E-asy Rider: Check Out Harley's "LiveWire" Electric Motorcycle

Motorcycles have traditionally been associated with freedom and rebellion.  But not all rebellions are created the same.  Is it possible for Harley Davidson to convince their tough biker demographic that a new bike can buck the notion of conventional fossil fuel (for a power source similar your cellphone) and still stay cool?  They intend to find out, with their new "LiveWire Project" all-electric motorcycle.

Sharp AND sustainable!
(Image courtesy thedetroitbureau.com.)

According to arstechnica.com, developer Ben Lund explained that Harley wanted to present the LiveWire simply as a newer model that "happens to be electric."  The look, sound, and feel of the past Harleys all had to be taken into account, but so did a new technical element of composition.  Using CAD computer models to design the initial bike before production, other computer software such as Pro Engineer Wildfire and CAM (computer-aided machining) aided the process.

Harley's in-house 3D printers churned out 1:1 scale parts for testing, so that an authentic look and feel for every component could be assessed and duly approved.  While also used for the fabrication of model elements for Harley's internal combustion engine bikes, the 3D prototypes were important tools in deciding what fit best for the new LiveWire venture.

One of Harley's  3D-printed prototype parts.  It is unknown if the computer made motorcycle noises while printing it.
(Image courtesy javelin-tech.com.)

The LiveWire runs thanks to a longitudinally-mounted 74hp AC induction motor, which Lund and his team found superior for its availability, affordability, and high power-to-weight ratio. It's fueled by a 300V lithium-ion battery pack that can allow the bike to achieve speeds of nearly 100 m.p.h.  A "power" or "economy" mode switch lets you regulate your ride.

The pseudo-futuristic design may irk the aesthetic sensibilities of "classic" Harley enthusiasts, who would perhaps appreciate some more chrome or pipes.  As for a Harley's distinctive growl, the classic Harley revving-rumble isn't possible with an electric vehicle.  However, the sound was fine-tuned by the engineering team so that the gearbox emits a turbine-like noise as it roars down the road.  Yes, it's very different, but it's a rebellion you could grow to like.  The LiveWire is currently still a prototype, but it could spark a whole new revolution in riding.

You can care about the environment and still be a badass.
(Image courtesy autoblog.com.)

Fire(fighting) In The Sky: NASA Drones To Patrol For Literal Hotspots

With all of the bad rep they get as military and surveillance machines, we can't be quick to also denounce the drones that might do good work helping people.  NASA is working on a new series of drones that you can think of as your friendly local fire department, not the police force that puts the emphasis on "force."

As reported by wavy.com, the new drones are in development at Langley Research Center, and are intended to be used to find and fight fires (as well as provide help for underfunded local fire departments.)  NASA aerospace engineer Mike Logan, who heads up Langley's unmanned air vehicle lab, explained, “The theory is that we should actually be able to see smoke rising up, or we should be able to see the hot spot with the infrared...They’re going to be doing so many missions that flat out can’t be done now. People can’t afford to do them now because of the expense.”

Fires in rural areas that would often go unpatrolled, or that might naturally occur in the depths of the wilderness, can now be monitored and dealt with before they become a more serious issue for civilization.  The drones are especially useful for this task, as they can fly in storms that other aircraft or humans would have a more difficult time dealing with.

Although the drones only have 20-25 minutes of flight time at 40-50 m.p.h., they could cut significant costs for fire departments and eventually cost very little per launch.  Originally developed as Army target drones, the 15-pound aircraft could save firefighters and citizens a ton of trouble.

These drones don't want pictures of YOU, they're looking for something much hotter.
BTW, that's NASA aerospace engineer Mike Logan, and it seems like his life is awesome.
(Image courtesy fireengineering.com.)

Back To "Back To The Future": Functional Hoverboard Under Kickstarter Development

Maybe you watch the "X-Games" or gnarly GoPro videos and secretly lust for the idea of zipping around a danger-fraught area on a skateboard, but you can't quite dodge that whole "obstacles everywhere" thing.  Maybe you just have a serious jones for future technology.  If either or both of these apply to you, check out the real-life hoverboard currently in development.

As reported by the Independent UK, the hoverboard is similar in premise to its counterpart from the film "Back To The Future", although it is not yet capable of hovering over water (or really, anything that's not a non-ferromagnetic conductor...a.k.a. a flat metal surface is required.)  The hoverboard's creator, Hendo Hover, explained that the floating fun is powered by magnetism in "four disc-shaped engines...these create a special magnetic field which literally pushes against itself, generating the lift which levitates our board off the ground."

