Bird Scooters Will Now Annoy Riders Into Getting Off the Damn Sidewalk

Bird Scooters Want To Annoy Its Worst Riders

Bird explained the nuts and bolts behind this new sidewalk-tracking tech—which is officially named “ZED-F9R”, and was developed alongside a Swiss company called “u-blox”—on its own blog. In a nutshell, these trackers come bundled in a GNSS receiver (essentially a souped-up GPS) that processes data from the scooter it’s attached to, including the scoot’s acceleration, spatial orientation, and wheel speed. These get compared against a pre-determined geofence outline of a particular city that gets constructed from satellite imagery, or cite-sourced geographic data.

The end result, Bird promises, is a sidewalk-detecting scooter system that’s sleek and precise—unlike some of the other solutions we’ve seen pitched by its e-scooter computers. Last month, the Swedish mobility startup Voi announced it would start strapping smart cameras equipped to “see and recognize situations that are hazardous” to the front of scooters in its fleet in an attempt to cut down on local e-scooter injuries. The Ford-owned e-scooter operator Spin, meanwhile, announced plans last year to add a slew of cameras and sensor arrays to its vehicles to cut down on bad driver behavior.

We still can’t say for sure whether Bird’s cameraless approach is the better bet; the company has only just started piloting their “micromobility module” on scooters in Milwaukee and San Diego. Bird also noted that it has plans for “a broader rollout” in 2022, which includes a debut for riders in Madrid.

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How to Watch William Shatner Boldly Go Where No Shatner Has Gone Before

Should all go according to plan, Shatner, 90, will become the oldest person to travel in space, even if it’s just for a few minutes. The current record belongs to 82-year-old Wally Funk, who set the mark earlier this year during the same flight that took Jeff Bezos to space. That said, NASA astronaut John Glenn flew to space aboard the Space Shuttle at the age of 77, which still makes him the oldest astronaut according to the FAA’s definition of the term (tl;dr: to be an astronaut you actually have to do something while in space, aside from gawking at the view).

After it was announced that Shatner was joining the NS-18 flight, the actor admitted to being terrified. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Shatner said he’s now feeling “comfortable, but also a bit uncomfortable.” Age, he said, won’t be a factor, aside from having to get in and out the seats both before and after launch.

“So unless you’re really supple, getting in and out of the seats…when we’re in gravity, is a chore,” Shatner said. “But of course it’s designed [for us] to float out of the seat, in weightlessness.” Shatner is most looking forward to being in weightlessness, as everything after that “should be all right.” To which he added: “And we’ll have that moment of inspiration, which I feel will be there when we’re looking into the vastness of the universe.”

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William Shatner touring the launch tower with Blue Origin’s Sarah Knights at Launch Site One in west Texas.

William Shatner touring the launch tower with Blue Origin’s Sarah Knights at Launch Site One in west Texas.
Image: Blue Origin

Following the few minutes of weightlessness, Shatner and his crewmates will return to their seats and buckle up in preparation for re-entry. The capsule will descend with parachute assist and make a soft landing in the desert. The whole thing will last no longer than around 15 minutes.

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NS-18 is poised to be just the second crewed flight of New Shephard. On July 20, Blue Origin successfully sent company founder Jeff Bezos, along with three others, to beyond the Kármán line—the threshold of space according to the International Aeronautical Federation. Flying at a maximum altitude of around 66 miles (106 km), Shatner will be joined by Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer and co-founder of Planet Labs, Glen de Vries, the vice-chair of life sciences and health care at French software company Dassault Systèmes, and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations and a former flight controller with NASA.

For Bezos, the Shatner flight is serving as a timely distraction. Blue Origin was recently accused of fostering sexism at the workplace and pushing employees to their limits. Claims that the company has been favoring rapid deployment over safety concerns have now led to an FAA investigation. Blue Origin is also embroiled in a legal battle with NASA over a lunar lander contract that the company believes was unfairly awarded to SpaceX.

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World View to Charge $50,000 for Epic Balloon Rides to the Stratosphere

“At 100,000 feet you have a spectacular panoramic view of Earth’s surface. With this wide-angle view, you will clearly see the curvature of Earth and the ‘thin blue line’ of Earth’s atmosphere,” according to the company FAQ. “Also, because you will be higher than the thickest parts of the atmosphere, you will be enveloped in the darkness of space. Your horizon will stretch into the distance more than 1,000 miles in every direction. “ 

A generally agreed-upon boundary for space is the Kármán Line, which is located 62 miles (100 km) above sea level. World View’s balloon will go nowhere near space, but that’s not preventing the company from fitting its offering into the space tourism sector. That said, World View isn’t really trying to compete with the bona fide space tourism ventures, namely Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX. It would be more accurate to say that, to a certain extent, World View is trying to step on their toes.

