Efficiently navigating a superpressure balloon in the stratosphere1 requires the integration of a multitude of cues, such as wind speed and solar elevation, and the process is complicated by forecast errors and sparse wind measurements. Coupled with the need to make decisions in real time, these factors rule out the use of conventional control techniques2,3. Here we describe the use of reinforcement learning4,5 to create a high-performing flight controller. Our algorithm uses data augmentation6,7 and a self-correcting design to overcome the key technical challenge of reinforcement learning from imperfect data, which has proved to be a major obstacle to its application to physical systems8. We deployed our controller to station Loon superpressure balloons at multiple locations across the globe, including a 39-day controlled experiment over the Pacific Ocean.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has alerted physicians and surgeons who treat obesity that it is investigating whether there is a link between gastric balloons -- a new-generation weight-loss device -- and the deaths of five patients. In an alert issued Thursday, the FDA said that from 2016 to the present, five "unanticipated deaths" had occurred within a month or less in patients who had liquid-filled gastric balloon systems implanted in their stomachs. In three of the cases, the agency said that patients died between one and three days after the weight-loss device had been put in place. "At this time, we do not know the root cause or incidence rate of patient death, nor have we been able to definitively attribute the deaths to the devices or the insertion procedures for these devices," the FDA told physicians. The agency suggested it would explore the possibility that patients suffered gastric and esophageal perforation or intestinal obstruction, either while the device was being implanted or afterward.
Stratospheric balloons are a low-cost way to get above 99% of the atmosphere. Payloads lifted that high have wide views of Earth and clear views of the stars. For decades, NASA has launched a handful of stratospheric balloons every year. Although they float for months, they drift at constant altitudes. Now, upstart commercial companies like World View are launching smaller balloons that can remain in place by surfing stratospheric winds.
It's much easier to shoot for the moon when it's on the ground, rolling toward you. A giant moon-shaped balloon, caught in the winds of Typhoon Meranti blew through the streets of Fuzhou, China, this morning. The balloon was initially a part of a display installed outside of a shopping mall to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on Thursday, reports Buzzfeed. Huge moon balloon blown away in Fuzhou, E China, as #TyphoonMeranti approaches. This balloon was spotted rolling over cars and people as it was lifted throughout the town.
Agents in Texas recently finished a 30-day trial of the camera-toting, helium-filled balloon made by Drone Aviation Holding Corp., a small startup that named former Border Patrol chief David Aguilar to its board of directors in January. The 3-year-old, money-losing company gave Aguilar stock options that may prove lucrative if it gets more orders for its proprietary model. The trial comes as agents test hand-launched drones, which are relatively inexpensive but hampered by short battery life and weight limits. The Border Patrol has also used six large tethered balloons in Texas since 2012, acquired from the Defense Department. President Trump has pledged to add 5,000 Border Patrol agents, but hiring has been slow.