A clever new design introduces a way to image the vast ocean floor.
- Neither light- nor sound-based imaging devices can penetrate the deep ocean from above.
- Stanford scientists have invented a new system that incorporates both light and sound to overcome the challenge of mapping the ocean floor.
- Deployed from a drone or helicopter, it may finally reveal what lies beneath our planet's seas.
A great many areas of the ocean floor covering about 70 percent of the Earth remain unmapped. With current technology, it's an extremely arduous and time-consuming task, accomplished only by trawling unmapped areas with sonar equipment dangling from boats. Advanced imaging technologies that work so well on land are stymied by the relative impenetrability of water.
That may be about to change. Scientists at Stanford University have announced an innovative system that combines the strengths of light-based devices and those of sound-based devices to finally make mapping the entire sea floor possible from the sky.
The new system is detailed in a study published in IEEE Explore.
"Airborne and spaceborne radar and laser-based, or LIDAR, systems have been able to map Earth's landscapes for decades. Radar signals are even able to penetrate cloud coverage and canopy coverage. However, seawater is much too absorptive for imaging into the water," says lead study author and electrical engineer Amin Arbabian of Stanford's School of Engineering in Stanford News.
One of the most reliable ways to map a terrain is by using sonar, which deduces the features of a surface by analyzing sound waves that bounce off it. However, If one were to project sound waves from above into the sea, more than 99.9 percent of those sound waves would be lost as they passed into water. If they managed to reach the seabed and bounce upward out of the water, another 99.9 percent would be lost.
Electromagnetic devices—using light, microwaves, or radar signals—are also fairly useless for ocean-floor mapping from above. Says first author Aidan Fitzpatrick, "Light also loses some energy from reflection, but the bulk of the energy loss is due to absorption by the water." (Ever try to get phone service underwater? Not gonna happen.)
The solution presented in the study is the Photoacoustic Airborne Sonar System (PASS). Its core idea is the combining of sound and light to get the job done. "If we can use light in the air, where light travels well, and sound in the water, where sound travels well, we can get the best of both worlds," says Fitzpatrick.
An imaging session begins with a laser fired down to the water from a craft above the area to be mapped. When it hits the ocean surface, it's absorbed and converted into fresh sound waves that travel down to the target. When these bounce back up to the surface and out into the air and back to PASS technicians, they do still suffer a loss. However, using light on the way in and sound only on the way out cuts that loss in half.
This means that the PASS transducers that ultimately retrieve the sound waves have plenty to work with. "We have developed a system," says Arbabian, "that is sensitive enough to compensate for a loss of this magnitude and still allow for signal detection and imaging." Form there, software assembles a 3D image of the submerged target from the acoustic signals.
PASS was initially designed to help scientists image underground plant roots.
Although its developers are confident that PASS will be able to see down thousands of meters into the ocean, so far it's only been tested in an "ocean" about the size of a fish tank—tiny and obviously free of real-world ocean turbulence.
Fitzpatrick says that, "current experiments use static water but we are currently working toward dealing with water waves. This is a challenging, but we think feasible, problem."
Scaling up, Fitzpatrick adds, "Our vision for this technology is on-board a helicopter or drone. We expect the system to be able to fly at tens of meters above the water."
Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.
- Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
- The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
- The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Airspeeder, the world's newest motorsport, is set to debut its first race in 2021.
What can you expect to see? Something like a mix between Red Bull's air racing and the pod-racing scenes from "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" — manned electric cars flying close together in the desert at 120 mph, nose-diving off cliffs, and racing over lakes, all while hopefully avoiding collisions.
Airspeeder calls its vehicles flying electric cars, but it's probably easier to think of the wheelless multicopters as car-sized drones. Powered by electric batteries, the carbon-fiber craft use eight propellers to fly, and the tiltable motors are designed to allow pilots to navigate through the course's pylons at high speeds.
To prevent crashes, Airspeeder is working with the companies Acronis and Teknov8 to develop "high-speed collision avoidance" systems for its Speeders.
