SCI COMMUN### Planetary science The Wright brothers' storied flight at Kitty Hawk had a sequel this week more than 288 million kilometers away: Ingenuity, NASA's $80 million minihelicopter, took a 1-minute test hop on Mars, the first controlled flight of a powered aircraft on another planet. The autonomous 1.8-kilogram machine, the size of a tissue box, spun up its 1.2-meter rotors to more than 2500 revolutions per minute before ascending about 3 meters and hovering in the thin martian air. Ingenuity rotated and took a picture before alighting back on the surface. NASA plans to send Ingenuity, which first landed on Mars on 18 February with the Perseverance rover, on four more flights of increasing height and distance and to use the resulting data to build larger, more ambitious helicopters to explore the Red Planet. 14 of 15 —U.S. states not requiring people to wear masks in public recorded relatively high rates of new COVID-19 cases from May to October 2020. None of eight states with high mask wearing had high rates of infection. ( PLOS ONE ) ### Natural resources Just 19% of Earth's lands are truly wild, with no history of human impact, a new study shows. In other parts of the globe, however, biodiversity hot spots have survived even where humans thrived, thanks in part to millennia of beneficial land management practices by Indigenous people, these researchers conclude. By 10,000 years ago, humans had already spread across three-quarters of the globe, and their controlled burns, small-scale farming, and other practices may have sustained or even improved biodiversity, according to the analysis of past and present land use, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . The finding sheds light on a long debate between archaeologists, who cited evidence of this lengthy history, and conservationists, who have insisted that humans did not significantly affect biodiversity until intensive agriculture, urbanization, and deforestation began 200 years ago. Because of the present-day overlap between biodiversity hot spots and lands occupied by Indigenous people, the study bolsters the idea that the growing push to help them regain and retain control over their lands might help protect biodiversity. ### Astronomy The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration, which in 2019 produced the first image of a black hole's shadow, this week completed another observing campaign, its first in 3 years. Organizers hope their network of radio telescopes will reveal more of the dark heart of the nearby M87 galaxy as well as the Milky Way's center and the quasar 3C 273. EHT must synchronize 10 observatories across the globe in good weather, so its observing window each year is short. Three observatories joined the network this year (including the Kitt Peak 12-meter telescope in Arizona, below), which will sharpen images. Researchers gathered data for more than seven full nights over 2 weeks this month, and EHT spokesperson Eduardo Ros called the results “excellent.” Now begins a long wait as recorded data are shipped to Boston and Bonn, Germany, for months of processing before an image might be revealed. ### Scientific societies The 90-year-old American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) has rechristened itself in order to separate today's association from the field's racist and colonial past. At AAPA's virtual annual meeting last week, an overwhelming majority of members voted to delete the word “physical” and become the American Association of Biological Anthropologists. They acknowledged that the old name has roots in the 19th century, when early anthropologists helped create damaging concepts of race by quantifying physical differences among people. The new name conveys that anthropology is now a multidisciplinary biological science that deals with the adaptations, variability, and evolution of humans and their living and fossil relatives, as well as their culture and behavior, according to a statement by the current and past AAPA presidents. “Importantly, the change allows us to reflect deeply on issues of racism and colonialism, which, at times, permeated the field of ‘physical anthropology,’” they wrote. ### Climate science California and its partners announced plans last week to launch two satellites by 2023 to spot plumes of planet-warming carbon dioxide and methane. The $100 million Carbon Mapper project, financed by publisher Michael Bloomberg and other philanthropists, will advance efforts to track concentrated emissions of greenhouse gases that rise from sources such as fossil fuel power plants and leaky pipelines. Previous satellites have lacked the resolution, sensitivity, and focus to collect the data officials need in order to regulate the emissions effectively. The new spacecraft will rely on “hyperspectral” imaging spectrometers that can record more than 400 visible and infrared wavelengths, whose patterns can reveal the abundances of certain gases in the atmosphere below. ### Public health A tiny fraction of the U.S. residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by 14 April have become infected, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last week. The agency said it expected some “breakthrough” infections and that the low numbers support the value of the inoculations. CDC said it received 5814 reports of such infections in 75 million people vaccinated in 43 U.S. states and territories. Of the infected people, 65% were female, 45% were 60 or older, and 29% were asymptomatic. Seven percent were hospitalized, and 1% died, some from causes unrelated to COVID-19. CDC cautioned that the data from the states reporting might be incomplete. Public health specialists say the infections were more likely to have resulted from weak immune responses to vaccination than to mutations in the virus that let it evade those defenses. ### COVID-19 Researchers at the University of Oxford will intentionally reinfect people previously infected by the virus that causes COVID-19 to study their immune responses and symptoms. The “human challenge trial,” announced on 19 April, will initially re-expose up to 64 volunteers who previously tested positive for the virus and measure what viral dose triggers new infections. A U.K. government ethics panel approved the study and a similar one led by Imperial College London scientists who are evaluating the performance of COVID-19 vaccines. Such experiments may provide results faster than other trial methods allow. ### Anthropology More than 1300 skulls held in a museum collection that was used to justify racism will now be available for return to communities of the people's descendants, the University of Pennsylvania said last week. Samuel Morton started the collection in the 19th century and used studies of its contents to support the idea