For one, World View plans to charge $50,000 per person, a cost that “is noticeably lower than any other civilian space tourism flight available today,” according to the company. Again, not space, but okay. That’s still a lot of money, but it pales in comparison to the expected $25 million ticket price for a ride aboard SpaceX’s CrewDragon. At auction, Blue Origin sold a seat for $28 million, while Virgin Galactic plans to charge $450,000. In its statement, World View said it would provide flexible financing options for its customers, and it’s currently accepting $500 deposits. The $50,000 price tag is akin to buying a very expensive car, and a lot of people might find this experience to be worth it.

Time is another advantage, as flights to the stratosphere will last six to 12 hours. This will allow the eight passengers and two crew members to hang out, enjoy the view, and even partake in libations—without the thrill zero gravity, however. The capsule will include a bathroom, which is good news for those hoping to join the very exclusive 19-mile-high club.

World View wants to initially launch its balloons from the Grand Canyon, but the company has ambitions to include other stunning departure points, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Serengeti in Kenya, the Amazon in Brazil, the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, and the Great Wall of China in Mongolia. Those are great, but an ascent with a view of the Aurora Borealis in Norway is, in my estimation, the most spectacular of the planned offerings.

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Another advantage has to do with physical accessibility. A violent, high-acceleration rocket launch would be replaced by a gentle lift to the stratosphere and a soft landing on the ground. Services animals will also be permitted to join the flight.

The company says it has many safety measures in place:

From the design of the spaceflight capsule to the helium-filled zero-pressure balloon flight system and the patented parafoil landing system, safety at every step is our primary objective. We have also designed several redundant safety measures if any of the primary safety measures malfunction during flight. For instance, if the parafoil system fails during landing, we also have a backup parachute system that would be deployed to gently slow and land the capsule.  […]

For many years, World View flights have used high-altitude zero-pressure balloons, which means that the pressure inside the balloon is equal to the pressure outside the balloon. In the event of a puncture, leak or hole, the balloon would not “pop” and cause a sudden freefall. Instead, the outcome would be very benign: helium would slowly leak out of the balloon and the balloon and capsule would eventually start to slowly lose altitude. Even if there was a large tear in the balloon, it would take several hours for the balloon to slowly float to the ground. Additionally, because World View balloons are filled with helium, a safe, non-flammable gas, we eliminate the risk of explosion.    

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The company is still finalizing its design, and it needs to obtain a license from the Federal Aviation Administration. Speaking to SpaceNews, Ryan Hartman, chief executive of World View, said the company would ideally like to perform 100 launches a year, but that’ll depend on the launch points and local weather conditions. The inaugural flight could happen in 2024, which has already been chartered by the not-for-profit group Space For Humanity.

All this said, World View may have some company up there in the stratosphere. Space Perspective, a company owned by Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum—both co-founders of World View—is currently working on a similar offering, though with a price tag closer to $125,000 per passenger.

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More: Malfunctioning Toilet Triggered an Alarm During SpaceX’s Inspiration4 Mission

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Flights Allowed to Resume After FAA Probe

The article alleged that the pilots ignored warning lights during the ascent and that VSS Unity risked a landing at an undesignated runway. What’s more, the article reported that the spaceplane flew outside of its federally mandated airspace for nearly two minutes, a claim the FAA later affirmed. Sources told Nicholas Schmidle, the author of the New Yorker piece, that the safest course of action would’ve been to abort the mission, but instead, the pilots flew at full throttle for the required one full minute, allowing Unity to reach an altitude of 53 miles (86 km) above sea level, which qualifies as space. The spaceplane glided back to its designated runway and successfully landed at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Had the pilots aborted the flight, however, Branson would not have become the first billionaire to reach space (Jeff Bezos of Blue origin achieved the same feat just a few weeks later).

The FAA launched a formal investigation on August 11, during which time Virgin Galactic’s spaceplanes were grounded. Results of the probe showed that Unity “deviated from its assigned airspace on its descent from space,” and that Virgin Galactic “failed to communicate the deviation to the FAA as required,” according to the regulator. Virgin Galactic was subsequently given a list of corrective actions, which it has apparently completed to the FAA’s satisfaction.