DIY UFO enthusiasts approve of the design.
(Image courtesy disclose.tv.)

The boards are self-propelled, although future versions could use the magnetism to implement forward momentum.  Currently, they hover at around one inch off of the ground.

While very cool looking (even...or perhaps especially...because you can only ride it over huge sheets of metal), the hoverboard has its drawbacks.  According to the Telegraph UK, the board's battery only lasts 7 minutes, and this little slice of tomorrow-tech will cost $10,000.  Only ten hoverboards are currently available, but the development team is now on its 18th version of the prototype, and they plan to improve on it further.

Up to a good start.
(Image courtest silverfishlongboarding.com.)

Hendo Hover is currently seeking $250,000 on kickstarter to complete the hoverboards, with some of the money going to areas where it can be safely enjoyed (but be sure to bring your helmets for those all-metal half pipes.)  Hendo's ultimate ideal would be to implement the hover technology for houses and buildings, making them more resistant to the impact of earthquakes.

Could this idea eventually work, or will it just float away like so many other tantalizing visions of the future (we're looking at you, groovy orbiting space-station cities)?  For now, maybe the best recreational floating will be done in a pool.  But it's nice to think that someone is thinking of something fun and functional for the future, not just the usual murderous robots.

Just for fun, here's how the U.S. Air Force tried to pull it off.
(Image courtesy extremetech.com.)

Robo-Written: New Computer Programs Tell Tales To You

Telling stories has been a way of preserving our history since before the first written word was ever scrawled onto some bark or chiseled into stone.  Now, like many other modern developments, we've figured out a way to make machines do it for us.

As reported by New Scientist, there are several computer programs that are currently capable of spitting out a story.  Or at least, the idea for one.  The program that does "write", called Scheherazade, will give you a tale that's not near Shakespeare, but might entertain a young reader learning to string sentences together.  Set in any world that the program can learn about via the internet, Scheherazade uses crowdsourcing to gain knowledge of actions and scenarios.  It then strings the actions together to form a story.  

While this requires a great deal of human interaction on the input and refinement level, the program can nonetheless create accurate historical timelines from information presented, as well as fairly detailed short stories.  According to Technovelgy, once the plot points are entered, Scheherazade then "clusters them based on semantic similarity to create plot events that unfold sequentially until a decision point is reached, at which point a new line of plot events and decision points is triggered."

Scheherazade is currently being developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology under a grant from DARPA, which wants to use the program as a means to develop instructional materials for the "online cultural training" of American troops.

"Online cultural training."  Sure, DARPA. You're surely not teaching your murderous robot army how to dream up evil plots.
(Image courtesy techradar.com.)  

If you're not in the mood to be regaled and would rather write, a program can offer you a plausible (if possibly strange) character arc to work with.  The Flux Capacitor, a program being developed at University College in Dublin, uses a metaphor generator to create conflict via "role transitions."  These then become the inklings of a story, which are paired with the program's basic knowledge of the world, juxtaposed with characters that undergo a personal change.  

For example, the Flux Capacitor could take the concepts of "cool" and "angry", adhere them to the roles of "musicians" and "politicians", and generate the idea of, "What causes cool musicians to change their style of rock and roll, start a campaign, and become angry politicians?"  The "what causes" question prefaces each of the scenarios, which include two transitory notions before reaching the conclusion of the character arc. The Flux Capacitor uses @MetaphorMagnet twitter handle to assess its progress.

Then there's your simple "What If?" scenarios.  There's a program now for that, the What-If Machine, being developed at the University of London.  More of a computerized Mad Lib than anything you'd write a novel from, it nonetheless generates notions if you need them.  In addition to human, animal, and object scenarios, one can also make Kafkaesque or Surrealist what-ifs.  A Kafkaesque what-if (based off of the premise of "The Metamorphosis", whose lead character wakes up as a giant bug) might read, "What if there were a man who woke up as a manta ray, but he could still sing opera?"  A Surrealist scenario might read, "What if there were a computer who fell in love, but his only object of attraction was a malfunctioning toaster?"