of white superiority. Many of the crania belonged to enslaved Africans and Indigenous people. In a statement, Christopher Woods, director of the university's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where the Morton Cranial Collection is held, apologized for the “unethical possession of human remains.” The museum will work to identify descendant communities and accept requests for the return of any crania in the collection. Repatriation of human remains, especially Black and Indigenous ancestors, “is part of a cultural and social reckoning” about how to address anthropology's history of racism, Woods says. ### Scientific meetings A talk last week at the virtual annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) sparked criticism for arguing against a key U.S. law giving Native Americans rights to the human remains and artifacts of their ancestors. Many society members were outraged that SAA gave a platform to what they considered a racist and anti-Indigenous presentation. Some note that this incident comes after a sexual harassment scandal at the organization's 2019 conference. In her talk, SAA member and anthropologist Elizabeth Weiss of San Jose State University said archaeologists “have let creationism into the heart of our discipline” because the law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), allows Indigenous communities to request repatriation of remains, which they may do partly because of religious beliefs. But archaeologists widely support the law, under which many tribes have collaborated with researchers. In response to the criticism, SAA issued a statement encouraging “the rigorous interrogation of diverse views.” SAA President Deborah Nichols later told Science the organization's board rejects the viewpoint of Weiss and her co-author and supports NAGPRA. ### Policy The relatively modest research investments outlined in Canada's new federal budget could make it difficult for the nation to recruit and retain scientific talent, Canadian science advocates fear. The multiyear spending plan, announced on 19 April, includes CA$2.2 billion in mostly new funding for life sciences, with much of the money aimed at boosting biomedical applications and vaccine development. (Canada will continue to provide other spending for research this year under multiyear budgets approved in 2018 and 2019.) But analysts worry the increases are too modest compared with much larger ones proposed for the United States by President Joe Biden, and that some Canadian scientists will look for work south of the border. Under Canada's budget, three main research councils will share CA$250 million for a new joint biomedical research program, and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research will get an additional CA$250 million to fund clinical trials. Universities and research hospitals will get CA$500 million for infrastructure such as equipment and buildings. Three programs—an existing artificial intelligence program and two new ones in genomics and quantum science—will each receive CA$400 million in new funding. ### Publishing Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa have boosted their share of scholarly articles in international journals and citations to those papers during the past 4 decades, the Clarivate analytics firm said this month. From 1981 to 2019, the region quadrupled its share of research articles and reviews to 8%; among regions and large countries, only China grew by more. Fifteen of the region's 19 countries had a citation score in 2019 higher than the world average, when adjusted for differences across disciplines; in 2000, almost all had scores well below average. ### Reckoning with climate blues Sustainability scientist Kimberly Nicholas of Lund University found herself struggling with feelings of grief as research by her and others revealed how much climate change will harm agriculture, ecosystems, and human communities. And she discovered she is not alone. In her new book, Under the Sky We Make: How to Be Human in a Warming World , she offers insight into how people and institutions can respond to those feelings and the climate challenge. (A longer version of this interview is at .) > Q: How does your experience with grief inform your thinking about climate change? > A: Things are changing beyond recognition right now from climate change. To me, grieving is an important part of the process of acknowledging that. It does draw from my experience of losing a dear friend to cancer, who died at 37. It was a kind of wake-up call [that prompted me] to think about my core values and what matters. But it shouldn't take a terminal diagnosis for life on Earth to wake us up to the urgency of working for climate stability. > Q: Students come to you distraught about harm to ecosystems they hope to study. What do you tell them? > A: The main thing is not to shy away from those conversations. It's not really helpful to deny the reality or not equip them with the tools to face that reality. You have to acknowledge that they're running into a house that is on fire. > Q: You argue for a shift from what you call the “exploitation mindset.” What's an example? > A: A big wake-up moment for me came at a climate science conference. Pretty much everyone there, including me, had flown in. The presentations were a litany of depressing things happening because of climate change. I felt like I was at this conference of doctors puffing on cigarettes, but telling our patients to quit smoking! I realized we really have an obligation to model the change that we want to see. So, I have pretty much stopped flying for work. It hasn't meant I can't be a productive researcher.
Alphabet's self-driving subsidiary Waymo is for the first time expanding its testing range beyond the boundaries of the Phoenix, Arizona area and heading to the City by the Bay, the company announced on Wednesday. The company's fleet of autonomous Chrysler Pacificas and Jaguar I-Pace electric SUVs have reportedly traversed 20 billion simulated street miles and some 20 million actual street miles in 25 cities since the program began. According to its most recent disengagement report from 2020, which is filed annually with the CA DMV, Waymo's vehicles reported just 21 disengagements -- wherein the human safety driver must intervene the vehicle's operation -- over the course of 629,000 miles of autonomous driving here in the state. To further improve that figure, Waymo set about last year on improving its Waymo Driver AI system and added dedicated cameras to better spot, identify and avoid jaywalkers (in an obvious and righteous dig at Uber). "We're beginning with a limited number of cars and riders and will scale over time. These rides are being offered with a single-vehicle operator," a Waymo spokesperson told VentureBeat.