"As they compete, Speeders will utilise cutting-edge LiDAR and Machine Vision technology to ensure close but safe racing, with defined and digitally governed no-fly areas surrounding spectators and officials," Airspeeder wrote in a blog post.
Beyond motorsports, Airspeeder hopes to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector. This sector is where companies like Uber, Hyundai, and Airbus are working to develop air taxis, which could someday take the ridesharing industry into the skies. By 2040, the autonomous urban aircraft industry could be worth $1.5 trillion, according to a 2019 report from Morgan Stanley.
Still, many technical and regulatory hurdles remain. Matt Pearson, Airspeeder's founder and CEO, thinks the futuristic motorsport will help to not only speed up that process, but also pave the way for self-driving cars.
"Even with autonomous vehicles on the ground, it's a difficult thing to get right because computers have to make decisions very fast," Airspeeder's founder and CEO, Matt Pearson, told GQ." But in a racing environment, you have a pretty controlled course and you have the ability to make all the vehicles cooperate with each other. You have a whole load of vehicles talking to each other, so if there's an incident or a pilot slows down or there's a traffic jam on the course they're all aware of each other. This is something we think will revolutionise autonomous vehicles on the ground. It's technology that will make flying cars a reality in our cities in the future."
Airspeeder has yet to announce a date for the first race, but Pearson said he hopes to put on three races over the first season. The company is developing two courses: one in California's Mojave Desert, and one near Coober Pedy in South Australia.
Here's how the world's technology conversations are changing.
COVID is changing the world and our technology conversations are changing with it.
As part of work identifying promising technology use cases to combat COVID, The Boston Consulting Group recently used contextual AI to analyze more than 150 million English language media articles from 30 countries published between December 2019 to May 2020. While the research reflects media coverage and not technology development, the analysis still reveals a range of shifting interests. These shifts can give a sense for how the world has refocused itself to tackle the crisis in the short term. The findings also show the crisis could be leaving some key risks or solutions under-discussed or under-explored, potentially creating new vulnerabilities.
Tech talk after COVID
As can be seen in the below figure, only half of the top tech/telco topics pre-COVID remain in the top ten during COVID. This speaks to a fundamental change in core interests and principal concerns.
Image: World Economic Forum, Boston Consulting Group
The first priority during this pandemic has been the protection of individuals, and rightly so. As a result, topics such as biotech/medtech have gained prominence as researchers seek out new treatments and a potential vaccine. This shift has fueled a new interest in telemedicine as well. This technology was slow in adoption for outpatient care pre-COVID, but has seen enormous growth in the past 6 months, as lockdowns and the virus forced patients and doctors to seek new solutions for care.
The coronavirus has also brought new uncertainties. With this, data analytics has risen 35% from pre-COVID levels, as individuals and companies use emerging data from medical research and emerging habits to forecast everything from the path of the pandemic to potential supply chain disruptions.
Talk regarding delivery drones has increased by 57% in topic share, thanks in part to new uses of drones to deliver much-needed supplies such as groceries and PPE in areas hard to reach after COVID-19 lockdowns.
COVID-19 boosted the number of articles written about 5G, though the context for these conversations has shifted. Articles pre-COVID focused on potential capabilities from a 5G rollout. As the virus spread, however, fear sparked by conspiracy theorists linked 5G technology to misinformation campaigns.
Image: World Economic Forum, Boston Consulting Group
As part of this research, analysis dug into top discussion topics in 4 of the world's key regions: India, China, the European Union and the US. Here contextual AI studied more than 2,500 publications between January and May 2020. To be sure, a number of factors determine the types of media coverage that emerges in different regions. Still, this exercise is another window into how technology conversations differed across contexts as countries faced the virus in different ways, leveraging different tools and resources.
Left unsaid or under-discussed
As the pandemic spread, "business as usual" gave way to crisis management. As it did, traditionally-popular tech topics such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, internet of things, blockchain, robotics, and cybersecurity have been discussed less often than usual during the pandemic. In some cases they have fallen off the map entirely.
This trend reflects the need tackle the immediate health needs of the crisis while ignoring the key role that other technologies or risks will play in more long-term solutions.