That actually might not be too much of a Surrealist leap, anymore, considering computer programs are becoming advanced enough to write.  And what's writing if you're not doing it for love?  Just another string of code stringing together words.  Could computers learn enough about situational experiences enough to want to replicate them or experience them?  If they don't, in their stories, at what point do humans put in that ineffable touch of literary love?  Will there be a literary computer singularity, where a machine writes a book so good it fools humans?  

What if we just kept using our brainframes to imagine all these what-ifs on our own?  Can't we preserve a piece of art we still do as well, or better, than a computer?

Even if you do dream up and write the whole story on your own, you'll still want an editor.  That's where you can hire Hemingway, an editing app that pares down your excessive verbiage into the taut, tough style of the classic American author.  Robo-Hemingway highlights run-on sentences that you need to break up, adverbs that can be replaced with action verbs, polysyllabic words that you don't need to use to show off, and passive voicing to eliminate.  That last part, for those who may want to work on it manually, means it's more effective to say, "The artist lost money because the computer wrote the book", rather than "The money was lost by the artist because the book was written by the computer."

Although hopefully, neither you or the computer will ever have to write that.

The preceding article was 100% non-computer-generated.  Except for the research part.  They're pretty good at that.

Fall's Hot New Look: Antisurveillance "Dazzle" Camouflage

Camouflage takes many forms, some in plain sight, some you've maybe never even spotted (by design.)  In today's world of ever-encroaching surveillance, one can't be too careful around cameras, both overt and hidden.  If you're trying to keep your face out of the electronic archives, one way to dodge the documentation is to use some good old-fashioned dazzle camouflage. 

In WWI, battleships were painted like hipsters (shipsters?) to confuse enemies.

Based on the premise of actual military warpaint used on planes and boats, CV Dazzle is a new means to break lines of vision while simultaneously breaking your monotonous old look.  According to the CV Dazzle website, "Since facial-recognition algorithms rely on the identification and spatial relationship of key facial features, like symmetry and tonal contours, one can block detection by creating an “anti-face."  Avant-garde, Surrealist, and cubist designs all contribute to the various elements of CV Dazzle.  

Arts AND sciences!
(Image courtesy cvdazzle.com.)

Some ideas for your new radar-revolting look could include:

-Long, facially-obscuring bangs in a variety of lengths and colors

-Facepaint including large "pixel"-style blocks 

-makeup that contrasts with your skin tone and doesn't enhance specific features

-obscuring the nose bridge (a key indicator in facial recognition software)

-obscuring the size and shape of the head

-covering or altering the perceived appearance of the eyes (size, shape, color)

-developing an overall asymmetrical facial presentation

The CV website offers styling templates and a host of look ideas to ponder, if you need to take your anti-surveillance look to the next level.  Would a mask also work?  Sure, but you might look cooler with blue bangs.

Of course, if you're not inclined to wear facepaint or weird bangs, you can always just anonymize your face in photos with the Face Dazzler app.  It'll take you right out the running for all the "tags" you don't need to be found in.  Privacy never looked so pretty!

Dazzle camouflage still works in modern times, as shown by this Dazzle-inspired yacht painted by Jeff Koons.  Yes, that is a real boat.

Space Station Sunday: Racing The Sunshine, Skirting A Storm

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's all the latest from just outside the atmosphere.

This week, the second of three October spacewalks (a.k.a. EVAs - extravehicular activities) was carried out by NASA astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Reid Wiseman.  NASA reported that the six-hour, 34-minute spacewalk was successful, with the astronauts replacing a failed power regulator while in the shadow of the Earth.  It was critical that their mission be carried out in shadow, as the station's solar panels would otherwise be generating electricity, which would not prove to be a "bright side" for the astronauts working with the new power regulator.

According to the Telegraph UK, the power failed on Wiseman's PGT (pistol grip tool) while he was working with the bolt-on generator, forcing him to use a rachet wrench.  Wiseman had to "apply a little muscle", as live NASA TV broadcaster Rob Navias remarked, but thanks to Wiseman's efforts the mission was concluded successfully with less than two minutes to spare.  The astronauts also made strides in adapting the station's exterior for the arrival of future crew vehicles and cargo craft, as well as installing a replacement exterior video camera.

On a spacewalk, it is much more difficult for the camera to capture your "good side."
(Image courtesy nasa.gov.)

The numerous spacewalks, though they have included routine repairs, are not indicative of any major issues regarding the ISS's components.  Quite the opposite, in fact...earlier this year it was announced that the ISS will remain operational until 2024.  As reported by the Washington Post, the head of NASA’s human spaceflight program, William H. Gerstenmaier, said that “we see no technical show stoppers” with the ISS's machinery, which will remain spaceworthy even up through 2028.

