from the world's big
Help future Mars rovers better navigate the red planet's treacherous terrain.
- NASA just announced its AI4Mars project, which lets you can take a virtually simulated tour around Mars via the Curiosity rover.
- The simulation project is calling on users to help the rover better classify the planet's sometimes dangerous terrain by labeling images taken by Curiosity.
- This project gives you a chance to participate in enhancing the new machine learning approaches for exploring Mars and unveiling its secrets.
Improving future rovers<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="152ec3e534f89608151837f90ad46b21"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8W-KMiqKAFw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Designed by a team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the simulation project is calling on users to help the rover better classify the planet's sometimes dangerous terrain. Your task is to identify and label images taken by Curiosity from Mars' surface for scientists to use. The crowdsourced data will help train a future rover to more safely navigate obstacles like bedrocks or sand.</p><p>Mars rovers have an unfortunate habit of getting stuck in sand traps, and sometimes never getting out, as was the tragic fate of NASA's <a href="https://www.space.com/18766-spirit-rover.html" target="_blank">Spirit Rover</a>. The project hopes to make future rovers similar to self-driving vehicles that know "where it's safe to drive, land, sleep and hibernate," <a href="https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/hiro-ono/ai4mars/about/research" target="_blank">according to the website</a>. </p>
How it works<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="36e003afeadd9aab9186ad3cf6b05521"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LJXQ0-a9IJE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>When you open the classification tool on the website, you're instructed to select different surface types — sand, soil, bedrock, and big rocks — using a polygon drawing tool designated for the type of terrain you are labeling. After you've identified everything in the image, you click "Done" to move on to the next photo and do it again. If you aren't sure about an object, the website asks you to leave it unlabeled. It also asks you not to overlap the polygons. If you get confused, click "Tutorial" to open a popover and a discussion board where you can ask questions.</p><p>You won't get to virtually control Curiosity around the surface of Mars like a video game. But this project does give you a chance to get an intimate look at the planet's surface and enhance the new machine learning approaches for exploring mars and unveiling its secrets. </p><p>Similar projects calling on volunteers to help with scientific research can be found at <a href="https://www.zooniverse.org/projects" target="_blank">Zooniverse's project page</a>. For example, you can help researchers find asteroids in images from the Hubble Space Telescope, or help Seismologists by listening for Earthquakes using technology that makes seismic waves audible. </p>
Such a battery would make it far cheaper to implement robotaxis and long-haul electric trucks, both of which Tesla is developing.
- A team of researchers working with Tesla recently released a paper describing a lithium-ion battery that should last 1 million miles over 4,000 charges and depletions.
- The researchers reportedly optimized commonly used components of EV batteries, and made their findings available to other battery researchers.
- Tesla CEO Elon Musk said robotaxis could hit streets as early as 2020.
The 2020 Democratic candidate's plan to give Americans a universal basic income seems to include a special provision for truckers.
Photo credit: ROSLAN RAHMAN / Contributor
- Andrew Yang is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who's made technology and automation central to his campaign.
- Yang says the U.S. needs a plan for how to manage the upcoming loss of millions of American trucking jobs to self-driving vehicles.
- Yang wants to tax profits from self-driving trucks to give these laid-off truckers a "severance package."
Automated trucks: Blue-collar disaster or economic win?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="uFFT3mE5" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="e06743683f79ae4588132312188db3e8"> <div id="botr_uFFT3mE5_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/uFFT3mE5-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/uFFT3mE5-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/uFFT3mE5-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Of course, what's unclear is how accurate those estimates are, and how exactly Yang would go about taxing the self-driving trucking industry (though we do know who would get the ball rolling – the so-called "<a href="https://www.yang2020.com/policies/trucking-czar/" target="_blank">Trucking Czar</a>" Yang would appoint if elected president). What's more, Yang – the only candidate who's made tech and automation central to his campaign — <a href="https://bigthink.com/technology-innovation/automation-robot-jobs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">could be wrong about how imminent of a threat automation is to the economy</a>. But recent developments in the industry seem to suggest it is, in fact, a looming problem.</p><p><a href="https://bigthink.com/technology-innovation/ups-driverless-cars?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2" target="_blank">American companies are already experimenting with self-driving trucks</a>. In 2019, the United States Postal Service, UPS and Amazon worked with the self-driving trucking company TuSimple to run pilot programs that involved shipping cargo on self-driving trucks. In these test runs, the self-driving trucks operated at "Level 4" autonomy, as measured by the Society of Automotive Engineers' "Levels of Driving Automation" — this means that the trucks drove automatically but there were, in this case, two people inside the cabin at all times, ready to take the wheel in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Before self-driving trucks can hit the roads in large numbers, they'll need to pass a set of regulatory hurdles, and it's unclear how long that would take. But on the technology side, the trucks could reach full autonomy by the end of 2020, <a href="https://aws.amazon.com/machine-learning/customers/innovators/tusimple/" target="_blank">according to TuSimple President Xiaodi Hou.</a></p>
TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, has also engaged in test programs with the United States Postal Service and Amazon.