Virgin Galactic offered more detail in a statement yesterday. The corrective actions included “updated calculations” to expand protected airspace during future flights, designating a larger flight area to make sure Virgin Galactic “has ample protected airspace for a variety of possible flight trajectories during spaceflight missions,” along with steps to “ensure real-time mission notifications to FAA Air Traffic Control.”

“We appreciate the FAA’s thorough review of this inquiry,” Michael Colglazier, Virgin Galactic CEO, said in the statement. “Our test flight program is specifically designed to continually improve our processes and procedures.” To which he added: “The updates to our airspace and real-time mission notification protocols will strengthen our preparations as we move closer to the commercial launch of our spaceflight experience.”

Colglazier said Virgin Galactic is committed to safety at every level, but the company, with its history of tragedy and near-misses, PR fakery, and claims of a deteriorating safety culture, would suggest otherwise. This latest incident, I’m afraid to say, may not be the last for this aspiring space tourism venture.

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Virgin Galactic’s next flight to suborbital space, designated the Unity 23 mission, was supposed to happen in early or mid-October, and we now await an official launch date. As we learned in August, however, this will be the last flight before the company performs inspections and tests of all its vehicles. Commercial flights of SpaceShipTwo are not expected until 2022.

Engineers Cook 3D-Printed Chicken With Lasers

Engineers Cook 3D-Printed Chicken With Lasers

After blending chicken into a purée and 3D-printing thin layers of it into various shapes, the team exposed the meat to blue, near-infrared, and mid-infrared laser light. The team found that the different types of light cooked the food in different ways: The blue lasers were better for cooking inside the chicken, while the infrared light was best for browning the surface.

The laser-cooked foods were more moist and shrank less than oven-broiled food, the team reported. Two out of two taste testers preferred the laser-cooked meat to conventionally cooked chicken. Beyond that, the lasers could cook food through plastics—meaning that the team could cook food within packaging.

An artist’s concept of a cooking appliance that 3D-prints food from different ingredient packets.

The research came out of Columbia University’s Creative Machines lab, where for years engineers have tinkered with 3D printers as a means of making food. They began with cookie dough and other foods that are “easy to extrude through a nozzle,” as Blutinger put it in a 2017 presentation on the research. Blutinger added in the same presentation that, in the future, consumers could put their biometric data or genome data into such food printers, which could customize meals for them.

Co-author Hod Lipson, a mechanical engineer at Columbia who leads the Creative Machines lab, said in the same release that the technology is not yet scalable. “We need a high level software that enables people who are not programmers or software developers to design the foods they want. And then we need a place where people can share digital recipes, like we share music,” he said.

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Besides the technology and scaling challenges, it may take time for people to get comfortable with a new way of cooking. Some people are in committed relationships with their gas stoves or pressure cookers.

More: How Many Slaps Does it Take to Cook a Chicken? This YouTuber Built a Slapping Rig to Find Out

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Strapping a Jet Engine To Your Head Is a Deafening Way to Stay Dry in the Rain

Could a Jet Engine Be the Umbrella Alternative We Need?

Watching their entire creative process is as entertaining as the final product. Their first attempts involved 3D-printing an impeller powered by an electric motor used for RC planes that would push air outwards and away from their head when the setup was mounted to a helmet. However, 3D printing is an imperfect process, resulting in unbalanced impellers that vibrated so violently it actually affected Miranda’s vision while the device was strapped to his head.

The eventual solution was to trade the 3D-printed impeller for a pre-built (and perfectly balanced) ducted fan assembly, which is often used to create RC planes with high-power jet engines. Air is sucked in through the ducted fan’s opening atop their head and directed down and outwards through a thin 360-degree exhaust slit. The powerful blast from the ducted fan does exactly what it was designed to do, creating a curtain of air all around Miranda that deflects falling water away (a garden hose was used for testing) but the solution does come with some trade-offs. Not only will everyone within a 10-foot radius of Miranda feel the exhaust and be pelted with deflected rain, but the turbine engine is incredibly loud when running at enough speed to keep the rain away. You’d get to where you were going dry, but instead of dealing with a wet umbrella when you got there, you’d be dealing with ringing in your ears and potential hearing loss.

Steve Wozniak Appears to Be Launching a Space Garbage Company

Steve Wozniak Announces Privateer, a New Space Company

If your knee-jerk reaction is whyyy, Woz??!?!?, it looks like he’s not jockeying for space rule alongside Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos. It seems, instead, that he plans to take out space trash; an August press release for an unrelated 3D titanium alloy printer described Privateer as a “new satellite company focused on monitoring and cleaning up objects in space.”

