Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Thursday, 30 May 2013

U.S. urges states not to allow general use of self-driving cars -

U.S. urges states not to allow general use of self-driving cars  - 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled new recommendations to states for self-driving cars, urging them to be used only for testing and to require safeguards to ensure they can be taken over by a driver in the case of a malfunction.

NHTSA also said it was embarking on a four-year research effort on self-driving or autonomous vehicles as it considers requiring features like automatic braking, in which the car takes action to prevent crashes.

“We believe there are a number of technological issues as well as human performance issues that must be addressed before self-driving vehicles can be made widely available,” NHTSA said in its 14-page automated driving policy statement. “Self-driving vehicle technology is not yet at the stage of sophistication or demonstrated safety capability that it should be authorized for use by members of the public for general driving purposes. Should a state nevertheless decide to permit such non-testing operation of self-driving vehicles, at a minimum, the state should require that a properly licensed driver (i.e., one licensed to drive self-driving vehicles) be seated in the driver’s seat and be available at all times in order to operate the vehicle in situations in which the automated technology is not able to safely control the vehicle.”

NHTSA says as self-driving cars improve, they will reconsider. NHTSA says self-driving cars being tested in California, Florida and Nevada by Google and Audi of America should have the capability of detecting that their automated vehicle technologies have malfunctioned “and informing the driver in a way that enables the driver to regain proper control of the vehicle.” The Michigan Legislature is also considering allowing self-driving car testing.

Self-driving cars have drawn enormous media attention in recent months, including being featured on the cover of the Economist and in hundreds of articles.

In a telephone interview from Seoul, Korea, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said the current companies testing vehicles are complying with their recommendations — but the agency wants to ensure that new players also adopt best practices. He still believes full autonomous vehicles are a long way from being ready for consumer adoption.

NHTSA’s policy will provide states interested in passing similar laws with assistance “to ensure that their legislation does not inadvertently impact current vehicle technology and that the testing of self-driving vehicles is conducted safely,” the agency said.

“We’re encouraged by the new automated vehicle technologies being developed and implemented today, but want to ensure that motor vehicle safety is considered in the development of these advances,” Strickland said. “As additional states consider similar legislation, our recommendations provide lawmakers with the tools they need to encourage the safe development and implementation of automated vehicle technology.”

NHTSA says self-driving test vehicles should have the capability of recording malfunctions or failures in order to understand the causes.

“Any regulation that allows for the operation of self-driving vehicles on public roads should ensure that entities installing automated technology in vehicles do not disable federally required safety systems,” NHTSA said.

NHTSA’s research on self-driving vehicles is also in order for the agency to establish safety standards for these vehicles, if they become commercially available.

Driverless cars use video cameras, radar sensors, laser rangefinders and detailed maps to monitor road and driving conditions. Automated systems make corrections to keep the car in the lane, brake and accelerate to avoid accidents, and navigate.

Google has logged more than 300,000 miles on U.S. roads with self-driving cars. Earlier this year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said the nation eventually is “going to have vehicles that may not even have people in them. I am not suggesting that now, so don’t get nervous, but California, Florida and Nevada have already passed legislation on autonomous vehicles. They’re ahead of us, and aren’t we the automotive capital of the world?”

Under the proposed Michigan state law, a manufacturer license plate would include an “M” designation. The measure would permit manufacturers and suppliers to use the M plate for automated vehicle testing. “Upfitters” of automated vehicles, such as Google, would be included.

Automakers already offer safety systems that are stepping stones to self-driving cars: lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist systems, blind-spot warnings, forward-collision warning and prevention, and adaptive cruise control.

But NHTSA says the technology could help reduce thousands of car deaths, save millions of gallons of fuel in reduced congestion -- since self-driving cars wouldn’t get into traffic jams -- and save the U.S. potentially tens of billions of dollars.

“America is at a historic turning point for automotive travel. Motor vehicles and drivers’ relationships with them are likely to change significantly in the next ten to twenty years, perhaps more than they have changed in the last one hundred years,” NHTSA says. “Recent and continuing advances in automotive technology and current research on and testing of exciting vehicle innovations have created completely new possibilities for improving highway safety, increasing environmental benefits, expanding mobility, and creating new economic opportunities for jobs and investment. The United States is on the threshold of a period of dramatic change in the capabilities of, and expectations for, the vehicles we drive. In fact, many are inspired by the vision that the vehicles will do the driving for us.”

