One is that, to deal with eVTOLs, the agency has chosen to adapt its existing certification rules. That gives some observers pause, because the FAA does not have a body of knowledge and experience for certifying aircraft that fly by means of battery systems and electric motors. The EASA, on the other hand, has created an entirely new set of regulations tailored for eVTOL aircraft and related technology, according to Erin Rivera, senior associate for regulatory affairs at Lilium.

To clear an aircraft for commercial flight, the FAA actually requires three certifications: one for the aircraft itself, one for its operations, and one for its manufacturing. For the aircraft, the agency designates different categories, or “parts,” for different kinds of fliers. For eVTOLs (other than multicopters), the applicable category seems to be Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 23, which covers “normal, utility, acrobatic, and commuter category airplanes.” The certification process itself is performance based, meaning that the FAA establishes performance criteria that an aircraft must meet, but does not specify how it must meet them.

Because eVTOLs are so novel, the FAA is expected to lean on industry-developed standards referred to as Means of Compliance (MOC). The proposed MOCs must be acceptable to the FAA. Through a certification scheme known as the “issue paper process,” the applicant begins by submitting what’s known as a G1 proposal, which specifies the applicable certification standards and special conditions that must be met to achieve certification. The FAA reviews and then either approves or rejects the proposal. If it’s rejected, the applicant revises the proposal to address the FAA’s concerns and tries again.

“If very high levels of automation are critical to scaling, that will be very difficult to certify. How do you certify all the algorithms?”
—Matt Metcalfe, Deloitte Consulting

Some participants are wary. When he was the chief executive of drone maker 3D Robotics, Anderson participated in an analogous experiment in which the FAA had pledged to work more closely with industry to expedite certification of drone aircraft such as multicopters. “That was five years ago, and none of the drones have been certified,” Anderson points out. “It was supposed to be agile and streamlined, and it has been anything but.”

Nobody knows how many eVTOL startups have started the certification process with the FAA, although a good guess seems to be one or two dozen. Joby is furthest along in the process, according to Mark Moore, CEO of Whisper Aero, a maker of advanced electric propulsor systems in Crossville, Tenn. The G1 certification proposals are not public, but when the FAA accepts one (presumably Joby’s), it will become available through the U.S. Federal Register for public comment. Observers expect that to happen any day now.

This certification phase of piloted aircraft is fraught with unknowns because of the novelty of the eVTOL craft themselves. But experts say a greater challenge lies ahead, when manufacturers seek to certify the vehicles for autonomous flight. “If very high levels of automation are critical to scaling, that will be very difficult to certify,” says Matt Metcalfe, a managing director in Deloitte Consulting's Future of Mobility and Aviation practice. “That’s a real challenge, because it’s so complicated. How do you certify all the algorithms?”

“It’s a matter of, how do you ensure that autonomous technology is going to be as safe as a pilot?,” says an executive at one of the startups. “How do you certify that it’s always going to be able to do what it says? With true autonomous technology, the system itself can make an undetermined number of decisions, within its programming. And the way the current certification regulations work, is that they want to be able to know the inputs and outcome of every decision that the aircraft system makes. With a fully autonomous system, you can’t do that.”

Perhaps surprisingly, most experts contacted for this story agreed with Kittyhawk's Anderson that the technical challenges of building the aircraft themselves are solvable. Even autonomy—certification challenges aside—is within reach, most say. The Chinese company EHang has already offered fully autonomous, trial flights of its EH216 multicopter to tourists in the northeastern port city of Yantai and is now building a flight hub in its home city of Guangzhou. Wisk, Kittyhawk, Joby, and other companies have collectively conducted thousands of flights that were at least partially autonomous, without a pilot on board.

Experts foresee eVTOLs largely replacing helicopters for niche applications. There’s less agreement on whether middle-class people will ever be routinely whisked around cities for pennies a mile.

A more imposing challenge, and one likely to determine whether the grand vision of urban air mobility comes to pass, is whether municipal and aviation authorities can solve the challenges of integrating large numbers of eVTOLs into the airspace over major cities. Some of these challenges are, like the aircraft themselves, totally new. For example, most viable scenarios require the construction of “vertiports” in and around cities. These would be like mini airports where the eVTOLs would take off and land, be recharged, and take on and discharge passengers. Right now, it’s not clear who would pay for these. “Manufacturers probably won’t have the money to do it,” says Metcalfe at Deloitte.