Woz would be doing those guys a favor. Space has become a dumping ground for dead satellites and launch vehicle rockets, so much so that in 2019, NASA called low Earth orbit “the World’s largest garbage dump,” with nearly 6,000 tons of waste. NASA has warned that space junk threatens space-goers with garbage hurtling up to seven times faster than a bullet and reports that even paint flecks have smashed shuttle windows. The agency is currently monitoring 27,000 pieces of larger space junk.

Cleanup will cost money that the U.S. government isn’t allocating. Last year, former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine urged Congress to fund a $15 million cleanup mission, tweeting: “In the last 2 weeks, there have been 3 high concern potential conjunctions. Debris is getting worse!” The most recent space funding bill, which has passed the Senate, hasn’t set aside those funds but directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy to evaluate the situation. (Conversation around that bill predominantly focused on Blue Origin’s campaign to write itself a $10 billion check for government contracts to compete with SpaceX.)

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Surprising delights fill the space junk waste management space. Lasers! Space claws! Tentacles! The UK and Japan government-funded space company Astroscale has already begun testing magnetic docking systems that would tow future space junk and use the Earth’s atmosphere as an incinerator. (Although clients would need to build in corresponding docking plates before launching crafts.)

Former NASA scientist Donald Kessler famously predicted in 1978 that the densifying minefield will grow exponentially more dangerous for decades to come, as future collisions erupt in more junk. Last year, he told Scientific American that space is “long overdue” for catastrophe.

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Hacker Lawyer Jay Leiderman Is Dead at 50

Jay Leiderman Obituary: Lawyer to Anonymous Hackers Dead at 50

The cause of Leiderman’s death has not been declared and will likely take months to certify, the medical examiner’s office said. The Ventura Police Department had no comment. Calls to Leiderman’s law office went unanswered.

Before his work with hackers, Leiderman defended a Ventura man who’d been arrested in a drug bust, and whose cellphone an officer searched without a warrant. The California Supreme Court eventually heard the case but ruled the officer’s actions constitutional. The decision sparked a rush by state legislators to try and shield electronic devices from warrantless searches. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a contrary ruling two years later. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that cellphones are “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life” that, were aliens to visit Earth, they “might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”

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A life-long Deadhead and punk music fan, Leiderman successfully defended a slew of clients arrested under anti-drug laws. He once took on clients who had their kids taken away after police found marijuana hidden in their home. And he won. He was as a fierce advocate for medical marijuana patients in particular for more than a decade, writing a book on the issue in 2011 for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In 2013, he joined other activist lawyers in founding the Whistleblower Defense League. At its launch, he accused the Justice Department and FBI of targeting political dissent with weapons of oppression, harassment, and fear.

“People are being subpoenaed, indicted, and incarcerated,” he said, “simply for exploring the truth.”

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In an essay on his website, Leiderman defended lawyers who get a bad rap for taking on unpopular clients, including those charged with unspeakable crimes. The guiltier the client, he believed, the greater the need for skilled representation. “I can only state that what follows is my own brand of patriotism,” he said. “I defend those charged with crimes because it is both my duty as a lawyer, and as an American.”

Billionaire Grounded

FAA Grounds Virgin Galactic Spaceplanes Pending Investigation Into July 11 Flight

Mark Stucky, former flight test director for Virgin Galactic, claims this is balderdash. The “facts are the pilots failed to trim to achieve the proper pitch rate, the winds were well within limits, they did nothing of substance to address the trajectory error, & entered Class A airspace without authorization,” as he tweeted on September 1. Stucky was fired shortly after the Unity 22 mission after publicly expressing concerns over Virgin Galactic’s safety practices.

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And now we eagerly await the results of the FAA investigation. But I have to think, the FAA is probably not loving that the pilots blew past the warning lights and as a result wantonly ventured out of mandated airspace. That Virgin Galactic is taking paying customers to the edge of space will also likely factor into the FAA probe. As for the future of this space tourism offering, this incident, the ensuing investigation, and claims of a deteriorating safety culture at Virgin Galactic mean paying customers might want to think twice about taking a ride on a Richard Branson-built spaceship.

More: China’s concept for a Martian helicopter seems awfully familiar.

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In a Win for Gig Workers, Uber-Backed Prop 22 Ruled Unconstitutional by California Judge

One of the downsides of the California initiative process is that it allows illegal laws to be enacted. And since corporations have First Amendment rights when “talking” about their initiative, the voters can be fed outright lies and falsehoods in order to fool them into voting for something illegal and against the interests of non-corporations (people).