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the agency is focused on safety.

“Whether we’re talking about automated features in cars today or fully automated vehicles of the future, our top priority is to ensure these vehicles — and their occupants — are safe,” LaHood said. “Our research covers all levels of automation, including advances like automatic braking that may save lives in the near term, while the recommendations to states help them better oversee self-driving vehicle development, which holds promising long-term safety benefits.”


Asteroid fly-by on Friday sparks debate over readiness for ‘Armageddon’-style event -

Asteroid fly-by on Friday sparks debate over readiness for ‘Armageddon’-style event - 

The passage close to Earth of a mountain-sized asteroid expected Friday has reignited discussions among scientists about how to deal with the improbable — but definitely possible — circumstance of an asteroid predicted to hit the planet.
1998 QE2, as the asteroid is designated, will pass Earth at what NASA calls a “safe distance” of about 3.6 million miles — 15 times the distance to the moon, but nonetheless a near miss in astronomical terms — at just before 5 p.m. Eastern on Friday.
The asteroid is not named for the Cunard cruise line’s famous transatlantic ship the Queen Elizabeth II, but rather according to a naming convention based on the year it was discovered.
The asteroid, which is estimated to be 1.7 miles long, but whose shape is still undetectable, will be closely examined by radar telescopes as it passes, NASA said in a statement.
The agency is planning a variety of social media events to mark the passage, and allow the public to listen in to scientists as they debate and discuss what they are learning from the fly-by.
NASA says it “places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet from them” through its Near-Earth Object program.
For more than a decade the program has run Sentry — a computer system that automatically analyses constantly updated astronomical data, looking for asteroids or other objects that might be on a collision course with Earth.
In 2016, NASA will launch a robotic space-probe to one of the most potentially dangerous of the objects in the Sentry database — asteroid (101955) Bennu. The OSIRIS REx probe will enable scientists to study the asteroid and even bring a small sample of it back to Earth for study.
Without years of observation and exact knowledge of an asteroid’s size and shape, it is hard to predict the exact future course they will take as their orbits are erratic, but (101955) Bennu is one of a group of such bodies known as Apollo asteroids which have an orbit that intersects with the Earth’s — creating a small but hard to calculate risk of a collision.
Recent calculations by NASA scientists show a 1 in 1,800 chance that Bennu will collide with Earth in the year 2182.


Oldest dinosaur embryos ever discovered? -

Oldest dinosaur embryos ever discovered? - 

A dinosaur nest discovery has revealed the most primitive known dinosaur embryos, which are among the oldest ever found.
The eggs belong to Torvosaurus, a T. rex-like predator that stalked the late Jurassic some 150 million years ago. Torvosaurus grew to be around 30 feet long, but the fragmented embryos discovered in Portugal were probably only about 6 inches in length.
'He just stumbled across some eggshells [and found] there was also an entire nest up there.'
- Ricardo Arajo, a doctoral candidate in paleontology at Southern Methodist University
"This is shedding some light on the early stages of the development of these types of dinosaurs," said Ricardo Arajo, a doctoral candidate in paleontology at Southern Methodist University in Texas. [See Photos of Dinosaur Embryos and Hatchlings]
A surprising find
The crushed clutch of eggs was found in 2005 by amateur fossil-hunter and fossil cast-maker Art Walen, who was on an annual vacation to the fossil-rich Lourinh Formation in western Portugal.
"He just stumbled across some eggshells, and he traced the eggshells up the cliffs and he found there were not only isolated eggshells, there was also an entire nest up there," Arajo told LiveScience.
Paleontologists from the Museu da Lourinh excavated the nest, which researchers first assumed belonged to a long-necked sauropod dinosaur. Even in the field, however, the paleontologists began to think they might have something very different on their hands. The eggs' surfaces were ornamented with a strange, almost honeycomb-like pattern that was quite distinct from anything the researchers had ever seen, Arajo said.
Once the specimen was excavated and brought to the museum for preparation, the researchers got another surprise: There were embryo bones mixed in with the crushed eggs.
Such a find is "extremely rare," Arajo said. "There's probably a handful of situations like this in the world."