As Georgia Tech's Garrow sees it, “vertiports may be one of the greatest constraints on scalability of UAM.” Vertiports, she explains, will be the “pinch points,” because at urban facilities, space will likely be limited to accommodating several aircraft at most. And yet at such a facility, room will be needed during rush hours to accommodate dozens of aircraft needing to land, be charged, take on passengers, and take off. “So the scalability of operations at the vertiports, and the amount of land space required to do that, are going to be two major challenges.”

Despite all the challenges, Garrow, Metcalfe, and others are cautiously optimistic that air mobility will eventually become part of the urban fabric in many cities. They foresee an initial period in which the eVTOLs largely replace helicopters in a few niche applications, such as linking downtown transportation depots to airports for those who can afford it, taking tourists on sightseeing tours, and transporting organs and high-risk patients among hospitals. There’s less agreement on whether middle-class people will ever be routinely whisked around cities for pennies a mile. Even some advocates think that’s more than 10 years away, if it happens at all.

If it does happen, a few studies have predicted that travel times and greenhouse-gas and pollutant emissions could all be reduced. A 2020 study published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences found a substantial reduction in overall energy use for transportation under “optimistic” scenarios for urban air mobility. And a 2021 study at the University of California, Berkeley, found that in the San Francisco Bay area, overall travel times could be reduced with as few as 10 vertiports. The benefits went up as the number of vertiports increased and as the transfer times at the vertiports went down. But the study also warned that “vertiport scheduling and capacity may become bottlenecks that limit the value of UAM.”

Metacalfe notes that ubiquitous modern conveniences like online shopping have already unleashed tech-based revolutions on a par with the grand vision for UAM. “We tend to look at this through the lens of today,” he says. “And that may be the wrong way to look at it. Ten years ago we never would have thought we’d be getting two or three packages a day. Similarly, the way we move people and goods in the future could be very, very different from the way we do it today.”

This article appears in the March 2022 print issue as “What’s Behind the Air-Taxi Craze.”


Match ID: 119 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 228 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

How AI Will Change Chip Design
Tue, 08 Feb 2022 14:00:01 +0000


The end of Moore’s Law is looming. Engineers and designers can do only so much to miniaturize transistors and pack as many of them as possible into chips. So they’re turning to other approaches to chip design, incorporating technologies like AI into the process.

Samsung, for instance, is adding AI to its memory chips to enable processing in memory, thereby saving energy and speeding up machine learning. Speaking of speed, Google’s TPU V4 AI chip has doubled its processing power compared with that of its previous version.

But AI holds still more promise and potential for the semiconductor industry. To better understand how AI is set to revolutionize chip design, we spoke with Heather Gorr, senior product manager for MathWorks’ MATLAB platform.

How is AI currently being used to design the next generation of chips?

Heather Gorr: AI is such an important technology because it’s involved in most parts of the cycle, including the design and manufacturing process. There’s a lot of important applications here, even in the general process engineering where we want to optimize things. I think defect detection is a big one at all phases of the process, especially in manufacturing. But even thinking ahead in the design process, [AI now plays a significant role] when you’re designing the light and the sensors and all the different components. There’s a lot of anomaly detection and fault mitigation that you really want to consider.

Portrait of a woman with blonde-red hair smiling at the camera Heather GorrMathWorks

Then, thinking about the logistical modeling that you see in any industry, there is always planned downtime that you want to mitigate; but you also end up having unplanned downtime. So, looking back at that historical data of when you’ve had those moments where maybe it took a bit longer than expected to manufacture something, you can take a look at all of that data and use AI to try to identify the proximate cause or to see something that might jump out even in the processing and design phases. We think of AI oftentimes as a predictive tool, or as a robot doing something, but a lot of times you get a lot of insight from the data through AI.

What are the benefits of using AI for chip design?

Gorr: Historically, we’ve seen a lot of physics-based modeling, which is a very intensive process. We want to do a reduced order model, where instead of solving such a computationally expensive and extensive model, we can do something a little cheaper. You could create a surrogate model, so to speak, of that physics-based model, use the data, and then do your parameter sweeps, your optimizations, your Monte Carlo simulations using the surrogate model. That takes a lot less time computationally than solving the physics-based equations directly. So, we’re seeing that benefit in many ways, including the efficiency and economy that are the results of iterating quickly on the experiments and the simulations that will really help in the design.

So it’s like having a digital twin in a sense?