PAUL RATJE / Contributor
- This week, UPS announced that it's working with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple on a pilot project to deliver cargo in Arizona using self-driving trucks.
- UPS has also acquired a minority stake in TuSimple.
- TuSimple hopes its trucks will be fully autonomous — without a human driver — by late 2020, though regulatory questions remain.
Maura O'Connor discusses her new book, Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World.
- Science writer Maura O'Connor spent four years traveling the world to better understand how humans navigate their terrain.
- She writes "getting lost is a uniquely human problem," noting that other species don't have issues navigating.
- While the book is not anti-technology, O'Connor questions our reliance on GPS and self-driving cars.
A dog sled team in Nunavut after a race.
Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images<p><strong></strong><strong>Derek</strong>: What was the inspiration for this book?</p><p><strong>Maura</strong>: I had not thought much about navigation before starting this book. A lot of writers tend to overestimate the importance of their subject matter. But I can genuinely say that navigation is a strange phenomena in the sense that it is something that every single one of us is engaged in every single day of our lives. But it is not something that many of us give much thought to or step back to think about. </p><p>The moment that my attention was drawn to navigation in my own life was after having used a smartphone with a GPS device in it for almost eight years. I was using it in a very rural part of New Mexico and it basically led me astray. I was trying to find a hot spring; I put the location into my phone and the GPS directed me to drive to the banks of the Rio Grande.</p><p>I was like, "Wow, why do I have such unquestioned faith in my GPS to tell me where to go?" I had that experience and then started thinking more broadly about how it is that gadgets infiltrate themselves into our lives in ways that we don't necessarily question. In this case, what does it mean to outsource a cognitive skill to a gadget and what are the implications and effects of that? The book really grew out of that question.</p><p><strong>Derek</strong>: You write that "getting lost is a uniquely human problem."</p><p><strong>Maura</strong>: If you consider how many species of animals depend on precise navigation to survive, you see how this is a phenomenon that is really critical to evolution. If there were species that were prone to becoming lost, they wouldn't survive. Humans, on the other hand, do seem to have this ability, which is confounding. It seems to me that the reason for that is we really don't have the same kind of biological hardware that a lot of other species have that can tell us almost instinctively or intuitively where we are at all times.</p><p>There are countless mysteries about how different species do what they do, but compared to humans, there's no real doubt that we are pretty miserable navigators compared to even a butterfly or a lowly aphid, let alone leatherback turtles that travel 6,000 miles over an open ocean to get from one habitat to another.</p><p>We've created cultural traditions and ways of transmitting and teaching skills from one generation to the next. We use culture to make up for the deficit of biological mechanisms that other species seem to have.</p><p><strong>Derek</strong>: I really appreciated your deep dive into maps as metaphors for the cultures that create them. It made me think of the very common world map that we grew up with in America. Our country seems as large as Africa even though we can basically fit inside of the Congo. What does the type of map that someone creates tell them about the culture?</p><p><strong>Maura</strong>: I realized pretty quickly during my research and talking to different anthropologists and going to some of the places that you mentioned [the Arctic and Australia] was that maps, to my surprise, are not universal, whether a physical paper map or a cognitive map. There is extensive debate in anthropology and neuroscience and psychology over whether or not maps are culturally universal. What I found was, based on my own readings, they're not. That raises this really interesting question: How could we possibly find our way without a map?</p><p>That instrument is so central to anybody who's grown up in an urban environment or in Western culture that it's almost inconceivable to think of other strategies for navigation. But actually there's this astonishing range of human navigation systems that use observation, memory perception, environmental cues, and different types of language to describe space. </p><p>Some may not use a God-like bird's eye view of space, but actually use a different type of strategy. Sometimes it's called route-finding: "Here is the tree and, after the tree, there will be a mountain, and after the mountain there will be a lake." You're really navigating from the perspective of the individual on the ground moving through space. That's one of the most satisfying revelations that I discovered through writing the book because it just deepens the mystery and diversity around human culture.</p>
GPS and the Human Journey - M.R. O’Connor | The Open Mind<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="70b250b09795f41b06ae9adcf8e3ef2a"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/q2VXvcF_W1U?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Derek</strong>: Our brains have this very unique paradox in that we are attracted to novelty and new situations, but at the same time we will default to the easiest possible way if it's going to conserve energy. We want speed and efficiency. Did anyone in the course of your book discuss what is lost when they transition to more convenient tools for navigation?</p><p><strong>Maura</strong>: Yes. I went to Nunavut, which is a sovereign part of the Canadian Arctic. You kind of expect to just show up and say, "Which hunters can take me out on their dog sleds?" I discovered this was like showing up in New York City in the 21st century and being like, "Hey, who can take me on a ride on a horse and carriage?" It was quickly explained to me that hunters are not very romantic. If there is a practical advantage of using a rifle over a harpoon, then that is a choice they will make because the necessities of hunting in the Arctic are so challenging and extreme. </p><p>I found that a lot of hunters, even those using traditional navigation skills, use snowmobiles. Some of the hunters told me is that the biggest difference between being on a dog sled and a snowmobile when you're trying to navigate is speed and how much you can actually attend to when you're traveling 60 miles an hour versus 15 miles an hour. Traditional Inuit navigation relies on this attention to detail because the landmarks in the Arctic are so different from what anyone from the south would consider a landmark.