Robot taxis in Netherlands

Sorry taxi drivers, but the self-driving shuttles are coming. On the plus side? This will probably lower the cost of cabs, creating a culture that devalues owning and driving one’s own car, and values instead the freedom of the robot cab taking you to the train, trolley bus or tram, where you can continue reading your iphone! Who wants to drive in traffic anyway? It’s stressful. Instead, robot-vehicles could facilitate *less* cars on the road by helping people feel *more* secure on public transport with the robot-cabs filling in any transport gaps. As Gizmodo says:

An Autonomous Shuttle Is Driving Public Streets for the First Time

An Autonomous Shuttle Is Driving Public Streets for the First Time1

This fall, a city in the Netherlands will become the first to allow fully autonomous shuttles regularly on its public roads–in the form of a small bus carting people between two towns.

They’re called WEpods, and they’re only large enough to fit six people comfortably. It’s a project of the town of Wageningen, which is in the central part of the Netherlands where farming is big business. The community is using the buses to shuttle visitors in between the towns of Ede and Wageningen (about a 17-minute drive) as well as around its university, a center for agriculture research. Autonomous buses will lend it an air of “new, flexible, sustainable and social mobility” for visiting businesspeople and tourists, the project’s website explains.

The buses–which are an altered version of those made by Swiss robotics company EasyMile and have been tested in several private projects–won’t go terribly fast: They’ll peter along at roughly 15 miles per hour, asBigThink reports. They also won’t go very far, and a human will always be watching remotely via camera to make sure nothing goes awry. But it’s still a big deal, since it’ll be the first regular use of totally autonomous shuttle on a public road. While Google and others have been testing their driverless cars in public for a while now, but they have humans inside in case of emergencies–meanwhile, smaller autonomous prototypes have seen short tests in public, but nothing permanent.

Seemingly anticipating public anxiety, the project’s creators launched an online forum where people can ask questions prior to the November 30th launch date. Some of these comments are fairly nuts (“I would feel in such a car as a cookie in the cookie jar, which are short lived.”). But another discussion on the forum is actually pretty informative–a postdoc researcher named Joris Ijsselmuiden, who studies robotics and agriculture and works on the project, posted a gif that shows how the pods identify street signs and objects using computer vision.

An Autonomous Shuttle Is Driving Public Streets for the First Time

While of course the buses use GPS data, they also use computer vision to glean information about where the bus is heading independently. Ijsselmuiden explains:

If the accuracy of the GPS system decreases, for instance by trees along the road, it must be helped by landmark detection. Here the cameras detect objects along the way and compare them with known objects from earlier recordings. The position of these objects is known and so the vehicle can calculate where it is located.

It’s pretty cool to see this kind of machine learning literally in motion—even if it’s only going 15mph.

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3 reasons why nuclear power is AWESOME!

Under 5 minutes

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Pandora’s Promise now at link below


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My prediction for the SBS ‘Uranium’ series was delightfully wrong!

A few weeks ago I predicted that, from the tone of the SBS documentary series “Uranium: twisting the dragon’s tail” it would not cover the new generation of breeder reactors that can eat nuclear waste. But I was wrong! Physicist Dr Derek Muller  started down the whole “nuclear waste has to be stored for 100,000 years” schtick, and even repeated that number slowly and dramatically. I was already shouting at the TV. But then a miracle!

Derek interviewed Leslie Dewan of Transatomic Power that not only mentioned nuclear reactors that eat nuclear waste, but my favourite breeder reactor, the LFTR!

But what if there was a way to use this waste? Dr Leslie Dewan is one of a new generation of nuclear engineers designing the next generation of nuclear reactor. 

Leslie: “Most nuclear waste lasts for hundreds of thousands of years, and my reactor is able to take that long lived waste and break it down and extract almost all of its remaining energy. And if you take all of that waste and put it into these reactors, you could power the entire world for about 72 years, even taking into account increasing demand.”
Derek: “How is your reactor design different?”
Leslie: “It uses a liquid fluoride salt as fuel so if you have an accident it is able to shut itself down safely. Our reactor can run entirely on nuclear waste, it can’t melt down, and it’s cheaper than coal.”

Derek (later): “Leslie thinks that her reactor is less than a decade away.”

Sadly at 51 minutes into this last episode Derek walks down the abandoned streets of Fukushima, musing.

So what should we do with uranium? As a physicist I am tempted to say it’s such a great source of power, it has such incredible energy density and so many benefits that way, how can you ignore it? But after studying it, after searching the world and following the story of uranium, the feeling that I’m left with is that it is not ready to take over. And seeing how far renewable energy has come, that suggests to me there are alternatives these days and that we don’t need to go with uranium, we don’t need to risk another place like this,’ and he waved at the Fukushima wastelands.

And yet, every year uranium treats disease and every year, saves more lives than it has ever destroyed, even including the atomic bombs! And just imagine a world where next generation reactors could produce massive amounts of clean, safe energy. We live in an age where the nuclear dragon has been unleashed, and where that leaves us remains to be seen. But there is no such thing as a future without uranium!

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Drone to kill Crown of Thorn Starfish

COTSBot will kill the Crown Of Thorn Starfish Bot! ABC September 2015 says:

Queensland researchers are close to completing work on an autonomous robot that will cruise the Great Barrier Reef and inject the destructive crown-of-thorns starfish with a toxic solution….

The robot has been 10 years in development.

Dr Dunbabin said he had to wait for technology to catch up to the initial idea.

“It’s only in the last year that we’ve been able to really hit it hard and come up with a solution that we think can really make a difference,” he said.

“We had a great vision system 10 years ago but the problem was the stuff you use to actually kill the starfish wasn’t feasible.”

The old method of killing the COTS required up to 10 injections for each starfish, but James Cook University has continued to develop the single-shot technology.

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Florida, Singapore & Tokyo under water in 100 years?

Disturbing NASA projection in this morning’s news

Sea levels are rising around the world and the latest satellite data suggests that one metre or more is unavoidable in the next 100-200 years, NASA scientists have said.

Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting faster than ever, and oceans are warming and expanding much more rapidly than they have in years past……Rising seas will have “profound impacts” around the world, NASA Earth Science Division director Michael Freilich said.

“More than 150 million people, most of them in Asia, live within one meter of present sea level,” he said….

….Low-lying US states such as Florida are at risk of disappearing, as are some of the world’s major cities such as Singapore and Tokyo.

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Thorcon ready to go with today’s technology

Because the climate emergency is so critical now, ThorCon have developed a BURNER Molten Salt Reactor that could sell electricity at 3cents / kWh, which is half the price of coal. Again, this is a BURNER that will not eat nuclear waste. Future BREEDER Molten Salt Reactors / LFTR’s can do that, and take their time with R&D to get it right.

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