Gorr: Exactly. That’s pretty much what people are doing, where you have the physical system model and the experimental data. Then, in conjunction, you have this other model that you could tweak and tune and try different parameters and experiments that let sweep through all of those different situations and come up with a better design in the end.

So, it’s going to be more efficient and, as you said, cheaper?

Gorr: Yeah, definitely. Especially in the experimentation and design phases, where you’re trying different things. That’s obviously going to yield dramatic cost savings if you’re actually manufacturing and producing [the chips]. You want to simulate, test, experiment as much as possible without making something using the actual process engineering.

We’ve talked about the benefits. How about the drawbacks?

Gorr: The [AI-based experimental models] tend to not be as accurate as physics-based models. Of course, that’s why you do many simulations and parameter sweeps. But that’s also the benefit of having that digital twin, where you can keep that in mind—it's not going to be as accurate as that precise model that we’ve developed over the years.

Both chip design and manufacturing are system intensive; you have to consider every little part. And that can be really challenging. It's a case where you might have models to predict something and different parts of it, but you still need to bring it all together.

One of the other things to think about too is that you need the data to build the models. You have to incorporate data from all sorts of different sensors and different sorts of teams, and so that heightens the challenge.

How can engineers use AI to better prepare and extract insights from hardware or sensor data?

Gorr: We always think about using AI to predict something or do some robot task, but you can use AI to come up with patterns and pick out things you might not have noticed before on your own. People will use AI when they have high-frequency data coming from many different sensors, and a lot of times it’s useful to explore the frequency domain and things like data synchronization or resampling. Those can be really challenging if you’re not sure where to start.

One of the things I would say is, use the tools that are available. There’s a vast community of people working on these things, and you can find lots of examples [of applications and techniques] on GitHub or MATLAB Central, where people have shared nice examples, even little apps they’ve created. I think many of us are buried in data and just not sure what to do with it, so definitely take advantage of what’s already out there in the community. You can explore and see what makes sense to you, and bring in that balance of domain knowledge and the insight you get from the tools and AI.

What should engineers and designers consider when using AI for chip design?

Gorr: Think through what problems you’re trying to solve or what insights you might hope to find, and try to be clear about that. Consider all of the different components, and document and test each of those different parts. Consider all of the people involved, and explain and hand off in a way that is sensible for the whole team.

How do you think AI will affect chip designers’ jobs?

Gorr: It’s going to free up a lot of human capital for more advanced tasks. We can use AI to reduce waste, to optimize the materials, to optimize the design, but then you still have that human involved whenever it comes to decision-making. I think it’s a great example of people and technology working hand in hand. It’s also an industry where all people involved—even on the manufacturing floor—need to have some level of understanding of what’s happening, so this is a great industry for advancing AI because of how we test things and how we think about them before we put them on the chip.

How do you envision the future of AI and chip design?

Gorr: It's very much dependent on that human element—involving people in the process and having that interpretable model. We can do many things with the mathematical minutiae of modeling, but it comes down to how people are using it, how everybody in the process is understanding and applying it. Communication and involvement of people of all skill levels in the process are going to be really important. We’re going to see less of those superprecise predictions and more transparency of information, sharing, and that digital twin—not only using AI but also using our human knowledge and all of the work that many people have done over the years.


Match ID: 120 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 228 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

Outside the Box: After underperforming the stock market for years, alternative energy is red hot
Fri, 25 Sep 2020 13:39:17 GMT
Is clean tech finally a viable investment?
Match ID: 121 Score: 2.14 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 729 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

Stocks to Watch: Wisconsin Energy, Oracle, GE are stocks to watch
Mon, 23 Jun 2014 11:42:35 GMT
Wisconsin Energy Corp., Oracle Corp., and General Electric Co. may all see active trading after deals, or talk of deals.
Match ID: 122 Score: 2.14 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 3015 days
qualifiers: 2.14 energy

If Humans Went Extinct, Would a Similar Species Evolve?
Mon, 22 Aug 2022 12:00:00 +0000
It's comforting to believe that another advanced civilization would develop if humanity met its end. Not so fast.
Match ID: 123 Score: 1.43 source: www.wired.com age: 33 days
qualifiers: 1.43 nuclear

How Flyback Rocket Boosters Got Off the Ground
Mon, 21 Mar 2022 20:27:59 +0000


In the popular conception of a technological breakthrough, a flash of genius is followed quickly by commercial or industrial success, public acclaim, and substantial wealth for a small group of inventors and backers. In the real world, it almost never works out that way.