</p><p>What I also saw was a tremendous effort on the part of community leaders and hunters in those communities to preserve these skills and pass them down to the next generation. It's not just about hunting; navigation is extremely crucial to Inuit identity and culture. It ties into language, it ties into oral storytelling, it ties into their relationship and the stewardship of the land itself.</p><p><strong>Derek</strong>: You also write that narration may have begun in hunting society. You were talking about how a tracker in Australia imagines being in the mind and body of the author of the trackway and then creates a narrative.</p><p><strong>Maura</strong>: I think this link between navigation and storytelling was also something that was unexpected to me. We are the only species that seems to have so thoroughly used memory to assist us in the task of navigation. That's what's called episodic memory, which is our ability to recall events that happened in the past based in the hippocampus, which is the same exact area of the brain where navigation and spatial orientation takes place. Interestingly, the hippocampus is also this part in the brain that allows us to imagine ourselves in the future. </p><p>It seems that the hippocampus is intrinsic to this ability to develop narratives and stories about where we were in the past, how we came to be, where we are now, and where we are going in the future. It is really interesting that navigation may have helped us to develop this narrative capacity.</p><p>Different cultures have used this narrative capacity as a sort of mnemonic device; they've used stories as devices to encapsulate topographic information. The best example of that, as you mentioned, is aboriginal Australians, who have tens and tens of thousands of years of history of using <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songline" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">songlines</a>. Those are essentially stories about how aboriginal Australians ancestors created the topography of the landscape through their travels in a time called the dream time. The journeys of those ancestors are recorded in songs and stories that people learn and memorize. </p><p>Songlines are not just repositories for incredible environmental ecological knowledge, aboriginal law, and history, but that they're also navigation aids. These journeys are actually routes that people could literally follow through the landscape to get from one place to the other. </p>
Kata Tjuta at Sunrise, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia.
Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images<p><strong>Derek</strong>: I initially reached out to you after your <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ditch-the-gps-its-ruining-your-brain/2019/06/05/29a3170e-87af-11e9-98c1-e945ae5db8fb_story.html?utm_term=.830d2d8cda29" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">book was excerpted</a> in <em>The Washington Post</em>. The excerpt focused on how GPS is damaging our brains. What do you think is being lost when we're using devices like GPS?</p><p><strong>Maura</strong>: The psychologist James Gibson came to the conclusion that this whole idea of Cartesian dualism, that we're not actually interacting directly with the world around us because the brain is this mechanistic process that's creating images of the world for us and we're never in direct contact, wasn't really satisfying. He created all these tests to test the idea of a theory he called <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_psychology" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ecological psychology</a>. </p><p>The idea is that the brain is just part of a complete visual system and that natural vision involves eyes in our heads connected to a body which is walking on the ground. Unencumbered exploration is really about us looking at things from all perspectives moving forward. I don't think it was his main objective, but he created this alternative theory of navigation, which is that navigation really depends on us directing our attention and directly perceiving the environment.</p><p>I won't argue that GPS is not an incredibly powerful tool that has many positive benefits for us to use. But I think there's no debate that it really changes the way we direct our attention. It seduces our attention downward, whereas what Gibson was talking about is this very powerful directing of attention, giving attention to the environment and paying attention to what we see as we move through the environment. Those two things are just really different practices and perhaps we can argue the benefits of one over the other in different contexts. But I do think that using a gadget really changes that process a great deal.</p><p><strong>Derek</strong>: You cite a 2008 study about people walking while using GPS (as compared to experience or paper maps) walk more slowly and make greater direction errors; it was also tougher for them to find their way. I personally believe that we're going to see a massive uptick in degenerative diseases.</p><p><strong>Maura</strong>: This is a pretty nascent field of study, but there are studies coming out of different areas of cognitive disease, aging memory, and navigation, as well pointing at an interesting relationships between spatial orientation strategies, the hippocampus, and cognitive disease. They're not showing a direct relationship between using a device to find your way and turn-by-turn directions. But what they're showing is that our attention really changes when we use those devices. </p><p>We're finding out about how the hippocampus changes as we're using different technologies. There's lots of information about diseases like Alzheimer's, dementia, PTSD, and even depression that shows that atrophy in the hippocampus is in many cases universal among those afflictions, particularly Alzheimer's disease.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>.</em></p>