Popular Science


Why Morse code is actually a really weird way to communicate

Popular Science

All the features of a drawing are simultaneously present on a static piece of paper, but the relevant features of speech or music require integration across time; that is, each feature must be interpreted in the context of elements that have already faded into the past. Morse code is independent of pitch or spatial information of any sort--in Morse code timing is everything. But there is information encoded in the pauses as well: the pause between each letter is 360 ms (3x the duration of a dot), and the pause between each word is 840 ms (7x the duration of each dot). One does not start learning Morse code at 20 words per minute: people start at slow rates and work their way up.


Set phone reminders for anything

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You've got a plethora of third-party reminder apps to pick from. The polished Todoist app, for Android and iOS, has been around for years. You can customize your reminders in just about any way you can imagine, with timings, priorities, locations, labels, notifications, and more. Remember The Milk is another much-loved reminder app for Android and iOS.


The future of the Air Force is fighter pilots leading drone swarms into battle

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Earlier this month, Air Force F-35As were grounded because the system supplying oxygen to pilots failed, and the F-22 struggled with oxygen problems for years as well. Another challenge is the gravitational force on a pilot from sudden and sharp maneuvers; there is an upper limit on how much force a human body can withstand before they black out and possibly die. The primary target drone Fendley is talking about is the BQM-167 aerial target, which can cost between $750,000 and $900,000, depending on the options selected and the size of the order. That body is the basis for the Mako, one of two combat drones designed and built by Kratos.


The Curiosity rover and other spacecraft are learning to think for themselves

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That's why engineers are increasingly giving spacecraft the ability to make their own decisions. Space robots have long been able to control certain onboard systems--to regulate power usage, for example--but artificial intelligence is now giving rovers and orbiters the ability to collect and analyze science data, then decide what info to send back to Earth, without any human input. Since May 2016, NASA has been testing out an autonomous system on the Curiosity rover. A new report shows that the new system, named AEGIS (Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science), is working well, and has the potential to accelerate scientific discoveries.


Bosch plans to use radar sensors in millions of cars to make better maps

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Self-driving cars need accurate maps. The maps should ideally be accurate down to less than an inch, says Christoph Mertz, a scientist at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University and cofounder of a road monitoring company called Roadbotics. Maps of the future may get an accuracy boost, thanks to a new partnership between Bosch and mapping company TomTom; they are collaborating on a technology they call a "radar road signature." The idea, announced on Wednesday, is that cars driven by humans (and possibly autonomous ones as well) will use onboard radar sensors to map the roads in a highly-detailed way.


This week in tech: Triumph of AlphaGo, new Surface Pro, and a bacteria shirt

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This week, a machine came out on top, and an Ivy-League dropout finally got a Harvard degree. A Google-created program called AlphaGo beat its flesh-and-blood opponent, Ke Jie, not once but twice at the game Go. And artificial intelligence isn't just playing games: it is going to be a tool in France to measure whether business students tuning in online are staying attuned to class.


Scientists are trying to get inside the mind of a terrorist

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Agustín Ibáñez, a cognitive science researcher at Argentina's Ineco Foundation at Favaloro University, and Adolfo Garcia, a researcher at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), took an interesting tact towards understanding how the mind of a terrorist differs from the mind of, well, people who don't commit acts of terror. In a study released today in the journal Nature Human Behavior, Ibáñez and Garcia (along with research support from the Universidad Autonomoa del Caribe, Universidad los Andes, and ICESI University in Colombia, Chile's Universidad Adolfo Ibanez, and Boston College) studied the moral judgment of 66 terrorists. While terror attacks are a relatively new concept to Americans outside of the Jim Crow South, the country of Colombia spent more than twenty years under constant threat of terror attacks from paramilitary groups that have by some estimates killed as many as 70,000 people (a peace deal finally went through this year, leaving only one remaining group). Garcia, Ibanez and their colleagues had 66 incarcerated terrorists complete a host of cognitive functioning tests, assessments designed to test aggression, an emotion recognition assessment, and a moral judgment task.


In China, an e-commerce giant builds the world's biggest delivery drone

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JD.com has made a major investment in this space beyond the work in Shaanxi. It is also building a 30-acre logistic and robotics research center in Xian, which will include HQ for JD Logistics, a cloud computing center, and a drone factory. After it establishes a working concept for large-scale drone delivery, JD.com wants to master inter-province drone aerial delivery, and then branch off to include global partnerships with international logistics providers.


Learning to read as an adult might change the way your brain works

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But new research suggests that learning to read does more than make life easier: it literally changes how the brain works by increasing connectivity between its regions. "We're trying to understand the basic principle of how the brain works," says Falk Huettig, a researcher in the department of psychology of language at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. To understand how reading affects the brain, Huettig and a team of researchers took two groups of illiterate Hindi-speaking Indian adults in their thirties and matched them for gender, handedness (right handed vs left), income, number of literate family members, and intelligence. Afterwards, one group undertook six months of literacy instruction in the Devanagari script, a writing system used for several languages including Hindi.


The DJI Spark drone might actually be simple enough for the average person

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It also has a lot of the AI-driven smarts you'll find in higher-end models like the Mavic Pro and the Phantom that help it handle things like object detection and automated flying. This isn't a totally new idea, but gesture control often requires some kind of external sensor or glove. Gesture control isn't magic, of course. You can't do a special wave and expect it to go all Michael Bay, but there are some pre-planned flight modes baked in that can be accessed through the DJI app.