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STUDY: Companies Reject 1 in 10 Job Seekers Based on Social Media Posts... -

STUDY: Companies Reject 1 in 10 Job Seekers Based on Social Media Posts... - 

Little did Ashley Payne know that the festive photo of her holding both a pint of beer and a glass of red wine would lead to her losing her high school teaching job.
The 24-year-old educator posted the image to her Facebook profile, and after a parent complained, school officials told Payne she'd have to choose between resigning and suspension, according to IOL News. She resigned.
If those same school officials were hiring and found a candidate with a similar photo shared on the social Web, it's most likely that person wouldn't even get an interview.
According to a new report, turning down young job candidates because of what they post on social media has become commonplace. The report, by On Device Research, states that 1 in 10 people between ages 16 and 34 have been turned down for a new job because of photos or comments on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social networking sites.
"If getting a job wasn't hard enough in this tough economic climate, young people are getting rejected from employment because of their social media profiles and they are not concerned about it," On Device Research's marketing manager Sarah Quinn said in a statement.
Ten percent of young people said they knew they were rejected from a job because of their social media profiles, yet 66 percent of young people still don't seem to care that these profiles may affect their career prospects. The majority of young people cater their social media presence to friends rather than potential employers, according to On Device Research.
Quinn says that better education on how social media can affect employment is needed to ensure young people aren't making it even harder to excel in their careers.

Several U.S. states have created laws to protect employees from being fired because of what they post on social media. In January, six states officially made it illegal for employers to ask their workers for passwords to their social media accounts.
It's unclear how many employers have demanded access to workers' online accounts, but some cases have surfaced publicly and inspired lively debate over the past year. In one instance last year, a teacher's aide in Michigan was suspended after refusing to provide access to her Facebook account following complaints over a picture she posted.
As for Payne, even though she ultimately resigned, she since has sued the school to get her job back or receive monetary damages, according to IOL News.
On Device Research surveyed 17,657 people, ages 16 to 34, in China, India, Nigeria, Brazil, the U.S., and U.K.


STUDY: Best Way to Win Argument -- Shout Louder... -

STUDY: Best Way to Win Argument -- Shout Louder... - 

Being confident and loud is the best way to win an argument - even if you are wrong, a new study suggests.
Researchers from Washington State University drew this conclusion after studying the activity of Twitter users. The more opinionated they were, the more influential and trustworthy they were perceived to be. 
They analysed more than a billion tweets posted during various American sporting events, including the 2013 Super Bowl, to the test whether being accurate or being confident made Twitter users more popular. 
Despite professional pundits and amateur fans making a similar amount of correct and incorrect predictions, the tweeters who 'yelled' louder were seen as more trustworthy and had more followers.

To test the theory, two economic students from the university studied the language used by sports pundits who often 'yell' for attention.
Jadrien Wooten and Ben Smith compared the tweets of professional pundits - celebrities with verified Twitter accounts - with amateur tweeters that claimed to have some sports expertise in their bio.
The pair then developed a software program to sort through more than a billion tweets looking for predictions for major sporting events in the US, such as the 2013 Super Bowl in February.
The program pulled out tweets with team names, nicknames and expressions commonly associated with predictions, such as 'beat' and 'win'.
Words like 'vanquish,' 'destroy' and 'annihilate' posted in Tweets were considered to be confident words.
The researchers used these confident words in place of being able to measure loudness online.

The researchers developed a software program and formula for analysing how confident tweets were. They compared this to how accurate the tweets were, how many tweets a user posted each year, how many people favorited their tweets and the number of followers each one had. From this they were able to find a mean average and compare professional and amateur tweeters to each other
The research found that the professionals were correct with their predictions 47 per cent of the time. 
Whereas the amateurs made accurate predictions in 45 per cent of cases. 
However, the professionals were more confident, scoring a .480 confidence rating compared to the amateurs' .313. 
If a professional pundit accurately predicted every game of the baseball playoffs and series, the authors estimated his or her Twitter following would increase 3.4 per centr
While an amateur would get 7.3 per cent more followers.
A confident professional would increase his or her following by nearly 17 per cent, whereas a 'loud' amateur would get 20 per cent more followers.