Unlike earth-bound ships, the ISS doesn't have to worry about deterioration due to crazy (if conventional) weather patterns.  It sure does get a good look at them, though.  This week, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst captured an image of Hurricane Gonzalo that appeared tumultuous from the top.  It wasn't quite as creepy as last week's images of Supertyphoon Vongfong, but provided a unique meteorological perspective nonetheless.

Check out more of Gerst's ISS imagery on his Twitter, @Astro_Alex.
(Image courtesy nasa.gov.)

Gerst's tracking of Gonzalo was not just in the name of art - the storm's behavior did affect the ISS's science operations for the week.  The Bermuda-based Gonzalo proved to be problematic for the launch of new unmanned shipment of cargo bound for the ISS from Wallops Island in Virginia.  According to floridatoday.com, the launch of an Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo craft has been pushed back from later this week until after October 27th.

The hurricane will not affect the return of the SpaceX Dragon capsule, which is currently being packed with almost 3,000 pounds of scientific experiments and other cargo from the ISS.  One experiment, the Commerical Protein Crystal Growth HM, could lend interesting insights as to how cells recognize and react with each other regarding immune responses.  The unmanned Dragon, the only craft currently capable of safely transporting such a payload back to Earth, will leave the ISS on Tuesday morning and splash down in the Pacific Ocean some six hours later.

Meanwhile, Russia's first female cosmonaut, Yelena Serova, has been busy during her first few weeks on the space station.  On her blog for Roscosmos (Russia's space agency), Serova explained, “I’m getting used to living in microgravity conditions. I exercise regularly, and conduct scientific experiments as well...Last week I’ve spent much time on doing exercises regarding reacting in emergency situations like fire or depressurization, for example.”

The science experiments she spoke of, according to Spaceflight Insider, are diverse.  The Kardiovektor experiment, for example, examines how prolonged spaceflight affects the right and left ventricles of the human heart in regards to circulation capability.  Another experiment of this nature examines spaceflight's effects on calcium and bone density.  This week, Serova also performed a life-support system check on the Russian service module Zvezda, and completed an equipment check on the Otklik experiment, which uses piezoelectric sensors to analyze the impact of space debris on the exterior of the station.

Flight Engineer Serova, pictured, studied the laws of physics even during her downtime while on Earth.
(Image courtesy scmp.com.)

Next week:  news on the third October spacewalk, this time featuring 100% more cosmonauts!  Watch this space!

Grumpy Cat Hates Telling You About The Weather Via Your Smartphone. And Everything Else.

You can set your phone or computer's desktop to an image of a funny feline.  Chances are you've seen a few amusing animal videos or GIFs as well during the course of your existence - maybe a lot, if you work in an office and get bored frequently.  So it comes as no surprise that now even the most mundane search of your day - that of meteorological news - can also be customized with a cat.  And who better than the internet's most famous one?

According to thedailybeast.com, the free Weatherkitty or Weatherpuppy app for your phone can feature up-to-date weather information superimposed on pictures of various furry friends, though the species options are currently limited to cats and dogs.  Your own pet can feature, or you can upgrade for $1.99 to be graced daily with the sourpuss hilarity of Grumpy Cat, scowling and serenading you with stats on snow or sunshine.

Bonus: reflections on your own mortality!
(Image courtesy 929nin.com.)

This isn't merely another meme.  The information included in the Weatherkitty or Weatherpuppy app includes a daily forecast with weather changes broken down by the hour, a weekly prediction of upcoming elemental events, wind speed, precipitation, atmospheric pressure, visibility, and highs and lows.  It's comprehensive.  Plus cats.

Developers Suraj Hemnani and Shiv Takhar are glad their app has made people's days a little brighter, even if it's dark out.  Hemnani explained, “We are social beings and we spend so much time alone, always working. So, we appreciate the company of dogs and cats very much—they have a way of bringing us back to the present moment and relaxing us.”

Grumpy Cat would perhaps be disappointed to learn he's considered "relaxing"...better put him to work as your own personal weather reporter.  Who else is better to tell you that it's raining out than a cat who'll be happy to tell you something worse?

Correct yet again, Grumpy Cat.  Well, at least its sunny out.
(Image courtesy blogs.miaminewtimes.com.)