A behemoth of a worker, recently recognized by a national publication, that can meticulously and precisely remove weeds growing between sprouting crops is being employed on farms in California and Arizona. Time magazine recently placed the FarmWise Titan FT-35 on its list of Best Inventions of 2020. It is an automated mechanical weeder that can help substitute the pass of a hand-weeding crew, which usually has 10 to 15 people. FarmWise has its operations headquarters, or home base for its team and machines, in Salinas and an office in San Francisco that houses most of its engineers. The company works with farming operations in the Salinas Valley such as Dole and Braga Fresh, plus dozens of other customers.
Waymo has long kept details about its industry-leading self-driving technology under wraps. The company has done millions of miles of testing in Arizona and California--including thousands of miles with no one behind the wheel. But until last month, almost everyone who experienced those driverless rides was bound by a strict nondisclosure agreement. This story originally appeared on Ars Technica, a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis, reviews, and more. Ars is owned by WIRED's parent company, Condé Nast.
Editor's Note: Robotics Business Review's coverage emphasizes innovation, including start-up companies (or'young' companies). RBR "Start-Up Profiles" highlight individual start-up companies using a consistent, templated format that makes for quick, yet informed reading, that also simplifies comparative analysis. Funding Status – $20.2 million raised so far (Series A) FarmWise builds innovative systems and processes to streamline farm operations and increase food production efficiency. Technology / Product / Service(s) – For vegetable growers who face increased growing costs and new regulatory pressures, FarmWise builds innovative systems and processes to streamline farm operations and increase food production efficiency. FarmWise's first product, an automated mechanical weeder powered by AI and robotics has captured more than 100 million crop images. Today, it is offered as a service to vegetable growers in California and Arizona.
A polar bear on melting ice: It's a favorite image of nature documentaries and charity ads alike, never failing to put you in the emotional dumps for a simple reason--it forces you to grapple with a changing world, a darker future. But that emotion is often temporary, replaced quickly by others, because its effects are not immediately or directly felt, explained Peter Schlosser, the vice president and vice provost of global futures at Arizona State University. Footage of houses on fire in California, Oregon, and Australia alarms us, but falls short of making us understand that our own home may be next. These "delusions of escape," in the words of science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson, or "failures of imagination," in the words of Future Tense academic director Ed Finn, placate us into reactive, piecemeal, short-sighted decision-making. But storytelling lights the path forward, agreed Robinson, Finn, Schlosser, Future Tense fellow Alexandra Zapata Hojel, and Malka Older, also a sci-fi author.
Pharmaceutical startup NowRx today announced it has closed a $20 million round raised through crowdfunding platform SeedInvest. NowRx, which claims the round is the largest in SeedInvest's history, says it will use the funds to expand into new U.S. markets (including Arizona) and expand its pharmacy technology. The global e-pharmacy market could be worth $107.53 billion by 2025, according to Zion Market Research, and the pandemic will no doubt accelerate its growth. Contactless shipments promise to limit exposure to the coronavirus while saving time otherwise spent standing in line. The startup operates 5,000-square-foot micro-fulfillment centers in cities like Burlingame, California, where automation technologies -- including robots -- sort, count, bottle, and label orders "at the same or better" margins as large pharmacy chains.
Colleges across the country are scrambling to pandemic-proof their campuses. And everything from contact-tracing apps to facial recognition is on the table. The University of Alabama, for instance, is rolling out a suite of apps aimed at monitoring the coronavirus on campus. The school plans to release an app by the end of July that would notify students if they crossed paths with someone who tested positive for coronavirus, using Bluetooth technology. Other schools, such as the University of Arizona, say they are testing similar apps.
Long known for its innovations in the development of artificial intelligence applications, Santa Barbara, California-based Intel Corp. is taking its AI game to a new level -- and metro Phoenix is ground zero. With plans to create a pipeline of AI talent, Intel is teaming with Arizona's largest community college system to design an AI associate's degree program -- making it the first Intel-designed AI associate degree program in the nation. Gregory Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's Client Computing Group, told the Business Journal a new partnership with Maricopa County Community College District will help prepare Arizona's workforce for future AI jobs. Intel has been in the metro Phoenix community for 40 years, making it a perfect launching pad for future AI associate degree programs across the country, Bryant said. The community college district is expected to have all five courses deployed for the spring 2021 semester by January, said Steven Gonzales, interim chancellor for MCCCD.
Every day, millions of Americans could be flushing critical coronavirus data down the toilet. With the nation growing ever more weary of sweeping stay-at-home orders and a worsening economy, some scientists say our poop could be the key to determining when a community might consider easing health restrictions. From Stanford to the University of Arizona, from Australia to Paris, teams of researchers have been ramping up wastewater analyses to track the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Understanding the true scale of COVID-19 has been a major stumbling block across the country, as officials struggle with testing shortages, false negatives, and people who are infected but have no symptoms. Sewage data could potentially help fill these gaps by capturing critical information in the aggregate.