Blockchain, for instance, will be key for more resilient supply chains and integral to the equitable deployment of the vaccine once it is available.
AI and machine learning have fallen in rank but have shown to be integral to a range of efforts, including helping researchers sort through massive amounts of data quickly to process the real-time information being processed about the disease.
Cybersecurity has fallen off the list of top ten tech topics entirely and that fact belies the growing risk that cyber security poses to a range of sectors, including the newly remote workforce. Additionally, the medical field is particularly vulnerable to cyber threats and the past months have seen a 75% increase in ransomware attacks against health professionals (Some attacks have even targeted researchers seeking a cure for COVID.) The World Health Organization reported a five-fold increase in cyberattacks between this year and last.
The global pandemic is forcing us to re-think the way we work and how we do business. As our attentions focus on the most immediate threats, we must remember to consider the longer term. Looking past just the crisis before us can give us a fuller picture of the risks we face - as well as the opportunities we might not be exploring and the solutions we can put into place.
Proponents of drones in foreign conflicts argue that it reduces harm for civilians and U.S. military personnel alike. Here's why that might be wrong.
- There has been a huge increase in drone usage since the war on terror. Proponents of drone warfare claim it reduces civilian casualties and collateral damage, that it's cheaper than conventional warfare tactics, and that it's safer for U.S. military personnel.
- The data suggests those claims may be false, says scholar Abigail Blanco. Drones are, at best, about equivalent to conventional technologies, but in some cases may actually be worse.
- Blanco explains how skewed US government definitions don't give honest data on civilian casualties. Drone operators also suffer worse psychological repercussions following a drone strike because of factors such as the intimacy of prolonged surveillance and heat-sensing technology which lets the operator observe the heat leaving a dying body to confirm a kill.
The FAA is not amused by flame-throwing drones.
- Federal Aviation Administration publishes a notice warning the public not to weaponize their personal drones.
- Doing so will result in a $25,000 fine per violation.
- The FAA is keeping pace with the rapid development of this new and popular technology.
Drones can be an incredible boon to society if properly utilized. Farmers can monitor their crops with them and public agencies can react faster to emergencies. And these are just a few of the possibilities drones grant us. This said, they may also be capable of incredible destruction.
Indeed, the United States Federal Aviation Administration recently published a notice addressed to the public — and directed an email to all remote drone pilots — warning about the illegality of weaponizing a drone.
For the past several years, there's been a rapid increase in drone aircraft for both hobbyist and commercial purposes. The federal government has been trying to keep pace with the breakneck speed of drone innovation. They've put in place rules to ensure unmanned aerial vehicles don't interfere with commercial or military air traffic, while also making sure that all drone operators who engage in commercial services obtain a special Part 107 license.
It was only a matter of time before they'd have to regulate the weaponization of them as well.
Recently, a company called ThrowFlame made some waves when it announced its "TF-19" Wasp flamethrower attachment for drones. It works with most unmanned drones that can handle a payload of five pounds or more. ThrowFlame claims this isn't intended as a weapon. The FAA disagrees.
FAA’s response to weaponized drones
Published under the title: "Drones and Weapons, A Dangerous Mix," FAA officials put forth some clear guidelines on the illegality of weaponizing drones without proper licensing:
"Perhaps you've seen online photos and videos of drones with attached guns, bombs, fireworks, flamethrowers, and other dangerous items. Do not consider attaching any items such as these to a drone because operating a drone with such an item may result in significant harm to a person and to your bank account."
Just a single infraction will end up costing you $25,000. Unless you're a defense contractor or have another special case, it's doubtful you'd need to weaponize your drone.
Weaponizing a drone is in violation of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act, Section 363, which stipulates under the section "Prohibition Against Weapons," that "Unless authorized by the Administrator, a person may not operate an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system that is equipped or armed with a dangerous weapon."
A "dangerous weapon" includes any item that can be used or is capable of causing serious bodily harm, or death. Flamethrowers definitely fit the bill.
For a new technology like this for which the public is already a bit apprehensive about — it's probably best if we don't start throwing flamethrowers on them just because we can.