Advances that seem to appear suddenly are often backed by decades of development. Consider steam engines. Starting in the second quarter of the 19th century they began powering trains, and they soon revolutionized the transportation of people and goods. But steam engines themselves had been invented at the beginning of the 18th century. For 125 years they had been used to pump water out of mines and then to power the mills of the Industrial Revolution.


Lately we’ve become accustomed to seeing rocket boosters return to Earth and then land vertically, on their tails, ready to be serviced and flown again. (Much the same majestic imagery thrilled sci-fi moviegoers in the 1950s.) Today, both SpaceX and Blue Origin are using these techniques, and a third startup, Relativity Space, is on the verge of joining them. Such reusable rocketry is already cutting the cost of access to space and, with other advances yet to come, will help make it possible for humanity to return to the moon and eventually to travel to Mars.

Vertical landings, too, have a long history, with the same ground being plowed many times by multiple research organizations. From 1993 to 1996 a booster named DCX, for Delta Clipper Experimental, took off and landed vertically eight times at White Sands Missile Range. It flew to a height of only 2,500 meters, but it successfully negotiated the very tricky dynamics of landing a vertical cylinder on its end.

The key innovations that made all this possible happened 50 or more years ago. And those in turn built upon the invention a century ago of liquid-fueled rockets that can be throttled up or down by pumping more or less fuel into a combustion chamber.

In August 1954 the Rolls-Royce Thrust Measuring Rig, also known as the “flying bedstead,” took off and landed vertically while carrying a pilot. The ungainly contraption had two downward-pointing Rolls-Royce jet engines with nozzles that allowed the pilot to vector the thrust and control the flight. By 1957 another company, Hawker Siddeley, started work on turning this idea into a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fighter jet. It first flew in 1967 and entered service in 1969 as the Harrier Jump Jet, with new Rolls-Royce engines specifically designed for thrust vectoring. Thrust vectoring is a critical component of control for all of today’s reusable rocket boosters.

During the 1960s another rig, also nicknamed the flying bedstead, was developed in the United States for training astronauts to land on the moon. There was a gimbaled rocket engine that always pointed directly downward, providing thrust equal to five-sixths of the vehicle and the pilot’s weight, simulating lunar gravity. The pilot then controlled the thrust and direction of another rocket engine to land the vehicle safely.

It was not all smooth flying. Neil Armstrong first flew the trainer in March 1967, but he was nearly killed in May 1968 when things went awry and he had to use the ejection seat to rocket to safety. The parachute deployed and he hit the ground just 4 seconds later. Rocket-powered vertical descent was harder than it looked.

Vertical rocket landings have a long history, with the same ground being plowed many times by multiple research organizations.

Nevertheless, between 1969 and 1972, Armstrong and then five other astronauts piloted lunar modules to vertical landings on the moon. There were no ejection seats, and these have been the only crewed rocket-powered landings on a spaceflight. All other humans lofted into space have used Earth’s atmosphere to slow down, combining heat shields with either wings or parachutes.

In the early days of Blue Origin, the company returned to the flying-bedstead approach, and its vehicle took off and landed successfully in March 2005. It was powered by four jet engines, once again from Rolls-Royce, bought secondhand from the South African Air Force. Ten years later, in November 2015, Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster reached an altitude of 100 kilometers and then landed vertically. A month later SpaceX had its first successful vertical landing of a Falcon-9 booster.

Today’s reusable, or flyback, boosters also use something called grid fins, those honeycombed panels sticking out perpendicularly from the top of a booster that guide the massive cylinder as it falls through the atmosphere unpowered. The fins have an even longer history, as they have been part of every crewed Soyuz launch since the 1960s. They guide the capsule back to Earth if there’s an abort during the climb to orbit. They were last used in October 2018 when a Soyuz failed at 50 km up. The cosmonaut and astronaut who were aboard landed safely and had a successful launch in another Soyuz five months later.

The next big accomplishment will be crewed vertical landings, 50 years after mankind's last one, on the moon. It will almost certainly happen before this decade is out.

I’m less confident that we’ll see general-purpose quantum computers and abundant electricity from nuclear fusion in that time frame. But I’m pretty sure we’ll eventually get there with both. The arc of technology development is often long. And sometimes, the longer it is, the more revolutionary it is in the end.

This article appears in the April 2022 print issue as “The Long Road to Overnight Success .”


Match ID: 124 Score: 1.43 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 186 days
qualifiers: 1.43 nuclear

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